The Conscience, the Godly Man’s Tool: The Role of Conscience in the Godly Man’s Masculinity
The man of principle operates in the realm of principle
By God’s design, the realm of manhood is primarily a realm of principle, more than nurture. As the gender appointed by God to assume positions of authority, it is fitting that the man learn to excel in fidelity to principle.
Principle is ever the godly man’s lamp that illumines his decisions (Ps 119:105). Principle marks out the godly man’s path (1 Tim 6:11-12). Principle is the realm of every godly leader; the buck stops with the man.
Even a man’s decision to do nothing is regarded by God as a decision. The O.T. indicates (in the context of making a vow) that if a man hears his wife saying something day after day and he does nothing about it (refuses to exercise power of veto), God regards what the wife said to have been ratified by the husband! Even in his passivity, he is regarded by God as the leader! (Num 30:6-16).
In the O.T. God always targeted the priests, the rulers, the lawyers, the fathers, and the prophets as those who were most responsible for influencing the moral direction of the covenant nation (Jer 5:31). In Psalm 2, it is the rulers and kings that God identifies as leading the rebellion of the pagan nations against God’s moral government.
By contrast (in spite of what the radical feminists say), the woman is not designed by God to be head of state, ruler of the people, interpreter of law. She is not normally called upon to decide if a man should be sent to the frontlines of battle, or if a criminal should be sent to the gallows, or if an employee should be jobless. Historically, it has not been women who have commanded armies, shot traitors, nor made the difficult moral decisions that effect the directions of nations. (England’s Margaret Thatcher, as a world leader was an anomaly, albeit a fine one.)
Scripture describes the place of the woman’s greatest influence as child rearing in the home (Prov 31). Her most valuable teaching role is through nurture, connection, and the maintenance of relationships. (Though principle has as stronger role than nurture for the male, nurturing by the man is certainly involved as well, Josh McDowell reminds us that, “Rules without relationship equals rebellion.” The man is to provide moral leadership through relationship, instruction, and example. Each area of moral influence exercised by the man has a context or a “relational space,” whether church, family, government, business, or society.)
The feminization of society
Man’s success in providing a moral compass is completely tied to his submission to God’s moral government. Biblical male headship is “top down” authority that is totally dependent upon submission to God’s rule. The headship of the man is affirmed, reinforced, and energized by surrender to God’s authority in Christ (1 Cor 11:1-12).
The prerequisite for the man’s daily moral leadership is the intake of God’s principles. Submission to the principles of Scripture have the net effect of educating and activating the man’s conscience to that he may successfully execute his cultural calling as spiritual leader. There is no other way to successfully provide moral leadership (Is 48:17-19).
As societies move toward apostasy, submission to divine principles is abandoned by degrees. The book of Isaiah is the most articulate in all of Scripture in providing an accounting of this departure from God.
The prophet speaks of a “spirit of distortion” (Is 19:14) in which God’s structure for the home and society is perverted and distorted. When the “spirit of distortion” takes hold, the divinely intended stability of a theocratic, patriarchal culture is gradually eroded. God’s appointed authority is despised and those who should not be in authority seize it and usurp it. Anarchy, rebellion, and disrespect tear the society apart. The prophet Isaiah mourns this tragic distortion, “Oh my people! Their oppressors are children and women rule over them” (Is 3:12).
This overturning of God’s authority structure comes with its own punishment. For a culture cannot survive for long with such wholesale role reversal (Is 3:2-6; 24:2-5).
The arrogance of the ungodly causes them to despise and reject God’s rule. “Bottom up” rule is always nihilistic. Through disorder and lawlessness, it throws off God’s protective umbrella of ordained authority and in so doing, paves a pathway to hell.
By contrast, God’s plan is perfect. He has vested the home with a complementary relationship between husband and wife and between principle and nurture.
In the godly home, the virtues of principle and nurture operate in harmony like a husband and wife (just as they operate individually in the husband and wife). (Both husband and wife exercise principle and nurture, but the gender roles outlined in the Scripture set forth the father as the key communicator and enforcer of principle --Deut 6:4-7. The voice of the husband and father is to be a voice of moral guidance; He reflects the moral authority of God the Father – Deut 4:9).
