Care for Your Conscience

conscienceOur conscience is a wonderful gift from God. Every person comes equipped with one (Rom. 2:15). Conscience is “God’s watchman and spokesman in the soul” (J.I. Packer), generally reliable but not perfect. It can misfire, excusing our actions when they should be accused and accuse us when nothing is the matter. When shaped and ruled by God it will help us live worthy of the Gospel (Phil. 1:27). It cries for our attention and care.

Our conscience is tied to our value system, our standard of right and wrong. When our words and actions agree with that standard, our conscience brings pleasure or relief. When it doesn’t, we experience guilt or anguish. Our conscience is a built-in warning system, a red light on the dashboard. When we feel guilty, it is probable that something is wrong.

"The arrows of guilt become dull; our souls accumulate layer after layer of callousness"

Saying no to our conscience is dangerous. Paul speaks of liars “whose consciences are seared” (1 Tim. 4:2), cauterized with a hot iron. When we sin habitually, we silence our conscience habitually. We’re not bothered by our sin anymore. We are objectively guilty, but our subjective sense of guilt fades. The arrows of guilt become dull; our souls accumulate layer after layer of callousness. We’re able to sin without limit.

There are different ways to silence our conscience. We can simply ignore it. We can convince ourselves that others are worse. We can find companions that will agree with what we’re doing. It’s even possible that we find false security in the grace of God: “God will forgive me anyway” (Rom. 6:1).   

Some Christians struggle in the other direction. Their conscience accuses them when it shouldn’t. There are Biblical examples of this too.  Peter’s conscience acted up when God told him to eat unclean animals (Acts 10:9-16). Some of the Corinthians believers assumed that eating meat offered to idols was sin, even though Paul said there is no such thing as an idol (1 Cor. 8:4). Their conscience was weak (1 Cor. 8:7). It is true that if we do something that we think is sin, even when misinformed, we are guilty. We must not act against our conscience (Rom. 14:23). But it also seems implied that a strong conscience is preferable to a weak conscience. The Corinthian’s and Peter’s conscience had to be educated.

"God exposes the lies, He challenges our feelings and unmasks the spirit of this age that poisons our sense of right and wrong"

We should pursue a good (Acts 23:1; 1 Tim. 1:5) and clear conscience (Acts 24:16; 2 Tim. 1:3), by educating our conscience with the word of God. When we read, study, ponder and memorize Scripture, our conscience is softened and renewed. Our conscience doesn’t always function accurately. It needs to be calibrated by God’s truth. God exposes the lies we believe, challenges our feelings and unmasks the spirit of this age that poisons our sense of right and wrong. 

When Marten Luther stood before the Diet of Worms he said: “My conscience is held captive by the Word of God”. How we need that same determination.