What is the conscience? This is a question that needs answering because the conscience is within every human being and it is a gift from God. We are answerable to God for what we do with it.
The conscience is that part within us that gives us the ability to reason and make moral judgements. It has the ability to distinguish right from wrong, to praise or identify blame, to accept reward or punishment, to search, identify and accept the authority of the true God. God is a moral God and has given mankind the ability to recognize morality. All human beings normally have the power of moral judgment.
Rom 2:14 “for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, 15 who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them).”
2 Cor 1:12 “For our boasting is this: the testimony of our conscience that we conducted ourselves in the world in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom but by the grace of God, and more abundantly toward you.”
Prov 20:27 “The spirit of man is the lamp of the Lord, searching all his innermost parts.”
I find it very interesting that the conscience has the same rules of responsibility in all things moral, as do the Scriptures. Of course it does. Both are from God! Our conscience recognizes the same law of love as God’s law does–love toward God, love toward our neighbour. All morality is encompassed in this Royal law, James 2:8. When we go against that law, we suffer.
From the beginning the conscience worked in all its purity. Even when Adam and Eve purposefully went against their conscience, it did its good job by creating a sense of guilt and held them condemned. . . and they tried to hide from God, Gen 3:8. Our conscience can do the same for us today.
Whatever the Bible teaches, the conscience is in agreement. This amazing fact is not true of any other book, that all its moral laws are approved by the human conscience. This is another proof that the Bible is inspired by God.
Consider what Paul said in 2 Corinthians 4:2 : But we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness nor handling the word of God deceitfully, but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God. Paul appealed to the conscience of his listeners in proving truth!
Paul then described those who had destroyed their conscience. They had lost the ability to distinguish truth–right and wrong. 2Corinthians 4:3 But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, 4 whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.
Consider John 7:45 Then the officers came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, "Why have you not brought Him?" 46 The officers answered, "No man ever spoke like this Man!" 47 Then the Pharisees answered them, "Are you also deceived?” The officers recognized truth, the Pharisees did not. Jesus spoke with authority–every word recognized by the honest heart–the good conscience recognized truth and the men responded. Those who had seared their conscience no longer had the benefit or ability to recognize truth.
When Paul wrote to Timothy, he linked a good conscience with sincere faith, 1 Tim 1:5. When people depart from the faith, their consciences can become “seared” or becomes insensitive as they continue in their evil, 1 Tm 4:2. And again, in a good light, 1 Tim 1:19. Do we believe and obey the true God? Faith and a good conscience go hand in hand.
Because we are sinners, our conscience has suffered abuse and is not reliable. Paul recognized that his conscience was not the final judge. 1 Cor 4:3-4 “I do not even judge myself for I know nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord.” The Bible speaks of the conscience as good–Acts 23:1, pure–1 Tim 3:9, evil–Heb 10:22, defiled–1 Cor 8:7, and seared–1 Tim 4:2. When the conscience is no longer a pure and good guide, we should no despair. Why? Because when we choose to learn and know truth the conscience recognizes it and can be taught if it has not been destroyed. Some of us might have a conscience that is “weak” due to ignorance, 1 Cor 8:7. Yet even a “weak conscience” should not be violated, but needs to be taught 1 Cor 8:10–13.
The conscience not only recognizes truth, but it condemns us and demands repentance. We KNOW God is right and the sinner is wrong (and not the other way around). 2Samuel 24:10 “And David's heart condemned him after he had numbered the people. So David said to the LORD, "I have sinned greatly in what I have done; but now, I pray, O LORD, take away the iniquity of Your servant, for I have done very foolishly." The conscience recognizes that morally we cannot be near God without being like Him. Our moral nature cannot be happy unless our spirit and God’s spirit are in agreement. When we learn it is not, we are immediately faced with guilt.
In the same way our conscience requires that we repent, it also recognizes there must be some way to do something to make things right again (atonement). If we cannot find this, we feel deep despair over our guilt. Psalm 51:10 “Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me. 11 Do not cast me away from Your presence, And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, And uphold me by Your generous Spirit.” Even as we consider history, even our religious neighbours, we see people trying to find some way to offer a sacrifice in order to be brought back into a right relationship with the gods they serve. Mankind has tried many different ways to feel accepted–good works, money, self-imposed suffering, etc–but when they learn of Jesus Christ and his atoning blood, suddenly the conscience is quiet. There is real relief in knowing of a truly adequate atonement to bring peace to troubled souls. Through faith we are saved, Eph 2:8.
1 Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, Whose sin is covered. 2 Blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity, And in whose spirit there is no deceit. 3 When I kept silent, my bones grew old Through my groaning all the day long. 4 For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; My vitality was turned into the drought of summer. Selah
5 I acknowledged my sin to You, And my iniquity I have not hidden. I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD," And You forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah
As a woman and a mother, all of these thoughts have caused me to reflect on our profound responsibility to protect the conscience of our children. It isn’t too long before we see evidence of a conscience in our babies. That purity must be protected, nurtured, and trained so that the baby, child, teenager will have the ability to recognize God, His truth, and be obedient to that truth. It is his conscience that will bring him to Christ.