Is Your Conscience a Sure Guide?
“LET your conscience be your guide”—such is the counsel people often receive when they ask a friend for advice on some moral problem. How sound is this advice? Is conscience a sure guide? To determine how good a guide conscience is we need to know what conscience is, what it does and what it does not do.
Conscience is a faculty of the mind. The all wise Creator equipped us with it. Since conscience is an inward sense of right and wrong, it accuses us or excuses us. It judges. It decides as to the moral quality of one’s own thoughts or acts, enjoining what one thinks is right. Besides expressing judgment, conscience does something else: it imparts pleasure or inflicts pain for one’s own good or evil conduct. What an amazing faculty is this gift from God!
Now what is it that conscience does not do? It does not instruct us as to what right is; it does not provide us with a standard for judging right and wrong. So unless a conscience is enlightened and trained by a sure standard of righteousness, that conscience is merely our own judgment of right or wrong of our actions. An unenlightened conscience can lead to disaster, as God’s Word declares: “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.”—Prov. 14:12. RS.
So no person should jump to the conclusion that he is for a certainty doing right just because he is following the promptings of his conscience. If his conscience is untrained it may very well deceive him. Says the Bible: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and it is exceedingly corrupt: who can know it?” Yes, a conscience may so thoroughly deceive us that it will excuse us for doing something corrupt. Then the conscience is corrupt. “To persons defiled and faithless nothing is clean, but both their minds and their consciences are defiled.”—Jer. 17:9, AS; Titus 1:15.
And how corrupt are the consciences of many people today! This is not really strange. It was certain to be that way. The apostle of Christ Jesus foretold that in these “last days” there would be men “who speak lies, marked in their conscience as with a branding iron.” (1 Tim. 4:2) A branding iron leaves scarred, insensitive tissue; a conscience so seared has no feeling and cannot sense right or wrong. Such a conscience has ceased to be of value as an inward monitor.
So it is that a man may make up his mind that a certain evil course is the right one. When a person lets a defiled or seared conscience be his guide, the more he follows it the worse off he becomes! He becomes more hopeless as a wrongdoer. It becomes increasingly more difficult to straighten him out and to show him what is right. He may keep on doing evil conscientiously. Yes, a person can easily serve that enemy of God and opposer of all righteousness, Satan the Devil, and do so conscientiously! Though his conscience may excuse him, he does not stand vindicated. Christ’s apostle firmly declared: “I am not conscious of anything against me. Yet by this I do not stand vindicated, but he that examines me is Jehovah.”—1 Cor. 4:4.
When, then, can we safely subject ourselves to our conscience? Only after we have subjected our mind and conscience to the righteousness of God. Conscientiousness or sincerity is not enough. “I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God; but not according to accurate knowledge; for, because of not knowing the righteousness of God but seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God.”—Rom. 10:2, 3.
We need accurate knowledge to train our conscience in the righteousness of God. This kind of knowledge is found only in God’s written Word, the Bible. “All Scripture is inspired of God and beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for disciplining in righteousness.” “For the word of God is alive and exerts power and is sharper than any two-edged sword and pierces even to the dividing of the soul and spirit, and of the joints and their marrow, and is able to discern the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”—2 Tim. 3:16; Heb. 4:12.
God’s Word, then, has the power to discipline our conscience in righteousness if we are but willing to take in accurate knowledge of God’s standard of righteousness. By learning God’s laws and commandments and then obeying them we are in line to follow the Scriptural command: “Hold a good conscience.” How precious is a good conscience, one that does not accuse us of having done wrong against either God or man! An apostle who had a conscience trained by God’s Word declared: “Indeed, I am exercising myself continually to have a consciousness of committing no offense against God and men.”—1 Pet. 3:16; Acts 24:16.
Do you want to hold a good conscience like that? Do you want a conscience that can be a safe guide? Then you must do two things: (1) Enlighten or train your conscience to know what is right and what is wrong, using God’s Word as the means of discipline, and (2) follow the dictates of your enlightened conscience regardless of the consequences.
Without the first of these—a clear view of what God establishes as right and wrong—conscience can never be a safe guide. Why? Because it merely prompts us to do what we esteem to be right, and if our views of what is right and wrong are erroneous we may be prompted to do what may be in direct violation of God’s law. We may even find ourselves fighting against God.
Consider Saul of Tarsus before he became the apostle Paul. He was persecuting the Christians and doing so conscientiously. He really thought he ought to persecute the Christians, and his conscience approved his course of action, as he later explained: “I, for one, really thought within myself I ought to commit many acts of opposition against the name of Jesus.”—Acts 26:9.
Under the approval of an unenlightened conscience the most wicked deeds may be committed. Especially is this true when one’s conscience has been mistrained by a false religion. Not strange is it, then, that Christ Jesus declared concerning his true followers: “The hour is coming when everyone that kills you will imagine he has rendered a sacred service to God. But they will do these things because they have not come to know either the Father or me.” Thus not only deeds of theft, idolatry, spiritism, fornication, adultery and other unrighteousness may be committed conscientiously but even murder itself! Yet “the righteous decree of God” is “that those practicing such things are deserving of death.”—John 16:2, 3; Rom. 1:32.
So train your conscience by God’s Word. Then “hold a good conscience” by never violating it. Yes, let your conscience be your guide—but only after it has been enlightened, trained and disciplined in righteousness by the Word of God.