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TEXT: Hebrews 9:13-14
SUBJECT: Follow the Lamb #3: Keep a Clear Conscience
Horatius Bonar was a leader in the Scottish Revival of 1840. Looked at in one way, a Revival is like any other time: sinners are saved by grace, through faith, and for good works. But, if you look at them from the other side, they are unlike other times. For instead of seeing one or two saved now and then, you find dozens and even hundreds converted all at once.
Revivals are a great blessing, of course, but they're also a great challenge. How do you follow up with people who are coming to the Lord in droves?
One way you can do it is through books. And this is what Bonar did: he wrote a book to train new believers in living for Christ. The book is called Follow the Lamb. We began its study two and we'll carry it on for another couple or three months, the Lord willing.
The edition I have is 63 pages long, and very easy to read and understand. It was written for new converts, but no believer is too old in the Lord to profit from it. It is a masterpiece of sensitive, pastoral wisdom. In fifteen short chapters, it tells us how to honor God and to grow in His grace.
Where do you start living the Christian life? Bonar says you begin by Be(ing) strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. In other words, you start by remembering that the Lord is gracious and that He's gracious to you. There is mercy in the Lord-not for others, for the world, for the elect, for the Church-but for me. Especially when I sin!
That's what the first chapter teaches.
Chapter 2 is closely related. If you want to follow the Lamb, you must
Keep the conscience clean.
Before we get to what Bonar says about this, let's be sure we know what we're talking about.
What is conscience? A conscience is a judge living inside of you. It passes judgment on what you do--and more to the point-- it tells you if you're in good standing with God or not. Everyone has a conscience, including people who say they don't believe in God. They deny a Final Judgment, yet when they do something wrong, they feel guilty-even if nobody catches them! That's what your conscience is: A Judge living inside of you.
What is a clean conscience? It is the Judge inside of you giving his verdict: Not guilty.
Wouldn't it be great to have a clean conscience? Can you imagine how much happier you would be, how much freer you would feel, if you didn't feel guilty all the time? It's no wonder David said,
Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered, Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity and in whose spirit there is no guile!
The key word is blessed or happy. The Hebrew word is in the plural, indicating the fullness of the blessing-a super happiness, you might say.
Bonar says a clean conscience is not at the end of the Christian life-something we obtain after much learning and growing and experience with the Lord. No, he puts it right at the start of the believer's walk, and as a thing needed every step of the way.
He is right! The fear of the Lord is good-if it's the right kind of fear. The fear of a man on death row, however, is not the fear we need. It's a sense of awe before the justice-and love-of God.
If you, Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who would stand? But there is forgiveness with You, that you may be feared.
Where does a clean conscience come from? Common sense says if it becomes dirty through sinning, it must become clean by not sinning.
But common sense is wrong. Because it forgets we're all sinners-at our best we are sinners and we're rarely at out best! Your conscience is not like a self-cleaning oven. It is cleaned from the outside-by the Lord Jesus Christ.
When you first saw the cross, and understood the meaning of the blood, you got your conscience purged from dead works; and it was in this cleansing of the conscience that gave you peace. It was not that you ceased to be a sinner, or lost the consciousness of being one, but you had found something which pacified your conscience in a righteous way, and made you feel toward the law and the Lawgiver just as if you had never been guilty.
You can do some things to your conscience. You can stain it, you can fool it, you can harden it. But you can't make it clean. Only the death of Christ-in your place-enables you to stand innocent before God.
Trying to clean your conscience is like washing a white shirt with motor oil on your hands. The longer you stay at it, the dirtier it becomes!
The prophet Zechariah foresaw the Day,
In that day a fountain shall be opened for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for uncleanness.
What he saw through a mirror, darkly, we see face to face: the guilty record is erased and the dirty conscience is cleaned by the blood of Christ.
There is no cleansing apart from Christ. Not for the sinner-we all know that-and not for the saint.
We know that sinners receive pardon and peace by looking to Christ. Once they are saved, however, they keep their blessings by trying hard. That's how we sometimes think, and often feel. But our feelings are wrong. We keep a good conscience in the same way we get one. Bonar says,
It is by keeping constantly before you eyes this blood of propitiation that you will keep your conscience clean and your soul at peace. It is this blood alone that can wipe off the continual sins that are coming across your conscience, and which, if not wiped off immediately, will stain it and cloud your peace. You know the sword of finest steel may be rusted by a drop of water, but if it is wiped away as soon as it falls, it will not harm the blade and no rust follows. If, however, through neglect or otherwise, the water is allowed to remain, rust will follow, destroying both the edge and the brightness of the weapon. So it is with sin. The moment it falls upon the conscience, the blood must be applied; else dimness and doubting will be the consequence. Remember it is the blood-the blood alone-that can remove these.
