Normally, it is an honor to lend your name to something that everyone would know. Many names become household words: Zeppelin, Waring (blender), Ford, Vicks, Levis, Edsel—well, maybe not all products are worth being identified with. One of the more notorious namesakes is Hansen’s Disease, named after G. H. A. Hansen, who discovered the bacterium that causes what is more commonly known as leprosy.
Leprosy is a dreaded disease that desensitizes the flesh to pain and pressure. In advanced stages, patients cannot feel pain, burns, pressure, or anything else that warns them of danger or injury. The tragic and gruesome result is that body parts become injured or diseased and fall off. The patient doesn’t know that he was burned, bruised or bitten by rodents. There is no warning system.
Creator God, in His infinite wisdom, has built millions of sensors into our bodies. The parts that need the most sensitivity, such as the tongue, have more sensors than parts that need little sensitivity, like heels. When these malfunction, either false or missing signals can result, putting the body in serious danger.
Because the totality of a person is both body and soul, God put a warning system in the spirit as well: the conscience. In the same way that the brain responds to warnings transmitted by nerve endings, our conscience warns us about spiritual danger. And it, too, is subject to disease.
The conscience, in and of itself, is neutral. It will respond in whatever way it is programmed. God initially loads it with His moral definitions. A person is therefore born knowing right from wrong, so everyone has a knowledge of good and evil. Paul said to the Romans, “Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them” (Romans 2:14, 15). What the apostle means is that people who have not been exposed to God’s Word know right from wrong, because their hearts are programmed that way. Their conscience tells them the difference. The problem is that they will then try to defend themselves when the built-in judge slams the gavel down in their ear and cries, “Guilty!” This would be the equivalent of sticking your hand in a fire and convincing yourself that it feels so good, you want to keep it in there. Ignoring or denying the warnings of conscience can only result in spiritual danger.
The Bible warns us about another malady of the conscience: calluses. Anyone who works hard with his or her hands, plays a guitar, or has healed from severe burns knows that the skin on the fingers grows tough and insensitive. They no longer feel pain and pressure like they used to. The same can happen with the conscience. Paul warned Timothy about false teachers and their followers, “speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron” (1 Timothy 4:2, NKJV). Spreading and following false teaching can deaden the conscience like a callous. Witness the horrors perpetrated on mankind by fanatics who have no problem spreading hate and terror.
A disease often translated “leprosy” in the Bible is sometimes seen as a metaphor for sin, and rightfully so. Leprosy ravages the skin, rendering it insensitive to feeling, allowing disease and decay to spread through the body, often without the victim’s awareness. Feeding the conscience false information in the form of psychology, heresy, situation ethics, relativism, and other man-made hot irons, can either dull the conscience or cause it to defend when it should accuse. The more the conscience is desensitized, the wider the door swings open for sin and corruption.
A healthy body requires the proper nourishment and care, and the conscience is no different. This can only come through study of, and obedience to, the Word of God. God puts the “baby food” in the heart, but it’s up to us to feed ourselves. Paul bemoaned the immaturity of the Corinthians: “I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready” (1 Corinthians 3:2). The Hebrews were admonished, “You need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again. You need milk, not solid food!” (Hebrews 5:12).
The key to a healthy conscience is obedience: “But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14). It all begins with salvation: “How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Hebrews 9:14, NASB).
What will you choose: Hansen’s Heart or a clear conscience?
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