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A Seared Conscience

John Gacy was a mass-murderer. He killed 40 or 50 young men. After he was convicted he was interviewed in prison. He was asked how he felt after he killed the first one. He said he was restless and troubled. He couldn*t sleep. He was asked how he felt after he killed the others. He said that he could often lie down and go to sleep beside the dead body of his victim. He had a useless conscience. The Bible calls it a seared conscience. Here are some appropriate descriptions for human consciences: confused, weak, defiled, upside-down or perhaps even dead.

1 Timothy 4:1: Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron;

God gives each of us a conscience. We know right from wrong. The oftener we violate our own conscience the easier it becomes to do that. Our consciences can become worn down and useless, much like that of John Gacy. A conscience that serves its God-given purpose will be one that is in agreement with God*s standards of right and wrong.

Webster*s Dictionary definition:

Conscience: The faculty by which we know right from wrong.

American Tract Society Dictionary definition:

CONSCIENCE is that faculty common to all free moral agents, Romans 2:13-15, in virtue of which we discern between right and wrong, and are prompted to choose the former and refuse the latter. Its appointed sphere is in the regulation, according to the will of God revealed in nature and the Bible, of all our being and actions so far as these have a moral character. The existence of this faculty proves the soul accountable at the bar of its Creator, and its voice is in an important sense the voice of God. We feel that when pure and fully informed, it is an unerring guide to duty, and that no possible array of inducements can justify us in disregarding it. In man, however, though this conviction that we must do what is right never fails, yet the value of conscience is greatly impaired by its inhering in a depraved soul, whose evil tendencies warp and pervert our judgment on all subjects. Thus Paul verily thought that he ought to persecute the followers of Christ, Acts 26:9. His sin was in his culpable neglect to enlighten his conscience by all the means in his power, and to purify it by divine grace. A terrible array of conscientious errors and persecutions, which have infested and afflicted the church in all ages, warns us of our individual need of perfect light and sanctifying grace. A good and pure conscience, 1 Timothy 1:5; 3:9, is sprinkled with Christ*s blood, clearly discerns the will of God, and urges us to obey it from the gospel motives; in proportion as we thus obey it, it is void of offence, Acts 24:16, and its approbation is one of the most essential elements of happiness. A weak, or irresolute and blind conscience, 1 Corinthians 8:7; a defiled conscience, the slave of a corrupt heart, Titus 1:15; Hebrews 10:22; and a seared conscience, 1 Timothy 4:2, hardened against the law and the gospel alike, unless changed by grace, will at length become an avenging conscience, the instrument of a fearful and eternal remorse. No bodily tortures can equal the agony it inflicts ; and though it may slumber here, it will hereafter be like the worm that never dies and the fire that never can be quenched.

Romans 2:13-15: (For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified. For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;)

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia says this about the conscience:

It is predictive. There is no instinct in the soul of man more august than the anticipation of something after death--of a tribunal at which the whole of life will be revised and retribution awarded with perfect justice according to the deeds done in the body. It is this which imparts to death its solemnity; we instinctively know that we are going to our account. . . .

That definition of the predictive element of the conscience agrees with Bible truth. When I have asked individuals if they knew for certain they were going to heaven, many who were unfamiliar with the Bible stated flatly that they were going to Hell. They didn*t learn that from the Bible, but they knew it within themselves. They knew that they had violated something even though they didn*t understand what it was they had violated. They had certainly violated God*s law and they had violated their own conscience.

Romans 14:12: So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.

Romans 1:19: Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.

Our conscience can be confused. It can give us a false message. I think of a child who feels responsible for the death of his parent because he feels he didn*t deserve that parent. That is false guilt. Our conscience can make us take the blame for things that weren*t our doing or it can refuse to take the blame for things we are guilty of.

Isaiah 5:20: Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!

Our actions are a more accurate measure of our conscience than our words.

James 1:22: But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.

Our conscience can tell us that rejecting Christ is not so bad. It can tell us rejecting Christ is not as bad as the heinous sins of others. The Bible teaches that rejecting Christ is the worst offense. All other sin can and will be forgiven when one receives Christ. Rejecting Christ is the ultimate sin. It is the one sin that sends a human to hell.

When we violate our conscience*s warnings about sin often enough and long enough it becomes hardened. That is the inevitable result of sin. After a person*s repeated violations take him past the point of no return the hardened conscience becomes a judgment of God upon that individual. Only God knows when a person has gone beyond that point of no return. Only He knows when an individual has gone hopelessly beyond His grace and mercy.

Psalms 81:12: So I gave them up unto their own hearts* lust: and they walked in their own counsels.

Ephesians 4:19: Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.

Romans 1:24: Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:

Romans 1:26: For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:

Romans 1:28: And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;

2 Thessalonians 2:11-12: And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.

There is wonderful news. A perverted conscience can be restored. It can be made more useful than it was before one*s conversion to Christ.

2 Corinthians 5:17: Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.

The all things that are new includes a new conscience. We could call it a born-again conscience. I have seen much evidence of this new kind of conscience in myself and numerous others. Since I have trusted Christ I cannot say or do many things that came naturally before. I often say and do things that would have been totally out of character for me before my conversion. I had a very profane acquaintance. After he received Christ his language was powerfully cleaned up. I heard him say That God- . . . . . . . . stupid thing. He could not get the word damned out of his mouth. He stopped speaking abruptly and substituted the word stupid for the word damned. Before he received Christ I heard that phrase come out of his mouth automatically and frequently. Every genuine Christian will tell you of things that he cannot do since he has become a Christian. He will also tell you of things that he does that he would never have done before.

Hebrews 10:22: Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.

The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit fills believers and causes them to obey God. The Bible encourages us to walk in the spirit. When we are filled with the Holy Spirit He controls our conscience and through it controls our actions and speech. When he was converted, the Apostle Paul was filled with the Holy Ghost. That happens to every genuine believer.

Acts 9:17: And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.

Romans 8:9: But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.

1 Corinthians 6:19: What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?

Galatians 5:25: If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.

The Holy Spirit*s task is to reprove of us our sin so that we will confess it and forsake it.

John 16:7-8: Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment:

An unbeliever can have a brand-new conscience by trusting Christ as Saviour.

2 Corinthians 5:17: Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.

A believer can have a renewed conscience whenever needed by confessing and forsaking his sin.

1 John 1:9: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Proverbs 28:13: He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.

This article also appears under the title: A Useless Conscience.

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