"Thou hast given a banner to them that fear Thee, that it may be displayed because of the truth" (Ps. 60:4).
One Must Fight on Two Fronts to Maintain It!
The Vital Warfare of the Conscience
By Fred O. Blakely
AN EXPOSITION OF FIRST TIMOTHY 1:18-19
“This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before on thee, that thou by them mightest war a good warfare; Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck” (I Tim. 1:18-19).
Later in this letter to Timothy, Paul exhorts him to “fight the good fight of faith” (6:12). Here he combines “a good conscience” with faith and urges him to “war a good warfare” in the maintenance of both. “Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having thrust from them made shipwreck concerning the faith” (ASV); “By rejecting conscience, certain persons have made shipwreck of their faith” (RSV). That which was put away was the “good conscience,” Hymenaeus and Alexander being notable examples of this disastrous rebellion against God, which resulted in their making “shipwreck” of “their faith” (v. 20; cf. II Tim. 2:17-18; 4:14).
The Vital Place of the Conscience. The cruciality of faith to acceptance by and fellowship with God is generally acknowledged. In this text, the Apostle recognizes the equal vitalness of what Peter calls “a good conscience toward God” (I Pet. 3:21), and calls upon Timothy---and us as well---to exert every effort to hold on to it. Hence, we have the warfare of conscience, as well as that of faith, and we are urged to persistently wage it with diligence, in full awareness of its decisive relation to our spiritual life and prosperity.
Its Monitorship of the Soul. Conscience, it has been well said, “is that inward monitor of the soul that from moment to moment points us to our duty,” condemning us when we swerve from it and approving us when we adhere to it (Rom. 2:15), “and in whose approval we feel that we have the approval of God.” Thus, Paul’s observation in another place: “Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth” (Rom. 14:22; cf. Tit. 3:10-11). “For if our heart [or conscience] condemn us,” says John, “God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things. Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence before God. And whatsoever we ask, we receive of Him, because we keep His commandments, and do those things which are pleasing in His sight” (I Jn. 3:19-22; cf. Jn. 8:9). It goes without saying, of course, that in order to be a dependable guide, the conscience must be schooled in the written Word of God affecting the life of the individual.
Its Essential Relation to Faith. The essentiality of a good conscience to the maintenance of faith in God is clearly apparent in the text. Hymenaeus’ and Alexander’s thrusting the former from them resulted in their making “shipwreck” of the latter. The “mystery of the faith,” it will be recalled, must be held “in a pure conscience” (I Tim. 3:9). Those who “depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons,” have “their conscience seared with a hot iron” (ch. 4:1-3, AV, ASV). So also the ones who in works deny God, “being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate,” have “their mind and conscience defiled” and are “unbelieving” (Tit. 1:15-16).
“Hence, the important lesson that deviations from the true faith are preceded by violations of the conscience. The surest way to maintain a pure faith is to maintain a good and tender conscience (cf. Jn. 7:17). “Holding faith and a good conscience.” “The two must go together, but faith must necessarily go first. You cannot have a good conscience without faith, nor can you have genuine faith without a good conscience. It is not the mere doctrine of faith which you must have, but the grace of faith, and conscience in your actions.” The conscience is good because it is purged by the blood of Christ and the body is “washed with pure water” (Heb. 9:14; 10:22; cf. ch. 9:9; 12:24; I Pet. 1:2). Having “washed away” his sins by submission to baptism (Acts 22:16), one has “the answer of a good conscience toward God” (I Pet. 3:21). The work thereafter cut out for him is to maintain that cleansed conscience and to grow in grace and faith.
“Which some having thrust from them made shipwreck concerning the faith.” “The figure is a nautical one. When the cargo or ballast of a good conscience is tossed overboard, the ship becomes unmanageable, and is easily shipwrecked.” “Their truest friend they [Hymenaeus and Alexander] thus thrust aside, as they would a troublesome creditor. The result was that they made shipwreck of their faith. Throwing away all that was needed to direct them, all that served as chart, compass, and rudder, they made shipwreck of themselves concerning the faith in Christ, thus coming short of eternal life.
“How disastrous, especially for those who seemed to make a fair start in the voyage of life! The teaching of the Apostle is suggestive regarding the causes of heresy. As unbelief nearly always leads to grosser or more refined immorality, so not rarely it begins from an immoral ground, at least when faith existed before (Rom. 1:21). This is a deep mental truth; for it is far too common to represent faith or infidelity as a matter of abstract opinion. Earnestness in life leads to correct opinion (Jn. 7:17), whereas moral indifference makes it for our interest to doubt. Heresies have a secret moral genesis which will one day be made plain.”
The divorce between faith and conscience thus cannot but be calamitous. “The heretic handles the things of God as matters for mere intellectual contests, apart from reverence and godly fear. He disputes about God and Christ, and thinks it unimportant whether his own heart is pure or impure. He walks in open disobedience to God’s commandments, and yet thinks himself competent to judge God’s Nature and attributes. He darkens his own soul by sin, and yet dares to approach the mystery of godliness [cf. Ezek. 14:1-8].
