A Pure Conscience

Returning to the book of Hebrews for this lesson, one of the themes of the book is the difference in how the old and new testaments make an impression on our consciences. Our conscience is the instrument given to by God to prove or disprove the actions we are about to take. It is that voice in our head that says, “you should” and “you shouldn’t.”

Qualities of Conscience

It’s Role. Romans 2:14-15 describes our consciences as the law we have even when we don’t know God’s law. Our thoughts accuse or affirm our actions separate from a written set of laws. Paul writes of it as the law being written in their hearts. Furthermore, in Romans 9:1, the conscience bears witness to your and my conduct. II Corinthians 1:12 reinforces this by speaking of the testimony of conscience regarding how we behave among the world and the brethren. Our conscience convicts us, either positively or negatively, regardless of what others may tell us about our behaviors. In Acts 23, Paul is telling the Sanhedrin that he lived in good conscience even when in enmity to God’s word. It is not a faultless guide. We should temper it with God’s word. Finally, Romans 14:23 warns us that violating our standards of conscience brings sin into our lives.

The Conscience We Want. I Timothy 1:5 tells us we should want a pure conscience in harmony with God’s law. In Acts 24:16, in another of Paul’s defenses, the apostle says he has always worked to maintain a clear conscience toward all men. I Timothy 3, among the qualities of elders and deacons, Paul again speaks of a clear conscience, and Hebrews 8-9 describes a perfect conscience that can only be obtained through Christ’s sacrifice. He provides us a clean, pure, and guiltless conscience in Hebrews 9:15, 10:2, and 10:22.

Damaging Our Conscience. I Timothy 4:1-2 describes individuals who have seared their consciences. They have trained that inner voice to silence itself or adjust its standards. Our consciences can become calloused and insensitive to right and wrong. We may know our error, but we cease to care because of the calloused burns containing our consciences. Titus 1:15 writes of defiled, or contaminated, consciences. They are corrupt and unclean. In I Corinthians 8:7 and 10, Paul speaks of sensitive consciences that can lead to moral contaminations, sin through violations of moral convictions.

Conclusion

Hebrews 10:22 tells us we must cleanse our consciences, drawing near to the throne of God. Peter, in I Peter 3:20-21, describes baptism as an appeal of a good conscience toward God. These examples harken back to Exodus 24 when Moses sprinkles blood on the temple implements as well as the people, saying, “This is the blood of the covenant.” Hebrews 9:14 calls upon us to cleanse our consciences in the blood of Christ. Then, as stated in I Peter 3:15-17, we must continue to educate our consciences properly and exemplify that standard in our lives.

If my conscience is not blameless, fault does not lie with my Savior – with His sacrifice or with His blood. The fault is mine for violating what I know is moral and true. Jesus’ blood washes us clean, and our responsibility is to keep our conscience clean from that point forward.

lesson by Tim Smelser

The Power of Choice

There are times when you and I feel powerless to do anything to affect the world around us. We may feel powerless against the price of gas, tragic world events, family tragedies. Despite things like these, we have power over self due to our power of choice. We can choose our companions, our occupation, our residences, our lifestyles, but, ultimately, we can choose our eternal home.

Fatalism denies this choice. Calvinism denies this choice. However, God’s word has much to say about choice, and we should respect the power our choices have.

The Power In Our Choices

God will not overrule our choices. He may disapprove of our choices. God may even try to warn us about our choices, but He will allow us to make the choices ourselves. Hebrews 6:9 speaks of promises to persuade us. Hebrews 3:15 warns us against choosing to harden our hearts. Ephesians 4:30 pleads for us not to grieve God through the choices we make, and Genesis 6:6 illustrates a time when God is grieved by man’s choices. There are consequences, but He does not overrule our free choice. Ezekiel 6:9-10 records God describing Himself as broken by their choices.

Psalm 78:40-41 describes God being limited by the choices of Israel. Their actions demanded reaction from God. Think about Jesus in Matthew 23:37 when he expresses how often he would have comforted Jerusalem and gathered her as children. Unfortunately, He could not due to their separating themselves from Him.

