“A GOOD CONSCIENCE TOWARD GOD”
First Peter 3.21
1. If you have your Bible, turn to First Peter chapter 3, where we will begin reading from verse 18. If you do not have your Bible with you, read along with the person sitting next to you. When you find First Peter 3.18, please stand:
18 For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:
19 By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison;
20 Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.
21 The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ:
Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God;
angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him.
2. This is a rather difficult portion of scripture to interpret. But within this passage is our text for today’s sermon, dealing with an important issue that is frequently neglected when preaching to lost people these days.
3. Verse 18: “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit.”
Four things to notice in this verse:
a. First, notice that the Lord Jesus Christ suffered for sins only one time. Hebrews 10.14 speaks to this same point: “For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.” My friends, there is no need for the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ to be repeated, especially the unbloody sacrifice of the Roman Catholic Mass. Since without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin, Hebrews 9.22, the shedding of blood is definitely needed for sins to be cleansed away. But the Lord Jesus Christ’s blood was shed only once, because once was and is sufficient.
b. Second, Christ’s sacrifice was the Just for the unjust. That is, the Lord Jesus Christ’s was a substitutionary sacrifice. Being substitutionary, which means Christ did for the sinner what the sinner could not do for himself, the sinner therefore does not need to do works of righteousness to pay for his salvation; Jesus already paid it all.
c. Third, “that he might bring us to God.” That is, the responsibility of getting the sinner to God is Christ’s and Christ’s alone. Why is this an important point to make? Because no man cometh unto the Father, according to the Lord Jesus Christ, “but by me,” John 14.6. Do you want your sins forgiven? Do you want to go to heaven? Do you want to come to God? Then you have to come to Jesus Christ.
d. Finally, “. . . being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit.” He really did die on the cross. He really was buried. And it was the Spirit of God who brought His dead body back to life on the third day.
4. Verse 19: “By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison.”
This is a verse which is most usually misunderstood by even some of the most careful Bible students:
a. The first mistake generally results from ignoring the words “by which.” If you mistake the meaning of the words “by which” you end up thinking this verse refers to the Lord Jesus Christ’s spirit going to Hell after His crucifixion so He could preach the gospel to unsaved folks already in Hell. But the phrase “by which” means that the Lord Jesus Christ accomplished something by means of another. In context, the other was the same Spirit who is said to have quickened Him in verse 18.
b. The second mistake that is common to this verse is thinking that the preaching that was done to the spirits in prison was preaching that was done when the spirits were in prison. That position is not supported in scripture. Here is what happened: The Lord Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit, preached to people whose spirits are now in prison. But when they were preached to they were not at that time in prison. When they were preached to they had not yet died and gone to Hell.
5. Verse 20: “Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.”
Verse 20 clears things up considerably:
a. “Which were sometime disobedient” refers to those who before the Flood were unresponsive to the preaching of men like Enoch and Noah, both preachers of righteousness.
b. “. . . when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.” For 120 years God held back His wrath against the righteous judgment of the wicked while the ark was being prepared. And how is it that the Lord Jesus Christ “preached unto the spirits in prison”? He did so through the Holy Spirit of God who worked in the lives of preachers of righteousness until the time of judgment came. When that time of judgment came, after the ark’s preparation had been completed, “eight souls were saved by water.”
c. In this context, the salvation that is referred to is physical deliverance from drowning. The ark was a type of Jesus Christ that, by the safety provided from the Flood, was picture of the salvation Jesus Christ provides from the wrath of God.
6. Verse 21: “The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
a. The phrase “The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us” shows us that as the saving of the eight in the ark from the Flood pictures the salvation of Jesus Christ in olden days, so baptism pictures the salvation of Jesus Christ in these days. Did the ark actually save anyone from their sins? No. Did the ark provide for anyone a spiritual salvation, and so make anyone a Christian? No. Neither does baptism make anyone a Christian or save anyone from his sins. Baptism is a figure, an illustration, a picture of what Jesus Christ does. Baptism is properly administered after someone gets saved, and every baptism recorded in the Bible is the baptism of someone who is already a Christian.
b. Next, notice the phrase in parenthesis: “(not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God.)” Please be careful to understand what Peter is telling us here, that baptism is “not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but” that baptism is “the answer of a good conscience toward God.” That is, baptism is not something that saves a person, but something that is the proper response of someone who now has a good conscience toward God.
c. Verse 21 concludes, “by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” The Lord Jesus Christ died, was buried, and rose from the dead. Peter mentions our Lord’s death in verse 18, the believer’s burial in baptism in verse 21, and the resurrection of Christ in verse 21. Christ’s ascension is mentioned in the next verse.
