Part 5: It’s always right to get right

Accodring to 1 Timothy 1:19 there are two things you need to keep from being shipwrecked in the Christian life: faith and a good conscience.

Originally, the apostle Paul made the request of Timothy, so that this young follower might “war a good warfare” (verse 18). If we look briefly at the setting for these words, we can understand why a clear conscience is so important in our spiritual lives. Paul told Timothy to be on hi spiritual guard. Why? Because Timothy was serving the Lord in a hotbed of pagan religion and demon activity, the great city of Ephesus. Even the church at Ephesus was being infiltrated by false teachings.

If Timothy was going to fight a good spiritual war, he needed first to hold on to “faith“, which in this setting probably refers to the faith, the truth of the gospel, as supposed to false teachings like those Paul refers to earlier in the chapter.

THE IMPORTANCE OF A CLEAR CONSCIENCE

Timothy also needed a good conscience to fight a good spiritual war. Thge word conscience takes takes in a lot of territory in the New Testament, nut I want us to focus on one aspect that I believe is critical to victory over the enemy: the need to keep our conscience clear. Paul himself said he worked hard to keep his conscience clear of any offense toward God and towards others (Acts 24:16).

How important is a good conscience? Paul listed it in 1 Timothy 1:5 as one essential for effective ministry. That, plus the discipline inflicted on Hymenaeus and Alexander for jettisoning their consciences along with their faith (verse 20), suggests it’s extremely important.

Paul is saying, in effect, thar one of the several errors these men were propagating was that it’s not important for believers to maintain a clear conscienc. For this they were turned over to demons in a step drastic church discipline designed to bring about their repentance.

Remember that these men were believers. You don’t have to turn unbelievers over to Satan. They’re already his. I can’t see any believer saying that faith isn’t important. But I can see believers saying that clearing your conscience isn’t important, because it’s a very difficult thing to do.

The other side of the coin

Why is it so difficult to do? First, though we may be willing to forgive a person who hurts us if he or she comes to us asking our forgiveness and seeking to make things right, many times that never happens. The other person inflicts a wound on us and never does anything about it. Second, we may hurt someone else and never deal with it ourselves. Maintaining a clear conscience demands that we give attention to each of these situations. This is the other side of the coin of bitterness and unforgiveness, discussed in tha last part of this study.

Yes, though the offense is against us, and the offender does not confess the wrong or ask forgiveness, we may forgive the person – and perhaps ask the person for forgiveness as well if we have created hurt in our response.

Setting others free

That is the other wonderful thing that happens when we clear our conscience. When we seek forgiveness for the hurt we have caused others, we free them up from the bitterness they are holding toward us. By allowing others the opportunity to release their bitterness, we may even be helping to remove an excuse from their lives for the enemy to torment them.

That is why it is good to ask people you try to help to make a listof the people who have soething against them. Until they have done this, they don’t realy have a clear conscience. I’m not talking about endless introspction or airing all their dirty laundry in public. That’s not the idea at all. There are things in all our lives that need to be kept among the people involved. What happened is not everyone else’s business.

The guideline to use is that the scope of the forgiveness need to be no greater than the scope of the offense. If we share things about ourselves with people who are not part of the problem or the solution, we may live to regret it.

How to clear up old offences

I will try to be very careful here, because people who need counselling often carry extreely heavy baggage from the past. It’s like a time bomb hidden in a suitcas on an airplane. If that thing goes off, it’s going to hurt a lot of innocent people. We’re only dealing here with people with whom we haven’t made things right.

Even in these cases, though, there are times when it’s the better part of wisdom to leave some things unsaid. In other words, we don’t have a right to spill out all of our confessions if it’s going to wreak needless pain and havoc in someone else’s life. If there are people from the past that we need to forgive, God is big enough to bring them back into our lives.

Let me give an example. A young man, let’s call him Tony, wanted to clear his conscience of two episodes of illicit sex that he had earlier in his life. He was now in church and married to a godly woman, and his wife knew that he had lived an immoral past that troubled him, but not the details. Tony had asked the Lord’s forgiveness, but asked the Lord for the possibility of asking the women hehad seen earlier in his life for forgiveness.

