articles ♦ discussion ♦ blog
In the Bible it is written, “Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned.” (1Tim 1:5) This text provides for us a clear, simple statement of God’s goals and objectives in giving us His commandments: His laws and instructions found in Torah, the Law of Moses. The word end in our text is the Greek telos, which is the point aimed at as a limit. (Strong) God is explaining to us the benefits He intended for us in a right use of His Law.
As if to emphasize the importance of this topic, God immediately warns us what happens when we forget this purpose and/or fail to pursue these goals as we study Torah: “From which some having swerved have turned aside unto vain jangling; desiring to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm.” (1Ti 1:6-7) Evidently, it is very easy to pursue something as powerful as the Law of God with wrong motives; in doing so one loses the benefit God intended therein and fails to edify themselves or others in the process. It is therefore very helpful that we understand how God uses Torah to achieve these goals in us, and it is absolutely imperative that we keep these purposes of God before us as we study and apply God’s laws so that our labor will not be in vain.
Charity out of a Pure Heart
It is no wonder that God’s first purpose in giving us Torah centers in His greatest commandments: to love God with our whole being and our neighbor as ourselves. (Matt 22:37-40) Charity is the selfless agape love that seeks the welfare of others regardless of their disposition, nature, or their treatment of us or others. All obedience without this kind of love is worthless (1Cor 13) so increasing and abounding more and more in real love, a genuine care for the welfare of others that is rooted in wisdom, knowledge, and all discernment (Php 1:9), must accompany any godly pursuit of understanding in Torah.
The way Torah helps us here is that it actually functions as God’s definition of love, both toward others and toward Himself: “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.” (1Jn 5:2-3) It is so very easy to confuse love with being nice and doing our best to please others, but this is often foolish and harmful – both to others and ourselves — rather than truly loving. God has therefore defined for us what true love looks like, in a myriad of examples and scenarios in Torah. The process of memorizing Torah, hiding it in your heart and meditating on it (Ps 1:2), obeying it in every way that you are able, renews and aligns the spirit of your mind (Ro 12:2) with God’s ways and so equips you to love others in sincerity, purity and truth. (2Tim 3:16-17, Ps 19:7, Ps 119:1-6)
God’s goal is not merely charity, this unselfish love for others: God’s goal is charityout of a pure heart, love that springs out of an inmost being which is clean, undefiled, holy and pure. Those who have pure hearts have been deeply blessed by God and are destined to see Him (Matt 5:8), and in seeing Him are destined to be transformed into His likeness. (1Jn 3:2) Everyone who is expecting and looking forward to this end purifies their own hearts in the same way that God is pure. (1Jn 3:3) As Torah defines love, Torah helps us in this transformation by also defining holiness, purity and sin: sin is the transgression of Torah (1Jn 3:4) and God’s call to holiness is intrinsic to the nature of Torah: believers are to pursue holiness because God calls us purity through obedience to His law. (1Pe 1:15-16, Lev 11:44-45) Obedience to Torah in the power of the Spirit produces purity and holiness by definition. (Ro 8:4)
A Good Conscience
God’s second goal in our transformation as He works His will in us (Php 2:13) is that we have a good conscience. What does this mean?
Our conscience is our inner sense of what is right or wrong in conduct or motives, impelling us toward right action. It is a sense, much like sight or touch or hearing; it detects, interprets and evaluates the rightness or wrongness of something we experience which has a moral dimension or aspect. At an idiomatic, high level then, maintaining a good conscience is to consistently act in a manner such that one does not feel guilty. This is certainly God’s will for us, yet given the import of our context there is evidently much more here to consider.
The very concept of morality implies and conveys a type of standard by which to measure the goodness or wickedness of something, and this is not at all a matter of how much we prefer it. We may prefer watermelon over cantaloupe, but this is not a moral evaluation. Morality implies an external standard, independent of Man, a device by which we may measure and evaluate the alignment of certain actions or thoughts, either of ourselves or others, with something else outside of and beyond Man: and this something is necessarily the expectation and decree of God Himself. Morality is a spiritual dimension involving alignment with God’s definition of good and evil.
