Gazing intently at the high council, Paul began: “Brothers, I have always lived before God with a clear conscience!” (Acts 23:1). It is this chapter that we see that Paul could stand toe to toe with the religious heavyweights and hold his own. He had a clear conscience, unlike the Jews who were guilty of false testimony, beatings and plots to kill.
Ananias, the high priest, struck Paul in the mouth (Acts 23:2). I guess he was insulted that Paul referred to the council as brothers, or that the leaders could not stand with a clear conscience. Paul fires back, “God will strike you, you hypocrites” (Acts 23:3). How dare he speak to the High Priest that way (Acts 23:4). Don’t miss Paul’s response, “I did not know he was the High Priest” (Acts 23:5). Could it be sarcasm? He wasn’t acting like the High Priest. Paul knows that Jesus is the authentic High Priest (Hebrews 4:14, 6:20). I think Paul was insulting Ananias.
Paul goes on to summarize the reason he is before them that day, because he has a hope in the resurrection from the dead (Acts 23:6), which then proceeded to divide the audience. Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection while the Pharisees did (Acts 23:7). There was a terrible argument and the commander thought they would tear Paul apart (Acts 23:10). It’s funny that the Pharisees are now on Paul’s side (Acts 23:9). Let’s get back to having a clear conscience.
People without a spotless past may still enjoy a clear conscience: Paul had wronged many people but his conscience was clear because of the forgiveness Jesus offers.
Good deeds cannot provide a clear conscience: It’s hard to worship freely when we don’t have a clear conscience. Two things that will never clear a conscience are gifts and sacrifices (Hebrews 9:9).
The Holy Spirit works with the believer’s conscience: The Holy Spirit confirms our conscience (Romans 9:1). While we might want to ignore our sin, the one thing that does not ignore sin is our conscience. If ignored, conviction will grow.
The conscience is an indicator, not a transformer: The Spirit alone can change us. By itself the conscience can do nothing but condemn. Through the Spirit we are actually able to recognize and do the right thing. Asking God for forgiveness does not always make us feel better, because we feel a load of guilt. The key is to draw near to God.
Application: Although you don’t have a spotless past, aim for the future with confidence, and the mind of Christ can keep your past straight. The writer of Hebrews 10:22 tells us, “Let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water.” Allow God to use your past for His glory, that you are a changed person, a new creation with a new purpose in life. When we fail, confess our sin, forsake the old ways, and renew our fellowship with God (1 John 1:9).