Responding to Your Conscience
“All things are clean to clean persons. But to persons defiled and faithless nothing is clean.”—TITUS 1:15.
1. How was Paul involved with the congregations on Crete?
AFTER the apostle Paul had completed three missionary tours, he was arrested and eventually sent to Rome, where he was held for two years. What did he do when he was released? At some point, he visited the island of Crete with Titus, to whom Paul wrote: “I left you in Crete, that you might correct the things that were defective and might make appointments of older men.” (Titus 1:5) Titus’ carrying out that assignment involved consciences.
2. Titus had to deal with what problem on the island of Crete?
2 Paul advised Titus about the qualifications of congregation elders and then pointed out that there were “many unruly men, profitless talkers, and deceivers of the mind.” These were “subverting entire households by teaching things they ought not.” Titus was to “keep on reproving them.” (Titus 1:10-14; 1 Timothy 4:7) Paul said that their minds and consciences were “defiled,” using a word with the sense of being stained, as a fine garment might be stained with dye. (Titus 1:15) Some of those men could have been of Jewish background, for they ‘adhered to the circumcision.’ Congregations today are not being undermined by men with that particular outlook; still we can learn much about the conscience from the counsel that Paul gave to Titus.
Those With a Defiled Conscience
3. What did Paul write to Titus about the conscience?
3 Note the setting in which Paul mentioned conscience. “All things are clean to clean persons. But to persons defiled and faithless nothing is clean, but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. They publicly declare they know God, but they disown him by their works.” Clearly, some back then needed to make changes in order to “be healthy in the faith.” (Titus 1:13, 15, 16) They were having a problem distinguishing between what was clean and what was unclean, and this involved their conscience.
4, 5. What defect did some in the congregations have, and how did this affect them?
4 Over ten years earlier, the Christian governing body concluded that circumcision was no longer required to become a true worshipper, and they informed the congregations accordingly. (Acts 15:1, 2, 19-29) Yet, some on Crete were still ‘adhering to the circumcision.’ They openly disagreed with the governing body, “teaching things they ought not.” (Titus 1:10, 11) With distorted thinking, they may have been advocating regulations from the Law about foods and ritual cleanness. They may even have been embellishing what the Law said, as did their predecessors in Jesus’ day, as well as advocating Jewish fables and human commandments.—Mark 7:2, 3, 5, 15; 1 Timothy 4:3.
5 Such thinking had a negative impact on their judgment and moral sense, their conscience. Paul wrote: “To persons defiled and faithless nothing is clean.” Their conscience became so distorted that it no longer was a reliable guide for their actions and evaluations. Moreover, they judged fellow Christians on things that were personal, matters in which one Christian might decide one way but another might choose differently. In this respect these Cretans were viewing as unclean what really was not. (Romans 14:17; Colossians 2:16) While declaring that they knew God, they proved otherwise by their works.—Titus 1:16.
“Clean to Clean Persons”
6. Paul mentioned what two types of people?
6 How can we benefit from what Paul wrote to Titus? Well, observe the contrast found in this statement: “All things are clean to clean persons. But to persons defiled and faithless nothing is clean, but both their minds and their consciences are defiled.” (Titus 1:15) Paul certainly was not saying that for a morally clean Christian, absolutely everything is clean and permissible. We can be sure of that because Paul had made clear in another letter that one practicing fornication, idolatry, spiritism, and so on “will not inherit God’s kingdom.” (Galatians 5:19-21) So we must conclude that Paul was stating a general truth about two types of people, those who are morally and spiritually clean and those who are not.
7. Hebrews 13:4 rules out what, but what question might arise?
7 The things that a sincere Christian needs to avoid are not limited to what the Bible specifically prohibits. As an example, consider this forthright statement: “Let marriage be honorable among all, and the marriage bed be without defilement, for God will judge fornicators and adulterers.” (Hebrews 13:4) Even non-Christians and ones who know nothing of the Bible would rightly conclude that this verse rules out committing adultery. It is plain from this and other Bible passages that God condemns sexual intercourse between a married man or woman and someone other than the lawful husband or wife. What, though, about two unmarried persons engaging in oral sex? Many teenagers claim that this practice is harmless because it is not sexual intercourse. Could a Christian view oral sex as clean?
