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TEXT: Hebrews 9:14
SUBJECT: The Passion of Jesus Christ #17: Clear Conscience
Christ suffered and died to give us a clear conscience. This is the topic of tonight's study and the title of Chapter 16 in John Piper's little book, The Passion of Jesus Christ. The book is only a bit more than 100 pages, but what pages they are! In words simple enough for a child to easily follow, Piper explains why the Lord went to the cross and what His death does for you.
In terms of practical importance, tonight's subject has to be near the top of the list. Jesus Christ died to relieve the pain you feel in your conscience and to give you the sense that you can come to God and be welcome.
Piper assumes we know what 'conscience' is. But do we? He doesn't spend any time defining, but I think we should.
What is the conscience and what does it do? Your conscience is a judge who lives inside of you. Like other judges, conscience does two things: it tries you and it pronounces judgment.
If you help a little old lady across the street, your conscience says, Good. If you push the old lady in front of a speeding bus it says, Bad! Conscience, in other words, is your sense of right and wrong.
But that's not all it is. A judge who says 'Mr. Jones murdered his wife'-and leaves it there-has not done his job. After finding the man guilty of murder, he goes on to pass sentence. 'Mr. Jones shall be hanged by the neck until he is dead'.
This is what your conscience does as well. After finding you guilty of pushing the old lady in front of a speeding bus, it says, 'God is going to punish me'.
The fruit of a bad conscience, therefore, is guilt and fear-and everything that goes with them.
All of this comes straight from the Bible, especially Romans 2:15-16. Referring to the Gentiles, who never heard of the Bible, Paul says,
Who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves, their thoughts accusing or else excusing them in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my Gospel.
They know right from wrong. When they do right, their conscience excuses them; when they do wrong, it accuses them, and both point forward to the Day of Judgment, when God will confirm what you already know about yourself. And pass judgment on you.
An Eastern Orthodox mystic once had a vision of the Day of Judgment. Looking at the White Throne, he saw himself passing judgment on himself-and finding himself guilty on all counts! Like other visions-outside the Bible-there are some problems with this one. But there's also a lot of truth in it. Though Conscience and God are not the same thing, their judgments basically agree.
That's the problem. We can fool other people (sometimes), but we can't fool ourselves. No matter what we say, deep down, we know we're wrong-not just on a fine point here and there-but wrong through and through. We're guilty! And we feel that way. We're scared. And with good reason. We're in trouble with God. Everyone is!
All have sinned and come short of the glory of God. There is none righteous, no not one. There is not a just man on earth who does good and does not sin. In [God's] sight, no man living shall be justified. Whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped and all the world become guilty before God. Who can say, 'I have made my heart clean? I am pure from my sin?'
The problem is not new. Piper traces it back to the source.
Some things never change. The problem of a dirty conscience is as old as Adam and Eve. As soon as they sinned, their conscience was defiled. Their sense of guilt was ruinous. It ruined their relationship to God-they hid from Him. It ruined their relationship to each other-they blamed. It ruined their peace with themselves-for the first time they saw themselves and felt shame.
What our parents felt and did way back then, we feel and do today. If a husband falls in love with another woman, he doesn't run to God for mercy, but away from His all-seeing Eye. If he feels guilty about what he has done, he blames his wife. If she treated him better, he wouldn't have gone for his secretary.
He lies to himself over and over, but he's not quite convinced-and so he feels dirty and scared. He feels caught-even if nobody catches him!
Do you feel this way? If you do, you're not alone. The Pharisees felt ill at ease with God and tried to do something about it. Their solution to guilt and fear was: study the Law-and keep it! Not all of them were serious, but some were-and no one more than a young rabbi from Tarsus. Saul hit the books-and hit them hard. And he did it with the desire to please God and find His peace. But the harder he studied the law-and tried keep it-the worse his conscience became. Knowledge and obedience will not clear the conscience. After years of struggle, Paul found himself still kicking against the goads.
This is not to say there is no relief in the Law because there is. Not in the Ten Commandments, let's say, but in the sacrifices. Piper says,
All through the Old Testament, conscience was an issue. But the animal sacrifices themselves could not cleanse the conscience. No animal sacrifices could cleanse the conscience. They knew it and we know it.
Note carefully what he says: He doesn't say the sacrifices were worthless: they weren't! They provided a certain cleansing. Hebrews 9:13 says so,
For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh.
The sacrifices, when offered sincerely, brought many blessing to Israel. The one mentioned here is that they purified the flesh, that is, they qualified the people to worship God, to pray, and to find His favor in earthly matters.
The sacrifices were good. But not good enough. If they were, they wouldn't have to be repeated so often. Twice a day, every day, for a thousand years, the sacrifices were burned on the altar. But the nation still needed a New Covenant, one that would result in the pardon of sin and the clearing of conscience-once and for all!
In God's good time, the Sacrifice they needed was offered to God. Piper has it,
The animal sacrifices foreshadowed the final sacrifice of God's Son, and the death of the Son reaches back to cover all the sins of God's People in the old time period, and all the sins of God's People in the new time period.
We don't feel good enough to come to God [and] we are not good enough. We are defiled-not with external things like touching a corpse or eating a piece of pork-but by pride and self-pity and bitterness and lust and envy and jealousy and covetousness and apathy and fear.
The only answer in modern time, as in all other times, is the blood of Christ. When our conscience rises up and condemns us, where will we turn? We turn to Christ-to His suffering and death-His blood. This is the only cleansing agent that can give the conscience relief in life and peace in death.
What Piper says comes straight out of the Bible-- Hebrews 9:14. If sacrificed animals could purify the Israelite's body, then a Sacrificed Son can purify your conscience!
The first part of your conscience is unchanged. It still tells you that pushing the little old lady in front of the speeding bus is wrong. But the second part of your conscience has been turned inside out! After telling you that you're guilty, it goes on to tell you, you're forgiven. Only because Jesus Christ suffered and died to give you a clear conscience.
In one way, the work of Christ is the most glorious thing in the world! What a Gospel it is-Christ died, and therefore, I'm not condemned! The freeness of salvation makes you think that people would be climbing all over each other to get it.
Just imagine: You don't need booze and drugs to kill the pain of bad memories. You don't need highly paid counselors to tell you, 'you're not to blame'. You don't have to lie awake at night wondering if things are right between you and the Lord. You can have a good conscience-now and when you die-by simply believing the Gospel!
But, if you look at it from a different angle, you see why people are not running to Christ. Why people would rather drink themselves 'innocent' rather than be innocent!
Firstly, getting a good conscience by what you do boosts the ego. While you're pigging out at Thanksgiving, I'm working in a soup kitchen. While you simply pray for pardon, I'm making up for my sins by becoming a monk or a missionary. While you feel good about yourself because of what Christ did for you, I'm humble enough to beat myself up day and night.
The reason publicans and harlots got into the kingdom before scribes and Pharisees is because the sinners were willing to take what God had for them, while the 'saints' wanted to offer something to God.
Secondly, getting a good conscience from Christ alone staggers the mind. It seems too good to be true. We can see how good works give us peace of mind. Of course Mother Teresa can feel good about herself-she runs a leper colony! But living by faith is harder than living by sight. Faith says your conscience is clear-not because of what you do for God-but because of what God did for you.
Therefore, quit trying to obtain a good conscience your way. By confessing your sins in public or by swearing an oath to never commit them again or by making up for them by doing something big for God.
You can have a good conscience, but not your way. You'll have it God's way or not at all. And His way of giving you a good conscience is by believing in Christ, not just once, but every day,
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