BY STEVE JOHNSON,
In I Timothy 1:3-7 Paul challenges Timothy with these words, “As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to occupy themselves with myths and endless genealogies which promote speculations rather than the divine training that is in faith; whereas the aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and sincere faith. Certain persons by swerving from these have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make assertions” (RSV).
Later in this same chapter, Paul states in verses 18-20, “This charge I commit to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophetic utterances which pointed to you, that inspired by them you may wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience.
By rejecting conscience, certain persons have made shipwreck of their faith, among them Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have delivered to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme ” (RSV).
It appears that many in our world today do not value doctrine like Paul did. Many voices today are diminishing the differences among the teachings found in the world. There is a huge ecumenical movement among the religions of the world, urging us to lay aside all differences and validate each other’s teachings. Paul’s opinion of the matter was that no other doctrine should be taught other than what was already given, and that those things which led to disputes, arguing, and speculation should be avoided.
Waging the good warfare in Paul’s mind was synonymous with keeping the teachings of the church what they had always been. The aim, the objective, of such doctrine is love.
The first object of love in our lives should be God. When asked, “which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus replied, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and
with all thy mind” (Matt. 22:36, 37 KJV). Any doctrine that leads us away from an all-consuming love for God is an improper doctrine. I have actually been told by some to “not preach doctrine, just preach love.” Proper doctrine includes the ingredient of love, and tells us where to direct that love. After loving God, proper doctrine instructs us to love our neighbor. Jesus said the second great commandment is, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself”
This love is to come from a pure heart, a good conscience, and sincere faith. How then do we get a pure heart? How do we possess a good conscience? How do we retain a sincere faith? The answer lies in
retaining correct doctrine, and living by it. By doing this, we will be able to hold onto faith and a good conscience.
John wrote, “This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith” (I John 5:4).
We are also told in Romans 3:28 that we are “justified by faith.” Faith is essential to the Christian walk. But Paul also included the thought of a good conscience. Many today embrace Paul’s words, “Believe
on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” (Acts 16:31), but they have forgotten the admonition from James which states, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God” includes the commandment “to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27 RSV).
The Bible declares, “The Lord knoweth them that are his” (II Tim. 2: 19), but the same verse also says, “Let everyone that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.” Holiness is essential to the life
“Faith” in scripture is a word applied to both the revealed truth which a disciple believes, and to his act in believing it. It refers both to the truth which you grasp, and your grasp of that truth. Both
meanings in scripture are interwoven together. As an illustration, it is virtually impossible to mark the distinction between the light I look on, and my looking at the light. My looking at the light does not
create the light, but it does make the light mine. Unless I look at the light, it is nothing to me. If I am blind, it is the same to me as if there were no light. But that would not diminish the light available to
me. The good news of Jesus is available to all, yet I may reject it if I wish. My unbelief can make the gospel of Jesus ineffective in my life, but that cannot do away with the gospel itself. “The faith” will
endure forever, even if “faith” is lacking in our lives. Paul told Timothy to hold on to faith. He meant both the truth embraced by Timothy, and the embracing of the truth by Timothy.
Paul also encouraged Timothy to hold onto a good conscience. Our conscience is a gift from God. If it is not damaged in such a way that it does not operate properly, it is a witness to what is right and
wrong before God. To posses a good conscience is to have a conscience that does not accuse and disturb. You have a good conscience when it does not convict you of sin. In this capacity it is an inward sense of righteousness. A good conscience is obtained when we believe and obey the good news of Jesus, and abstain from known sin with the help of the Holy Spirit. A good conscience speaks of righteousness on you, and righteousness in you. There is a righteousness which you get, and there
is a righteousness which you perform. The one is the justification, and the other is the sanctification, of the believer. The conscience is good when our trust is in the blood and righteousness of our Redeemer,
and our life is dedicated to the Lord. The conscience is good when it testifies that God is at peace with you, and that you are at peace with God.
Faith and a good conscience are interwoven together. But if we put away a good conscience, we will eventually make shipwreck our faith. Paul names two men who did this. Faith, both the truth and the
embracing of that truth, produces a good conscience.
However, if you destroy either one, you will destroy the other. Like the pine tree, if you attack the roots, the stem will die. And if you remove the stem, the root will die. Let faith fail, and the good conscience goes with it. Let the good conscience be polluted, and faith itself will be taken from the person’s life.
Backsliding begins more frequently with wrong conduct than wrong doctrine. A good conscience is lost in most cases by indulging in the pleasure of sin, rather than embracing heresy. When a person who knows the truth, and professes to be a disciple of Jesus, yields to temptation, and indulges in a course of sin … knowing the right, but doing the wrong … that person loses their good conscience. Their
peace will be disturbed, the witness in their heart will accuse them of wrong, and they will be tormented with fear of divine wrath.
Will such a person who has fallen into sin, and lost their good conscience, continue in faith? When their conduct is polluted, will their faith remain pure? No, for just as pure conduct depends upon
sound doctrine, sound doctrine depends upon pure conduct. It is much more common to find the faith perverted by loose practice, than to find practice perverted by a loose creed. A soul can be undone by an attack upon his faith or his practice. But our enemy finds it easier to persuade us to do what is evil than to believe what is false. Paul speaks to us of these two men as a means of instruction, for while the beliefs may remain sound, the heart and life can glide into impurity. When this occurs, the doctrines held in the mind war against the vices indulged in the life. One or the other must win. Either sound doctrine will drive out the sin, or the sin will drive out the sound doctrine.
Later in this same epistle, Paul speaks of some who have erred from the faith through covetousness (I Timothy 6:9, 10). They wanted to be rich, and coveted after money. This caused them to fall into
temptation, and a snare, and many senseless and hurtful desires, which plunged them into ruin and destruction. When they gave in to the love of money, they forfeited their love of God, and erred from the faith. No doubt it took time for this to occur. No doubt if you had spoken to them when this first happened in their lives, they would have still spoken correct doctrine, and perhaps still had a partial love for God over money. But the deceiver of our soul is very cunning, and the seduction can be complete unless we guard our heart. Through the indulgence of various lusts and pride, the name of Jesus and the salvation which it brings remain as words only, for they no longer have meaning or power in the person’s life. The faith that once brought a good conscience to life is being destroyed, for the good conscience is destroyed. It is difficult to tear the stump and roots out of the ground at once upon cutting down the stem. But if you leave the stump standing dead, eventually even the roots will rot away. Hold onto faith and a good conscience. But know this, if you put away a good conscience, your faith is destined for shipwreck.
In order for our faith to remain, we must crucify the flesh, with its affections and lusts (Gal. 5:24). We must follow the example of the apostle Paul. He testified in Acts 24:16 saying, “And herein do I
exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men.” Just as daily physical exercise is necessary for a healthy physical life, daily spiritual exercises are needed for a
person to be healthy spiritually.
It is possible for those who love God to be enticed to put away a good conscience. King David put away his good conscience when he gave in to temptation (II Samuel 11).
Repentance and forsaking sin is the only remedy for once again obtaining a good conscience. And if we fail to do this, eventually our faith will be no more.
THE ABOVE MATERIAL WAS PUBLISHED BY THE APOSTOLIC ACCENT, VOL. 39, NUM. 6, PAGES 2, 3. THIS MATERIAL IS COPYRIGHTED AND MAY BE USED FOR STUDY & RESEARCH PURPOSES ONLY.