Satan cannot overrule our choices. Satan may make us think he leaves us no choice, but he cannot veto the choices we make. He cannot force Jesus to sin in Matthew 4 nor could he drive Job away Job’s choice whether or not to sin. In Acts 5, Satan uses physical threats against the apostles to dissuade them. In all of these circumstances, these individuals defy Satan. He can be resisted (James 4:7), for he is powerless against our power to choose. Ephesians 6:11 calls us to put on our godly armor to withstand Satan’s efforts.

Our Responsibility

God gives us the opportunities and the power to choose, but accountability comes with these choices. I choose my priorities. I choose how I use my time. I choose where I am during worship. Our freedom comes with the weight of accountability for how we use that freedom. Moses, in Deuteronomy 30:15, tells the children of Israel that they have a choice between life and death, between good and evil. Their choice is to follow God and prosper or fall away and face God’s justice. Our choice is the same. Day to day, we can either choose to follow or deny God. We choose eternal life or death in the decisions we make.

lesson by Tim Smelser

Letting Your Light Shine

In Matthew 5:14-16, Jesus speaks of His followers in terms of light – light that is visible to others in the good works they demonstrate. Light guides us in the darkness. Lights line our streets at night. Lights help guide airplane pilots in landing. Light draws attention. Our light should draw attention and guide others to God. Our efforts are not to glorify ourselves, but our lights should shine regardless of where we are.

Specific Points of Light

What does our clothing say about who we are. Whether justified or not, we and others often make snap decisions about people and their morality by how they dress themselves. I Timothy 2:9-10 speaks specifically to women, warning them to avoid putting too much concern in their adornments. (See also I Peter 3:3-4.)  However, the application applies to both sexes. Paul speaks of respectable apparel, using self-control, not drawing improper attention to one’s physical appearance. Our dress can differentiate us from the world and show that we really are trying to be different. (On a related note, what does our dress reflect when we come to worship?) We should be more concerned with people noticing our godly behaviors than what we are wearing.

Our light is also evident in our language. What attitude do we demonstrate in how we speak and the words we choose? Depending on our work or living situations, we may be inundated with improper language to the point we might become numb. However, as Christians, our standard is supposed to be God’s rather than man’s. Exodus 20:7 sets forth a principle that His followers should not take God’s name in vain – a mild curse by society’s standards.  Colossians 4:5-6 asks us to watch our conduct, reminding us to watch what we say and how we say it. Our choice of words and topics we engage in can cheapen the examples we set, and, if we are digesting unworthy topics and language, that’s what we will reflect. This is why, in Philippians 4:8, Paul asks that we focus on certain qualities over others, and Philippians 5:4 warns us of the tone in our speech. Our words are to build up. We should be thinking before we speak.

Our schedules and priorities can also stifle our lights. To an extent, some of our schedule is out of our hands. We can’t predict every event that will demand our attention. Work schedules can be unpredictable. However, when we do start cutting back, it’s often God’s work that gets cut first. Mark 16:16 speaks of teaching God’s word as our primary responsibility. If we claim to be Christians, but if we schedule God out of our lives, how can we follow Him? How can we bring others to Him? God comes before anything else in our lives, and our time use should reflect that priority. We dishonor Him when other worldly concerns come before Him.

Conclusion

Matthew 7:3-5 speaks to the problem of hypocrisy, the way it hinders our ability to reach out and help others.  If what we teach does not agree with what we do, then we are allowing our light to fade. These items are just three small focuses that can help us be better examples and concentrate on putting God first in our lives, and there are many other applications we can make in letting our lights shine. Our appearance and our language reflect our inner selves. These qualities demonstrate to others the true quality of our hearts, and our time use is one reflection of how we prioritize God in our lives.

We should be concerned that we avoid blinding others with our light, demonstrating our own sense of righteousness. Rather our lights should be pointing others toward God. Whether or not it is considered popular, our lives should reflect godliness if we want to draw attention to our Father.

lesson by Kris Casebolt

A Nation of Priests

This morning’s lesson focused on the grace God has shown us and the hope we have in that. Building upon this, Peter, in I Peter 2, asks his audience to put away all carnal qualities and form themselves as living stones built upon the foundation of Christ. He calls them and us a royal priesthood, a people of God’s possession who have obtained mercy.

