“Seared Conscience” I Tim 4:1-3

by Steven Chan
27 January 2008

In the Sydney Morning Herald dated 25th January, 2008, it was reported that “two lesbian killers who murdered a 16-year-old girl for being annoying, smiled at each other today as a Perth court was told it took their victim half an hour to die”

It is shocking that such young killers show no remorse or guilt feelings whatsoever for having committed such a heinous crime against an innocent girl. As I was reflecting on the incident, I was reminded by the what the Bible says in 1 Tim 4:1-3: “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” Commenting on this passage, Albert Barnes observed: “The allusion here is doubtless to the effect of applying a hot iron to the skin. The cauterized part becomes rigid and hard, and is dead to sensibility. So with the conscience of those referred to. It has the same relation to a conscience that is sensitive and quick in its decisions that a cauterized part of the body has to a thin, delicate, and sensitive skin. Such a conscience exists in a mind that will practice delusion without concern; that will carry on a vast system of fraud without wincing; that will incarcerate, scourge, or burn the innocent without compassion; and that will practice gross enormities, and indulge in sensual gratifications under the mask of piety.”

Another passage came to my mind when I thought about how such cruelty can be committed by the two young ladies: Rom 1:28-32: “And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.”

These perpetrators seem to have a “debased mind” who although knowing that those who practice such things are worthy of death, are not deterred by such a penalty but in fact would also approve those who commit such terrible deeds.

We should be wary of the possibility of our “conscience being seared with hot iron” as well as of having a “debased mind”. Interestingly, the discussion on those who have a “seared conscience” contextually pertained directly to the introduction/propagation of false teachings such as “forbidding to marry and abstaining from meats’ – such false teachings appear to be somewhat mild to some among us – and as the Bible alludes, indeed “have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion” (Col 2:23). The strong words used by the apostle Paul to condemn such false teachings may not go down well with many of our brethren who are likely to contend that such are “small matters” (has nothing to do with the divine Sonship of Jesus Christ, not likely to affect the “core aspects” of our faith and ought therefore not to affect our salvation or our fellowship, and they would proffer that indeed God’s grace ought to be able to cover such trivial misunderstandings) and in fact celibacy and abstention from meat can actually accomplish much good!! But the Bible says otherwise. Is our conscience sensitive to the teaching of such erroneous albeit so-termed “non-core” doctrines? Or, is our conscience seared as with a hot iron such that we do not think or feel that such teachings are viewed seriously by God as being man-made and ought to be discarded?

The mind that is debased is one that knows that certain practices are clearly condemned by the Word of God and yet such a one would continue to insist that he or others be permitted to practice such lifestyle and also that such practices be approved. Does one wonder how they seek to do that? Probably the same way as we see today how erroneous practices are justified on any basis other than a “book chapter and verse” from the Bible – the latter approach being debunked as “cut and paste’ theology which has no regard for context. Have you ever wondered when Jesus quoted from Exodus 3:6 in Matt. 22:31,32, was the context from which the statement that “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’ was taken, a discussion pertaining to the subject of resurrection to which Jesus was applying in Matthew 22? That was not the immediate context but Jesus was justified in quoting and applying Exodus 3:6 to the discussion on resurrection as it is a fact/principle that is applicable within the general or overall context of the Bible as regards the fact that God is not God of the dead but of the living (such being “necessarily inferred” by Jesus from Ex 3:6). So, one ought not to simply deem the quotation of ‘book chapter and verse’ as ‘cut and paste’ theology that has no regard to the context from which such verses are taken. Context is of course important but one should not be restricted to immediate context only but also consider the overall context of the Bible and will of God. One ought also not to poke fun at the concept of “necessary inference’ as a means of ascertaining the truth of God as Jesus Himself adopted the same principle in Matt. 22:31, 32.
Homosexuality is considered acceptable today by some because they argue that during Bible times, such practices were not well understood as acceptable alternative lifestyles and the people were prejudiced – whereas today, with our enlightened minds, we recognize that there are many homosexuals who live very religious lives, showing better spirit, contribute significantly to the well-being our community, doing much good, bearing better fruit than many self-righteous, loud-mouth, legalistic, Pharisaic Christians, and are in fact also believers in Jesus! To them, the verses of I Cor 6:9 are not contextually applicable to our day as it was addressed to the Corinthians of those days living in that particular culture (same reason why they would reject the applicability of the instruction in I Cor 14:34, 35 as regards women being submissive today).

We should be careful lest our conscience becomes seared with a hot iron (perhaps through being numbed by the philosophies of men – Col 2:8,18 & 22) or because of our belligerent attitude, we are given up to a debased mind – seeking to approve those who practice the things which God prohibit – erroneously believing that God’s grace would cover such practices.