So, now that we understand what a conscience is and its function in the moral dimension, we can more completely define a good conscience (1Tim 1:19) as one that works correctly: it is a sense of right and wrong which accurately detects and evaluates the morality of something; that is, a good conscience evaluates the moral quality of an event in the same way God evaluates it. A good conscience uses the same ruler that God uses when defining good and evil; it uses the same metric, the same measuring system and convention.
An Evil Conscience
So then, knowing what a good conscience is, what about an evil conscience? (Heb 10:22) or a weak, wounded or defiled one (1Cor 8:12), or even a seared conscience? (1Tim 4:2) These terms must all refer to various ways and degrees in which a conscience does not function as it is designed to function: it does not evaluate good and evil in the same way that God does. Everyone has a conscience, a sense of what is right and wrong, but this does not mean that when a person senses that something in particular is right (or wrong) that this thing actually is right (or wrong). All of us have a conscience that does not work correctly all the time: there are cases where we don’t measure good and evil the way God does … and some of us are much more broken here than others.
Even though this concept is surprisingly simple to explain, most folk have never given it much thought; most all of us go stumbling along through life never questioning whether our sense of right and wrong is accurate or not, or where it comes from. Most people presume that when they feel something is wrong then itmust be wrong, and if they feel something is right then it must be right. We make hundreds of moral evaluations every single day, we have discussions, debates, and arguments about moral issues – particularly in political and religious circles, and never have any real clue whether our conscience is working correctly or not.
People generally have no idea what the actual moral standard is by which they are measuring everything, and most of us do not seem to be the least bit concerned about it. It is as if we have each decided that we each have the authority and wisdom to define the ultimate moral standard on our own, independently of God or anyone else; we are basically acting as if we are God. This is a frightful phenomenon of very real blindness and rebellion which is extremely easy to observe, both in others and in ourselves, if we are the least bit introspective and honest about it. It seems to be an inherent, integral part of our carnal, rebellious nature. (Ro 8:7)
A Moral Vacuum
Take, for example, the US Supreme Court’s decision on June 16th, 2015, to legalize homosexual marriage in the twelve remaining states (it was already legal in thirty-eight states). A great deal of very heated discussion followed this ruling, yet verylittle attention was paid to the actual definition of morality: the divine standard by which homosexuality is ultimately measured. Since most Christians have rejected Torah as God’s standard of righteousness, thinking Christ abolished it, they are proposing a vague, ambiguous “love of Christ” standard as the basis of morality, but this happens to be the very same ambiguous standard which proponents of gay marriage leverage to support it! Torah-rejecting Christians are therefore having a very difficult time articulating a consistent moral basis for opposing gay marriage, a fact which energizes and emboldens those sympathetic with the gay agenda as they happily point out the obvious inconsistency in Christians and label all moral conservatives as “homophobic.”
In most any controversial moral issue we find the same phenomenon: abortion, the death penalty, welfare, pre-marital sex, women’s rights, etc. We exist in a cultural moral vacuum where nearly everyone is responding to moral questions in exactly the same way, based on how they happen to feel — in the absence of a clearly defined moral absolute – each person is simply reacting to the impulses of their own unique, broken conscience. This is the inevitable result of rejecting Torah as our moral standard: there is nothing to replace it. We try to bolster our feelings by appealing to “Traditional American Values,” the Christian faith of our founding fathers and historical cultural norms, but these types of arguments are by and large extremely weak, incomplete and unpersuasive. Without a clearly defined standard by which we can measure morality, we are lost.
The fact is, every moral discussion should begin and end without any ultimate regard for how we or anyone else happens to feel inside; we should be seeking to identify and understand the divine moral standard, validate that this standard is indeed of divine origin, and working to align our feelings with that. This leads us to the concept of healing the conscience.
Healing the Conscience
If a good conscience is one that consistently makes accurate moral assessments according to the divine standard, then healing a weak, damaged, seared or evil conscience is the process of awakening, realigning and recalibrating the conscience so that it makes better moral assessments and evaluations and does so more consistently. How does this work? How can a conscience be healed and cleansed?
For those of us whose conscience is extremely broken, when we are first regenerated God may do some major surgery to get us on the right moral footing. When we have been steeped in the lies of this world for so long that we can’t see which way is up or down, God may intervene supernaturally to cleanse our consciences, as He writes His Laws into our minds and hearts, instantly aligning our moral feelings with His own to a large degree: “How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Heb 9:14) This type of moral overhaul and quickening is a type of jump-start to sanctify us through His miraculous, instantaneous renewal of minds and hearts.
