Sunday – October 4, 2020
Word On Worship – Sunday – October 4, 2020
Paul looked straight at the Sanhedrin and said, “My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day.” At this the high priest Ananias ordered those standing near Paul to strike him on the mouth.
How could Paul say that he had lived his life with a pure conscience? Did he not refer to himself as “chief of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15)? Had he not often spoken, with much regret, of the suffering which he had caused many saints, before his conversion? Are there not some questions that he failed to listen to the words of prophets warning him about coming to Jerusalem earlier in the Book of Acts? And here, before the Sanhedrin, even Paul acknowledges his outburst against the High Priest was a sin. How could his conscience be clear when he had done so much that was wrong?
A devout Jew’s highest efforts at law-keeping might enable him to claim, as Paul did, that he was, as pertains to law-righteousness “blameless” (Philippians 3:6), but he could never stop “looking over his shoulder” with respect to God’s holiness. The Old Testament law never gave men the ability to claim a clear conscience, but grace did, in the Old Testament and the New. This was what Paul had experienced, which he proclaimed, and which the high priest and his associates rejected. No wonder the high priest was so upset! Did this “Paul,” this “law-breaker,” really dare to think of himself as so clean, so righteous? How dare he speak this way, or so Ananias seems to have reasoned.
Much has been written about Paul’s response to the high priest, either condemning him for a brash act of temper, or defending him. Luke does not really indicate the goodness or badness of the act. It does raise a question we must ask of ourselves. Are any of our actions carried out with entirely pure motivation? Is there anything which we do that is not tainted by our own sin? Nothing we do, including our acts of obedience and worship, are entirely pure. Our purity comes from our identification with Him. God’s will is not accomplished because we do the right thing, for all the right reasons. God’s will can be accomplished by evil men, acting out of evil motives, or by good men, acting out of mixed motives.
Paul was once just like these members of the Sanhedrin—an arch enemy of the gospel and a persecutor of the saints. He spoke of himself not only as the one who was formerly “chief of sinners,” but as one who was presently holding the same position (1 Timothy 1:13-15). How is it possible for such a sinner to have a clear conscience? The writer to the Hebrews made that very clear—it is not through one’s own works or righteousness, but through the righteousness of Jesus Christ, and through His sacrificial and substitutionary death, in the sinner’s place (Hebrews 9). Do you have a clear conscience before God? You can, just as Paul did, by personally trusting in Jesus Christ as God’s provision for the cleansing of your sin. This cleansing is not due to any good you have done or will do, but only due to that which Jesus Christ has done.