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Winning the War from the Inside Out

By John MacArthur


      This is as we said earlier the time which we set apart to come to the Lord's Table. We do that, at lest every month, and kind of alternate between Sunday evening and Sunday morning. So that we can all participate. And along that line I want to address a subject that is appropriate. The Bible tells us when we come to the Lord's table that we need to examine our selves. We need to look to see if there is sin in our lives. Self-examination is of course a critical and vital part of our spiritual life and development. Being honest with our selves and honest before God, calls for that self-examination. And that's why the Bible says "let a man examine him self" and then partake of the table.

      In this matter of self-examination we have to get in touch with our conscience. And I want to address that issue this morning. A couple of years ago I wrote a book called The Vanishing Conscience, which at least for me was a very, very important and foundational book. And it is still in print for which I'm grateful. But in that book I recounted a news report that I had read some years before. It was 1984 and an Avonca Jet crashed in Spain. As always after a crash like that investigators study the accident scene looking for the black box. The black box is the cockpit recorder, and that's important so they can reconstruct the conversation as well as the electronics, the technology is recorded in that black box unit to try to determine why the accident happened.

      Amazingly when the found the black box and they played the recording it revealed that several minutes before the plane flew straight into the side of a mountain, a shrill computer synthesized voice from the planes automatic warning system told the crew repeatedly "pull up, pull up, pull up, pull up." The pilot inexplicably snapped back "shut up gringo!" and flipped off the switch. Minutes later the plane smashed into the mountain and everybody was, of course instantly killed.

      When I read that It appeared to me to be a great illustration of how the conscience functions. And how a modern people treat their conscience. Conscience is the souls warning system. And it tells us when to "pull up" to go another direction, to make an immediate midcourse correction because were flying into disaster. Conscience is described for us in the second chapter of Romans verses 14 and 15. Here we learn that every body has a conscience when they come into the world, it's a gift from God, given to every human being. The pagans called gentiles here, the nations, who do not have the law, they don't have the mosaic law they don't have the scripture. But they do instinctively things that are in the law. Because though they don't have the written law, they are a law to them selves. Now what that tells us is that when God made man he made him not only a physical creature, but He made him a spiritual creature. In his physical creation man has certain capabilities, certain reflexes. He has senses, physical senses. And in his spiritual creation he has also some moral senses, some moral reflexes, some moral information. And that is the law of God written in the heart. And everybody coming into the world has a sense of right and wrong, has a built in ethical code. A built in moral compass.

      In addition verse 15 says to the law written in there hearts, "there conscience bears witness." Now that introduces us to the conscience. The conscience is a witness. The conscience gives testimony. The conscience speaks. And it speaks as to how we respond to the law. And so verse 15 says the conscience works in the thoughts alternately accusing or else defending. Now let me sum that up by simply saying, everybody who is created, comes into the world with a sense of right and wrong. That is the law written in the hearts. In addition to that, God has put the conscience, and the conscience is a warning device that sounds off when we violate that law. Or affirms when we obey it. The conscience is not that law it is merely the warning device.

      As such it's priceless to us. Because when it says "pull up, pull up, pull up!" It is giving us critical information. Warning us that continued flight in the same path is deadly. Conscience is to the soul what pain is to the body. We would like to avoid pain as much as possible but at the same time we recognize that pain is a gift from God. If you didn't have pain you would destroy your self. Its what we learned last week, didn't we. In studying Leprosy, or Hansen's Disease. You are anesthetized, once your nerves no longer responded you can literally destroy your-self because you feel nothing. Pain is critical to physical preservation. And so the Conscience is critical to spiritual preservation.

