What About Conscience?
Text: 1 Tim. 1:4-5
by Robert J. Young

Here is a vital subject which we must understand; we must establish/reestablish the proper role of conscience in Christian living. In our text, a good conscience runs in good company--faith and love.
[Disconnected smoke alarm illustration.]
We come to church, hear fantastic prayer, sermon, singing, fellowship, encouraged, renewed, inspired, lifted up, ready to go meet world, but then somewhere between Sunday and Monday we lose it. Too little difference in Christians and non-Christians. Too much tendency to cut corners here/there, look other way, do as others do, and by Friday we do not even feel like a Christian because we have had trouble acting like a Christian. What has happened to us? Our smoke alarms are unplugged! Our conscience is not working, possible for variety of reasons. Untrained, uneducated, not listening.... What has happened to the Christian conscience? Where is it in our lives? In the life of the church?

Where is the conscience? No surgeon, telescope, microscope can locate human conscience. Is mysterious, yet cannot be denied. It is real.
Conscience is not in OT. In our age where we have a word from God beyond the letter of the law, it is clear that God is interested in our hearts, in convictions, in integrity, in conscience. You might also be surprised how often the NT appeals to conscience, in teaching, challenging, correcting, reflections. We must have this study as a part of our life if we ever wish to live victorious lives for Jesus.

A. Conscience is not a safe guide. Conscience is no substitute for the Bible, is not in competition with the Bible. We cannot let our conscience be our guide exclusively, because the Christian conscience is not infallible, inerrant, is not the medium of God's revelation. God is not speaking to you when your conscience hurts. Truth is not revealed via conscience. The conscience cannot make right wrong or wrong right. It cannot make truth error or error truth, Jn. 8:32. Paul thought he had served correctly, Acts 23:1, yet he had been wrong. Prov. 14:12. Conscience is not law, norm, standard, guide, gospel, revelation of truth.
When we say conscience cannot be a safe guide, we have stopped right there and quit thinking. Conscience in proper definition is the only guide we have for daily living. When I say conscience is not a substitute for the Bible, for God's revelation, I am not saying it is forbidden, rejected, diminished, or should not be used. We are afraid to trust our conscience. Afraid to develop it, talk about it. The human conscience is the ultimate in God's appeal to you, to humankind. If God is to touch or change you, it is in your conscience.
Several Screiptures--Rom. 13:5, 1 Cor. 10:25-29; Rom. 14--are important, misunderstood. Here is weak vs. strong. Another guide--I cannot enforce my conscience on you, nor you on me. We are too often influenced in our actions, decisions, lifestyles by others. We must come back to our own convictions and conscience. This is our validity in our Christian faith journey.
Illus #1. We determine time by sun/sundial, but here is a watch, but it is not an authority on time. It can be wrong. Must be set by the sun, corrected, but when it is set correctly, can tell time by this watch. Use the authority to set it, then reset, readjust, determine if it runs fast/slow.
Illus #2. In aviation, directional gyro, determines direction, but must be set.

We go by the Bible, but the timepiece you build your life around is your own conscience. We do not act because of the preacher, elders, creed, but we must all do what we do from the Bible, Rom. 14:5. Individual responsibility. You must be persuaded. Your conscience. You must do as you do because of your conscience. What you do not because of conscience is not valid, this is Rom. 14:23. If you go by the Bible, but what you do does not come from sincere conviction, not worth anything. Has to be so. What brand of Christianity could one practice that would not demand the validation of conscience. Where would you get your conviction?
How do you develop understanding? With own conscience. This is Rom. 14-15; 1 Cor. 8-10. Each has own conscience. To violate your conscience, abuse it, deny it, run from it, fight it, is sin. All grow at different rates, we are not in same place, not see things the same, but if we continually readjust our conscience, we can be right, comparing our conscience to Scripture.
Now our lifestyles come out of our convictions. We go to the Bible to adjust/determine our conscience. Thought, desires, attitudes life thrust come from conscience, Prov. 23:7.
We have so exalted the objective and feared the subjective that we have missed this. If someone shows up on Sunday believing nothing, that is ok, as long as it doesn't contradict Bible. All you do must come from your own conscience. We cannot go to heaven for one another. It is not just tell me what to believe, teach what I should know, for every Christian has a responsibility to open the Bible and with integrity forge own conscience. When we understand conscience, we can respect one another, respect conscience. We can respect faith, here is solution to many church problems, relationships, families.
Here is the problem with legalism. Doctrinal exactness at the price of private conviction. Not my culture, my way, missions must not Americanize, but we must understand the nature of genuine evangelism, cross-cultural, what is the foundation, basis. Give people the Bible and encourage them to come to faith, conviction, conscience.