When a society loses its vision for the leadership of the fathers (Ps 78:5-8), principle and nurture can become polarized and assume an adversarial role toward one another. Once fathers abdicate their God-given role of establishing principle, homes become matriarchal. Nurture swallows up principle. Principle is abandoned in favor of nurture. The home without biblical principle has become a microcosm of society, it’s nurture without God’s moral absolutes.
This abandonment of principle is precisely what is happening in the “culture wars” taking place in our country. America woke up one morning to find nurture (compassion and toleration) had been set against principle (moral absolutes) in the marketplace of ideas. Principle and nurture have become divorced and are now bitter enemies. (In many ways this antithesis is manifested in two opposing political views.)
The political conservative argues for traditional family values associated with Judeo-Christian standards. Those of the political left push for feminism, the toleration of homosexuality as a legitimate alternative lifestyle, pornography as “free speech,” and abortion (“reproductive rights),” all in the name of compassion, freedom, and toleration.
The political liberal spins his diatribe of social concern and compassion, but it’s nurture withoutprinciple. For the liberal, inner feelings are king at the expense of God’s moral absolutes. The political liberal rejects an absolute moral code that applies to all men. Law and ethics, he says, should emanate from the individual’s choice and feelings. According to the liberal, this is true freedom, love, and real compassion.
Once ethics are divorced from God’s law, the moral debate becomes a shrill free
for all as to who has the moral high ground. Recently I was listening to a San Francisco radio station. The author of a book on gay marriage was being interviewed. When speaking of homosexual partners, the author used the phrase, “loving relationships” at least once in every paragraph. Clearly, the author hoped to wear down his opposition by appearing as if his position, which advocated homosexuality, was the most loving and compassionate.
As divine principles are increasingly marginalized, political conservatives will find that their moral position will find less and less of a hearing. The moral conservative will appear increasingly antiquated and irrelevant. The reason is quite evident; the feminist values of nurture have replaced the patriarchal values of principle.
The culture, like the home, has become feminized – a posture of “anti-principle” reigns. The secularization of our culture is the tragic result.
In the political arena, the political conservative is cast as harsh, moralistic, unloving, backwards, brittle, critical, and unfeeling. The political liberal describes himself as the opposite of each of these. He thinks that his position of nurture places him on the moral high ground.
Behind this sociodrama is a spiritual battle for the soul of this nation. The divorce betweennurture and principle must be exposed before it is too late. For what is touted as progressive is nothing more than the damnable downgrade described in Romans 1:18-32.
The liberal mind set foolishly imagines that each person has the ability to write his own “loving” ethics. This pipe dream of lawless love has the makings of a moral holocaust. Consider the following series of excerpts from “Knowing Right from Wrong: A Christian Response to Postmodern ‘Tolerance’ ” by Jay Wegter and Massimo Lorenzini, available online atwww.frontlinemin.org/rightfromwrong.asp.
A hideous and rapacious beast known as “lawless love”
Scripture demands that human dignity, life’s sanctity, and love’s boundaries are founded upon God’s laws. Lawless love is the patent denial that justice is inseparable from Christian love (Micah 6:8). Consider the following contrast between biblical love and the lawless “love” espoused by positive tolerance.
Principle is the divine framework for love. Without God’s laws to provide the structure for relationships and morals, “love” will be at an utter loss to find its ethical boundaries and guardrails. Principle is the safeguard and foundation of love. “Love is the fulfillment the law” (Rom 13:8). Whatever purports to be love and vaunts itself as caring – if it does not defend and fulfill divine principle, its claims amount to nothing but sentimentalism.
A man’s battle for principle begins in his conscience
We’ve seen so far that the exercise of godly manhood is inseparable from the communication of divine principles. Our attention now turns to the arena of conscience.
Because we live in a fallen world that is at enmity with God, the communication of divine principle will always involve battle. All those who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Tim 3:12). They will most certainly be misunderstood and hated (Jn 15:19-23ff.).