      Now when you come into the world with this sort of basic morality, and a responsive witness to that morality, that either indicts you or honors you, in response to how you conduct your-self according to that innate morality. When you come into the world that's only a minimal provision by God. To strengthen your conscience, you need to continually inform it not only of that basic morality that's written in your heart, but of that very refined comprehensive moral law recorded where? In scripture. As you raise your children you teach them the law of the Lord Deuteronomy 6 says you teach them the law of the Lord "when you stand up, lie down, sit down, walk in the way." In other words all the time, all the time, your teaching, your teaching, your teaching, your children the law of God. Because you want that law basic law written in their hearts, strengthened and developed and built up and fulfilled and completed. And so you teach them the law of God. And the more they know about the law of God the richer there understanding of scripture, the more truth there to activate the conscience to warn them. The more information the conscience has the better.

      Our society attacks that. Our society under the price of the power of the air, has two objectives. Objective number one, is destroy the moral law, so that the conscience is misinformed. Train people against what is innately the law that is in their hearts when they're born. Give them a new morality, not the morality of the Bible not God's law. We want people not to think biblically. We want them freed from that so we'll construct another morality and we'll pour that into their lives, through every means possible. That's destructive.

      Then there's a second thing that society wants to do orchestrated by the enemy of your souls. Is to tell you that your conscience is a liar. That, what's wrong with you isn't sin it's a lack of what?

      Self-esteem, it isn't that your bad, its that your good and you need to think better of your self. And so you need to turn off you switch. You need to say to your conscience "shut up gringo!" The wisdom of our age, modern psychology says that 'guilt feelings are nearly always wrong.' Always erroneous, always harmful, push them off. You are good. You're noble. And if you do go wrong its because you're a victim of someone else's abuse or negative influence. A guilty conscience isn't healthy. It shouldn't be tolerated, switch it off! So we have a whole society of people who are working hard to do that and succeeding, and flying blind into a deadly crash.

      So the society wants to do two things, misinform the conscience and desensitize it. And so always the world works on overturning biblical morality. And replacing it with tolerance of sin, and it works on silencing the conscience, and that's double deadly. The conscience is the soul reflecting on it-self. And frankly the conscience in at the core of what it means to be human, as opposed to being an animal. What distinguishes human beings from animals is self-consciousness. That is, the ability of the soul to reflect upon itself. Humans are the only creatures in the material world who can think about there thoughts. Who can contemplate why they think the way they think, who can understand there motives, who can make moral self-evaluations. And that is a God given gift. The innate ability to sense what is right and wrong. The innate ability to know that 'I am flying into a deadly mountain.'

      And when conscience is violated it produces feelings of shame, feelings of regret, feelings of guilt, feelings of fear. You think somebody's watching. Feelings of anxiety, of disgrace and feelings of anguish and feelings of depression. And conscience is designed by God to create those feelings, when the law is violated.

      Conventional wisdom today says "shut that stuff up!" Those are illegitimate internal indictments. Guilt and shame are not legitimate, "you are good." You maybe just made a mistake. Your not to blame, society is to blame, or your parents are to blame, or you ate too many Twinkies, or whatever... "You're having a reaction." Every thing has a quasi-medical or psychological explanation. It's some disorder or some syndrome that has somehow invaded your innate goodness. "Just tell your conscience to shut up."

      Now sadly, if you work at this you can succeed. The pilot could flip the switch and shut it off, and he did, and so can people. It is possible to nullify, to minimize, to silence conscience. In fact there are people who have worked so hard at it and so well at it that their conscience has become so convoluted, that their conscience which was a device given by God becomes so twisted that they are actually proud about their sins. We say about people like that they have done something that is "unconscionable." There are people who parade their iniquities. Like notches on their belt. I always think about that when I see a gay/lesbian pride parade. How do you get to that point?

      How do you get to that point where your reveling and boasting in your inequity? What happened to conscience? Paul described such convoluted consciences in Philippians 3:19 when he says "their glory, their boast, is in their shame." Amazing! You can so destroy your conscience that you literally come to the point where you consider the highest point of you honor your inequity. Paul described it in Titus 1:15 "to those who are defiled, and unbelieving nothing is pure, both their mind and their conscience are defiled." You can get to a point where nothing is pure, your conscience is silent, nonfunctioning, totally defiled, everything comes to you defiled, because your mind is defiled. You have abandoned true morality you have a defiled body of truth that you believe or really body of deception. You have a defiled belief system and you have a defiled conscience and to you all things are defiled. On the other hand, "to the pure, all things are" what? pure.

