This morning we are going to take a look at what it means to act in all good

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1 In all good conscience (Acts 22:30 to 23:35) 30 th March Please keep your Bibles handy starting at Act chapter 23. There s an outline to follow if you wish to take notes. Let me pray first for God s help with this passage Intro/Conscience Defined This morning we are going to take a look at what it means to act in all good conscience. I m honing in on something Paul says in Acts chapter 23 verse 1 when he says [Powerpoint 1 Acts 23:1] I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day. This puzzled me a lot this week as I prepared for this morning. How can Paul (formerly Saul) who persecuted Christians and rounded them up to be killed, say he fulfilled his duty to God in all good conscience? Before we answer that - we need to get a definition of what conscience is? [Powerpoint 2 Dictionary definition] The conscience is The part of the mind that makes you aware of your actions as being either morally right or wrong The Greek word for conscience in the NT literally means knowing together with OR knowledge within oneself Page 1 of 13

2 So it s like inside information on yourself. 2 [Powerpoint 3 Proverbs 20:27] From our OT reading in Proverbs 20 verse 27 we read that the human spirit is the lamp of the Lord that sheds light on one s inmost being From this Proverb, we learn that the conscience is an ability attached to our minds which operates on behalf of the Creator God, sifting the inner motives behind the things we do and shows us our guilt. So our conscience is like an independent witness to our actions like a personal watchdog. The apostle Paul says in Romans 2:11 and 15 that all people have a knowledge of right and wrong irrespective of their moral or cultural training. Here s what he says. [Powerpoint 4 Romans 2:11, 15] 11 For God does not show favouritism (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 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.) Page 2 of 13

3 3 So God s laws and standards are stamped on our constitution - and our conscience stands alongside, operating like a policeman or magistrate. And Paul s saying - our consciences may comfort us for choosing well or punish us with sharp pangs of guilt for choosing badly. For example when we tell a lie (notice I said when and not if) when we tell a lie our conscience acts like a radar inside going you know that s a lie don t you So whether trained in moral and religious values or not, all people have God s moral code written within them and no technique can totally delete or change it. The conscience will rest quite content when operating in line with God s moral code and will cause great discomfort when we depart from it. How often have we wished that our conscience would keep quiet about what we have done? [Powerpoint 5 Blank] Many people have tried to suppress their conscience. Like the American woman who was part of a gang involved in an armed bank robbery to fund the Black Panther terrorist group. The robbery went wrong and a policeman was killed. Some of gang were caught but the woman escaped and changed her identity. 23 years later when the case was well and truly closed the woman, by now, respectable and middle aged, could no longer live with the crime. Her pain of guilt was unbearable and she gave herself up, ready to face life in jail or even death, rather than live with that pain. Page 3 of 13

4 4 Paul s Conscience So after that rather long introduction we come to chapter 23 verse 1 and Paul looks straight into the eyes of the Jewish council of leaders and elders the Sanhedrin - and says - My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day Notice Paul says my brothers not you rulers of the people and elders of Israel as he should have. And that s because he s been one of them. Paul was a Pharisee like some of the people he s speaking to they worked with him when he rounded up Christians to persecute and some of them may even have been involved when Stephen was stoned to death and martyred. And Paul says I have fulfilled my duty to God The Greek literally means I have lived as a citizen of God and I ve done it in all good conscience. How can Paul say this? This is a bold declaration by Paul indeed, especially after the riot of chapter 22 when Paul told the people that Jesus had told him to go to the Gentiles! (22:21) And especially with the accusations and charges against him that he teaches against the Law of Moses and against the temple and allegedly he has defiled the temple (21:28) And it s a very bold statement given his previous persecution of Christians as well. Page 4 of 13

5 Yet Paul was convinced even in his persecution of Christians that he acted 5 conscientiously in opposing people who he thought were blaspheming God (Jesus predicted this in John 16:2). So before this Jewish council Paul is basically saying you know my former life has been lived in good conscience towards God everything I did was for God and you were witnesses to all I did and you ought to presume that I have maintained the same standard and character in my new life as a follower of Jesus. Paul s implying that both in his time before his conversion to Christianity and after his conversion he was conscientious he was conscientious in persecution although obviously wrong and in error and he s conscientious now in the truth - as he follows Jesus. And his good conscience has always been towards or for God so if you want to argue you need to argue with God on this point! And Paul can say he has fulfilled his duty to God in all good conscience Because his conscience was pricked and convicted on the road to Damascus - when Jesus challenged him and said Saul, Saul, why are your persecuting me? (9:4) And once Jesus told Paul that he would proclaim Jesus name to the Gentiles and suffer for Jesus name (Acts 9:15) - Paul has in all good conscience done exactly that on 3 missionary journeys he s faithfully declared Jesus name - despite great opposition and unbelievable trials and suffering. And Paul has listened to Jesus words in Corinth when Jesus said Page 5 of 13

