Updated: Apr 28, 2022
Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience. 2 Corinthians 5:11
The Conscience Accuses or Excuses
The conscience is a gift to all of mankind. It’s the ability to have self-awareness, to contemplate and weigh our thoughts, feelings, actions, intentions and motives. It’s the soul reflecting upon itself. The conscience is the faculty by which we make moral assessments, sound judgments, and act accordingly on them. It either accuses us of our sins or excuses us in our sins. The conscience can either be our ultimate comforter and supporter as the best friend of a pure and holy heart. Or, it can be a nagging and bothersome voice as the worst enemy of a sinful soul. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them (Romans 2:15).
When people quit listening to their conscience is when their behavior and actions become unconscionable. Unfortunately, for those who continue to go against their conscience, it becomes easier to do so over time. In turn, the conscience becomes faulty, seared, and just doesn’t work very well anymore – sometimes to the point of no return, in which God gives people over to their sins. He eventually abandons them to their own greedy, lustful, and prideful desires that they continue to choose.
Examples of a Faulty Conscience
Here are a couple examples of a faulty conscience: It's kind of like a teenage girl who gets super nervous shoplifting for the first time. She is sensitive to it at first because she has never done it before. Her conscience is screaming at her, trying to save her from doing something that is wrong. However, the second time she does it with a bit more ease, since she got away with it the first time, scot-free. The third time, she feels a bit more bold to steal something of even greater value, and so on and so forth. This goes on until it becomes almost second nature to her, until her conscience grows so dull that it stops warning her altogether, until her entire identity becomes that of a thief.
Another example is someone who is a liar. The more he lies, the easier it becomes. The easier it becomes, the bigger the lies. This is until he tells so many lies that his whole life and human existence becomes one big lie. And he becomes sloppy and so convoluted by his own lies that his mask slips right off, eventually exposing the truth for all to see on God's perfect, appointed time. Until he repents by the grace of God or inevitably gets caught, he will continue to lie and hide secrets, while his conscience just gets duller and duller and duller. Once it becomes so dull, it simply can't respond anymore, and there's no going back - except maybe by being exposed or certainly by the grace of God granting him repentance and true saving faith. Only Christ can truly save us from our sins and truly transform our hearts. For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light (Luke 8:17).
Deadly to Misinform the Conscience
See, it is very deadly to misinform the conscience over and over because it gets to the point where it becomes so turned upside down and flipped on its head that people begin to glory in their shame and call evil good and good evil. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things (Philippians 3:19). Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter (Isaiah 5:20). People are then riddled with confusion and debilitated inside their own world of chaos from continuing to go against their conscience. By rejecting the conscience over and over, it's like committing suicide. It's only a matter of time until a person gets so turned upside down by rejecting his conscience, and he loses his mind. There's no coming back once the conscience is obliterated, and that's when God gives people over to their fleshly desires and sins. He abandons them to what they really want. God is so patient and merciful, but He will also allow us to choose what our heart desires in the end.
“You see the conscience functions like a skylight, not like a lamp. It doesn’t have a light of its own. It can only let light through. It’s not the source of light. It does not produce its own light. It can only let light into the soul, and therefore it needs to have the right information. Its usefulness is determined by the amount of pure light passing through it. So, a fully functioning conscience then is fully informed by the truth of God’s word.” - John MacArthur
The Conscience Needs the Right Information
The conscience is not to be misinterpreted as the voice of God. It's not to be equal to the law of God or the Word of God. The conscience is the God-given function and the built-in mechanism of the human soul that helps guide us to what is true, good, and safe for our eternal souls. It's there to help give us a peaceful life and protect our souls from what is eternally harmful and damning. It's to ultimately help lead us in the direction to believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ and be saved by God's grace.
All sane people have knowledge of right and wrong, without it having to be explicitly taught to them. It’s just in the fabric of being human in this world, being created in the image and likeness of God. The conscience is the warning system of the soul, and by nature, it’s built into every single human, not just Christians. A Buddhist, a Muslim, a Hindu, a New Age person, and an Atheist all have a conscience too. Everyone does, no matter what we choose to believe in, listen to, learn, study, follow, trust and obey. And everyone’s conscience works at the highest level of morality that one chooses to follow, live by, or submit to.
To be fully effective and to function as God designed, the conscience must be fed the right information since it can’t produce information by itself. If the conscience is to work the way in which God designed it to work, then it must submit to the truest, highest, and purest moral law that exists. And where can we find that? We can find that in the truest, highest, and purest tangible source that exists in this physical realm. And that is the clear, authoritative, sufficient, and infallible Word of God, authored by God and written by men who were internally led by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21).
