The Alternating Conscience

conscienceWe get a glimpse of how the conscience works in Paul’s letter to the Romans, in chapter 2:14-15.

But Paul uses a progressive argument all the way through to chapter 8, so everything he says up to that point, has to be considered as “not the end of the story”. At the end of chapter 8, he concludes that section with the real point that he wants to make, and we might as well look at that now, just so we know where we’re going:

If God is for us, who is against us? (verse 31)
He did not even spare His own Son but offered Him up for us all; how will He not also with Him grant us everything?

Who can bring an accusation against God’s elect? (verse 33)
God is the One who justifies.

Who is the one who condemns? (verse 34)
Christ Jesus is the One who died, but even more, has been raised; He also is at the right hand of God and intercedes for us.

Who can separate us from the love of Christ? (verse 35)
Can affliction or anguish or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?

No, in all these things we are more than victorious through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that not even death or life, angels or rulers, things present or things to come, hostile powers, height or depth, or any other created thing will have the power to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord! (Romans 8:37–39)

So that’s the point of Romans, up to chapter 8. God does not condemn, he justifies. Jesus was the one who died and was raised – He took our own condemnation on himself. Now he intercedes for us, on our behalf.

Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, no anguish, persecution, famine, nakedness (shame) or even those who want to kill us for our faith.
Jesus is our victory. It is through his love for us that we are victorious. It’s worth noting that there is a tie-in here also with Romans 7. The careful reader will see that when Paul says “Who is the one who condemns?” that he’s pointing back to his own struggle in doing what he doesn’t want to do.

I remember having a moment of epiphany several years ago – I realized I am not my own victory, Jesus is! Now I am free to have unbroken union with the Father.

But there’s this little problem – the conscience – and it’s important to see something here, to learn a little about how it works, so we can be wise to its ways inside our heads.

In explaining why both Jews and Gentiles are accountable to God, Paul shows that it is the contract of keeping commands for righteousness that is what brings everyone under condemnation. Trying to be right with God based on what we do! This was the promise the Israelites made to God in their part of the legal contract of Moses – “tell us what to do, we will do it all, and we will do it all diligently, and it (our doing) will be our righteousness” (my paraphrase of Deuteronomy 6:25 and Deuteronomy, chapter 28)

But what about the Gentiles? They were never given the law of Moses. Paul’s argument is that they show the same work of the law (condemnation) written in their hearts because their conscience alternately accuses or excuses them. Because Gentiles have a conscience, they’re in the same boat with those who have the law — condemned. All the world is accountable to God.

Here’s the section I’m talking about, in Romans 2:14-15

So, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, instinctively do what the law demands, they are a law to themselves even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts. Their consciences confirm this. Their competing thoughts will either accuse or excuse them (Romans 2:14–15, HCSB)”

This idea of alternating accusing and excusing struck me as odd one day. I realized that’s what other people do, when I heard them in conversations. I’m a little dense sometimes, so it took a little while for me to make the connection that I do the same thing! Funny, everyone else does something, but I don’t always think of myself as “like those other people”. Excuse-making!

Watch this in other people, then once you see it, reflect on yourself too, and see what I mean. Here’s what to watch — listen to people, hear people talk, and watch what happens when you see an *accusation* come someone’s way, perhaps from their friend, co-worker or a relative. It’s an almost fail-safe guarantee that what you will see immediately after the accusation is some form of excuse. Sometimes it’s an automatic response. Sometimes you won’t hear the excuse until the accuser leaves the area. When you hear it, it might sound something like one of these phrases:

I can’t help it;

I was born that way;

I was raised that way;

Everybody else does it;

It’s no big deal;

Who are you to judge me?;

Those people are hypocrites;

I don’t care.

I say to watch others for the simple fact that it’s often easier to have a higher degree of objectivity with other people. We all tend to think of ourselves in our own guarded ways … subjectively. But when we see things in other people, if we’re honest, we’ll admit that if everyone else has this problem, then we must have it too. Then we’re able to have an honest conversation with ourselves.