6 Do not be afraid, keep on speaking, do not be silent (18:9) 6 That s why Paul can say he has fulfilled his duty to God in all good conscience? Our Consciences? What about us? Can we say like Paul - we have fulfilled our duty to God in all good conscience? How s our consciences this morning? Have we acknowledged that it s our sin that persecuted Jesus not just Paul when he was persecuting Christians and not just the people that crucified Jesus years ago? (pause) Have we acknowledged that we have a duty to our Lord to be His witness it s not just a matter of saying thanks Jesus it s a matter of our response in faith in being witnesses of how Jesus has changed our lives? (pause) In this chapter of Acts there are several other characters whose consciences are undergoing a thorough examination so let s take a closer look. Look at v2 how the high priest reacts! He knows what Paul is saying is true all the council know that Paul is a Pharisee and an expert of the law and zealous for God but by Paul saying he s done his duty to God this is too much for the High priest who orders him to be struck on the mouth. You don t have to have much of a conscience to know that s not right. Page 6 of 13

7 7 If you were giving evidence in court you wouldn t expect to get smacked around the face after the first sentence of your defence would you? And the high priest can cover up his conscience if he wants - but he knows this is an unlawful act it s in the law Leviticus 19:15 [Powerpoint 6 Leviticus 19:15] Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly And Deut 25:1-2 [Powerpoint 7 Deut 25:1-2] When people have a dispute, they are to take it to court and the judges will decide the case, acquitting the innocent and condemning the guilty. 2 If the guilty person deserves to be beaten, the judge shall make them lie down and have them flogged in his presence with the number of lashes the crime deserves, Paul hasn t had a fair trial and he doesn t deserve to be beaten For a moment Paul loses his composure and in v3 he calls the high priest a whitewashed wall. Which means Paul thinks the high priest is like a dirty and broken down wall washed over with white paint so it looks okay on the outside but underneath the paint the wall is useless the high priest may look okay on the outside but inside his heart is corrupt and against God s will. Page 7 of 13

8 Nevertheless Paul s not allowed to say that about the high priest as OT law in 8 Exodus 22:28 says: [Powerpoint 8 Exodus 22:28] Do not blaspheme God or curse the ruler of your people And notice Paul is convicted by his conscience when in verse 4 the people nearby say how dare you insult God s high priest Straight away Paul apologizes in verse 5 and quotes the OT verse Ex 22:28. It s a pity the high priest is not as quick to respond to his own conscience rather than covering it up. [Illustration of learned theologian who stole a rare book from a library covered up the library name stamp in the front of the book with his own name plate years later who lent the book to a friend without realizing his stamp had worn and the original university library stamp was showing thru that s like our conscience it shows through in the end] Application have we got sin in our lives that our conscience has convicted us of but we have managed to cover it over? Maybe we ve fiddled our insurance claim - or falsified our tax return - or told lies about people or gossiped about people or we have a secret sin that no one knows about BUT - just like Adam and Eve we can t hide from God he knows everything about us? (pause) Page 8 of 13

9 Every year the tax offices in Australia and the USA receive thousands of 9 dollars from anonymous people who can no longer cover over their conscience in fiddling the tax department And the High Priest is not the only one who has an examination of his conscience [PowerPoint 9 Blank] Look at V6 Paul pricks the conscience of 2 groups of people the Sadducees and Pharisees by mentioning that he himself is a Pharisee and that this whole trial is about the hope of the resurrection As far as Paul is concerned he stands before them because of his belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus and his hope of eternal life because Jesus has risen from the dead. This brings the Sadducees and Pharisees into dispute. The Sadducees are a religious group who only believe in the first 5 books of the Bible and don t believe that people can be resurrected by their faith and they don t believe in angels or spirits. Basically they don t believe in anything supernatural. Whereas the Pharisees believe all the books of the OT and the oral traditions and laws passed down from their forefathers. You can always tell when consciences are pricked because there s a severe reaction. And the Pharisees and Sadducees argue and they are divided in their opinion. These 2 groups are typical of the response to the Gospel even today. Page 9 of 13

