“And Paul, earnestly beholding the council, said, Men and brethren, I have lived in all good
conscience before God until this day.” ~Acts 23:1
“He will easily be content and at peace, whose conscience is pure.” ~Thomas A Kempis
“A conscience void of offense, before God and man, is an inheritance for eternity.” ~David Webster
As Paul stood before the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem, he stood accused of serious crimes to zealous and devout Jews. Rumors had been spread that Paul had encouraged Jews to forsake the ancestral faith. This he had never done. Paul did preach and teach that the Jewish Law was not binding on the Gentiles, but he had never sought to lead the Jews away from the practices and the customs of the centuries. But the rumors would not go away. Unfortunately, the Elders in Jerusalem thought they saw a way to solve the social unrest and the controversy surrounding Paul.
Four men were about to officially observe the Nazarite vow. The Nazarite vow was a vow taken to demonstrate gratitude to God for some special favor. For thirty days no wine or strong drink would be consumed, and the hair would not be cut. The last seven days were usually spent entirely in the Temple courts. At the end of the thirty-day period certain offerings had to be brought such as
a year-old lamb for a sin offering,
a ram for a peace offering,
a basket of unleavened bread,
cakes of fine flour mingled with oil
and a meat offering along with a drink offering.
Finally, the hair had to be cut and burned on the altar with the sacrifices (21: 17-26). All of this was very expensive and time consuming. So it was considered to be a great act of grace and religious piety for a wealthy person to sponsor someone taking the vows. Paul had been asked to do that for four men and he agreed. By so doing, Paul was willing to demonstrate that he was still keeping the Law –even though he knew in his heart that the relevancy of traditional sacrifices had forever been abolished by the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross of Calvary.
As might be expected this attempt at compromise led to disaster. New accusations were leveled against Paul. The business of the vow had taken Paul many times into the Temple courts. And there were certain Jews from Asia who came to believe that Paul did not go into the Temple courts alone. They said he dared to take a Gentile, Trophimus, into the court area thereby insulting the chosen people, and defiling the Temple.
Of course, Paul would not have been so foolish as to take Trophimus into the Holy Temple, but that is what he was accused of doing and the multitude of people believed the ugly report against Paul. It is human nature to believe ugly reports without proper investigation. A riot was in the making. There was a running together of the people. Hatred filled the air.
Unless something was done, Paul was going to be torn apart by the mob. In the NW corner of the Temple area, stood the Castle of Antonia, built by Herod the Great. At the time of the great Jewish festivals about 1000 Roman soldiers were garrisoned in order to stop potential riots. When the commander of the soldiers received word that a full riot was about to erupt he came with his troops and arrested Paul.
Paul was chained by each arm to a soldier. As the soldiers were making their way through the mob to the safety of the prison barracks, Paul made an amazing request. He asked the captain to be allowed to address the furious crowd.
The captain was amazed to hear the accent of cultured Greek coming from Paul. A thought crossed the mind of the Roman soldier. In AD 54 an Egyptian had led a band of desperate men, 4000 plus, out to the Mount of Olives. The Egyptian promised that he could make the walls of the city of Jerusalem fall down. The Romans had suppressed the uprising, but the Egyptian himself had escaped. The captain thought that perhaps Paul was this revolutionary leader come back (21: 38).
Paul assured the Roman captain that he was a Jew of Tarsus and was no enemy of Rome. And so it was that Paul was allowed to speak to the emotional mob.
Basically, the message that Paul had to share was his own personal testimony concerning Jesus Christ. In Acts 22:12-14, Paul summarizes his Christian life after understanding the wonderful and mysterious doctrine of divine election. Acts 22:12 And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, having a good report of all the Jews which dwelt there, 13 Came unto me, and stood, and said unto me, Brother Saul, receive thy sight. And the same hour I looked up upon him. 14 And he said, The God of our fathers hath chosen thee, that thou shouldest know his will, and see that Just One, and shouldest hear the voice of his mouth. There are three major aspects to the Christian life
the first of which is to know the will of God,
second to see the Just One
and third, to hear God’s voice.
To know the will of God is essential to every believer. God really does have a will for your life and mine, and we can know His will. Jesus said, “I seek not my own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me” (John 5:30).
While I have heard people mock and reject this idea that God has a will for every person’s life, it is no joking matter. The will of God is to be sought, geographically, linguistically, occupationally, and providentially.
Again, to see the Just One is essential to every believer. We see Jesus as we meditate upon Him and upon His Word.
Have you seen Jesus? Have you ever beheld Him as He sits on a grassy hillside and preaches a Sermon on the Mount?
Have you ever walked and stood beneath the Cross of Calvary to notice the outstretched arms—one to heaven and one to man in an act of reconciliation?
Have you seen with the eye of sanctified imagination the quivering body that was wounded for our transgressions?
Have you beheld the nails driven through His feet, the blood flowing from His many wounds, the crown of thorns crushing His brow?
Have you ever run like Peter and John to the empty tomb?
Have you ever gone inside the tomb to see the napkin as it lay on the ground? A risen Savior does not need burial cloths. Listen to the angels. Hear them say, “He is not here, He is risen as He said!”
