The Value of a Clear Conscience

Written on: February 1, 2024

Article by: Dave Knutson

1 Peter 3:13-22

There are times in life when each one of us has a sense of foreboding. We have sinned and have not really repented. We know that things are not right between us and God. We feel the weight of our sin in a heavy heart. And should it happen that things go badly, we thought they would…but just didn’t know when.

The fact is that a guilty conscience is hard to live with. It is hard to live with because God designed it that way. It is supposed to keep us awake and off balance. It’s supposed to prod us and push us back in God’s direction. And as long as we don’t sabotage it…that’s what it will do, when it is informed by the word of God.

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So that’s what a guilty conscience is supposed to do…but what about a clear one? What does God want life to be like, when we have a clean conscience? We’ll come back to that in a minute….but he does want it to be clean.

Now what Peter is talking about in 1st Pet. 3:13-14 is innocence. Innocence before the law and innocence in the sight of God.

He wrote:

Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. AND DO NOT FEAR THEIR INTIMIDATION, AND DO NOT BE TROUBLED…. ( 3:13-14)

Peter did not promise bad things would never happen to you if you do the right thing. What he did say was – that when you do the right thing, you have every reason to expect the best. The law is not going to be after you and God will bless you. Every person’s natural reaction to good is to return good. So when you do good, don’t worry about it.

It’s also possible that Peter is saying something like what Jesus did in Matthew 10:28. “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell”

In other words, don’t worry about what people can do to you. They can actually may kill the body but cant’ touch your soul. So go on and be zealous for good.

Now back in the day when Peter wrote, persecution was coming to his readers. Peter knew it and warned them about it. They were going to suffer, but when they did, it ought not come because they wronged someone. There is such a thing as righteous suffering or suffering for doing good.

When that happens, do not be intimidated. Do not be scared into joining the other side. And don’t ever doubt God, who guarantees the safety of your soul.

When we suffer, it should always be with a clear conscience. If our conscience is not clear, then we will not be able to endure. We are going to think that we deserve it and be tempted to give up. A guilty conscience opens the gates of the city from the inside and surrenders without a fight.

On the other hand, a clear conscience puts fire in our belly. It expects good things from the one who is good. It is strong and courageous. It fortifies our convictions and does not let us down.

There’s no quit in a good conscience. Doing right and suffering for it, is never wrong.

So, how do we get that kind of courage? How can we have a conscience that does not condemn us? Peter says, pursue righteousness. Be good with your whole heart. Don’t let yourself to be intimidated or troubled. Choose to be the victor and not the victim.

Peter wrote:

…but sanctify (reverence) Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame.

It is because Jesus is Lord in heaven above that we are to give him that place in our hearts. And because He is king of kings and lord of lords, do not worry about what His enemies say about you.

Peter makes it clear that Christians should know what we believe and why we believe it. We should be able to articulate our faith in a way that makes sense, and to defend it with evidence and valid reasoning.

We should always be prepared to submit our faith peer reviews. It might be the man on the street.

It could be a close friend who asks you what you believe and why. It might even be a magistrate or a judge in a trial setting.

The setting doesn’t matter, nor do the motives of those who ask. This is about us – not them. We need to be ready and we need to get ready. We need to examine our faith and understand it’s implications. We need to meditate on it so that we know it inside-out. But let’s not miss the point, that this exercise for our benefit. An unexamined faith is not worth having, nor will it survive the storms of life

When the times that you are living in do not make sense, you need a faith that can do what the ‘times’ cannot. It is ‘the faith delivered once for all to the saints…”. There are good and sufficient reasons for faith in Jesus. But we must know them, accept them and act upon them.

Christian Hope is not just wishful thinking. It is rooted in the man from Bethlehem who came from heaven. It is grounded in the inspired testimony of eyewitnesses. It is proven by attending miracles

and guaranteed by Christ – who is seated at the right hand of God. Nothing could ever be more certain than this.

But confidence without humility runs the danger of becoming disrespectful. So our answer should always be given with ‘gentleness and reverence’. It’s not just what you know…it’s not just the substance of your answer that counts. It’s the tone of your voice your demeanor and body language. It’s an attitude of respect and deference that gives glory to God.