In addition to this supernatural jump-start, there is also an ongoing more natural process of healing the conscience which is also quite simple to explain. When we are meditating in God’s Word, particularly in Torah, and we see something in it that is inconsistent with the way we are thinking and feeling, we can by faith prayerfully start to align our minds and hearts with God in spite of our feelings, asking Him to conform us to His ways, and then experience the shifting of our feelings over time as we continue to seek His ways and obey Him. For example, suppose we have been taught that Sunday is the Christian Sabbath and that we are supposed to be in church on Sunday. However, as we read Torah we discover that Saturday , the seventh day, is God’s Sabbath and that it is one of God’s appointed holy convocations — a time to meet with others in God. We reason from this what we are supposed to be meeting with believers and ceasing from regular work on Saturday rather than on Sunday. So, by faith in God’s Word, we start looking for a congregation that meets on Sabbath, one that both understands the Gospel and also respects Torah, and we start treating Sunday as a regular work day. The first weekend we try this it still feels wrong; on Sunday morning we actually feel guilty in not getting ready and going to church, but we use our mind and compare this feeling with God’s Word, and we choose to override and ignore the feeling as best we can. As we continue in this obedience in spite of how we feel, over time our conscience is cleansed and we begin to feel that we are obeying God by worshipping and resting on Saturday rather than on Sunday; we no longer feel guilty obeying God. The Spirit has used this act of obedience by faith to cleanse our conscience. We have recalibrated our moral compass in this area so that it evaluates our behavior more accurately based upon God’s true moral standard rather than a lie.
There are countless ways in which this process plays out, but each time it is essentially the same pattern: we recognize an inconsistency between God’s moral standard and how we are feeling, thinking and acting. We then prayerfully seek to start aligning with, agreeing with and obeying His moral standard rather than what we have been taught, in spite of how we are feeling about it, and over time our moral compass straightens out and points more truly toward the goal of God’s holiness than it did before. This process has more of a natural appearance to it than the miraculous jump-start which God sometimes does in us, but underneath it all God is still at work sanctifying us — now He is just allowing us to participate with Him in this process, which is indeed a great privilege for us. All true believers benefit from this supernatural, ongoing cleansing work of God and we should regularly be recognizing and thanking God for His precious sanctifying of our conscience. God is working in all believers, individually and corporately, “that he might sanctify and cleanse (the church) with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.” (Ep 5:26-27) In this confidence then,“let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.”(Heb 10:22)
Wounding and Searing the Conscience
In the same way that our consciences are healed, we can also reverse the process through neglect and disobedience, and in reverse the process of weakening, corrupting and searing our conscience works very similarly. In the enemy’s war with the saints he is constantly lying to us about what is good and evil, and when we fail to cling to the Word of God and prayerfully identify and reject his lies we tend to receive them, and this process pollutes, defiles and corrupts our conscience: we introduce a twisting or a bending of our moral standard so that we are unable to measure good and evil as accurately as we did before. And much like sanctification, this deterioration is also a constant and ongoing warfare against us.
Further, whenever we are negligent in obeying Torah, or whenever we willfully violate it and override a healthy conscience in doing so, our conscience begins to realign with our disobedience and to quiet down; as we persist in sin over time we no longer feel as guilty about our sin. This process sears and deadens our conscience (1Cor 8:7) so that it is not as active as it was before; our sense of right and wrong no longer works the same way it did before we sinned, our conscience does not alarm us as keenly and so we are less troubled in our sin. The more we continue to violate our conscience the weaker and more corrupt our conscience becomes, and the more we enjoy our sinful behavior. In this state it is much more difficult for us to even recognize that we are in sin, much less to repent of it, since our conscience is of little help in redirecting us. At this point we may need to be confronted by a concerned brother or sister (James 5:20, Heb 10:24, 12:15), or chastened of the Lord to wake us up and cause us to search our hearts and His word for the cause. (1Co 11:32, He 12:10)
Torah: Our Moral Foundation
The fundamental building blocks of our spiritual life depend upon our ability to accurately identify God’s moral standard and make accurate moral judgments. (Act 24:16) The entire sanctification process can be viewed in these terms … the continual deliberate healing and maintenance of our conscience by recalibrating it according to Torah by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Torah is the only verifiable divine moral standard in existence; there is no other. Of this fact God has provided us infallible proof. It is no wonder then that the enemy has gone to such great lengths to discredit and vilify God’s Torah. His attacks upon it seem endless, incessant, and extremely effective. The result is a moral vacuum in which people, and sadly often believers, make moral decisions based upon lies, calling evil good and good evil: “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Is 5:20) “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Ps 11:3)
God’s final goal for us in Torah is an un-pretended, organic faith. This is another concept which is not very well understood by believers. Most of us don’t understand what faith is or how it works.
