Are You Guided by a Sensitive Christian Conscience?
1. In what way has the Bible’s truth affected persons?
WHAT vast changes have been made by many who have become Christians! Persons in ancient Corinth who became Christians had been fornicators, idolaters, homosexuals, thieves and drunkards. But upon hearing and applying the truth of God’s Word, they changed and were “washed clean.” (1 Cor. 6:9-11) Do you know of persons who have made similar changes? Perhaps, with God’s help, you yourself have done so.
2. What is the effect of God’s Word on one’s conscience, and why is this beneficial?
2 How fine it is when persons who are touched by the Christian message move away from matching the description in Titus 1:15: “To persons defiled and faithless nothing is clean, but both their minds and their consciences are defiled.” Yet, more than just avoiding flagrant moral wrongs, as a person learns of God’s laws and principles he develops a more sensitive conscience. Has not your own conscience become more responsive as you have increased in knowledge and appreciation of God’s will and personality? This is something highly desirable. Having and responding to a properly sensitive Christian conscience can help you to gain God’s favor, can make your life more peaceful, sparing you the pain that often comes to those who have a defiled conscience, and can aid you to live a life that exemplifies true Christianity.—Compare 1 Peter 3:21.
3. Regarding conscience, Christians want to avoid what?
3 Without question, as Christians we do not want a conscience that is “defiled” or “seared,” for such a conscience would be of no value in aiding us to reflect God’s image. (Eph. 4:19) On the other hand, our conscience should not become sensitive in an exaggerated or unbalanced way; we being imperfect humans, that might occur if we are not careful.
4. How might an oversensitive or unbalanced conscience move one to act regarding taxes?
4 For example, a person might recognize that Jehovah is not backing the wars of the nations, but that he urges his people to learn the ways of peace. (Isa. 2:4) Knowing that usually the nations support their armies with tax money, would it be balanced and Scriptural for his conscience to lead him to refuse to pay taxes? Or to pay his taxes minus a percentage corresponding to what the government spends on its defense budget? While some persons have taken such a stand, the Bible evidence weighs against a conscience that leads to such a course. Christians are plainly told to pay their taxes, and this was put in the Bible despite the fact that the then-existing Roman government supported a vast army. (Matt. 22:17-21; Rom. 13:1, 7) Thus the Christian can, with a clear conscience balanced by God’s Word, pay his taxes, leaving with the governments the responsibility of how the money is used.
5, 6. (a) On the other hand, how should a properly sensitive conscience affect one in this regard? (b) How does the Bible bear this out?
5 By the same token, this Bible counsel should mold a person’s conscience so that he pays all his taxes. Is that how your conscience moves you? Or has your conscience been influenced by the common prevalence of tax evasion? As an illustration, if your circumstances have changed—perhaps the children got married and left your home, meaning higher taxes for you—has your conscience moved you to report the facts and pay the full tax? True, the likelihood of one’s tax return being carefully audited and the facts detected might be slim. But for the Christian with a properly sensitive conscience, desire to avoid punishment is not the sole reason for acting properly; conscience is also a factor. Do you find that to be so in your case?
6 In this connection Paul wrote: “There is therefore compelling reason for you people to be in subjection, not only on account of that wrath [against lawbreakers] but also on account of your conscience.” (Rom. 13:5) Thus your sensitive and properly balanced Christian conscience should be a restraining and guiding force for good. Is it? Just how sensitive and helpful is your conscience? Let us consider a few illustrations that may help us in deciding.
CONSCIENCE AND EMPLOYMENT
7. How does conscience enter the picture as to one’s employment?
7 Employment is an area that brings up many problems calling for the exercise of Christian conscience. Some forms of employment, such as making idols, working in a gambling establishment or being employed by a false religious organization, are clearly contrary to the Scriptures. So Christians shun these. (1 John 5:21; Col. 3:5; Rev. 18:2, 4, 5) Not all employment matters, though, are that clear-cut. Certain employment may be in a “gray area,” so to speak. And sometimes, while one’s basic work is unobjectionable, one may be asked occasionally to do something questionable. So conscience can be involved.
8, 9. (a) Illustrate an employment problem calling for the use of conscience. (b) What considerations came to that Christian’s mind at the time?
8 For example, there are employment problems involving blood. The Bible states plainly that God’s servants should not feed on blood. (Gen. 9:3, 4; Acts 15:19, 20) Hence, Jehovah’s Christian witnesses do not eat food containing blood, such as blood sausage, or accept blood transfusions. But what if, on your job you were asked to handle blood or blood products occasionally? Would your conscience permit that? A Witness in Colorado worked in a hospital as the chief medical technician running tests of various types on body tissue and fluid. Among the many things he was expected to test were blood samples. Sometimes it was simply to check a patient’s blood for the level of sugar or cholesterol. But at other times it was to cross match for transfusion purposes. Could he do that?
