Through the increase of horrific acts of violence perpetrated by our nation’s youth, we see the results of the decreasing of our nation’s conscience. How do we develop a conscience in immoral society?
I think we’ve all been shocked here recently by some brutal killings of public figures that have taken place. You might remember here recently a judge in Chicago had her mom and her husband killed, apparently by someone who was obviously deranged. In Atlanta just yesterday a judge, a court reporter, and an 18-year deputy sheriff were killed, and then today also another individual was killed. Thankfully the perpetrator has been captured. When events like this take place people ask, how could something like this happen? Why did something happen? I copied an article recently from the British Broadcast Newswire titled, “A Killer Without Conscience” that I would like to read excerpts from.
It says, “How could anyone kill two innocent girls? The question has been asked repeatedly in the months since the bodies of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman were discovered. We now know beyond a doubt the identity of their killer, Ian Huntley. But why did he do it? How was he able to carry out such a dreadful crime? Now that he has been convicted prison doctors may get an insight into the mind of a man who has no remorse, who feels no sorrow, and has put on an amazing act as if he tried to throw police off of his tracks. One expert believes that Huntley’s behavior has all the hallmarks of a psychopath. It is a word that makes us shudder, conjuring up the image of a wild-eyed monster, but in real life psychopaths seem remarkably norm. In fact, we have had some as presidents. But there have been many who have been major leaders in corporations. They all can possess charm and the ability to put people at ease. They are practiced liars. What makes them so dangerous is their lack of conscience. They are focused only on their own satisfaction. They feel nothing for their victims. No compassion, no guilt, no remorse. Psychopaths treat other people as if they do not have an identity. Look at what Huntley did with the bodies of the girls. (Going on and describing trying to burn them.) He only followed his own callous self-interest. Psychopaths are so convincing you cannot understate the way these people present themselves. They have a lifetime history of presenting the face as is required. Whatever they think you want, that is what they present. And so they are good at acting. Ian Huntley felt no guilt for luring Holly and Jessica to their death. Everything he said and did during the days following reveal him to be a man without a conscience. He was cold, calculating, and ruthless. His only regret was being caught. His only tears were for himself, not for his victims.”
Now a year and a half or two ago I gave a sermon based upon a book titled, “High-Risk Children Without a Conscience.” I would like to refer to that book again. The author looks at the growing trend that we see among the modern society, the modern generation, especially the younger generation, that many of them are growing up today without a conscience, not having remorse over anything that they do. Quoting from the book, it says, “These are people without a conscience. They hurt – sometimes kill others with no remorse.” This ties in exactly with the article I just read to you. It says, “Something early in their development went terribly wrong. They never developed a conscience. What happens right or wrong in the critical first two years of a baby’s life will imprint that child for the rest of his life. A complex set of events must occur in infancy to assure a future of trust and love.”
So something has happened to these children that their ability to trust and to show love has been sidetracked.
“There is an element that is too often overlooked in children’s development that forms the foundation of emotional and social conscience of a person that we want to take a look at today. These individuals express no remorse if caught doing wrong. They have a personality characterized by a lack of guilt and inability to keep rules, an inability to establish and maintain deep and significant relationships with other people.” In other words, they have got a problem in how they relate to others socially.
Let me cite another example of what I am talking about here, an example of culture’s vanishing conscience. This is an example of a man by the name of Bob Vernon, former Assistant Chief Of Police of the Los Angeles Police Dept. And he has warned over a period of time of an increasing number of young people that he calls flat liners. Now, these are young people who choose crime as a career and commit the most heinous acts with no apparent remorse whatsoever. As an example, he cites the example of a gang member by the name of Kool-Aid. Everybody has got to have a different type of name so he chose Kool-Aid. Now what Kool-Aid did, there was a parade, a float carrying the queen’s court. This was prior to a football game, a high school homecoming game. He took a gun and he sprayed that particular float, shooting it. This was done in broad daylight. He knew he would be caught. When he was captured and brought into the interrogation room and Chief Vernon began to ask him what his motive was for the shooting, this is what he said. “Well, I needed to do some prison time to get some free medical treatment.” And he needed his teeth filled. He also planned to spend some time getting buffed up. He was going to start lifting weights. But before he went in he had to acquire a “rep” – a reputation. I’ll be known as the Enforcer, he proudly told the police chief. No compunction, no remorse. Not that he injured or possibly could have killed people, maybe injured them for the rest of their lives. Vernon writes, “What we see so clearly in Kool-Aid’s case is one of the root problems that is destroying our society and our culture today, which is the loss of conscience. The trend is to no longer be ashamed of our darker side. This shocking trend is ravaging our culture. It is becoming a badge of honor to not only violate social norms but even to flaunt this type of behavior. The behavior has always been there. Even to those who have recognized it as harmful to society. The significant change is how we react today to those actions.
