A Seared Conscience

Q. Sometimes in Christian circles, you hear the phrase “a seared conscience” and it is used as the result of ignoring God’s word and disobeying. The concept is that if you ignore God enough, you lose the ability to hear him, you become insensitive. That may be true. But the actual scripture that this phrase comes from has a different lesson. It shows they are not ignoring godly boundaries, but are actually creating a stricter morality. How can being stricter sear the conscience?

A. Let’s look at the passage in which the phrase “seared conscience” appears.

The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer. (1 Tim 4:1-5)

The false teachers of Paul’s day were sometimes called Judaizers because they were teaching gentiles that they first had to come under the Law by converting to Judaism before they could become Christians. The practice of Jewish legalism seared the conscience by rendering people inflexible and unmerciful. It caused then to believe that people deserved the bad things that happened to them and shouldn’t be pitied. Jesus was referring to this when he told the Pharisees to study Hosea 6:6, where God said, “I desire mercy not sacrifice” (Matt. 9:12-13).

But Paul was referring the “later times” a phrase which usually points to the times in which we live. And sure enough, the modern day Judaizers are here. Just like those of Paul’s day, they try to convince us that we have to obey the Levitical laws, observe the Feasts of Israel, and abide by Old Testament dietary restrictions as part of our salvation. Some even teach that the Church began during the wilderness wanderings and can only achieve its destiny through Israel.

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