9 This Christian gave careful thought to the matter. It could be seen that it would not be right for a Christian to work exclusively for a blood bank, where everything was devoted to an end that was in violation of God’s law. But that was not his situation; he ran tests of many kinds. Also, if one were a doctor responsible for the decision, one could not order a blood transfusion for a patient, any more than a Christian store owner could order and stock idols or cigarettes. However, this technician realized that in connection with blood he was merely running a test, even as a nurse might have taken the sample, a messenger might have delivered it to the laboratory and someone else might administer a transfusion or other medication on a doctor’s orders. He reflected on the principle at Deuteronomy 14:21. According to that text a Jew finding a carcass of an animal that died of itself could clear it away by selling it to a foreigner who was not under the Law’s restrictions about animal flesh not drained of its blood. So the technician’s conscience at that time allowed him to run blood tests, including those of blood for transfusions to patients who did not care about God’s law on blood.
10. What questions can we consider as to how we would resolve this employment problem?
10 Is that how your conscience would have reacted? If not, for the sake of discussion, ask yourself whether your conscience would permit you as an employee to bring the blood sample to the laboratory for testing. Or, taking yet another step farther away from the actual transfusion, could you as a truck driver deliver the testing equipment to the hospital? Or would your conscience let you make glass from which such equipment might be produced? It is clear that not all these things reasonably can be viewed as direct contributions to violating God’s law on blood. But where does one “draw the line”? Here is where conscience comes into play. While the Christian must avoid things that are unmistakably in conflict with God’s law, he is called upon to use his conscience in settling many matters. Would your conscience serve you well in such situations? Is it sensitive?
11. How did conscience move this same Christian many years later?
11 In this particular case, after many years of running tests, the technician began to be troubled by his conscience. It was not as if someone else should or could tell him that he was doing wrong. Nor was he looking for someone else to make his decisions for him. But he began to think: “Is it consistent to talk of neighbor love, and yet contribute, in part, to my neighbor’s breaking of God’s law?” (Matt. 22:39; Acts 21:25) Appreciating his Christian duty to support his family, he discussed the matter with his wife. (1 Tim. 5:8) Together they agreed that, if his conscience was troubled, it would be better to make a change. He left his $15,000-a-year job and began doing cleaning work, though he started off earning just $3,600 a year.
12. Does this mean that his earlier decision was wrong, or just what is illustrated by this case?
12 Let us not miss the point of this example. It is not related here to suggest that a Christian cannot be a medical technician; there are Christians who continue to work as medical technicians, nurses, truck drivers, and so forth. This example is given to illustrate that conscience can come into play on matters of employment. In your case the type of job and what you are asked to do may be quite different. But all Christians should give thought to whether they are living as closely as possible in accord with God’s ways and principles. If your conscience trained by God’s Word is pained because of what is asked of you, will you ignore it? Just how important is it to you to have a clear conscience before God and men?—1 Tim. 1:5, 19.
13. How can we each beneficially give thought to our employment?
13 Of course, we cannot altogether avoid employment problems, for we are still in this system of things. (1 Cor. 5:9, 10) Thus you likely realize that you may not be able to move your boss to cultivate a Christian conscience. He may choose to disregard certain laws, he may exaggerate the merits of his products or he may stock some items that you would not if you owned the business. Or your fellow workers may lie on their production reports or loaf when the boss is not nearby. Still, you can and should respond to your conscience. So if it does not allow you to do certain things or if you are ridiculed for your hard work, accept that. The apostle Peter wrote: “If someone, because of conscience toward God, bears up under grievous things and suffers unjustly, this is an agreeable thing.”—1 Pet. 2:18, 19.
SENSITIVE CONSCIENCES DIFFER
14, 15. (a) What is another area involving conscience? (b) What is the basic attitude of Christians concerning the matter?
14 Another area that might involve your conscience has to do with patriotic matters, such as patriotic exercises in public places. Just how does your conscience cause you to react? This is an appropriate question, for in this and other areas consciences differ.
15 Jehovah’s Christian witnesses appreciate that many people have deep sentiments regarding patriotic acts, probably the most common being saluting or pledging allegiance to the national flag. As the book Essays on Nationalism by Carlton Hayes points out: “Nationalism’s chief symbol of faith and central object of worship is the flag, and curious liturgical forms have been devised for ‘saluting’ the flag . . .” While recognizing fully the freedom that others have in these matters, Christian witnesses of Jehovah, moved by their understanding of the Bible, abstain from such acts.—John 17:16; 1 Cor. 10:14.
