<<sense of right and wrong>>

This is a faculty of man’s spirit which instinctively produces feelings of guilt when we violate our inner value system of right and wrong, or feelings of pleasure when our actions and words are in conformity to those values. It could be termed ‘a knowing within oneself’. Every human heart has to some degree been illuminated by the truth – “the light

It is neither safe nor right to go against your conscience

given to all men” – a basic awareness of right and wrong (Jn 1:4,9; Rom 1:18,19, 2:14,15). In fact, ‘the Word’ is in us, so that we may obey it, however, by ignoring its promptings we sin and become defiled (Deut 30:14; Ps 106:39; Prov 20:27; Jer 31:33; Ezek 20:43; Act 2:37; Heb 10:16).

This 'moral guidance system' can either be seared, hardened and insensitive by being ignored as evidenced by those who commit horrendous crimes and show no remorse or softened and responsive by the refining of the Holy Spirit as in the lives of believers walking obediently with God, yet protests when we violate God’s ways, falling short of His standard (1 Tim 4:2). We are obligated and bound by what the Bible commands or forbids. Without a clear conscience and pure heart we can’t know God, have fellowship with Him or expect our prayers to be answered (1 Jn 3:21,22). Only as our conscience is cleansed by the blood of Christ can we serve God effectively (Heb 9:14).

During OT times, God’s laws governing personal and corporate life were external rules and regulations. Since the NT era, when the Holy Spirit comes into a person at salvation, He quickens the conscience  and we become ‘self-policing’ as we listen to and respond to this inner voice with the new heart and spirit He gives (Ezek 11:19, 36:26,27; Heb 8:10). While we still need to be accountable to the external laws of society, besides accepting input from Godly sources and being accountable to our fellow believers, if we are submissive to our conscience we will be living a life pleasing to Him. A clear conscience is a weapon for successful spiritual achievement (1 Pet 3:15,16).

The functions of our conscience include self-evaluation and being the servant of our value system (Act 23:1, 24:16; Rom 14:22). Our conscience influences many decisions we make in life and therefore bears witness to

Do not ignore your ‘inner policeman’

the resulting actions (Rom 9:1, 13:5; 1 Cor 10:25,27,28; 2 Cor 1:12, 5:11). It is like having a continual chaperone that not only observes all we do but also all we think. The conscience resembles a policeman who can give directions and is good company to have around when you are not breaking the law but is ready to apprehend when you offend.

Keep your conscience clear, consistently doing what you know is right, then even if others slander you their accusations will have no foundation (2 Tim 1:3; Heb 13:18; 1 Pet 3:16). Those who persist in ignoring their conscience, harden their hearts and soon lose their faith in Christ (1 Tim 1:18-20). Our conscience is like an early warning system that provides a quick alert to any potential threat to our spiritual safety. Don’t ignore or override the tender voice within by rationalizing, or else its whisper will become impossible to hear as your heart gets resistant to its message. When you do violate your conscience, confess the sin and endeavour not to repeat it. Pray you will have a tender responsive conscience.

Like other human faculties the conscience has been degraded and perverted by the fall and thus its judgment can be faulty and corrupted when it has been regularly overridden with impure evil desires (Act 26:9; Tit 1:15).  As people maintain a stance contrary to God by suppressing their conscience they slide further from the truth of God and His ways and into evil practices (Rom 1:18-32). “Anyone who knows the good he ought to do [the inner awareness of what is right] and doesn’t do it, sins” (Jas 4:17). David’s conscience didn’t convict him enough to bring him to repentance. It was only when Nathan confronted David that he did own up to his sin (2 Sam 12:1-13; Ps 51:1-19).  

A guilty conscience is the consequence of sin, but praise God this can be cleansed by the blood of Christ (Heb 10:22). Thinking impure thoughts, looking again at some ‘forbidden fruit’, not doing what you know you should, failing to do the best in love for another and compromising on integrity are

Your conscience doesn’t stop you doing wrong; it just stops you from enjoying it

like any other sins; they stir the conscience and create the warning signals of guilt – be disciplined to stop such action immediately, replacing the wrong thoughts or actions with those that are God honouring. It is not sin to be tempted but it is sin when wrong desires are allowed to continue unchecked.

Self-justification is man’s way of trying to quieten a guilty conscience. God’s way is confession of the sin, then we can maintain a clear conscience with Him and others by doing what is right and not ignoring the tugs of the conscience (Act 23:1, 24:16; 1 Cor 10:29,30).  When God convicts on a certain point, own up to the truth and take the necessary steps to regain, and then maintain a clean, clear conscience.

Obviously, we should not do what is forbidden in the Bible yet in some areas, there are no specific prohibitions or principles that apply. It is in these areas we are free to follow our conscience, and a variety of beliefs and actions exist between sincere believers. If God challenges you not to something, avoid it, however, do not look down on other Christians who are exercising their freedom in that area (Rom 14:4,5,22,23). We are responsible and answerable for ourselves, not them (Rom 14:12). Likewise, we are to act responsibly so we do not cause others with a more sensitive conscience to be offended and stumble in their Christian walk by our liberty to do certain things that they consider sinful (Mk 9:42; 1 Cor 8:4-13). If we respond to the checks and voice of our conscience, we won’t fall into deception. A tender and clear conscience indicates we are being led by the Holy Spirit and obeying what He requires of us, while claiming that it’s a matter of conscience has become a primary way Christians have justified their engagement in unbiblical behaviour (1 Tim 1:5; 1 Pet 3:21).

See also: body/soul/spirit (soul), condemn, conviction, dealings of God, guilt, self-examination, spiritual disciplines, temptation.