The Liberty of the Conscience
COPYRIGHT ©2017 - James M. Frye
All scripture quotations are taken from the Authorized King James Bible. Any deviations are not intentional. All underlines, bold and words within brackets are the author's.
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The Commandments of Men
Most professing Christians in our day know and understand that the Bible is the sole and final authority in all matters of faith (what we believe) and practice (what we do). Although most understand this, sadly many who profess this Biblical truth throw it out the window in actual practice. How so? They do so by making their own INDIVIDUAL PERSONAL CONSCIENCE the standard (final authority) by which they judge right and wrong for OTHERS instead of the word of God (the Bible). Let me explain what I mean.
Godís word is the source of all spiritual truth.
∑ John 17:17 Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.
∑ 2 Timothy 3:16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
How do we know if something someone says is true or not? We check it out by the word of God (the Bible).
∑ Acts 17:11 ... (they) searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.
∑ Isaiah 8:20 To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.
Things are only true spiritually if God says so in the Bible, otherwise, such teachings are just the doctrines and commandments of men.
∑ Mark 7:7 Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.
So when SOMEONE SAYS that we ought not to do a certain thing because IT IS A SIN they must PROVE where Godís word says that it is a sin, otherwise, what they are saying is just a commandment of men and we should reject it. After all, we are to obey God rather than men.
∑ Acts 4:19 But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye.
∑ Acts 5:29 Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.
∑ Romans 3:4 God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written ...
The Bible warns us not to allow ourselves to become subject to such ordinances, doctrines, and commandments of men.
∑ Colossians 2:20-23 Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, (Touch not; taste not; handle not; Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men? Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.
As we saw in the last section, when a person states that something is sinful and shouldnít be done, when in fact the Bible doesnít say that it is sinful, what they are saying is a commandment of men. The Bible speaks very negatively about the doctrines and commandments of men as well as those who teach them. This is a very serious matter because, although they may not be consciously aware of what they are doing, the individual who makes such judgments is actually putting themself in the place of God who ALONE is the judge of all such matters. Scripture teaches us that God alone is the Lord of the conscience and that no man has the right to judge in such matters.
∑ James 4:11-12 Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law: but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge. There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another?
In other words, only God has the right to judge in such matters and who is any man to play God? If God has not stated that something is sinful in His word (law) we have no right to add to it. To do so is to sit in judgment on Godís law (His word) judging it to be insufficient and lacking for having left something out. But God is the only lawgiver. Who are we to put ourselves in the place of God (playing God) by judging others in such matters?
∑ Romans 14:4 Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.
Believers are the servants of God and it is God ALONE to whom they must answer. The context of Romans 14 deals with matters of conscience where a believer feels guilty for doing something even though scripture doesnít teach that thing is a sin. The strong brother is the one who knows that thing is not sinful and can do it freely with a clear conscience. The weaker brother is the one who canít do that thing (even though it is NOT a sin) because it would violate/offend their weak conscience.
Paul makes it clear that even though something is not stated to be a sin in scripture, if a persons conscience is offended by doing it, it would be a sin for them (verse 20). All of 1 Corinthians chapter 8 and the later portion of 1 Corinthians chapter 10 deal with this same matter regarding the conscience. In chapter 10, Paul says the following.
∑ 1 Corinthians 10:29 Conscience, I say, not thine own, but of the other: for why is my liberty judged of another man's conscience?
What is Paulís point here? His point is each personís conscience is his own, and one believer is not to be judged, nor is his freedom/liberty restricted by another manís conscience. As we saw before, only God can judge a manís conscience. One believer who feels guilty doing something for fear that it is sinful (even though scripture doesnít specifically say it is) CANíT USE HIS CONSCIENCE TO JUDGE OTHER MEN. Do you see it?
In the beginning of this article, I spoke of those who make their own INDIVIDUAL PERSONAL CONSCIENCE the standard (final authority) by which they judge right and wrong for OTHERS instead of the word of God (the Bible). This is exactly what I was talking about and SCRIPTURE FORBIDS IT!
If it canít be shown that the Bible specifically says that something is sinful, you may NOT use the fact that you feel guilty doing it (and that it would be sinful for you because it would violate your own conscience) to judge and condemn all others for doing it. To do so is to put yourself in place of God as judge which He forbids you to do. If you are guilty of this, please realize how offensive what you are doing is to God and stop doing these things. Please look at your own life and get your own life in order. Focus only on those matters which are clearly proclaimed to be sinful in the scriptures and keep all of the disputable matters between yourself and God.
∑ Romans 14:22 Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth.
Before I end this article, I would like to point out that this matter has been understood by Christians for years. As a matter of fact, statements to this effect have often made it into believers statements of faith. The following is taken from the Baptist Confession of Faith 1689, Chapter 21: Of Christian Liberty and Liberty of Conscience, Section 2
ďGod alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are in any thing contrary to his word, or not contained in it. So that to believe such doctrines, or obey such commands out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience; and the requiring of an implicit faith, an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience and reason also.Ē
The Westminster confession of 1646 reads very much the same. May believers once again realize this vital scriptural truth.