Summary: If you could spend your entire life listening to and obeying your God-given conscience, you could live a perfect life. But the Bible says we have ALL sinned and we fall short of the glory of God. All of us end up with a messed-up conscience.
This is the penultimate message in this series on spurious Bible verses. Next week, we’ll consider the final adage, “To Thine Own Self Be True.” I encourage you to investigate this week and see if you can find the true source of that saying.
A helicopter pilot flying over Seattle got lost in the dense fog. The pilot emerged from the fog and had no idea where he was. He saw a tall building nearby with people working, so he hovered the helicopter near one of the windows and held up a sign asking “Where am I?” One of the workers wrote a response and held up a sign that said, “You are in a helicopter.” The pilot nodded his thanks and flew straight to the airport. One of the passengers was curious and asked, “How could that sign ‘you are in a helicopter’ help you know where you were?” The pilot said, “Simple. The answer that guy gave me was technically correct, but completely useless, so I figured that must be the Microsoft Customer Relations Building, so I knew where I was!”
Many Americans are circling around in a moral fog, with no idea which direction to go. Most of the moral advice you find in magazines or hear on talk-shows only creates more confusion. How can you know right from wrong? How about this advice: “Let your conscience be your guide.” No, that’s NOT in the Bible. Do you know the original source the saying? Most people think it comes from the 1940 Disney movie “Pinocchio.” In it, Jiminy Cricket sang a song to Pinocchio in which he said, “Take the strait and narrow path; and if you start to slide–give a little whistle, give a little whistle and always let your conscience be your guide.”
That’s where many of us heard it first, but that saying had been around a long time when Jiminy Cricket sang it in 1940. Actually, it originated as an Islamic saying 1,300 years ago. Caliph Umar Ibn Al-khattab was the father of one of Mohammed’s wives and was the third Muslim Caliph. After conquering Jerusalem he was returning to Medina and he prayed and gave a message at Jabiah. One of the things Al-Khattab said was: “And speak the truth. Do not hesitate to say what you consider to be the truth. Say what you feel. Let your conscience be your guide.”
Can you let your conscience be your guide? Yes and no. Yes, when you are very young, you should pay attention to your conscience, but as you grow older, we’re going to see that it is actually a very dangerous thing to let your conscience be your guide. Consider three important spiritual principles concerning conscience:
1. YOUR CONSCIENCE WAS FORMED BY GOD
Each person is born with a conscience. It’s like a candle burning in the inner depths of your heart telling you the difference between right and wrong. Your conscience is described as a candle or lamp in Proverbs 20:27. The Bible says, “The spirit of a man is the lamp of the Lord, searching all the inner depths of his heart.” This moral searchlight is given by God to every person on the planet. Almost all societies have rules against killing and stealing. Where did they get that idea? It came from our God-given conscience.
Our English word “conscience” comes from two Latin words, con, which means “with” and science which means “to know.” The New Testament word is suneidesis which means “to know together.” Both words have the idea of “knowing with ourselves” or “knowing within ourselves.” When it comes to moral decisions, it means to “understand internally.”
When Adam and Eve sinned, they felt guilty about what they had done. They suddenly realized they were naked, and the first thing they wanted to do was to cover their nakedness. How did they know that? Their consciences were operating. Not only did they try to hide their nakedness, when God came to talk with them, they tried to hide from God. Why? Because their conscience made them feel guilty. In Genesis 4, Cain was so angry at his brother Abel that he killed him. Although this was long before the Ten Commandments ever stated, “You shall not murder,” Cain knew instinctively what he had done was wrong. Your conscience is to your soul what your nerves are to your body. When your finger touches something hot, the nerves send a warning message to the brain: THAT’S HOT! REMOVE THE FINGER! The brain sends a message to the muscles in the arm to withdraw the finger. Past experiences also allow us warn others. Because parents know that fire can burn, they can say, “Children, stay away from the fire or you’ll get burned.”
The same is true of the conscience. Your conscience is like a warning light telling you what you are contemplating doing is wrong–and if you do it, your conscience says, “See I told you not to do that.”