INTRODUCTION: Yesterday we talked about the Law and about how this instrument that God gave us to diagnose the disease of our sin (see Romans 3:20 and Romans 7:7) was twisted into a ladder of performance whereby man could achieve his own righteousness by his own efforts. Today we are going to talk about another diagnostic tool that God has given to man to bring their sin up to the level of consciousness. Today we are going to talk about the conscience.
The main purpose of Romans 1:18-3:20 is to bring all readers to the unmistakable awareness that they are sinners under the wrath of God. Paul is acting as a prosecuting attorney to drive all people, Jew or Gentile, to the realization that they are under the Lord’s just condemnation for their sin. Paul’s main witness for the prosecution for establishing the sin of all people is the Law which God had given through Moses at Sinai. Even though the Law was given to the Jews and had remained unknown among the Gentiles (Romans 3:1-2), the Gentiles were still condemned by their own sin. Listen to Romans 2:12:
For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law. – Romans 2:12
This verse makes unambiguously clear that it is not the knowledge of your sin that condemns you, but it is the existence of your sin that brings you under God’s wrath. The Gentiles did not have the Law, and so the Law could not reveal to the Gentile his sin, but he would nevertheless perish in his unrepentant sin.
The issue is our sin. And the issue is always our sin. “The soul that sins will die” (Ezekiel 18:4). “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). We must repent of our sin and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, or we will perish forever in the lake of fire (Rev. 20:15) as punishment for our sin. But for us to repent of our sin, we must be aware of our sin. And so, God in His grace has given us several means for becoming aware of our sin. He has given the Law, as we have already seen, but he has also given the conscience.
THE CONSCIENCE IN ROMANS 2:14-15
Paul speaks of the conscience in Romans 2:14-15, which is the essential biblical teaching on the conscience.
14 For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, 15 in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them. – Romans 2:14-15
Paul starts by declaring that the Gentiles “do not have the Law.” This is what we have already been saying. The written Law was given to Israel and was unknown among the Gentiles. Does that mean that there was no way for the Law of God to be revealed to the Gentiles? No, because even though the Gentiles did not have access to the written Law, they all have a conscience that operates like the Law to reveal their sin to them. As the written Law was the diagnostic tool for showing the children of Israel their sin, so the conscience was the diagnostic tool for the Gentiles.
Let me explain what Paul is saying here in these two verses. Even though the Gentiles do not have access to the written Law and thus are not shown their sin by the written Law, God has graciously given to every Gentile a conscience which operates like a law within themselves (2:14). God has written His Law on every human heart (2:15), and when the Gentile sins, the conscience accuses him (2:15) that he has violated the Law, and when the Gentile accidentally or incidentally or intentionally obeys, the conscience defends him (2:15) as having done right. In this way, the conscience acts as a pseudo-Law to make the Gentile aware of their sin. Thus, the conscience is “a law within themselves” (2:14) for the Gentiles.
What we see, then, is that the conscience serves the same function as the Law in making the sinner aware of their sin, but the voice of the conscience is much softer than the voice of the Law and is also more easily muffled or silenced.
We have seen that, as the written Law made sin known to the Jew, so the indwelling conscience, operating as a pseudo-Law, makes sin known to the Gentile. God has graciously given these means for revealing sin to every man so that no one needs to remain ignorant of his sin. Next time, we will continue this line of thought and see why the conscience also fails to restrain the Gentile from sin.
SDG rmb 11/30/2021 #462