8. As to oral sex, how do Christians differ from many people of the world?
8 Hebrews 13:4 and 1 Corinthians 6:9 establish that God disapproves of both adultery and fornication (Greek, por·neiʹa). What does the latter include? The Greek term involves the use of the genital organs in either a natural or a perverted way with lewd intent. It includes all forms of illicit sexual relations outside of Scriptural marriage. So it includes oral sex, despite the fact that many teenagers around the world have been told or have come to the conclusion that oral sex is acceptable. True Christians do not guide their thinking and actions by the opinions of “profitless talkers, and deceivers of the mind.” (Titus 1:10) They hold to the higher standard of the Holy Scriptures. Rather than try to make excuses for oral sex, they understand that Scripturally it is fornication, por·neiʹa, and they train their conscience accordingly.*—Acts 21:25; 1 Corinthians 6:18; Ephesians 5:3.
Different Voices, Different Decisions
9. If “all things are clean,” what is the role of the conscience?
9 But what did Paul mean when he said that “all things are clean to clean persons”? Paul was referring to Christians who had brought their thinking and moral sense into line with God’s standards, which we find in his inspired Word. Such Christians recognize that on many matters not directly condemned, there is room for variation among believers. Rather than being judgmental, they recognize as “clean” things that God does not condemn. They do not expect that all others will think exactly as they do about aspects of life on which the Bible does not give specific direction. Let us consider how this might be the case.
10. How might a wedding (or a funeral) present a challenge?
10 There are many families in which one mate has become a Christian but the other mate has not. (1 Peter 3:1; 4:3) This may present various challenges, such as when there is a wedding or a funeral of a relative. Imagine the case of a Christian wife whose husband does not yet share her faith. One of his relatives is getting married, and the ceremony will be in a church of Christendom. (Or a relative, maybe a parent, has died, and the funeral will be in a church.) The couple are invited, and he wants his wife to accompany him. What does her conscience say about attending? What will she do? Imagine these two possibilities.
11. Describe how one Christian wife might reason on whether to attend a church wedding, leading to what conclusion?
11 Lois reflects on the serious Bible command, ‘Get out of Babylon the Great,’ the world empire of false religion. (Revelation 18:2, 4) She once belonged to the church where the wedding is to take place and knows that during the ceremony all present will be asked to share in religious acts, such as prayer, singing, or religious gestures. She is determined to have no part in that and does not want even to be there and be under pressure to break her integrity. Lois respects her husband and wants to cooperate with him, her Scriptural head; yet, she does not want to compromise her Scriptural principles. (Acts 5:29) Hence, she tactfully explains to her mate that even if he chooses to be there, she personally cannot. She may mention that if she attended and refused to share in some act, it might cause him embarrassment, so in that sense her not attending might be best for him. Her decision leaves her with a clear conscience.
12. How might someone reason on and react to an invitation to a wedding in a church?
12 Ruth faces virtually the same dilemma. She respects her husband, is resolved to be loyal to God, and is responsive to her Bible-trained conscience. After thinking about points such as the ones Lois considered, Ruth prayerfully consults “Questions From Readers” in The Watchtower of May 15, 2002. She remembers that the three Hebrews complied with a command to be where idolatry would occur, yet they kept their integrity by not sharing in an idolatrous act. (Daniel 3:15-18) She decides to accompany her husband but not to share in any religious deeds, and she is acting in harmony with her conscience. She tactfully but clearly explains to her husband what her conscience will permit her to do and what she cannot do. Ruth hopes that he will see the difference between true worship and false.—Acts 24:16.
