This week's Bible Study - August 3, 2014
Keep a Clear Conscience
1 Peter 3:13-22
Quote of the Week:
While conscience is our friend, all is at peace; however once it is offended, farewell to a tranquil mind.
Mary Wortley Montagu
What do you think of when you think of a clear conscience? When you were younger and were around something that got broken, how did you feel? What was different if you were in a group of people and someone else broke it, as opposed to personally causing something to break? Obviously, in the first scenario, you may feel some level of guilt, depending on what it was, even though you didn't break the item. Perhaps you second guess yourself on what you could have done to stop it. However, in the second scenario, your conscience will weigh upon you. Even if others don't know that you were the one who did it, you know.
We have two dogs, Sarah Sally and Lily Bell. We like to refer to Lily as Guilty Bell, because it is obvious when she has gotten into something that she knows she shouldn't have. We walk into the house after being gone (for five minutes or all day), and you can tell right away when Lily has gotten into something. You may not even know exactly what it is, but her demeanor is evident. She doesn't want to look at you and she tends to go into a corner as to hide. Sarah, on the other hand, doesn't tend to get into as much, or when she does, it doesn't really seem to bother her. In some cases, I think Lily takes the blame for Sarah's deeds at times, although without a camera installed in the kitchen, we may never truly know.
How important is a clear conscience in your life today? We all have made mistakes and at some point, we all deal with guilt and shame, but we know that we can turn to God, repent from what we have done and be restored. There are some people that want that guilt and shame to stick with others for the rest of their lives. In your own life, have you found that some people always want to remind you of what you have done, even in decades past? And, to be fair, are you guilty of reminding others of what they have done? Some people truly need to seek counseling to get past what they have done, or dealing with what others have done in their lives. However, a clear conscience is something that is more about how you live today and how that impacts you.
This passage begins with the intent that we should do good. In most cases, when we do good, we are not going to get harmed. There are plenty of situations we could talk about, but think for a moment when you are driving down the road. There may or may not be a lot of traffic, but when you are on a highway and you see a policeman on the side of the road, what is your initial reaction? Most of us tap on the brakes, assuming we are going too fast. It is strange to realize that though the speed limit may be 60, we tend to react in much the same manner whether we are going 50 or 70. There is a heightened emotion that we feel, if but for a moment, and when you pass the policeman and see his lights come on, there is the sinking of the stomach that most of us feel, whether we are going 50 or 70. On Highway 70 in St Louis, near the airport, it is a normal occurrence for the local police to have speed traps with as many as ten police cars over a span of a couple of miles. (Note that the speed limit is 60 at that point, and if you are driving, make sure you remember that.)
To continue the driving analogy, most people believe that they can 'get away' with seven or eight miles an hour over the speed limit. In fact, when any of them are pulled over for such a slight infraction, they can become incredulous. A co worker of mine got ticketed in Cedar Rapids, for going 59 in a 55 MPH zone, by strategically placed cameras between the city and the airport. I guess the point is that sometimes we want to blur the lines and if we get caught slightly over the line, we can feel that we were treated unfairly. Speed limits are pretty black and white, and while we may argue at only a few miles over the speed limit, we know that a ticket that we receive is legal.
The problem in much of life is that things are not always as cut and dry as speed limits. We all deal with situations in life involving other people and differing perspectives. You will find that there are situations where you need to do the right thing, and others may try and sway you to do something else. They may use all sorts of manipulative behavior to convince you of what you ought to be doing. While there are some black and white areas of life that we will fail from time to time, there are other situations that involve decisions that we need to make to do the right thing and we may find ourselves threatened by others. Peter tells us in this passage that we should not be frightened to do the right thing and we should not fear the threats of others.
Our lives are to be pleasing to Jesus Christ as our Lord. We should be seeking to honor Him, despite what others might be telling us to do. When we do not honor the Lord, it is sin. And, perhaps a side point that needs to be remembered is that we are all sinners. When we sin and suffer consequences, we must realize that is to be expected and it may be deserved. But, even in the midst of our failures, there is a way to continue to seek the Lord, as a restorative path. I've heard it said that Christians are often seen by others are devouring their own. We need to realize that one of the most important points of Christianity is forgiveness and restoration. In fact, it is often what happens after a failure that is most telling for non believers. Many of them are curious to see how we deal with our own sin or the sin of others, and how that shows the hope that we have.
