I was challenged by reading an older post on a friend's blog today (How Does A Life Become Shipwrecked?), and I wanted to dig in a little deeper into the subject of having a good conscience.
Webster's 1828 Dictionary gives this as its primary definition of the word conscience:
"Internal or self-knowledge, or judgment of right and wrong; or the faculty, power or principle within us, which decides on the lawfulness or unlawfulness of our own actions and affections, and instantly approves or condemns them. Conscience is called by some writers the moral sense, and considered as an original faculty of our nature. Others question the propriety of considering conscience as a distinct faculty or principle. The consider it rather as the general principle of moral approbation or disapprobation, applied to ones own conduct and affections; alledging that our notions of right and wrong are not to be deduced from a single principle or faculty, but from various powers of the understanding and will."
The word conscience comes from roots words meaning "with knowledge." David Cloud, in his Way Of Life Encyclopedia, gives this definition and quote:
"The conscience is the knowledge of good and evil which God has put in man (Prov. 20:27; Rom. 2:15). The Greek word, suneidesis, means 'a knowing with oneself.' 'It denotes an abiding consciousness whose nature it is to bear witness to the subject regarding his own conduct in a moral sense (Tit. 1:15). ... Conscience, accordingly, is the awareness man has of himself in his relation to God, manifesting itself in the form of a testimony that is the result of the action of the spirit in the heart' (Zodhiates)."
Easton's Bible Dictionary gives this interesting definition:
"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. Like all our other faculties, it has been perverted by the Fall (John 16:2; Acts 26:9; Rom. 2:15)."
Our conscience is convicted when we do something wrong though we already had the knowledge that doing it would be sinful; or when we refuse to do something we know would be right to do (see James 4:17). When we go against our conscience, it is sin. One of the criteria the lost will be judged by is how they heeded their conscience (see Romans 2).
We can see this in effect by reading the following passage of Scripture:
Romans 2:14-15 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 shew 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;)
When we wilfully disregard the warnings of our conscience, we will find ourselves walking in sin, and perhaps even opening a door to further compromise - whether it is in the area of our thoughts, our words, or our actions.
The Apostle Paul made it a priority with him to make sure he lived with a good conscience (ie. one clear of guilt or cleansed of wrongdoing).
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.
Paul's conscience was a check on his conduct - yes, he had the Word of God to live by and renew his mind with, the Holy Spirit to direct him inwardly, but he also heeded his conscience, knowing it was a further indicator of his conduct. Notice from the last verse above, Paul made sure that his conscience was right before God and before men - I believe too often we excuse ourselves because we think we have done our duty towards God, and we neglect to do what we know to be right towards our neighbour (ie. fellow man); OR, sometimes we do the opposite by going through the motions and helping out a neighbour just so we can quiet the voice of our conscience when we are not right before the Lord. Paul's example is an excellent one to follow: to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men.
Romans 9:1-3; 10:1 I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost, That I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh... Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved.
How many times have we (and I am very much including myself here!) gotten ourselves into trouble or fallen into sin because of not guarding ourselves in this area? If we really think about it, many small compromises pose the danger of greater compromises further down the road. How much trouble would we have stayed out of - even if the struggle was only in our thought life - if we had heeded the voice of conscience? If we had only: turned that TV/movie off when sin started coming across it, put that novel down when we found it contained content that was displeasing to the Lord or contradicted God's Word (and made a choice to NO LONGER read that author!), turned off the radio or changed the station when music that was dishonouring to God came across it, walked away from the conversation when friends and co-workers started to get vulgar or suggestive, chosen to stop frequenting stores or companies that actively glorified sin or put out ungodly products (I realize we all need to shop in an ungodly world - but do we shop where sin is open and blatant?), stopped reading those newspapers or magazines that were filled with nudity (or partial nudity, which is just as bad to fill our minds with) or crude articles.
