“Timothy, my son, here are my instructions for you, based on the prophetic words spoken about you earlier. May they help you fight well in the Lord’s battles. Cling to your faith in Christ, and keep your conscience clear. For some people have deliberately violated their consciences; as a result, their faith has been shipwrecked.”
// 1 Timothy 1:18-19
There is no doubt that faith in Christ can be like sailing in the open ocean—fraught with storms and dangers. How do we navigate the ship of our life to reach God’s desired destination?
Paul wants all believers to be filled with the love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience and a genuine faith. Here, we see the connection between faith in Christ and our conscience, the self-judging function of the heart that accuses or excuses us in regard to our conduct. It is an amazing gift given to everyone—the ability to discern what is right and wrong.
However, the conscience is fallible and can be corrupted when we allow our flesh to lead us, becoming numb to our wrong choices. We bury our conscience with self-justification, which is the natural tendency outside of Christ. We preach a false gospel to ourselves, captained by foolishness and selfishness in order to justify our actions. Sometimes, we fall into a moralistic gospel, living in a constant state of trying to do the right thing in order to feel right before God, or we fall into a false grace gospel, believing that our actions don’t matter, we have a license to sin according to a misconstrued notion of grace.
Paul is not condemning; indeed, he discloses that he is the chief sinner, whose own warped conscience allowed him to justify the persecution of early Christians. But by the mercy of God displayed to him through the patience and love of Jesus, there is a Way of faith that enables us to be saved by grace and to become more Christlike in our every thought, motivation, word and deed.
What does this mean for us?
First, we need to assess our faith through the lens of the word of God. It is paramount to understand where our faith lives, what ‘gospel’ or ‘truth' we believe. If our faith is clinging to self, or the world, or a false religion, we are heading to an inevitable shipwreck. Paul implores Timothy and the church to not kid ourselves. Is our faith in Christ? Are we clinging to Him?
When our faith is in Christ alone, our conscience will become clear through the finished work of the cross; His blood will wash our conscience. Then we can begin to make wise and godly decisions, because the fog of self-justification has cleared and we have given Captain Holy Spirit the helm of our mind, letting Him guide us into truth. The storms of temptation, trial, offense, suffering, discouragement and sin will come—the question is, who or what is directing our conscience?
The truth is we are righteous right now before God through Christ alone. The truth is we are valued and loved and chosen in Christ alone. The truth is we no longer need to place our faith in our own works or become numb to our actions in order to feel less guilty. Our conscience is now washed clean and clear by the blood of Christ. Our life, our ship will reach its destination—it will not be shipwrecked with Christ at the helm.
// Ps. Josh Kelsey