Vol. 11 No. 7 July 2009
Conscience—everyone has one, but not everyone has one that works as it should. The dictionary defines it as “the sense or consciousness of the moral goodness or blameworthiness of one’s own conduct, intentions, or character, together with a feeling of obligation to do right or be good.” Having a conscience separates us from the animal world; it distinguishes us as being created in the image of God.
A conscience, however, doesn’t come preprogrammed at birth. It is shaped by what we are taught, along with life experiences. One’s conscience, then, is influenced and changed through the course of life. Parental influence, education, friends, media, experience, all this and more, helps make our consciences what they are. Having a good conscience, then, depends on having good input into what shapes it. If one receives the wrong input, you can do the wrong thing, thinking it’s right. Paul’s persecution of Christians is a great example of this (Acts 23:1; 1 Timothy 1:12-13).
What we need, then, is the right source of information to train our consciences in good and evil, right and wrong. Paul reminds us the goal of his instruction, of his preaching the Gospel, was to promote love from a good conscience (1 Timothy 1:5). Only God’s Word is our perfect standard and guide, coming from God to us by inspired men (2 Peter 1:20-21). It is able to equip us for every good work (2 Timothy 3:17). Knowledge of Scripture is integral to having a good conscience. No wonder so many have no conscience of evil, as they have no understanding of the will of God!
Knowledge alone, however, isn’t enough. To fix it in our minds and hearts, we must practice it as part of a daily lifestyle. How many people can read about selfishness, but still practice it without any violation of their consciences? Or anger? Or greed? Or fornication? Or any other sin? Until we actually live by the principles of Scripture, those principles won’t influence our consciences, to help us make better decisions in life, to either accuse or excuse us (Romans 2:15-16).
I believe this is the great tragedy among many today. I know many people who can quote a lot of Scripture, but they aren’t living it. They haven’t connected it with their hearts and lives, and so their consciences remain silent on some of the great issues of life. I’ve heard people say, “My conscience doesn’t bother me,” when it should trouble them greatly over what they say and do! The problem is, they haven’t connected the facts of Scripture with the practice of their hearts. This is why James said, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22). Those who hear and do, and not just hear, are those who are blessed (1:25).
God gave us our consciences, and they are wonderful, if properly trained. Jesus once said those who are part of His family are those who “hear the word of God and do it” (Luke 8:21). This is what shapes a good conscience and allows it to be a genuine blessing to us. Do you think about yours? You should. Do you know what you’re allowing to shape it? We must! “For our boast is this: the testimony of our conscience that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you” (2 Corinthians 1:12).