BOOK REVIEW: R.C. SPROUL’S “HOW CAN I DEVELOP A CHRISTIAN CONSCIENCE?”
AN ETHICAL PRIMER FOR DEVELOPING A CHRISTIAN CONSCIENCE
Book Review by David P. Craig
R.C. Sproul begins this book by giving a classical definition of the Christian conscience: “The Christian conscience is thought to be something that God has implanted into our minds…the voice of God within us….The idea is that God created us in such a way that there is a link between the sensitivities of the mind and the conscience with its built-in responsibility to God’s eternal laws.” He then goes on to give several examples of how the conscience and law work together to bring about thoughts and actions that are either in accordance with God’s Word or against God’s Word. The conscience is the “tool that God the Holy Spirit uses to convict us, bring us to repentance, and receive the healing of forgiveness that flows from the gospel.”
In the short chapters of this book Sproul compares and contrasts several important matters with reference to developing a Christian conscience as we deal with what has been clearly revealed in the Scriptures and not clearly revealed in the Scriptures:
(1) Creation ordinances vs. Civil Law – here Sproul cogently and compellingly demonstrates that everyone is responsible to live by the Covenant of Creation and that everything that is legislated by law is “moral legislation” – Sproul writes: “Of course, if you think it through, you realize that moral issues are at the heart of all legislation. The question is not whether the state should legislate morality. The question is what morality should the state be legislating? Natural law states that in nature there are certain principles that we should never violate. But why? Just because nature says it’s wrong? No. Classically and historically, Christianity has said that those laws that we find in nature are the external manifestations of the law of God. Remember that all true and just law is based ultimately on the character of God and His eternal being. From those eternal principles we get a reflection of God in natural law…In the final analysis what the culture does or does not do must not affect my responsibility to God. We are called to be a people of principle. Reformation starts when we begin to live by principle and not by expediency.”
(2) The distinction between ethics and morality – What are the indicatives (morality) of Scripture and what are the imperatives (ethics)? Here Sproul answers two important questions: (a) What is good, and what does God require of us that is well pleasing to Him? and (b) How can we have the ethical courage to do what is right? Perhaps the most important issue handled in this section is Sproul’s treatment of major’s, minor’s, and areas of freedom in the Christian life.
(3) Legalism vs. Antinomianism – Here Sproul demonstrates three ancient and modern varieties of those who are “legalistic” and those who are “anti-law.” He demonstrates the importance of balance between these two dangerous extremes in this way, “The essence of Christian theology is grace, and the essence of Christian ethics is gratitude.” Sproul reminds us that where the Scriptures are silent “we have no right to heap up restrictions on people where He has no stated restriction…We are to be concerned with integrity, justice, mercy, and helping a world that is in pain. It is all too simple to distort the biblical ethic by a kind of legalism that majors in minors.”
(4) Degrees of sin. The last topic addressed in the book is the question are some sins worse than others? Sproul does a wonderful job of providing many examples – especially from the Sermon on the Mount – to demonstrate the seriousness of sin, and God’s provision for our sins. Tackling issues of guilt, law, righteousness, and justification this short book is jam packed with great questions and answers to some of the most important issues of our day. If you want to know how to live as a Christian in the 21st Century this book is an excellent primer of how to develop a conscience that is right with God and pleasing to God.