Is The Conscience a Safe Guide?
by Mark J. Ward
Have you ever heard the expression, "Let your conscience be your guide."? Many people today sincerely believe that their conscience is a proper and safe guide in religion. Let us look to a few passages of Scripture and see what God tells us about this important subject.
Passages that mention "conscience" in the New Testament
- Acts 23:1, " And Paul, earnestly beholding the council, said, Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day."
- Acts 24:16, "And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men:"
- Romans 14:7, "Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge: for some with conscience of the idol unto this hour eat it as a thing offered unto an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled.:"
- Romans 14:12, "But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ."
Note the following truths:
1. Saul of Tarsus thought he was right/correct while following his conscience in persecuting Christians (Acts 23:1). He was religious, his conscience was wrong and he thought he was right. Many people today fit this category.
2. If we violate the conscience of another person or our own conscience, we sin (Romans 14; I Corinthians 8).
3. God's Word is truth (John 8:31,32; 17:17) and we need to learn to "train" our consciences to be in harmony with that truth, the true Will of God.
4. When we properly read, study and follow God's Word, our consciences should mirror God's Will for man today...Then, knowing what is right, our properly educated consciences will be bothering us when we do wrong! Isn't it great that God made man with a conscience to help us in this regard? But we must have properly trained consciences, lest we THINK we are right when we might be wrong.
5. Paul taught us to follow him AS HE FOLLOWED CHRIST (See I Cor. 11:1). In the same way, we should follow our consciences AS WE FOLLOW GOD'S WILL (Acts 23:1; Rom. 14; I Cor. 8; Col. 3:16,17). So, the conscience alone is NOT a safe guide, but the properly aligned conscience (in harmony with God's Will on various matters) is to be followed. Wouldn't that mean that the "guide" is really God's Word, rightly divided, and that both our consciences and our actions should be in harmony with that? Thus, the necessity of training our consciences properly.
We are not "born" with consciences that are properly aligned with God's Word. The "paradox" is that we are to not violate our consciences, but our consciences might NOT be in harmony with the Will of God at our current stage of spiritual development. This will take GROWTH in God's Word on possibly many topics in order to correct this. It takes Bible reading, Bible study and spiritual exercise to properly determine right from wrong. Then, (and only then) our consciences will be a safe guide. Let's all seek to live our lives by following consciences that are in line with God's Will! Thanks for reading.
- Mark J. Ward
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