Is Your Conscience Well Trained?
HAVE you ever said, “I know in my heart that it is not right,” or, “I cannot do what you ask me to do. Something inside tells me it is wrong”? That was the “voice” of your conscience, that inward recognition, or sense, of right and wrong, which excuses or accuses a person. Yes, conscience is inherent in us.
Even in his state of alienation from God, man still has the general ability to distinguish right from wrong. This is because he was made in God’s image, so that he to some degree reflects the godly qualities of wisdom and righteousness. (Genesis 1:26, 27) Regarding this, the apostle Paul wrote under divine inspiration: “Whenever people of the nations that do not have law do by nature the things of the law, these people, although not having law, are a law to themselves. They are the very ones who demonstrate the matter of the law to be written in their hearts, while their conscience is bearing witness with them and, between their own thoughts, they are being accused or even excused.”*—Romans 2:14, 15.
This moral nature, inherited from the first man, Adam, works as a “law,” or a rule of conduct, in people of all races and nationalities. It is the ability to look at ourselves and render judgment about ourselves. (Romans 9:1) Adam and Eve manifested this faculty as soon as they broke God’s law—they hid themselves. (Genesis 3:7, 8) Another example of how the conscience operates is the way King David reacted when he discerned that he had sinned by taking a census. The Bible says that “David’s heart began to beat him.”—2 Samuel 24:1-10.
The ability to look back and judge one’s moral conduct can produce the very important effect of godly repentance. David wrote: “When I kept silent my bones wore out through my groaning all day long. My sin I finally confessed to you, and my error I did not cover. I said: ‘I shall make confession over my transgressions to Jehovah.’ And you yourself pardoned the error of my sins.” (Psalm 32:3, 5) Thus, a functioning conscience can bring the sinner back to God, helping him to recognize the need to have God’s forgiveness and to follow His ways.—Psalm 51:1-4, 9, 13-15.
The conscience also provides warnings or gives guidance when we have to make a choice or a moral decision. It was this aspect of conscience that may have helped Joseph to sense beforehand that adultery was wrong and bad—a sin against God. A specific law against adultery was later included in the Ten Commandments given to Israel. (Genesis 39:1-9; Exodus 20:14) Clearly, we stand to benefit far more when our conscience is trained to guide us rather than just judge us. Does your conscience work in such a manner?
Training the Conscience to Make Right Decisions
Although we inherit the faculty of conscience, that endowment is unfortunately flawed. Though mankind was given a perfect start, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Because we are marred by sin and imperfection, our conscience may be warped and may no longer function fully in the ways originally intended. (Romans 7:18-23) In addition, external factors can affect our conscience. It can be influenced by our upbringing or by local customs, beliefs, and environment. Surely the degraded morals and the falling standards of the world cannot be the standard of a good conscience.
A Christian, therefore, must have the additional assistance of the firm and righteous standards found in God’s Word, the Bible. These can guide our conscience to assess matters correctly and set them straight. (2 Timothy 3:16) When our conscience is enlightened according to God’s standards, it can better serve as a moral safety device, enabling us “to distinguish both right and wrong.” (Hebrews 5:14) Without God’s standards, our conscience may give us no warning when we stray into a bad course. “There exists a way that is upright before a man,” says the Bible, “but the ways of death are the end of it afterward.”—Proverbs 16:25; 17:20.
In some areas of life, God’s Word sets out explicit guidelines and directions, and we do well to follow them. On the other hand, there are many situations for which there are no specific instructions in the Bible. These may involve choices in employment, health matters, recreation, dress and grooming, and other areas. It is not easy to know what to do in each case and make the right decision. For that reason we should have the attitude of David, who prayed: “Make me know your own ways, O Jehovah; teach me your own paths. Make me walk in your truth and teach me, for you are my God of salvation.” (Psalm 25:4, 5) The better we understand God’s views and ways, the more we will be able to evaluate our circumstances accurately and make decisions with a clean conscience.