Whe Tony went out to eat with his wife, one of the women he had fornicated with came into the restaurant sitting at the table next to them. Tony’s wife went up to the salad bar, and so did the woman’s partner. The woman came over to Tony and said that her husband did not know about their history, and would he please not look at her, talk to her or give her noticable attention. Tony then was able to put their history behind them and have a clear conscience, knowing that this perticular woman had moved on with her life. Tony had been willing to make it right, but did not find it necessary to share their past with anybody else.

Some times you will find that the Lord will arange it so that we will be able to put matters right. It is important to ask forgiveness from God and your fellow man. Only when you have done what you can to make matters right will you have a clear conscience.

Letting go of the past

If we don’t keep our conscience clear, the enemy gains an advantage over us. That seems clear in the judgement inflicted on Hymeneaus and Alexander in 1 Timothy 1:19-20. A clear cnscience before God is abolutely essential for us Christians. In fact, Paul wrote that the “end of the commandment” – that is, the purpose of ministry or the purpose of our teaching – is love that flows “out of a pure heart, and of a good conscince, and of faith unfeigned” (1 Timothy 1:5).

Do you want God’s love to flow out of you to others? Then a clear conscience is one of the three essentials Paul mentions. I see an interesting  progression here. A pure heart looks at the present, a clear conscience at the past, and a genuine faith at the future. If your heart is pure and the past is taken care of, you can look into he future with assurance.

What would you think if you got into the car with me and I started driving down a busy street looking only in the rear view mirror? After you swallowed the lump in your throat, you’d probably say “Lars, you’re looking the wrong way!”

And you would be right. I can’t go forward looking backward, and neither can you. But that is where Satan wants us to look. Paul wrote that we should let go of the past (Philippians 3:13). You don’t have to pretend it didn’t happen. Just let go.

THE PROBLEM OF GUILT

Whenever I talk about having a clear conscience and not allowing the enemy to torment us with the past, this question usually comes up: “What do you do when you have terrible memories you just can’t handle?

It is an excellent question. All of us suffer from the consequences of our sin, even after we’re cleansed of that sin. One of sin’s consequences is the scar left by painful memories. Another name for this is guilt. Satan loves to remind us of the things we’ve done so he can keep us in bondage to guilt. “Remember that awful thing you did? How can God use a person like you?

Try to forget it?

So we have these memories of things we can’t deny doing. But what do we usually tell people who are struggling with the guilt of past sins? Forget it, don’t think about it.

Have you ever tried not to think about something? It doesn’t work, does it? We saw above that putting the past behind you doesn’t mean trying to forget or pretend it never happened.

Thank God for the memory

One way to deal with the guilt is asking “Who was in charge of your life when you made that wrong decision?” The answer should be “I was!” Then say: “Then instead of trying to forget or supress the memory of that sin, do this. Whenever the enemy brings it to mind for the purpose of accusing you, face it and say ‘God, thank You for allowing me to remember what happens when I run my life. Right now, I want to rededicate my life to the Lord Jesus Christ. I want Him to sit on the throne of my life, because I know that when He runs my lfe, I won’t do those kind of things.‘”

If guilt is a problem for you, I urge you to follow that simple formula. It’s not a magic formula, nor is it automatic – but it can be very freeing. The enemy comes with these intruding thoughts to drive a wedge between you and God, to keep you from rededicating your life to God. Many have said that after a period of doing this, the accusing thoughts have stopped.

Be like Paul

By the way, this is not a brand new idea. I believe this was what Paul did when Satan reminded him of his dark past.

And Paul did have a past. Think about the memories he had to deal with. He spent his time before his conversion rounding up Christians and having them put to death (Acts 22:4). I can imagine him going somewhere to preach and having some believer say “Oh yes, I know who you are. You are the one responsible for my grandmother’s death.

Paul never forgot what he did to the church, but look at how he handled those memories. We have at least three examples in his writings, in 1 Corinthians 15:9, Ephesians 3:8, and 1 Timothy 1:15-15. Turn to each of those texts and you will see that while Paul frankly acknowledged his past actions, he turns those painful memories into occations of praise and thanksgiving to God for the abundant grace He bestowed on Paul. We would do well to imitate the apostle’s example.

