Romans 2:14-15 'When Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required
by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law,
since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their
consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending
Red light flashing!
Everyone has a conscience. It's an inner voice that 'bears witness' regarding your
intentions or behaviour. It signals whether you're doing right or wrong:
If you head in the wrong direction it will 'accuse' you, like a flashing red light
proclaiming, 'Danger!' We call this a 'guilty conscience'.
If you head in the right direction it will 'defend' you, giving you the all clear.
We call this a 'clear conscience'.
The referee within
Colossians 3:15 'Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.'
The word 'rule' here means literally 'act as a referee'. In a football game, the
referee watches all the action and if he spots a foul or other misdemeanour he'll
blow his whistle and order the appropriate action.
You have a referee inside you called 'the peace of Christ'—which is a delightful
way of describing the Christian conscience. If, as you consider a course of action,
Christ's peace remains in your heart, you may go ahead. But if your inner peace feels
disturbed at the prospect, you are to take that as a warning whistle and turn away
from that course of action.
Can conscience be trusted?
Usually, yes. It depends what has been fed into your mind regarding what's right
and what's wrong.
For example, suppose you find an old lady who has fallen and lies crumpled on the
pavement with a broken hip. Your conscience will prompt you to help her by making
her comfortable and calling an ambulance. But a native of the Amazon jungle, finding
an injured old lady, might feel prompted to walk away and leave her to die. Why?
Because he believe the spirits of the jungle are angry and have punished her, and
for him to help her would be to upset them even further.
You, however, are now a Christian and your conscience is daily becoming more 'accurate'
as you read God's Word and discover his will.
This means you'll now feel unhappy about doing some things which, before you became
a Christian, you could do without even a twinge of conscience. This is a sign of
increasing spiritual maturity:
Hebrews 5:14 '…the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish
good from evil.'
An over-sensitive conscience
It's possible for a Christian's conscience to become over-sensitive. In Paul's day,
for instance, the meat of cattle killed at the slaughter-house was routinely dedicated
to pagan gods. So what were Christians to do if they were invited to a meal by non-Christians
who served up meat?
Some said, 'I can't eat it, because I follow Jesus and it would be wrong to compromise
my faith by eating meat offered to idols.'
Others said, 'An idol is no real god at all, so I'll have no problem in enjoying
this meat. The Lord knows I love him, and I'll eat it with thanksgiving for his provision.'
Which do you think is right? Paul deals with this in 1 Corinthians 8. The first group,
he says, have 'a weak conscience'. They're over-sensitive, feeling guilty when they
don't need to. It's like the oil warning light on your car's dashboard coming on,
not because the oil is dangerously low but because of an electrical fault.
Paul then commends the attitude of the second group, whose conscience in this matter
is more robust because they have a sounder view of the issues involved. But, he concludes,
we must take our fellow-Christians as we find them and must be careful not to trip
them up if their conscience is weaker than ours.
Today, the issues will be different ones, but the principle of love and mutual consideration
remains the same.
Educating the conscience
Conscience needs to be constantly educated from the Scriptures if it's to be a reliable
For example, suppose someone in your church has had to be expelled from fellowship—there
has been some serious sin in their life and they have refused to repent. How should
you then treat that person? Paul deals with such a situation in 1 Corinthians chapter
Maybe your conscience will prompt you to go and visit them, telephone them or invite
them round for a meal. You naturally want to encourage them back to repentance and
fellowship and this seems the best way to do it.
But the Scripture advocates the very opposite: we are not to associate with them,
not eat with them. We're to keep them at arm's length, in fact, and refuse fellowship
with them. Why? Because expulsion from the fellowship is a 'handing over to Satan'
of that person. It's pushing them out from under the umbrella of warmth and fellowship
into the chill of Satan's territory outside.
God's purpose is that they begin to feel the cold, remember how pleasant and cosy
it was in the fellowship of God's people, and thus be inclined to repent of their
sin and be welcomed in again (see 2 Corinthians 2:6-8). Showing them friendliness
in the meantime defeats that purpose.
So you educate your conscience in line with this and feel at peace keeping away from
Keeping your conscience clear
It's vital that you keep your conscience clear. Take this seriously, like Paul, who
Acts 24:16 'I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man.'
If you don't you'll have constant problems in your Christian life. You won't feel
comfortable in the Lord's presence or in prayer. You'll have difficulties telling
others about Jesus, because your guilty conscience will make you feel like a hypocrite.
And the Bible will lose its interest.
If you set your alarm-clock at night but regularly ignore it in the morning, it won't
be long before you sleep right through it. In the same way, if you ignore the warnings
of conscience it will soon stop issuing those warnings-then you'll be in major trouble.
The Bible calls this a conscience 'seared as with a hot iron' (1 Timothy 4:2). It's
like skin that has been burnt, leaving the nerve-endings destroyed and insensitive.
So how can you keep your conscience clear?
1. Keep short accounts
If you trip up and do wrong, put it right immediately, both with God and with any
person involved. Don't delay and let matters pile up. Receive God's forgiveness,
and you'll be at peace again:
1 John 1:9 'If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our
sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.'
2. Do what's right
If you failed to do something you should have done, do it now. Or stop doing what
you know you ought not to be doing. Admitting your failure is good, but in itself
it doesn't go far enough. You have to put the admission into action by actually doing
what is right:
James 1:22 'Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what
Learn by heart
Acts 24:16'I always strive to keep my conscience clear before God and man.'