God calls men to be diligent in matters of conscience (1 Tim 1:5; 2:19; Acts 24:15-16). The pain and effort of maintaining a clear conscience is worth the effort. A clear conscience is where a man’s moral power resides. A clear conscience enables him to function as God intended. It liberates him to lead spiritually and to be about the business of influencing others for the sake of gospel holiness.
His calling is to teach, model, enforce, defend, and establish biblical principles. He is called upon to do this amidst a sea of opposition that wars against God’s undeniable moral absolutes (1 Cor 4:9-14).
The world may be screaming, “All is grey and up for personal opinion,” but the man of God must declare the Scriptures. When the world is crying “grey,” the man of God is setting forth the black and white of God’s Word (2 Tim 4:1-5).
This evil generation continually pushes for pragmatism, moral relativism, and situational ethics. But the godly man is called upon to bring the truths of God’s Word to bear on all of life’s situations. He is to exemplify “universal obedience” (Titus 2:7).
Other godly men sharpen him for the task in ways that women cannot not. When men who are committed to biblical principle experience fellowship together, “iron sharpening iron” takes place (Prov 27:17). This sharpening process involves a mutual challenge to demonstrate an ever higher fidelity to principle.
When in the company of godly men, the conversation frequently turns to the subject of holding our course amidst the resistance of this age. In our present ideological climate, there is a common form of resistance to biblical principle. It is the prevailing collection of specious arguments that urge compromise in the interest of love and compassion.
The godly man knows that the surest road to compassion is marked out by God’s truth. When one settles for a brand of compassion that compromises the truth, the compassion will prove to be short-lived. The consequences of truth denied, suppressed, or distorted in the interest of “love” will always catch up to us in time.
A truth-less compassion will keep delivering new installments of consequences. In the end, it will produce a harvest of thorns (Jer 12:13). Therefore the man of God is willing to be faithful to his Scripture-informed conscience, no matter how much the popular tide is running against him.
His conscience is his tool for teaching, modeling, and defending principle. He must keep it honed and cleaned. This is vital because the man of God must be in the daily habit of cutting through every lie that argues for compromise of principle. Sometimes the untruths that lead to compromise of principle come from very close quarters, from intimates, family members, spouse, friends. It is in these situations that a man’s fear of God is put to the test.
In the “Hagar the Horrible” comic strip, the adolescent daughter complains to her mother, “Life isn’t fair, men have all the power.” The mother whispers to the daughter, “But women have a secret weapon.” The daughter asks intently, “What is it?” Mom answers, “Man’s guilt.” The daughter replies, “What if the man is not guilty about anything. Mom answers, “Nonsense, every man is guilty about something.”
That cartoon is humorous because it is so true to life. Because of man’s cultural calling to be a communicator and example of principle, his conscience is sensitive in ways that a woman’s conscience is not. A sincere man will always be engaged in the struggle to keep up the maintenance of his conscience (Acts 24:15-16).
He will be intensely aware of his failure to measure up to God’s standards. The question is, “How will he do the accounting of his conscience?” “How will he deal with the scales of justice in his conscience?” “How will he seek relief?” The way in which he answers reveals much about the man.
Truth versus bribery in the inner man
God desires truth in the innermost being (Ps 51:6). The innermost being, the conscience, the affections, that is where fidelity to principle begins. The man of principle is faithful first of all to his conscience in the presence of God, then to his wife and family, then to his church, and finally to his associations in the world.
These “circles” of principle applied are each dependent upon the previous circle of faithfulness. It always begins with attention to conscience in the presence of God in the fear of God. Once Adam listened to the voice of his wife so as to eat the forbidden fruit, he temporarily disqualified himself from his calling to defend principle (Gen 3:17). The input of a fellow creature, his beloved wife, was permitted to usurp the place of God in the conscience.
The man who demonstrates fidelity to principle is frequently alone with God. There is no other way to overcome the fear of man (Prov 29:25). There is much loneliness and solitude that accompanies the maintenance of conscience. The “help” others can give us with issues of conscience is very limited.
As men, we are frequently tempted to short-circuit the process of doing the agonizing “trench work” of dealing with our consciences before God. One of the most common temptations is to go to those who have affection for us and who approve of us in order to feel better about ourselves.
