The conscience, the Law, and sin – Part 1: The conscience

In the next several days I will be writing two articles, one on the conscience and sin, and one on the Law and sin. The connection is that the conscience and the Law are two of God’s means of grace which bring our sin to our attention so that we can repent. These articles will examine how the natural man responds to these God-given means of grace.

The conscience and sin

What do we know about the conscience from the Bible? We will look at a passage from Paul’s letter to the Romans that addresses the conscience and use that as our starting point. Then we will examine several other verses that further inform our understanding of our conscience and try to apply those ideas to our lives.

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 in that they show the work of the Law written on their heart, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternatively accusing or else defending them on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus. – Romans 2:14-16

Paul writes that “Gentiles do not have the Law,” but they do have a conscience. From this we can conclude that all people are born with a conscience. This is, in fact, what the whole Bible makes plain. All people have a God-given sin-detector called a conscience. Whether Jew or Gentile, or believer or unbeliever. A conscience is part of the standard equipment for all people.

The function of the conscience

What is the function of the conscience? Since not everyone knows about the moral Law of God as written in the Bible, God in His grace has given everyone a conscience to reveal to us our sin so that we can be led to repentance (Romans 2:4). In fact, as we read the passage above more carefully, we see that the conscience does “the work of the Law.” The conscience functions as a copy of “the Law written on our heart,” and it either accuses us of sin or acquits us of not-sin as we go through our lives. Here is how this might work. As I am talking to someone, I tell them what I know to be a lie. My conscience immediately convicts me of that sin, and I know that I have lied, and thus I have the opportunity to repent. Or else I walk past a co-worker’s cubicle and see that he has left his wallet on his desk while he went out to lunch. I could steal the wallet, but I resist, and my conscience defends me because I did not steal. The conscience, then, is evidence of God’s grace, revealing to us our sin so that we can repent.

Before we leave this passage, we should also notice that there is a vitally important reason why we need to repent. You see, there is a judgment coming. There will be a day in the future when “God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.” On that day, all sin that has not been forgiven will receive the full wrath of God through Christ Jesus. The sins that you think are safely secret are all known to God, and you will be judged for them. The sins that are unknown to you are all known to God, and you will be condemned by them (Romans 2:12). So, the natural man needs to listen to his conscience and repent of his sin.

The limitations of the conscience

Since everyone has a conscience, we would expect that people would be aware of their sin and would often repent of it, but this is definitely not the case. Why is this not the case? It is because of the limitations of the conscience in the face of the fallenness of man.

First, while the conscience convicts of sin universally, it convicts of sin weakly. The pang of guilt from the conscience is never that sharp, so the natural man learns very quickly how to ignore and silence the conscience. The Bible says that the conscience can be seared (1 Timothy 4:2), and the conscience can be defiled (Titus 1:15). In both these cases, the convicting effects of the conscience are silenced, and the people can proceed in their sin with a feeling of impunity. The sin remains and condemns, but the conscience’s ability to convict is smothered. This is what all people learn to do as they go through life, to a greater or lesser degree.

But second and more importantly, unsaved man loves his sin. In the gospel of John, he says: “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the Light and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed (John 3:19-20).” The Bible is clear that the natural man is a slave of sin and he loves his slavery. The unsaved have given themselves over to the desires of their flesh and hate anything that seeks to limit their sin. Thus, unsaved people hate the conscience because they hate to be told about their sin.

Finally, while the conscience can convict of sin, it can only convict of sin. That is, the conscience can make the sinner aware of their sin, but they cannot restrain the sinner from sinning. More than this, the conscience cannot remove from the sinner the guilt and condemnation which they have revealed to the sinner. The conscience tells the sinner, “You are guilty of that sin!” The sinner replies, “Oh. How can I be forgiven of that sin?” “I don’t know,” says the conscience. In some sense, the conscience is like a fire alarm in your house. The fire alarm is good at letting you know that there is a fire in your house. Its piercing shriek is designed to basically wake the dead so that you are aware of the danger. But if you are relying on the alarm to save you from the fire, you will be sadly disappointed. An alarm without a separate escape plan is a casualty. Just so, your conscience can do nothing about your sin except to point out your guilt. If you do not have a way of being forgiven of that sin, you will surely perish in the judgment.

The answer to revealed sin

If the conscience cannot remove my sin or forgive my sin, then what am I to do? There is only one way to be forgiven of any sin, whether known or unknown, whether revealed by the conscience or by some other means.

“In Him (Jesus) we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses (Ephesians 1:7).”