So what we find, we have whole generations today who are beginning to grow up without the normal conscience, without the normal feelings. How do we as members of God’s church help our children to develop a proper and appropriate conscience? Today many don’t seem to have a conscience, or they don’t heed their conscience. Even though I am going to be focusing a lot today on young people, the principles that are expounded here apply to all of us, because we are all children of God. We are all called by God, so, therefore, we have the responsibility to respond to him.
So let’s begin by asking, what is a conscience? How important is it to you and to me? How should it influence the way we think, the way we live? How much attention should you pay to the pangs of a guilty conscience? Some people say you should let your conscience be your guide. The question is, should you? Is that correct? Is that right? What role does the conscience play in the life of a Christian today? Is it a sin to go against your conscience? And how do we help our children develop a strong and a suitable conscience?
Well, let’s take a look here to begin with at some background material. Let’s see what the Bible indicates. Your conscience is indeed a very precious gift from God that God has given to us. And it is through that that you and I can become converted, that the conversion process is able to work in the mind and heart of an individual. Today we live in an amoral society. How do we prepare young people to truly have values, Biblical values? We may grow up in an amoral society, but not grow up with that as our direction. The conscience needs to be strong, clean, and pure, terms that are used in the Bible. How is that accomplished? I think we will find that there are powerful trends today right now in this world whose aim it is to snuff out the conscience, to extinguish it, to remove the shackles of conscience, from the “enlightened twentieth-century mind”. We need to be aware of these trends. We live in Satan’s world, and he is actively working to deceive, to ensnare the people of God, and to ensnare our children, and to get us all to compromise our consciences. It is the Christian’s duty to guard to maintain the purity of his mind, his conscience, and feelings, and it is our duty to help our children to have a pure conscience and not to become debased.
I want you to notice in Acts 24:16 Acts 24:16And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void to offense toward God, and toward men.
American King James Version×. I am going to quote this out of the New American Standard Bible. Acts 24:16 Acts 24:16And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void to offense toward God, and toward men.
American King James Version×. Paul states in view of this, “I also do my best to maintain always a blameless conscience before God and before men.” To have a blameless conscience. The New Revised Standard Version says a clear conscience. So Paul strove with his might to have a conscience that would blameless, that would be clear before God.
In 1 Timothy 1:5 1 Timothy 1:5Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned:
American King James Version×we read again from the New American Standard Bible where Paul gives the objective of his teaching. He says, the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart, and a good conscience, and a sincere faith.
So we should find that as we study the word of God it helps us to have a good conscience, a clear, a pure conscience.
What is the conscience? When we talk about a clear conscience, what am I talking about? How do we understand conscience? Some psychologists and sociologists try to explain it away. One socialist gave this description of the conscience. It is, according to him, “the sense of discomfort aroused by the disapproval of the herd.” So if everybody around you is disproving of something, you might feel uncomfortable with their feelings. “That’s your conscience”. An eminent Canadian psychiatrist and medical statesman once put it this way, “Your conscience is what your mother told you before you were six years old.” That’s your conscience.
Let me quote from an article dealing with Christian ethics, which in researching this topic was one of the best definitions I found, that I think coincides with what the Bible says. ÔConscience means the capacity of a person to make rational judgments about whether a course of action in a particular situation is morally good or morally evil. Conscience in this sense is not a feeling but an ability to judge.” Let me just read that again. “Conscience here means the capacity of a person to make a rational judgment about whether a course of action in a particular situation is morally good or morally evil. Is it right or wrong, good or evil? Conscience in this sense is not a feeling but an ability to judge.”
When you look the word up in Webster’s you find it is a combination of Latin words “to know” and “to gather”. So it has to do with something of knowing together or knowing about. The Greek word for conscience is found over 30 times in the New Testament and it literally means the self that knows with itself, or the self that knows or observes about itself. Conscience involves some type of introspection, examination of your thoughts, and this is part of what separates us from the animals because we are able to know ourselves.