A Spiritual Priesthood

Back in Exodus 19, as the people congregate at the base of Sinai after escaping slavery in Egypt, God uses these same descriptors regarding the children of Israel. He calls them a holy nation and a kingdom of priests. He sets them apart and sanctifies them as His own before leading them to the Promised Land. Back in I Peter 2, He asks the same of us for the same reasons. Just as Israel was to remain righteous, we are to do so today.

Galatians 6:16 refers to the Israel of God in describing Christians, and Galatians 3:28-29 as well as Romans 9:6-8 bear this same concept out. God’s children are His spiritual Israel, and I Peter 2:5 refers to us as a spiritual house. All who follow God are priests of God, and that obligates us to offer up proper spiritual sacrifices in that role.

A Priestly Service

We have to maintain our personal holiness. I Peter 1:14-16 calls us to be holy as God is holy, quoting God’s levitical mandate. His priests were to be separate and sanctified in His service, and we are to be likewise separated. Leviticus 10:1-3 records the tragedy of Nadab and Abihu, and God tells Aaron (through Moses) that He will be sanctified by all who come near Him. I Corinthians 6:11 refers to Christians as sanctified. We are to view God and ourselves differently due to His difference that we are to emulate. Only by changing our view of ourselves, then we will not behave separately from the world. Too many examples exist in the Old Testament of priests who do not act like priests. What of us today?

We should be able to discern godliness from ungodliness. Leviticus 10:10 describes a function of the priest as creating a distinction between the clean and unclean, the holy and the unholy. Ezekiel 22:26 as well as Micah 6:8 both call on God’s people to discern good from evil and live justly before God. James 4:17 warns us to choose our action carefully when we know the right thing to do, and I John 2:6 admonishes us to walk as He walked. We know we are His if we follow His commands. Finally, Hebrews 5:14 describes a mature Christian as one who has practiced discernment in differentiating good from evil.

We have to serve each other in our service to God. In Exodus 7:16, God reveals that the people of Israel are to be freed for the purpose of serving Him, and Romans 6:15-16 states that we either present ourselves as servant to God or to sin. In their service, the priests of the Old Testament served the people and each other, and our spiritual service reflects this. Philippians 2:1-8 reflects upon the service Christ yielded to us and to God in the sacrifice He provided. In this, Paul asks us to emulate His mindset – humbling ourselves in service of God and one another.

Conclusion

God has set us apart to His service, and our life should reflect that sanctification. We are no longer of the world. Rather, we reflect the God we serve in all areas of our life. We are His priests. We strive for holiness, for God is holy.

lesson by Tim Smelser

In, Not Of

A couple weeks ago, one of our members prayed that we be aided by God to remember who we are and the example we set for others as we engage in the celebrations and festivities typical during this season. We do have the challenge of being lights to the world, of being positive examples to those around us, without being adversely affected by the world. While Jesus was on Earth, He was no recluse, shielding Himself from the world, but he claims in John 17:9-11 that neither He nor His disciples are of the world. He prays that His disciples not be isolated from the world but instead guarded from its corrupting influences. From this, we derive the phrase, “In the world, not of the world.”

A Separate People

When we think of separateness and distinction, we can turn to the Old Testament nation of Israel for example. In Exodus 19:4-6, God separates His people and He calls them His holy nation. He has forged a special relationship between Himself and the people, but they would grow weary of their differences from the other nations and often stumble. Many of them wanted to act and think like the wold while reaping the blessings of God. This attitude does not work for them, nor does it for us.

In I Peter 2:9, we are described in terms similar to ancient Israel. Peter calls us a royal priesthood and a holy nation. Like those Jews, we are to be a separate people for God, and this is to be reflected in every aspect of our lives. Peter goes on to remind us that we once had no spiritual identity, but now we are of God, benefactors of His mercy, keeping our conduct in check and avoiding the temptations of this world (verses 10-12). Paul, in II Corinthians 6:14-17 reminds us that we are not to tie ourselves down with the world and that we are to separate ourselves from this world, and he calls us to cleanse ourselves in 7:1.

Maintaining Our Identity

We must remember our relationship to this world. When Jesus prayed in John 17, He did not encourage us to physically isolate ourselves, but, rather than be influenced by the world, we are to be a good influence upon others. In I Corinthians 5:9-10, Paul admits that Christians must interact with those in the world, but he addresses their conduct around others.