            It is only through repentance of your sin and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ that you can have forgiveness of sins. If your conscience is bothering you and you are convicted of your guilt before a holy God, confess your sins, and repent, and come to Jesus in faith. (1 John 1:9; Mark 1:15)

SDG                 rmb                 1/11/2021

A study of the Judgment in Revelation 20:11-15

This originally was going to be a brief blog on this passage from the book of Revelation, but as is often the case with my writing, I ended up being fascinated with the study and so produced a fairly long piece. I hope that you find it instructive and edifying. rmb 9.16.2020

“So, what happens at the Judgment?” My friend had been having a discussion with his wife in preparation for talking to his daughters about the final judgment. He knew that I was working on a book on the end times, so he gave me a call and posed the question.

“Wow, that is a great question! Let me pull together some Scriptures and make some notes and I will call you back.” So, the stage was set.

This post, then, will be an explanation of what happens at the great white throne judgment described in Revelation 20:11-15.

THE TEXT – REVELATION 20:11-15 (NASB)

11 Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. 13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

UNDERSTANDING THE PASSAGE

Revelation 20:11

            John sees the great white throne with the LORD seated on the throne. In this awesome scene, all creation flees away, trying to get away from the fury and the wrath of God and of the Lamb (compare to Revelation 6:15-17). There is, however, no place to hide. The business at hand is The Judgment.

Revelation 20:12

            Next, John sees “the dead.” This word “dead” is significant because the meaning goes beyond just those who are not breathing. These are the spiritually dead. John mentions “the dead” four times in two verses to emphasize their spiritual lifelessness. At the great white throne, we see the gathering of all the spiritually dead of all time, awaiting their final judgment. That is the identity of “the dead” whom John sees. Regarding “the dead,” consider these verses from the mouth of Jesus:

  • When our Lord was talking to the Sadducees about the resurrection, Jesus quotes from Exodus when God said, “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Then Jesus said, “He is not the God of the dead, but of the living (Matthew 22:31-32).” Jesus is making it clear that these patriarchs, even though physically dead, are spiritually alive.
  • Perhaps more to the point, In Luke 9:60, Jesus calls a man to follow Him, but the man makes the excuse that he needs to bury his father. Jesus said, “Allow the (spiritually) dead to bury their own (physically) dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.” It turns out that there are many who, even though physically alive, are spiritually dead.
  • In John 3:18, Jesus says, “He who believes in Him (the Son) is not judged.” That seems straightforward to me.
  • Jesus also taught that those who have believed in Him will not come into judgment. “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life (John 5:24).” Two truths are taught by this verse. First, the one who believes in Jesus “does not come into judgment.” That seems pretty easy to understand. But second, those who have eternal life through Jesus are no longer among “the dead,” regardless of their physical state. They “have passed from death to life.”
  • A few verses later, Jesus is teaching about the resurrection and says, “Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice (the voice of the Son of God), and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, and those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment (John 5:28-29).” So, we can see that, in the resurrection, the ones who will experience the judgment are “those who committed the evil deeds.”

Next, “books were opened.” What exactly are these books which were opened? It is clear that these books determine the verdict that will come from the throne, for John writes that “the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds.” These books, then, are the records of all the sins of each one of the dead who are standing before the throne. They will be judged “according to their deeds.” Their deeds are evil (John 3:19-20’ “their deeds are evil”). Their deeds are their sins, and it is on the basis of these deeds, their “works,” that they will be judged. The time for forgiveness is over. There will be no more mercy or compassion. The offer of the gospel is forever taken away. These have come before the great white throne of the Holy One of Israel with nothing but their unrighteousness and their sins. “There no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but only a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries (Hebrews 10:27).”

THE BOOK OF LIFE (OF THE LIVING)

            But wait! “Another book was opened, which is the book of life.” John does not talk about this “book of life” here, because the issue at hand is judgment and eternal death, but we need to understand what this “book of life” is. First, there are the “books of the dead,” which doom people to the lake of fire (20:15), but there is also “the book of life” (“of the living,”) which admits people into eternal life. The book of Revelation has already spoken of this “book of the living” twice, in 13:8 and in 17:8, so we will take a brief detour to find out more about this book.

  • Revelation 13:8 takes place as the beast that comes up out of the sea is in power and is persecuting the saints. “All who dwell on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain.” TRUTH: This verse makes clear that the names that are in the book of life were written there in eternity past and that they were written in the book of life by the Lord Himself. The inescapable conclusion is that those who were going to have eternal life and who were going to avoid the lake of fire were chosen by God in eternity past. This necessitates the doctrine of election (Ephesians 1:4; etc.).
  • Revelation 17:8 also involves the beast and talks about “those who dwell on the earth, whose name has not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world.” The group in view in both these verses is the people “whose name has not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world.” TRUTH: Therefore, the other conclusion from these verses is that, since those in the book of life are known, those who are doomed to the lake of fire are also known from the foundation of the world.

Revelation 20:13

            We find out from this verse where all “the dead” come from. From the previous verse, we know that “the dead, the great and the small,” are standing before the throne, but now we find out that “the dead” come from the sea, and they come from “death and Hades.” This is just another way of saying that all the dead are here. Not one of the dead has been overlooked or has escaped the judgment. Then, once all the dead are gathered, they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. As we have seen earlier, these “deeds” are the sins of the dead who stand before the throne. Their destiny is the lake of fire.