After looking at others, ask yourself, “What do I do when I am accused by someone of something?” But go a little deeper and ask, “What do I do when I accuse myself of something?” What does my inner dialogue sound like when my conscience does the “work of the law” inside me. Do I make an excuse, or do I accept the charge?

Here’s the thing — we are all self-righteously programmed to do the same thing the Israelites did with Moses. Tell me what to do, I will do it, and it will be my righteousness. If we have a problem with the doing, we have two options;

1) resist the standard by lowering the bar of acceptability, or

2) make an excuse.

In reality, both options are a form of excuse-making, since the first option is really just making the excuse that there is no higher standard for us other than the one we can keep; We can be kind to Trump, but Hillary deserves all our scorn. Hillary is the blessed Virgin Mary, but Donald is evil incarnate. What about “treating everyone like we’d want to be treated” (even our enemies).

This is where the gospel comes in to meet our conscience head-on. This is the whole point of why some of our friends are Jesus-Freaks and we just don’t get it. The Good News is that we don’t have to lower the bar, the standard of righteousness, anymore. We are now free to be really, truly, for the first time, honest with ourselves! We can accept the charge from friends, foes, and our own conscience that there’s something wrong with us without making an excuse. Now, our conscience can bring a charge against us and we are 100% free to agree with it! Why? How? Because now our righteousness is no longer self-righteousness, it is Christ’s righteousness!

“…through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men” Romans 5:18b

“…through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.” Romans 5:19b

“The Law (or ‘conscience’ for the Gentile) came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,” Romans 5:20

“so that, as sin reigned in death, even so __grace would reign through righteousness__ to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Romans 5:21

“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” 2nd Corinthians 5:21

Now that Jesus’ righteousness is our righteousness, we are free from condemnation. We are free from the death of our own conscience. There’s no need to excuse ourselves any longer. And we are free from the accusations of others — because we accept the charges as legitimate. We can do this even when another person’s accusation isn’t legitimate, because who cares! They accuse, but God makes us righteous in Christ. Sometimes other people make accusations against us as part of their own excuse-making, but so what! We are free from the death of their accusation because we have died to self-righteousness. We are free to do so, because our righteousness is not our own! We don’t need others to think highly of us – God thinks highly of us!

The rest of Romans, up to chapter 8, deals with the faithfulness of Christ, how our faith connects us to his faithfulness, and how grace doesn’t cause us to live like the devil, because those who are united with Christ are united with him in both his death and his resurrection. But even so, there are real struggles. Our spirits are new and we have a new mindset, a new attitude, a new paradigm. We filter things differently. We think differently, but our bodies are old and not yet redeemed. In our new, holy attitude, we desire to do what is right, but don’t always find ourselves doing it. What’s the answer? Make another excuse? No, the answer is “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, i.e., those joined with him in his death, a death to the old way of thinking and doing, death to self-righteousness, ignorance of truth, hardhearted, callous selfishness. We learn with Paul that there is, for lack of a better word, an agent living in us, within our unredeemed bodies that opposes our will. But that’s the thing — we have a new will. Though we live in this old body and will still sin, we have a new mindset of the Spirit. We sin, but it is against the will of our mind. And it is this new mindset that proves we are children of God, not the ability to live sin-free.

And in this truth – we GROW. We don’t enter into the kingdom knowing everything with years of wisdom behind us. We enter as babes, and in the grand scheme of eternity, everyone of us is a babe – a newbie. God’s development of us takes time.

The experience of Israel is a lesson to us, when God said to them (about their enemies), “I will not drive them out ahead of you in a single year; otherwise, the land would become desolate, and wild animals would multiply against you. I will drive them out little by little ahead of you until you have become numerous and take possession of the land.” (Exodus 23:29–30). That’s a type for us. Israel didn’t just walk up to the Holy Land one day and walk right in. It took time. And Moses, the representative of the Law (and by extension, the conscience) couldn’t even go into the Promised Land. Why? Because he goofed up one time. The Jews didn’t go into the Promise until they stepped into the Jordan by faith with Moses’ successor, Joshua, whose Hebrew name happens to be same as our Savior’s – Jesus. It is Jesus who takes us into the Promise, and we follow with him in faith – dependent trust. The condemnation of the law, or the conscience, we leave behind us on the wilderness side of the Jordan.

