A Conscientious Life
My first memorable stroke of conscience occurred when I was in the first grade. Walking home from school, I meandered into the neighborhood 7–11 store with no money. I had a hankering for a taste of those red wax lips that you could wear in your mouth then chew to enjoy the delicious sweetness. So, I did what seemed necessary at the moment. I put the tasty treat in my pocket and walked out the door, looking as innocent as I could.
I arrived home, obviously miserable. My mother could tell something was wrong – and it was. My conscience was bothering me. She inquired. I could lie and further compound my distress or I could tell the truth and start up the path of positive spiritual relief. So I confessed my thievery.
To clear my conscience, I needed more than confession. This required restitution – making things right. With her insistence, I returned to the store, confessed my wrong, and gave the clerk a nickel for my dishonest indulgence. I feared he would press charges and I would spend the rest of the first grade with seedy criminals in the county jail. Fortunately, he was understanding and forgiving. All was well. I learned a lesson about the emotional cost of disobedience and the necessity and power of conscience.
What is the Conscience?
Conscience is defined as “the inner sense of what is right or wrong in one’s conduct or motives, impelling one toward right action.” It is our God-given faculty of self-judgment. Conscience serves as an internal warning mechanism, alerting us to the reality that something is not right.
Hebrews 13:18 says, “Pray for us; for we are confident that we have a good conscience, in all things desiring to live honorably.” A good, healthy, sensitive conscience enables us to live in an honorable, noble, and honest fashion.
The Apostle Paul stated, “I myself always strive to have a conscience without offense toward God and men” (Acts 24:16). This is not about living a perfect life. Rather, it is about our immediate and sincere responses to the promptings of conscience. This sensitivity compels us to keep short accounts with God and others. It spurs us to forgiveness and reconciliation with others when something goes wrong in a relationship. It obliges us to turn to God in humble confession when we sin.
The Witness of Conscience to Self
Our conscience witnesses to our mind and soul about the things that are right. When Paul spoke about his extraordinary burden for the lost condition of his fellow Jews, he wrote, “I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 9:1). In a similar way, he spoke of the sincerity of his ministry with these words: “For our boasting is this: the testimony of our conscience that we conducted ourselves in the world in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom but by the grace of God…” (2 Corinthians 1:12). Conscience verifies the purity of our motives and the truthfulness of our words.
The Witness of Conscience to Others
When we live with a clear conscience, we are able to demonstrate a sincere and compelling witness to non-believers. The testimony of a sincere life becomes a compelling catalyst for the Gospel. Paul described it this way: “…by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Corinthians 4:2). The Apostle Peter said a similar thing in 1 Peter 3:16: “…having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed.” Witnessing for Christ is more than an intellectual presentation to the mind. It is an appeal of our conscientious life to the consciences of those who need the truth of the Gospel.
The Tragedy of Violating Conscience
Paul spoke of the necessity of responding to the truth of God’s word with a sensitive conscience, “holding the mystery of the faith with a pure conscience” (1 Timothy 3:9). Conversely, he described those who did not maintain a good conscience in response to the truth. Paul says that they have suffered spiritual “shipwreck” (1 Timothy 1:19).
When we hear, read, and know the truth but do not respond to it sincerely, we violate our conscience. Let me illustrate. Food was made to move through our digestive system, providing nourishment and health to our body. When this process becomes obstructed, we become sick and malnourished. Blood was made to circulate through our veins and arteries. When a clot or restriction occurs, we lose energy and our heart is endangered. Air was designed to flow freely into our lungs, energizing our bodies with vital oxygen. When this process is weakened, we begin to die.
God’s truth is intended to flow through our minds and souls. It nourishes us, strengthens us, and keeps us in vital relationship with God and authentic relationship with others. When the work of the word is undermined by a neglect or violation of conscience, spiritual illness and eventual shipwreck follows.
The Goal of a Good Conscience
Why keep a good conscience? First Timothy 1:5 clarifies, “Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith.” Conscience is a vital partner of a pure heart and a sincere faith. But the goal of it all is love. A good conscience is essential if we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. Without a good conscience we cannot love others as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:37-40).
Christianity is not about religion or ritual. It is about intimate and authentic relationship with Christ and others. A clear conscience is the indispensable ingredient in all relationships. So today, for the sake of your soul, for the cultivation of your love for Christ, in the interest of your closest relationships, and for the empowerment of your witness to a lost world – live a conscientious life.
Copyright © 2013 Daniel Henderson. All rights reserved.