Do you listen to the Law and the conscience?

INTRODUCTION: This post continues a series of articles that I have been writing lately about the workings of the Law and the conscience and how those two diagnose sin and restrain sin. RMB


It is obvious from history and from reading Romans 1:18-3:9 that the sins of the Gentiles were more flagrant and more frequent that the sins of the Jews. Read Romans 1:18-32 and observe that the type of sin and the degree of sin among the Gentiles are quite different from the sins among the Jews in Romans 2:1-3:9. (An interesting exercise is to read the prophet Amos 1:3-2:8 and see a similar thing taking place in that passage. The LORD first judges the pagan nations for their sins (1:3-2:3), which are barbaric and heinous, but He then judges Judah and Israel for their sins, which are milder by comparison, but are more abominable before the LORD because these are people who are supposed to be obedient to the LORD and who have the Law and the covenants to guide them.) This difference in the nature of the sins of Gentiles compared to the sins of the Jewish people is explained in part by the fact that the Jews had their conscience plus God’s Law to restrain their sinful behavior, while the Gentiles had only their consciences.


There is more to say about this, but before we do that, we should remember that the function of both the Law and the conscience is to warn a person of their own sin. God has graciously given every person a conscience so that they can sense when they have violated God’s holy Law (Rom. 2:14-15) and can confess that sin and repent. The Lord also by His grace gave the Jews the privilege of possessing His holy Law (Rom. 3:1-2). But as gracious as both the conscience and the Law were, neither one had any real power to restrain sin. The Law and the conscience could help someone know about their sin, but they are powerless to prevent sin or to atone for sin. Unless and until a person is converted and becomes a new creation by faith in Christ Jesus (2 Cor. 5:17), they remain a slave of sin and are no match for the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil. So, the Law and the conscience are diagnostic instruments given to reveal a person’s sin so that the person can confess their sin and repent.


THE CONSCIENCE: We have stated that, while the conscience is given to bring awareness of sin, it has no power to restrain sin . . . directly. But by creating an awareness of sin, the conscience can restrain sin indirectly through the guilt and shame that comes from an awareness of sin. The conscience is that inner voice within a man or woman which acts like the Law of God and cries out “Sinner!” The one who has sinned has now been accused, and to relieve their feelings of guilt, they may cease from their sinful behavior. In this indirect way, the conscience can help restrain a person’s sin.

What is the problem with this theory? The problem is not with the operation of the conscience but is with the sinner’s ability to ignore and silence the conscience’s warnings. In the unconverted person, the desire of the flesh to sin coupled with the person’s love of sin and their slavery to sin all work together to drive their behavior toward sin. A person may start out in life with a conscience that is tender and sensitive, and which creates feelings of guilt when the person sins, but as they grow into childhood and adolescence and adulthood, their ability to sin and their love of sin continue to grow while the voice of the conscience remains at the same volume. The unconverted person learns to ignore the voice of their conscience and becomes skilled at smothering any feelings of guilt generated by the conscience. In this way, the conscience is soon rendered useless both as a warning mechanism and as a restraining influence in the life of the unbeliever. This means that the Gentile of Romans 1:18-32 and the modern-day American who has never been exposed to the moral teachings of the Bible only need to silence the small voice of the conscience in order to sin with impunity.

That describes the unbeliever’s response to the conscience. But what about those people who are like the Jews described in Romans 2:1-3:9 who, in addition to their conscience, also have the Law? Are they restrained by the Law of God, by the commandments that reveal the holiness of the God of Israel?

THE LAW: The teaching of the New Testament is that the Law of God is His primary diagnostic instrument. While all people possess a conscience, almost all people also learn to sear their consciences as with a branding iron (1 Timothy 4:2), but the Law is explicitly stated to be the revealer of sin. Romans 3:20 and Romans 7:7 declare that the Law brings the knowledge of sin, so we would expect that the Law would be a better restrainer of sin than the conscience. Also, the person who knew the Law would seem to have two restrainers of sin, the restraint that every person has from their conscience, but also the added restraint of the Law. Does this theory agree with what we see in life and in Scripture?

No, it does not. The Law is a better revealer of sin, but the Law is not a better restrainer of sin. The unconverted person who has their sin revealed by the Law feels more guilt, but instead of regretting that sin and repenting of that sin, the unbelieving sinner will typically reframe the sin so they can eliminate the feelings of guilt and shame. In 1 Samuel 15, Saul is caught in a direct violation of the LORD’s command, yet he shrugs it off as unimportant and something that the people made him do. In the Garden of Eden, instead of confessing and repenting, Eve blamed the serpent and Adam blamed Eve. This is the pattern for the unconverted. Although obviously guilty of sin based on the revealed will of God, he denies his culpability and maintains his innocence because “the Law doesn’t apply to him” or because “he didn’t really break the Law.”


What the Law and the conscience have in common is that both these gracious gifts from God that help the sinner see his sin are hated and resisted by the unconverted sinner. As soon in life as possible, the unbeliever learns to silence and smother the conscience, because he does not want anything restricting his freedom to enjoy his sin. Likewise, the unbeliever who has fallen into the unpleasant situation of being exposed to the Law, either in its true form as the commandments of Scripture or in its twisted form as commandments from a form of religion (e.g., Catholicism), detests and resents that Law. The Law is perceived as simply the means the powerful use to control those under their thumb.

