It is strange how one illustration can go two or more different directions. Two articles this month begin with the same paragraph, but I proceed in two totally different paths.The other article is They Could Be Free.
A coworker of mine used to have an electric dog fence. This was the single electrified wire around the outer edge of the yard. It would give a mild shock to a dog (or person) that touched it. My coworker used to have an electric dog fence. He doesn’t anymore. It’s not that he got rid of the dogs; he still has them. He just stopped needing the fence. The dogs don’t try to get out of the yard anymore, even without the fence. In fact, they probably don’t even realize the fence is gone. This is because the shocks from the fence trained them not to approach where the fence was. When the fence went away they had stopped going near it.
I have an electric people fence, and so do you. Paul calls it our conscience. It is that part of us that God gave us to help us obey him. When God put it in us it was good. Unfortunately, we can change it from good to defective. When a dog fence is installed, the technician tests it and makes sure it works. There may be something that breaks the circuit, making the fence just a piece of wire. So it is with our conscience.
Paul talks about those who shut down their fence, or short it out. Some people just turn it off. “Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck.” (1 Tim 1:19) Men like Hymenaeus and Alexander (verse 20) just choose to shut down their consciences. The result is disaster. Without the fence to teach them limits, they don’t even know the dangers of blasphemy or other sins.
Then there are the others, who would not intentionally turn off their consciences. “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron.” (1 Tim 4:1-2) Their problem is not that they put it aside, but that it is shorted out. If a dog touches a live wire one time, but it is not live the next time, he is not conditioned to stay away from the wire. Even if it works frequently, but irregularly, he doesn’t know not to leave the yard. It is the same when we short out our consciences. Sometimes we know what is right, but at other times we ignore that and do the wrong. The more often we convince ourselves to sin, the easier it becomes to ignore our conscience, to “sear it with a hot iron.”
Thankfully many people continue to have a good conscience. This doesn’t mean they don’t sin. It just means that when they do, they get a shock from the fence. Every time they get a shock, their conscience actually works better. Recognizing sin for what it is, an attempt to leave the safety of the yard, they stay farther away from the fence. “And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men.” (Acts 24:16) It does take exercise. Paul mentioned some whose consciences were weak. (1 Cor 8, 1 Cor 10) They have only been shocked a few times. Soon, however, if they (we) pay attention to the conscience, the fence is no longer needed.
This does not mean we can stop studying God’s word. After all, men are not dogs. We operate on more than just instinct and programming. We need to keep the conscience educated and working. We have to stay in contact with God. If we don’t, we shut off the power to the fence. The next time we begin to lose, again. My friend no longer has an electric dog fence. But I need to keep mine.