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ReVision

Conscience and the Law

They were made for each other.

Referee of the Soul (4)

…for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them)… Romans 2.14, 15

The Law of love
One of the factors most destructive of a good or clean conscience is the current neglect of the Law of God on the part of the followers of Jesus Christ. I will have much more to say in later sections of this concluding part of our study on “Strong Souls” about how God intends His Law to work in our lives and communities. For now, I want to introduce the role of the Law in shaping the conscience, and the crucial role of the Law in helping us learn to love as God intends.

Jesus taught that all the Law of God and all the teaching of the prophets – who mainly interpreted God’s Law into their own situations – are summed up in the commands to love God and our neighbors (Matt. 22.34-40). Love, the apostle John explained, is nothing other than keeping the commandments of God (1 Jn. 5.1-3). Keeping the commandments of God is not burdensome, John insisted. And Jesus said that greatness in the Kingdom of God is directly tied to learning, keeping, and teaching others to learn and keep the commandments of the Lord (Matt. 5.17-19).

If we think we can love God and our neighbors as our calling to God’s Kingdom and glory requires, without keeping God’s Law, we are tragically wrong. The Law of God is the key to understanding what it means to love God and our neighbors, and this is because the Law, as Paul explained, is holy and righteous and good (Rom. 7.12). The Law of God is the Law of liberty precisely because it frees us from the grip of mere self-love so that the power of God’s Spirit can shape us for love as He intends (Jms. 2.12; 2 Cor. 3.12-18).

As we have seen, God has given each human being a push in the direction of His Law by writing the works of the Law on their hearts, so that the commandments of God are there for the conscience to employ in seeking to love God and neighbors. This explains why we still see so much deference to God’s commandments in the world today – proscriptions, for example, against adultery, murdering, stealing, lying, and so forth.

Law and grace
But people who turn away from God and His Law, and prefer instead to create their own morality, betray their consciences to lies and wickedness, and cannot – will not – seek the good conscience God intends for them.

Once saving grace begins to operate in our souls, however, we find anew the power of God to lead us to a good conscience. That is, we become able to harmonize soul and body for loving God and neighbor. But we must also get back on course with God’s original design for our consciences and take up the study of His Law. The Spirit of God, sent to us for salvation, also calls us to class for the study of God’s Law (Ezek. 36.26, 27). For only as we study and obey and teach others to study and obey the Law of God, will we be nurturing our soul in the same way God intended when He wrote the works of the Law on our heart in the first place.

It is the consistent teaching of Scripture that those who know and love God, know and love His Law as well. The Law does not save us; rather, the Law – and here I mean the Ten Commandments and the various attending laws which illustrate those commandments – convicts us of sin, teaches us the will of God, and guides us into the path that Jesus walked, so that we may walk it as His disciples (Rom. 7.7; 1 Jn. 2.1-6). If we want a good and clear conscience, one exercised to love God and neighbor, we must devote ourselves to regular reading and meditation in God’s Law, and to living in that Law as the Holy Spirit instructs and enables us to do so (Ps. 1; Ezek. 36.26, 27; Phil.  2.12, 13).

No opposition exists between grace and Law in the life of faith. The Law convicts us of sin and leads us to lean on the grace of God. The grace of God causes thanksgiving to rise within us, so that we seek the Law of God as the measure of that which best suits us as His image-bearers and is most in line with His purposes and plans.

I am persuaded that one reason the Church’s witness to our secular age has become so ineffectual in recent years is because the world does not see the kind of honor, glory, holiness, and love we might expect from souls refereed by good consciences. And the reason our consciences are not functioning for good is because we have neglected – and in some cases, scorned – the Law of God. The prophets taught and lived by the Law of God (Ezra 7.10). The psalmist extolled the many virtues of the Law of God (Ps. 119). Jesus lived and taught and even deepened and extended the Law of God. And all the apostles drew on the Law of God for one or another aspect of their teaching about the life of faith.

Can we consider ourselves to be Biblical Christians as long as we neglect to study, obey, and teach the Law of God? Paul would say, “No!” (cf. Rom. 8.5-9)

We cannot nurture our consciences to become clean and good unless that nurture is grounded in the holy and righteous and good Law of God. Each of us needs to make daily meditation in the Law of God part of his devotional life in following the Lord. For only thus will we be able to hide the Law of God in our minds, hearts, and consciences, so that we do not sin against Him but, instead, love Him and our neighbors as we should.

The Law of God, written on our hearts by His Spirit, is the rule book to which the conscience, the referee of our souls, must turn in leading us to love God and our neighbors.

For reflection
1.  Why do you suppose many Christians these days seem to have a negative view of the Law of God? Is this justified? Explain.

2.  Why does it make sense to think that the Law of God should be the primary source for our values, convictions, priorities, and default choices?

3.  Do you think your own conscience would be strengthened by including reading, study, and meditation in God’s Law as part of your daily discipline? Why or why not?

Next steps – Preparation: How could you incorporate regular reading and meditating in God’s Law as part of your daily discipline for growing in the Lord?

T. M. Moore

What is the Law of God and how should we learn and obey it? Two books can help. The Law of God arranges the statutes and precepts of God’s Law under their appropriate number of the Ten Commandments. This book is an excellent tool for meditating on God’s Law and thinking about its application in our time. The Ground for Christian Ethics, on the other hand, explains why the Law matters and how we are to use it. You can order free copies of each of these here and here.

All the installments in this “Strong Souls” series are available in PDF by clicking here.

Our book, Vantage Point, can help you learn to think with the mind of Christ, work for a good conscience, and see the world and your life as He does. Order your free copy by clicking here.

Thanks for your prayers and support
If you find ReVision helpful in your walk with the Lord, please seek the Lord, asking Him whether you should contribute to the support of this ministry with your financial gifts. As the Lord leads, you can use the Contribute button at the website to give with a credit card, or you can send your gift to The Fellowship of Ailbe, 360 Zephyr Road, Williston, VT 05495.

Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
Books by T. M. Moore

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