There’s a real temptation to trade insult for insult and slander for slander – to hit back and push back and to get back at others. The push-back that God wants, is gentle and respectful. It sticks to the truth and preserves a clean conscience. It does the right thing, even when wronged. God doesn’t just want those who slander our good behaviour in Christ to be ashamed, he wants to be saved. God wants to give them no excuse…no justification or rationalization for unbelief. He really wants to give them no honest way out other than to believe.

But they don’t have to. God won’t make anyone believe against their will. He will one day stop them, but he won’t stop them by making them believe. Our Father did not stop those who put Jesus on the cross. He knew that they would – which was the reason why he sent his Son.

So Peter writes:

For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong. For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh

God wills our suffering only in the sense that he does not stop it. It is not his will that good men and women should suffer. But their suffering, when it comes, is no more than Jesus did. He died for sins, once for all. He was just, but died for the unjust. He did it in the flesh in order to save flesh and blood people

This is the stuff of real life. Life and death and life after death. Jesus did not pass out of existence when they put his body in the tomb. He did not go into some kind of suspended state. He was not just a memory in the mind of God.

What did Jesus mean by the promise that he made to the thief on the cross next to his?

“Today you will be with me in paradise”. (Luke 23:43)

Jesus fully expected to go to the place of the dead where those who had died in a right relationship with God were living.

So Peter writes:

having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water.

Jesus died. His body died and was buried. He died late on a Friday night and had already risen early Sunday morning. But his spirit was separated from his body and he spent time in the place of the dead.

On the day of Pentecost, Peter said: (Acts 2:23-27)

this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. “But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power. “For David says of Him, `I SAW THE LORD ALWAYS IN MY PRESENCE; FOR HE IS AT MY RIGHT HAND, SO THAT I WILL NOT BE SHAKEN. `THEREFORE MY HEART WAS GLAD AND MY TONGUE EXULTED; MOREOVER MY FLESH ALSO WILL LIVE IN HOPE; BECAUSE YOU WILL NOT ABANDON MY SOUL TO HADES, NOR ALLOW YOUR HOLY ONE TO UNDERGO DECAY.

Jesus spend time in the place of the dead. After his resurrection, he told his disciples that he had not yet been back to see the Father. So in this passage – in 1st Peter 3, he fills in the blanks. Imagine the impact that his appearance made! The son of God…the eternal one, residing for a time with other disembodied spirits.

And apparently he had something important to say: He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison

The word ‘spirits’ could include angels and the spirits of men. Peter makes it clear that the spirits of those who had been alive in the days of Noah were there. They seem to epitomize the world of unbelievers.

What could he possibly have said to them?

Well, I don’t think that he held a gospel meeting. The writer of Hebrews says that it is appointed for men once to die and then comes the judgment (9:27). There is no biblical indication that we ever get another chance.

The word that Peter uses is kerusso.

It means that Jesus made a proclamation or an announcement

It is not the word euangelidzomai which means…to evangelize

We are not told what it was that he said…only that he spoke.

But Peter makes an amazing comparison. That in the same way that water separated the believing and unbelieving world in the days of Noah, water still separates them. Back then, the ark was God’s means of salvation. Salvation in Jesus now requires us to go under the water. Baptism now saves us, just like the ark once did.

How is it possible to miss the point? The ark once brought 8 people safely through the water. Those eight people were the only ones saved. Anyone not on the ark died. Today, God uses immersion in his name to save us from sin. Anyone not saved in this way is not saved at all.

And then Peter explains, that this is a not a ritual cleansing…it’s not a bath. It’s not just a symbol or an afterthought. It’s not an optional extra or an initiation ceremony. Baptism…immersion into the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus saves us. It is an appeal to God for a good conscience

It is done to take our sins away…so that we can know that not even one sin is left standing to testify against us.

And we can know that God has agreed to this…because he is the one who raised Jesus from the dead. God raised him to life and then to eternal life. Jesus is now seated on God’s throne in heaven He is the one making this offer.

Conclusion

It turns out, that a good conscience does not actually start with us. A good conscience is an impossible thing for us to have.

A good conscience starts with a sinless life. It start with a sufficient sacrifice. It starts when God sets us apart – he cleans us up and sets us apart for his holy purposes. And then we carry out his purposes, without fear.

This is the reason that we have hope in the first place. It is the substance of that for which we hope which will one day become sight. But our hope in Christ will not do so, unless we hold it with a clean conscience.