If your conscience is troubling you, the counsel is DON’T DO IT. Don’t go to others until you have finished your business with God. God’s appointed path to peace and joy in believing is engage in ruthless, biblical, self-confrontation (Ps 139:23-24). Joyful integration is reserved for the contrite (Is 57:15).
The godly man invites admonishment. It is the wise man who welcomes reproof more than flattery. “Do not reprove a scoffer, lest he hate you, reprove a wise man, and he will love you” (Prov 9:8). “Let the righteous smite me in kindness and reprove me; it is oil upon my head; do not let my head refuse it” (Ps 141:5a).
Puritan Richard Sibbes offers the following note about self-confrontation and the hatred of sin:
A man may know his hatred of evil to be true, first, if it is universal – he that hates sin truly, hates all sin. Secondly, true hatred of sin is fixed – there is no appeasing it but by abolishing the thing hated. Thirdly, true hatred of sin is more rooted in affection than anger – anger may be appeased, but hatred of sin remains and sets itself against the whole kind. Fourthly, if our hatred of sin is true, we hate all evil, in ourselves foremost, and secondly in others. Fifthly, he that hates sin truly, hates the greatest sin in the greatest measure; he hates all evil in just proportion. Sixthly, our hatred of sin is right if we can endure admonition and reproof for sin, and not be enraged – therefore, those who swell against reproof do not appear to hate sin.
When facing the temptation to go to others for comfort of conscience, remember, the Scriptures enjoin us to go to others for the purpose of confessing our sins! -- James 5:16, (NOT for the purpose of collecting sympathizers).
It’s been said, “Of all the roads to a woman’s heart, pity is the straightest.” As men, we instinctively know that God has “wired” women to be compassionate nurturers. They will reliably give us a tender ear and a sympathetic response.
The caution leveled at men concerns the willingness to stick with the work of conscience until it is done. A clear conscience will prove elusive if a man allows the praise and sympathy of others to short-circuit his painful work of self-confrontation.
Following through with the work of conscience pays a huge dividend. Fidelity to principle will not produce a pain free life, but it will produce a clear conscience life, and that is precisely what a man needs in order to be fitted for his high calling of “truth broker.” The joy and strength of a clear conscience before God is an indescribable blessing.
The conscience of the sincere, Bible-believing man knows when he has admitted bribery, excesses, emotional escape hatches, self pity, blame, resentment, or any other conscience-defiling sin. Conscience maintenance is courageous work.
Because we sin everyday, there is a continual need for self-confrontation in the presence of Christ. The clear conscience man preaches the Gospel to himself everyday. He knows his new covenant resources in Christ. He practices radical heroism and realism in dealing with personal sin.
Conscience maintenance is courageous work. Courage is called for because our defects and bosom sins frequently condemn us. We are all too familiar with the recalcitrant areas of idolatry which seem to resist our best efforts of sin mortification. We tire of confronting ourselves. In time the sins of others appear larger than our own.
This second short circuit is different from the temptation of seeking sympathy and praise from others. The second temptation involves carnal efforts to balance the scales of conscience by focusing on the sins others have committed against us. Our false “righteous indignation,” no matter how vociferous, cannot fool the conscience. It will still trouble us. The sincere man who bribes his conscience in this way will still feel “greasy.”
He knows he is yet entertaining a comprised principle. No amount of sophistry can fool his conscience. No matter how much he focuses on the offenses he has received at the hands of others, his conscience will not admit these as legitimate weights on its scales of justice.
A third short circuit is closely related to the second. It also is a carnal effort to silence the accusing conscience by tinkering with the scales. In this case it is by conducting moral comparisons with others. The praying Pharisee sought to do business with his conscience by elevating himself morally on the faults of others, as if their gross iniquity would propel him, a “moral” man to the top of the heap. Scripture tells us that he left the temple unjustified (Luke 18:9-12).
No man has ever brought peace to his conscience by making moral comparisons with others. Paul tells us that those who attempt to do are “without understanding” (2 Cor 10:12).
The man whose conscience accuses him will remain stuck until he repents. As long as he bribes his conscience by utilizing short-circuit carnal attempts at balancing it, he will continue to feel that he has sold his soul for a mess of pottage.