16. Conscience might lead two Christians to what two courses?
16 But what course will your conscience motivate you to follow when a patriotic exercise is conducted? For instance, perhaps the audience that you are a part of is asked to stand and salute the national flag. As a Christian you would definitely avoid performing any act of idolatry. Yet, will your conscience allow you to stand? One Christian in this situation might conclude that he ought to remain seated, for in that way he personally feels sure that he is not involved in the ceremony. Is that how your conscience would move you? Another Christian in the same circumstance might decide to stand. He realizes that it is not as if all that was asked of one to show full participation was to stand. The audience is asked to stand and salute. He might recall how the three Hebrews apparently stood before, but refused to bow down to the image set up by Nebuchadnezzar. Consequently, he might conclude that in this case full participation involves both standing and saluting, so his own conscience allows him simply to stand respectfully without saluting.—Dan. 3:1-18.
17. Does this indicate that something is wrong? What is the reason for the possible difference?
17 As can be seen, with two Christians in the same sort of situation, conscience might motivate them to slightly different conclusions, though both refrain from what the Bible proves is improper. (Ex. 20:4, 5; 1 John 5:21) Such variation allowed for by the operation of conscience is not an evidence of confusion or lack of unity among Christians. Nor is it proof that one of the two definitely is wrong. Instead, such variation can be viewed as an expected effect of gaining and using Christian conscience.
18. How can we benefit from being guided by conscience even though doing so may allow for variation from person to person?
18 Is this to your benefit? Is following one’s conscience superior to following a “rule”? Yes, your being willing to train and respond to your conscience, in contrast to following a “talmud” of rules on every possible question and variation that might arise, does benefit you. It helps you to be more thoughtfully conscious of Bible principles. And without question you become better able to think clearly, your mind being stimulated and strengthened. Such a beneficial result was highlighted in an Australian study of “creativity” among twelve-year-olds. The report on this observed:
“In particular, a disproportionately large number of highly creative children were Jehovah’s Witnesses. Four children from the total sample of 394 were members of this sect, and all four showed high creative ability. The girl who gained the highest total score on the Torrance tests, and the girl who was the only child, male or female, to be included in the top 20 percent of all five performance measures, were both Jehovah’s Witnesses.”—Journal of Personality, March 1973.
What explanation was offered for the outstanding creativity of these Witness children? The study specifically called attention to the fact that they do not just passively conform in patriotic exercises in school. Rather, they weigh the principles of God’s Word and cultivate responsiveness to a sensitive Christian conscience.
SENSITIVE, YET NOT ALWAYS MORE RESTRICTIVE
19, 20. (a) Why is a sensitive conscience not always more restrictive? (b) How did Paul show this in discussing meat and idols?
19 We have seen that as your conscience is trained and brought more in line with God’s ways and revealed will, it usually becomes more restrictive. It no longer permits you to do certain things that you formerly did, for you now view these as contrary to godly principles. Yet, training your conscience by God’s Word does not necessarily mean becoming more restrictive in everything. Your properly trained conscience actually may come to permit you to do some things that, before knowing God’s will, you felt were improper.
20 What makes the difference in such cases is accurate knowledge. This is illustrated in Paul’s comments about meat that had been offered to an idol but that was later sold in a meat market or in a sort of restaurant connected with an idol temple. A person who had recently abandoned pagan worship and become a Christian might shun such meat, wanting to avoid anything at all related to an idol. Yet in time he might increase in knowledge and understanding. Paul wrote: “We know that an idol is nothing . . . and that there is no God but one.” (1 Cor. 8:4) Coming to appreciate this, the Christian might discern that publicly sold meat was not defiled or poisoned just because it once had been offered to a no-god. With this knowledge his strengthened conscience might permit him to buy such meat at a meat market or in a public restaurant.—1 Cor. 8:10; 10:25.