Now an important scripture dealing with this is found in Romans 2:14 Romans 2:14For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law to themselves:
American King James Version×,15. I want you to notice here that Paul writes, When Gentiles who do not have the law do instinctively the things of the law, these not having the law are a law to themselves in that they show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternating accusing or else defending them. Again, the New American Standard Bible.
Now I want you to notice that the conscience bears witness. What is a witness? A witness is one who testifies, who gives evidence to the facts or events as in a courtroom. If you see an accident and you are called as a witness then you go into the courtroom and you tell the judge, the jury, or whoever it is what you saw. You bear witness to the information, the evidence. So the conscience acts as a witness. Your individual consciences witnesses, testifies, or bears against you. It is the faculty of our mind, a kind of inner voice that witnesses or testifies concerning our actions and our thoughts. But it doesn’t stop there does it? If you will notice the rest of this verse…not only is our conscience a witness, it is also a judge. It judges us, as Paul says there are thoughts alternating, accusing…It can accuse us, saying you are guilty. You did something wrong. Or it can say, well that was right. What you did was okay. So it testifies concerning our thoughts and actions. In other words, your conscience not only testifies as to what you did but will act as a judge. It either accuses or defends what you did. It pronounces you innocent or guilty. If you are found guilty, then what should that lead you to? It is called repentance. You say, “I’m sorry.” You ask for forgiveness, and you move on. So it is a faculty through which God is able to work.
Do you remember back in John 8:9 John 8:9And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the oldest, even to the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the middle.
American King James Version×when the woman who was caught in adultery was brought before Jesus Christ and the religious leaders were condemning her. Christ bent over and wrote something on the ground. We don’t know what he wrote, but apparently, it convicted them, because in John 8:9 John 8:9And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the oldest, even to the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the middle.
American King James Version×it says, then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience – so it was their conscience that convicted them – went out one by one. They were convicted of doing something wrong.
People, unlike animals, can contemplate their own actions and make moral self-evaluations. That is a function of what our conscience is all about. When we violate our conscience it excuses or condemns us, triggering feelings of shame, of anguish, disgrace, anxiety, fear, guilt. When we follow our conscience it defends us, commands us, brings joy, gladness, self-respect, a sense of well-being. Some people call that self-esteem.
In 1 John 3:20 1 John 3:20For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things.
American King James Version×notice how this is captured by John in writing about what a Christian goes through, or what anyone goes through. If our hearts condemn us God is greater than our hearts and he knows all things. So our hearts can condemn us. It can say, “You made a mistake. You were wrong. That’s not right. You need to change.” And so it will condemn you, judge you in that sense. And beloved, if our heart (verse 21) does not condemn us we have confidence toward God. So if we evaluate what we are doing, what we are thinking, what we are saying and we are not condemned, then depending on how well educated that conscience is perhaps we are doing what it right, and it does lead to a sense of well-being.
If you want you children to grow up with “proper self-esteem” this is how it is developed. It is not developed in some of the kooky ways you find being promulgated today in society. A major problem with the conscience is this. The inner voice of the conscience varies sometimes radically from one human being to another. What might prick my conscience and make me feel guilty might go right over your head, or vice versa. So what you find is that one human being will differ from another. So how do you know whose conscience is right, which one is wrong, which one you should follow? The fact is, the conscience can be mistaken, can’t it? It can be mistaken. We need to first understand how the conscience is formed in us. How is the conscience within any human being developed? How is the conscience formed, molded? How does it keep functioning properly? I think most of those who study into this realize the conscience is formed as a result of the interaction of many different factors, such as cultural values, family values and traditions, educational background, religious training and upbringing, the influence of friends and peers, personal experiences, individual personality and temperament. What makes it possible for us to have that self-awareness is the spirit in man. God has placed a spirit in us. And so, therefore, we don’t just have a brain. We don’t operate just according to instinct. We have a mind. And that mind gives us self-awareness and we are able to have a conscience. Now when a baby is born it is born neutral. It can be influenced either for good or for evil. It can go either way. And so you find depending on what its major influences are in its life it will be influenced in that direction. The conscience is not something that remains static. It is not set in concrete and you can never change. It changes and evolves over time as we learn and as our values change. I will guarantee you that there is not a one of us sitting here who has been baptized who has not found that our whole value system has changed. Especially if at one time we were out in the world and God has called us into his church there has been a radical change in how we evaluate things, what is evil, what is good, and what we should do or not do. So human consciences can and do vary widely. So you can have as many different consciences as you have people theoretically. Consciences vary from culture to culture. There are things that are accepted in certain cultures, things that are looked down upon in those cultures. I think if we were to evaluate the approach in many cultures toward women or children you would find it would be radically different than what we would think in the western world. Now there seem to be certain standards that are common to most cultures such as murder, theft, rape, things of this nature that people would normally assume would be wrong. The content of one’s conscience comes down to one major issue. You know what that is? One major issue. Which authority do you recognize? The voice of conscience varies according to the authorities that we consciously or unconsciously recognize, whether it is home, friends, society, personal opinion, or whatever. I think in the past the major influences or authorities in a child’s life as he or she grew up were parents, church, and schools. You go back into the 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, and you find that these were the major influences. Today many of these authorities have shifted and they are no longer the major influences. Today it could be peers. It could be the pop culture. It could be media. It could be music, entertainment, videos, whatever.
