I have the privilege of speaking this week at a conference focusing on the words of St. Paul to St. Timothy: “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Tim. 1:5). Hosted by the Association of Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Congregations (ACELC), the aim of the conference is to confess positively the love that is ours in Christ Jesus, with which we in turn love God and one another.
As Dr. Luther and other pastors have preached on this text, genuine love (agape) – which derives and flows from the Holy Triune God according to His very Nature and Being – is not possible for us poor sinners except by His grace toward us in the Gospel. It is the Word of the Gospel, the forgiveness of sins, which purifies our hearts, comforts and renews our consciences, and obtains in us a sincere faith and confidence in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Thus do we fear, love, and trust in God above all things; and thus do we begin to live and love as He first loves us.
For my part at the conference, I was assigned to speak specifically on a “good conscience,” and I have found that to be an engaging and thought-provoking topic. A “good conscience” is more than an instinctive moral sense of right and wrong. Biblically and theologically speaking, it is to know ourselves and our works rightly, as God does – not “instinctively,” but on the basis of His Word, His Law and His Gospel. His Word of Truth reveals to us what is good and right and true, what is His good and acceptable Will, and who and what we are created and given to be – by His grace through faith in Christ Jesus. So does the Word inform and instruct our consciences, first of all to know our sin for what it is in the light of His Law, and then also to know and believe His free and full forgiveness of all our sins and our righteousness of faith in Christ Jesus, whom the Holy Spirit lays upon our hearts through the Gospel.
So, then, in order for us to have and retain a good conscience, and for it to function rightly, it is above all necessary that we continue to hear and learn His Word and the preaching of it: Not only for information and knowledge of the Truth, but also and especially unto repentance and faith in the forgiveness of sins.
For us who are called and ordained to be preachers and teachers of the Word, it is all the more necessary to listen to and learn from the Word of God in Christ Jesus. Then we are able to comfort consciences to the glory of His Holy Name. And it is from such consciences that both we and our hearers love Him and each other in His Name, in gratitude for His Love toward us, and from pure hearts of faith set free from the bondage of sin, death, the devil, and hell. Christ be praised for this glorious liberty of heart, mind, body, soul, and spirit, which we have in Him!