“Lastly, it is characteristic of the heretic that he rarely, if ever, repents, and returns to the faith which he denied. Hymenaeus and Alexander, in spite of the godly discipline measured to them for their correction, are still found subverting the faith of many, and withstanding the Apostle of Jesus Christ, in the last mention of them [cf. II Tim. 2:16-18; 4:14-15]. They were in this respect like their brethren in heresy, Simon Magus, Cerinthus, Marcion, Valentinus, Montanus, Manes, Arius, Socinus, and many more. The shipwreck of faith is, for the most part, total and irremediable.”
“Those who have put away a good conscience, and made shipwreck of faith, will not stick at anything, blasphemy not excepted. Therefore, let us hold faith and a good conscience, if we would keep clear of blasphemy; for, if we once let go our hold on these, we do not know where we shall stop.” We must keep firmly in mind that “the end of the commandment,” or the grand objective of God’s requirements of us here and now, “is charity [or love] out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned.” To “swerve” from these is, at best, to “turn aside unto vain jangling” (I Tim. 1:5-6; cf. I Cor. 13:1-3).
The Obligation for Godliness Involved. The primary aspect of the endeavor to hold a good conscience toward God is that of the struggle for righteousness of thought and life. Since the conscience is defiled by sin, those who would keep it pure must ever strive against sin (Heb. 12:1-4). When one become complacent with known sin in his mind or acts, he has already thrust a good conscience from himself. Thus, the Apostle’s aggressiveness in this area: “Herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offense toward God, and toward men” (Acts 24:16). Again: “I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day” (ch. 23:1; cf. Rom. 9:1; II Tim. 1:3; Heb. 13:18).
The Assigned Work. As one must “give diligence” to make his “calling and election sure” (II Pet. 1:10), so must he do to “hold” a good conscience. At his baptism into Christ, his heart was “sprinkled from an evil conscience” by the precious blood of Christ (Heb. 10:22, RSV; cf. I Pet. 1:18-19), and he obtained “a good conscience toward God” (I Pet. 3:21; cf. Heb. 9:14-15). God then forgave him all his past trespasses (Col. 2:12-13; cf. Acts 2:38), and he was thus “made free from sin,” and became the servant of “righteousness” (Rom. 6:17-18). Thenceforth, his work was to maintain the good conscience with which he, by the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus, had been invested. He was to “watch and be sober,” keeping himself “unspotted from the world” (I Th. 5:5-8; Jas. 1:17; Rev. 3:4; 16:15).
Unceasing vigilance and discipline are indispensable to the accomplishment of this task. With the Psalmist, one must continually implore God: “Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity; and quicken Thou me in Thy way.” “Incline my heart unto Thy testimonies, and not to covetousness.” “Make me to go in the path of Thy commandments; for therein do I delight” (Ps. 119:35-38). And, having so prayed, he must exert all his powers to do as he asked God to do for him. This involves the newly-risen person firmly setting his affection on “things above, not on things on the earth,” and daily striving to “walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4; Col. 3:1-3). It is thus that he is to “walk in the Spirit,” and it is only by such walk that he can “hold” his cleansed conscience, as he is urged to do (Gal. 5;16-18).
The Need for Diligent Care. It is because of the vital importance of the conscience being clean before God that Paul makes so much of it in Romans 14, First Corinthians 8, and the latter part of First Corinthians 10. For his conscience’ sake, every man is to be “fully persuaded in his own mind” concerning that which he allows himself to do (Rom. 14:5). To act contrary to his conscience in any matter is to pollute it and this, in turn, jeopardizes his faith. Thus, “he that doubts is damned if he eat [that which violates his conscience, or habitually does anything else contrary thereto], because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (v. 23).
By the same token is the responsibility laid upon stronger brethren to “bear the infirmities of the weak,” in this area (Rom. 15:1-3). The liberty which they have in Christ should not be turned into “a stumblingblock to them that are weak,” and so “the weak brother for whom Christ died” caused to “perish” (I Cor. 8:9-12; cf. Rom. 14:15, 20). “Wherefore,” concludes the Apostle, “if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth” (I Cor. 8:13; cf. ch. 10:27-33).
The Constant Work of Faith Entailed. Not only is it required that one deny “ungodliness and worldly lusts” and maintain watch for the Lord’s coming, in order to preserve his purged conscience (Tit. 2:11-14); he must quite vigorously exert, in another direction, the faith which God has given him. This is because, despite all of his diligent efforts to live godly, he will come far short of the perfect requirement of his “high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14; cf. Eph. 4:4). Since these shortcomings---or sins, to be more precise in our terminology---again defile the conscience, once purified by the blood of Christ, it is absolutely necessary that there be a way by which this situation can be effectually dealt with, if one is to maintain fellowship with God, and continue to “come boldly” before Him (Heb. 4:14-16; 10:19-22).
