The Importance of a Good Conscience

moralcompass1Men and brethren, I’ve lived in all good conscience before God unto this day. – Acts 23:1

As a christian it is vitally important to live with a good, clean conscience at all times.

Our conscience is built into our mind by God. It is one of the great evidences of God. The apostle Paul tells us that God’s law is written on our heart, and that our conscience bears witness to this fact (Rom 2:14-15) . The universal moral law that is on our hearts is proof that there must be a moral law giver. If there is no moral law giver than there cannot be a universal moral law. But we see the evidence of a universal law when we look at mankind in general. We see that all over the world people generally approve and condemn the same things. For example, we see that murder, rape, theft, adultery, and lying are universally condemned practices. You may find many that commit these deeds, and even try to justify them, but you’ll always see that they universally condemn these things when they are committed against them (a thief hates to be stolen from).  Our conscience bears witness to this law by either condemning us when we break it or approving us when we keep it.

Of course we know that many people suppress this law. We also know that many people sear their conscience and become capable of gross sin, but the fact remains that the moral law is in the heart, and the conscience, however destroyed it may be, still remains. It is proof positive of a God who will one day judge the world. Those who disobey God will have no excuse, for they not only have God’s law written in their hearts, but they have their conscience, the warning bell of their soul, that has rang in their hearts and minds to warn them of the danger of disobedience.

I remember experiencing this a young man. I remember hearing some kids from school talking about how easy it had been to steal candy from Wal-Mart. One kid would wear a trench coat to the store and fill it with candy. He had done it multiple times. I remember that I decided that I wanted to try it. I went to the store with full intention of trying to steal some candy, but I could not do it. Warning bells rang loudly in my soul. My conscience went berserk. Thankfully, I turned out of that store. My conscience, still well in place, kept me from sin.

But it didn’t remain that way forever. As I grew older, I did not find myself in an environment that strengthened my conscience. Instead, I found myself around those who encouraged me to violate it.

In many circles, the conscience is seen as a sign of weakness. Many groups will not give you entrance until you prove you can violate it. And some people don’t want to be around you unless you join in with their sin, which, of course, requires the violation of your conscience. There’s no mix of light and darkness. Your light will ruin darkness’ fun, and it doesn’t like that. They will exclude you, mock you, persecute you if you don’t violate your conscience. But as soon as you do, they will welcome you with open arms. They will welcome you to ‘manhood’ or ‘womanhood.’ They will pat you on the back. They will welcome you into their family – but it is the family of death. They all go down to everlasting darkness, and you have just joined their ranks.

As a young man I did begin to violate my conscience, with a little help from my friends. The desire to be included is strong, and the voice of my friends and the desires of the flesh overpowered the warning bells of my conscience. And once overcome, it is weakened. My conscience, which was once good, was now bad, and waxing worse.

Now that didn’t mean that my conscience was completely destroyed. It was still intact, by God’s mercy. I still didn’t steal. I wouldn’t dream of committing murder. I still had somewhat of a moral code, but it wasn’t what it was supposed to be – and I was headed in the wrong direction. Fortunately, God saved me at the age of sixteen. He reactivated and restored my conscience.

God is in the business of reactivating and restoring the conscience. The bible says that the Holy Spirit’s job is to convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment (Jn 16:8). He does this by awakening our conscience. Notice how, in Acts 2, the men were cut to the heart when their heard the word preached.

Now when they heard this (Peter’s sermon), they were cut to the heart… – Acts 2:37

They were cut to the heart – in other words, they felt guilty. Their conscience condemned them. The Holy Spirit had taken the truth spoken by the apostle and pressed it on their hearts. They recognized their guilt, and their conscience, which had been dormant, condemned them. They began to feel sorrow for their sin, and sought a way of relief from this guilt.

For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation… – 2 Cor 7:10

And, thanks be to God, that guilt can lead us to Christ, so it may be washed away. Repentance and faith in Christ will result in salvation, and in times of refreshing from the Spirit of the Lord. Our conscience will be cleansed in regards to God – the guilt will no longer remain:

If the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies from the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God. – Heb 9:14

Yet we cannot leave it at that. Our conscience must be constantly guarded. The world, the flesh, and the devil are the enemies of our conscience, and whether by design or not, will attack it. The enemies of our conscience will seek to degrade it little by little. They will try to chip away at it until it is capable of wanton sin once again. No one commits gross sin all of a sudden. Instead they allow the sins of the mind to erode the conscience, being convinced erroneously that sins of the mind are not sins at all. Yet we know that the bible says to look is adultery and to hate is murder – all sins of the mind. This internal sin breaks down the defenses of the conscience, and will all but guarantee a hard fall.

