Has everyone got a conscience?
How can someone commit murder and their conscience does not stop them?
A bank robber’s conscience says it is wrong to break in and rob from people’s houses, why?
What is our conscience?
The part of you that judges how moral your own actions are and makes you feel guilty about bad things that you have done or things you feel responsible for.”‘Conscience’ Cambridge Dictionary. 1
1. An example of a good conscience from the Bible
Ben-Hadad king of Aram marched to Samaria and laid siege to it
There was a huge famine in the city and there were four men with leprosy at the entrance of the city gate.
They decided that if they went into the city they would die of starvation so they turned around to head for the Arameans and surrender.
When they arrived at the massive camp they could see no one at all!
They did not know, but during the night the Lord had caused the Arameans to hear the sound of chariots and horses and a great army, which they thought was the Hittites and Egyptians coming to kill them!
So they dropped everything and fled leaving all their equipment and supplies in the camp.
The men who had leprosy reached the camp and they started to eat and drink all they could.
Then they picked up the silver, gold and clothes, and went off and hid them.
Then they said to each other, ‘We’re not doing right. This is a day of good news and we are keeping it to ourselves. If we wait until daylight, punishment will overtake us. Let’s go at once and report this to the royal palace.’ ”2 Kings 7:3–9 NIV
They were suddenly aware of their conscience telling them that what they were doing was wrong.
They then had to choose whether to follow their conscience or refuse to listen.
They chose to listen to their conscience and went back to the city and told everyone what had happened so the city people could eat and be filled.
2. Does everyone have a conscience?
What is our conscience – can we trust it?
We are born with some kind of conscience that gets influenced and trained as we get older.
One big, helpful guide to our conscience is the Bible.
Paul tells us that Israel was the only nation to have God’s Law.
But the other nations instinctively know the requirements of that law because these requirements are written on everyone’s hearts, and their consciences bear witness to that fact:
They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.”Romans 2:15 NIV
God is right in all that He does.
So He put an awareness of Himself in everyone, and He puts some knowledge of His Laws in each one of them too.
(But that does not mean our conscience is always right – see further down.)
But there is enough knowledge there to leave people without an excuse. If they choose to turn away from God they are guilty!
Therefore He is just and right to judge mankind for ignoring Him, and for disobeying Him.
We will all stand before Him one day and that is a sure fact.
The only safe place to be on that Day is in Christ Jesus.
Secure in Him, and trust in Him for our eternal protection and joy. Are you safe in the Lord Jesus Christ?
3. Is it wrong to ignore our conscience?
Our conscience is not always 100% right.
Why is that?
It is because our conscience is polluted and twisted by our sinful nature.
Paul writing about unbelievers to Titus states:
their minds and consciences are corrupted.”Titus 1:15 NIV
We can so easily spoil and stain our conscience.
We can HARDEN or paralyse our conscience.
We can feed on wrong values, then our values become weaker.
There are so many different ‘values’ bombarding us through books and magazines, the Internet, films, TV programmes, and obviously, the people we spend time with.
All these things can either strengthen or harden our conscience. Paul says:
Bad company corrupts good morals.”1 Corinthians 15:33 NIV
We can still socialise, but when we are meeting with others who do not have a godly standard we should be able to know where our boundaries are.
If we start to accept and agree with any lower standards we might as well have sat under the ministry of a false teacher.
Paul talks about false teachers:
Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been SEARED as with a hot iron.1 Timothy 4:2 NIV
They have hardened and paralysed their conscience to make it virtually ineffective.
Do we abuse and harden our conscience, or do we nurture it?
So to answer the question, ‘Is it wrong to ignore our conscience?’ we need to say, generally our conscience has got a lot of good in it so following it is better than nothing, but it is not totally trustworthy.
4. How can we train our conscience?
Learning about good values and politeness will help to inform our conscience.
But it is when we turn to God that our conscience is WASHED clean.
It is washed to get rid of false notions and ideas.
We then have a duty to TRAIN our conscience.
We do that by studying God’s Word to make it good, and trustworthy.
If we don’t study the Bible, our conscience will be weak, and not able to do a proper job.
Paul says that a weak conscience is put alongside a lack of spiritual knowledge.
But not everyone possesses this KNOWLEDGE… since their conscience is weak, it is defiled.”1 Corinthians 8:7 NIV
Let’s make our consciences strong, active, and fully able to do their job properly, by studying the Bible, and understanding how the Lord sees things.
If our conscience hasn’t been trained by applying God’s standards, we could find ourselves having a clear conscience, and yet, in reality, we could be guilty. Paul says:
My conscience is clear, but that does NOT make me innocent.”1 Corinthians 4:4 NIV
We need to get God’s Word into our hearts so that our conscience then gives us the true picture.
It needs to be saying the same as the Word of God.
The Bible is a plumb line.
Whatever comes near to this plumb line will reveal whether it is in line with what God requires, or whether it is offline.
All our actions and motives are put next to the plumb line, and from that, there will either be peace or a feeling of guilt.
The apostle Paul wrote some very good advice:
So I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man.”Act 24:16 ESV