There is no substitute for biblical self-confrontation. Without it, the conscience is like a jailor who won’t release his prisoner. The “captive” man is puzzled – for this inner device planted by God, the conscience, still sends him messages of shame, guilt, and self-recrimination. His conscience won’t clear him, even when other people do.
Because the conscience operates on strict justice alone, there will be no radical relief until there is a “trial.” The man must put himself on trial for the purpose of a judgment. He must give up shared blame. He must take a stand against himself, throw out all alibis. He must say the same thing about his personal sin that God does. He must determine to be free from sin’s dominion by God’s grace. He must break its pattern and stranglehold and smash the idols and lies that permit its perpetuation. He must by faith see His righteous Substitute suffering in his place, experiencing the just penalty for this sin. He must consent to be cleansed to the very depths of his conscience God’s way.
Yes, conscience maintenance is courageous and diligent work. So many professing believers carry out their existence on earth with troubled consciences because they tolerate something that stands between heaven and themselves. Countless believers live with a grieved Spirit because they live with unresolved sin issues.
The preciousness of a clear conscience is worth the effort. Do the work, find the “Achan” in your heart that is blocking your peace and joy. By God’s Spirit conduct a search and destroy mission to root out the lies that you have been believing. Locate the lies that have permitted your compromise of principle.
Like a computer scan for virus, expose your life to the Word and the Spirit with ruthless honesty. Keep Christ and the Gospel close by so that you will not be afraid to hear the worst news about yourself. Our depravity is worse than we think. Our capacity for self-deception is deeper than we have ever imagined (Jer 17:9-10). Our propensity for self-righteousness is beyond comprehension.
The lies that hold our sin in place must be identified, deconstructed, and brought bound and gagged to Christ (2 Cor 10:5).
The way a man deals with his conscience reveals how he deals with God
“A good conscience is the palace of Christ; the temple of the Holy Ghost; the paradise of delight, the standing Sabbath of the saints.” St. Augustine.
“Conscience is well-bred and soon leaves off talking to those who do not wish to hear it.” Samuel Butler.
“No flattery can heal a bad conscience, so no slander can hurt a good one.” Thomas Watson.
In the final analysis, the man with a sleepy, self-justifying conscience manifests a compromised loyalty and devotion to Christ. A man cannot deal untruthfully with his conscience without dealing untruthfully with the Lord. Double dealing with one’s conscience belies a lack of submissive toward Christ.
Puritan divines commonly exhorted their parishioners to “Be kind to the Holy Spirit.” The Spirit works with our consciences in such an intimate manner that He literally is willing to give permission to the saint or withhold it for certain activities that are within the confines of Scriptural precepts. He is willing to lead us if we are in the habit of listening to Him, and if we are in the habit of being transparent with him and submissive toward Him in matters of conscience.
The Puritans understood that submission to God’s Spirit (be kind to the Spirit) was tied to His intimacy in leading and comforting. The submissive man will have more of the Spirit’s comfort than an imperious believer who implicitly trusts his own decisions.
The humble man who trembles at God’s Word will experience God’s presence (Is 66:1-2). God condescends to take special notice of our repenting and self-confrontation, He takes delight in the sacrifices of a broken spirit (Ps 51:17).
The godly man leaves off his quarrel with others that he might quarrel with his own iniquity in the presence of God. The godly man throws out excuses for his sin. He humbles himself without turning to rationalizations for his failures. He does not raise himself from humiliation prematurely, he lets God’s grace raise him up at the right time, after a season of humbling (James 4:6, 10).
The fear of man may tempt us to compromise principle. The failings of others may tempt us to self-righteous comparisons with others. The godly man listens assiduously to his conscience; he knows that his fear of God and comfort in God are closely tied to the spiritual discipline of maintaining a clear conscience. As Thomas Brooks once said, “A good confidence and a good conscience go together.”
God makes His abode with the humble (Is 66:1-2). A key mark of that humility is a readiness to afflict oneself over personal sin. When we cast ourselves upon God in this manner there is a sweet communion with Him as we allow Him to be our Justifier instead of attempting to justify ourselves.