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Conscience and the Covenant Eschatology

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By Mick - Posted on 14 October 2006

by Mickey Denen
Much has been written on this web site about the redemption Jesus brought to the world. I am eternally grateful to the many members of PlanetPreterist for their insight into the scriptures. I now turn to you to help me in my understanding. I have been thinking about conscience for many years and have talked with some of you as far back as TruthVoice2003 about my thoughts. I have finally written an article for your comments to help guide my thoughts.Much has been written on this web site about the redemption Jesus brought to the world. I am eternally grateful to the many members of PlanetPreterist for their insight into the scriptures. I now turn to you to help me in my understanding. I have been thinking about conscience for many years and have talked with some of you as far back as TruthVoice2003 about my thoughts. I have finally written an article for your comments to help guide my thoughts.Why do I believe conscience is an important concept[a] to be discussed in the context of Covenant Eschatology? Paul writes,

1 Timothy 1:3-7 (ESV) 3As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, 4nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. 5The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 6Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, 7desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.

Paul seems to be addressing the message of the gospel and what can detract from this message. It appears he is addressing gentile converts to Christianity who were being persuaded to incorporate Jewish or Gentile mythology[b][1], Jewish genealogy, vain discussion and Jewish Law into the message of the Gospel. Paul seems to be saying the way for the church as Ephesus to avoid these problems was to live a life of love that came from a pure heart, good conscience and sincere faith.

I do not believe the things which Paul addresses here are limited in application to the church of Ephesus or to the Jewish or Gentile cultures, but are eternal truths about the goal of the Gospel in the lives of humanity for all time. Paul seems to be saying the final purpose (τέλος) of the command (παραγγελία) he received from Jesus and the Holy Spirit is for people to live with this love that emanates (εἰμί) from the three sources he mentions. Our goal in life as Christians seems to be to live a life of love that comes from a clean heart, good conscience and a sincere faith. While a biblical understanding of what a pure heart and sincere faith are equally important in this passage, this article will only address conscience.

Conscience (συνείδησις) refers to active and discerning (self-) awareness or conviction generated by a specific standard demanding certain behavior. It is assumed to be a universally human phenomenon.[2] Conscience seem to be very important as the flaw of the OT covenant was its inability to perfect conscience (Heb 9.9), Jesus’ redemptive work included the purification of conscience from dead works, allowing humanity to serve the living God (Heb. 9.14). Additionally, conscience seems to be important to waging the good warfare, although this context may only have a First Century application. Conscience can be weak and defiled (1 Cor. 8.7-10, Titus 1.15), wounded (1 Cor. 8.12), seared (1 Tim. 4.12), clean (Acts 24.16, Heb. 13.18), and good (Acts 23.1, 1 Pet.3.21, and others). Finally, if some Greek texts are correct then conscience can be convicted by the words and actions of Jesus (John 8.9).

The Bible teaches everyone has a conscience (2 Cor. 4.2). Others have asked the question, “Is conscience acquired of inherited?” I offer for your consideration that it was acquired by Adam and inherited, by humanity, through him. I ask you to consider what I believe to be true, conscience was acquired in the Garden, and Man was not created with conscience. The “Sin of Adam” resulted in the acquisition of conscience. What is the acquisition of the knowledge of good and bad (רַע )[3][4] but the acquisition of conscience, i.e. the awareness of all that is not God? If conscience is what gives us self-awareness it is obvious that is what happened in the Garden, which caused Adam and Eve to hide and clothe themselves. In the Garden, Adam was serving God, according to His purpose, until he ate of the fruit and had to be removed from the Garden. So I submit what all humanity has acquired through Adam is conscience. I believe this is one dimension of the phrase “In Adam all died.” The cleansing of conscience is required for humanity to be restored to the presence of God which could only be accomplished through Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 15.22) and not through the works of the Law (Heb 9.9).

The writer of Hebrews seems to look forward to a time in Israel’s history when conscience would be cleaned. Apollos[c] writes,

Hebrews 9:23-10:8 (ESV)23Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. 25Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, 26for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. 1For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. 2Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sin? 3But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sin every year. 4For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. 5Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; 6in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. 7Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’ ” 8When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law),

The forgiveness of sin was dealt with by Jesus death and His entering into the Holy of Holies. When he reappeared, the anti-type of the High Priest, He brought salvation. The nature of that salvation included the removal of the consciousness of sin. This was tied to the cessation of the sacrifices, which occurred with the destruction of the Temple.

Apollos continues to point out that entrance into the presence of God was drawing near and it was tied to the cleansing of conscience.

Hebrews 10:19-25 (ESV) 19Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

This entrance was by the blood of Jesus. We have an advantage over pre-parousia Christians. They had the forgiveness of sins but not the cleaning of conscience. In the First Century, there existed consciences that were weak/defiled or strong, among them, based on knowledge (1 Cor.8.7-10), but knowledge puffs up love builds up (1 Cor 8.1). As a result the “charge” of the Apostles could not be fully completed. In the post-parousia reign of Christ our consciences have been cleaned. We just need to act on faith and understand our consciences have been cleaned. As a result, we draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. This sounds a lot like the pure heart, good conscience and sincere faith of 1 Timothy 1.3-7.