I'm sure there are many other applications you can make to this principle, but these are ones I have faced countless times. When I heeded my conscience and changed my conduct/interests in those areas (and limited my exposure to certain things, such as turning off the radio or TV when I was at work), my walk with the Lord was strengthened; however, when I disregarded my conscience, tolerated that sin longer than I should have, didn't walk away from those conversations that were filthy, then I found I struggled with those impure thoughts and images that had been fed into my mind!
Our conscience is our mental warning light that warns us when we are going into bad territory - stop!! Turn the opposite way and prevent a spiritual accident! Our conscience is like that dashboard warning light in our vehicles that tells us something is wrong - we do ourselves harm when we disregard its warnings. By itself, it will not be enough to tell us what is wrong with something (we still need the Word of God to enlighten us), but it highlights the area we need to be cautious in.
The Way Of Life Encyclopedia gives further information on this topic of the conscience:
"The conscience (1) must be cleansed by the blood of Christ (Heb. 9:14; 10:22); (2) convicts of sin (John 8:9; Rom. 2:15); (3) should be kept pure and void of offense (Acts 23:1; 24:16; 1 Tim. 1:5, 19; 3:9; 2 Tim. 1:3; 1 Pet. 3:16); (4) motivates the Christian to do right (Rom. 13:5; 1 Pet. 2:19); (5) can be seared (1 Tim. 4:2); (6) can be defiled (Tit. 1:15); (7) can be weak (1 Cor. 8:12). The Bible also uses terms such as 'spirit' (Prov. 20:27) and 'heart' (1 John 3:19-21) to refer to the conscience of man. Prov. 20:27 says the spirit of man is God's candle to search the inward parts.
How to Have A Good Conscience: (1) Salvation (Heb. 10:22). (2) Baptism (1 Pet. 3:21). (3) Diligent obedience to the Bible (Heb. 5:14; 13:18; 2 Cor. 1:12). (4) Faith in God's Word (1 Tim. 1:19). (5) Exercise to keep the conscience clear before God through obedience to His Word (Acts 24:16)."
I do not want to repeat the points of Brother Cloud's study (please look up the references and consider what he has pointed out on this subject), but I think it would be worthwhile to build upon some of them.
1) A Conscience Cleansed By The Blood Of Christ:
Hebrews 9:14 How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?
If you know of anyone who is struggling with a guilty conscience because of things they have done in the past, exhort them to trust in the Lord for salvation (if they haven't yet done so) and be washed in His cleansing blood shed for them. Then, if their conscience still bothers them after making their sins right and confessing them before God, encourage them to study out Hebrews chapters 9-10, and consider what God says about the finished work of Christ and the Holy Spirit's ability to purge your conscience from dead works, so that you may serve the living God with a clear conscience and heart. Encourage them to claim the promises in those chapters by faith - they certainly helped me, when I realized that the blood of Jesus had the power to cleanse my conscience and wipe away the scars and troubled memories of my life lived apart from Him, or lived out of fellowship with Him. God's mercies are new every morning - claim the promises of a new beginning in Him every day, and let the Lord heal your heart and mind.
2) A Weak Conscience:
Notice how our conscience can be affected by our level of Bible knowledge:
1 Corinthians 8:4,7 As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one... 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. (Read also verses 8-13; and 10:25-29.)
We can train our consciences wrongly and have them weakened by being ignorant of the Bible (such as had happened in the case of the Corinthian believers who had not yet learned that meat offered to idols could not harm them spiritually) - and sometimes we can even cause our consciences to cry out against us by holding on to false beliefs.