These seem to have a profound effect upon so many young people. Our authority should be what? Who is our authority? It is God, his word, and as we hear God’s word by his true servants being taught. So that is what we should base our authority upon. So you find the conscience of itself is not infallible and makes mistakes. It can become confused. It is not the source of right and wrong. The Bible is the source of right and wrong. We would not know right from wrong unless God revealed it to us in the scriptures. The conscience is that internalized voice of recognized authority. Who do we recognize? And again you may not consciously state it that way. Its role is to hold us accountable to the highest standard of right and wrong that we recognize. And that changes as we find out what is right and what is wrong. It is like H. C. Trumbell stated, “Conscience tells us that we ought to do right but it does not tell us what is right. That we are taught by God’s word.” So it is the word of God that teaches us what is right. And the conscience holds us to the highest standard of what we recognize as right and wrong. The conscience acts as a restraint on human behavior if it is properly educated.
In Romans 1:28 Romans 1:28And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;
American King James Version×we find from this verse what happens to a people in a society when restraint of conscience is removed. Even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, (so you remove that authority from people’s knowledge), God gave them over to a debased mind to do those things which are not fitting.
One of the definitions in Vine’s Dictionary of the Bible of this word for debased is a mind which God cannot approve, which must be rejected by him, the effect of refusing to have God in their knowledge.
When a person rejects God and that authority, and today we find so much of what is being taught is that there is no God, evolution is true, and you find that there are those who want to reject any recognized authority in that way. So, therefore, the Bible says a person can be given over to a debased mind, one that is void of God and his standards.
The conscience is generally seen by the modern world as being defective, and it robs people of their self-esteem. On the contrary, our ability to sense guilt is a tremendous gift from God, and helps us to have the right type of esteem. For what you find today is that culture has declared war on guilt. It is considered medieval, obsolete, unproductive, outdated, old-fashioned, any adjective you might want to use. People with feelings of personal guilt are usually referred to a therapist. You know you have got to go see your therapist whose task it is to try to bolster their self-image, to build them up. Today supposedly no one should feel guilty. The problem is if you eliminate guilt then you eliminate the possibility of repentance as we will see.
If you look through the library and go through the periodical list, through magazine articles on the topic of guilt, you will find a lot of articles. Just some of them that I have written down here:
How To Stop Being So Tough On Yourself
Guilt Can Drive You Crazy
Getting Rid Of The Guilts
Stop Pleading Guilty
Guilt, Letting Go
Don’t Feed The Guilt Monster
So you have all of these articles telling us why guilt is so bad.
How do we go about helping to mold the conscience of our young people? How do we help them to keep it functioning properly by what we train them, how we deal with them? How do we go about teaching, working with our children? That is what we want to cover in the rest of this sermon. I have five points I would like to cover with you to deal with this. And this by no means is an exhaustive discussion of the topic but maybe it will get us started in the right direction.
The first basic principle we need to employ, now remember not only does this apply to our children, but it applies to us also because we are the children of God, the first basic principle is to develop a bond and attachment with your children at an early age. There must be a bonding and an attachment at an early age. Dean Engel said, “The proper time to influence the character of a child is about 100 years before he is born.” Now what does that mean? It means you have a chance to influence your children, who then have a chance to influence your grandchildren and your great-grandchildren. So if you want your great grandchildren or great great grandchildren to turn out right, it has got to start out right here with you, your family, and your children. Parents can influence their children who influence their grandchildren, and so on. I have observed a lot of families in the church over the years, and those who seem to have strong values, strong traditions, pass those down to their children. And you find that they seem to get passed on to their grandchildren, and so on. So it is important to be able to have a hand and impact in that way.