God’s Provision for the Situation. It is blessedly gratifying to those honest hearts who recognize this humiliating situation to know that God has graciously provided for it in His beloved Son. Not only has Christ, by His death, purged us from our “old sins” (I Pet. 1:9); by His endless life at the Father’s right hand as our “great High Priest” (Heb. 4:14), He constantly intercedes for us in our present infirmities. Indeed, it was for this very purpose of qualifying as a “merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God” that He was “made like unto His brethren” in the enfleshment (Heb. 2:14-18).
Thus, “if any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (I Jn. 2:1), “who also maketh intercession for us” (Rom. 8:34). By the once-for-all sacrifice of Himself, He “put away sin” (Heb. 9:26), having “obtained eternal redemption for us” (v. 12; cf. ch. 10:14). Now, by His intercessory ministry before God in our behalf, He pleads the efficacy of that one for the purging of the sin which recurs in us subsequently to our baptism (cf. Rom. 5:10). True, it is the will of God that we “sin not” (I Jn. 2:1). “But if any one does sin,” adds the Spirit by John, in recognition of the flesh’s weakness, “we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (vv. 1-2, RSV). Thus, through “faith in His blood” (Rom. 3:25), “the comers thereunto” may have their conscience constantly “purged from dead works to serve the living God,” and so, despite their sins, “hold” the good conscience as Paul exhorts them to do, having “no more conscience (i.e., consciousness) of sins” (Heb. 9:14; 10:2).
The Employment of Faith Required. The employment of unfeigned faith that is required at this point desperately needs to be stressed today. This is because, in our considered opinion, multitudes of churchmen who are entitled to a purified conscience Godward do not possess it, and so are cut off from personal access to Him in their sense of defilement. It is not because the Scriptures are indistinct on the subject, but rather for the reason that people simply do not believe “the record that God has given of His Son” (I Jn. 5:9-10). “We which have believed do enter into rest,” saith the Spirit (Heb. 4:3), and in no sense is this assertion more applicable than in that of the believer’s good conscience toward God.
As we have pointed out, it is made crystal clear that, “what the law could not do,” God, through Christ, had done for those who receive the Son (Rom. 8:1-4). The law made no provision for the actual propitiation for sin, possessing only “a shadow of good things to come” (Heb. 10:1). But the blood of Christ has, once for all, “purged our sins” (Heb. 1:3). The animal sacrifices offered under the law of Moses brought no perfection “as pertaining to the conscience” (Heb. 9:9); if they could have done so, they would have “ceased to be offered” (ch. 10:1-2). However, “the blood of Christ,” who “offered Himself without spot to God”(ch. 9:13-14), has done “what the law could not do,” that is, He has provided “eternal redemption for us” (v. 12). “Consequently He is able for all time to save those who draw near to God by Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (ch. 7:23-25, RSV). The saving “for all time,” it is to be noted, is dependent upon our Advocate’s always living “to make intercession for them” (Rom. 5:10). As we, therefore, “confess our sins” to God, with the determination to forsake them (I Jn. 1:8-10), we have “no more consciousness of sins” (Heb. 10:2, ASV). We have entered “into the holiest by the blood of Jesus,” and on that basis have godly boldness before the Father, and a lively sense of filial relationship to Him.
The Battle for Maintenance. The battle of the conscience after baptism, as we have said, is to “hold” this good conscience Godward. And in no respect is the battle more furious than at the point of continually believing God’s representation of the matter, and by faith, availing ourselves of the forgiveness of sins which He proffers. The Devil concentrates on defiling the conscience of the saint, and he does not have to resort to misrepresentation, as the situation is viewed in the flesh, in order to do so. Those who have not deceived themselves know that they do sin, and this knowledge corrupts their conscience toward God and experientially alienates them from Him. What they must do is wage the good warfare of conscience, confessing their sins to God and claiming His faithful commitment to forgive them and cleanse them from all unrighteousness (I Jn. 1:8-10).
Have you, fellow citizen of the Divine kingdom, an awareness that you have sinned and come short of the glory of God since you put on Christ in your baptism? Indeed, are you not conscious that daily, in some respects, you fail to measure up to “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13)? Do not be ensnared by Satan in permitting him to use this knowledge to drive you out from the Presence of the Father. Christ died for your sins, and He is now in the heavenly sanctuary to plead His sacrifice for the propitiation of all your sins. So, in fullness of faith in the situation as God represents it in His Word, confess your sins to Him, repenting thereof with godly sorrow, and be fully assured that He has forgiven you of your sins, as He has said that He would. So are you to “hold” that “conscience toward God,” without which none can draw near to Him with confidence, and know that He receives him and hears his prayers (I Pet. 2:19; I Jn. 3:19-22).
"Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning; and ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord, when he will return from the wedding; that when he cometh and knocketh, they may open unto him immediately" (Lk. 12:35-36).