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Man’s Moral Conscience
By David A. DePra
If there is one trait common to each of us, it is our continual quest to be right. Even when we admit we are wrong, it is usually because that is the best deal we can cut. Some people even admit they are wrong to appear noble. The heart really is deceitful above all things, isn’t it?
This quest to be right, almost at all costs, is not limited to unbelievers. Christians do it all the time. In fact, many Christians do it all the more. This is why much of the New Testament addresses SELF-righteousness – in the lives of SAVED people. Saved people continue seeking TO BE RIGHT – even after conversion.
Doesn’t God want us to be right? And isn’t it possible to be right? Sure. But that isn’t the point. I’m talking about the SOURCE of our righteousness. Am I right in what I believe because I have seen the Truth? Or is it merely because I have an opinion about it? Am I right in my conduct and life because Christ in living in and through me? Or it is only because my ego insists that I am?
The fact that man seeks to be right ought to be evident to all. But the question is: Why? Why do we operate like that? Almost without thinking -- virtually the first gut-level reaction people have is to defend themselves, or to adjust the truth about a situation, in order that they might come out of it in the best light possible. What is the reason for this trait in us?
The reason is that human beings are MORAL BY NATURE. It is built into us. "Moral," describes the KIND of being we are.
A Moral Nature
Now, when I say we are MORAL by nature, I am not saying we are, "morally good," by nature, in Adam. No. I am simply referring to the reality that we have a NATURE that gravitates between right and wrong and good and bad all the time. If you examine it for a moment, you will realize that you never escape the ever-present consciousness of right and wrong. It is THERE, in one form or another – even if you don’t describe it in those words.
The fact that this, "ever-present consciousness of right and wrong," (our conscience) is there, in one form or another, leads us to an important fact: We MUST deal with it. Once we recognize that we are continually under the moral monitor of our conscience, we will also realize that we are continually dealing with it. We are continually choosing what to do in reaction to this sense of moral right and wrong which is working in us all the time.
Notice: This moral nature we have gives us a consciousness of right and wrong. But it is through the power of our will that we choose how to react – i.e., to choose to do either right or wrong.
But things do not end there. If you will notice, there is always an EFFECT MORALLY IN US of how we choose in reaction to our conscience. If we choose to do what our conscience tells us is right, then there is a good effect in our character. It is as if the moral nature which is built into us begins to surface more along a morally good line. But if we choose to reject what we know is right, then there is no escape from the moral effects that this will have IN US. Some people call this, "a guilty conscience."
Now, incidentally, it is important to realize that our conscience tells us we OUGHT to do right, and GENERALLY defines what is morally right and wrong. But the conscience, in and of itself, is not necessarily correct as to it’s definition of right and wrong. People are capable of feeling guilty over things which, in God’s view, are not wrong, and capable of feeling innocent over that which is wrong. Part of the work of the Holy Spirit is to renew our minds according to the Truth, and thus educate our conscience. We will then have the mind of Christ. Until then, it is possible for the conscience to be off the track on many things. However, it is still a fact that everyone of us do GENERALLY KNOW what is morally right or wrong in quite a number of dimensions. Things such as honesty, etc., are not secrets to any of us. We KNOW.
So why do people continually seek to BE RIGHT? It’s because we know we need to be right. We KNOW that. It is a residual element which remains even in a man who is unsaved – a residual of the original way God built man. Man was built to walk in a relationship with God. Despite being cut off from God, this functionality remains. It is our nature. We are incomplete without God, and are trying to fix ourselves another way – by trying to make ourselves RIGHT!
The fact that people continually try to be right is PROOF that we know right from wrong. We would not be trying to be right otherwise. Rather, we would be neutral, and have no motivation for lying, twisting the Truth, or hiding the Truth. We’d just be innocent about it all, wouldn’t we? Sure. But the moment I begin to morally fudge the truth in order to make myself appear in the best light possible, I am evidencing the fact that I know that there IS a best light possible!! I am evidencing the fact that I have a consciousness of right and wrong – and am falling short. Ironically, in order to LIE, I have to at least sense the Truth. Otherwise, I would have no starting point for my lie, would I? Nothing to work against. Nothing to distort. Again – I would just be neutral if I had no consciousness of right or wrong.
Now, we have said almost nothing about God to this point, but can we see how all of this ultimately goes back to Him? Sure. Right and wrong are not, "THINGS." They find their definition only once compared to GOD HIMSELF. Something is right because it is in moral harmony with God Himself. Something is wrong because it morally contradicts God. The fact that human beings are able to operate in right and wrong completely outside of God does not mean we are not accountable to Him. Indeed, our sense of right and wrong comes from our accountability to Him, whether we know it or not.
Man, as a creature, was built for God. And the residual of that – even in fallen man – remains. We have a conscience which echoes that we are accountable to a Person other than ourselves. This is not intellectual, emotional, or simply a matter of upbringing. It is part of what we are. We are MORAL in function. It is what we ARE as a being.
Now we can begin to see WHY human beings continually seek to be right. We have built into us a conscience which tells us we OUGHT to do right – and so when we choose to do wrong, we have to deal with the moral contradiction we have created. Or perhaps after the fact of doing wrong, we are exposed AS wrong, we have to deal with the moral contradiction presented to us by our now-awakened conscience. We MUST deal with this moral dilemma one way or another. The moral contradiction created between our conduct and what we know is right will NOT GO AWAY on it’s own. Thus, we are presented with a NEW choice, aren’t we? This new choice is to either admit we were wrong, or try to twist the Truth in a way that will make us right.
