Character Traits of the Spiritual Life: Conscientiousness
The conscience is a precious gift from God that He has designed for our good and blessing. Conscience comes from the Greek suneidesis, or knowing with, from sun, with, and oida, to know. Thus, it is a co-knowledge (with oneself), the witness borne to ones conduct by conscience, that faculty by which we apprehend the will of God, as that which is designed to govern our lives.[i] In Classical Greek it signified a look back into ones past, an evaluation of remembered events in relationship to good and evil.[ii]
The English puts it this way: The awareness of a moral or ethical aspect to ones conduct together with the urge to prefer right over wrong. . . . A source of moral or ethical judgment or pronouncement. . . . Conformity to ones own sense of right conduct.[iii] Conscientious is built on the word conscience and means guided by or in accordance with the dictates of conscience; principled.[iv] A conscientious person is one who allows his conscience to guide him as he makes decisions. In our day, the nation is rapidly losing its conscience or moral compass. Isaiah wrote, Woe to those who call evil good and good evil; who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight! (5:20-21).
In our day, when the authority of the Word of God is in decline, the conscience of many is dead or seared and is no longer reliable of thought and behavior. In America half of all couples live in fornication (sexual immorality) without marriage or before marriage. Divorce rates are rampant. Cheating in school is frequent. Drug and alcohol use is high. Abuse of Gods name and Christs name is widespread. The conscience is no longer a reliable guide.
It is important for us to realize that the conscience is reliable only to the extent that it has been educated and formed accurately, according to the perfect will of God in His Word. Paul says that the Gentiles, who do not have a written standard of the Law of God, show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them (Romans 2:15).
While the conscience is essential, it is limited. What Paul describes is the moral faculty that God has designed into human nature. Even those without specific knowledge of Gods standards realize intuitively that moral issues exist, and they go on to establish standards in moral areas. But being sinners, pagans fall short of the goodness that is expressed in their standards. They do not do even the good they know of (2:1). Aware of guilt, they attempt to quiet an accusing conscience by blaming others and/or by excusing their own actions.[v]
Thus, although pagans, the non-religious, and all non-Christians may recognize that immorality, lying, selfishness, slander, hatred, cruelty, and greed are morally wrong, they dont live up to their standards and develop a sense of guilt unless they seek to eradicate it through self-justification or psychoanalysis.
The Jews were favored in having the written Law of God, thus their conscience was more informed. But the Jews themselves failed to live up to their conscience and their sacrifices, though right in themselves, were not able to make the worshiper perfect in conscience (Hebrews 9:9). The animal sacrifices were a reminder of sins year by year (10:3). Only the perfect sacrifice of Christ Jesus, in the offering of His body and blood for sins, was able to deal with sin once and for all. Christ offered Himself without blemish to God, to cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God (9:14).
When someone violates his conscience, he becomes defiled. When someone would eat meat offered to an idol (even though the reality of such a god is nonexistent), his conscience being weak is defiled (1 Corinthians 8:7). Continual violation of conscience can corrupt a conscience and bring a constant state of defilement.[vi] To those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience is defiled (Titus 1:15).
Only Christs death can cleanse the conscience. When one comes to Christ in faith, his baptism is an appeal to God for a good conscience (1 Peter 3:21). His conscience is cleansed so that he can serve the living God with forgiveness and freedom (Hebrews 9:14). When we are cleansed and our conscience is cleansed of sin, we no longer have a consciousness of sins (10:2). Christs death and the offering of His blood is the key to a clean conscience before God (10:10, 14). Cleansing is both objective, accomplished by Jesus sacrifice, and subjective, experienced increasingly as we appropriate what Jesus has done for us.[vii]
When we are saved, we must live with a clear conscience. This is the testimony of our conscience that we have chosen and have done what is right.[viii] Now, we must remember that we may not be accurate in our judgment of what is right and wrong. He who trusts in his own heart is a fool (Proverbs 28:26a). There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death (14:16). Before he came to Christ, Paul (Saul) mistakenly thought that he was doing right, but he was doing wrongthe very opposite: I have lived my life with a perfectly good conscience before God up to this day (Acts 23:1; cf. 22:3-4). He testified, I thought to myself that I had to do many things hostile to the name of Jesus of Nazareth (26:9), which illustrates that one may do wrong in obeying his conscience, if that conscience is not properly informed. It is thus vital that we study and learn the will of God in the infallible Word of God.