10 10 The Sadducees are like those today who deny their conscience and don t accept the truth of the Gospel and they won t accept that Jesus could possibly defeat sin and death! And the Pharisees are those who listen to their conscience and are open to what Paul is saying about his hope in the resurrection which is why they are able to say in v9 We find nothing wrong with him (Paul) What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him? These Pharisees are listening to their consciences that Paul might just be telling the truth about Jesus We too can either deny or listen to our conscience can t we? When our consciences say Maybe the stuff in the Bible about Jesus is true? Or when our conscience says Hey! You haven t had a quiet time with God for a few days or Hey! You haven t prayed or read your Bible today? We can deny those words from our conscience or we can take them on board and listen (pause) And there s still more consciences to be dealt with in this chapter. There s the commander in v10 he s conscience is tapping him on the shoulder and telling him there s a Roman citizen in danger of being torn to shreds and so he acts on his conscience and orders his troops to take Paul to the barracks for safety. Are we acting on our conscience when it taps us on the shoulder? Page 10 of 13

11 Is there someone we could be helping but we ignore our conscience and fail to 11 act? (Pause) In V11 Paul receives a great boost for his earlier statement that he has fulfilled his duty to God in all good conscience when our Lord Himself speaks to Paul and says take courage as you have testified about me in Jerusalem so you must testify in Rome. This is a wonderful confirmation that Paul is acting in all good conscience and doing God s will AND that he will be safe in Jerusalem because God s plan is for him to go to Rome! But the story doesn t end there. In V12-15 About 40 Jews act against their conscience and they take a vow of not eating or drinking until they ve killed Paul. They come up with a plan to get the Sanhedrin to question Paul again and they will kill him on the way to the court! These 40 guys know this is wrong. Their conscience tells them it s wrong. The commandments say Thou shall not murder. The law says everyone must have a fair trial! But they act against their conscience? They have to live with that and face their supreme Judge on Judgment Day? What plots and schemes do we have in our heads to get even with someone? What grudges and dislikes are we holding on to? Page 11 of 13

12 Do we gloat when someone we don t like fails? 12 Are we acting against our consciences? (pause) By God s grace in v16-22 Paul s nephew hears of the plot and tells Paul - and Paul tells a centurion to take his nephew to the commander. When the commander hears of plot his conscience is moved to do something about it. The commander doesn t want an innocent man to die and Paul s a Roman citizen and he s not going to be killed whilst he s under the commander s care. Instead in V23-33 the Commander arranges for Paul s safe passage to Caesarea sending a letter to the Governor Felix and handing Paul s case over to the Governor. And note I said the commander thinks Paul is innocent. See the end of v29 in the Commander s letter he says there was no charge against him that deserved death or imprisonment You see the commander s conscience has been stirred he s heard enough from Paul to know that Paul is innocent and it s just likely that a seed of the Gospel has been sown in the heart and conscience of this commander. Maybe there s something in this Gospel message of Jesus after all? Maybe you re here today and your conscience is stirring and saying to you Jesus died for me and my sin and He has forgiven me and I need to put my faith in him? (pause) Page 12 of 13

13 Conclusion 13 So how are our consciences this morning? Are we suppressing and denying and covering them up? Or are we listening to our consciences and acting on them? Or are our consciences being moved and stirred into the possibility of accepting Jesus as our Lord and Saviour?(pause) Can we join Paul and say we have fulfilled our duty to God in all good conscience? When Paul came face to face with Jesus on that road to Damascus his conscience was put through the ringer & he repented & he was forgiven & he lived the rest of his life for His Lord and Saviour Jesus in all good conscience. We need to do the same whatever our consciences are convicting us of today we need to put it right with God by saying sorry AND putting it right with the people we have wronged! Once we ve done that we don t have to let our consciences beat us up time and time again! If we have made a heartfelt apology and accepted Jesus has died for our sin we are forgiven - and we don t need to remind ourselves over and over what we did wrong in the past. Jesus has dealt with it. Here s how Paul puts it in Romans 8:1 [PowerPoint 10 Romans 8:1] Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus If we believe in Jesus we are found NOT GUILTY in the supreme court of God. Let s pray. Page 13 of 13

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