Just precisely in what sense do we have a conscience? We are aware of good and evil, right and wrong, in a relative sense. We have the law of God written on our hearts, is that our conscience? If so, then God also has the law of God written on His heart, so He has a conscience, though His would be unclouded by sin.
But perhaps our conscience is a socially-generated phenomenon. We avoid taboos because we have been told by society that they are taboos. We restrain our appetites today because we know that we need to think about tomorrow as well. This form of conscience is merely long-run self-interestedness, and is devoid of conviction, the law of God, and charity. But it works for most people within a society. We both know that between you and me someone has to die, but we’ll put that off for now because I perceive that you might be useful to me tomorrow.
So, most of the good that we think we are doing is devoid of virtue because we are merely doing it in our own self-interest. Good, in order to be good, must be creative, not status quo, not stagnant. Anything done in our own self-interest is stagnant. We may be rewarded by society, we may avoid negative consequences, but inasmuch as we do these we have “received our reward in full.” Good must contain a creative spark. It must come from God. Only when we make ourselves available to the Holy Spirit to be used by God to do His will do we really do good. Therefore we can aim to do nothing, nay even “pick up a piece of straw” as Brother Lawrence says, except we do it for the love of God. But this doing is really an emptying ourselves of our own will, and making ourselves available to Him. We do not seek any reward, temporal or eternal, because Christ is our reward, and He has promised Himself to us beforehand. How can we receive a reward greater than Christ? If anything we enjoy the temporal reward of joy in participating with God in the creative process, in the doing of good.
In the same way, we ought not to expect more of the unregenerate about us than that they should act self-interestedly. This means they are absolved from doing good, in the creative self-sacrificial sense which we are now capable of through Christ. For this reason I say that caring for the least of these is the responsibility of the Christian exclusively. Whenever we advocate public policies which might absolve ourselves of this responsibility to some degree we reject Christ.
As for God’s fellowship with man, God is fully capable of fellowshipping with sinful man. It is sinful man who is not capable of fellowshipping with God. Jesus came and dwelt among us, fully God, fully man, and He fellowshipped with tax collectors and prostitutes. But the Pharisees among them could not receive this communion. Their consciences forbade them. Interestingly, this sense of conscience must relate back to the social taboo understanding of it rather than the law of God written on man’s hearts understanding. For those who could receive Christ their consciences were clean, for they were agreeing with God. This is the essence of faith, to accept God’s word; the essence of confession, to agree with God; the essence of salvation, to look only unto Christ and not one’s own ability.
Therefore, as Oswald said, “It is shallow nonsense to say that God forgives us because He is love.” Love is not the sentiment which allows self-interested people to get along with one another in order to make use of one another. “The Love of God means Calvary.” The conscience of man is satisfied by a shallow ethic. The conscience of God requires that He do something good, creatively. He sends Christ to die on the cross, and there His conscience is satisfied. He has re-created man. He has given to us the ability to become sons of God, to put on a new nature. Now, we are His ambassadors in Christ Jesus, performing those good (creative) works which He prepared before us, caring for the least of these, and turning the other cheek.
Praise God, for in Him I am a new creature! The old has passed away! All this to His glory! God be praised! Amen!