7. Verse 22: “Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him.” One of the many verses in the New Testament showing that the Lord Jesus Christ is not in the believer’s heart, but that He has ascended into heaven, and is now on the right hand of God. Why is that so hard for some people to accept?
8. Our passage focuses on the suffering of Jesus Christ, the death of Jesus Christ, and the resurrection and ascension of Christ. After stating that the quickening of Christ’s body in the resurrection was accomplished by the Spirit of God, Peter then veers onto the Spirit’s past ministry to those who are now dead and to a comparison of how Noah’s ark and believer’s baptism illustrate salvation. As I mentioned earlier, it is difficult to figure out precisely what Peter was seeking to accomplish with what he wrote here.
brother Isenberger comes to lead us in song, my sermon about your
1. My text for this morning, amidst the difficult verses we have looked at, is a single phrase that is not difficult to understand, which I want to focus your attention on. In verse 21, Peter describes baptism as “the answer of a good conscience toward God.” That is, baptism is the response of a good conscience toward God, or the experience of someone who now has a good conscience toward God.
2. My friends, think about this for a moment: Until you come to faith in Christ and thereby become a fit candidate for baptism, you have never before in your lifetime had a good conscience toward God.
3. Have you done wrong? Of course, you have. Do you have a guilty conscience? Maybe you do and maybe you do not. You could very well have done wrong and yet you do not have a guilty conscience.
4. But there is a world of difference between not having a guilty feeling conscience and having a good conscience toward God. Our text tells us that baptism is the answer of a good conscience toward God.
questions about this faculty God gave you called conscience:
1A. First, WHAT IS YOUR CONSCIENCE?
1B. William Ames, a Puritan theologian who lived in the 17th century, and who was an expert on the subject of conscience, wrote that “The Confcience of man . . . is a mans judgement of himfelfe, according to the judgement of God of him . . . I call Confcience Iudgement . . . to shew that it belongs to the Underftanding, not to the Will. The very name of Confcience sheweth it to bee fo.”
2B. Thus, your conscience is that faculty given to you by God which is capable of self judgment. That is, by means of your conscience you evaluate yourself. The word “conscience” translates the Greek word that means “co-knowledge.” A. T. Robertson wrote, “The word suneidêsis means co-knowledge by the side of the original consciousness of the act. This second knowledge is personified as confronting the first (Sanday and Headlam).”
There are thirty places in which the word “conscience” is found
in the New Testament, which you will find on the insert in your bulletin.
2A. Next, HOW DOES YOUR CONSCIENCE MAKE YOU FEEL?
1B. Your conscience works by means of what is called syllogism. A syllogism is an argument whose conclusion is supported by two premises. Thus, there are always three parts to the way your conscience works. But rather than try to define what a syllogism is using unfamiliar terms, allow me to simply illustrate how your conscience works by constructing a number of syllogisms.
1C. First, there is Ezekiel 18.20: “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.”
1D. That is the major premise: The soul that sins shall die.
2D. The minor premise: I am a sinner.
3D. The conclusion: Therefore, I shall die.
2C. Second, Revelation 21.8: “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.”
1D. Again, the major premise: Those guilty of these named sins will go to the lake of fire.
2D. The minor premise: I am guilty of one of these sins (or more).
3D. The conclusion: Therefore, I shall go to the lake of fire.
3C. Third, John 3.18: “. . . he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”
1D. The major premise: A person who believes not in Jesus is condemned already.
2D. The minor premise: I do not believe in Jesus.
3D. The conclusion: Therefore, I am condemned already.
2B. So you see, your conscience operates like you watching you, and you telling you that you have done right or that you have done wrong, that you are guilty or that you are innocent. As Romans 2.15 indicates: “. . . their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another.”
1C. So, you have a conscience. If you die and go to Hell, it will be your own conscience that will be the lead witness that testifies against you before the Great White Throne judgment.
2C. What does your conscience do? It judges you. Based upon your understanding of right and wrong, your conscience constantly evaluates your behavior and passes judgment on what you do, either pronouncing you guilty of wrong doing or innocent of wrong doing, in trouble or not in trouble, guilty or not guilty.
3C. How does your conscience work? Always by means of a syllogism, which is a certain orderly logical progression of thought. This is wrong, I have done this, therefore I am wrong. God will judge this sin, I am guilty of this sin, therefore God will judge me. Without Christ I will go to Hell, I am without Christ, therefore I will go to Hell. No matter what the application, your conscience always works in this type of fashion. But it does not stop there.