      Its essential to understand and just make sure its clear in your mind, that the conscience doesn't act independently. It can only act upon a belief system. It is not a belief system. The conscience is not the law of God, it is not the voice of God, it is not moral law, it is simply a mechanism. On that airplane there was radar. And radar shoots out waves and finds the mountain, sends back the bounce, the message is "we're getting closer and closer" to a mountain. The little voice, which is like conscience, says "pull up, pull up, pull up!" You have to have the reality dealt with in order for the conscience to react, properly. So your conscience works off of your belief system.

      The more you know about the word of God. The more your consistently in the word of God, learning the word of God, hearing the word of God, meditating on the word of God, the more informed your conscience is, truly informed. But even a Buddhist has a conscience and feels guilty by violating Buddhist ceremonies. A Mormon has a conscience, a Muslim has a conscience. Anybody's belief system informs their conscience. And a wrong belief system will wrongly inform the conscience, because its only a device that reacts to what you believe.

      Satan knows that. He knows that he can conquer people, and devastate their lives two ways. One by misinforming their conscience, they might have a sensitive, active conscience, even like a fastidious Pharisee, or somebody who's an orthodox-anything who covers every single jot and tittle of everything. A very fastidious conscience, but its all pointless because the system is wrong, its not the truth and so this fastidious conscience is reacting to deceptive things. Or he can destroy the conscience. So that by constantly over ruling your conscience it no longer functions, or better yet you can just destroy both. Take a whole society like ours and give them a false moral system and then give a whole psychological view that teaches how to silence their conscience, and they don't have radar OR a warning system.

      Conscience is the human faculty that adjudicates human behavior, by the light of the highest perceived moral standard. And if your moral standard is low enough, it has nothing to say to your conscience that can help you. And, or if you trained your conscience into silence your also in a disastrous condition. Let me say it another way the conscience is like a skylight, not a lamp. It doesn't have light of its own, it just lets light in. The light is the truth, the light is the law of God. And it shines through the conscience. Its effectiveness is determined by the purity of the light, and the clarity of the conscience. If you have a sky light in your house and its filthy dirty, your not going to enjoy the light, you have to clean it. The pure light can only shine through if its clean. So Paul is very concerned that we have the pure light of truth, and that the conscience is clean. He talks in first Timothy 3:9 about a clear conscience, a clean conscience. And he warns in 1st Corinthians 8:7 against anything that would muddy the conscience. Or as we read earlier Titus 1:15 anything that would dirty or defile the conscience. Paul wrote about a callused conscience hardened over with calluses, insensitive, 1st Corinthians 8:10. He wrote about a wounded conscience that had been wounded to the degree that it no longer functioned in verse 12 of that same chapter.

      And he also mentioned to Timothy a seared conscience. Literally burned over. I have a section on my back that, when I was thrown out of a car I slid about, well I slid 120 yards on the highway at 75 miles an hour and created some significant scar tissue in the middle of my back. It has no feelings whatsoever. It has no sense whatsoever. The nerves were permanently destroyed in that area. To keep the conscience quite, all you have to do is just literally destroy it. Just burn it off, or callous it or wound it.

      And that's what people are being told, to do today. Don't listen to your conscience, its lying to you, you're a lot better than that. And then inform people wrongly about the truth. They don't have the right moral law and they don't have a sensitive conscience and truly they are flying blind.