[a] I am aware it would be easy to criticize this view since the idea of conscience appears to be foreign to the LXX except Eccl. 10:20; Wis. 17:11; Sir. 42:18 and appears in the Gospels only once in a secondary reading of John 8.9, Elzevir Textus Receptus (1624), Novum Testamentum Graece (Tischendorf), Scrivener's Textus Receptus (1550,1894)

[b] I attribute mythology to gentiles as their stories being told would not lead to darkness and lies, while the OT stories actually leads those who listen to the light. (Gal 3.24-25). That being said Jewish mythology did exist. (Titus 1.13)

[c] I say a Apollos as I am suspicious the writer of Hebrew is Apollos, I wanted to see if you were still paying attention and it is shorter than always writing the Author of Hebrews.

[1] μῦθος múthos; gen. múthou, masc. noun. Commonly rendered as a tale or a fable or that which is fabricated by the mind in contrast to reality. It is the word from which “mythology” is derived. There may be much lógos (3056), logic and reasoning, in a myth. In the NT, however, the word “myth” does not have the meaning of being a vehicle of some lofty truth as in the early use of the word. Mostly used in the NT denoting a fable full of falsehoods and pretenses. Thus, in 1 Tim. 4:7, fables are described as bébēloi (952), profane, and graó̄dēs (1126), belonging to old women; in Titus 1:14 as Jewish fables; in 2 Pet. 1:16 as múthoi sesophisménoi (perf. pass. part. of sophízō [4679], to make or appear wise), the result of sophistry, cunning fables for the purpose of deceiving others. In 1 Tim. 1:4 and 2 Tim. 4:4, the use of the word is equally contemptuous. Although lógos and múthos begin together with the thought, intelligence, or mind, they part ranks since the first ends in the kingdom of light and truth and the second in the kingdom of darkness and lies. The complete Word Study Dictionary of the New Testament. (WSNTDICT)

[2] The Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament (EDNT)

[3] The Hebrew word translated “bad” has a much broader meaning than moral evil. Pain is bad, and so are sickness, ugliness, and disorder.—Kass, Leon, The Beginning of Wisdom. Pg. 63.

[4] 1. Bad, evil, wicked, no good, i.e., pertaining to that which is not morally pure or good according to a proper standard, implying this evil hinders or severs a relationship to a person or principle which is proper; 2. Bad, poor, no good, i.e., pertaining to that which has undesirable features in an object, and so have lesser or no value (Lev 27:10ab); 3. Fierce, wild, harmful, i.e., pertaining to that which can harm or injure an object (Gen. 37:20), 4. Sad, i.e., pertaining to an appearance of the face which communicates sorrow or troubled feelings (Gen 40:7); 5. Troubled, miserable, distressed, i.e., pertaining to an attitude or emotion of anxiety and worry (Ps 94:13); A Dictionary of Biblical Languages. (DBL Hebrew)

davo's picture

2Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sin? 3But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sin every year.

The forgiveness of sin was dealt with by Jesus death and His entering into the Holy of Holies. When he reappeared, the anti-type of the High Priest, He brought salvation. The nature of that salvation included the removal of the consciousness of sin.While this is 100% true, what has veiled this truth is the work of "churchianity" i.e. performance based belief and practice. Even ancient Israel had it better than what churchianity has dished up to us today – they at least only had a "reminder of sin" ONCE a year through the atonement sacrifice, yet we so-called freed "believers" have been plagued the notion that we must "rend our hearts daily!!" So much so that the blood of bulls and goats had the power minister release from sin consciousness for a whole 12 months, but the blood of Jesus cannot bring release for a miserable 12 seconds, before we feel the need to confess our sins again – this is a gross insult to the Spirit of Grace. WE have made "sin consciousness" the issue and business of Christianity, something that is a crass undermining of the completed work of Christ's Cross, where ONCE and FOR ALL he tasted death for EVERY MAN [Heb 2:9].

Institutionalised religions' grasp on people's very lives hinges 100% on maintaining this "sin consciousness", and will not release its controlling grip without much struggle. Yet the more folk come to have "ah ha" moments where they gain a glimpse of the grace of God and the forgiveness that IS ALREADY THEIRS APART from performance, then the more they will walk free from religion's toxic and manipulating grip.

It was "for freedom Christ has made us free…" – the mixing of law [performance] and grace [forgiveness] by those who "understand neither what they say nor the things which they affirm" was a perennial problem for Paul that exists down to our day, yet those who can grasp "the freedom" from sin consciousness will come to see the reality of God's grace for ALL in more and more new and refreshing ways.

davo

Patronius's picture

Great Article.
This may be simple questions but what happens to my conscience when I knowingly sin? or, how can my conscience be clean if I can't master my sins? along the same line - how does: "he that is without sin" / "for all have sinned" (a lifetime continual sentence really) play out?
I still struggle to answer these basic concepts.
Thank You in anticipation.

Virgil's picture

Davo - just a quick FYI. Mick may not be able to reply very soon to your comment...this morning at church his back gave out completely and he couldn't even walk. Perhaps you folks can say a prayer for him - he is severe pain right now and last I heard they had to call an ambulance to get him home or to the hospital.

davo's picture

Will do Virgil -- thanks for letting us know. That is no good at all Mick, you poor fella, may you know a better than speedy recovery.

davo

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