A clear conscience

The Mosaic Law and its corresponding religious system which was put in place when the Israelites were delivered from bondage in Egypt were only meant to be an example of God’s forgiveness of sins. They were a foreshadowing of things that were to take place in the future. The writer of the book of Hebrews pointed out that a physical system of sacrifice was flawed because it could not permanently remove the effects of sin (Hebrews 8:7-9). He explained, “Now when these things were thus ordained, the priests went always into the first tabernacle, accomplishing the service of God. But into the second went the high priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people: the Holy Ghost this signifying, that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing: which was a figure for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience” (Hebrews 9:6-9)

The ultimate goal of God’s plan of salvation was the perfecting of the human conscience. The Greek word translated conscience in Hebrews 9:9 is suneidesis (soon-i’-day-sis). “Suneidesis literally means ‘a-knowing,’ a co-knowledge with one’s self, the witness borne to one’s conduct by conscience, that faculty by which we apprehend the will of God, as that which is designed to govern our lives. The word is stressing that we receive input from our surroundings [temptations, decision-making events, etc.] and we are driven to make a decision. We compare what we know with our conscience [con — ‘with’ , science — ‘knowledge’], our knowledge base about this input. If we follow our conscience we act according to what we know to be true about the situation and the consequences/blessings of our decision. We can violate our conscience by overriding that knowledge” (G4893). The reason why the New Covenant was a better covenant was because God said that he would “put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts” (Hebrews 8:10). When we are born again, God gives us the ability to discern his will and through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the power to do what our conscience tells us to.

The effect of Jesus’ death on the cross was a complete cleansing or purging of guilt from every believer’s heart. The writer of Hebrews explained that the blood of Jesus was able to do what the blood of animal sacrifices could not. He said, “For if the blood of bulls and goats, and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Hebrews 9:13-14). Jesus’ sacrifice of himself was able to “remove sin’s defilement from the very core of our beings” (note on Hebrews 9:14). The key to accomplishing this was Jesus’ entrance into heaven and appearance before God as the intercessor for all mankind. It says in Hebrews 9:26-28, “But now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgement: so Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.”

Guilty conscience

While Jesus was teaching in God’s temple, the scribes and Pharisees brought a woman to him that they said, “was taken in adultery, in the very act” (John 8:4). The religious leaders hoped to trap Jesus in a situation where he would say or do something that contradicted his own teaching and make himself out to be a hypocrite like they were. The men that brought the adulteress to Jesus suggested that she should be stoned according to the Mosaic Law, but Jesus’ compassion for the woman caused him to say to them, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” (John 8:7). The phrase “without sin” means without any sin. In other words, Jesus was making sinlessness a requirement for executing judgment against the woman that had committed adultery. It says in John 8:9, “And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.”

Jesus used the example of these men’s guilty consciences to teach the Pharisees a lesson about his divine purpose as the savior of the world. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12). The Pharisees were used to condemning others for their sins against God, but Jesus wanted them to know that it wasn’t necessary for them to judge lawbreakers. God was able to bring conviction of sin, or give someone a guilty conscience, through the love and compassion of his son Jesus Christ. The two Greek terms Jesus used, phos (light) and scotia (darkness) were meant to show the contradiction between love and hate in our actions toward others. Scotia (skot-ee’-ah) is used of secrecy and describes a condition of moral or spiritual depravity. The men that condemned the adulteress might have been guilty of adultery themselves or some other crime that could be punished by death. It may have been their own guilty consciences that caused them to lash out at this woman and expose her to public humiliation.

Jesus’ statement, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12) was a declaration of his ability to expose the inner thoughts and feelings of people trapped in a lifestyle of sin. It says in John 8:9 that the men that wanted to stone the adulteress were convicted by their own consciences when they heard Jesus say, “He that is without sin among you.” The human conscience is a mechanism by which God is able to reveal his will to us (4893). The Greek word suneidesis (soon-i’-day-sis) means “co-perception.” Another way of saying it would be to see both sides of the story. We are usually aware of our own thoughts and feelings, but not those of others, and in particular, the thoughts and feelings of God are typically hidden from us or outside of our awareness, but our conscience enables us to see what God thinks about our behavior. After the men that were convicted by their own consciences left the scene, Jesus asked the adulteress, “Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?” (John 8:10). The woman’s response acknowledged her submission to Jesus’ authority. She said, “No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more” (John 8:11).

 

We all have a conscience

It’s easy to assume that a Godless person is also a lawless person, but that is actually not the case. Paul said in Romans 2:14-15, “For when the Gentile, 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…” The conscience inside every person bears witness to God’s law. Even if they have not been told it is wrong, everyone knows killing another person in wrong.

A person that does not violate his conscience will do well in life regardless of whether or not he has a relationship with God. The purpose of having a relationship with God is not so that you will know what is right, it is so that you will do what is right. It is possible to do what is right without the help of God, but every human effort will fail at some point because we are not perfect and have a sin nature.

The Edomites, the descendants of Jacob’s twin brother Esau were most likely good, hard working people. The only problem was that they married into a bad family. “Esau took wives of the daughters of Canaan” which means he brought himself under the curse issued by Noah. Esau made a conscious decision to do what he knew was wrong. For many years, hundreds of years, his descendants prospered and established a thriving community in the land that was to be inherited by his brother Jacob.

Esau’s intention was to beat the system. He thought he could keep his brother from receiving the blessing promised to him by joining forces with the Canaanites and teaching them how to do things right. In addition to kings that reigned over the people, Esau’s sons became dukes (1 Chronicles 1:51-54), guides that were familiar with the customs of the people that could through association teach them different ways of doing things (5021). Knowledge was transferred from generation to generation so that learning became a part of the lifestyle of the Canaanites and led them to increasingly successful practices over time.