I Can Do All Things
“I CAN DO ALL THINGS THROUGH CHRIST WHO STRENGTHENS ME” (Philippians 4:13)
A recently released movie (12/2016) told of a World War II soldier who refused to carry a gun because to do so violated his conscience. A Seventh Day Adventist conscientious objector, he nevertheless felt compelled to serve his country. His camp training was unusually difficult because he was ridiculed, and physically and emotionally abused by fellow trainees. The military brass attempt to have him court-martialed failed. During his service, he fought in different theaters of war, including on the island of Okinawa where many died, but he never touched or carried a gun, though as a medic he was in the midst of the carnage. Singlehandedly he took 75 soldiers, most of them wounded (some were dead), off the field by letting them down a 300-foot escarpment by rope. Survivors, interviewed later, admitted they were among those who had ridiculed and mistreated him. He himself was wounded but survived. The Bible he carried throughout the war was lost when he was wounded. Comrades searched for it, found it, and returned it to him. After the war, he received the congressional medal of honor. He died in 2006.
Through it all he would not violate his conscience because, he said, he could not have lived with himself if he had not remained true to what he believed. He chose to save lives, rather than to take a life with a gun.
Conscientious objection is one’s right under the law. He based his conviction on God’s commandment, “You shall not kill.” While we respect the right of people to be conscientious objectors, this passage does not countermand our responsibility to be subject to government call to service during which one may have to take life. The literal translation of the 5th commandment is “You shall do no murder.” While the result is the same, there is a distinction between murdering in cold blood with premeditation, and killing, for example, in self-defense.
This man had courage from the training field to the battlefield to stay true to his convictions, even though his own life was endangered.
We can make an application of this incident to our personal confessional life as professed followers of our Lord Jesus Christ. Many followers of our Lord including the apostle Paul, died because they confessed the faith without compromise. Of Jesus’ disciples, only John died a natural death, and that in exile. Confessional Lutherans know about Luther’s stand at Worms. He would not retract what he had spoken or written unless there was clear evidence from Scripture that he had erred. He would not compromise his faith even though his life was endangered by church and emperor; he could not go against conscience bound by the Word of God. History tells of many of the Reformation era who died of persecution because they could not in good conscience compromise their convictions. There is a time when we must obey God rather than man (Acts 5:29) .
The Creator created man with a conscience. He also implanted within man’s heart the natural law. Adam and Eve knew the will of God perfectly. They could trust their conscience. After sin, conscience became scarred. Man no longer knew the law perfectly. However, there remained in the heart a remnant of the law. “[The Gentiles] show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them” (Romans 2:15). Consequently, conscience which is not the law, but bears witness to the law, could no longer be trusted. It had lost its moral compass. Therefore, God reiterated the law in the Ten Commandments which gives knowledge of what is right and wrong, but cannot in any way or fashion produce righteousness before God or fruits pleasing to God. “Without faith,” which is of the Gospel, “it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6). While conscience urges us to do or not do, it does not make us do; it sits in judgment of what we have done, whether good or bad, either accusing or approving after the fact. However, when one consciously, repeatedly, and without remorse delights in sin, sin takes over. When love of sin, hatred of truth, lack of remorse over sin rules, conscience ceases to function. “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron” (1 Timothy 4:1-2). Such are no longer sensitive to God’s truth. They are comfortable doing what is right in their own eyes (Judges 17:6). It is the way of death (Proverbs 14:12).
Conscience can err. It is not the reliable guide of life. The Word of God is the reliable guide and power. Nevertheless, when the conscience bound by the Word of God warns a Christian against an action, the right and safe thing is to avoid that which violates the conscience. On the other hand, when conscience under impulse of the Word urges us to do what is right in the sight of God, it is sin to go against conscience.
Since the fall into sin, only the Christian’s conscience can be trusted, and then only when and so long as it is bound by the Word of God. The conscience of those who reject the Word of God approves many things that are wrong and sinful. It is not an impressive argument when one who diametrically opposes the Word of God in teaching or life, says, “My conscience does not bother me.” To such we might respond, “You tell me what your conscience says.” I ask you, “What does the Word of God say?” In the last analysis, the Word of God is our conscience. This is what Luther had in mind when at Worms he said that it is a sin to go against conscience.
Paul said before Felix, “But this I confess to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect, so I worship the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the Law and in the Prophets. I have hope in God, which they themselves also accept, that there will be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust. This being so, I myself always strive to have a conscience without offense toward God and men” (Acts 24:16).
He wrote to Timothy, “This charge I commit to you, son Timothy, according to the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, having faith and a good conscience, which some having rejected, concerning the faith have suffered shipwreck…” (1Timothy 1:18-19). As compared to those who forsook the truth and lost the faith,
Timothy was to be true to the faith which he held, the truth he had known from his youth.
In the confession of our faith, and in living our life before the world, we are to hold fast the faithful word, and not compromise it even if we must suffer consequences. Peter wrote, “For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully” (1 Peter 1:19). In so doing, we might then have a good conscience toward God.
The world hated Christ. It hates His Word. It hates those who are Christ’s.
Jesus said, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you” (John 15:18). This hatred does not necessarily translate into physical violence. It is manifest through ridicule, mockery, ostracization, rejection. These can be hurtful. But are they so hurtful that we would refuse to confess sour faith? Will we trade our convictions for the love of the world? When so tempted, consider Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith, “Who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin” (Hebrews 12:2-3).
When our conscience accuses us of not being strong in our witness and confession, and accuses us of having betrayed the Lord, do not look to the law, but look to the cross of the Lord Jesus. He who endured in His own body the stings and arrows of the world, without sin, bore our sins. The very message of forgiveness of our sin through the merit and death of our Savior will be the source to strengthen us in renewed resolve to hold fast one’s confession unto life. If the Lord protected a lone soldier on the battlefield in the face of withering gunfire, He will in the face of the withering and relentless attacks of the devil strengthen and preserve His children who call upon Him. The Psalmist said: “I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living. I believed, therefore I spoke, ‘I am greatly afflicted.’ I said in my haste, ‘All men are liars’” (Psalm 116: 9-11). Let us pray for the strength to say with the apostle: “And since we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, ‘I have believed, and therefore I spoke,’ we also believe and therefore speak” (2 Corinthians 4:13). “May God help us, and have mercy on us. Amen”