A Good Conscience
As we begin the Season of Lent, we are reminded of the forty days in which Jesus was in the wilderness, preparing for his earthly ministry. There he was tempted by the Devil to give it all up and take the easy rout out. The Gospel of Mark quickly covers this event with little commentary. Nonetheless, the wilderness experience of Jesus is the traditional setting for examining our own wilderness experience and preparation for ministry and daily life in the Faith.
We often focus on disciplines during Lent, in the interest of helping to eradicate of certain sinful practices in our lives. The question for us today is how do we best do that. Today’s appointed scriptures seem to address that question directly. We look at two covenants which God made with humankind. The first one is from Genesis:
God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” (Genesis 9:8-11)
God had eradicated evil from the earth by eradicating the evil people through the great flood, saving only Noah and his family.
The second covenant began at the start of Jesus’ ministry. Reading from Mark:
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mark 1:9-11)
What was this good news? God was going to eradicate the power of sin in our lives. The only penalty for that sin would be borne by Jesus alone, on a cruel cross. How do we participate in what Jesus is accomplishing in our lives. The psalmist wrote:
Show me your ways, O Lord,
and teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
in you have I trusted all the day long.
Remember, O Lord, your compassion and love,
for they are from everlasting.
Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions;
remember me according to your love
and for the sake of your goodness, O Lord. (Psalm 25:3-6)
We need God’s help. The Apostle Paul explored how to eradicate the power the sin in his life lives. Reading from Roman:
For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? (Romans 7:18-24)
Was Paul, so to speak, trying to give up a few things for Lent? If so, he was not succeeding. He was saying that he could not overcome sin by his effort. Our intentions may be good, but we have little ability to carry them out. Ever have trouble with New Year’s resolutions? We may be able to give up some small things during Lent, but that is often met with limited success.
How does God eradicate the power of sin in our lives? The Apostle Peter wrote:
Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you– not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him. (1 Peter 3:18-22)
Peter is comparing the two covenants we mentioned. The second one has to do with our conscience. Jesus removed all our guilt on the cross. But Satan, who is “the accuser of the brethren,” is constantly reminding us of our slip ups. His plan is to burden our conscience and in so doing cause us to lose faith.
What do we do about that? The Apostle John wrote:
This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. (1 John 3:19-20)
The good news is that God’s understanding of reality is not dependent on our understanding. He bases his evaluation of us through the blood of his Son. Not only that, he offers us a way to clear our conscience. The Apostle John wrote:
If we confess our sins, God who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)
God does the cleaning. We cannot clean ourselves. We can confess our sins and we can pray for help in overcoming our sins. And we can allow ourselves to be discipled. The psalmist write:
Your word I have hidden in my heart,
That I might not sin against You. (Palm 119:11)
The first covenant with Noah, dealt with the flesh. The second covenant deals with the Spirit. During this Season of Lent, will we try hard to eliminate certain sins in our lives and end up in frustration. Or will we follow the example of the Apostle Paul, who struggled with his flesh. He then overcame his struggle by the power of the Spirit through the blood of Jesus. He turned the whole struggle over to Jesus. Jesus has won the victory for us. Paul wrote:
Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:25)