The fact that we must make this choice – it is inescapable – is the reason WHY people are continually seeking to be right. There is something in us that, first, KNOWS what is right, and second, KNOWS that WE are supposed to be right. This moral consciousness is nothing more than an echo of what God originally designed into man – as a part of our relationship with Him.
Of course the problem for unsaved people is that they are doomed to live with themselves OUTSIDE of God – until they turn to Him. Thus, they will be forever tormented by the fact that they know what is right, and that they need to be right, but have no way of dealing with the fact that they ARE NOT. So, short of actually repenting of being WRONG with God, they resort to trying to make themselves right. And the only way to do this is to LIE about oneself, and the Truth. Thus, people will not be seen in a bad light. They will do anything necessary to escape this.
Right With God
I have become morally insane when what governs my consciousness of right and wrong is ME. I am, in other words, a law unto myself. Moral insanity, in other words, is the result of me determining truth, right and wrong, and good and bad – for myself and others. This is, of course, the root of all SIN. It is myself as my own GOD. God is out of the picture.
In Adam, we are all morally insane. Some of us just exhibit it more than others. Thus, what God needs to do is bring LIGHT to our condition. Often, He will show us our sins. But even that is all unto another, more important, ultimate conviction. God wants to show us, yes that we are wrong. But He wants to show us we are WRONG WITH HIM!
As we stated earlier, right and wrong are not merely, "THINGS." Neither are they merely defined by God’s law. No. God’s law points to the righteousness of God Himself. In other words, right and wrong find their definition in relationship to GOD. Thus, in the final analysis, what we DO is nothing more than a reflection of our relationship to God. That relationship – whether we are right with God Himself – is the key thing. What we do is merely the outcome of that relationship.
This is precisely why it is right to define obedience as, "The outcome of being rightly related to God by faith." Sure. "Obedience," isn’t merely obeying a law. No. It obedience is being rightly related to God – and that can only be first by faith. But if I am rightly related to God by faith, this won’t lead to disobedience. No. My works will reflect my right relationship to God!
The conclusion is this: The only way to, "BE RIGHT," is to BE RIGHT WITH GOD! And the way to get right with God is by first confessing we have been wrong with Him. Then we embrace the only means by which we can be made right: His Son.
And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hates the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God. (John 3:19-21)
According to the apostle John, the pivot point of your eternal destiny is here – in whether you are willing to come into the LIGHT and be exposed. And what will that light expose? Your evil deeds? Yes. That you are a sinner? Yes. But in the end, the light of God is going to expose the fact that you have been wrong with GOD HIMSELF.
It is when we see that we are wrong with God Himself that we see that we need to get right with Him – and that there is no way for us do accomplish this in ourselves. Thus, as the result of the light of God, we fall to our knees and embrace the grace of God in Jesus Christ. That is the purpose for the light. It is not to simply scold us or condemn us. NO. It is to ILLUMINATE us as to our condition, and to show us that our only hope is Jesus Christ.
We can now see the choice: Come into the light, or remain in the darkness. Be exposed for what we are, or hide ourselves in the dark. Embrace HIS righteousness, or continual to try to be right.
God is very clear about this. If you will not come out into the light, but choose to love the darkness RATHER than the light, then THIS IS YOUR CONDEMNATION. And what will be the judgment of God upon you? Easy. If you choose to love darkness rather than light, then God is going to give you the darkness you love. Eternally. Believe it. It will happen.
This is really quite sobering. Look at all the people around you and I whose number one goal in life is to be right – as a thing unto themselves. They want to, "be right," in the most petty things – and will hate anyone who suggests otherwise! The question is: If people are not willing to face even the tiniest scrap of Truth on temporal matters, how will they face it on the ONE matter which will determine their eternal destiny: Their relationship and accountability to God Himself? If we must see and confess that we are wrong with God in order to get right with Him through Christ, how will we do this if we are not turning to God in the most tiny things?
It is not possible for us to know what is going on with any individual – between themselves and God. But God seeks to bring light and conviction in many ways. It is certain that one way He begins with people is not so much by overwhelming them with the full conviction of their sin against Him. No. Often He just brings conviction on a tiny matter. He gives people an opportunity to see and turn – on the simplest matters of life. Points of pride. Chances to acknowledge the Truth and come a little further out into the light. A simple, "I was wrong." And if a person will respond to that, then more light will come. But if they harden themselves against God – and will not even acknowledge Him – they are making some terrible choices.
And yet so many professing Christians are in no better condition. I have know church leaders, pastors, and dozens of others, who – as far as I can tell (I won’t judge them) – have no intention of being exposed before God in any way, shape, or form. There seems to be NO on-going conviction and freedom. No evidence of an inner consciousness of Truth. One wonders about such folks – how this is possible if they have truly repented. If the Holy Spirit is operating in them at all. Such attitudes account for the spiritually dead condition of much of the Body of Christ. This is, of course, apostasy.
God isn’t interested in us being right. He is interested in us being RIGHTEOUS in Christ Jesus. If only we would see the distinction. *
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