Saturday, 23 October 2010

The Power of a Good Conscience

The Bible has much to say on the subject of conscience. Paul, the apostle, wrote that he would "strive to keep his conscience clear before God and men" (Acts 24:16). In other words, he believed that a good conscience was of of paramount importance in the Christian life. Why? Well we need to understand the role that conscience plays and the power it has over us. The condition of your conscience will cause you either to shrink back, afraid to face God, or it will release you to move in great acts of faith and boldness.

Is your conscience the voice of God?

The simple answer to that question is "no." If you look at the little cartoon above, you get some idea of how the world thinks our conscience operates. On one shoulder a little angel speaking for God , and a little devil, tempting us to do wrong on the other. However the conscience is nothing more than a set of values that were initially instilled in us when we were children, and then developed as we got older. That means that a person's conscience will vary according to what he or she believes is right or wrong.

Even for Christians there can be differing views on a variety of subjects. Some will not touch alcohol, yet others see no problem with the occasional glass of wine. I know of one Christian who will not drink coffee for reasons of conscience, while others wouldn't begin their day with any other drink. While I won't be debating the issue of who is right and who is wrong, the point is that they can't all be right, yet all would say that they are acting according to their conscience.

So does the Bible define the conscience? Simply as the consciousness of sin in our lives.

How does the conscience work?

So when gentiles, who do not have the law, instinctively do what the law demands, they are a law unto themselves...They show that the law is written on their hearts. their consciences testify in support of this, and their competing thoughts either accuse or excuse them. Romans 2:14-15 (Holman Christian Standard Bible)

These verses paint a picture of a courtroom scene. We have the law (right and wrong) sitting as the judge. The conscience standing in the witness box. The prosecutor and the defence lawyer represent the accuser and the flesh respectively. One wants to condemn us and the other tries to offer mitigation for our crimes. And finally you (or me) standing in the dock. The conscience is a faithful witness, he cannot lie. He is not against you, but he won't defend you when he believes you have done wrong. The prosecutor stands and points the finger, accusing us for our crime. The defence lawyer (our flesh) tries to make excuses for our misdemeanour's. Whatever the outcome of the case we have to live with our conscience. If we deny the truth and fail to confess our sin then our conscience will torment us and give us no rest. If we confess our sin we can live in peace with our conscience. Better still would be to listen to our conscience before we make the wrong decisions in the first place.

How do we obtain and maintain a clear conscience?

How much more will the blood of the Messiah, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works to serve the living God? Hebrews 9:14 (Holman Christian Standard Bible)

First of all realise that it is the blood of Jesus that cleanses our conscience from dead works. In other words, His blood does not only pay for our forgiveness, but we no longer need to feel guilty for our past. Does that mean we can now live any old way and continue to sin? Of course not. The way we maintain a clear conscience is by first of all listening to the voice of our conscience, which as a Christian now has the Holy Spirit to instil God's standard of living within us(Romans 9:1). Not only that but we must also "strive to keep a clear conscience" (Acts 24:16). We do this by making sure that when we do fall short of God's standard that we confess it and put things right with Him immediately (1 John 1:9)

What are the benefits of a clear conscience?

  1. Peace and joy in our lives. The Bible says that Jesus was "anointed with the oil of joy above his contemporaries." In other words, He was the happiest man on the face of the planet. And the reason was that he "loved righteousness and hated sinfulness." He walked right and never violated his conscience.
  2. Boldness before God. Because our hearts have been cleansed by Jesus blood we can come boldly to Him in "full assurance of faith" (Hebrews 10:22).
  3. A good testimony. People had no accusation to make against Jesus because he lived a life of integrity. He always acted righteously in whatever company he was in. As Christians we have a responsibility to God to represent Him well on this earth before the world's eyes.

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