Why is this important? Well let’s again consider the book titled “High-Risk Children Without a Conscience” and I would like to quote from the book again, pp. 358-359, just some excerpts. “In most infants, the affectional bond, the essence of attachment to a parent, develops during the first nine months of life. The most important event occurring during the first year is the formation of the social attachments. A young person must grow up and learn to be attached to somebody. The problem today is what? One, two, three months babies are put out and you have somebody watching them other than the parents. Parents go back to work and here is the child in a daycare center. There could be a dozen different people looking after that child. No one person is going to sit down and rock that baby, coo that baby, cuddle that baby, nurse that baby, take care of that baby in a way that there is an attachment that begins to develop. And it develops between the two. Attachment is an affectional bond between two individuals that endures through space and time. It serves to join them emotionally. Attachment allows the child to develop both trust and reliance on himself. To be able to learn to trust others because here is somebody who loves you, who cares for you. And they are giving to you, and they are looking after your needs. So you begin to learn to trust. And then you also learn self-reliance.”
We want our children to grow up trusting God. Sometimes some of the reasons it is difficult for us as adults to learn to put our trust in God and to rely upon him is some of these difficulties that we had going back to our early years – reliance upon God. We want to be able to rely upon him.
Going on to a couple of more quotes… It says, “The bond that children develop to the person who cares for him in his early years is a foundation of his future psychological development and his future relationship with others. Attachment is the most critical thing that happens in infancy other than meeting the baby’s physical needs. It is absolutely critical.” Remember again that a child is born neutral, can be influenced or molded one way or the other. It is important that the mother or the father or someone close to that child is with that child during his formative years, especially the first couple of years. Actually, God – I am going to go out on a limb and I don’t think I am too far out there – I believe God designed women perfectly for that role, and that they are made to be able to care for and to have that type of affection. I am not saying that men don’t, but I believe God has created women uniquely in fulfilling that responsibility. If at all possible, moms need to stay home with their children until they at least enter into school. The emotional development, the psychological development, and the relationship development hinges on this for a young child.
Now heredity plays a picture also but what heredity does, it just sort of predisposes a person to have certain personality, certain traits, and we are talking here about something a little different. So the first principle is that we want to make sure that we develop a bond and an attachment with our children. You and I need to bond and attach to God. He is our father. We need to bond and attach to the church. Why is it that so many just feel free, feel very flippant – well, maybe this is the church, but there’s no attachment to it. There is no loyalty. There’s no trust, no faithfulness. They are just out of here. The first thing you do they don’t like and they are out the door. You find that there is no attachment or bonding.
The second basic principle is to help our young people to establish in their lives, at a very early age, who the ultimate authority is for mankind. What is the ultimate authority? Who is it? We need to help them internalize God’s word, his way of life, and have proper Biblical standards. How do you do that with you children? Well, you have got to teach them values and principles. They must be internalized. I think sometimes we have thought having a Bible study once a week on Friday night, everybody is tired and about to go to sleep, that that accomplishes it. I’ve studied the Bible with them and they got it. They have got to internalize it. It has got to become a part of them. It goes much deeper than that. It is like the book of Deuteronomy says in Deuteronomy 6:5-7 Deuteronomy 6:5-7  And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.
 And these words, which I command you this day, shall be in your heart:
 And you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up.
American King James Version×. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your hearts.
So first of all, it has got to be in our hearts. We have to internalize it. It has got to become a part of us. And you shall teach them diligently to your children. Okay, so you teach them. That’s number one. And you shall talk of them when you sit in the house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, when you rise up. So not only are you teaching them, but you are talking about it constantly. And you shall bind them as a sign on your hands. And they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house, and on your gates.
So what we find is we have got to constantly be discussing what is right and wrong. Why it is right and wrong. Anyone knows who has teenagers just because you tell them something is wrong does that mean they accept it? Oh, I’m glad you showed that to me! They don’t normally just that eagerly accept it. But they will think about it. And they will go away and come back. We need to teach them how to make decisions, how to make choices, why certain choices are better. And they need to learn that there is cause and effect and what is the result of going certain ways. What values do we need to teach our children? Number one, that God comes first. That should be fundamental in everything that we do. That God comes first – that the Bible is his standard for us to live by. We should teach them all about family – what family means. Family should be important. Father, mother, their siblings, all of this should be extremely important to them. We need to teach them about marriage, the importance of marriage, proper standards in marriage – what marriage is all about. We need to teach them the importance of loving, giving, caring, sharing – the really important values of life – and then overall the plan of God. What is the plan of God? Why they were put here on this earth? What does God have in store for them? And we must set the example – model God’s way of life to them. So what you find the second principle is that we have to help them internalize these things. And that is the responsibility that doesn’t just happen once a week because we have a Bible study. It is constant. It is something we are constantly referring to.
