Revisiting our 2020 church theme

Dear BPCWAians,  Another year has slipped by, the year is almost done, and this Thursday, we will be holding our Watchnight Service to mark the end of the year as we look forward to 2021.  Even for those above 80 years old, this has probably been a year unlike any other that they might’ve lived through or seen because of a global pandemic.  I will use this last pastoral of the year to revisit our 2020 church theme, taken from 1Timothy 1:19, “Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck”.

Faith and a good conscience.  As Christians, we know and understand the importance of faith.  When we joined as members of the church, we declared that we believe in the objective faith – the system of doctrines embodied in the Westminster Confession of Faith and those stated in our Constitution regarding the Bible Presbyterian faith.  I am thankful for many that continue to desire to learn more about these by attending our Basic Bible Knowledge and Westminster Confession of Faith series of teachings.  In addition, many also continue to learn more of God’s Word in our various Bible Studies and fellowships.  This is important and is a necessary first step.  However, Christian living is more than the accumulation of knowledge.  It is more than knowing what is right.  Knowledge is meant to bring changes to your living.  Only when what is known is received and embraced into one’s life does it becomes genuinely one’s own, ie changes your character and convictions.

We must note that in our theme verse, it is not just about faith, but there is an “and” added, where faith must be accompanied with “a good conscience”.  This concerns the sincerity of that faith in the person’s life.  God has put into every man a conscience, which accuses or excuses us (Rom 2:15).  Knowledge can be tested, assessed, examined.  But how genuine is that faith is something that even someone closely observing your life may not be able to determine.  This is because the underlying motivation behind those actions may not necessarily be genuinely due to faith, but it can be under some outward guise. You can seek to deceive others, but God who has made every man with a conscience uses the Holy Spirit to provoke His children to know when they are just putting up with appearances.  This is His mercy, a warning bell for us to take heed.  For the Christian, the Holy Spirit, through the word, uses our conscience to remind us to return to the paths of righteousness and away from our sin.  

Do you hold on to or put away a good conscience?  Let us come to the awareness that God tells us to have a good conscience about living out our faith.  The conscience is not a silent, disinterested observer for the believer.  But when our conscience is pricked, what do we do about it?   A ship can be fitted with fire alarms.  When the alarm rings, we can choose to either take heed of the warning and investigate to see if there is a fire in a corner, or just ignore it and go about our tasks and ignore the ringing alarms, thinking that we haven’t had a fire before and so there won’t ever be a fire.  

How would you start and end up with putting away a good conscience?  The underlying issue finds its root in the fact that there were no genuine convictions in the first place.  And this is usually due to personal desires that conflict with God’s principles and a heart that does not truly treasure purity of faith and life.  Because of these, you will be more ready to let go of rather than to hold on to Biblical standards of living and Word-based choices of actions.  You will hence tend to compromise a little here and there in the beginning.  And all the while, you will be able to find excuses for your choices and resulting actions.  Eventually, your excuses for your actions, even though they are quite obviously excuses to others, can still appear so legitimate to yourself in your own mind.  This is because you have seared your conscience and have begun to believe in your own lie.  

How do you hold on to a good conscience?  Internally, the Biblical response you must adopt when our consciences condemn us when we read or hear God’s Word or if corrected by someone, is that we should sincerely study our motivations and our actions in the light of God’s Word, and sincerely repent.  Without this sensitivity, you can even go about in the outwardly “right” actions, seemingly say the “right” things, articulate the “right” beliefs, but yet are headed for eventual shipwreck when you disregard the warning from your conscience of your ways.  Our associations can affect our holding on to a good conscience.  Paul told Timothy to teach the believers to Biblically separate from those who can negatively affect them, “Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.  (6)  For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts,  (7)  Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.  (8)  Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith” (2Tim 3:5-8).  There are some who keep learning God’s Word but do not come to be genuinely convinced regarding God’s teachings about matters of faith and practice because they “resist the truth”.  Their practices and their unbiblical convictions will change the way you think because of your engagements with them.  These associations can cause us to shipwreck because we can become “captive” to their “form of godliness”.  

Shipwreck can and does occur.  We often don’t think that shipwreck is real, or that it won’t happen to us, or those around us.  If so, then we are undermining what the Bible warns us.  Shipwrecks can and do happen, and when they do, they are catastrophic.  They affect the individual, and they may affect those close to them.  But most importantly, shipwrecks affect the Christian testimony and God’s glory, and bring shame to God’s Name, and impact the church.  A shopfront may seem nice and impressive, but it can actually be empty or stocked with things that are not what that shopfront advertises.  So, we may have an outward semblance of Christian living and faith, and perhaps even profess godly beliefs and stance, but it’s hollow within.  And because it’s just a shell, it’ll crumble – some under tests, pressure, personal desires, friendships, or some just simply because they can’t keep up with the show any longer.   The Apostle Paul warns about putting aside a good conscience regarding the faith because he has seen others being shipwrecked in such a manner – “which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck”.  Will you be among such ones in the future?  The alarm must be sounded because there is a fearful consequence.  Often, while there may be signs through undercurrents of potential problems, these are ignored, painted over, or dismissed until the point where shipwreck finally happens, by which time it is too late.  

Brethren, what is the state of your faith and conscience moving in 2021?    

Yours in our Lord’s service,