How to Train Your Conscience
“A CLEAN conscience is the best pillow.” This old saying highlights an important fact: When we heed our conscience, we enjoy inner peace and harmony.
Not all choose to do so, however. Adolf Hitler declared himself on a mission to liberate man from the degrading chimera, or illusion, known as conscience. His reign of terror provides a chilling glimpse into just how cruel men can be when they repudiate their conscience. No less ruthless, though, are many of today’s violent criminals—those who rape and murder without remorse. Increasing numbers of these perpetrators are of tender years. A book studying this phenomenon thus bore the subtitle Children Without a Conscience.
While most people would never think of committing a violent crime, many have no qualms about engaging in sexual immorality, lying, or cheating. Morals are in a global decline. Referring to the great apostasy from true worship, the apostle Paul wrote that some Christians would give in to the world’s influence and thus become “marked in their conscience as with a branding iron.” (1 Timothy 4:2) The threat of corruption is even greater today during these “last days.” (2 Timothy 3:1) Christians must therefore take pains to safeguard their conscience. We can do this by training and developing it.
The Mind, the Heart, and Your Conscience
The apostle Paul said: “I am telling the truth in Christ; I am not lying, since my conscience bears witness with me in holy spirit.” (Romans 9:1) The conscience therefore can be a witness bearer. It can examine a course of conduct and either approve or condemn it. Much of our sense of right and wrong has been placed in us by our Creator. Still, our conscience can be molded and trained. How? By our taking in accurate knowledge from God’s Word. “Be transformed by making your mind over, that you may prove to yourselves the good and acceptable and perfect will of God,” says the apostle Paul. (Romans 12:2) As you implant God’s thoughts and will in your mind, your conscience begins to function in a more godly way.
Jehovah’s Witnesses have helped millions around the world to ‘take in knowledge of Jehovah God and Jesus Christ.’ (John 17:3) Through their free home Bible study arrangement, they teach honesthearted ones Jehovah God’s standards on sex, alcoholic beverages, marriage, business dealings, and a host of other subjects.* (Proverbs 11:1; Mark 10:6-12; 1 Corinthians 6:9, 10; Ephesians 5:28-33) Taking in this “accurate knowledge” is an important step in developing a godly conscience. (Philippians 1:9) Of course, even after a Christian gains a mature understanding of the Bible, he must continue to feed his mind on God’s Word regularly if his conscience is to stay healthy.—Psalm 1:1-3.
The Bible also links the conscience with the figurative heart, which involves our feelings and emotions. (Romans 2:15) Mind and heart must work together harmoniously if the conscience is to function properly. That means doing more than putting information into your mind. You must also mold your heart—your inner feelings, desires, and cravings. The book of Proverbs thus uses such expressions as “incline your heart,” “set your heart,” and “lead your heart.” (Proverbs 2:2; 23:19; 27:23) One way to do so is through meditation and reflection on the Scriptures. “I shall certainly meditate on all your activity, and with your dealings I will concern myself,” says Psalm 77:12. Meditating helps us to reach our innermost feelings and motives.
Suppose, for instance, that you have an unclean habit such as an addiction to tobacco. Like most people, you are no doubt well aware of its health risks. Still, despite the urgings of friends and family, you have found it difficult to quit. How could meditating on the Bible’s message strengthen your conscience in this regard?
As an example, try meditating on the apostle Paul’s words found at 2 Corinthians 7:1: “Therefore, since we have these promises, beloved ones, let us cleanse ourselves of every defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in God’s fear.” Get the sense of these words. Ask yourself, ‘Just what are “these promises” to which Paul refers?’ By reading the context, you will observe that the previous verses say: “‘“Get out from among them, and separate yourselves,” says Jehovah, “and quit touching the unclean thing”’; ‘“and I will take you in.”’ ‘“And I shall be a father to you, and you will be sons and daughters to me,” says Jehovah the Almighty.’”—2 Corinthians 6:17, 18.
Paul’s command to ‘cleanse ourselves of defilement’ now has added force! As a powerful incentive to doing so, God promises to ‘take us in,’ that is, put us under his protective care. ‘Would I enjoy a close relationship with him—like that of a son or a daughter with a father?’ you might ask yourself. Is not the thought of being ‘taken in’ or loved by a wise, loving God very appealing? If that thought seems foreign to you, observe the way loving fathers express love and affection to their children. Now imagine such a bond existing between you and Jehovah! The more you meditate on it, the more the desire for such a relationship grows.
But note: Closeness with God is possible only if you “quit touching the unclean thing.” Ask yourself: ‘Is not addiction to tobacco among the “unclean things” that God condemns? Would using it be a “defilement of flesh,” exposing myself to all sorts of health dangers? Since Jehovah is a clean, or “holy,” God, could he approve of my deliberately defiling myself in this way?’ (1 Peter 1:15, 16) Observe that Paul also warns against ‘defilement of one’s spirit,’ or mental inclination. Ask yourself: ‘Does this addiction dominate my thinking? Will I go to great lengths to satisfy my craving, perhaps at the expense of my health, my family, or even my standing with God? To what extent have I allowed my addiction to tobacco to damage my life?’ Facing these painful questions may very well give you the courage to quit!
Of course, you may need help and support from others to gain the mastery over tobacco. Still, meditating on the Bible can do much to train and strengthen your conscience so as to free yourself from addiction.
When We Do Wrong
In spite of our best efforts to do what is right, at times our imperfections get the better of us and we err. Our conscience will then bother us, but it is tempting to try to ignore it. Or we may become so discouraged that we want to give up all efforts to serve God. However, recall the case of King David. After he had committed adultery with Bath-sheba, his conscience struck him. He describes the torment he felt: “Day and night your hand was heavy upon me. My life’s moisture has been changed as in the dry heat of summer.” (Psalm 32:4) Painful? Indeed! Yet this godly sadness moved David to repent and become reconciled to God. (Compare 2 Corinthians 7:10.) David’s agonizing plea for forgiveness gives ample evidence of his sincere repentance. Because he responded to his conscience, David was helped to change and eventually regain his joy.—Psalm 51.
The same can happen today. Some studied the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses in times past but stopped when they learned that their lives were out of harmony with God’s high standards. Perhaps they were living with a member of the opposite sex without the benefit of marriage or were slaves to unclean habits. Their conscience pained them!
If you are in such a situation, consider the words of the apostle Peter on the day of Pentecost. When he exposed the sins of his Jewish countrymen, “they were stabbed to the heart.” Rather than give up, they heeded Peter’s counsel to repent, and they gained God’s favor. (Acts 2:37-41) You can do the same! Instead of quitting the truth because your conscience pains you, let your conscience move you to ‘repent and turn around.’ (Acts 3:19) With determination and effort, you can make the changes needed to gain God’s favor.
“Hold a Good Conscience”
Whether you are just beginning to learn Jehovah’s ways or have many years of experience as a mature Christian, Peter’s admonition is appropriate: “Hold a good conscience.” (1 Peter 3:16) It is an asset, not a burden. Train it by feeding your mind and heart on the wisdom contained in God’s Word, the Bible. Heed your conscience when it warns you. Enjoy the inner peace of mind that obeying one’s conscience can bring.
Admittedly, training and molding your conscience is not an easy task. However, you can pray to Jehovah God to assist you. With his help, you will be able to serve God “out of a good conscience and out of faith without hypocrisy.”—1 Timothy 1:5.
Feel free to contact the local congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses or to write the publishers of this magazine if you would be interested in having a free home Bible study.
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Reading and meditating on God’s Word helps us train our conscience