In this, we have to remember the importance of Heaven above anything in this world. There are many things of this world we place emphasis and importance on, but all these things are temporary. They do not last. In relation to our eternal lives, these are unimportant.

Furthermore, I must be willing to be changed by God’s word. I must resist the pressure to follow the tides. Rather, God’s word must move me to do what is right. In Romans 12:1-2, we are encouraged to be living sacrifices – not conformed to the world but transformed into something spiritual and new.

Conclusion

The big question for us is how we view the distinction we carry. Do we view it as a punishment? Do we feel deprived or inhibited by the lives we are to lead? (“Look at what I must give up.” “I’m not allowed to…” )However, if we take this view, it will not be long before we slip back into the world. Really, when it comes to those prohibitions, what are we asked to give up that really matters in the long run? On the other hand, what do we gain that really matters? The answer in this case is everything. When stacked against those sacrifices we are asked to make, the gains are vastly overwhelming and far more permanent than anything in this transient life.

The children of Israel continued to falter because they were busy looking back at what they thought they lost while failing to appreciate what God gave them. In I Peter 1:3-4, Peter gives thanks for his incorruptible inheritance paid for by the blameless sacrifice of Christ (verses 18-19). He goes on to speak of the purification of our souls, and I Peter 2:5 then brings us to the new identity we gain in our service to God. We can maintain our separateness and distinction if we keep our goal in mind and remain thankful for the blessings God has provided for us.

lesson by Tim Smelser

Where No Case Exists

Recently, a small set of billboards have cropped up around the country claiming the Bible accepts homosexuality as a lifestyle. Three verses are cited – II Samuel 1:26, Acts 8:26-40, and Matthew 8:5-13. Unfortunately, none of these passages back up the claim.

II Samuel 1:26:

I am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan: very pleasant hast thou been unto me: thy love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women.

This is the most convincing of the examples because of the lack of nuances in the English language when it comes to “love.” The Hebrew word here is ‘ohab, which carries with it an idea of affection or deep friendship. It does not necessitate a sexual relationship. David’s use of the kindred term ‘ach or “brother” here reinforces a family-like relationship rather than a sexual one, and this brotherly relationship is, to David, deeper than any lovers he has taken to this point.

Acts 8:26-40

…And he arose and went: and, behold, a man of Ethiopia, an eunuch of great authority under Candace queen of the Ethiopians, who had the charge of all her treasure, and had come to Jerusalem for to worship…

The argument here is that a eunuch is likely gay.

This just doesn’t line up with the standard definition of “eunuch.”

eunuch |ˈyoōnək| |ˌjunək| |ˌjuːnək|<br />

noun

a man who has been castrated, esp. (in the past) one employed to guard the women’s living areas at an oriental court.

Matthew 8:5-13

…And when Jesus was entered into Capernaum, there came unto him a centurion, beseeching him, saying, “Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented.”

And Jesus saith unto him, “I will come and heal him…”

Was this servant really the centurion’s gay lover? The Greek word for servant here is ophelimos, meaning one who is helpful or profitable. This is obviously an employee/employer relationship and nothing else. He must have been a good servant, but nothing else is implied here.

The Harmony of Scriptures

I Corinthians 14:33:

For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.

This quote specifically refers to a confusing and contradictory atmosphere in worship, but I think it speaks to a broader truth. There is no duplicity in God. His will is consistent, so if we’re going to justify homosexuality through David (accepting that he was a man “after God’s own heart” in Acts 13:21-23), we have to reconcile this with Leviticus 20:13:

If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.

(Please note the distinction that God calls out the action. He does not call the person an abomination. There is a difference.)

When it comes to the New Testament, remember I Corinthians 6:9-11:

Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.

And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.

Even if the eunuch or the centurion were gay before accepting Christ, Paul makes it pretty clear in this passage that such lifestyles are left behind afterwards. We were these things until we were washed, sanctified, and justified.

Conclusion

We are not to judge others unfairly (Mathew 7:1-2). We are treat all people with kindness and respect (Galatians 6:9-10), and Jesus always began teaching people where they were developmentally. However, respect for an individual does not necessarily mean approval of all his or her choices. The Bible’s message is one of love and peace, but we cannot haphazardly lift scripture out of context for personal justification – whether we are trying to justify doing what we want, hating who we choose, or loving in ways God has not ordained.