Guilt can either draw us closer to God or drive us farther from Him. The same can be true of the absence thereof. We can look at numerous examples in the Old and New Testaments – David, Judas, Peter, the congregation at Corinth – and see these variations illustrated. We feel guilt, for better or for worse, because we have consciences. We speak of having a good conscience, of having a guilty conscience, of having a clean conscience. This quality God has given us plays a large role in our lives.
The Role of Conscience
In Romans 2:14-16, Paul writes that our consciences guide us toward doing what is right in God’s law whether or not we know that law. To an extent, the conscience judges or justifies our actions. In Romans 9:1-2, Paul speaks of his own conscience, bearing witness to his concern for his fellow man. II Corinthians 1:12 speaks of the testimony of the conscience. It prompts us toward obedience or chastens us for disobedience.
In the context of Romans 14, we know that conscience can be a sensitive things, and this chapter concludes that we can sin based on the doubts of our conscience. We often make light of this concept, but God takes it seriously as an instrument to help guide our actions. When we cannot do something in good conscience, we are falling into sin.
Conditioning Our Consciences
Unfortunately, we can train and condition our consciences. In Acts 23, when Paul stands before the Sanhedrin, Paul says he had been living in all good conscience before God, even before he was converted. Remember, as a Pharisee, he would imprison Christians, hurt them, and even put them to death. This is a man who once saw Jesus as a hoax, but His zeal trained his conscience to harden against these violent acts.
We can take this natural guide and turn it into something unnatural. We can train ourselves to see that which is wrong as something acceptable, even praiseworthy. In the first few verses of I Timothy 4, Paul writes that our consciences can be cauterized. It loses all feeling and sensation toward those behaviors we repeat again and again. Our sin my hurt at first, but we slowly callous our hearts until we no longer feel that pain. The ultimate result is in Titus 1:15 – a defiled mind and conscience that denies God.
Reconditioning Our Consciences
The subject of conscience is a serious one. We ought not dismiss it when that voice in our head warns us against our actions. I Timothy 1:5 tells us to love with a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. I Timothy 3:9-10 calls for those who would be spiritual leaders to have a clear and blameless conscience, and Hebrews 9:8-9, in the context of contrasting the old covenant with the new, the author speaks of having a perfected conscience. According to Hebrews 10:22, we can cleanse our consciences by the forgiveness of sin through Christ Jesus.
We should remember tender and pure in our consciences, training it to follow after God’s word, remaining clean of the guilt of this world. We can share our faith with the good conscience of I Peter 3:14-16 if we but sanctify Him as Lord in our lives.
lesson by Tim Smelser