The conscience, Herman Bavinck and the New Testament part 3

 At the end of his New testament selection Bavinck writes:

“However, even among believers, the conscience is not immediately perfected or healthy. For many, the conscience remains weak (1 Cor. 8:7; 10:12; cf. 1 Cor. 10; Rom. 14) and must therefore be spared. It can still be bound to idols, to pagan laws and customs, from which it must gradually be set free to be bound solely and most strictly to God and his law. In other words, the activity of the conscience must be determined by the Holy Spirit alone (Rom. 9:1).” Reformed Ethics page 176, Herman Bavinck, edited by John Bolt.

The Christian person is not perfect even after repenting and following Christ.  It is all by grace.  The believer can and is still bound to ‘to idols, to pagan laws and customs.’  How does this differ to God’s laws?  

 Paganism has outlying features for example:

“During the past thirty years, scholars have gradually become aware of the existence, across the western world, of a rapidly growing complex of modern religions organised under the label of Paganism. [1] Although they differ from each other in the nature of their deities, rites, and organisation, they have certain definitive features in common: most obviously, a veneration of the feminine principle of divinity as well as the masculine, a sense of an inherent sanctity in the natural world, an ethic of responsible individual self-expression that rejects concepts of sin and salvation, and an identification with the pre-Christian religions of Europe and the Near East. They are also more or less united by the observation of a common pattern of eight annual seasonal festivals.”


So, although the Christian has made a break with the old life and has made Christ Lord of his life there are things that hang on.  It may be that the Believer follows Jesus, but he came from another religious background and still holds on to some of his earlier deities.  It may be that he has problems with food that has been sacrificed to some god.  It may be that before he became a Christian, he had a selfish mentality and a materialist.  He is still holding on to these things.  ‘Paganism’ covers a very wide spectrum, no wonder the believer holds on to old ways because he/ she still does not know any better. As Paul says and Bavinck reminds us: “I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit,” Romans 9:1. As Bavinck has said and reminds us:

‘the activity of the conscience must be determined by the Holy Spirit alone’.

Let us look at some of the basics:

Who is the Holy Spirit?

The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Holy Spirit and it is he who sanctifies us and gets us ready to be in god’s presence.  He the Holy Spirit teaches us everything we ought to know including to love our neighbours and enemies.

Let us look at some of these verses:

Paul says:

However not all men have this knowledge; but some, being accustomed to the idol until now, eat food as if it were sacrificed to an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled. 1 Corinthians 8:7

Paul again says:

Therefore, let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall.   No temptation has overtaken you, but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it. 1 Corinthians 10:12-13


Again, all of Romans 14 but I only quote a few verses here:

Therefore, let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way.  I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclear.  For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died.  Therefore, do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.  For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.  So, then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.  Romans 14:13-20


At the time of Paul Paganism was a major religion in that part of the world.  With the spread of Christianity, it has shrunk but not destroyed (almost destroyed).    This was a war of ideas and people hearts.  We can see these real issues being played out on a daily basis. Now in the 21st century the new paganism is secularism and through secularism Christianity is now being attacked in the name of democracy.  The idea of secularism I suppose it the political view that “it the principle of separation of the state from religious institutions.” From the oxford dictionary and google.

At the time of Saint Paul these temples we governed by the state.  Even though religious institutions have been separated from the state, religion has only prospered and has become multiple faceted like at the time of the first century AD.  As the new religious belief systems move in, there is more persecution of Christians even in Western countries.  Perhaps we need a revisit of the two kingdoms of light and darkness by St Augustine needs to be revisited.   Certainly, when we look at our consciences, we need the Holy Spirit to look into our souls and purify our consciences and make us Holy.  No one in their own strength can purify and make the conscience pure; it is only by the death, resurrection of Christ and the Holy Spirit working in our lives can we ever hope to obtain entrance into God’s presence. 


“Herman Bavinck finishes this section of the conscience and the New Testament by saying: “The testimony of the conscience must be the witness of the Holy Spirit. Here we also need to appeal to 1 John 3:18—20, where the activity of the conscience is ascribed to the heart: “Whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart.” From Reformed Ethics page 176, Herman Bavinck, edited by John Bolt.

I find that last sentence: ‘Whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart’ a real encouragement.  No matter how far we feel that we have failed, God will be there to help us and save us from our own destructive ways.

So, then my friends. Repent on a daily basis asking God for his grace in Christ to help us.  No one is perfect.  I’m not perfect but neither is anyone else but Christ.

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