So we must guard the conscience, and do as Paul says, striving to maintain a conscience void of offense toward both God and man. We do this by being careful to obey our conscience, and being quick to repent when we have violated our conscience.

We also must recognize that God will awaken our conscience to new things as we grow in Him. The process of sanctification implies that God will begin to strip away things that keep us from growing in grace. God will begin to gently impress His will upon our hearts.  Our conscience will now begin to be active concerning the area in our lives in which God has shone his light, afflicting us if we disobey. We must be especially careful not to disregard it concerning these new things because it will be easy to convince ourselves that since it hasn’t been an issue in days gone by that it shouldn’t be an issue now. But we must remember that to whom much is given, much is required. The more that God allows us to partake of His divine nature, the more He requires us to be wholly devoted to Him. This is nothing more then the greatest blessing a man can have, even if the flesh tries to convince you otherwise.

Years ago I was a part-time youth pastor at a particular church in Florida. I had been praying for a place to be able to get away to pray. Getting this very part-time job answered that prayer; I had the key to the church. I would often go off to pray, desiring to be closer to God, and to grow as a minister. During that time, God brought some things to my mind that had not come to my mind before. One of those things was a banana that I had stolen from a friends house years ago. Yes, a banana… I know it sounds ridiculous, and believe me, I thought it was ridiculous that it even came to my mind. But the more I tried to pray, the more it became an issue. It became so much an issue in my mind that I could not pray without thinking about that stupid banana!

I was at a friend’s house when I lived in New Jersey years ago. I was at his house often and had eaten there frequently. I could have just eaten the banana with no one caring, I know if I had asked they would have let me have it. But for some reason I decided to take the banana and put it into my coat, under my arm. It wasn’t really premeditated theft, it was more like a brain lapse. I’m not sure what I was thinking. I proceeded to walk out the front door. My friends dad’s office was right by the door. As fate would have it, the banana fell out of my jacket right as I passed by his office. Without looking, I reached down and picked it up and headed out the door. I really thought nothing of it. It didn’t even come to mind until years later. Yet now, in my concentrated times of prayer, I could not get the banana off my conscience.

It was a painful time. I wanted to go on with God, but a banana was blocking my path. I knew I had to deal with this, but my pride was on the line. Was I to call my friend’s dad, whom I hardly talked to, and never had called on the phone, and confess about a stolen banana? Especially a banana that I had stolen nearly 5 years ago!? I tired to put it out of my mind, but it was getting ridiculous. I was going to either sear my conscience regarding this matter and stunt my growth as a Christian, or I was going to deal with this thing. I finally decided to swallow my pride and deal with it.

I called my friend’s dad on the phone… “Mr. Baldwin. How’s it going? This is Hal.” “Hey Hal, what’s up?” “Well, I needed to call you and confess about to you about something.” “What is it?” “Well, I stole something from your house about 5 years ago.” “What’d you take, a hundred thousand?” he said jokingly. “No, I stole a… banana.” “Oh I know, I saw it drop out of your jacket when you walked by my office. Don’t worry about it.” “Thanks Mr. Baldwin.” And that was it. I put $5 in an envelop and mailed it off to him. I figured 5 years of interest made it an expensive banana.

The banana was finally off of my mind. My conscience was clear. My pride was obliterated. I could move on with God.

But what if I had ignored that prompting? What if I had disobeyed my conscience? One of two things would have happened to me. I either would live in misery and guilt, trying to convince myself that it was no big deal, or I would have had to sear my conscience in that area. In either case I would be able to go no further with God. That one issue would have stalled me in my pursuit of God, and backwards would be the only direction I would go.

What is on your conscience today? Has God shown you an area in your life that needs to be dealt with? Is there someone that you need to talk to to make things right? Don’t delay. They may laugh it off, or even deride you about it, but that doesn’t matter. You need to deal with your conscience.

However, it may also be that you bring healing to another by confessing your sin. Or it may be that you restore a relationship. Or it may be that you restore your credibility as a Christian. It may be that it was something you did before you were a Christian. That doesn’t exonerate you from having to make it right. It was still you that did it, and the person you did it to knows you did it and in his mind your Christianity is nothing because you haven’t even sought to apologize for what you have done. Make the apology, and make the retribution. God requires it of you. Eat your pride and do it, no matter how long its been.

This all may seem like a difficult thing, and it may be. But better to suffer a blow to your pride then to wear the yoke of guilt, or even worse, to sear your conscience, which will open the door to all kinds of evil.

…having their own conscience seared with a hot iron… – 1 Tim 4:2

Is your conscience clear? The peace and freedom that comes with a clear conscience is worth every price.

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