Summary: Part 7 of 10 in a series dedicated to debunking commonly held myths that we think are in the Bible but really aren't, myths that can and often do have devastating effects on our faith.
INTRODUCTION: I’m pretty much convinced that it could go without saying that each and every one of us wants to make right choices, we want to do the right things, and we desire positive outcomes in all decisions that we make, and as believers we ultimately want to glorify God in the process… so how exactly do we go about achieving that goal? In many instances the answer given, both by both Christians and non-Christians alike is next on our list of “dumb thing that smart Christians believe”… “Let your conscience be your guide.”
BACKGROUND: For some of us, myself included our first encounter with “conscience” may have been the classic 1940 Disney movie Pinocchio, where the wise Jiminy Cricket exhorts our hero to "let your conscience be your guide." Actually the idea goes much further back than 1940, in fact it can be traced back nearly 1,300 years, and its origin isn’t Christian, it’s Islamic. The father of one of Mohammad’s wives was returning to Medina after helping capture Jerusalem, and on that occasion gave a message where he said “And speak the truth, do not hesitate to say what you consider the truth, say what you feel, let your conscience be your guide.”
So whatever the source may be; a Disney story, a sermon from Islamic history, or some place in between humanity is taught that following our conscience is not only a very good thing, but also a very necessary thing. But is it really?
WHAT IS THE CONSCIENCE?
• To begin let’s define the term… in the New Testament the word “conscience” is (suneidçsis) which means “witness born to one’s conduct” to “be aware” of ones actions
• Now make no mistake, we all have a conscience, given to us by God and it definitely has a purpose
• Even without being taught a moral law (i.e. the Law of Moses) all people are born with a sense of what is right and wrong, and of what God expects of us, and He gives two witnesses to this fact…
• (1) External Witness – this is the creation, when we come to understand the amazing complexity and order of all that is around us we’re compelled to admit that there is something greater than us!
• (2) An Internal Witness – this is the conscience, the “moral” equipment we’re all born with that helps us know the difference between right and wrong (Romans 2:14-15)
• Some believe that our consciences work like a thermometer, telling us the difference between “hot” and “cold”, or in the case of our actions the difference between “right” and “wrong”
• The problem is the conscience doesn’t work like a “thermometer” it works like a “thermostat,” and while the two are related to one another, there’s a huge difference between the two!
• Thermostats don’t define “hot” and “cold” they only report the temperature, and in the case of our actions “good” and “bad” they simply reflect our view of them
• Conscience doesn’t tell us we’re violating God’s standards, it tells us we’re violating our own
• And our conscience isn’t static, it resets over time and is influenced by our family, education, worldview, and for Christians the church, and the Word of God
• While important, they’re far too pliable to be counted on as an “absolute” authority… Why?
WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT CONSCIENCES?
• While there is no word for “conscience” in the Hebrew language, the concept of conscience is well recorded in the Old Testament
• In the New Testament the word “conscience” shows up 32 times – here’s a sample of what it says!
• The conscience is… “Good” (1st Timothy 1:19) “Clear” (1st Corinthians 4:3-4) “Blameless” (Acts 24:16) “Weak” (1st Corinthians 8:7-12) “Defiled” (Titus 1:15) “Evil” (Hebrews 10:22) “Seared” (1st Timothy 4:1-2) – according to scripture the conscience of man can and is all over the place? Why?
• Just like every other part of us, our conscience has been corrupted by sin, and therefore isn’t entirely reliable anymore – To illustrate let’s consider just one of the words used to describe it
• “Clear” (1st Corinthians 4:3-4) “I am not aware” or “my conscience is clear” (NIV)
• But Paul doesn’t end there, he adds “but I am not thereby acquitted”
• The first time I read this passage I was stunned, and bewildered! How could Paul not trust his own judgment? – Human judgment, even the most well intentioned is “flawed”
• If anyone could count on his conscience being aligned with Scripture and God’s value system it would have been him, he didn’t just “know” the bible, he was “writing” large sections of it!