Much has been made of the notion that people lose a sense of sin as they grow older, thus making them more susceptible to error, to falling into sin, and thus to ending up in perdition.
One religious missal interpreted "conscience seared with a hot iron" to mean individuals who were no longer sensitive to sin.
Let us take a closer look at the passage and see what we find:
1Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; 2Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; 3Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. 4For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: 5For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer. (1 Timothy 4: 1-5)
First of all, this passage indicts individuals who are not saved, in that they depart from the faith because they refuse to believe in the first place. They will "speak lies in hypocrisy" -- now, hypocrisy implies people who talk about being godly, yet their lives demonstrate something entirely different, much like the Pharisees, who played up the law, to their own folly, in large part because their righteousness did not impress Jesus (cf. Matthew 23). God is looking for heart transformation, not just behavior modification.
"Their conscience seared with a hot iron" -- now, tradition has suggested that this term refers to people who no longer know right from wrong, as if they are completely insensitive.
Yet the Bible indicates that even with age, a man's sense of guilt does not diminish, but can grow worse. When the Pharisees brought before Jesus the woman caught in the act of adultery, Jesus just wrote on the ground. This is how they responded:
"And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst." (John 8: 9)
Therefore, the traditional interpretation fails on many levels. First of all, to "sear with a hot iron" implies punishment, branding something in such a way that the mark cannot be removed. Any mark, or stigma, proclaims guilt, not a "blank" or unaccountable conscience. Strong's concordance also offers the following for support:
(branded in their own conscience i. e.) whose souls are branded with the marks of sin"
Therefore, it's not about being free from a sense of sin, but rather a sin-consciousness which never leaves a person.
The passage itself also indicates an obsession with sin:
"Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats."
Paul also indicts this voluntary humility in his Epistle to the Colossians:
"Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, 21Touch not; taste not; handle not; 22Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men?" (Colossians 2: 20-22)
More rules emerging -- that smacks of Pharisaism.
Yet the blood of Jesus Christ has put away this sin-consciousness from us:
"For then would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins." (Hebrews 10: 2)
In Christ, there is no condemnation (Romans 8: 1), and to be otherwise afflicted is a great tragedy.
We are no longer called to labor under a sin-conscious, but to live out His life in us through newness of the Spirit. Jesus was crucified to serve as the propitiation of all our sins, and to grant us His life, so that we would no longer look at ourselves for sin, but rejoice in His righteousness in our lives.