A crowning achievement of modern man’s cooperation was Neil Armstrong setting foot on the moon on July 21, 1969. Months later, my high school literature class was assigned to read William Goulding’s fiction novel, “Lord of the Flies” (1954), a dismal tale of the failure of civilization over savagery. A group of preadolescent, British schoolboys were stranded on an island in a remote part of the Pacific Ocean. Surviving a crash of their evacuation plane, against the backdrop of a world war, they agreed to have fun, survive, and constantly maintain a signal fire for their future rescue. Things fell apart shortly thereafter. End fighting resulted in the killing of three of their own before being rescued. Goulding’s depiction of the “darkness of the human heart” contrasts with a more recent (2020) article by Rutger Bregman appearing in theguardian.com — The real Lord of the Flies: what happened when six boys were shipwrecked for 15 months. Like their movie counterparts, these six boys had left school (1965) and had become stranded on a remote Pacific island (‘Ata), but these were merely bored and plain misfortunate. Unlike the movie, these boys cooperated and physically thrived until their signal fire brought about their rescue. Two different scenarios depicted human conscience and moral law with different outcomes. But, “what does Scripture say” (Romans 4:3 NIV) about moral law and conscience?
Moral law is the necessity derived from the nature and relationship of simply our being. Moral law is that sense of oughtness to seek the highest good of being, of God first, and of our neighbor equal to our own. “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Galatians 5:14 KJV). It is notable that Scripture records, “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1John 4:8 NIV). God’s moral essence is love, and the essence of moral law is love. “Love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:10 NIV). God’s relationship to us has always been as a God of love, but love has many attributes that human beings have only progressively discovered throughout history. And, what one uncovers, must also be found by others, and repeatedly by successive generations, if progress for individuals becomes a collective progress for families, nations, the Church, and the world. We are always but a generation away from forgetting all the hard fought truths of our parents; but, we also are conceivably within a lifetime, able to spread all the same truths, by the grace of God. “19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20 NIV).
Anything involving the intervention of God, to the delight of God’s people and to the disgust of His enemies, qualifies as miraculous. Though the humanist would call faith superstition and disdain it as luck, irregular, unwanted intrusion, or unexpected happenstance, the godly would understand faith to be consistent with both physical and moral law. Both the OT and NT agree, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4 NIV); coupled with the understanding, that “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Romans 10:17 KJV). The rule of conduct of all beings capable of moral action is the moral law. In the OT, the moral law was framed in the Decalogue statement known as the Ten Commandments (Deuteronomy 5:1-21), while in the NT, its essence was restated as love. “37 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 39 Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37, 39 NIV). Jesus characterized all of Scripture to depend upon love. For this reason, He further stated, “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (22:40 NIV).
Key to both the keeping and the enforcement of moral law is conscience. “Con” means “with,” and “science” means “knowledge.” Conscience implies “with knowledge.” Knowledge is both essential to knowing what to do or not do, as well to determine culpability. “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them” (James 4:17 NIV). Knowledge coupled with intention determines both responsibility and guilt. “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28 NIV). God never declares us morally guilty of sin, unless we knew what we were supposed to do or not do beforehand. And, before we conclude God is laying in ambush to catch us as sinners, recall that Abimilech was prevented from sinning against God, when he honestly took Abraham’s wife, Sarah, to be his wife, when she was misrepresented as only his sister. “5 Did he not say to me, She is my sister, and didn’t she also say, He is my brother? I have done this with a clear conscience and clean hands. 6 Then God said to him in the dream, Yes, I know you did this with a clear conscience, and so I have kept you from sinning against Me. That is why I did not let you touch her” (Genesis 20:5-6 NIV). Never underestimate a clear conscience. Paul used the conscience argument before Felix to urge his innocency in all of his actions. “So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man” (Acts 24:16 NIV). It is possible to have a clear conscience before God.
Scripture paints vividly a picture how God uses human conscience to enforce moral law. And, lest we protest the lack of conscience of fellow human beings, how much worse our world would be without the present restraint? “The human spirit is the lamp of the Lord that sheds light on one’s inmost being” (Proverbs 20:27 NIV). Without the regenerating Holy Spirit abiding in the converted human heart, moral law’s necessity appears more as a punitive threat than the outgushing of Perfect Love. “They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them” (Romans 2:15 NIV). God never condones sinning against our conscience. “So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man” (Acts 24:16 NIV). When conscience is resisted, we sin (cf. James 4:17). And, according to Scripture, it is possible to so resist the truth, as to have a “seared conscience,” that is becoming desensitized to the truth. “Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron” (1Timothy 4:2 NIV). This is fatal, if resisted to the end, for it is blaspheming the very Spirit seeking to save us. “Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin” (Mark 3:29 NIV). Rather than debate, if one thinks they have seared their conscience or blasphemed the Holy Spirit, they need only to repent, then go on. Let God sort it out. “How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God” (Hebrews 9:14 NIV).
The cure for improving the force of conscience in the application of the moral law is the introduction of the Holy Spirit in the teaching, interpreting, and guiding of the truth in both its circumstances and delivery, God’s timing, it’s effect upon both the speaker and the hearer, the increase in understanding of Perfect Love, the reinforcing of the guilt of the impenitent, the reinforcing of the reaction of the heavenly watchers to never sin again, and the justification of God at the Judgment. “33 Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgments, and His paths beyond tracing out! 34 Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been His counselor? 35 Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them? 36 For from Him and through Him and for Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever! Amen” (Romans 11:33-36 NIV). The Holy Spirit’s increased presence will only come when there is more resulting emphasis on the person and work of Christ in salvation and sanctification than upon Him. Once the attention is too much upon the Holy Spirit, He must withdraw His influence. “Howbeit when He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth: for He shall not speak of Himself; but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak: and He will shew you things to come” (John 16:13 KJV). Christ is intended to be the focal point, since He will only receive glory to glorify the Father. “After Jesus said this, He looked toward heaven and prayed: Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son may glorify You” (John 17:1 NIV). Conscience and the moral law are the secret weapons of the disciple, and the Holy Spirit is the secret weapon of conscience and the moral law.
Father, may our understanding of conscience and moral law increase that we may be better used by your Spirit to lift up Jesus Christ that all would be drawn to Him. May He increase, and we decrease. May our cooperation with You be evidenced in our growing understanding of You. May Your ways be known in this world. May those we touch, sense Your presence. May we better sense, where lies the sharpness of the Sword of Your Spirit. Make us a fine instrument in Your hand. Keep us from weariness. Keep us focused upon Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. Work miracles in faith, healing, judgment, salvation, and sanctification. LORD Jesus, come quickly!
In Jesus’ all powerful name, we pray.
Amen and amen.