Going Beyond Red Letter Christianity

There’s no such thing as a Red Letter Christian – the idea among some political activists who attempt to blend their brand of progressive, social justice with (some of) the words of Jesus. Never mind that Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world”, the term itself is an oxymoron, since the disciples of The Way weren’t called Christians until Acts 11, several years after the death and resurrection of our Lord, well into the black letters.

John 18:36 – Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.”

Apparently, the disciples didn’t get the memo that the gospel wasn’t about social activism. But we can’t be too hard on them, because at the time when Jesus was being handed over to Pilate, the disciples didn’t have full knowledge of exactly what the gospel was. They had been banking on this idea of political overthrow and were ready to fight for that kingdom (even ready to cut someone’s ear off to resist Jesus’ capture). But, they would have to wait for Jesus to die and rise again, to put an end to the Red Letters, then wait again for the black letters, where Jesus would send the Spirit of truth to guide them into all the truth.

John 16:12–14 (NASB95) – 12 “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. 14 “He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you.

The word ‘bear’ above means ‘to carry, to pick up’, and when applied to concepts, takes on the meaning of ‘to comprehend, to accept’.

31.55 βαστάζωf; φέρωk: to accept, but with the implication of the truth being difficult to comprehend or to respond to properly—‘to accept, to receive.’ – Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament based on Semantic Domains, Louw, Nida

Jesus was saying, about the things which the Spirit would reveal to them later, that the disciples couldn’t accept them now… couldn’t receive them… couldn’t comprehend them at that time.

The disciples in Jesus’ earthly ministry could not fully comprehend what Jesus had yet to say to them through the Spirit, who would come later, after the cross. In other words, there is no such thing as a “Red Letter Christian” because Jesus’ pre-cross message was incomplete — there was more to come! Anyone who restricts their base of doctrine to only the words spoken by Christ during his earthly ministry to the Jews, is getting only partial revelation because the Lord had much more to say, and he wouldn’t say it until after the red letters came to an end!

Acts 9:15 (NASB95) – 15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel;

When our risen Lord called Paul and confirmed his calling through Ananias, the Lord explains to Ananias that Paul is a ‘chosen instrument of mine to __bear__ my name before the Gentiles’ — to bear — to pick up, to carry, to make my name comprehensible to the Gentiles.

Thus, that which was incomprehensible to the early, Jewish disciples would later be ‘carried’, ‘picked up, ‘made comprehensible’. Our risen Lord, chose Paul to make comprehensible to the Gentiles that which the other disciples could not receive before the Spirit. If we disregard the message that Christ has sent to us through his Apostle Paul, then we are willfully disregarding Christ’s own, complete message.

willful ignorance: The practice or act of intentional and blatant avoidance, disregard or disagreement with facts, empirical evidence and well-founded arguments because they oppose or contradict your own existing personal beliefs – The Urban Dictionary

But God first revealed to Peter this fact that Gentiles are saved by grace and continue to live by grace apart from works and without being circumcised in accordance with the law of Moses (Acts 10 & 11). Imagine the conundrum if Paul had appeared out of nowhere and said “Here I am… your former persecutor … here to take your message to the Gentiles!” They would have laughed him out of town! But Peter’s authority was well-respected, so it had to be revealed first to Peter. Even then, the Jewish Christians were ready to give Peter a verbal lashing, until Peter recounted what the Lord had showed him and said to him in a vision — beyond the red letters of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Goodbye Lord Putrid!

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In our house, we have a trash container that we keep in the garage. It’s on loan to us from the local trash service. I have a problem with this trash container though — it stinks!

Here is what happens, we cut up meats when we’re cooking and throw away the trimmings… raw chicken skin, bones and fat, beef parts, fish, etc. And over the course of a week, that stuff starts to put off a really disgusting smell. Add on top of that the fact that we have two animals, a cat and dog. In our community, it’s expected of us that we pick up the dog doo and dispose of it ourselves.

So we have this trash container that smells like rotten kitchen scraps and dog crap. And it’s conveniently situated inside our garage. How nice. Hail Lord Putrid.

