Thursday, July 3, 2014

Book Review: How Can I Develop a Christian Conscience?

How Can I Develop A Christian Conscience? R.C. Sproul. 2013. Reformation Trust. 76 pages. [Source: Bought]

It is vitally important for Christians to consider the issue of conscience. 

This short booklet addresses the subject of the conscience. It explores what a conscience is and isn't.
When we sin, the conscience is troubled. It accuses us. The conscience is the tool that God the Holy Spirit uses to convict us, bring us to repentance, and to receive the healing of forgiveness that flows from the gospel.
It stresses that the conscience can be cultivated or developed by the Spirit through the reading of the Word.

Whereas God’s principles don’t change, our consciences vacillate and develop.
At times this book is more philosophical than practical. Sproul has a tendency to go that path. He does. Some books it shows more than others. That being said, this one was easy enough to follow. It wasn't an overwhelming read. And at 76 pages, it would be a big surprise if it was intimidating. The book is complex enough. It has big ideas, big concepts. But it is an instructional guide. It is written to be understood. Its focus is clear throughout, and it defines and explains complex subjects concisely.

If you're looking for a quick read on morality and ethics, law and grace, then this one might be something that interests you.

The table of contents:

  • The question of conscience
  • The creation ordinances
  • The razor's edge
  • The legalist distortion
  • The distortion of lawlessness
  • The degrees of sin

The famous philosopher Immanuel Kant was agnostic with respect to man’s ability to reason from this world to the transcendence of God. Even so, he offered what he called a moral argument for the existence of God that was based on what he called a universal sense of oughtness implanted in the heart of every human being. Kant believed that everyone carried with them a genuine sense of what one ought to do in a given situation. He called this the categorical imperative. He believed there are two things that fill the soul with an ever-new and growing wonder and reverence: the starry heavens above and the moral law within.
This is indeed the age of relativism, where values and principles are considered to be mere expressions of the desires and interests of a given group of people at a given time in history. We repeatedly hear that there are no absolutes in our world today.
Spiritually speaking, the pain of guilt, can signal to us that something is wrong with our souls. There is a remedy for that and it’s the same one that the church has always offered, namely, forgiveness. Real guilt requires real forgiveness.
As humans, our ability to defend ourselves from moral culpability is quite developed and nuanced. We become a culture in trouble when we begin to call evil good and good evil. To do that, we must distort the conscience, and, in essence, make man the final authority in life. All one has to do is to adjust his conscience to suit his ethic.
We recognize that people can have highly sensitized consciences, not because they are being informed by the Word of God but because they have been informed by man-made rules and regulations.
The conscience can excuse when it ought to be accusing, and it also can accuse when it should be excusing.
For the Christian, the conscience is not the ultimate authority in life. We are called to have the mind of Christ, to know the good, and to have our minds and hearts trained by God’s truth so that when the moment of pressure comes, we will be able to stand with integrity.
All men, everywhere, are participants in a covenant relationship with God even if they never join the Christian church or the Jewish commonwealth. The first covenant that God made with mankind was with Adam, who represented the entire human race. In that covenant, the covenant of creation, God entered into a contractual relationship with all human beings. By nature, every descendant of Adam belongs to the covenant of creation. This may not be a relationship of grace, but it is a relationship nonetheless. The laws that God gave in creation remain binding on all men. It doesn’t matter if they are religious, members of the household of Israel, or members of a local church.
What kind of ordinances are included in the covenant of creation? We’ll look at a few of the precepts and principles that God built into human relationships in the very beginning… So, Christians are called upon to be voices in favor of maintaining and preserving the sanctity of life, the sanctity of marriage, the sanctity of labor, and yes, even the sanctity of the Sabbath day. These are laws that apply to all men in every age, place, and culture.
The English word “ethic” or “ethics” comes from the Greek word ethos. The word “morals” or “morality” comes from the word mores. The difference is that the ethos of a society or culture deals with its foundational philosophy, its concept of values, and its system of understanding how the world fits together. There is a philosophical value system that is the ethos of every culture in the world. On the other hand, mores has to do with the customs, habits, and normal forms of behavior that are found within a given culture. In the first instance, ethics is called a normative science; it’s the study of norms or standards by which things are measured or evaluated. Morality, on the other hand, is what we would call a descriptive science. A descriptive science is a method to describe the way things operate or behave. Ethics are concerned with the imperative and morality is concerned with the indicative. What do we mean by that? It means that ethics is concerned with “ought-ness,” and morality is concerned with “is-ness.”
When it comes to every Christian’s duty to pursue righteousness—to pursue right ethics—there are two significant issues. The first issue is to know what the good is, to understand with the mind what God requires and what pleases Him. But let’s suppose that we have a clear and sharp understanding of God’s law and we know with certainty what He requires of us. Unfortunately, that’s only half the battle. The second issue we face as Christians is to have the ethical courage to do what we know to be right. 
The gospel calls men to repentance, holiness, and godliness. Because of this, the world finds the gospel offensive. But woe to us if we add unnecessarily to that offense by distorting the true nature of Christianity by combining it with legalism.
© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

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