The third basic principle is to teach them to accept responsibility for their actions, not to blame others. We help them to know how to repent. A child who has been properly trained when he comes of age will be able to repent and come into God’s church because he knows what it means to be forgiven. He knows what it means to be sorry. Few people are willing to accept personal responsibility for mistakes, faults, wrong action. We see that today. Today’s psychologists strive to do away with sin. If there is no God, there is no sin. If there is no sin, there is no wrong. So who is to say what is right and wrong. So they have tried to do away with that.
How do you accomplish helping your children to accept responsibility? This is where correction comes in. This is where discipline comes in – the exacting of discipline and punishment for lack of conformity to right standards. Moral laws help to properly shape and develop the child’s conscience. It helps them to develop. We have to teach them why certain things are wrong. When they are young it is wrong because you say so. And you don’t have time to explain to a 2-year-old when they are about to run across the street – let me explain you might get hit by a car…it is bigger than you are and it could hurt you. No. You say, “No, you don’t run across that street! And you expect them to obey. As they get older you can elaborate more according to their age. You are showing the love and concern to them. They are taught to repent, to change, to accept responsibility for their actions. I want you to notice – I could spend a couple of hours going through some of the things we are all aware of that people do today to avoid taking responsibility. What about the excuse, “It’s not my fault.” Have you ever had your child say that to you? “It’s not my fault.” “Did you do it?” “Yes.” “Well, whose fault is it?” “It’s not my fault.” And you go around the bush with them.
Notice a headline from an advice columnist. It is titled, It’s Not Your Fault. “A woman had written saying she had tried every form of therapy she knew and still could not break a bad habit. The columnist replied the first step you must take is to stop blaming yourself. Don’t blame yourself. Your compulsive behavior is not your fault. Refuse to accept blame. And above all do not blame yourself for what you do not control. Heaping guilt on yourself only adds to your stress, your low esteem, and your worry and depression and feelings of inadequacy and dependency on others. Let go of your guilty feelings.”
So if you are reading through the paper and you see this problem and you have got some type of compulsive behavior, guess what. You are going to read that and say it’s not my fault. We live in a no-fault society. This is even true when it comes to insurance, isn’t it. Somebody can run over you, be drunk. It’s no fault. And so the insurance companies look at it.
Notice what Ann Landers wrote in a column on one occasion. “One of the most painful, self-mutilating time and energy consuming experiences in the human experience is guilt. It can ruin your day or your week or your life if you let it. It turns up like a bad penny when you do something dishonest, hurtful, tacky, selfish, or rotten. Never mind that it was a result of ignorance, stupidity, laziness, thoughtlessness, or weak flesh. So what?” That describes human nature, doesn’t it? Remember guilt is a pollutant. We don’t need any more of it in the world. So she has effectively said you shouldn’t feel guilty.
So what you find is in today’s society it is not your fault, so therefore you can excuse yourself. Or what is the second thing you can do? You can claim to be a victim. I am a victim. If no one is supposed to feel guilty, how could anyone be a sinner? You see, modern culture has the answer. People are not sinners. People are victims. And victims are not responsible for what they do. They are the casualty of what happens to them. It is not their fault. It just happens to them. It has radically changed the way society looks at human behavior. Anyone can escape responsibility for his or her wrongdoing by claiming to simply be a victim.
A couple of examples here: I remember several years ago a man was shot and paralyzed while committing a burglary in New York. He broke into this store. The store owner happened to have a gun. He shot him. The attorney told the jury that the burglar was, first of all, a victim of society. He was driven to crime by economic disadvantage. He said his client was a victim of the insensitivity of the man who shot him. He was insensitive. The man is trying to steal everything he has got. But due to the man’s callous disregard for the thief’s plight as a victim, the poor man would be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. He deserved redress. The jury agreed and the store owner had to pay a large settlement. So he ended up having to pay “the victim”.
In England, a barmaid stabs another barmaid to death in a barroom brawl. She was acquitted of the murder after she claimed – guess what – PMS! PMS did it, causing her to act in a way that she could not control. So instead of being punished, she received therapy.
