The conscience is the part of us affirming us in doing right, and shaming us when we aren’t. It’s like a map and compass in the race of life: absolutely indispensable.
But a conscience can become wounded and weak (1Co_8:12), even defiled and corrupted (1Co 8:7) through our lies and hypocrisy, seared with a hot iron. (1Ti 4:2) Then it’s useless, corrupting everything about us (Tit 1:15); then we’re calling evil good and good evil. (Is 5:20)
We cleanse our conscience by continually recalibrating it with God’s Word (Ps 119:9), comparing its assessments with what God says instead of the world, thereby renewing our minds by persistently aligning our conscience with revealed truth. (Ro 12:2) and allowing it time to adjust. At first, a weak conscience troubles us as we persist in obeying truth with our wills, just as it does when it’s clean and we’re offending against the truth, but it eventually heals and aligns with our will when our actions are according to truth.
God tells us to hold on to a good conscience, to protect and guard it (1Ti 1:19), to cleanse our evil conscience (He 10:22) from dead works through His blood. (He 9:14) He does this in us as we obey what we already know to be true (Ja 1:22), repenting of sin and walking according to all the truth we have (He 13:18), consistently delivering ourselves from bondage unto more and more freedom (2Ti 2:25), and ever seeking more truth (Ps 119:30), wisdom and understanding. (Pr 4:7)
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Assuming others might know something I don’t, and being open to learning from them, makes perfect sense; I don’t know everything about anything, so I can potentially learn something from everyone I meet.
But there are certain people with whom I should avoid engaging in prolonged or repeated discussions, those who fail to think in a certain way. Paul refers to perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and exhorts us to withdraw from such folk. (1Ti 6:3-5)
Evidently, there’s a certain kind of attitude in debate that’s perverted, unhealthy, irrational, twisting and corrupting the purpose of debate. When a person isn’t thinking clearly, having lied to themselves so often that they’ve seared their own conscience (1Ti 4:2), there isn’t any way to reach them with facts and evidence, so we must have some other purpose in engaging them in conversation, or we’ll be be frustrated and irritated. (Pr 29:9)
There’s a difference between being ignorant, and being self-deceived. I tend to make the mistake of thinking that if people just have enough evidence then they’ll change their minds. The longer I live, the more I think this is a rarity. Most people aren’t open to learning and changing their minds about anything; they’re just in the debate to exalt themselves by putting others in the wrong, but this isn’t the purpose of debate.
Healthy debate can only occur between two people who are both seeking truth, and it’s extremely beneficial, iron sharpening iron. Outside that unique context, we need to set expectations reasonably, and persist only to improve our own understanding, enhancing our own ability to give an answer to him who asks sincerely (1Pe 3:15), not expecting to help those who aren’t.
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The questions we ask reveal our hearts. Are we asking, “Which of God’s law must I obey?” Or are we asking, “Which of God’s laws am I allowed/permitted to obey?”
As God writes Torah into the minds and hearts of His own (He 8:10), He’s revealing that Torah is holy and just and good (Ro 7:12), such that we “delight in the law of God after the inward man.” (Ro 7:22) As He transforms us we’ll be obeying every law that we’re able to obey as well as we can, and continually asking Him to help us obey Torah better, more perfectly. (Ps 119:35)
But if we don’t delight in Torah, we’ll be looking for excuses and explanations that relieve us of any sense of duty (Ec 12:13), and most any deception will do. (2Ti 4:3) This is the posture of the carnal mind (Ro 8:7), enmity against Torah, and ultimately against the heart of God. (Ps 119:136)
So, ask yourself the question: “What kinds of questions am I asking? What does this reveal about my heart?” Examine yourself (2Co 13:5): does your life reflect the things that accompany salvation? (He 6:9) If your questions don’t reveal a delight in Torah, then something’s wrong with your inward man.
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