Revelation 20:14

            Death and Hades are irretrievably and inescapably thrown into the lake of fire. Long, long ago, in one of the early scenes of the grand meta-drama, the LORD God had told man that sin would result in death (Genesis 2:17). And so, ever since the fall of man in Genesis 3 death needed to continue to exist because man’s sin continued to exist. Hades is the place where the spiritually dead await the judgment, and so Hades continues to exist until the judgment. But now after the judgment, full payment for all sin has been rendered, either in Christ’s full atonement for all the sins of all true believers in Christ or in the eternal punishment in the lake of fire for all unbelievers. Sin has ceased because there are no longer any sinners. All believers are now glorified and so can no longer sin, and all unbelievers have been thrown into the lake of fire. Death is useless when sin has ceased and Hades has become useless, because all the occupants of Hades have been cast into the lake of fire. Therefore, since they are useless, both death and Hades are cast into the lake of fire.

            The lake of fire is the second death. The first death is when a person dies physically. If that person has believed in Jesus, in the intermediate state they are in the presence of the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:1-8; Philippians 1:23; Revelation 6:9-11; etc.) awaiting  the resurrection of the righteous, when they will receive their glorified, resurrection body. Thus, the believer never experiences the second death. (Confirm with John 11:25-26.) This passage, however, is about the unbeliever. In contrast to the believer, in the intermediate state the unbeliever awaits Christ’s return in Hades, and, at the resurrection, they will “come out to a resurrection of judgment (John 5:29).” Unbelievers will go from their temporary home in Hades to their eternal home of unending conscious punishment in the lake of fire.

Revelation 20:15

            The judgment is made, and the sentence is passed. The book of life, or “the book of the living,” has been examined. This is the book that contains the names of all those who have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ. Those whose names are in the book of the living are resurrected to eternal life (John 5:29), but there are many whose names are not there. All those whose names are not found in the book of life are thrown into the lake of fire.

APPLICATION

            All you who are now reading this article on the final judgment are still physically alive. You still have time to contemplate the question, “Is my name written in the book of life, or am I headed for the lake of fire?” Hopefully, after reading this article, you are clear on the two, and only two, options.

  • If you have already placed your faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, then you will never experience the second death (Revelation 2:11; 20:6), and you can be sure that your name is in the book of life. In that case, the application would be to rejoice in the faithfulness of our Savior Jesus Christ.
  • If, however, you have not placed your faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior; if you have not confessed with your mouth Jesus as Lord and believed in your heart that God raised Him from the dead (Romans 10:9); if you have never believed in the Lord Jesus Christ so as to be saved (Acts 16:31), then your current destiny is the lake of fire. Your application is to change your destiny! This minute you can change your eternal destiny. This minute you can believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and trust Him as your personal Lord and Savior. If you do that, “Truly, truly, I (Jesus) say to you, you will not come into judgment, but you have passed from death to life (John 5:24).”

SDG                 rmb                 9/16/2020

The Day the Ark Closes (Genesis 7:16)

One of the most fascinating stories in the entire Bible is the story of Noah and of the ark that he built and of the flood that God sent as a judgment on all mankind for their wickedness and violence (Genesis 6-7). Since Noah was righteous, God rescued him in the ark, but all those outside the ark perished.

Now as fascinating as this story is, the real point of the story must be understood from the perspective of salvation. This story of Noah and the flood is really about an offer of refuge and rescue in the face of coming judgment. As such, this story is not only for Noah and for those of his generation, but is for our generation as well. Jesus Christ Himself said that “as in the days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away. So shall the coming of the Son of Man be” (Matthew 24:38-39). What Jesus is saying is that, as in the days of Noah when there was coming the judgment of a flood on the wicked world, so now there is also coming a final terrifying day of God’s judgment on this wicked generation. As in the days before the flood when there was an ark that provided the only means of rescue from the flood, so now there is “the ark” of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the only refuge for sinners, the only one who will save them from the coming wrath and judgment of God. Will you enter while the door of the ark stands open or will you despise the only means of salvation and perish in the judgment?

Today the door of salvation stands open, inviting those who are outside to flee to safety in Jesus and to flee from the coming judgment. All who will repent of their sins and bow their knee to Jesus Christ may enter into the refuge and be saved from God’s wrath. But there will certainly come a day, a terrifying day when God will slam shut the door of salvation forever and the day of finding refuge will be forever gone. Then the wrath of God will be poured out on all those who have not placed their faith in Jesus.

Today the door of the ark stands open, but one day the Lord will close the door forever. Where will you be on that day? Will you be in the ark of the Lord Jesus Christ, or will you perish in the judgment? SDG rmb 11/29/2015