The next post will be about how the believer views the Law and the conscience.

SDG                 rmb                 12/3/2021                   #463

The Helper is to your advantage (John 16:7-11)

“There is no way that Your going away is to our advantage!” This is not in the biblical text, but I suspect that more than one of Jesus’ disciples had this thought when the Lord told them, in John 16:7-11, that He was going away to the Father.

But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me10 and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; 11 and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged.

Once again, we are in the Upper Room as Jesus is giving His disciples final instructions and preparing them for what is to come. In a few hours, Jesus will be arrested, tried as a criminal, scourged, and crucified, and thus He will accomplish the work He was given to do (John 17:4). But now He has a couple of last hours to spend with His apostles. One of the most important teachings of this discourse is Jesus’ teaching here on the Holy Spirit.


Jesus has told His disciples that He is going to the Father (John 16:5), “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away.” Before the disciples break out in a panic, Jesus explains that He is going to send the Helper to them (16:7). Who is this Helper? They have already learned about this Helper, the Holy Spirit (John 14:26). He is a member of the Trinity, fully God and worthy to be worshiped. But more than that, Jesus introduces Him as the Helper. That means that one of His primary roles is that of helping the followers of the Lord Jesus. And, while Jesus, because He had taken on a body of flesh, was localized in one place at one time, the Holy Spirit can be in multiple places. Thus, the Helper can be helping believers in far-flung places at the same time. Jesus must go, but He will send the Helper to them.


The primary area in which the Helper will help the disciples is in the area of fulfilling the mission that Jesus will give them. After His resurrection, but before He ascends to heaven, the risen and victorious Lord Jesus commissions His church to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20) and to be His witnesses in all the earth (Acts 1:8). Their primary “weapon” is the gospel, but their source of power is the Holy Spirit. “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you (Acts 1:8).” And so, the weak and mortal and often-fearful disciples of Jesus go out into the world empowered by the divine Holy Spirit. And what will the Helper, the Holy Spirit, do? “And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment (John 16:8).” The Holy Spirit, then, is the One who works in the hearts and minds of unbelievers to bring a sense of guilt on the ungodly. He will convince the wicked of their fault, and He will show the unrighteous their sin. The church proclaims, but the Helper brings conviction. This is a huge advantage.


“concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me (16:9).”

Fallen man is sinful by nature and by choice. The natural man is a slave of sin (John 8:34) and he loves the darkness and hates the Light (John 3:19-20). For the world, sin is enjoyable, and the world does not mind evil at all. Those who do not believe in Jesus have no one and nothing to convict them of sin, and so they continue in their wickedness.

But there are some among the ungodly, some who do not believe in Jesus whom the Father is calling and drawing (John 6:44), and for these, the Helper begins convicting them concerning sin. The Helper, the Holy Spirit, is speaking to their mind and to their heart and changing their view of sin. For these whom the Helper is convicting, sin is gradually losing its pleasure. Because of the Holy Spirit’s conviction, sin begins to look less appealing and more disgusting. Eventually, under the Holy Spirit’s conviction, those who did not believe in Jesus repent of their sin and forsake their sin and believe in Jesus. This is a huge advantage.


“concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me (16:10).”

For the duration of Jesus’ earthly ministry, the world had a vivid display of perfect righteousness. Wherever Jesus was, there righteousness was displayed. And when Jesus was around, the unrighteousness of everyone else in the world was painfully evident. When Jesus was there, you were automatically convicted of your unrighteousness by comparison. But Jesus is going to the Father, and who will convict the world of their unrighteousness now?

The Helper is the Person who convicts the world of unrighteousness now that Jesus has gone to heaven. The Holy Spirit speaks to the minds and hearts of the unrighteous and convicts them. “Your words are vile.” “Your thoughts are wicked.” “All you care about is you.” “You know that you just lied to her.” “God condemns your hatred.” There is no longer conviction by comparison; now there is direct conviction from the Helper. And this is a big advantage.


“concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged (16:11).”

When Jesus was on earth, he warned the world concerning the final judgment and urged people to repent of their sin and to believe in Him. His message of coming judgment was clear, even though most hearers ignored His warnings. But now Jesus is going to the Father. Who is going to convict the world about the perils of the coming judgment?

Jesus has not left the world without a witness but has called His church to proclaim the gospel and to warn the world of the judgment to come. The church now has the responsibility to warn the world of coming judgment, and the Helper is the one who brings conviction on the world when the church proclaims. The final judgment of the world should bring fear into the hearts of all unrepentant sinners, but the world scoffs and mocks (Genesis 19:14; 2 Peter 3:3-7). But while most of the world scoffs and mocks, the Helper convicts some in the world of the peril of the final judgment. Under the conviction of the Holy Spirit, some will begin to hear and to fear. Some will cry out for salvation (Acts 16:30). Some will be cut to the quick (Acts 2:37). Some will heed the warning and will flee from the wrath to come (Matthew 3:7). This is the conviction of the Helper, and it is a huge advantage.

SDG                 rmb                 4/28/2021