21. How is this same effect evident today?
21 The same effect can be true of conscience today. For instance, one young man in Ohio grew up with the conviction that Christians should not drink alcoholic beverages. He even had memorized the warnings against drunkenness and the description of the drunkard recorded in Proverbs chapter 23. In later years when he became a dedicated servant of God his conscience still would not permit him to accept any wine or beer. Then he heard and gave thoughtful consideration to a lecture that outlined exactly what the Scriptures say about alcohol. It showed that the Bible unquestionably condemns drunkenness. (Prov. 23:20, 21; Eph. 5:18; 1 Pet. 4:3) Still the Bible does not forbid moderate consumption of alcoholic beverages, even as Jesus once made wine and drank it on occasion. (Gen. 14:18; Ps. 104:15; Eccl. 9:7; John 2:3-11; Luke 22:17, 18) Though he had known those texts, he now saw the balanced conclusion to which they led. Thus when later an Italian man hospitably offered him a small glass of wine, this Christian’s conscience permitted him to accept it.
22. What very important factor cannot be overlooked by one with a strengthened conscience?
22 Have you experienced such a strengthening and balancing of your conscience as you increased in knowledge of God’s Word and ways? If so, you likely also appreciate the importance of taking into consideration the feelings of the one whose conscience may differ from yours. This was the point that Paul was making in discussing meat that had been offered to an idol that actually was “nothing.” He wrote: “Nevertheless, there is not this knowledge in all persons.” (1 Cor. 8:4, 7) Because of their past devotion to idols, some Christians could not with a clear conscience eat such meat even though it was sold publicly. If a Christian having “knowledge” and a strong conscience went ahead and ate “everything,” it could ruin a brother “for whose sake Christ died.” So Paul declared: “If [such meat] makes my brother stumble, I will never eat flesh at all.”—1 Cor. 8:10-13; 10:27-29.
23. In what way should the conscience of others be involved in our decisions?
23 Is that how you feel? For example, there may be something that appears to be allowed by what you know of God’s revealed will and that your conscience would permit. It may be some aspect of your dress or grooming, what decorations you put up in your home or what you do for recreation. But what if the conscience of many others around you leads them to feel that it is not fitting for a Christian? Does your Christianity move you to conclude happily, ‘If this makes my brother stumble, I will never do it, that I may not make my brother stumble’?
24. What should we do if our conscience conflicts with the conscience of someone having authority over us? Why give consideration to his conscience?
24 And the consciences of others should be considered in another respect. Perhaps you have taken a liking to a certain modern fashion or mode of grooming. Your conscience is not disturbed by it. But as a minor or a married woman you must seek permission from your father or husband. Have you considered his conscience? Or if you are interested in a special privilege of service in the Christian congregation, the conscience of the body of elders comes into the picture. (1 Tim. 3:9) True, they realize that grooming involves each one’s personal taste. But if they are asked to recommend you for special service, their conscience has to be at rest. They have a heavy responsibility as respects the good name of Christianity in the community, appreciating that those appointed to special privileges should be exemplary. (1 Tim. 3:2, 7, 10; 5:22) Hence, if something that your conscience permits conflicts with the conscience of those having authority or headship over you, whether your parents, husband or Christian overseers, be willing to make adjustments so that they can give permission or make a recommendation with a “good conscience.”
CULTIVATE A SENSITIVE CONSCIENCE
25. What does it mean if a matter is “up to your conscience”?
25 Developing and following a properly sensitive conscience calls for constant attention. It is ever so easy to be unduly influenced by those in the world around us whose conscience is too lenient, or is dulled or even defiled. (Titus 1:15) Many matters will come up that you must resolve in accord with your own conscience. If you have worked to cultivate a sensitive Christian conscience, that will help you. Be willing to listen carefully to the voice of your conscience, not feeling that if it is “up to your conscience” it does not matter what you do. It does. The decision you make may affect your entire outlook on life, your reputation as a Christian, your spirituality and, most importantly, your relationship with Jehovah God.
26, 27. (a) In what way can speaking with an elder assist one, but what can he not do? (b) How will a sensitive conscience aid us?
26 In a matter of serious concern, but still one that is up to your conscience, do not hesitate to speak with mature Christians, such as the elders in the congregation. Of course, they cannot decide for you. (One sincere Christian, when inquiring about a certain family matter, asked: “Is this against Christian conscience?”) No, an elder will not be able to tell you how your conscience should react, but he may be able to share with you balanced Bible counsel that you can evaluate. And if your conscience has been molded by Jehovah’s ways and personality and it is responsive to His principles, you will thus be aided to make your way straight. (Ps. 25:4, 5) Your sensitive conscience will help to guide you.
27 Truly there is satisfaction in having and being able to use the God-given faculty of conscience. It is a blessing. When it is kept properly sensitive, balanced by God’s Word, it can assist you in walking wisely before God and men. (2 Cor. 4:2) It can serve as a witness-bearer that you are conducting yourself in a way likely to have Jehovah’s everlasting approval.—2 Cor. 1:12.