4C. Then, what your conscience does with its verdict, either innocent or guilty, is press it upon you. Your own conscience, therefore, will point the finger of accusation at you for wrong doing or will pat you on the back if you judge yourself innocent. That is its purpose. That is its function.
John 8.9 records how the consciences of men who had accused a woman
caught in the act of adultery worked when the Lord Jesus Christ told them,
“He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at
her.”: “And they which
heard it, being convicted by their
own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even
unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in
the midst.” Those men to whom Jesus spoke felt guilty because of their
consciences, and were prompted to leave the accused woman alone.
3A. Third, WHY DOES YOUR CONSCIENCE NOT FEEL GUILTY?
1B. Keep in mind that a person’s conscience is not a perfect indicator of guilt or innocence, is not a perfect measure of good and evil. Since your conscience is a human faculty it is capable of the same errors in judgment and fallibilities that any person is capable of.
2B. But most of the time your conscience does not make you feel guilty, not because of an honest mistake, but because you have sinned against your own conscience by squelching it or by searing it. This is what Paul refers to in First Timothy 4.2: “Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron.”
3B. The hypocritical lies are assertions that what God says is wrong you deny is wrong, that what God says is sin you say is not sin, what God says is evil you seek to excuse as a mistake. Searing your conscience is a sinner’s way of avoiding the feelings of guilt associated with wrongdoing. You sear your conscience so you can live with yourself, so you can keep from going crazy with worry or guilt for the wrongs you have done, or for the wrongdoing you plan continuing to do.
4B. There are a variety of ways by which the conscience can be seared, but I will give you one way to think about.
1C. Remember me using the word syllogism to describe how the conscience works? Major premise, minor premise, conclusion? Let me go back to the examples I cited earlier.
2C. Ezekiel 18.20: “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.”
1D. The major premise is the verse itself: The soul that sins shall die.
2D. The minor premise comes when you apply the verse to yourself: I am a sinner.
3D. Then your mind draws a logical conclusion: Therefore, I shall die.
4D. So, how is the conscience seared? There are three ways that are immediately apparent. You can simply deny the truth of God’s Word; souls that sin do not die. You can reject the application of the truth to yourself; I am not a sinner. Or you can avoid drawing a logical conclusion; the other guy is in trouble, not me.
3C. Revelation 21.8: “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.”
1D. Again, the major premise: Those guilty of these named sins will go to the lake of fire.
2D. The minor premise: You are guilty of at least one of these sins.
3D. The conclusion: You will go to the lake of fire.
4D. The conscience is seared by denying the existence of the lake of fire, by denying that those who commit the named sins actually go there, by denying that you are actually guilty of such sins, or by jumping your logical trolley off its tracks and refusing to believe the verse applies to you at all.
3C. Finally, there is John 3.18: “. . . he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”
1D. The major premise: A person who believes not in Jesus is condemned already.
2D. The minor premise: You do not believe in Jesus.
3D. The conclusion: You are condemned already.
4D. Sear the conscience by denying that unbelievers are condemned (“God is too good to condemn anyone.”), by insisting that you believe in Jesus when clearly you do not, or by refusing to believe that God’s Word authoritatively speaks to your situation.
May I add that you would be astonished to discover the number of
times people will pull a Scarlet O’Hara, and do an “O, fiddly dee,”
when it is pointed out to them that the way they claim to have
become a Christian is at odds with what the Bible says about how a sinner
becomes a Christian.
4A. Fourth, HOW CAN YOU HAVE A GOOD CONSCIENCE?
1B. Most people who claim to have a clear conscience really have consciences that are seared. They feel good about themselves, and wrongly conclude from that that their soul is safe from judgment and condemnation. But the Bible is very clear in showing that only the child of God can have a good conscience toward God, or what is called a pure conscience.
2B. Everyone who is lost, who does not know Jesus Christ in a saving way, who is not genuinely converted the Bible way, has a conscience that is defiled. And if that person does not actually feel guilty from the accusations of his own conscience, then his conscience has been seared so that it no longer speaks in an accusing tone to its owner.
3B. Turn, please, to Titus 1.15: “Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled.” This is the truth about you, my lost friend. In your own way, your mind is defiled and your conscience is defiled. By all that is right and good your conscience should be screaming out that you are guilty, guilty, guilty. And perhaps it is. But if it is not, that does not mean that you are pure, but only that your conscience is seared, and cannot therefore trouble you with feelings and accusations of guilt.
4B. The only way you will ever have a good conscience toward God is to have the impurities and the defilements cleaned away. And the only way that will ever happen is by the precious cleansing blood of Jesus Christ. Granted, this is unlikely to happen so long as your conscience is seared, but all is not lost. No sinner is prevented by his own conscience from coming to Jesus Christ to be saved.
