The conscience is a universal gift of God. It distinguishes between the morally right and wrong and urges us to do that which we recognize to be right. It also restrains us from doing what we recognize to be wrong. Our conscience passes judgment on our acts and executes that judgment within our souls.
God has given every person a conscience to guard and guide them. This is not the same as the Holy Spirit because He only dwells in those who have believed in Jesus Christ for salvation. However, once we’re saved, the Spirit then works through the conscience to remind us that some attitudes, thoughts, words, and actions don’t fit our new identity in Christ. The more committed we are to Him, the louder our conscience will be.
When Paul wrote to Timothy, who was the pastor of the church in Ephesus, he told him to “fight the good fight, keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith” (1 Tim. 1:18-19). This is a warning to us that spiritual shipwreck eventually comes to those who feel the conviction of their conscience and reject its signals. God gave us the conscience for our protection, but when we plow on through without obeying its counsel, eventually it is of no use to us.
How does the conscience work?
It judges a man’s soul in three areas—attitude, conduct, and behavior.
It’s like spiritual radar sending out signals that danger is near.
It acts like a grid system that sends a stop signal whenever something wrong hits it.
The conscience is designed to protect us from temptations and sin, and we must be careful not to violate it by taking that first step in the wrong direction. To do so is like driving through a red traffic light. We’re eventually headed for disaster. At the first internal warning, we must make a choice to abide by its direction, because we cannot violate our conscience and walk in God’s will or enjoy His blessings.
The Bible mentions several different types of consciences.
A good conscience (1 Tim. 1:19). It is very sensitive and provides sound direction.
A struggling conscience (1 Cor. 8:7-12). This one is weak and may easily yield to temptation.
A soiled conscience (Titus 1:15). When we do what we know is wrong, our conscience becomes defiled by sin and cannot judge rightly.
A seared conscience (1 Tim. 4:2). This is the worst state possible because the conscience has become so hardened that it no longer works. It’s the result of repeated disobedience to God. A seared conscience allows people to live a completely immoral lifestyle without feeling like it’s wrong. According to Romans 1:21-24, when people refuse to honor God, their thinking becomes futile and foolish, and the Lord will eventually give them over to the lusts of their hearts.
The conscience is an awesome thing that God put within us to help us live a holy and righteous life. It, along with the Holy Spirit, identifies whatever is wrong and should be avoided. Knowing that God loves us, is always working on our behalf, and has our best interests at heart should motivate us to listen and obey the promptings of our conscience. We may not always understand why the Lord is forbidding us to go a certain direction, but we can trust Him and His Word as the final authority for our lives because He is always right about every situation we encounter.
This article was originally published on May 5, 2017, and is adapted from the Sermon Notes for Dr. Stanley’s message “Is Your Conscience Your Protector?” which airs this weekend on TV.