13. Why need it not be disturbing that two Christians reach different conclusions?
13 Does the fact that two Christians might reach different conclusions suggest that it makes no difference what a person does or that one of these two must have a weak conscience? No. In view of her past experience with the music and trappings of church ceremonies, Lois may sense that being present would be particularly dangerous for her. And her past interactions with her husband on religious issues may affect her conscience. So she is convinced that her decision is best for her.
14. Christians should bear what in mind about issues for personal decision?
14 But would Ruth’s decision be bad? That is not for others to say. They should not judge or criticize her for choosing to attend the event but not perform any religious act. Bear in mind Paul’s counsel on personal decisions about eating or not eating certain foods: “Let the one eating not look down on the one not eating, and let the one not eating not judge the one eating . . . To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for Jehovah can make him stand.” (Romans 14:3, 4) Certainly no genuine Christian would want to urge anyone to ignore the guidance of a trained conscience, for to do that would be like tuning out a voice that may well convey a lifesaving message.
15. Why should the conscience and feelings of others be seriously considered?
15 Continuing this scenario, both Christians should consider additional factors, one being the impact on others. Paul counseled us: “Make this your decision, not to put before a brother a stumbling block or a cause for tripping.” (Romans 14:13) Lois may know that similar situations have caused much upset in the congregation or in her family, and what she does may significantly impact her children. In contrast, Ruth may be aware that similar choices have not caused disturbance in the congregation or in the community. Both women—and all of us—should recognize that a properly trained conscience is sensitive to the impact on others. Jesus said: “Whoever stumbles one of these little ones who put faith in me, it is more beneficial for him to have hung around his neck a millstone such as is turned by an ass and to be sunk in the wide, open sea.” (Matthew 18:6) If a person ignores the issue of stumbling others, he might come to have a defiled conscience, as did some Christians on Crete.
16. We can expect what changes in a Christian over time?
16 A Christian’s spiritual development should be ongoing, as should his progress in hearing and responding to his conscience. Let us imagine Mark, recently baptized. His conscience tells him to shun unscriptural practices that he formerly engaged in, perhaps involving idols or blood. (Acts 21:25) In fact, he now scrupulously avoids things even vaguely similar to what God forbids. On the other hand, he is puzzled about why some reject certain things that he finds acceptable, such as certain television programs.
17. Illustrate how time and spiritual development might affect a Christian’s conscience and decisions.
17 Over time, Mark grows in knowledge and draws closer to God. (Colossians 1:9, 10) With what effect? The voice within him receives considerable training. Now Mark is more inclined to listen to his conscience and to weigh Scriptural principles. In fact, he realizes that some of the things “vaguely similar” that he shunned are actually not contrary to God’s thinking. Furthermore, being more attuned to Bible principles and willing to respond to his well-trained conscience, Mark is now moved by his conscience to avoid programs that he earlier felt were acceptable. Yes, his conscience has been refined.—Psalm 37:31.
18. What cause for joy do we have?
18 In most congregations, there are individuals at all stages of Christian development. Some of them are new in the faith. Maybe their conscience is almost silent on certain issues, yet the voice from within speaks loudly about others. Such ones may need time and help to become attuned to Jehovah’s guidance and responsive to their own trained conscience. (Ephesians 4:14, 15) Happily, in the same congregations, there likely are many who have deep knowledge, experience in applying Bible principles, and a conscience very much in harmony with God’s thinking. What a joy it is to be around such “clean persons” who see as morally and spiritually “clean” the things that are acceptable to the Lord! (Ephesians 5:10) May we all have as our goal developing to that point and maintaining such a conscience in line with the accurate knowledge of the truth and godly devotion.—Titus 1:1.
The Watchtower of March 15, 1983, pages 30-1, offers comments for consideration regarding married couples.
How Would You Answer?
• Why did some Christians on Crete have consciences that were defiled?
• How is it that two Christians with sensitive consciences might make different decisions?
• Over time, what should happen to our conscience?
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Two Christians facing a similar situation might make different decisions