Our conscience is that which is inside us with the purpose of informing us about what is right and wrong. It is one of the great indications, in our beings, that we are created in the image of God. He perfectly knows right and wrong whilst we, through our consciences, are aware that there is right and wrong.
A working conscience The follow-on from this basic understanding is that through our consciences we have some knowledge of God’s standards. Paul says concerning the Gentiles, who do not have the law of God, that indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them (Rom 2:14-15). Through our consciences there is some knowledge of what God requires of us. And this should lead to conviction of sin – a brokenness before God which then should lead us to faith in Christ.
A cleansed conscience As we think about this process by which our consciences lead us to Christ it is interesting to be aware of the experience of the people of God in the past. Through the achievements of Christ on the cross and the giving of the Holy Spirit we can now know cleansed consciences (see Heb. 9:14). Whereas the inadequacy of the Old Covenant regime is seen in the fact that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper (Heb 9:9b). In the Old Testament a believer who had his offering accepted always had the question upon his conscience: will I be accepted next time I make my offering? But for the Christian today all such uncertainty is gone. Christ’s offering is accepted once-and-for-all and thereby we are accepted by God eternally when we come to Christ by faith. How marvelously blessed we are!
A clear conscience As Christians, though, we should be very careful how we deal with our consciences. As those who have been made alive in Christ we are being renewed by the Holy Spirit who educates our conscience through the Word of God. By this means we have the basis for keeping a clear conscience ( 1 Pet. 3:16a). In Hebrews 13:18 the writer says: Pray for us. We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way.
A weak conscience However, let us be warned that the Christian does not automatically have a clear conscience. Scripture speaks of a weak conscience. This is a conscience which has not been sufficiently moulded around the Word of God by the Holy Spirit. Romans 14 picks up this theme when it focuses on a man who has a sensitive conscience about foods and days (see Rom 14:1-6). He might say for example that we must eat fish on a Friday or keep “All Saints Day” as a special day. Such a persons conscience has not been educated by the Word of God. Accordingly, he has got unimportant issues out of all proportion. In such circumstances those with strong consciences should not force the weak to go against their conscience and neither should the weak bind others to follow their petty rules and regulations.
A defiled conscience Closely related to a weak conscience is a defiled conscience. Going against your conscience to do what you deem to be wrong or not do what you deem to be right is dangerous because it leads to a defiled conscience. When our consciences start to be “dirtied” in this way they start to send out an uncertain signal. From this we end up with our wills being confused because unclear messages are received from the conscience.
A seared conscience Alas we also need to be warned that a malfunctioning conscience can also become a completely non-functioning conscience. Those who depart from the faith are said in 1 Tim. 4:2 to have been those whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. Every action against the promptings of conscience has contributed to a deadening of the conscience until like flesh totally desensitized by burning there is no response at all. Such a phenomenon explains the actions, of a Hitler, a Stalin, a Fred West etc etc. We need to be warned by this. Whenever we go against our conscience we set ourselves on a terrible pathway.
So let us with Paul determine to strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man (Acts 24:16). To go against conscience is a serious and dangerous thing. However, we need to emphasize again in conclusion that our consciences need continually to be re-educated by the Word of God so that they are a truly accurate barometer of what is right and wrong. Without the Word of God they are like navigational instruments on an aeroplane which have not been serviced for many years. They may give a good guide, but not an accurate guide. And that lack of accuracy could be disastrous. It is the Word of God which services our consciences so that they approximate to being a perfect guide given by God to mark our way in this world.
(Taken from Feltham Evangelical Church Newsletter of July 2008)