If the blood of Christ covers our sins and makes us clean the first time, why do we suppose that-from then on-it's what we do: the promises we make, the tears we shed, the books on holiness we read, the recovery groups we join.
These things may be helpful, but they will not make your conscience right. If you will stand not guilty before the Lord, it will be because of what Christ has done for you, not what you have done for Christ.
This is why the cross is at the center of theology and meditation and Christian living. The Law is good, prophecy is good, theology is good, but they don't bring forgiveness and they don't give you peace of mind. They weren't meant to. God has something else for that! And that is the death of His Son in your place.
I know people can be unserious and irresponsible. I know some say, We are saved by grace, it doesn't matter what we do. Every truth is abused, but that doesn't make it untrue. And this is true:
My little children, these things I write to you, that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have and Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous One. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the whole world.
You keep a clean conscience in the same way you get one: by looking to Christ in faith.
Bonar knows the crooked workings of the human heart. He knows that when you sin and stain your conscience, you're eager to do everything.but what you need to do.
If when you sin, you do not go at once to Christ, but go to anything else first, you will only make bad worse.
What do you think he has in mind here, this anything else instead of Christ? You might think the bottle: I've committed a big sin and I can't face myself, so I get drunk to forget what I've done. Some do this, but Bonar has something else in mind. Listen carefully, because the mistake is subtle,
If you try to slip gradually near in some roundabout way, as if you hope that, by the time you reach the fountain, you will be rid of some of your sin, so as to not be as bad as you were when you committed it, you will not cleanse the conscience, but leave the burden and the stain just as they were. If you say, `But I am so ruffled with the sin, so cast down and ashamed at the thought of what I have done, that I dare not go at once to the blood. I must pray or read myself into a better frame, and then I will go and be washed', you are denying God's method of purging the conscience; you are undervaluing the value of the blood; you are reverting to your old ways of self-righteousness and preventing the restoration of lost peace. You are putting something between your conscience and the blood of Christ.
Bonar's every word is pure gold. You commit a sin and are too ashamed to confess it to the Lord and sue for mercy. So, you try to rid yourself of some of the shame before seeking mercy. But how do you become less ashamed? By reading the Bible, praying for other people, reciting the Lord's Prayer, going to church, coming to the Lord's Table, doing good things.
These things often lighten the felt burden of sin; they make you feel more peaceful, but they don't clear the conscience. Only the blood of Christ does that. So, instead of working yourself up to worthiness, why don't you start with your unworthiness? As soon as you sin-when its sting hurts the most-this is when you flee to the cross and find peace with God and a good conscience.
Then you read the Bible, pray for other people, recite the Lord's Prayer, go to church, come to the Lord's Table, and do good things. Not to lessen your guilt or to make up for the bad you've done, but out of love for the Lord who died for you.
Put nothing between you and the blood: not your tears or sorrow or promises or the Bible or the church or anything.
What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
What can make my whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
A good conscience is the cause of good works, not the result! We do good works because we're forgiven. We love Christ because He died for us.
Bonar ends the chapter with a warning or two.
Cultivate a tender conscience, but beware of a diseased and morbid one. The former takes an honest, straightforward view of truth or duty, and acts accordingly. The latter, overlooking what is broad and great, is always on the hunt for trifles, quibbling and questioning about things that are of no importance. A tender conscience does not make a man morose; it makes him frank, cheerful, brotherly, and obliging, so that others can see him eating his meat with gladness and singleness of heart, and so adorning the doctrine of God his Savior in all things.
This is a very important point. Some Christians have an iron conscience. They never feel guilty and always justify themselves. This is not pleasing to the Lord! But others go to the opposite extreme. They are not satisfied confessing their known sins, but they scour their minds to find every little trifle-Could I have said this better or done that differently?
Of course they say it better or do it differently. But is every little thing a sin? Is every mistake the abomination of desolation? No it isn't. And by exaggerating every imperfection, Satan paralyzes us. We feel guilty all the time and have no time for anything but more and deeper and darker self-examination.
This is not a tender conscience, but a diseased one: it does not look to Christ, but to itself. In short, it is a preoccupied with sin instead of in love with Jesus Christ.
We must beware of a morbid conscience. You should be sorry for your sins, but when your sorrow for sin makes you drag around without joy and unable to serve the Lord, it is not a godly sorrow-that works repentance-but the sorrow of the world, that works death.
If you want to grow in grace, keep your conscience clean. Do this, of course, by trying to obey the Lord, but when you fail (and you will often), flee to the Lord Jesus Christ for pardon and peace. And believe that His blood alone is able to bring you both.and more.
God bless you, everyone! Who is he that condemns? It is Christ who died! Yea, rather is risen, who sits at God's right hand, and makes intercession for us.
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