Is there a code of moral conscience ‘written’ on all people’s hearts? Does every human being come imprinted with a facsimile of God’s nature that includes creativity, spirit, the ability to relate and communicate, intelligence, morality, and love? Since each human is “created” in God’s image, isn’t there a common frame of reference for dialogue between each other and with God? The scriptures say the following:
“So, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, instinctively do what the law demands, they are a law to themselves even though they do not have the law. They show that the ‘work’ of the law is written on their hearts. Their consciences confirm this. Their competing thoughts will either accuse or excuse them.” (Romans 2:15-16)
In other words, those that are “apart” from God show that there is some common moral standard or law amongst them. There’s a sense of right and wrong that guides them. Unfortunately many use this inner witness as a means to a judgmental and controlling end.
The law may not be the only thing “written” on the hearts of human kind.
Some would say that humans have become so corrupt, and that this self sense of morality has become so obscured, that they are completely unaware of it, unable to access it, and unaided by its presence. I would disagree. According to Romans 2, those who are apart from God “demonstrate” that some of it remains. It’s important to note that when the New Testament uses the word law, there can be various meanings determined by the context. Sometimes law refers to the dietary commands in the Torah (Gal 2:16). Sometimes it refers to all of the commands of God in the Torah (Gal 3:10). Sometimes it means any of God’s commands, even if those commands “came 430 years” before the giving of the Ten Commandments (Gal 3:18). Sometimes it means “the Law of Christ” (Gal 6:2). John Gill says,
“there are some remains of the old law and light of nature,
which as by their outward conduct appears,
so by the inward motions of their minds.”
Beyond the proverbial “slap on the wrist” manner by which some use the law in evangelism and such to probe and convict the conscience, the law has other uses. The law, statutes, precepts, and commands of God, depending on how they’re used and their context can bring refreshment, trust, wisdom, joy, radiance, and the recognition of God’s existence. True repentance, changing one’s mind/direction, is a gift of God and in no way can be leveraged by human force simply by using the law alone. God’s image in us serves these “other” purposes too:
The law of the Lord is perfect,
refreshing the soul.
The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy,
making wise the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right,
giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are radiant,
giving light to the eyes.
In reading an obscure book by a missionary who served in an Eastern context for almost 40 years, I found this quote where he states;
“God has put within us the knowledge of His love. Whoever our Maker is, He has made us with common knowledge: Love fulfills all moral and ethical responsibilities toward one another… We believe God is love, because He has written the truth of His love in the hearts of all people.”
If he’s correct, if there’s love, and grace, and mercy, and the ability to do good even in our evil state (Matthew 7:11), then why aren’t we getting to people’s consciences via those “and” the law? When it comes to evangelism, it has been said, “law to the proud and grace to the humble.” If this is to be held as true, then by default we must accept that grace is written on the heart too. Is the path to the knowledge of God by others really and primarily through infraction instead of affection?
A few questions:
Is there more than just “The Law” written on the hearts of all people?
What are the implications for Evangelism & Discipleship?