Your conscience was never given to you by God to be your ruler, but
to be a servant to help you do right.
Therefore, you are not doomed to be a slave of your conscience,
mindlessly insisting that all is well just because your conscience is
seared and incapable of making you feel guilty.
What you need to do is insist that what God’s Word says is true,
and what you feel about yourself is a poor guide.
1. We know that the ministry of the Spirit of God is to persuade the lost of their lost condition, to convince that wrath awaits anyone who does not repent of sin and come to Christ for forgiveness and cleansing. John 16.8 and following is very clear about this.
2. But what happens when you are convinced in your mind that the soul that sins shall die, and you admit in your mind that you are a sinner, and you conclude in your thinking that you will die? Are you bound by your seared conscience to die in your sins just because you do not feel as bad as you think you ought to feel?
3. No. Conscience is a servant and not a master. And a seared conscience is not the unpardonable sin. I am convinced that once you turn your back on your fallible and error-prone conscience that misleads you into feeling good about yourself when you are certain that you are lost and that you ought to feel guilty, it may be but a brief time until you are converted.
4. Let God be true, but every man a liar. And understand that so long as you have no feelings of guilt about your sinfulness, about your guiltiness, about your violations of God’s holy laws, you still remain unconvinced of your guilt. Oh, you may say to yourself, “I am so sinful.” But until you begin to feel guilty from your conscience working properly in its judgment of self, it is still seared and you remain unconvinced.
5. When you begin to cooperate with the persuading work of the Holy Spirit to persuade you concerning your sin and guiltiness, then your conscience will no longer be seared and will become the asset God intended it to be, prompting you to sincerely want the forgiveness and cleansing that results in a good conscience toward God.
 2 Peter 2.5; Jude
William Ames, Conscience
with the Power and Cases Thereof, (Zeland, Netherlands: 1639),
A. T. Robertson, Word
Pictures In The New Testament,
Vol IV, (New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1930),
 Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, (New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1996), page 1925.
John 8:9 “And they which heard it,
being convicted by their own
conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing
in the midst.”
Acts 23:1 “And Paul, earnestly beholding the council, said, Men and
brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this
Acts 24:16 “And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a
conscience void of offence toward God, and toward
“Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts,
their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one
Romans 9:1 “I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also
bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost.”
“Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for
First Corinthians 8:7
“Howbeit there is
not in every man that knowledge: for some with conscience of the idol
unto this hour eat it as a
thing offered unto an idol; and their conscience being weak is
First Corinthians 8:10
“For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in
the idol’s temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be
emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols.”
First Corinthians 8:12
“But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their
weak conscience, ye sin against Christ.”
First Corinthians 10:25
“Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, that
eat, asking no question for conscience sake.”
First Corinthians 10:27
“If any of them that believe not bid you to
a feast, and ye be disposed to go; whatsoever is set before you,
eat, asking no question for conscience sake.”
First Corinthians 10:28
“But if any man say unto you, This is offered in sacrifice
unto idols, eat not for his sake that shewed it, and for conscience
sake: for the earth is the
Lord’s, and the fulness thereof.”
First Corinthians 10:29
“Conscience, I say, not thine own, but of the other: for why
is my liberty judged of another man’s conscience?”
Second Corinthians 1:12
“For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience,
that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but
by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world, and
more abundantly to you-ward.”
Second Corinthians 4:2
“But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not
walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but
by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's
conscience in the sight of God.”
Second Corinthians 5:11
“Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men;
but we are made manifest unto God; and I trust also are made manifest
in your consciences.”
First Timothy 1:5
“Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure
heart, and of a good
conscience, and of faith
First Timothy 1:19
“Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put
away concerning faith have made shipwreck.”
First Timothy 3:9
“Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience.”
First Timothy 4:2
“Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared
with a hot iron.”
Second Timothy 1:3
“I thank God, whom I serve from my
forefathers with pure conscience, that without ceasing I have
remembrance of thee in my prayers night and day.”
Titus 1:15 “Unto the pure all things are
pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled.”
“Which was a figure
for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and
sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect, as
pertaining to the conscience.”
“How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the
eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your
conscience from dead works to serve the living God?”
“For then would they not have ceased to be offered? because
that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of
“Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of
faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our
bodies washed with pure water.”
“Pray for us: for we trust we have a good conscience, in all
things willing to live honestly.”
First Peter 2:19
“For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief,
First Peter 3:16
“Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of
you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your
good conversation in Christ.”
First Peter 3:21 “The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”