Clear Conscience Toward God

Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits— to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him. – 1 Peter 3:13‭-‬22

I have floated through James and now come to one of letters written by the apostle Peter.  He was apparently in Rome when this letter was written with the help of Silas.  It was apparently delivered by Silas to  believers in the area of present day Turkey.

It sounds like the recipients of the letter were somewhat lost and confused on their journey home. They seem to be experiencing some level of persecution for their faith, but there also seems to be a drifting away or loss of focus as they try to faithfully follow a Messiah no longer physically present.

This brings about a discussion of the tension between the secular and the spiritual. A tension that was exemplified in Christ “He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.” The concept of a conscience is brought up as a way to describe this internal secular/spiritual tension. I am not sure why Peter does not mention the Holy Spirit here as it would seem to be an important player in this discussion of conscience.

When I think of conscience my mind conjures images from Hollywood and cartoons of shoulders occupied by little angel and devil characters that speak to us as we make decisions. This depiction was usually about a choice between “good” and “evil”. Should I do this or that thing? The crisis of conscience here is mainly about keeping a “clear conscience”, specifically a “clear conscience toward God”. What does this mean? Let’s try to unpack it.

Conscience is typically thought of as an internal voice that helps guide our decisions and ultimately determines what kind of person we will be. This would seem to describe at least part of the role of the Holy Spirit poured into the souls of believers, which is why I am a bit puzzled that Peter does not mention it here.

A “clear” conscience is tied to the “cleansing” of the world recounted in the story of Noah and his family that were “saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God”. So our baptism in water, although it symbolizes being made clean through Christ, is really a recognition that we will never will have a “clean” conscience while we are mucking about here in the land of oblivion. We will have something eminently more valuable, a clear conscience toward God.

This does not mean a ticket to disregard the inner voice that is helping us to be faithful in our following of God, but rather a release from the constant guilt and distraction created by an endless quixotic quest for a “clean” conscience. A clear conscience is freeing, while a “clean” conscience can be a spiritual straight jacket restricting our movement in response to God’s leading. A clear conscience allows us to focus on the eternal rather than the ephemeral. The less we focus on the “here and now” the more we can tune into the “there and then”, which I think is what Peter is trying to communicate here.

I can understand why Peter felt the need to write to these believers. This is somewhat confusing stuff, funny water to be sure. This definitely feels like a passage I may look back on and realize I missed something important.

Prayer: God help us to accept the gift of a clear conscience towards you so we can focus on the eternal rather than the ephemeral.

This entry was posted in 1 Peter, Angels, Ceremonial Cleansing, Christianity, Discipleship, Following God and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Clear Conscience Toward God

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