This being so, I myself always strive to have a conscience without offense toward God and men. (Acts 24:16)
Having a pure heart and a clean conscience are closely connected, and they’re also the foundation of spiritual peace. Every believer is blessed with the grace that enables us to walk in the peace that comes from the righteousness of Christ in us. We are able, through salvation, to walk in the peace of God Himself, the peace that comes from a pure heart and a conscience without offence through cleansing by the blood of Jesus, but it isn’t a ‘magical,’ instantaneous thing. Like all the blessings of God purchased for us on the cross, we have to receive it, and we have to learn to walk in it.
A conscience without offense is, in effect, the outward expression of a pure heart, the righteousness of Christ.
Part of learning how to walk in it is recognising and accepting that our conscience cannot be separated from our heart. It’s easy to settled for the limited understanding that a conscience without offense is one that is cleansed through repentance. This is absolutely correct, but today’s verse adds an interesting new dimension that many of us overlook. Sins we commit are easily identified if we’re walking in the Spirit. He will prompt us each time we commit a sin, either of commission or omission. We are thus able to repent and receive forgiveness, and our heart and conscience is washed clean of that particular sin.
This is an integral part of having a conscience without offense. It may also be that we’re guided to ask and extend forgiveness, another critical requirement in our relationships with others which has tremendous impact on our relationship with and standing before God. It’s pure common sense that the issue of unforgiveness will drastically impair our ability to have a conscience without offense. But today’s verse takes things to a much deeper level – the condition of our heart.
James presents critical wisdom on the matter of how we use our tongues for good or for evil. We can easily see and accept that what we speak can either build up or destroy both ourselves and others. It’s also true that what we speak will reflect the condition of our hearts. Even if we speak words that are untrue, it indicates a willingness within us to stray from the truth. Words and actions all work via our thoughts, and our minds and intellectual abilities – the ability to understand and reason – play a huge part in gaining a conscience without offense. We can use our cognitive abilities, as an example, to agree with the Holy Spirit regarding sin and the appropriate course of action.
The important thing is that our thoughts are controlled by our spirits, which in turn is directed by the Holy Spirit. This is an essential relationship that every Christian cultivates in our walk with Christ. All of this is obvious, but there are often deeper, ingrained attitudes and responses that we seldom explore. We have cultivated them throughout our lives. They may emerge from prejudices, for example, inculcated in us through our environment and upbringing. They may be an instinctive response to a ‘type’ of person that has wounded or angered us in the past. These are all things that play a vital role in acquiring a conscience clear of offense.
Today’s verse is clear that the issue is all-encompassing. It’s both towards God and others, and it involves everything that we think, speak, do, or feel towards them. We often hear and use the expression ‘don’t generalize.’ Yet it’s something we do all the time. It’s part of our psychological makeup to automatically put people in categories, and it’s our way of streamlining our automated responses and reactions. The danger is that many of these attitudes and preconceptions can be completely instinctive. We simply aren’t aware of them, yet they are constantly in play. As a result, we cannot effectively walk in a conscience without offense.
The reason for the power they have is the simple fact that they are deeply engrained. They are a part of our heart, the seat of our true nature. They manifest subtly as attitudes, and unless we’re aware of this and attuned to the voice of the Spirit, we can miss them entirely. Attitudes always ultimately manifest as thoughts, words, or actions – the things that we are readily able to repent and receive forgiveness for. But, while repentance can never be undervalued, it deals with the outward symptoms rather than the inward problem. If we desire to walk with a conscience without offense, we need to seek the help of the Spirit to identify these underlying fleshly attitudes.
Any attitude that denigrates others or diminishes God is sinful. These are an offense towards God and others and must be dealt with. We can take this to the extreme, of course, and constantly live in a sense of fear or condemnation for things we might possibly have, and this is contrary to the teaching of the Word. While it is good to constantly examine ourselves and deal with hidden issues, the only appropriate way is through surrender to the teaching and guidance of the Holy Spirit. Having a conscience without offense requires a willingness to hear the Spirit and listen. It means being open to that inner check that will come when we manifest hidden attitudes and prejudices.
God does not intend us to walk in constant condemnation. Neither does He desire that we walk in spiritual blindness. Our fleshly nature is sinful, and we have inherited and acquired any number of deeply ingrained ‘offensive’ attitudes and responses that constantly trip us up. As always, God’s grace provides the solution through the indwelling Holy Spirit. If we remain continually filled with the Spirit, we can be sure that He will reveal the hidden things in the heart that still need to be dealt with. With His loving intervention, we can, like Paul, be sure to walk in a conscience without offense to God and others – the righteousness of Christ, which is a gift of grace.
Thank You, Lord, for showing us the hidden faults that can hinder our spiritual growth and walk with You. We surrender today to the leading and guiding of Your Holy Spirit, and willingly become teachable. Reveal to us each weakness and empower us to take it to the cross in humble repentance, so that we may walk with a pure heart in the righteousness of Jesus.