Despite the efforts of many to ignore bad behaviour by suppressing or explaining away guilt, it is important for us to be asking questions like, “why am I feeling guilty” or “why am I filled with shame?” By asking such questions we are attempting to get to the source of problems rather than simply shifting the blame and thus ignoring the problem.
God has given every human a conscience. What is the conscience? The conscience is a devise that will either accuse or excuse one’s behaviour. It becomes somewhat of an alarm system when you depart from obeying God’s word. This is clearly seen in Paul’s letter to the Romans,
“For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them” (Rom. 2:14-15).
The conscience works as an internal judge on what we think and do. People can judge us for our outward conduct but they can’t judge us for our secret thoughts or acts, as they can’t see them. Though we can be successful in hiding “secret sins” from others, those sins are never hidden from our conscience. Is our conscience always right? Not always, so it is necessary that Scripture inform our conscience.
In this post I want to briefly consider the difference between someone who ignores their conscience and someone who heeds their conscience. This will be done by looking at two opposites, the cauterized conscience and the clear conscience.
The Cauterized Conscience
Though the conscience is an important warning system, if you are continually going against your conscience it will be seared and no longer sensitive to the truth. In his first letter to Timothy Paul stated,
“Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared” (1 Tim. 4:1-2).
This is a devastating and dangerous condition to be in. To be so indifferent to sin, this kind of person no longer feels guilt or shame, their conscience has no feeling and therefore they find themselves on a pathway to destruction. It is as if their conscience has been cauterized and then left without feeling.
How does someone get to this point? As people depart from the truth by ignoring it or rejecting it (cf. 1 Tim. 1:19), their conscience sends off an alarm. But as people persist in their rejection of the truth they become less receptive and sensitive to this warning. After a while, they are indifferent to this warning. Their conscience has become cauterized. All feeling has gone.
The Clear Conscience
A cauterized conscience is a horrible thing. How then can a believer maintain a clear conscience? A clear conscience occurs when the believer lives in obedience to the word of God. The conscience is clear because the believer’s actions go beyond playacting. It is easy to fool others, but it is hard to deceive your conscience. It knows what goes on inside your mind. Paul stated, “I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man” (Acts 24:16). Keeping a clear conscience is no easy task. The believer will be able to maintain a clear conscience by their study and obedience to the word of God.
When we experience guilt because of our actions, we ought to heed this warning and compare it with Scripture. As we give ourselves to obedience to the Word of God, it is then we are walking in the Spirit. The Holy Spirit then bears witness through the conscience. With great passion Paul said, “I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 9:1).
The conscience is a gift from God. For this reason it ought to be the believer’s practice to be informing their conscience daily by the Word of God. As we study the Scriptures, we are to make it our practice by the Holy Spirit’s help to maintain a clear conscience. John MacArthur insightfully noted, “In the same way that a grieved conscience is a flash of hell, so a pure conscience is a foretaste of glory”.
Let us pursue and maintain a clear conscience and taste of this glory!