1 Timothy 1:18-20 NRSV
I am giving you these instructions, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies made earlier about you, so that by following them you may fight the good fight, having faith and a good conscience. By rejecting conscience, certain persons have suffered shipwreck in the faith; among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have turned over to Satan, so that they may learn not to blaspheme.
When I was growing up, my mom used to talk to me all the time about my conscience. She used to stress to me that every time I did something bad, I was damaging my conscience which God had placed within me to identify right from wrong. Paul talks to Timothy about having a “good conscience.” The Greek for this word, suneidesis, literally means co-perception (Strong’s G4893). There is a sense of corporateness in this word. The New Testament Greek Lexicon implies that it is something that we and others see and agree upon. The definition given is “the consciousness of anything the soul as distinguishing between what is morally good and bad, prompting to do the former and shun the latter, commending one, condemning the other” (http://www.biblestudytools.com/search/?q=conscience&s=References&rc=LEX&rc2=LEX+GRK).
Paul insists that one is only able to “fight the good fight” by having both faith and a good conscience. In other words, in order to fight against temptations, against sin, against Satan, we need two things. We need to completely and fully trust God (faith) and we need to be able to distinguish between what is morally good and what is morally bad and have that distinguishing guide our behavior, thoughts, and decisions.
The writer of Hebrews talks about the mature who are able to discern good from evil:
But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. 5:14 NKJV
How is one able to discern good and evil? By having a good conscience. The writer of Hebrews tells us that this conscience comes “by reason of use.” The NASB translates it “because of practice.” The NRSV states “whose faculties have been trained by practice.”
We don’t practice the discerning of good and evil by doing evil, but rather by imitating the Lord Jesus. The Lord Jesus taught us “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23 NKJV There are three conditions to following Him:
- deny ourselves
- take up our cross daily
- follow Him
The New Testament Lexicon defines deny as “to affirm that one has no acquaintance or connection with someone; to forget one’s self, lose sight of one’s self and one’s own interests” (http://www.biblestudytools.com/search/?q=deny&rc=LEX&rc2=LEX+GRK&ps=10&s=References). The dictionary defines deny as “to restrain oneself from gratification of desires.”
Our problem is that we make our desires needs and then convince ourselves that we should have whatever it is. Most of us are completely and totally unpracticed in telling ourselves no. If we can afford it and we want it, we get it. Oh, we might deny ourselves if we are on a diet or trying to eat healthily. We might deny ourselves if we are on a financial austerity program to save for retirement. Our denials are actually saying no to one thing that we might have something else we cherish more. We rarely, if ever, deny ourselves simply for the practice.
Let them deny themselves daily. Let them forget sight of themselves, of their own interests daily.
How often do we say no to ourselves simply for the practice of denying ourselves? In fact, if I might go a step further, how many of how deny our own needs, trusting instead for God to provide them in His own way and in His own time? Denying ourselves everything that we think we need in order to trust Him to provide?
We are saturated by a society that insists that it is not only our right but our obligation to make sure that our own needs are met. The problem is that the definition of needs continues to expand to meet the lusts of our flesh. How much do we actually need? Paul tells Timothy (in 1 Timothy 6:6), that all we need is food and clothing. And, if you remember, Paul only had one coat which he asked a disciple to bring to him. Clothing to cover us modestly and food. The Lord Jesus taught to not even seek after the food to sustain us:
“And do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious mind. For all these things the nations of the world seek after, and your Father knows that you need these things.” Luke 12:29-30 NKJV
Our needs, really, are small, our true needs. Everything else is a desire. And the Father wants us to desire Him above everything else. He wants us to deny ourselves the encumbrances of this life and to store our treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:19-21). Is having things wrong? No. But failing to deny ourselves on a daily basis means that we are failing to imitate the Lord Jesus and losing out on multiple opportunities to be blessed by trusting God to provide for us.