I remember, as a younger Christian, getting involved in a weekly Bible study with some Seventh Day Adventist friends. (I did not understand the issues of separation back then to the level that I do now - now you would never find me at an ecumenical Bible study or one put on by a cult or by professing Christians who were not sound in the faith.) When I led the studies, I focussed solely on the Word of God; however, they would continually bring in their legalistic teachings from Ellen G. White (their false prophetess). I also had some interaction with various members of our study group outside of these Bible studies, and between all of them, I was continually bombarded with their teachings on the Sabbath and other issues. Pretty soon, I did get confused and was convinced for about ten months that I was supposed to keep the Sabbath each week (nothing like messing with your work schedule!) During those ten months, until the Lord led me to sound materials refuting Christians observing the Sabbath, my conscience would actually speak against me when I broke the Sabbath. Now that I see from the Scriptures that the Sabbath was a picture of our rest in Jesus Christ, and that this commandment is completely fulfilled in Him, my conscience no longer bothers me, and instead gives me the assurance that I have truly kept it through my faith in Christ.
3) A Seared Conscience:
Notice the lost can sear their consciences:
1 Timothy 4:1-3 Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.
The word for sear means "to brand ('cauterize'), i.e. (by implication) to render unsensitive (figuratively)."
With the Holy Spirit dwelling within, I do not believe a Christian can sear their conscience in the same sense, but we certainly can harden our hearts by persisting in thoughts and actions that we already know are wrong.
Hebrews 3:12-13 Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.
That is why the Walt Disney mentality of "Let your conscience be your guide" is so dangerous to follow: we can harden and defile our conscience so much so that a particular sin that once bothered us no longer does so. I remember as a lost person being exposed to a particular Satanic rock group - it turned my stomach and bothered me so much. I was renting out a room in a boarding house, and one man down the hall kept playing his favourite ungodly music. Day in, day out, I heart it - eventually it stopped bothering me, and in my lost condition I started to like it and bought my own copy of that group's greatest hits! Praise the Lord, one day I got saved and the Holy Spirit quickened my conscience again! That music became offensive to me once again - and this time I obeyed the Lord and put it (and eventually all rock music) out of my life.
4) A Defiled Conscience:
Titus 1:9, 13-16 Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers... This witness is true. Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith; Not giving heed to Jewish fables, and commandments of men, that turn from the truth. 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.
The word for defiled in the above passage means "to sully or taint, i.e. contaminate (ceremonially or morally)." Unbelieving here means "(actively) disbelieving"; therefore it is referring specifically to the lost, those who reject the truth of the Word of God, and who live in such a manner that opposes it.
Can Christians defile their consciences by becoming rebellious toward the Word of God and allowing things into their lives that would defile them? I believe so, but not to the same extent; however, I do believe there is the danger there of becoming so accustomed to a sin that we tolerate it in our lives, and no longer fight against it.
Please consider this verse again:
1 Corinthians 8:7 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.
The word for defiled in this verse is different than the one above, and means "to soil (figuratively)." By being ignorant of what the Bible teaches, our weak consciences can be soiled - and our lives and our influence certainly may be defiled. (Do a word study on defile/defiled in the New Testament, and see how a believer can defile his life. Those sins are certainly things to stay away from if we want to glorify the Lord!)
5) A Good Conscience:
1 Timothy 1:5-6 Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned: From which some having swerved have turned aside unto vain jangling;
Three things every believer should strive to have:
A pure heart - that is a heart cleansed by faith (see Acts 15:9 and Matthew 5:8.)
A good conscience - one that is kept pure through obeying its warnings.
1 Timothy 3:9 Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience.
2 Timothy 1:3 I thank God, whom I serve from my forefathers with pure conscience, that without ceasing I have remembrance of thee in my prayers night and day;
The word for pure means "clean (literally or figuratively); clear." We should always be striving to have a clear conscience, striving to put sin out and getting the sin right when we have done wrong.
Faith unfeigned - that is sincere, unhypocritical faith that is based fully on God's Word.
1 Timothy 1:19-20 Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck: Of whom is Hymenaeus and Alexander; whom I have delivered unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme.
As my friend Tim has pointed out in his blog, when we disregard the warnings of our conscience, we are headed for trouble! Shipwrecked faith just ahead! As we can see from the above passage, when our faith is shipwrecked, Satan is able to do damage to our lives.
