The Death of a Conscience

22 Mar

The Internal Revenue Service once received a letter from a conscience-stricken taxpayer. It read, “Dear Sirs: My conscience bothered me. Here is the $175.00 I owe in back taxes.” There was a P.S. at the bottom that read, “If my conscience still bothers me, I’ll send in the rest.”

pinocchio 2If you do a Google search of the word, “conscience,” you will come up with a variety of results.

  • “A conscience is what hurts when all your other parts feel so good.”
  • “A guilty conscience needs no accuser.”
  • “A clear conscience is a good pillow.” African American proverb
  • “A clear conscience is the sign of a poor memory.”
  • Benjamin Franklin said, “A good conscience is a continual Christmas.” Francis Bacon said something similar, “A good conscience is a continual feast.”
  • Vincent Van Gogh said, “Conscience is a man’s compass.”
  • Ogden Nash quipped, “There is only one way to achieve happiness on this terrestrial ball, and that is to have either a clear conscience or none at all.”

If you follow Nash’s advice and get rid of your conscience, watch out for trouble. As Mark 6:14-29 demonstrates, when we silence our conscience, we can commit unspeakable crimes.

Mark 6:14-29 describes the clash of two contrasting figures. John the Baptizer was austere and simple; King Herod Antipas was flamboyant and ornate. John was righteous; Herod knew no taboos. John was a man of immense moral courage; Herod was a man who lives in spineless relativity. John kept his conscience but lost his head; Herod lost his conscience and his soul.

This passage describes the death of Herod’s conscience. His conscience deteriorates from sensitive (17-20) to broken (21-28) to guilty (14-16) to dead (Luke 23:6-12).

Herod placed John in prison because he had the audacity to say that adultery was sin. Herod had seduced his half-brother’s wife, Herodias, and convinced her to marry him. To do so, he had to divorce his current wife. John spoke up and declared it, “Sin!” (18). Herodias took it personally and wanted to kill John (19). Because Herod respected John, he placed him in prison (17, 20).

Herod’s family was extremely dysfunctional. Even Hollywood couldn’t make this stuff up. Herodias sent her daughter, Salome, to dance at the king’s stag birthday party (21-22). This task normally fell to professional dancers and prostitutes. Herodias was willing to sacrifice her daughter’s honor to get her own way. Salome was willing to sell her services to the highest bidder (23-25). Herod was too drunk to know the difference. He was willing to do anything to please his family and his guests (26-28).

After the deed is done, Herod starts to feel guilty (14-16). When he hears about the miraculous ministry of Jesus, he assumes John has come back to haunt him.

As we learn later in Luke 23:6-12, Herod’s conscience goes from sensitive to broken to guilty to dead. While Jesus is on trial prior to the crucifixion, he orders Jesus to be mocked and mistreated. Herod stands face to face with Christ and felt nothing at all.

When we silence our conscience, we rationalize our sin. We call adultery a choice made by consenting adults. We refer to abortion as a choice. Homosexuality becomes an alternate lifestyle. Arrogance becomes good self-esteem. Lies become “photoshopped memory.” The clear commands of Scripture become optional suggestions.

Brewster Rockit - Lying = Photoshopped Memory

Calvin & Hobbes - selective denial

When we silence our conscience, we go along with the crowd. One compromise leads to the next one. We focus on pleasing other people. We use our power to satisfy our lusts. When we silence our conscience, we can commit unspeakable crimes.

The question is, How is your conscience? Is it healthy? Or is it dying?

To develop and maintain a healthy conscience, follow a four-step process:

  • Hear God’s word. Ask the question, “What does Scripture say about ___________?”
  • Obey God’s word. Commit yourself to obey and practice whatever Scripture teaches.
  • Confess your sins. Keep short accounts with God.
  • Receive forgiveness. Enjoy the benefits of a clear conscience.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on March 22, 2015. It is part of a series in the Gospel of Mark. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.


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