According to Paul, the new covenant is not like the old one. Rather than being written with ink on paper it is written with the Spirit on our hearts. But how do we experience life under this covenant? According to Paul, the law written on our hearts is adjudicated by our conscience. Speaking of the Gentiles who were untaught in the Mosaic Law he says:
They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them. Romans 2:15
It is our understanding that under the way of Christ, each person is to live up to his or her own conscience and is bound to it regardless of the objective doctrinal truth on the issue at hand. Much could be said on this topic but for the purpose of this post, I’d like to convey that a person must aspire to a life consistent with their conscience in order to grow spiritually. A person who lives at odds with his or her conscience regardless of whether they can justify their behavior, hardens their own heart. The heart so hardened becomes desensitized to the prompting of the Holy Spirit and to the horror of sin. This is why Martin Luther declared that going against conscience is “neither right nor safe.”
In Christ we are no longer under a legal metaphor with its terminology or concerns. We don’t concern ourselves with culpability or punishment. We’ve been declared innocent at the bar of God through the blood of Christ. As Paul says, “All things are lawful for me.”
We have immunity but that doesn’t give us impunity. Paul goes on to say, “But not all things are helpful (1 Cor. 10:23).” Along with our exoneration, we were fitted with new life. While our behavior might not result in condemnation, it will have unhelpful repercussions on that new life we’ve been given. The alien Holy Spirit who now resides as guide in our hearts requires our loving surrender to thrive. The rebellious, carnal attitude require to violate our consciences dumps poison into our hearts, the environment of God’s Spirit of Christ. This is indeed sin not in the sense of a violation against impersonal laws but in the sense of a personal betrayal of the living God who’s taken up residence within our hearts and in the sense of the abuse of our very selves.
For these reasons, we’ve included the infamous “Question 3” in our Growth Groups accountability questionnaire. By asking and answering this question each week, we safeguard our hearts against being hardened through the deceitfulness of sin (Heb. 3:13) and gain an ever-growing awareness of the prompting of the Holy Spirit within. Grab a friend and give it a try.