The Christian must live a sensitive and conscientious life. He must not violate his conscience. Paul said, I also do my best to maintain always a blameless conscience both before God and before men (Acts 24:16). The apostle also wrote, I thank God, whom I serve with a clear conscience the way my forefathers did (2 Timothy 1:3). But even a blameless conscience or a clear conscience must be taught and trained rightly. Paul admitted, I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord (1 Corinthians 4:4).
If our conscience has not been properly formed and if we are immature in our spiritual life, we may have problems. Paul says that if one proceeds to do something that he thinks is wrong (even though objectively it is permissible), then his conscience being weak is defiled (1 Corinthians 8:7; cf. vv. 7-13; 10:27-30; Romans 14:1-23). Under these defective circumstances, if one doubts that something is right but goes ahead and does it anyway, then he has sinned, for whatever is not from faith is sin (Romans 14:23).
A clear conscience is precious and worthy of our earnest pursuit. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, The testimony of our conscience is that in holiness and godly sincerity, not in fleshly wisdom but in the grace of God, we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially toward you (2 Corinthians 1:12). He also wrote, I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit (Romans 9:1). Our conscience is to be obeyed but we must make sure that it reflects the perfect standards of the Lord revealed in Scripture.
We cannot have a genuine love for others unless we have a clear and blameless conscience. Paul said, The goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith (1 Timothy 1:5). A good conscience will bring outgoing love. We must never violate our conscience, for the apostle said, . . . keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith (1:19). He also said that deacons (Greek: servants) must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience (3:9). We are not prepared to serve unless our conscience has been purified and is maintained in purity.
We must maintain a good conscience not only before God but also before others. Peter wrote, Keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame (1 Peter 3:16). When we, as believers, live our life before the watching eyes of the world, we must always do the right and keep our conscience clear so that we may provide a good example before unbelievers (cf. 2:12; 4:15-16). The Hebrew writer also spoke to this: Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a good conscience, desiring to conduct ourselves honorably in all things (13:18). When we are called on to suffer for Christs sake, continue to keep a good conscience: This finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly (1 Peter 2:19).
We must thank God that we have a conscience and that it judges our thoughts and actions, leading us to do what we believe is right and good and Gods will. Lets be conscientious people and always seek to do what we believe is right. Let us also determine to know Gods truth and Gods will so that our conscience may be informed and knowledgeable.
We may see the issue of the conscience illustrated in society. Weve been told that the federal government has a conscience fund and this is used when someone feels guilty for having cheated the government in some waysuch as not paying ones income tax. People send a certain amount of money (generally anonymously) to make amends or restitution for past wrongs, and the government places this in this special conscience fund. Whether this actually exists or not, we dont know, but it does show that the conscience is to have a regulating influence on our life.
Another example would be the matter of conscientious objectors to warfare. A conscientious objector is one who believes that Christ forbids his followers to harm their enemies but instead requires that they love them. Because of their conscience, they refuse to enter the military and fight against the enemy. They insist on loving and doing good to them. Are we all conscientiously opposed to wrong and conscientious objectors to sin?
[i] W. E. Vine, Expository Dictionary.
[ii] Richards, Expository Dictionary.
[iii] The American Heritage College Dictionary.
[v] Richards, Expository Dictionary, p. 186.
[vi] Richards, Expository Dictionary, p. 186.
[vii] Ibid., p. 187.