THE ISSUE OF REBELLION

Now I’m moving into another key area where we can yield a tremendous amount of ground to Satan and give him a huge advantage over us if we’re not walking in obedience to the Lord. The immediate aftermath of King Saul’s disobedience is described in 1 Samuel 15:22-23. The prophet Samuel reproved Saul for his serious act of disobedience and told him “Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft.”

Rebellion and witchcraft

That’s a remarkable statement. God, speaking through His prophet Samuel, is telling us that if a person goes into a rebellion, He regards it as similar to the sin of Witchcraft, or “divination” as some translations put it. But how does rebellion resemble witchcratf? And what implications does this truth ha ve for us today as we seek to walk in the victory Christ has secured for us over Satan and his ways?

First, it’s clear that you can’t practice witchcraft without opening yourself up totally to the cntrol of Satan and his demons. In fact, witchcraft brings a person in direct contact with the demonic world without any kind of protection in between. Those who have been in that horrible practice will tell you that when yo venture into Satan’s kingdom, you are at his mercy. There’s nothing to protect you from his attacks.

Losing God’s protection

So how does an awful sin like witchcraft compare to the sin of rebellion? In  this way: When we rebel against God’s constituted authority, we step out from under His protection and leave ourselves wide open to the attacks of the enem. If a fort was being attacked by indians, it would be safest to be on the inside of the walls. But rebellion puts us on the outside where we are completely vulnerable. In other words, what we are dealing with here is the issue of God’s authority. Another word for authority is protection. God has established authority structures which provide us with spiritual protection when we are in proper submission to them.

One of thes God-ordained authority structures is the church. That is why, as we saw earlier, church discipline is the process of removing a person from the protection of the church and turning him or her over to demons to be tormented and brought to repentance. Family and government are two mere structures which are also designed by God to give us spiritual protection. We should submit to their authority in our lives.

Biblical concepts like authority, submission, and obedience are not popular today. That’s more an indictment of our age than a legitimate criticism of Scripture. But we should not question the importance of authoruty and obedience. Consider the family. An authority structure there is clarely God’s plan – the way He designed the family to work. We cannot dodge, deny, or ignore His teaching on authority without paying the price.

Make no mistake about it. A family where the children are living in obedient submission to their parents; where the wife helps her husband, sharing her input and wisdom with him and then supporting him in his dicisions; and where the husband in turn living in obedient submission to God is not some outdated arrangement. It is God’s plan, and He expects us to line up under His structure of authority.

Heading straight down

The consequences for disregarding or disobeying authority are so sure and so devestating that we cannot afford them any longer in our own families or in the family of God. He will not tolerate rebellion. What happens when you or I rebel? When I rebel, I move out from under God’s protection. Now what’s between me and the forces of evil? Nothing! Demonic spirits have direct access to me. This is how rebellion is like wichcraft, because in witchcraft a person attempts to make direct contact with spirits.

If you’ve been on one of those really wild rollercoasters, you know you  don’t have to ask when it’s time to scream. Everything is going along fine for a few moments, then suddenly the car takes a plunge and you’re on your way down.

That’s how it is with rebellion. Have you ever seen a rebel draw close to God? No, he moves away from God. A boy rebels against his parents, and for a time nothing seems to happen. Then he hits that certain point, and from there it’s downhill all the way. That rebel ia in for a frightening ride, and many people encounter real tragedies in their lives because of their rebellion.

Foolishness, disobedience and rebellion

Rebellion is serious and needs to be treated seriously. But at times I’va had parents confuse rebellion with foolishness. Some times parents say “My child is rebellious.” Then, after a talk to thei son or daughter, I can find no rebellion at all. That’s why I think it’s so helpful with parents distinguishing between foolishness, disobedience, and rebellion. They are not the same.

Suppose a neighbour boy comes over to your house, picks up your son’s ball, and says “Here, catch!” So the kids starts playing ball in the house, and they break a lamp. That’s foolishness. You may need to apply some discipline for the breaking of the lamp, but the root of the problem was not rebellion.