Ultimately, the Word of God is the only place where we can truly come to know and love Jesus Christ, who is wisdom from God (1 Corinthians 1:30), and the only One who can save us from the eternal wrath to come and grant us eternal life. He is the way, the Truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father except through Him (John 14:6). God not only gave us the gift of our conscience, but He also gave us the gift of His Word to fully inform our conscience with His absolute Truth, renew our mind in Scripture, and transform us by the power of the Holy Spirit. God's divine power gave us everything pertaining to life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3), and it's simply a choice we all make in this preparatory life to either reject God's Word, ignore it, diminish it - or read it, know it, trust it, and obey it with joy. This is why it's wise to inform our consciences with the right information - with the absolute Truth of the Word of God, which is loud and explicitly clear to all those who desire to know Him and trust Him.
Jesus Christ is the Highest Form of Wisdom
Wisdom is personified in Proverbs Chapter One and is described as someone who we can “get to know.” Therefore, the truest, highest, purest knowledge and wisdom that exists is Jesus Christ Himself, found in the Word of God, and found living in the hearts of true Christians. Divine wisdom and spiritual discernment only come through truly knowing Christ and what He did for sinners on the cross by placing our trust in Him as our only hope for eternal life.
Knowing Jesus Christ goes far beyond the intellectual realm. Anyone can intellectually know Jesus, understand Scripture intellectually, and even positively agree with the facts of the gospel, intellectually. Many people have head knowledge of Christ, but not everyone has heart knowledge of Christ, in which the Holy Spirit indwells in the hearts of true Christians, guides us in paths of righteousness for His name's sake, and transforms our lives through the process of sanctification. Truly knowing Christ in our hearts gives us a healthy fear of the Lord, and that's where all true wisdom originates. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding (Proverbs 9:10).
Once we repent of our sins and believe in the gospel; trusting in the person and work of Christ alone, our consciences then officially come under the truest, highest, purest moral law that exists: Jesus Christ - the wisdom of God, Lord to all, and Savior to all who believe and receive Him. By trusting in Jesus as our Lord and Savior, Christians are gifted the Holy Spirit who is our teacher and guide. He gives us spiritual discernment and helps us understand, love, and interpret the Word of God accurately, which helps keep us on the path of righteousness for His name’s sake...ultimately leading us to eternal life by His grace.
God gave us the conscience to help us navigate this world safely and wisely, and He also gave us the freedom of choice to believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ and be saved. When we choose to obey His command to believe in the sacrifice of His Son, we are sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory (Ephesians 1:13-14). And the instant we are justified by grace through faith and sealed with the Holy Spirit, we can never lose our salvation. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6). And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (Romans 8:30).
Subject the Conscience to the Word of God
It's so important to subject the conscience to God's Truth and to the teaching of Scripture. When we digest and internalize the Word of God on a daily basis, the conscience becomes sharper over time, more focused, and more equipped for this world to then be able to respond accordingly and reliably. A faulty or dulled conscience is a great barrier to our spiritual growth. It's a huge hindrance. But a sharp and effective conscience, renewed by the the Word of God, is a trustworthy and powerful helper and friend in our personal walk with Jesus. A mind renewed in God's Truth helps us discern better what God's perfect will is for our lives, so that we may do the will of God and carry out our God-given purpose to glorify Him. Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven (Matthew 7:21). Knowing the will of God begins in knowing the Word of God.
Do not be conformed with the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2).
And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God (Philippians 1:9-11).
A Fallen Conscience Strengthened by Grace
Since we are part of a fallen world, our consciences are fallen too. In First Corinthians 4:4-5, Paul says, For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God. Paul is saying that even when he knows he is not doing anything wrong or has anything against himself, he is still not justified by his own conscience. That's because our own conscience is just as fallen as the rest of us. And so, it could never be the final determiner of anyone's true spiritual condition. However, no matter how flawed we are by the curse, conscience and all, it's the best we have. And when we rely on the grace of God, when we subject our conscience to His Truth, when we renew our minds in His Word daily, and when we as Christians have the power of the Holy Spirit living inside of us, the conscience is still very capable of choosing that which is good, right, and true - ultimately bringing glory to God.
All glory belongs to my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, forever and ever.
They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!— assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Ephesians 4:17-24
keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith. 1 Timothy 1:19
But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 1 Timothy 1:5
I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, Romans 9:1
work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Philippians 2:12-13
And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 1 Corinthians 1:30