Move now. Move quickly to the brow of a hill outside Jerusalem. The disciples are already there. Their heads are turned. See what they see. The descended Christ is ascending, going to heaven. The clouds veil His outward form but we still see Jesus. His image is burned into our hearts. And there is no doubt but when we literally see Christ, we shall recognize Him in an instant.
“One glimpse of His dear face,
all sorrow will erase.
So bravely run the race,
Till we see Christ.”
We are to know the will of God. We are to see the Just One, and then we are to hear His voice. The outer voice of God is of course the Bible. God has spoken and we have an objective, external record of what God faithfully proclaimed. Those who come to worship can go away saying, “We have heard the voice of God.”
There is another voice of God called the conscience. The word conscience is derived from the Latin, which literally means, “to know together” or “the knowledge we share with another”.
According to Romans 2: 14-15, all of mankind possesses a shared knowledge concerning the moral law of God, for all men have a conscience. Conscience is innate and universal. It is not the product of environment, training, habit, race, impression, or education, though it is influenced by all of these factors. Conscience is the voice of God urging man to do that which he regards as right, while restraining him from doing that which he regards as wrong.
Conscience passes judgment upon man’s decisions and acts.
Conscience executes its judgment in the heart by causing distress, shame, or remorse.
Psalm 51 records the words of a man’s conscience being smitten. Conscience also commends when individuals act in conformity with personal convictions. Paul was able to say, “I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.” By uttering these words Paul was being truthful. Even when he was not a Christian and persecuted the Church of God, Paul thought he ought to do that. As Matthew Henry notes, “Though his conscience was misinformed yet he acted according to the dictates of it.”
And after his conversion, Paul lived according to the dictates of his conscience. He wanted only to please God and do His will. Now Paul was on trial for his life. Now Paul was being accused of horrible things. “The charges against me are false!” cried Paul. “I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.” From this wonderful expression, several truths can be noticed.
First, a good conscience enables a righteous person to be bold. Paul before the Sanhedrin is not arrogant, but neither is he apologetic. Sin will make a person ashamed. Sin will cause a soul to be silent in the hour of examination, but a good conscience will dare to be bold.
Second, a good conscience enables a Christian to be calm under pressure. Before the hour was up Paul had assessed the make up of the Sanhedrin. He observed that some were Pharisees, who believed in predestination and angels and the resurrection. Some were Sadducees, who argued for free will and denied the existence of angels or the resurrection. Paul immediately, but calmly, set about to disrupt this religious gathering by identifying himself with the Pharisees (Acts 23:6). He had the desired effect (Acts 23:7).
There is a third truth which can be noted, and that is only a good conscience can be lived out before God. A person with a bad conscience will not invite God the Holy Spirit to be a witness to bad behavior. Like Adam and Eve, there is the natural tendency to flee from the face of God when the conscience is not clear.
As Paul was able one day to stand and testify to having a good conscience, so the Bible would have all Christians live with a good conscience. The author of Hebrews urged, “Pray for us for we trust we have a good conscience, in all things, willing to live honestly” (Heb. 13:18).
The apostle Peter wrote that Christians should be known by “having a good conscience; that, where as they speak evil of you, as of evil doers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ. The like figure where unto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh) but the answer of a good conscience before God) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3: 16, 21). The question comes in private as the heart asks itself, “Do I have a good conscience before God?”
The proper answer must be carefully framed, for God knows. It is very easy, far too easy for individuals to live before man and God with a seared conscience. A seared conscience is one that is bold in sin.
A seared conscience mocks the prayers of the saints, ignores the exhortations of ministers, and silences godly repentance. 1 Timothy 4:2, talks of those who go about “Speaking lies in hypocrisy having their conscience seared with a hot iron.” Such people are found inside the professing church. A seared conscience is one that does not respond to gospel exhortations and cannot cease from evil.
Again, it is possible to live before God and men with a defiled conscience. Hopefully, most people do not have a seared conscience, but they do have a defiled one. A defiled conscience is found in struggling souls who long to be more holy, to find freedom and power and forgiveness for sin but return to their besetting sin time and again. The conscience is defiled because there is a secret practicing of that which is shameful, and beyond that there is a private love for a particular sin. Provision is made to let sin live, as Lot made provision for evil and so vexed and defiled his righteous soul with filthy living.
Many have found a tremendous relief in putting away all pretensions and saying to the Lord, “I want to live in good conscience before Thee.” There is something that can be done in order to obtain a clear conscience.
First, there can be an honesty with God and a confession of the true status of the heart as David did in Psalm 51, and as the apostle John invites every Christian to do in 1 John 1:9.
Second, confession of sins can be made according to the principle of James 5:16 which says, “Confess your faults one to another and pray one for another that you may be healed.” In other words seek out someone to be accountable to.
Jesus Christ has come to remove not only the penalty of sin, but also the pollution of sin. Therefore, come to Christ. Whoever you are. Sunday School Teacher, Deacon, Elder, Church member, man, woman, Dad, young person, come to Christ and confess the longing of your heart to have a clear conscience. Find in Jesus the forgiveness, the freedom, and the grace to be able to say, “I am living with a good conscience before God.”