You might remember several years ago the classic story a San Francisco’s city supervisor claimed he murdered a fellow supervisor and the mayor, George Bisconi, because of too much junk food, especially Hostess Twinkies. Thus was born the famous Twinkie defense. The jury bought the line and passed the verdict of voluntary manslaughter rather than murder. They ruled that junk food resulted in diminished mental capacity. Now you know what is the trouble with your children. Diminished mental capacity. Which mitigated killer’s guilt. He was out of prison before the mayor’s next term would have completed. So in two or three years, he is out, and he killed two people. Twinkies made me do it.
Richard Barrenson, president of the American University in Washington, D.C. was caught making obscene phone calls to women. Now he claimed he was the victim of childhood abuse and received a suspended sentence, negotiated a $1,000,000 severance package, they bought him out. He then wrote a book about his ordeal. He explained that the obscene phone calls were his way of data gathering. The book was given rave reviews in the Washington Post and USA Today.
So all of these persons were victims. Okay. So, if you can’t claim to be a victim there is something else you can claim. Another excuse that people use for not being responsible is it’s a disease. So today you find many people claim that their actions can be blamed on a disease, whether it is overdrinking, whether it is drugs, or whatever it might be. One of the most prevalent means of escaping blame is to classify every human behavior as some sort of disease. Children who habitually act up, defy authority, can escape condemnation by being labeled hyperactive or having ADD, Attention Deficit Disorder. Now there are some children who have this, yes. I am not denying that. But there are thousands who get away with simply misbehaving because they claim this. There are all kinds of things today that people claim to be a disease.
Another thing that people do to escape responsibility is they claim they have an addiction. So today everything is an addiction. An FBI agent, just to give you an example, embezzled $2000, gambled it away in a single afternoon at a casino. He later sued, arguing that his gambling addiction was a disability. He won the case. Instead of having any punishment for what he did, he was funded under the health care plan of his employer, the FBI, and he was put into therapy for his gambling addiction. Almost everything today wrong with people is likely to be explained as an illness. So sin can be explained as a whole array of disabilities. There is sex addiction, gambling addiction, nicotine addiction, anger addiction, wife-beating addiction, debt addiction, self-abuse addiction, failure addiction, and you go on and on and on. And basically it is not your fault. These are addictions. Much of the booming therapy industry today is not stopping the problem of what the scriptures call sin. Instead, it just alleviates any sense of feeling bad about it, convincing people they are sick, therefore they are not really responsible for their behavior. It allows them to think of themselves today as patients, not evil doers. You become a patient. Remember this, if you remove the reality of sin you take away the possibility of repentance. If there is no need to repent of sin, why did Jesus Christ die? If there is no need of a Savior then the plan of salvation is a farce. So you find if you take away the notion of personal guilt, then you eliminate the need for a Savior. So what we have to realize is that today Satan the devil has done a great job, call it a great job or bad job or whatever, on society of convincing people that there is no such thing as sin.
A healthy conscience can recognize the authority of God’s word and it will lead a person to repent. It will lead a person to understand what are the right values, what is truly sin, and to repent based upon that. Once you are forgiven you no longer have to feel guilty. Now part of the problem in society is people bear guilt, and they go on and condemn themselves and they continue to feel guilty. They don’t know how to get rid of the guilt. You get rid of guilt by repentance. You see, when you do away with repentance and say you don’t have to feel guilty, you don’t have to repent, you are doing away with the very vehicle to accommodate it. Guilt leads to repentance. Once you repent you no longer have to feel guilty. And so God’s way works.
The trend is very clear today in society. People are increasingly unable to think in terms of good and evil. Our goal in childrearing is to help our children build their conscience upon the infallible unchangeable word of God, to reflect on the fact that this is the way to go. You and I as adults have the same process we are going through, are we not? God calls us, we learn the right values, we learn what we should repent of. We learn that a lot of what we thought was wrong in the past was not necessarily wrong. We find out what God’s standards are. And so we base our authority on that now. When we are converted our conscience begins to look to the will of Christ and to God and we begin to restructure in that direction.