You can probably think of high profile Christians in different areas of life. While we tend to want to put some of these people on a pedestal as role models for our own children (and perhaps ourselves), these same people are often viewed much differently by non believers. I believe that many non believers tend to look at these people as what the Christian should be, and it can actually work against a witness. However, when through difficult circumstances, those around us can truly see that there is something different about us and a hope that we have, it can say a lot. Unfortunately, as believers, we often wear masks at church to make others think that life is always sunny, and we continue to wear that believer mask around others we work and associate with. In some ways, it makes us unapproachable and we come across as too spiritual.
This passage helps us to see that things will happen in our lives, and there is a way that we can legitimately deal with them without acting as if the life of a believer is without issues. Perhaps you know someone who has had to deal with scenarios in life, and while they may appear to be handling it as a godly person, they do so pointing to themselves and what they deal with and can start to become abrasive. We are called to give a reason for the hope we have (that we know that can view things from an eternal perspective), with gentleness and respect. By doing so, we can keep a clear conscience.
We read that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. On one hand, we will find some non believers that would rather see us cave and denounce our Christian life, and in doing so, they will be ashamed of their slander. However, on the other hand, when Christians continue to speak maliciously against others, they too will become ashamed. In fact, Christians that are guilty of slander of other believers, especially when sharing with non believers, do more damage to the cause of Christ than by keeping silent.
We read that it is better to suffer for doing good (assuming we are in God's will) than to suffer for doing evil. Our supreme example is Jesus Christ. He suffered once for our sins, although He Himself was righteous. He was without sin, yet He suffered for the sins of all unrighteousness, which includes all of humanity. He was put to death physically, but through His death, we as believers have been made alive in the Spirit.
We tend to think we know how God will deal with all people. We know that we who call on the name of Jesus will be saved. In this passage, there are a couple of verses regarding the story of Noah and the many people that perished. Truly, this is one of those areas where the words of Isaiah 55:8-9 ring true "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD. "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." In truth, we can only know what God will do in our lives, as believers.
This water that brought salvation to Noah and his family symbolizes baptism that saves each believer today. It is not the actual physical act of baptism, but what God does in our hearts to save us. When we become saved, we do not have the removal of dirt from the body, in that we still struggle with sin, and at times, we all will give in to sin. However, there is the implication of a pledge of a clear conscience toward God. We are to have a bent towards doing what God would have us do. This is not just about our eternal salvation, but how we live our lives. It should be evident in our relationship with others, our ability to forgive one another, our areas of services, our language and our actions, our work and our play. Too many people want to compartmentalize different parts of their lives, so that Jesus is very active in one, but they refuse to allow Him access to others.
What weighs on your conscience? Perhaps you are striving to do everything you believe you are supposed to do in your life, but are you finding that you are wearing a mask and putting on a front? Eventually, the things that are inside of you find their way to the outside. Are there issues that you need to resolve? There are so many possibilities here, that it doesn't make sense to provide a list, but if you are allowing God access to your life, perhaps He is making that evident right now. What comes to your mind that you need to do differently. Interestingly, it may be that someone else comes to mind and what they need to do. Perhaps that is your answer. Is there something that YOU need to do in a relationship with another believer, family member or anyone else?
We will all suffer for things in life. Sometimes, we will find that they are deserved. Sometimes, we will find that others will say things and do things that were never deserved. In all cases, whether it is due to your own sin or whether you are mistreated, you have the opportunity to give a witness for Christ. What are people seeing?
Jesus didn't come to remove all sin from your life, even though that might be what we would desire. We need to realize that through Jesus, we are presented to God as righteous, even though we still war against sin in this life. Jesus provides forgiveness for our sin but also implants a new mind that wages war against the sinful nature in our body. In 1 Corinthians 10:13, we read "No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it." As believers, we should have the desire to follow God and realize that He can give us the ability to endure temptation. Throughout our lives, we are seen as righteous to God, even in the case of our own failures.
If you are striving to do the right things in life, based on your own power, you are missing a tremendous resource that God wants to give you. This does imply that you pledge to have a clear conscience, and it should give you the power to act on things that you would never be able to do on your own. You truly can have a clear conscience, but it is something you must desire and seek to find from God, rather than strive on your own.