      Now why am I talking about this? Because, people I'm telling you, this is the society in which we live. Why do so may people in the church, we hear about it, we read about it. Including pastors all of the sudden crash morally? Why? Why does that happen? They're just flying along and they got the congregation in the plane and they crash! And somebody says "Oh what went wrong?" That was not the beginning of anything. That's not some serendipitous thing. That's not just some accident. People crash for the very reasons that I'm talking to you right now. Because their not rightly dealing in the inside with sin issues.

      People say to me 'John don't you ever do that.' Don't you ever run off with some woman. Don't you do that. What would happen if you did that?... You know we see this happening again and again 'don't do that.' People say to me "who's holding you accountable?" Who holds you accountable? Now that's a fair question. And I could say, 'well um the elders of the church, pastors that are friends, their expectations of me, raise the level of my accountability' and I have friends around me who have high expectations. I have you as a congregation that I would never want to disappoint. I would never want to bring dis-repute upon the name of Jesus Christ, or dishonor his word, or the pastorate, or the ministry, or anything that would wound or harm you. There's accountability there. My precious wife Patricia who is the most intimate point of accountability for me. She is really God's gift to me. Do you know she expects me to 24 hours a day always live everything I've ever preached. (Congregation laughing) This is ridiculous, I mean you know give me a little break here and there, perfection comes difficult for me.

      But that's a high level of accountability. And I have four children who expect me to live what I preach, because they love the Lord that I preach, and now I have eleven grandchildren who have the same expectation. And so there's a lot of that human accountability. But let me tell you something folks, none of those people know what's in my mind. None of them, you don't, nobody does. 1st Corinthians 2:11 says "only the spirit of a man knows the thoughts of a man." If I don't win the battle there then I'm not going to live the battle on the outside. The battle for me is not won or lost on the level of human accountability. You could never create that kind of accountability. That accountability is inside. So what is my approach to this problem, this potential disaster of sin in life?

      One is to continually love the law of God. To know the law of God; to love the law of God; and to love the God of the law. And to keep my conscience clear and sensitive so that at the first impulse of conscience I run. I don't want to be guilty of having a misinformed conscience. So there are some things I don't expose my self to. I don't want to become soft on sin. I don't want to become tolerant of sin. So there are things that I don't let in my computer. If your sitting around messing with the internet and looking at pornography all the time, or watching that kind of stuff, or reading that, or sitting listening to popular music with all of its vile lyric. To say nothing of the very musical side of it being base. If you expose your self to that and if that's the kind of stuff you digest, and then you try to fight the battle on the inside, your foolish. I'll tell you one thing, you start loosing that battle on the inside and it isn't going to be long until you've lost it on the outside, because James 1 says lust conceives in the heart and it brings forth sin.

      And you know when your talking about your children or your talking about your own life, you know you can't ever get enough of the word of God. You can't ever get a too high view of God or a too lofty view of the law of God and the Holiness of God, and His holy standard. It just breaks my heart that people go to churches and get these sermonets, for Christianets. These little ditties that are supposed to make everybody feel good and they go out there and they have nothing that can aid them in battling sin on the inside. Places like that its not surprising that people crash and burn all the time.

      Its very difficult to develop a right understanding of sin in our society. Its impossible from the culture, because its so warped. And now the church is afraid to even impose that on people. In the process they aid and abet the work of sin in the heart. I guess, looking down the road, its important to say no mater how you are at silencing your conscience now, or misinforming your conscience now, that's not going to last for ever. Do you know what hell is? Hell is a place of torment and the primary torment may, be rendered by conscience. Conscience one day will turn on the sinner with a furry. Conscience will be precise, and relentless, forever. Reminding that sinner that he alone is responsible for the agonies he is suffering eternally. Men's consciences in eternity will be fully informed, and relentless, and not able to be silenced. That's why Jesus described Hell as a place of weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth. That's because you can't silence the accusing conscience.

