The great Patriarch Abraham “kept the way of the Lord” and did what was “right and just” (Genesis 18:19). Not everyone was like Abraham. In his travels, Abraham came into territory that was ruled over by Abimelech, an ungodly king. Abraham realized that the king held to a different standard than he did. Kings of this sort were accustomed to taking what they want – just as do modern tyrants and dictators. Abraham’s wife was a beautiful woman. He realized that once the king saw her, he would desire her. He was afraid that the king would kill him to get his wife: “…I said to myself, ‘There is surely no fear of God in this place, and they will kill me for my wife,” (Genesis 20:11).
In an effort to save his own bacon, Abraham told the king that Sarah was his sister, not his wife (verse 12). Technically, she was his half-sister (same father, different mother). Abraham said to Sarah, in effect, “If you really love me, you’ll tell everyone you’re my sister,” (verse 11). The ruse may have saved Abraham’s wife, but it didn’t do much for Sarah. The king claimed her for his own.
When the king discovered Abraham’s subterfuge, he was angry. He demanded an explanation. Abraham owned up to what he had done and the king went on a guilt trip. He returned Sarah to Abraham and gave him sheep and cattle and slaves (Genesis 20:14). Abimelech even gave him his choice of lands to settle on.
One of the points of this story – and there are many – is that we cannot expect godly behavior from ungodly people. Where there is no fear of God, there is no conscience toward him. When people lack conscience toward God, they behave according a pagan or humanistic standard. Apart from God, there is no real morality. David once complained, “The arrogant are attacking me, O God; a band of ruthless men seeks my life – men without regard for you,” (Psalm 86:14).
People who lack conscience toward God are capable of almost any kind of behavior they feel is expedient in the moment. If you study the lives of some of the great monsters of history – Nero, Caligula, Henry VIII, Adolph Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, the leaders of North Korea, Saddam Hussein and his sons, Khadafi and others – it is obvious that they had no fear of the God of the Bible. They slaughtered and tortured without mercy.
The fear of the one true God is only the beginning of wisdom (Psalm 111:10). Those who follow divine precepts are gifted with moral wisdom.
Conscience: Weak or Strong?
One’s conscience toward God can be weak or strong – developed or undeveloped (I Corinthians 8:7, 12). One’s Christian conscience must be formed over time and experience. The more we study and practice God’s way, the more sensitive our conscience toward God becomes. It’s like having a built-in “sin detector.” We see it, sense it and smell it. We learn to take evasive action.
On the other hand, if we override our conscience, and knowingly do the wrong thing, it can have the effect of “cauterizing” our conscience – rendering it inoperable. Paul warned prophetically against this in his first letter to Timothy. He wrote: “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron,” (I Timothy 4:1-2).
One’s conscience can be corrupted: “To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact both their minds and their consciences are corrupted. They claim to know God but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good,” (Titus 1:15-16).
The Enemy seeks to undermine our conscience as he did with Judas. Consequently we must guard against behavior that goes against our conscience. One evangelist gave a very effective sermon entitled “Let you conscience always be tender” – tender as opposed to corrupted or cauterized. How people behave is the strongest indicator of whether or not they are guided by conscience toward God or not.
The more we behave contrary to the promptings of our conscience, the more we are in danger of corrupting it. When it comes to matters of conscience, it is always best to err on the side of caution. If you’re not sure, don’t do it.
God is Watching
God is omnipresent – meaning, he is everywhere present. He has an accounting of every hair on every head – and of every sparrow that falls (Matthew 10:29-30). We owe our very moment-to-moment existence to God (Acts 17:24-28). If we are converted, God’s Spirit dwells on the inside of us (I Corinthians 12:13).
How much closer could God be?
There’s a great old saying in the Talmud. It is attributed to Rabbi Judah. It reads as follows: “Reflect upon three things and you will not come under the power of sin: Know what is above you – a seeing eye, and a hearing ear, and all your deeds are written in a book,” Everyman’s Talmud, by Abraham Cohen, p.103.
When we understand just how close God is, we may be more inclined to follow the dictates of our conscience.