Friday, February 27, 2009

The Law and Consience

The Law and the Conscience

What is the relationship between the Christian and the law in the Bible? There seems to be a great deal of confusion about this issue in Christian discipleship. In unpacking this issue, here are a few suggestions.

1.In this issue, avoid the reductive fallacy. Reductive fallacies are attempts to reduce a complex issue to a single point that does not accurately represent or flatly ignores the complexity of the issue.

2. Remember, context is key: Where is the word “law” used in the Tanakh or New Testament? Who is the author? Who is the audience? How does it fit within the rest of the passage and book? If we follow this rule, we can see that the law viewed in negative sense in passages such as Ephesians 2:14-16; Romans 3:20; 4:13-15; 6:14; 7:5-6: 10:4; 1 Cor 15:56-57; Gal 2:15-16; 3:10-13; 3:23-25; 5:4; 5:18, but also used in a in positive sense in passages such as Romans 2:13;17-20, 23,25; 3:1-2;21-22, 31; 6:15; 8:3-4; 13:8,10; 1Cor 9:8-9; Gal 3:21; 1 Tim 1:8. Remember, the Hebrew word for "law" is Torah. Torah means "direction, guidance, instruction." There are 613 of the commandments in the Torah, which were decreed for the Jewish people.

3. Avoid Judaphobia: Since Christianity is mostly divorced from its Jewish roots, there is a tendency for many Christians to have an unwarranted fear of anything Jewish, especially Jewish customs, culture, etc. Therefore, Christians are quick to defend the view that they are no longer under the law, but under grace. They generally quote Romans 10:4, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” Therefore, is Jesus "the end of the Law"? Unfortunately, for many, the word “end “is understood by today's reader as termination. But what is forgotten is that the Greek word for “end” is "telos.” Telos is used 42 times in the New Testament, and in the great majority of cases it means, “aim, purpose or goal to which a movement is directed.” (1) Therefore, a better translation is David Stern’s Jewish New Testament which says “”For the goal at which the Torah aims is the Messiah, who offers righteousness to everyone who believes.” (2)

No one including myself is saying anyone (either Jew or Gentile) is justified by the law. A Christian is justified by grace through faith alone. But the view that the law has been terminated or abolished leads to what is called antinomianism. Antinomianism comes from two Greek words: anti means against and nomos means law. Therefore, antinomianism means to be opposed to, against God's moral law. In other words, it means lawlessness. Part of the tendency to fall into the trap of antinomianism stems from an over-reaction to legalism in Christian circles. The well- known Romans scholar C.B Cranfield wrote about this issue. He said: “The Greek language of Paul’s day possessed no word-group corresponding to our “legalism,” “legalist” and “ legalistic.” This means that he lacked a convenient terminology for expressing a vital distinction, and so was surely seriously hampered in the work of clarifying the position with regard to the law. In view of this, we should always, we think, be ready to reckon with the possibility that Pauline statements, which at first sight seem to disparage the law, were really directed not against the law itself but against that misunderstanding and misuse of it for which we now have a convenient terminology. In this very difficult terrain Paul was pioneering.” (C.E.B. Cranfield “St. Paul and the Law, “ in Scottish Journal of Theology (1964), pp.43-68.

Does the Bible teach antinomianism? No! Perhaps we forget that while we are saved by grace through faith alone and empowered by the Holy Spirit in order to obey God’s law. To say “I am a believer in Jesus and I can now do whatever I want,” is contrary to the what the Bible teaches.

The Conscience
A few years ago, I was browsing through a thrift store and came across the book section. It is amazing how God allows us to find books in such places for such low prices (in this case I only had to pay 2.00). Anyway, the book I came across was by John F. MacArthur called The Vanishing Conscience. Not to my surprise, the conscience happened to be something that I had been thinking about quite a bit.

Have you ever read Amos 1and 2? In these passages, God threatens judgment on upon the neighbors of Judah and Israel. But why? Syria treated its enemies barbarously. (1:3); Philista sold whole communities into slavery (1:6); (3) Tyre broke a pact and treated Edom treacherously (1:9). (4) But notice that since none of these nations were the same as the nation of Israel, God still held them accountable by a different standard. They did not have the Torah. But God knew they violated an objective moral law that they knew and should have obeyed.(5) Paul speaks of how God holds the Gentile nations accountable. He says, "For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus." (Romans 2:12-15).

The Greek word for conscience is "suneidesis" which means "a co-knowledge, of oneself, the witness borne to one's conduct by conscience, that faculty by which we apprehend the will of God as that which is designed to govern our lives; that process of thought which distinguishes what it considers morally good or bad, condemning the good, condemning the bad, and so prompting to do the former, and avoid the latter." (6) In Romans 2:15, "suneidesis" stands alongside with the "heart" and "thoughts" as the faculty that allows the pagan world to live a life that corresponds to the Jewish people who have the written law. (7)

Where Is Your Conscience?

Before the time of Jesus, and even after Jesus, the Jewish people viewed the heart as the core of the entire personality. Although there is no Hebrew word for the conscience, the closest word to it is "lebad," which is usually translated as the "heart" in the Old Testament. The conscience is so much of the core of the human soul that the Hebrew mind did not draw a distinction between conscience and the rest of the inner person.(8) In the Hebrew Bible, not only is "heart" used to describe as a metaphor to describe the physical organ, but it is also the center or defining element of the entire person. It can be seen as the seat of the person's intellectual, emotional, affective, and volitional life. In the New Testament, the heart is the psychic center of human affection or the source of spiritual life and the seat of intellect and will. (9)

We see the conscience in Scripture: When Pharaoh hardened his heart (Exodus 8:15), Pharaoh steeled his conscience against God’s will. A tender heart (2 Chronicles 34:27), refers to a sensitive conscience. (10) The upright in heart (Psalm 7:10), are those with pure consciences. When David prayed “Create in me a clean heart, O God, (Psalm 51:10), he was seeking to have his conscience cleansed. The conscience can become dull, or seared (1 Tim 4:2). (11). In other words, people can and do harden their heart towards God! Sadly, a hardened heart can make someone less sensitive to the things of God. Sometimes a hardened heart results from an unforgiving or bitter spirit. All over the world, we see people who have ignored their consciences. They have not taken care of it and allowed it to be defiled. Sadly, the same goes for Christians. Do you view the conscience as a gift from God? Do you take care of it? Do you protect the conscience of your children? The only answer for a defiled conscience is a repentant spirit. Sin will always darken the conscience. In other words, sin always hardens the human heart. If you are hardened by the circumstances of life, an unforgiving spirit, or just flat out rebellion against God, I suggest you call out to God for mercy. Don’t let you heart become so hard that God can’t get through to you anymore. If you have stifled your conscience, ask God to help you start to take care of this tremendous gift he has given to you!

1. Stern, D. Restoring The Jewishness of The Gospel: A Message For Christians. Clarksville, MD. Jewish New Testament Publications. 1990, 46.
2. Ibid.
3. Copan P. “True For You, But Not for Me.” Minneapolis, Minnesota. Bethany House Publishers. 1998, 65.
4. Ibid.
5. Ibid.
6. MacArthur, J. The Vanishing Conscience. Dallas, TX. Word Publishing.1994, 36-37.
7. Ibid.
8. Sire, J. Naming the Elephant. Downers Grove: IL: Intervarsity Press. 2004, 45.
9. Ibid.
10. MacArthur, J. The Vanishing Conscience. Dallas, TX. Word Publishing.1994, 36-37.
11. Ibid.

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