Conscience and Confession
Part 4, Discovering the Joy of a Clear Conscience by Christopher Ash
Drawing to a close our reading of Discovering the Joy of a Clear Conscience, Ash weaves together the first three sections of the book to look at how we can have a Christian conscience. The two points, which stood out for me, and which I continue to think about, are: the place of the Bible in “recalibrating” our conscience, and the spiritual need for confession.
In the penultimate chapter we are confronted with a picture of faulty conscience for both the weak and the strong (in the words of Paul), or the oversensitive and undersensitive consciences. Ash wants us to consider both the religious and social aspects of our consciences, that is the way in which other people and the Bible influence our consciences, and for us to “recalibrate” our consciences accordingly.
It is so easy, especially within our churches, to think that how we do things is the ‘right’ way, to have lives which reflect more our Christian sub-culture than lives which are being made into the image of Christ. Paul’s epistles to the Corinthians show us that we need be on guard to ensure that have not wandered from the Gospel we were first taught. Specifically that we do not stray into religiosity, or syncretism, or nominalism. This is important to guard against becoming either legalistic or licentious in our lives and our consciences. I’ve found myself thinking a lot about the behaviours and practices that are tolerated at church, but which may in fact be contra to the Bible’s teaching. However, as Ash strives to show us, it is what is in our heart, behind these things, that matters. We need to have integrated lives. Sincere lives-
Deep genuineness and authenticity come from a heart that is single and pure, not divided and mixed; from a conscience that is good, cleansed and clean rather than guilty; and from a faith that is real. This is the root and origin of all true love towards God and people. (166)
We don’t want Churches of people who are merely looking to each other to please each other and puff themselves up, but Churches of people looking to Christ to love and serve each other and God.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this verse that Ash quotes from Proverbs: “Guard your heart above all else, for it is the source of life.” (Proverbs 4:23, HCSB) The writer of Proverbs admonishes his ‘sons’ to listen to his instruction, and to keep his words in their hearts. Our conscience is important, but of greater importance is what shapes and feeds our conscience. Ash reminds us that we are “moral chameleons” (165), taking on the norms of the culture around us, including our Church cultures. We need to be shaped by the Bible- by the living, breathing Word of God. This is why we need to keep reading, studying and listening to the Word of God. We need to do this by ourselves, and we need to do this together. There is a clear warning here to not make idols of our consciences (158), but to subject our unreliable consciences “to be deliberately and consciously subjected to the reliable Word of God.” (158) And, in doing so, leads us to confession.
In the Anglican tradition, in which I grew up, we have a moment in the service where we pray a confession. I have found that having imbibed these words weekly in my formative years they now structure my confession generally. However, often I can be a bit like Polonius in Hamlet, where “My words fly up, my thoughts remain below”. I mumble the confession often without thinking about the specific sins which I need to repent of, but also without truly acknowledging that my sins are forgiven, that my conscience is cleansed, that Christ’s blood has done for me what I could not, can not do for myself.
If the only way we can have a clear conscience is through Christ’s blood, which cleanses our conscience, then it is only right that we live lives of repentance and faith. Ash writes that confession is essential in the Christian life, particularly to guard against hardness of heart. We lie to ourselves and suppress our consciences if we do not face our (daily!) need of cleansing. We need to do this by ourselves, but we also need to do this with others.
About this month's contributor - Sian Lim
Sian loves Jesus, her family and books. She loves teaching and studying English literature and sharing Jesus with people. Sian enjoys good coffee, photography and going to the beach. She is always ready to discuss a great book or two. Sian loves being a mum but at the moment she would really like some more sleep.