Acts 22:30 – 23:11 – In All Good Conscience
Diving Deeper Lesson Outline for Acts 22:30-23:11
The title is drawn from Paul’s words in 23:1 where he describes his life as one lived in all good conscience.
1) IN ALL GOOD CONSCIENCE
Background of conscience in OT:
OT has no concept of conscience so there is no Hebrew word for conscience in the OT.
The closest the OT comes, most believe, is when it uses a phrase involving the word “heart”.
The phrase is translated as “offence” or “stumbling block” or “pangs” of the heart.
Some translations now translate this phrase as “pangs of conscience” or something similar – 1 Samuel 25:31.
Background of conscience in Greek culture:
Koine or common language Greek, the language the NT was written in, does have a word for conscience – suneidesis
It first turned up in the 400-500 BC time frame.
It was the idea that “humans have w/in themselves one who is aware of their behavior.” – Pannenberg
Or to put another way, it was used to denote self-consciousness or cognizance NOT morality.
However, most unusually, the writer Euripedes some 100 years later did use it in Orestes in a moral context.
Background of conscience in NT:
A couple of interesting things happen with the New Testament writers, like Paul, who wrote or dictated in Greek.
1st, the 4 Gospels do not use the word at all; it first appears in our text today.
2nd, the meaning of the word is changed by the NT writers, especially Paul, from its common secular meaning.
He used it, like Euripedes, to refer to an awareness of right and wrong BUT as established by God.
As Zodhiates says, “The testimony of the Spirit in man’s heart concerning his obligation to God.”
However, Paul also used the concept behind the original meaning of the Greek word but with a twist.
That is to say “humans have w/in themselves one who is aware of their behavior” and that “one” is either the world OR the Spirit of God.
For example, we possess either a self-consciousness/cognizance informed by the righteousness of Christ (the new Adam) OR the sin and death of the old Adam.
Or more specifically, consider Paul’s contrast of the believer and unbeliever in Romans 6.
Slave to Righteousness == Slave to Sin
Freed from Sin == Slave to Sin
Newness of Life == Life Found Wanting
Old Self Crucified == Old Self Lives
Alive to God == Condemned by God
Under Grace == Under Law
Our understanding of who we are is rooted in either one or the other of these realities.
This is an oft overlooked usage of the conscience concept in Paul’s theology – Pannenberg.
Paul co-opting this word gives insight into how Paul engaged a Hellenistic culture (like at Mar’s Hill) in a relevant way w/o compromising truth and at the same time provided deeper insight to the Christian in his new life.
For me, it also highlights why God chose the Greek era to bring Jesus and the NT.
The Greek language was capable of richly conveying His revelation.
Acts 23:1 – Our text:
With regards to his conscience, Paul’s work as an apostle of Christ was done in “obedience to his obligation to God’s testimony on his heart” and therefore, regardless of the fact that he had fell into disrepute as a Jew, his conscience was clean.
This ticked the counsel off because he was claiming God as the authority behind this “sect of Judaism” that he was teaching.
Paul’s theology of conscience (a few examples):
In his epistles, Paul developed a theology of conscience to explain God’s truth and to disciple the believer.
We will explore some of the implications of his teachings.
1) One who has never heard of the God of Israel or the Law is still accountable to the God of Israel.
Romans 2:14-16 – For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them 16 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.
Paul taught that the very capacity & presence of a “law to themselves”, regardless of its moral or cultural context, was evidence of a transcendent law of God “written on their hearts.”
And so the conscience (obligation to right over wrong) “bears witness” to an accountability to God as one evaluates the guilt/“accusing thoughts” or the lack of guilt/“excusing thoughts” of ones actions.
Many say, if God is so concerned about humanity’s reconciliation with Him why didn’t he just spell it out clearly.
Paul is saying here that God spelled it out with, among other things, your conscience.
The ambiguity is not from God but from man!
The conscience is not of cultural origin as man would believe but of transcendental origin!
BTW – Atheists have a conscience and are moral people too.
They would argue morality is just an obligation to society or themselves not an “obligation to God”.
2) Conscience can be “defiled” and “seared” OR “clear” and “good” so be cautious to care for yours and others.
Care for Others Conscience:
1 Corinthians 8:7-13 – But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. 8 Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. 9 But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? 11 And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. 12 Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.
1 Corinthians 10:27-30 – If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. 28 But if someone [a believer] says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience— 29 I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience?…33 [because Paul is] not seeking my own advantage.
We are not to offend the conscience of weak or new believers.
If the weak or new believer violates their own conscience, especially due to our following or leading, their own conscience can become hardened or as Paul puts it “the weak person is destroyed.”
Paul even says that to “make my brother stumble” by “wounding his conscience” is to “sin against Christ.”
In fact, Paul says it would be better to offend the host and not eat the meal, if by doing so you are protecting the conscience of the believer that is concerned that it is food that was offered to idols.
Our Freedom is not meant to offend the weaker conscience.
“That is, we should not cause our freedom to be slandered by expressing it in ways that offend a weaker brother.”- JM
Care for Our Conscience:
We can also wound our own conscience.
This is why Paul says in Romans 13:5 – Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.
When we resist God’s will we can injure our own conscience making it less receptive to our “obligations to God.”
3) Teaching and living God’s truth accurately is a witness to a God informed conscience.
Acts 24:14-16 – But this I confess to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets, 15 having a hope in God, which these men themselves accept, that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust. 16 So I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man.
2 Corinthians 1:12-14 – For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you. 13 For we are not writing to you anything other than what you read and acknowledge and I hope you will fully acknowledge— 14 just as you did partially acknowledge us—that on the day of our Lord Jesus you will boast of us as we will boast of you.
2 Corinthians 4:1-3 – Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. 2 But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing.
1 Timothy 1:3-5 – As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, 4 nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. 5 The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.
Paul believed and taught the truth giving him a clean conscience before God and man.
Paul had a conscience informed by God and so behaved with godly sincerity not by earthly wisdom.
Again, Paul taught the truth and did not tamper with God’s word and so did not weaken but commended ourselves to everyone’s conscience.
And Paul again linked teaching a different doctrine or speculations to having a negative impact on one’s purity, faith and conscience.
All of humanity has a conscience but only the Christians’ is informed by the truth of the Spirit and Scripture.
Our conscience needs to be watered and nurtured.
This is done by learning God’s word which is to say learning our obligations to God and being obedient to them.
“The person who has considerable knowledge of God’s Word will have a more sensitive conscience…the neglected and resisted conscience becomes more insensitive and eventually may stop giving warning signals about wrongdoing.” JM
Hebrews 10:19-22 – Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
What are some things we do or don’t do that can weaken our conscience and therefore our walk in Christ?
Not speaking the Gospel (huge one for me – I can feel my conscience writhing when I resist).
Not coming to church.
Not studying and learning God’s word.
Not raising your kids in the admonition of the Lord.
The more we disobey these calls on our life the more we wound our conscience – a sin against Christ.
Our life is supposed to be informed by and lived in context of our “newness of life” as Paul says in Romans 6.
Our conscience testifies to us about this.
When we ignore or disobey our conscience, despair and dissatisfaction are sure to follow.
So if you have a lackluster walk; one that is apathetic and stagnate, I think this very well could be your problem!