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CONSCIENCE AND CONVERSION

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord’s Day Evening, June 14, 2009

“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” (Romans 2:15).


The Reformation Study Bible contains a good article on “Conscience and the Law.” It says,

Conscience is the built-in power…to pass moral judgments on ourselves, approving or disapproving our actions, thoughts, and plans, and telling us, if what we have done is…wrong, that we deserve to suffer for it…Paul says that God has written a certain knowledge of His law on every human heart (Rom. 2:14-15) and experience confirms this (The Reformation Study Bible, Ligonier Ministries, 2005 edition, p. 415).

Our opening text says,

“Their conscience also bearing witness” (Romans 2:15).

Let us see the Bible's answer to three questions about the human conscience.

I. First, where did the human conscience come from?

When God created man, we are told,

“The Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (Genesis 2:7).

The thing that made man different from the animals was the “breath of life.” The Hebrew word is “neshamah.” It is translated “breath of life.” Strong points out that it means “spirit” (#5397). The “neshamah” became man’s spirit, separate from the soul (mind) and body in function. This “breath of life” gave man two things that no animal has – (1) the ability to know God and (2) the ability to know right from wrong. Or, we may say, the “breath of life” in him gave man his human spirit after which his mind (known as soul) was activated. With this mind he could think and make decisions. But, animals also have minds. It was man’s spirit, that came from the “breath of life,” which made man different. The “neshamah,” or “breath of life,” became man’s human spirit, and it gave man alone the ability to know God personally, and the ability to know right from wrong.

The function of the conscience is given in Proverbs 20:27,

“The spirit of man is the candle of the Lord, searching all the inward parts of the belly.”

The “spirit” in this verse is again from the Hebrew word “neshamah” which means “divine inspiration” or “spirit,” and comes from the same word for “breath of life.” Proverbs 20:27 shows us that the “neshamah,” given by God to Adam, became “the spirit of man” (Proverbs 20:27). This is the first of the three functioning elements in man – spirit, soul, and body. The soul is the mind. The spirit is the conscience and ability to know God. The body is the flesh. The “neshamah” became man’s spirit, with its conscience searching man’s inward parts. That is man’s conscience. That is the part of man that tells him when he is wrong.

“And David's heart smote him after that he had numbered the people” (II Samuel 24:10).

“Heart” in that sense refers to David’s “neshamah,” the function of his conscience. That is, his conscience was troubled because he sinned by numbering the people. (I am indebted for these insights to Dr. Timothy Lin, my long-time pastor, former professor of Old Testament Hebrew in the graduate department at Bob Jones University, and former president of China Evangelical Seminary in Taipei, Taiwan.)

Collodi’s classic story of “Pinocchio” tells of a puppet who longs to be a real boy. As long as he is a puppet, he has a cricket as a substitute for a conscience. But when he became a real boy, he received a real conscience in his heart, to tell him right from wrong. Our first parents were created with living functioning consciences, but their consciences were later disfigured, so they were as unreliable as Pinocchio’s cricket!

II. Second, what happened to the human conscience?

Our first parents sinned in the Garden of Eden. At the Fall, the image of God was defaced within man, and the human conscience became defective. For this reason, when Adam was confronted by God for his sin, he made various excuses, as did Eve (Genesis 3:11-13). Neither one of them felt remorse because their consciences had been deformed and marred. The same was true of Adam’s first son, Cain. Even when God caught him murdering his brother, he felt no conviction, and only excused himself. This shows that man’s conscience was no longer reliable after the Fall in the Garden of Eden. Thus, an unreliable, defaced conscience has been passed down to us from Adam.

But it gets worse. The more a person sins the more defiled and ruined his conscience becomes. The more man sins the darker and more unreliable his conscience is. In the ancient world, we are told, that they

“…became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened” (Romans 1:21).

And, by the time of Paul, man is described as,

“Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart: Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness” (Ephesians 4:18-19).

“Unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled” (Titus 1:15).

And as people go on in sin, they sear their consciences by sinning more and more,

“Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron” (I Timothy 4:2).

I have often given the illustration of my mother taking me to the “side show” at Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus, back in the early 1950s, when it was still in a tent with sawdust on the floor. But you went into a “side show” to see various weird and strange attractions, before you went into the circus. I am sorry they did away with the old-fashioned “side show.” It was a wonderful part of the classical tent circus.

In the “side show” I saw a man with scales like an alligator. It was real. I saw a woman with two heads. I saw the tallest man in the world. And then I saw a man that put a sword in front of a hot flame until the metal was glowing red. Then he put the glowing red sword across his tongue. Steam came out of his mouth. I was very close to him. This was no trick. He put the red-hot metal right on his tongue! The man could actually put a glowing red sword on the skin of his tongue without feeling any pain! My mother told me he had done it over and over, so many times that he could no longer feel any pain at all. His tongue had been seared so many times that it developed a callous, so it no longer felt any pain! What a picture that is of people “having their conscience seared with a hot iron” (I Timothy 4:2)! In other words, the more you sin, the more calloused your conscience becomes, until it is so seared by the flame of sin that you no longer feel any pain in your conscience, no matter how much sin you commit.