What am I really writing about? Something boring – the old Greek word: skybalon.

Skybalon means “kitchen scraps, garbage, refuse, excrement, manure, crap”. It’s a rotten word — full of stink. Skybalon is the kind of stuff that stinks so much it makes you turn away as you feel your stomach heave uncontrollably. Skybalon makes you heave…. upchuck… earl… blow chunks… puke.

Nice topic, I know.

But here’s what I’m really, really talking about: The apostle Paul used this word in his letter to the Philippians (see quote below). In paraphrase, he said, “There are people who go around talking about how good they are, about how they follow all the rules perfectly, but I do that too! In fact I’m better than all those people”. Then he goes on to explain how he’s better, by his conformance to the laws of Moses, his nationality, his tribe, his sect, his zeal and finally, his righteousness under the old covenant Mosaic system: he was blameless!

Then he dropped the Skybalon bomb.

Referring back to his righteousness (blamelessness) under the law. He said, “Ya know, whatever good those things did for me, I consider it as not belonging to me anymore”. Then he continued, “Ya know, I’ll even go a step farther and say ‘Not only does it not belong to me anymore, but I consider that stuff as Skybalon in comparison so that I may gain Christ.

In other words, Paul said that stuff made him want to puke. He said it was all crap.

Goodbye Lord Putrid!

But what was it that Paul gained in knowing Christ Jesus as Lord? He continued, “that I am found in Him not having a righteousness of my own derived from Law but that which is through faith in Christ. He even repeats that last clause, “the righteousness (remember, this means ‘blamelessness before God’) that comes from God on the basis of faith”. And then he goes on, “that I may know Him and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of His sufferings, being conformed to his death, so that I may get to the resurrection.

Paul was in dire circumstances and he believed his life was nearing its end, that he would soon be martyred for his faith. He was ready for this and welcomed it because death meant only one thing for him — resurrection! He could not get to the resurrection through obedience to legal commands. He could only get to it via a foreign, alien righteousness that didn’t come from himself… he needed God’s gift of righteousness that is given in faith to those who are united with the Father in Christ – to those who know Jesus.

Not religion. But knowing our Savior. Religion is skybalon.

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Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision; for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh, although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish (skybalon) so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:2–11, NASB95)

Everlasting Righteousness lasts forever

Everlasting righteousness is just that – it’s righteousness that lasts forever.

Our heavenly Father doesn’t give it only to take it away again. Righteousness, which is a state of being sin-free before God and being found blameless before God, is a gift from God to you – you don’t earn it. (Romans 4; Romans 5; Philippians 3)

Repeat: you don’t earn it.  If you could stop sinning in order to be found righteous, it wouldn’t be a gift.

Those who receive this gift in Christ don’t need to keep begging for it and acting like they might lose it. Brutha, sista – it ain’t dependent on you. It’s a GIFT.

Why is this important? Because God will judge every individual by their deeds . Those who persevere and do good go to eternal life and those who do the law will be justified (Romans 2:10, 13) – BUT,

… and this is a really big “but” that people often miss:

there is none righteous, not even one” (Rom 3:10)

Yet, judgment is coming.

So the short of it is this:
Perfectly good people could enter into a relationship with their Creator,
but you aint it,
and neither am I, and neither is your wife, your mom, your dad, your brother, your neighbor, your mayor, your president, your pastor… BUT,

and this is a really big “but” that people often miss:

Jesus is perfect – and it’s His righteousness that is exchanged for your sin (2 Cor 5:21)

You can’t be righteous to get righteous to have heaven here on earth and in the afterlife. You can only receive it, in humility, admitting to God that “you ain’t all that and then some”. You receive and God does that work. BUT,

and this is a really big “but”:

This message ain’t for everyone. If you’re on top of your game and if you’re too strong to be weak and too great to be humbled, this message is designed by God to go into one ear and straight out the other. He opposes the proud, yet gives grace to the humble. If you find yourself in need, an imperfect person at the end of your own ability to be “the good one”, then this is your message and your time to receive it. Today. Right now. “Lord make it real for me – I want Christ”s gift of righteousness”.

