“This is our rejoicing, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with earthly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world.” 2 Corinthians 1:12
There is an inward guidance for every believer to walk in the way of light and to daily “rejoice in the Lord.” But, in order to understand this more thoroughly, we need to know what is meant by “conscience” and how we come to this state of rejoicing.
There is a lot being written on the “conscience,” from many perspectives. There is some agreement at the root level that consciousness implies inward perception and the ability to reflect upon our experiences, beliefs, and behaviors. To move the conversation further, conscience is more than remembering; rather, it flows from a sense of morality. Conscience is the ability to perceive and discern right and wrong in our own hearts and lives.
Theologically, we can understand conscience as a faculty or power implanted by God in every soul that comes into the world (Romans 2:14-15). At this state of conscience, there is an innate desire to keep the moral law of God established in creation from the beginning. We have a basic concept of goodness built within us, which is certainly distorted and perverted at different levels by sin in our lives and in the world around us. At this stage, though, we want to avoid being offensive to others. We want to get along and want others to see us as good. This innate sense of morality is important, and gives us something to build upon, but as people of faith we cannot stop here. There is a higher vision of conscience that is before us.
For those who have received the witness of the Spirit -- a witness centered in an inward knowledge that we are beloved children of God with the fruits of the Spirit planted within -- now live by faith in the One who revealed God’s love by giving himself up for us all, and the One who transforms the heart. In this faith, our hearts are opened to a more excellent way. We are able to grow in the heights, depths, and breadth of God’s love. This love renews and transforms our hearts, and produces the fruits of the Spirit – the fruits of God’s holy and perfect law that governs all healthy relationships. Out of this love flows patience, kindness, gentleness, and a constant desire for what is good for others.
This is the witness of our transformed conscience, a witness that leads us to “rejoicing,” a witness comes through us with “simplicity and sincerity,” not with worldly wisdom, but by the grace of God, and it leads us into “our conversation in the world.” Let’s explore this key verse.
First, what is meant by “our conversation in the world?” Newer translations point to total behavior. Our calling is to communicate God’s grace, through all words and actions. We are to have these conversations, and exhibit this behavior, not only in church, but also “in the world,” “out there” where evil lies in wait, seeking to devour, using fraud or force, eager to destroy those who are not of the world. In this environment, our interaction with the world flows from the witness of the Spirit.
We are to have these conversations in such a world, first with “simplicity.” We can think of how Jesus compares our intentions to the eye. Our intentions are to all actions what the eye is to the body, providing light and showing the way. If our spiritual eyes are “single” or “focused” on God, then all our conversations and actions shall be “full of light, love, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.”
Secondly, we are to have these conversations in “Godly sincerity.” Simplicity regards the intention itself; sincerity points to how we implement that intent. To properly execute Godly intent is to speak the truth, to abstain from guile and to bear the fruits of holiness – of justice, mercy, and truth.
“Not with worldly wisdom, but by the grace of God.” We cannot engage in this conversation by relying on any natural strength of understanding. We cannot gain these virtues of Christ by good sense, good nature, or good breeding. Paul had all of these, and he said, “The things which were gain to me, those I count as loss, for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ.” (Philippians 3:7-8) In this knowledge is found “unmerited mercy,” and the reality of being “reconciled to God.” The testimony of our conscience, or our own spirit, is in these life-changing realities. We come into this relationship only by the grace of God. In this grace, we are able to do what is impossible without God. We are able to “order our conversation aright.” We are able to do all things in the light and power of the love that comes through Christ who strengthens us. We have “the witness of our own spirit” which we could never have had by worldly wisdom.
This verse starts by saying, “This is our rejoicing.” We are able to say, “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” (Luke 1:46). To expand upon what it meant by “rejoicing” or “having joy,” first of all, we can say that this joy is different from happiness. Happiness comes and goes, based on the circumstances of our lives. When things are going well, we can be happy. When things are not going well, it is impossible to be happy in this sense. But we can always have this joy, for it is a gift of the Spirit. It is a deep sense of peace and assurance that God is with us and nothing can separate us from God’s love. We are able to rejoice in this at all times and in all circumstances. As Paul says, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (I Thessalonians 5:16; Philippians 4:4). Secondly, this joy does not arise from any blindness of conscience, or from believing that “ignorance is bliss.” With this joy, the soul is awake, sharp sighted, able to discern what is good and what is evil. This joy empowers us to see through all things to the glory of God. This joy leads to a tenderness of conscience rooted in the love of God that reigns in the midst of all the pain of the world.
To conclude, Christian joy is “joy in obedience.” It is joy in loving God and keeping the commandments, yet always alive to the more excellent way of love. We rejoice most fully in walking according to the covenant of grace. We rejoice in knowing that we are “justified by grace,” and in this grace, able to lay hold of eternal life and to engage in the “works of God.” It is in this that we “rejoice always.” Amen!