Vol. 6, No. 8
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A friend of mine made the statement that if one does something in religion and one's conscience doesn't offend him, that religious act is acceptable to God. No doubt this is the general belief among many people today. Most of us have seen the scene of an angel and a devil vying at the same time for the control of a person's conscience and actions.
It is agreed that the conscience is a guide in religious matters. Even in the realm of opinions a person must not act contrary to his/her conscience, otherwise it becomes a sin. This would be the understanding of what Paul wrote in Romans 14:23, "But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin." While the conscience is recognized as a guide, the question is, can it be trusted as the acceptable authority in religious matters? The "Conscience is the testimony and secret judgment of the soul, which gives its approbation to actions that it thinks good, or reproaches itself with those which it believes to be evil; or, it is a particular knowledge which shows us what is good, or evil; and conscience tells us when we have done the one or the other" (Cruden's Complete Concordance).
We should note carefully that the conscience does not make laws and regulations but rather it simply abides by what it has been taught, whether good or bad. The conscience simply informs a person when laws and moral statutes have been kept or broken. It is not the function of one's conscience to legislate laws; the conscience simply incorporates the laws learned and applies them. The conscience is God-given, but it is also a product of education. The person who has been taught that there is no real value in human life has no problem in murdering another human being. Saul of Tarsus persecuted the first century church and even had Christians put to death (Acts 26:9-11; 1 Timothy 1:12-14). Yet, he later declared, "Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day" (Acts 23:1). The reason evil deeds can be done without offending one's conscience is simply because the conscience has been improperly taught. A person might feel right religiously but be religiously wrong. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 4:4: "For I know of nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord." Goodspeed translates this verse, "For while my conscience does not bother me at all, that does not prove I am innocent, it is the Lord who must examine me."
The conscience is only a safe guide when it is safely guided by God's Word, the authority in religious matters (John 12:48; 2 Timothy 3:16-17). Moses instructed Israel, "You shall not at all do as we are doing here today -- every man doing whatever is right in his own eyes" (Deuteronomy 12:8). The wise man wrote in Proverbs 14:12, "There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death." "Conscience is merely our own judgment of the right or wrong of our actions and so it can never be a safe guide unless enlightened by the word of God" (Tyron Edwards). A person can have a good conscience in the truest sense when the Word of God is learned and obeyed. The apostle Peter stated this truth in 1 Peter 3:21, "There is also an antitype which now saves us -- baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ." Also the writer of Hebrews exhorts, "Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water."
In conclusion, let us keep in mind that the conscience is God-given, is a product of education, responds according to the way in which it has been taught, and it can be wrong in the making of decisions even though it thinks it is right. While admitting that the conscience is a guide, it is not the sole guide, God's Word is. And when the Word of the Lord influences a person's conscience, it will produce peace of mind and secure the salvation that is in Jesus Christ (Philippians 4:6, 7; 2 Timothy 2:10).