And …

This is a really big “and”:

And we never leave this gospel (Message of Good News). This gospel of the gift of Christ’s righteousness to you, and unearned by you, received in faith (trusting dependence) is what defines Christianity.

Anything less or different is just a crowd of people playing religion.

Everlasting Righteousness lasts forever.

Note to Self – Today’s Resurrection Life

Note to self:
Trust God for today’s resurrection life. My Father in heaven is a God who makes promises and fulfills them. He demonstrated His power for life by raising Christ from the grave. He gave me that promise of forever-life and proved that He is able to fulfill that promise. My hope is a sure thing – a done deal.
I live in a new heavenly age that belongs to God – one that is superimposed over and on top of an evil age – one that is coming, and already is.
I live out my resurrected-forever-life *now* – today. I live it now, by faith, trusting Him to do the living in me.
My life – looks like His life, because it is His life – full of selfless love, mercy, compassion, kindness, gentleness, self-control, purity and holiness.
His Life – my Life – gives glory to the Father… it displays His splendor, for it belongs to Him. It comes from Him in power and goes back to Him in glory.
My life – His Life – is housed in a weak container – but hey, my Life is about Jesus and His power, not about me and my own power …
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“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. — Galatians 2:20
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For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. — 2 Cor 4:11
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For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, — Romans 8:6
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If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. — Romans 8:10

The Anchor in the Ocean

In the first century, an inscription at the temple in Jerusalem, written in Latin and Greek, read as follows:

“No foreigner is to go beyond the balustrade and the plaza of the temple zone. Whoever is caught doing so will have himself to blame for his death which will follow.”

To those who have placed their dependence on Christ for His faithfulness to the Father:

You can go forward – into God’s throne room. When Christ died, the veil that hid the Holy of Holies in the temple was torn from top to bottom. This is a sign, a shadow of the reality that Christ entered the real throne room of God in heaven and cleared the way for you to come in too. He took an anchor, attached to the boat that is the church, which is you, and set it down in God’s throne room – even when you drift in the ocean of life, you are forever connected to Holiest place in the heavens because of the blood of Christ. You live in the presence of the Father because that’s where Christ Jesus lives!
He himself is the anchor, and we hope, not in ourselves, but only in Him.

Don’t you ever forget it! And don’t let anyone rob you of that!

“We have this hope as an anchor for our lives, safe and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain. Jesus has entered there on our behalf as a forerunner, because He has become a high priest forever.”  Hebrews 6:19-20 HCSB

“This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”  Hebrews 6:19-20 NASB

Hurry Up and Stop!

I love this play on words in Hebrews 4:11, where it says, “be diligent to enter that rest”.

The word for ‘diligent’ means ‘hurry, hasten’.
The word for ‘rest’ is ‘to stop’.

So in effect it says,

“hurry up and stop”.

THIS IS MY KIND OF HUMOR. 

In context the writer is saying, since there’s some scary stuff under the old covenant, God wants works-based people to hurry up and stop working for their righteousness with God. Trust in the finished work of Jesus!
And this ain’t no “baby-steps-to-Jesus-I-took-30-years-ago”…

This is present day, moment by moment, right-now dependence on Christ for our access to the Father.

Quickbits – (not) Pursuing God

Zeal is defined, “great energy or enthusiasm in pursuit of a cause or an objective“.

But according to the Apostle Paul, trying to follow God and/or being a good person is not what spiritual life is about.
Knowing the righteousness of God, in place of your own, and depending on that is where it’s at.

This is dependence on Jesus as The Good Person.

It’s not about self-righteousness;
it’s about Christ-Righteousness.

Romans 10:1-4
NCV (New Century Version)
Brothers and sisters, the thing I want most is for all [of them] to be saved. That is my prayer to God. I can say this about them: They really try to follow God, but they do not know the right way. Because they did not know the way that God makes people right with him, they tried to make themselves right in their own way. So they did not accept God’s way of making people right. Christ ended the law so that everyone who believes in him may be right with God.

(NRSV)
Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. I can testify that they have a zeal for God, but it is not enlightened. For, being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they have not submitted to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.