Hitler had sinned so long, that by the time of World War II he could order the torture of Jewish children by Dr. Mengele, a ruthless Nazi serial killer, who loved to cut Jewish children’s stomachs open to see how long it would take them to die. Hitler could order 6 million Jews to be gassed to death, simply because they were Jews, without the slightest pain in his conscience. So, Henry VIII could cut off the heads of his two innocent young wives. Afterwards, without the slightest twinge of conscience, he could eat a big meal and go sound asleep, so “seared with a hot iron” was his conscience!

And I have to warn young people in our church that your consciences were already defaced when you were born. You inherited a broken conscience from your forefather Adam. So you already had a malfunctioning conscience as a child! Added to that were the sins of your childhood. Each time you lied to your mother, your conscience was defiled. Each time you stole something, each time you cheated in school, each time you thought about sexual matters, your conscience was more and more and more defiled – until finally you began to actually sear it. As with a hot iron, you began to actually sear your conscience. You seared it with a strange smile on your face – grinning and laughing as you applied the red-hot iron of sin – searing your conscience again and again with ever greater sins – which I will not name here in church. Some of you have seared your conscience wildly, taking great delight in conscience-searing sins. I need not name them. You know what they are. You know how they seared your conscience. You know how they dulled your sense of wrong. You know how it became almost impossible for you to feel any guilt over them. And you have thought, many times I am sure, that you may have been given up to reprobation, committing the unpardonable sin, because you deliberately seared your conscience, deliberately laughed in the face of God, as you sinned with a wide hand, and ruined your own once tender conscience!

And now you come to me for help in feeling convicted! What can I do for you? It is you that has ruined yourself. It is you that has seared your own conscience. What can I do to help a man who has killed his own heart, and burned his conscience beyond recognition? I am helpless. I can only look on you with pity – as a ruined creature, with no future and no hope. I can only pity you. I cannot help you in any way – for you are already doomed. Oh, yes, a man with a seared conscience is already a doomed and condemned man. Jesus said,

“He that believeth not is condemned already” (John 3:18).

It is not that you will be condemned when you die, in the future. Oh no, I pity you because you are “condemned already” (John 3:18). Your burned, seared, and ruined conscience cannot be restored, and so there is no hope for you. You are “condemned already” – as sure of Hell as though you were already there. And nothing that I say or do can help you in any way.

III. Third, how does God come into the picture?

It may be…notice I said “may be.” If you take this for granted, you are double-doomed. It is an extremely, terrifyingly dangerous thing to take this matter for granted, so I say with very great caution – it may be that God will grant you conviction. He doesn’t promise to give conviction to everyone. If he has given you some conviction before, there is no guarantee that He will give it to you again. Very often those who once experienced some conviction are never again visited by God’s Spirit. But He may, He just may, give you some conviction

“of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (John 16:8).

After all the rejecting and snickering and mocking and foolishness you have done, you deserve not one moment of conviction – so if God gives you any conviction of sin, treasure your guilty feeling as though it were a brick made of gold. If you lose your conviction, you may never, ever get it back!

Come before God like a beggar! Come bent over low with humility, knowing that the mighty King owes you nothing! You have spit in His face in your heart all these years. Think of it! You have spit in the face of Christ by your very attitude. Now Christ owes you nothing. He only owes you wrath, punishment and Hell fire – and just now, you may be saying in your heart, “It’s true – God owes me nothing but the flames of Hell. I deserve nothing else!” Then, if you feel that an awful judgment is all you deserve, I urge you to come to Jesus as the woman who sinned came to Him and kissed His feet. Come to Him like the miserable worm you are. Come crying and wailing to Him, as John Sung did that night in his dormitory room. As Bunyan and Whitefield came crying, and screaming for mercy, come to Him and confess your sins. Perhaps He may have mercy on you. But I only say “perhaps,” because it is not at all certain whether the time for you is already past. You may have already sinned away the day of grace forever. Come weeping to Christ and perhaps He will give you another chance – though in your case it is not at all certain that He will. Come down to this place before the pulpit. Come down here, kneel down, and weep for mercy, and He may hear you and give you another chance to receive His mercy and cleanse you with His Holy Blood. The Bible teaches that only "the blood of Christ" can

"purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God"
     (Hebrews 9:14).

(END OF SERMON)
You can read Dr. Hymers' sermons each week on the Internet
at www.realconversion.com. Click on “Sermon Manuscripts.”

Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: Titus 1:10-16.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“Search Me, O God” (Psalm 139:23-24).


THE OUTLINE OF

CONSCIENCE AND CONVERSION

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

“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” (Romans 2:15).

I.   First, where did the human conscience come from? Genesis 2:7;
Proverbs 20:27; II Samuel 24:10.

II.  Second, what happened to the human conscience? Genesis 3:11-13;
Romans 1:21; Ephesians 4:18-19; Titus 1:15; I Timothy 4:2;
John 3:18.

III. Third, how does God come into the picture? John 16:8; Hebrews 9:14.