A fourth principle that I think is very vital for us to teach our children is to teach them to care about others, to be caring for life as a whole – to think of others, to be outgoing. How does the Bible describe this? It says, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” We need to teach them to love their neighbor. Today we find people are selfish, inward, and they are not outgoing. They are not thinking about others. How do you do this? It is only going to come if they see it in you as parents. I think there are a number of things that can be done as families. Family outings to senior citizens homes where you don’t just send them, but where you go as a family. Maybe you adopt somebody and you visit and you begin to teach them to care for these people – to bring them gifts for whatever are their needs. And maybe you discuss this afterwards. You go home. What can you do to make them more comfortable? Volunteer to help as a family to do good works projects. We have all kinds of good works projects. Well do it as a family and work together. Teach them to serve without expecting remuneration. I believe we should make a list of characteristics we would like to see in our children, and we should start working toward the end result in trying to develop those characteristics within them. So it is a basic principle of love, and they have got to see love in action from us, that we care for others. We pray for others. We are giving to others. People are sick, we are fixing food for them. Whatever it might be, they see our example so that they can emulate it.
Finally, the fifth basic principle, we need to work with them to keep their conscience tender and sensitive. How do you do this? By not ignoring it. As a parent you must focus a child in the proper way of what he has done wrong. I don’t mean you correct every little thing. We are not talking about that. But when they do something wrong they need to understand why. Because if you ignore your conscience, and you fail to respond to it, and you ignore the pangs of guilt, you begin to develop a resistance to that. That is why it is so important for us, as the Bible says, “If it is not of faith it is sin.” If you can’t do something of faith, and your conscience pricks you, then you shouldn’t do it. It might be a matter of your conscience being educated properly. As an example, there are those who come into the church and when they first came into the church they believed it was wrong to drink alcohol because of their upbringing. And so if you feel guilty about doing that you should not do it, because if you do it becomes a sin. But if your conscience becomes educated and you realize within proper balance you can do it, then you either not do it based on the right knowledge, it’s okay but I just don’t want to, or if you do it, then you don’t feel guilty, because you know the right way.
What we have to realize is that today so often the conscience becomes diluted, becomes watered down. Our consciences can become wounded, defiled. If the process is not reversed they can become seared. It is possible to damage one’s conscience, to destroy it completely. It becomes so desensitized that a person becomes incapable of being penetrated by God’s Spirit. This is actually what Satan is after today. He is wanting to raise a whole society of people who are amoral, who do not have a conscience, so that when God calls them they will not repent, or they will have great difficulty repenting. We need to be able to help our children that when they come to the point where God is really working in their lives to bring them to baptism that they are able to repent because they have learned how to do this.
Remember 1 Timothy 1:19 1 Timothy 1:19Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck:
American King James Version×, that you and I can become so desensitized that it will affect our ability to judge righteously, to know right from wrong. Notice the example here. Having faith and a good conscience, which some having rejected concerning the faith have suffered shipwreck. So if we reject a good conscience, spiritually we can become shipwrecked.
The Bible describes different types of consciences. It says tender, strong, pure, clean, weak, defiled, seared, or evil.
In 1 Timothy 4:2 1 Timothy 4:2Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron;
American King James Version×you will find that we can become hardened to right and wrong if we are not careful. It talks about speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron. Once a hot iron – maybe you have done this – I have ironed very little but I have ironed enough that I have hit my hand occasionally, and you sear the skin or burn it. There is not much you can do. That skin is dead, and you have got to start all over again.
Titus 1:15-16 Titus 1:15-16  To the pure all things are pure: but to them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled.
 They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and to every good work reprobate.
American King James Version×makes this statement. To the pure all things are pure. It is important for us to maintain purity of our minds, what comes into our thoughts – that we do not allow things that are going to corrupt our thinking, our minds, and defile our outlook to be there. To the pure all things are pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure. But even their minds and consciences are defiled. They profess to know God but in works they deny him, being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every good work.
So a healthy thriving faith in a Christian is dependent upon a healthy, highly-functioning sensitized conscience, and that is why we want to help our children. The absence of obedience is the erosion and demise in faith. Obedience entails a focus on and commitment to God, his will, his standards.
So you could say in summary that there is a spirit in man, and God is able to influence the mind of that spirit. God is able to communicate with us through that spirit. And it is that spirit in man whereby we are able to have self awareness, to look at ourselves, to know ourselves, to know our feelings. The more responsive and sensitive we are, willing to admit when we are wrong, recognizing God as the ultimate authority, the easier it will be for God to call and work with us. And the same thing applies to our children, to call and to work with our children when they are proper age. There is no guarantee in this age that they will come into the church. But I can tell you it will be a lot easier for them if they have had some of these principles inculcated. Even if they don’t come into the church they can still grow up to be loving and caring and productive people in society who maintain a high standard. But the odds are that they will. So brethren, let us not underestimate the importance of a strong morally based conscience.