“For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God——through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin..” (Romans 7.22-25; emphasis mine - jb).
Laws frequently are in conflict. In civilized nations, legislative bodies go to great lengths to prevent such conflicts. However, try as they might such conflicts still arise. Paul identifies three laws in the focus text; these are: 1) The law of my [Paul’s] mind, 2) The law of sin, and 3) The law of God. Two of these laws are diametrically opposed to one another, i.e. the law of sin and the law of God; they will always be in conflict. However, the law of the mind (in this case Paul’s mind) was not inherently sinful, but neither was it inherently righteous. This law consists of the righteous desires of the “inward man” (see Romans 7.22). ). In Paul’s case this inward man delighted in the Law of God.
However, desire was not enough. The will to do right is not the same as doing right; wishing to be righteous, even longing to be righteous, is not righteousness. In other words, the will to be right in God’s sight does not make one right; it is a laudable attribute but wholly insufficient! This law of one’s mind is the rationalizing of circumstances around oneself and the satisfying of one’s conscience. Rational man has a conscience; it approves that which he believes to be right and it condemns that which he believes to be wrong. A man can, in all good conscience (i.e. honoring the law of his mind), do that which is reprehensible and repugnant to God! Paul was proof of this fact. When he persecuted the church, he did it thinking that he was doing exactly what God wanted him to do; however, his conscience was wrong and so was he!
The conscience is not a safe guide! It is but a warning system to alert us when we are straying from the path we believe to be right. Let me illustrate. On many highways now they are equipping them with rumble strips; these strips alert the driver that he/she is leaving the roadway so that correction can be made before there is a crash. However, the rumble strips do nothing to insure that the person is on the right road – just that they are on the road. A person could be going the opposite way from what he/she needed to be going and drive perfectly, never engaging the rumble strips.
The conscience is a rumble strip. Once on a path, the conscience simply warns that we are straying from the path so that correction can be made. Like the wrong-way driver in the paragraph above, we may honor the conscience perfectly but be traveling morally and spiritually in the opposite direction from that which we need to be traveling. Conscience (the law of the mind) is a marvelous faculty, but it must be used in conjunction with a knowledge base that is outside self.
Bluegrass artist, Don Reno, wrote and performed (as did many others), a song entitled, I’m using my Bible for a Roadmap. That is how God intends it to be. We cannot guide ourselves; the rumble strips only say something is wrong; they cannot answer, “What is right?”
1. What evidence is there that man has a conscience? From whence did it originate?
2. What can happen when the conscience is repeatedly violated (see 1 Timothy 4.2)? What effect does this repeated violation have on the function of the conscience?
3. When Paul followed his conscience, did he always do what was right? Had he lived in all good conscience (see Acts 23.1)? How do you reconcile these two facts (see 1 Timothy 1.13)?
4. Can the law of my mind lead me to God? How about the law of sin? Then what law can?
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