“This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before on thee, that thou by them mightest war a good warfare; Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck” (1 Timothy 1:18-19).
We have been blessed with a conscience, which the animal kingdom does not possess. This conscience is meant to keep man from sin, but usually it is ignored until the mind is totally in bondage to whatever the person gives himself or herself over to. Acting against the conscience turns a person further away from God and towards destruction. As Christians our consciences ought to be good, especially since we have the added blessing of the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit to guide and instruct us. The word “good” here implies purity of life whether in public or private.
God gave us a conscience
We see this fact clearly displayed in the lives of various Bible characters, but here we will mention just two. Adam and Eve were commanded by the Lord not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, but were soon tempted to do so by Satan. Their sinful disobedience immediately grieved their souls, for their minds told them that they had done wrong. “And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons. And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden” (Genesis 3:7-8). Their consciences told them that they had ruined their relationship with the Holy God. Then there is David when he cut a piece out of the robe of King Saul while he slept. “Then David arose, and cut off the skirt of Saul’s robe privily. And it came to pass afterward, that David’s heart smote him, because he had cut off Saul’s skirt. And he said unto his men, The LORD forbid that I should do this thing unto my master, the LORD’S anointed, to stretch forth mine hand against him, seeing he is the anointed of the LORD” (1 Samuel 24:4-6). In these account both parties knew that they had sinned against the Lord. No human judge was there to convict them for what they had done, but somehow they knew they had sinned. This was the God-given conscience at work in them.
Every man, woman and child has this inbuilt awareness of sin, therefore each one of us are without excuse in the eyes of God when we disobey Him, and and as a result are rightly worthy of His wrath. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath showed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen” (Romans 1:18-25). Sadly, the majority of the human race insist on going their own way, and not only do they disobey God, they also dismiss the inward conviction as a throwback to religious repression. They feel then that they can do as they please without any inhibitions or restraints. “For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet. And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient” (Romans 1:26-28).
The conscience is the Law of God written upon the heart of every soul born into this world. “For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;)” (Romans 2:14-15). This law is placed there to stop us from doing evil and to convict us if we do. It is far from being a restriction on man’s liberties, instead the loving Creator gave us a conscience to obey Him and keep us from the evil one. Do we see why even those who have never heard about Christ will be judged according to God’s righteous standards!
The Holy Spirit and the conscience
From the verses above we can see that even though the unsaved possess a conscience, it is different from the convicting power of the Holy Spirit at work in believers. “And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (John 16:8). Though the Holy Spirit uses sinful man’s conscience to convict him of sin, His purifying work is only for true followers of Christ. “Wherefore (as the Holy Ghost saith, To day if ye will hear his voice, Harden not your hearts” (Hebrews 3:7-8). He helps us to know the will of God for our lives, and reveals the true difference between right and wrong, especially when we get confused with so-called ‘grey areas’. The Holy Spirit interprets the Scriptures for us and teaches us what and whom we should avoid in everyday life. How do we know if our conscience is good? Here is the test: if we can lay our head on our pillow without the Holy Spirit revealing some sin in our lives, then our conscience is clear before God. If there is something wrong, the Holy Spirit will continue to convict us until we put it right or we completely reject His voice. To ignore His voice means that we are allowing ourselves to become reprobate. “Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled. They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate” (Titus 1:15-16).
Ignoring the conscience is never a good idea for anyone, and that is especially true for believers. Since a part of the Holy Spirit’s ministry is to purify our minds, it goes without saying that we ought to allow Him to speak to us through our conscience. With His active role in our lives we have a heightened awareness of right and wrong. If we refuse to listen and obey then our prayer life will be hindered, and we will not be able to enjoy all the blessings God has made available to us. Eventually, as Paul stated, our salvation is a risk of being lost. People who ignore their conscience are moral and spiritual wrecks. Do we want to be like them?