B. Conscience is not factual knowledge. This can help us understand how smart men can be wrong--not in head, but in conscience. It is not enough to teach an encyclopedia of facts; we must develop values and conscience. We need conscience, and a sense of shame. In world with a no holds barred philosophy--in dress, speech, behaviors, TV, media--we must return to understand the importance of a sensitive, honest, Christian conscience. This is the only safeguard.
This explains the problem with cults. Cults come because conscience is removed. One person does all the thinking. This is the significance of priesthood of believers. You can study.

C. Not God's voice in you. Voice of God is Bible. Prov. 28:1, not voice of a man in that man. We do not command conscience, it commands us. Down deep in us is oughtness. What ought I to do/be. Moral integrity of human, stamped by God in humankind, in none else of creation.

A. The value and necessity of conscience. Rom. 14:23. We say faith is doctrine, and is at times is true, but not in Rom. 14:23. Integrity of Bible study is in context, here Paul is talking about conscience. What is not of conviction, not filtered through your conscience, is sin. Violates oughtness. When throw babies to crocodiles, need to adjust your conscience. When throw babies away in any way, need adjustment. Christian conscience is a safe guide when our conscience is educated. All we do that violates our own integrity is sin. Search, conclude, what is right, I will do it. Otherwise, not have anything to stand on, Rom. 14:5.
This addresses realm of intentions. Get people in church, restore them, keep faithful, but we are conniving, manipulative, dishonest. Do not encourage anyone to do unless fully persuaded. Own worst enemy because of success consciousness, noble intentions, want others right with God, self right with God, but must grow without pulling strings. Problem of parenthood. If a Christian is not changed by conscience, not developing conscience, that man is lost. Each must come to own thinking, teach kids to think. Is sin to neglect, reject, violate, refuse to develop Christian conscience.
Again with peer pressure. I can influence you, so we try to conform everyone to us, think like us, be like us, be where we are. And much of our brotherhood discipline does not chastise a sinner to save a soul, but to police, bully, conform. We regiment, line up, wonder why there is rebellion down at church house. All must operate in own sphere with own conscience--this is risk of God. Con influence, pray, model, but each must stand on own persuasion. This is risk of parenting, risk of God in creation of free moral agents. In NT Christianity, you do your own thinking, own thing, own praying, agonizing with God. Use your own conscience, let the shepherds be teaching pastors, and then you can accept challenge to live for Jesus.
So this is value of conscience. Rom. 9:1; 2:15. When Gentiles live on high moral plateau, have law to self. Going by internal law. See value, propriety. Conscience is a blessing, 2 Cor. 1:12. 1 Pet. 3:21, conscience. How do I know I am of God? When I comply with his will. Bible says, "Be baptized." Then I am baptized and my conscience works. I know because of Bible, use Bible to set conscience, follow Bible. Bible says do it, conscience says do it. Gal. 4:6. AOK. A properly set, adjusted, tuned Xn conscience can be safe guide.
Conscience can be good, pure, 1 Pet. 3:16; Heb. 13:18; 2 Tim. 1:3.

B. Conscience must be exercised, developed. Like a muscle. Most are scared of it, not safe guide like Bible, so ignore, pretend doesn't exist. Not come up too often. Your conscience is on 24 hr/day alert, smoke alarm, or you not have a conscience. Not just for emergencies, not just for highs/lows. Has to be exercised, Acts 24:16.

C. Has to be guarded. Can get off, so guard, adjust. Update. Calendar watch has to be changed. Need watch to tell me the time, but watch can't think, can't change the time. So guard. Tit. 1:15; Heb. 2:22; 1 Tim. 4:1-4.

Conscience is your best friend, instrument you use for the direction of your life. But if mess with it, corrupt, pervert, ear, not have feeling, knowledge, totally dead and no good.
Keep faith pure, keep good conscience, keep your love. You must live with yourself. Approve of self, show approval. If not approve self, how can God approve. Appeal to conscience. Go by Bible.

Conscience is that built in feature,
Haunts the sinner, helps the preacher;
Some sins it makes us turn and flee from
and some it only takes the fun from.


*Developed in part from sermon notes from Charles Hodge.

Return to Sermon Index

Return to Young Home Page

Last updated August 11, 2001.