      John Flavel wrote in the 17th century, "conscience which should have been the sinners curb here on earth, becomes the sinners whip that will lash his soul in hell. That which was the seat and center of all guilt, now becomes the seat and center of all torment" end quote. Conscience will make the damned sinner acutely aware, that he deliberately, freely, gladly chose the life that lead him to hell. It will force him to admit the truth of every charge it brings and the absolute justice of every pain he suffers.

      If your going to win the battle with sin, there's only two ways that, that can be done. You can't mask your internal vice permanently. There's two ways to win the battle, one is to fully inform your conscience by having a high understanding, a thorough understanding, of the holy law of God, and secondly, learning to respond to every pang of conscience.

      Turn to 2nd Corinthians 1 for a minute. I have to close here, but I want to show you this. Paul was being accused of all kinds of things. According to chapter 4 of 2nd Corinthians verse 2 he was accused of, Oh, a hidden life of shame. They said he's wretched, he's wicked on the underneath side, he's a hypocrite. He was accused of walking in deceit. He was accused of adulterating the word of God. These false teachers that were in Corinth were really, really brutal to Paul. And they were saying terrible things about him, so he wrote 2nd Corinthians to answer those accusations. They said he was wicked, deceitful, corrupt. Now how did he answer? Verse 12, 2nd Corinthians 1 "Our proud confidence" and he means this in the spiritual sense "our proud confidence is this, the testimony of our.." what? Conscience. Now remember I told you from Romans 2 that the conscience gives testimony, it either indicts you, accuses you, or it exonerates you, and defends you. And Paul says I've listened to your accusations I've heard them all. I've heard the accusation of a Hypocritical life, a secret hidden life of shame, deception, adulteration of the Word of God for gain, for self aggrandizement, etc etc.. I've heard all of this and, folks here's my answer. My conscience doesn't accuse me of any of that.

      That's the way you have to go folks. Its not what people think about you, its not what the most intimate friends think about you, even your spouse, your family. In fact you know what, if they all think well of you, and your conscience knows that your cultivating sin on the inside there thinking well of you will just make you feel worse. Paul said "my proud confidence is this the testimony of our conscience that in holiness and Godly sincerity, not in fleshly wisdom, but in the grace of God we've conducted our selves in the world and especially toward you." He says I'll tell you this, my conscience tells me that I'm living my life by the grace of God, in holiness and Godly sincerity. People can say terrible things about you or they can say good things about you, but its only what you know to be true about yourself that gives you joy. True Joy.

      You know a preacher who's life is full of secret sin, and people, commend him, and commend him. I can't imagine what kind of guilt that heaps on him. Paul says I don't have that. In fact this was kind of common for Paul. In Acts 23:1 Paul looking at the counsel said "Brethren I have lived my life with a perfectly good conscience before God up to this day." I like that. He won the battle, where you have to win the battle. In Acts 24:16 he said "I do my best always to maintain a blameless conscience, both before God and before men." I work to keep my conscience clean, and fully informed. That's why he said in 2nd Timothy, I serve God with a clear conscience. That's where you have to win the battle folks because James 1 says lust when in conceives brings forth sin. And if you don't win the battle on the inside it will show up on the outside. Pure conscience is more to be sought than a good reputation.

      Charles Wesley wrote about six thousand hymns, isn't that amazing? Here's one you've not sung. I've never sung, I've never heard sung. What a great hymn, he wrote it about the conscience. This is what he wrote..

      I want a principle within
      Of watchful Godly fear
      A sensibility to sin
      A pain to feel it near

      Help me the first approach to feel
      Of pride or wrong desire
      To catch the wandering of my will
      And quench the kindling fire

      From thee that I no more may stray
      No more thy goodness grieve
      Grant me I pray
      The tender conscience give.

      Its great isn't it? He understood it. He wanted a principle within of watchful Godly fear. He wanted a sensibility to sin, he wanted to feel pain at the first nearness of inequity. He wanted to catch the wondering of his will at the knelling level. That's where the battle is fought, that's where its won. So as we come to the Lords table it needs to be with a sense of dealing with sin at that level.

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