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God’s Word for You

Susanna 1:9 The Conscience

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Sunday, July 2, 2023

9 They led their own minds astray and turned their eyes away from looking to heaven or keeping righteous judgments in mind.

The first phrase shows the way sin twists a man’s mind, heart, and even his conscience away into sin. “Turned their eyes away from heaven” is a way of saying that they turned away from God with the same metonymy used in Daniel 4:31; Romans 1:8; and everywhere in Matthew’s Gospel, where “kingdom of heaven” means “kingdom of God” (Matthew 3:2, 4:17, 5:3; etc.).

This verse is an illustration (fictional though it is) of twisting the conscience. This is when a conscience is troubled but still chooses to maintain its sinful course. Ovid describes this in his wicked Medea: “I see and applaud the better things, but I follow the worse” (Metamorphosis, VII,1,20). I myself witnessed this in a terrible way when I happened to attend the wedding of a family member who was marrying a woman who was a Methodist minister. The presiding minister made a joke of the Word of God. He was in the context of discarding the passage, “Wives, submit to your husbands” (Ephesians 5:22; Colossians 3:18) when he chose to quip, “Of course, if we took everything in the Bible as written then women would not be ministers at all!” This drew a laugh from the group, but I was infuriated. My wife kept me from storming out, and my search for that clergyman after the service proved to be fruitless. He chose not to appear at the dinner afterward, or he would have heard me use the phrase, “God damn you, sir,” in an absolutely and theologically correct sense. Perhaps he saw it in my eyes and beat a path to safety instead.

Luther says: “It is no trivial sin to harden oneself against conscience and to glory in a sin willingly and knowingly” (LW 2:220). To be caught in the battle between the knowledge of what is right on the one side and the powerful urges of the sinful nature on the other side is a terrible battle, never to be won by pitiful man by himself. A sinner apart from Christ will be caught in that temptation like a swimmer caught in a rip tide, pulled violently further out to sea where the bottom drops away and there is little or no hope of rescue.

But the sinner who knows Christ has an advocate. He says: “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20), and John assures as: “The Father’s Son will be with us in truth and love” (2 John 1:3). When we are being pulled away by temptations, and our consciences know what is wrong, we have comfort and help in Jesus, our dear saving Jesus. “Let us learn to cling to the consolation that although guilt gnaws at our conscience and the goad of the Law and death torment us, yet this is not being done for our destruction but rather for our instruction and cleansing, in order that we may come to a knowledge of ourselves and our corruption. Therefore let us endure the hand of God, who cleanses us, that is, laughs and plays with us; for those who refuse to endure his hand argue about satisfaction (that is, making satisfaction), and, when this cannot be enough, are forced to despair. Although God cleanses even hypocrites and godless men, they, like glass, are broken long before the cleansing is accomplished” (LW 7:228-229).

Our author gives us a path to follow without expressing the gospel or any motivation. Of course we first want to remember the grace of God. What would the conscience be without the grace of God? The impure heart can’t see God at all; a man with an impure heart is unhappy all the time. Even if he thinks he is listening to God or that he has an inkling of what God would say, he is only listening to the devil and hearing the devil’s cruel and wicked hisses that cause despair and grief. But a man who has heard the Gospel of Jesus and knows the forgiveness of sins and is blessed in every way. Jesus’ warm blanket covers him in the cold of his fear by saying, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matthew 5:8). To quote Luther’s friend and mentor Staupitz, when you are disturbed and troubled, “Don’t fret. God is not angry with you. Do not be angry with him. For you are more likely to be in a rage against him (than he with you).”

Look to heaven, which means look to God. Look to his Son, Jesus our Lord. “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus” (Hebrews 12:1). Keep his cross at the very center of your heart and your faith, and know that his forgiveness covers over your sins. Then ask his help to turn from sin and every temptation. Pray, “Keep me this day from sin and every evil,” and “Let your holy angel be with me, that the wicked foe may have no power over me.” Then go about your daily business and live a life that gives glory to God with every step.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


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