Suppose the same kid comes over the next day and says “Let’s play catch.” Your son says “Oh no. My dad says we can’t play ball in the livingroom.” “Come on, just once,” the other kid says. So your son throws the ball and it breaks a lamp. That’s disobedience. You told him not to do it, and he did it.

Now suppose the same neighbour kid shows up again the third day. Your son refuses to play ball in the livingroom because his dad said so. Only this time the other boy replies “Your dad has no right to tell you what to do. That’s rebellion.  It’s challenging the right of an authority to be there. Who gave fathers their authority? God did, so when children challenge a dad’s authority they are really challenging God.

God’s authority figures

Romans 13:1-4 deals with the authority God has established.

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.

Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.

For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same:

For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.

Paul says the authority figures are God’s ministers. Of course, he’s talking about the office her, and not necessarily the person. What about a person who is in an authority structure that is dangerous? He or her needs to be removed and placed under another authority.

We can’t let a child, for example, be continually sexually abused by someone in authority. In that case we try to move the child into a different authority stucture, but not take her out from under authority altogether. Why? Because authority is protection, and we need as much spiritual protection as possible. (And, of course, the abuser should be put into custody of legal authorities.)

1 Timothy 2:1-4 tells us to pray for all those in authority. The only thing that will make a difference in the leadership of our country is prayer. Instead of running our leaders down, we need to run the up!

Ephesians 6:1-3 is vital truth for children and teenagers. For years I had basically skipped over the first half of verse 3, which says children should obey and be respectful so that “it may be well with them.” You know what that means? If children and teens are not obeying their parents, it is God’s responsibility to see that things don’t go well for them. God honours His Word!

If you are a parent, you can help your children in growing up by teaching them obedience and respect. Remember that there are two sides to a thing. Obedience is an action, honour is an attitude. Honour means respect, and children need to be disciplined for being disrespectful. The child who snarls, stomps off, and slams the door behind him when he’s asked to clean up his room needs to be brought back for an attitude tune-up. Why? Because where there’s dishonour, there will soon be disobedience. We always tried to discipline our kids at the attitude and character stage before it came to the action stage.

THE SAD RESULT OF REBELLION

Unfortunately, not all testemonies about rebellion and authority end happily. Several years ago, a 16 year old came to get counselling. I will call him Stuart. He was deeply into homosexuality and was practicing Satanism. He describes his attitudes and actions to his father and God:

At the age of 13, I began listening to both Christian and secular rock and roll and heavy metal music. Thses avenues allowed Satan to blind my spiritual sight so that I quickly became rebellious. I came to the point where I hated my dad and all he stood for. In fact, I hated him so much that I wanted to kill him. I also killed God in my mind. I blamed Him for the demonic attacks on me and for the upheaval I was causing my family. I had many battles with my dad, trying to usurp his authority over our home. Those years contained much turmoil and grief for all of us. Just before my 16th birthday, seeing that my dad was relinquishing no authority… I left home to become my own boss.”

Stuart was deeply rebellious, but it was obvious that he din’t want to do anything about it. He left the counselling in rebellion and plunged more deeply into homosexuality and other perversions – and within less than two years he had contracted HIV.

God finally broke through to him, and he urrendered his life to Christ. He’s now back home living under his father’s authority and they’re studying the Word together. However, this young man still suffers from the consequences of his rebellion. HIV continues to threaten his health.

Stuart got in touch with his counsellor and had a very touchin conversation with him. The timing of his call was of God because the counsellour had to counsel another 16 year ol who was making the same decision to live a homosexual lifestyle. Stuart was asked if he would tell his story to this teenager, and he agreed.

The call was made for the counsellors office, and he handed to the teenager the receiver and left so that they could talk privately. The counsellor was so excited because he knew that Stuart’s testimony would turn this young teen around. As his godly parents sat in the lobby weeping,the kid listened to Stuart’s testimony how he never had thought he would contract HIV and now lived with the virus. He got that virus because he wanted to be his own boss.

They talked for over an hour, yet when the counsellor went back in, the teenager said “That has no revevance to me.” He hung up the phone, and he’s still living in rebellion and perversion today.

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