Hebrews chapter 11 is filled with examples of faith and speaks of it as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Heb 11:1) According to any good dictionary, faith is unquestioning belief which does not require proof or evidence. It is absolute assurance, a supernatural confidence in something. It can exist in the presence of proof and evidence, but faith does not require this proof or evidence. Faith is an orientation or disposition that is void of doubt about something in particular: faith and doubt are mutually exclusive with respect to the same object. Faith is the gift of God which enables one to believe Him completely when He speaks to us about something. Faith occurs when one receives the revelation of God accurately, and when His Spirit within bears witness with this truth, confirming this truth in us, convincing us of it and aligning us with it, knowing in us and with us and for us that God has spoken to us, whether through the written word of God or via supernatural revelation, and enabling us to trust that God is true – that He cannot lie. This faith is supernatural, rock-solid, steadfast, unmovable. Hebrews 11 gives us many examples of how believers lived and acted in such unfeigned faith – through persecution and incredible difficulties they were undaunted, they knew, they persevered.
Apart from the revelation of God many of us try to stir up our belief, our faith, either through emotionalism or presumption, yet this is a pretended faith, a fake, an impostor, a counterfeit, a faith “want-to-be,” an imitation and not the genuine article. As soon as persecution and inconvenience arise to block our way, this kind of “faith” vanishes like a vapor; it melts like wax before the fire. (Mat 13:21) There is nothing to it, no backbone in it, no real substance, and it cannot sustain us.
God’s blessing to us through Torah is real faith, true faith, based on His Word; it is faith unfeigned. Torah is the foundation of this faith, as all the rest of the written Word of God is based upon the bedrock of Torah, and every supernatural revelation of God is consistent with it. Torah gives us hundreds of examples of the heart and nature and ways of God, applying His moral standard in countless scenarios from a variety of angles and perspectives. The more we are grounded in Torah the more we are able to see the mind and heart of God as He truly is, and the more we are able to detect and refuse the lies of the enemy, and the more we are strengthened in believing God and taking Him at His word. (Ps 119:104)
Torah is the vast storehouse of the unsearchable riches of Christ. (Ro 11:33, Eph 3:8) To lose our foundation in Torah is to lose our way in God (Is 8:20), to lose our compass and our map, to lose the rudder of our ship, to be “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive.” (Ep 4:14) We cannot confidently and fearlessly navigate the difficulties of this life and the insidious, relentless lying of the enemy without Torah. Torah “is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” (Ps 119:105) Torah is our sword, the sword of the Spirit (Ep 6:17); without it we cannot be much of a soldier for God … just an easy target for the enemy.
Keep our Eyes on the Goal
We must constantly keep these purposes of God before us as we pursue and study Torah. To lose sight of them is to turn aside from The Way; it is to use Torah for unlawful purposes (1Ti 1:8) such as exalting ourselves (1Co 8:1), trying to establish our own righteousness before God and others (Ro 10:3), and abusing, condemning and controlling others. (Mat 23:4, Rom 2:17-20) To forget God’s intention for us here to increase us in unselfish love, to heal our conscience, and to establish and strengthen our faith, is to fall into emptiness and “vain jangling,” (1Tim 1:6) to “become as sounding brass or a tinkling symbol” (1Co 13:1) – “striving about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers.” (2Ti 2:14) The Torah of God is extremely powerful, but it is only good for us if we use it the way God intended.
A great resource to help is Tim Hegg’s Torah Resource. Further thoughts from me are introduced in Keep My Commandments, which has a list of additional articles at the end.
Please feel free to correspond with me directly about any of these articles, or on any related topic or concern. I will gladly help in any way that I can.
articles ♦ discussion ♦ blog