“For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world” (2 Corinthians 1:12).
Such is the voice of every true believer in Christ, so long as he abides in faith and love. “He that followeth me shall not walk in darkness” (John 8:12) says the Lord Jesus, thus those who have the light rejoice in it. The exhortation to “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4) is part of the Christians daily life. In this message we will endeavour to understand the nature of the Christian’s joy by weighing the words written by the apostle Paul in our text.
God has made us thinking beings. We are able to perceive the present and reflect upon the past. We are conscious of our thoughts and actions. As conscious beings we have inward perception relating to our own character and behaviour, but the word “conscience” means much more than this. Its main business is to excuse, accuse, approve, disapprove, acquit or condemn us. Some have termed this “moral sense.” God has implanted in every soul the power to know what is right or wrong in its own life, behaviour, character and thoughts.
The unsaved are able to judge between right and wrong by “the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another” (Romans 2:14-15), but the believer’s rule is the Word of God, the writings of Holy Scripture which were “given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). It is a lamp to his feet and a light to his path (Psalm 119:105), therefore he lives, and has his conscious guided by the plain teachings of the Bible. Only then can he have “the answer of a good conscience toward God” (1 Peter 3:21) and “a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men” (Acts 24:16). A true knowledge of ourselves is also required to have a good conscience. By making the Word of God our rule we have a standard to compare our thoughts, actions, speech and behaviour with. This means that w must agree with God’s Word.
To have a good conscience we must lay the right foundation. Our foundation should always be Jesus Christ Himself … “For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:11). It is by a living faith that this foundation is built upon. Faith alone is our evidence that we know we are living in agreement with God’s holy and perfect word.
Just as a diseased tree cannot produce healthy fruit, so a healthy tree cannot produce diseased fruit. The heart of a true believer is thoroughly conformed to the rule of God’s commandments. Because of this his conscience is clear before God.
This word takes in every inward and outward circumstance of our lives. It includes the motions of our heart, tongue, hands and other bodily members. It extends to all of our faculties. Purity of life applies just as much to our dealings with the unsaved as with God’s people. If we do not live right how do we ever hope to deliver them from the snare of the devil? (2 Timothy 2:26). The Lord Jesus Christ tells us that our eye should be “single”, and that the light of the body is the eye (Matthew 6:22). Our entire lives will be filled with the light of God if we aim to live disciplined and holy lives.
Simplicity and godly sincerity
This means that our mind must be fixed upon God alone. Just one simple rule to live by so that we can enjoy the exceeding great reward of eternity. The single intention of promoting His glory and obeying His will should be the constant spring of all of our thoughts, desires and purposes.
“Simplicity” is the intention, but “godly sincerity” is the execution of it. Godly sincerity means that we are moving straight and continuously toward God by walking the highway of holiness, in the paths of justice, mercy and truth.
The opposite of simplicity and godly sincerity is “fleshly wisdom.” Here Paul shows that we cannot live the Christian life according to natural understanding or popular practice. Our natural abilities cannot direct us in the right way, nor can religious upbringing bring us peace with God … “But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ” (Philippians 3:7-8). We “Abstain from all appearance of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:22) and “Crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts” (Galatians 5:24).
The grace of God
“The excellency of the knowledge of Christ” infers that we live “by the grace of God.” It is by the grace of God we are pardoned, forgiven and saved through Jesus Christ, but the term in 2 Corinthians 1:12 also implies the ‘power’ of the Holy Spirit who “worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). Now we can perform, through God, what to man is impossible. Now we can order our “conversation aright” (Psalm 50:23).
Testimony of our conscience
Once this is in place we have the true foundation of Christian joy. We then have that inward testimony which declares, “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour” (Luke 1:46-47). There is no doubt in our heart, soul and mind that we are members of the Kingdom of God, and truly His children.
Those who have such a witness in their spirit belong to God through Christ. Such a witness is the result of setting our “affection on things above, not on things on the earth” (Colossians 3:2) by fixing their minds on Christ. They love God and rejoice in Him with “joy unspeakable” (1 Peter 1:8). A seared [calloused] conscience can never have this inward witness since it is void of spiritual understanding (1 Timothy 4:2). Those who have the witness in their spirit, that they are the children of God, live well-pleasing unto God … “Because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight” (1 John 3:22).
Preached by John Wesley sometime in 1771