Vol. 8, No. 7
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If the following few words encourage first the proper education of the conscience, and secondly, the proper use of the conscience to serve God, they will have achieved their purpose. The English word "conscience" appears 31 times in the singular and once in the plural in the Bible (all instances being in the New Testament). Though the word "conscience" does not appear in the Old Testament, the model of the human conscience appears expressed in other words (2 Samuel 24:10). "Under both the old covenant and the new covenant the conscience must be formed by the will of God" (Nelson's). The Greek word suneidesis (soon-i'-day-sis) translated "conscience" is a compound word in its parts meaning 'with awareness' (Biblesoft's).
Just what is the conscience? Consider these useful definitions of the word "conscience."
The awareness that a proposed act is or is not conformable to one's ideal of right and manifesting itself in the feeling of obligation or duty. ...Conscience is not so much a distinct faculty of the mind, like perception, memory, etc., as an exercise of the judgment and the power of feeling, as employed with reference to moral truth. It implies the moral sense "to discern good and evil" (Heb 5:14) and a feeling, more or less strong, of responsibility. ...the testimony of conscience certainly rests on the foundation of a divine law... (New Unger's).
"A person's inner awareness of conforming to the will of God or departing from it, resulting in either a sense of approval or condemnation" (Nelson's). Vine says of "conscience":
...that faculty by which we apprehend the will of God, as that which is designed to govern our lives'; hence (a) the sense of guiltiness before God; Heb 10:2; (b) that process of thought which distinguishes what it considers morally good or bad, commending the good, condemning the bad, and so prompting to do the former, and avoid the latter; Rom 2:15...
An English dictionary definition for the word "conscience" is: "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" (Merriam).
Generally, every human has a conscience. Easton identifies "conscience" as "that faculty of the mind, or inborn sense of right and wrong, by which we judge of the moral character of human conduct. It is common to all men." The first indication of the human conscience in action pertains to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden when they hid themselves from God (Genesis 3:8) (Bible History).
What relationship does one's conscience sustain to right and wrong? One's conscience approves of a person's conduct when it perceives or is aware that it is in harmony with what the conscience believes is godly. A conscience only has reference to one's perceived relationship with God (1 Peter 2:19). If there were no God, there would be no conscience. However, mankind does have a conscience, an awareness of right and wrong, thereby indirectly affirming that there is a God and he has revealed his will to mankind.
One's conscience disapproves of a person's conduct when it perceives or is aware that it is not in harmony with what the conscience believes is godly. The first occasion of the word "conscience" illustrates the condemning capacity of one's conscience (John 8:9). Everyone who realizes that he or she has not conducted himself or herself according to a moral code of conduct (ethics) to which he or she subscribes feels the pain of conscience. It is quite possible and often is the case, though, that one subscribes to an imperfect moral code of conduct, devised by himself or his peers. The mechanism of conscience is by God's design, but what mankind does with it is of his own making.
In the truest sense, the conscience pertains to the morality of what is right and what is wrong, based on what God's Word (the Bible) reveals (2 Peter 1:3; Jude 3). A moral person is one whose conscience approves of his conduct based on his conformity with the Word of God. An immoral person is one whose conscience disapproves of his conduct based on lack of conformity to the Word of God. An amoral person is one whose conscience is inoperable because he does not subscribe to any moral code of ethics (not the Bible for sure). The majority of our society has moved from immorality to amorality!
How can one have a "pure conscience"? First, one's conscience can be wrong. Though the apostle Paul was careful never to violate his conscience, improperly educated, Paul's conscience incorrectly commended him formerly for persecuting Christians to imprisonment and death (Acts 23:1; 24:16; 26:9-11; Galatians 1:13). Obviously, then, the conscience alone is not a safe guide; the popular expression, "Let your conscience be your guide," is erroneous. However, a conscience properly educated by the Word of God can be a great help in seeking the approval of God in this life and the life to come.
Tragically, a person can disarm the benefits of the mechanism of conscience that God instilled in each person. A person can violate his conscience, which brings mental pain and anguish (Romans 13:5). One's conscience can be weak because it is not adequately educated by the Word of God to know certainly the difference between right and wrong (1 Corinthians 8:1-13). If one violates his conscience often enough, he 'sears his conscience' so that he can commit unspeakable acts without discomforting his mind (1 Timothy 4:2). One can have a 'defiled conscience' where he continues to do what he believes to be sinful (Titus 1:15).
There is only one way to have a "pure conscience" (1 Timothy 3:9; 2 Timothy 1:3). We want a pure conscience because one's pure conscience approves of one's conduct as being in harmony with the Word of God and brings peace of mind (2 Corinthians 1:12). We all want and need "a good conscience" (1 Timothy 1:15, 19; Hebrews 13:18; 1 Peter 3:16). A pure conscience was not attainable under either Patriarchy or Judaism, for there was always an awareness of sins (Hebrews 9:9; 10:2). Only through Jesus Christ can one's conscience be 'purged' (Hebrews 9:14). One's conscience is properly cleansed by the washing of water through baptism (Hebrews 10:22; 1 Peter 3:21).
New Unger's Bible Dictionary well summarizes and contrasts the good conscience with an evil conscience.
If a man knows his doing to be in harmony with this law his conscience is good (Acts 23:1; 1 Tim 1:5,19; Heb 13:18; 1 Peter 3:16,21), pure (1 Tim 3:9; 2 Tim 1:3), and void of offense. If what he does is evil, so also is his conscience, inasmuch as it is conscious of such evil (Heb 10:22); it is defiled (Titus 1:15; 1 Cor 8:7) when it is stained by evil deeds; or seared with a branding iron (1 Tim 4:2) when it is branded with its evil deeds, or cauterized, i.e., made insensible to all feeling.
Chiefly, "[f]or the right management of conscience, we should, 1. Endeavor to obtain acquaintance with the law of God..." (McClintock and Strong). Conscience is a religious and moral instinct that only humans have by which one accuses or excuses his own conduct respecting his understanding of revealed revelation from God (Romans 2:15). Finally, we ought to obey a conscience correctly educated with the Word of God (Hebrews 13:18).
Each of us ought to "to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men" (Acts 24:16). Our consciences are correctly purified by obeying the Gospel of Christ (1 Peter 3:21). After baptism, we must arm ourselves with the Word of God so we know the difference between right and wrong and act accordingly, but repent when we find ourselves out of harmony with the Word of God (Hebrews 5:14; Acts 8:22).
Bible History: Old Testament. CD-ROM. Austin: Wordsearch, 2004.
Biblesoft's New Exhaustive Strong's Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft and International Bible Translators, 1994.
Easton, M.G. Easton's Bible Dictionary. CD-ROM. Oak Harbor: Logos, 1996.
Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary. CD-ROM. Springfield: Merriam-Webster, 1993.
McClintock and Strong Encyclopedia. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft, 2000.
Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary. CD-ROM. Nashville: Nelson, 1986.
New Unger's Bible Dictionary. CD-ROM. Chicago: Moody P., 1988.
Vine, W.E. Vine's Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words. CD-ROM. Nashville: Nelson, 1985.