The Pope, the Atheist, the Conscience, and Sin

Text: Jeremiah 10:23

Referring to atheists, the pope recently said: “The issue for those who do not believe in God is to obey their conscience.” Also: “Sin, even for those who have no faith, is when one goes against their conscience.”

The views expressed by the pope are held by many – both religious & non-religious people. They believe that God accepts people who simply do what seems best to them. As long as they do what they think is right with pure motives & a clean conscience, then God must be pleased. For the pope to articulate this idea makes more people open to it. So in this lesson, we will consider what the Scriptures teach about four things – the pope, the atheist, the conscience, and sin.

The Pope – Is He in a Position to Speak for God?

  • There is no Scriptural authority for the position of a “pope” – NT speaks of no position in the church above the local church elders (1 Peter 5:2-4)
  • Christ is the head of the church (Ephesians 1:22-23) – there is no earthly head
  • The pope, by his position, seeks to usurp the authority of Christ (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4)
  • There is no authority for any man to contradict the Scripture (Galatians 1:8-9) – our laws come from God, not man (James 4:12); no new law today (Jude 3)

The Atheist – Will God Accept Him in His State of Unbelief?

  • The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 14:1) – true of all atheists
  • But there are different types of fools mentioned in the Bible; how teachable one is depends on the type of fool – arrogant fool (Romans 1:21-23) whose arrogance prevents faith; ignorant fool (Proverbs 10:21) who has simply not been taught; misguided fool (Ecclesiastes 5:1) who has been taught wrong
  • Truth is not based upon belief – truth does not change (Psalm 119:89); just because the atheist refuses to accept that God exists, that does not mean that He doesn’t exist
  • Danger in putting too much trust in science (1 Timothy 6:20) – this is what the atheist does; but the truth of the Bible harmonizes with real science (Job 26:7; 38:16; Isaiah 40:22)
  • The atheist will still be judged by God (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14) – one day he will acknowledge God (Philippians 2:10-11)

The Conscience – Is a Man’s Conscience His Standard?

  • The conscience is not our standard – the word of God is our standard (Romans 2:16; John 12:48)
  • Therefore, our conscience must be trained by the word of God (Hebrews 5:14)
  • We are warned against obeying our conscience (Acts 23:1; Jeremiah 17:9; 10:23; Proverbs 14:12)
  • Instead, we must obey the Lord & His word (Hebrews 5:9; 2 Thessalonians 1:8)

Sin – What is Sin?

  • The pope said one sins when he goes against his conscience – yet Paul acted in good conscience while he persecuted the church (Acts 23:1); he described himself as chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15)
  • What about Romans 14:23? … not permission to violate God’s law as long as you do so without guilt – this is simply regarding things that are permissible (Romans 14:3); do not practice if unconvinced; not a loophole allowing us to not do what God expects (Hebrews 5:9)
  • Sin is a violation of God’s law (1 John 3:4) – doesn’t matter what we think about God or His law either
  • To keep God’s commandments applies to everyone (Ecclesiastes 12:13)


  • Like the Israelites of old, many just want to do “what [is] right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25)
  • Following our own way leads to death (Proverbs 14:12)
  • Following false teachers (like the pope) leads to destruction (2 Peter 2:1-2)
  • To be saved, we must have faith in God (Hebrews 11:6) and obey the Lord (Hebrews 5:9)

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