I AFFIRM that as Christians, it is possible to live with a heart that is perfect toward God and to maintain a good conscience before God and man.
I DENY that it is possible for us to attain sinless perfection in this life.
We get flummoxed when we hear anyone plead their own integrity. When David says, “judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness and according to the integrity that is in me (Ps. 7:8),” we think he is crazy. Doesn’t David know that pleading his own righteousness to obtain justice is like asking to be destroyed? But David insists:
Psalm 26:1,6,11 — Vindicate me, O Lord, for I have walked in my integrity, and I have trusted in the Lord without wavering…. I wash my hands in innocence… But as for me, I shall walk in my integrity; redeem me, and be gracious to me.
But is it possible that David knows something we are afraid to know, much less say out loud. In fact, God backs David up and affirms this about him: 1 Kings 9:4-5 — And as for you (Solomon), if you will walk before me, as David your father walked, with integrity of heart and uprightness, doing according to all that I have commanded you, and keeping my statutes and my rules, then I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever…
How can God say this about David at the end of his life when his many sins have been recorded for all to see? One thing we know: God is not deluded or lying, so what does He mean by ‘integrity of heart’ and ‘uprightness’? In a very real way, God sees David as righteous.
And David isn’t the only one. Other OT saints plead their innocence and integrity. Job says, “Far be it from me to say that you (the ‘comforters’) are right; till I die I will not put away my integrity from me. I hold fast my righteousness and will not let it go; my heart does not reproach me for any of my days.” (Job 27:5-6) He is either the most stubborn sinner or a man who knows that what he says is true. And like in David’s case, God agrees with Job. (Job 1:1,8)
Consider these Proverbs about integrity and the righteous:
2:7 — he stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk in integrity, 2:21 — the upright will inhabit the land, and those with integrity will remain in it, 10:9 — Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but he who makes his ways crooked will be found out. 11:3 — The integrity of the upright guides them, but the crookedness of the treacherous destroys them. 19:1 — Better is a poor person who walks in his integrity than one who is crooked in speech and is a fool. 20:7 –The righteous who walks in his integrity— blessed are his children after him!
Is this actual advice and promise, or just a bunch of hypotheticals? Or maybe that was only an OT thing. They still thought that somehow they could measure up if they tried hard enough to earn God’s favor. We know better now! But listen to Paul – He’s every bit as crazy as David.
Acts 23:1 — And looking intently at the council, Paul said, “Brothers, I have lived my life before God in all good conscience up to this day.” 1 Thes. 2:10 — You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. 2 Tim. 1:3 — I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers… Phil. 3:17 — Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. Acts 20:18-32 — Ye know, from the first day that I came into Asia, after what manner I have been with you at all seasons…Serving the Lord with all humility of mind, … how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you…neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy…I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.
And the clincher comes in v. 33 when he says, I have coveted no man’s silver, or gold, or apparel. As a Pharisee, Paul knows that this is the commandment that strikes right at the heart. He is saying that not just his actions were pure, but his heart as well.
So, we argue, Paul was an apostle – maybe this is special grace for apostles, and like tongues and prophecy and big A Apostles, this type of grace has ceased. Nice try, but Paul speaks to Timothy about the good conscience as a goal and necessity of the Christian life. Without it, we are in peril of falling away. And Peter adds more apostolic gravitas. 1 Tim 1:5 — The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 1 Tim. 1:18-19 — …wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander… Titus 1:7 — For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach (blameless). 1 Peter 3:16 — having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 1 Peter 3:21 — Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,
But how do we get and keep this good conscience? Ah, there’s the rub. First, remember that having a good conscience is not the same as being sinless. And remember that a good conscience is not enough in itself. (Paul seems to have had a good conscience when he was persecuting the church in ignorance.) We’re not talking about meriting anything by our good conscience. What we are talking about is seeking God with a whole heart and not willfully holding on to any darling sin. Clinging to those idols is perilous.
Sanctification is progressive, and we will never come to the end of the process until we see Jesus and become like Him. But for now, we have good encouragement to pursue godliness and a good conscience. It is more about keeping short accounts, repenting and forsaking sin as God reveals it, and as much as possible making things right with the people we have wronged. In other words, a good conscience means that we are not fighting with God, and whenever He reveals our sin to us, we receive rebuke gladly and show fruits of repentance. Think of David and Job when they were rebuked. Our sins may be egregious, but God is pleased when we respond in humility. And even our enemies can’t accuse us when we freely confess our own sin.
Phil. 1:6 — And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Phil. 3:13-16 — Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.