Hebrews 13:18 Pray for us: for we trust we have a good conscience, in all things willing to live honestly.
Strong's Concordance gives this definition of good in this verse: "properly, beautiful, but chiefly (figuratively) good (literally or morally), i.e. valuable or virtuous (for appearance or use, and thus distinguished from 18, which is properly intrinsic)." Strong's definition #18 is the word used in the other New Testament passages referring to a "good conscience." The other passages refer to our consciences being good inwardly or instrinsically (ie. in themselves, when heeded) - but this verse seems to be referring to its effect on others when it is good. When we have a good conscience, it is beneficial to us, but also valuable and virtuous in its effects on others.
1 Peter 2:19-20 For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. (See also verses 21-25.)
1 Peter 3:14-17 But and if ye suffer for righteousness' sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled; But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear: Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ. For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing.
It is better to endure trials because of doing right and having a clear conscience - and therefore having God's praise and reward, than to be ashamed because of doing evil and suffering for it.
6) Baptism Saves Us From A Guilty Conscience:
According to the following passage, what does baptism save us from?
1 Peter 3:20-21 Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ:
This is one often misunderstood passage that is twisted by the cultists to make it seem that baptism is necessary for salvation.
First of all, let's define one word in the passage: saved. Saved/salvation means delivered/deliverance. The cultists like to teach that it always refers to being delivered (ie. saved) from sins - but a careful look at the context will show what type of deliverance is in view in each passage.
For example, consider this verse:
Psalms 18:3 I will call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised: so shall I be saved from mine enemies.
This is David, the man after God's heart - a true believer - who is saying God will save him when he calls upon the Lord. Save him from what? From his sins? No - that has already happened to this righteous man. From his enemies!
Or how about this passage:
James 5:14-15, 19-20 Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him... Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.
James is already writing to believers. What will the prayer of faith save that sick person from? Their sins? No - they were already saved from that. Their sickness! For the sake of clarification, I believe the primary context of this passage is dealing with sickness as a result of chastisement. When the backslider believer finally gets their sin right in the sight of the Lord, then the sickness will be healed, and the believer will be delivered from death! The contrast to this would be the backslider not getting his sin right and the Lord chastising him with death (what the Apostle John refers to as the sin unto death - as long as the believer has not gone that far in his rebellion, there is still hope for him to be healed).
Now back to the verse under discussion:
1 Peter 3:21 The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ:
What is the believer promised deliverance from? From sins? No - Peter is already writing to those that were saved from sins through faith in Christ. From a bad (ie. guilty, impure) conscience! When a believer takes that important step to be baptized and publicly identified with Christ, and His death, burial, and resurrection, their conscience is clear in regards to that first commandment for a new believer - whereas those who disobey do not have a good conscience in regards to their submission to God and His authority in their lives. I have found that, for many, it is this primary step of obedience that brings God's blessings and growth in their lives - and many do not know the peace of mind and heart (and the good conscience) that comes from full surrender because they are unwilling to submit to God in this first area - often marking a life of half-hearted submission. If you do not have a good conscience in regards to obeying the Lord in baptism, humble yourselves and make it right. You will find that this surrender will bless you more than you might realize.
7) A Bold Conscience:
If your heart and conscience are pure, cleansed by the blood of Christ and made void of offense through obedience to the Lord's leading in your life, then consider this final passage:
Hebrews 10:19-22 Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; And having an high priest over the house of God; Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.
We can approach the throne of grace through prayer, and know that the Lord will answer our prayers when there is nothing between us and the Saviour. When we have dealt with whatever sins may be in our lives at any given time, put our eyes firmly on the Lord Jesus Christ, then we can have boldness to enter into the presence of God for fellowship and for supplication for others.
How is your conscience as you are reading this? I admit, I was challenged through my friend's blog and meditating on these various passages. I pray you were too.