Hence, when faced with a question or a decision, we should first reflect on Bible principles that may apply. Some of these may be: respect for headship (Colossians 3:18, 20); honesty in all things (Hebrews 13:18); hatred of what is bad (Psalm 97:10); pursuing peace (Romans 14:19); obedience to established authorities (Matthew 22:21; Romans 13:1-7); exclusive devotion to God (Matthew 4:10); being no part of the world (John 17:14); avoiding bad associations (1 Corinthians 15:33); modesty in dress and grooming (1 Timothy 2:9, 10); and not causing others to stumble (Philippians 1:10). Identifying the relevant Bible principle can thus strengthen our conscience and help us make the right decision.
Listen to Your Conscience
In order for our conscience to help us, we must heed it. Only when we respond promptly to the proddings of our Bible-trained conscience do we benefit from it. We can compare the trained conscience to the warning lights on an automobile’s instrument panel. Suppose a light comes on warning us that the oil pressure is low. What would happen if we did not give prompt attention to the matter and continued to drive the vehicle? We could cause serious damage to the motor. In a similar way, our conscience, or inner voice, can alert us that a certain course of action is wrong. Comparing our Scriptural standards and values with the course of action being taken or contemplated, it flashes a warning, as the light on the instrument panel does. Heeding the warning will help us not only to avoid the bad consequences of the wrong action but also to preserve the proper operation of our conscience.
What would happen if we chose to ignore the warning? In time, the conscience could become insensitive. The effect of persistently ignoring or suppressing the conscience can be likened to that of searing the flesh with a branding iron. The scar tissue, devoid of nerve endings, has no more sense of feeling. (1 Timothy 4:2) Such a conscience no longer reacts to the commission of sin, nor does it give warnings to prevent a repetition of the sin. A scarred conscience ignores Bible standards of right and wrong and thus is a bad conscience. It is a defiled conscience, its possessor being “past all moral sense” and alienated from God. (Ephesians 4:17-19; Titus 1:15) What a tragic outcome!
“Hold a Good Conscience”
To maintain a good conscience requires constant effort. The apostle Paul stated: “I am exercising myself continually to have a consciousness of committing no offense against God and men.” (Acts 24:16) As a Christian, Paul continually checked and corrected his course of action to make sure that he committed no offense against God. Paul knew that in the final analysis, it is God who will determine the rightness or wrongness of what we do. (Romans 14:10-12; 1 Corinthians 4:4) Paul said: “All things are naked and openly exposed to the eyes of him with whom we have an accounting.”—Hebrews 4:13.
Paul also made mention of committing no offense against men. A case in point is his counsel to the Corinthian Christians concerning “the eating of foods offered to idols.” His point was that even when a certain course may not be objectionable in itself from the standpoint of God’s Word, it is vital to take into account the conscience of others. Failing to do so can cause spiritual ‘ruin to our brothers for whose sake Christ died.’ We could also ruin our own relationship with God.—1 Corinthians 8:4, 11-13; 10:23, 24.
Thus, continue to train your conscience and to keep a good conscience. When making decisions, seek God’s guidance. (James 1:5) Study God’s Word, and allow its principles to mold your mind and heart. (Proverbs 2:3-5) When serious issues arise, consult with mature Christians to be sure that you have the correct understanding of the Bible principles involved. (Proverbs 12:15; Romans 14:1; Galatians 6:5) Consider how your decision will affect your conscience, how it will affect others and, above all, how it will affect your relationship with Jehovah.—1 Timothy 1:5, 18, 19.
Our conscience is a marvelous gift from our loving heavenly Father, Jehovah God. By using it in harmony with the will of its Giver, we will draw closer to our Creator. As we endeavor to “hold a good conscience” in all that we do, we come that much closer to showing that we are made in God’s image.—1 Peter 3:16; Colossians 3:10.
The Greek word for conscience here used means “the inward faculty of moral judgment” (The Analytical Greek Lexicon Revised, by Harold K. Moulton); “distinguishing between what is morally good and bad.”—Greek-English Lexicon, by J. H. Thayer.
[Pictures on page 13]
Is your conscience trained to guide you rather than just judge you?
[Picture on page 14]
A well-trained conscience results from our learning and applying Bible principles
[Pictures on page 15]
Do not ignore the warnings of your conscience