English Language Definition of Conscience :
: the part of the mind that makes you aware of your actions as being either morally right or wrong
: a feeling that something you have done is morally wrong
~ Merriam-Webster Dictionary
Scripture teaches us to honor our conscience. It is an integral part of our being, and though it is not perfect (and can undergo heavy damage during our life if it is unguarded) we need to honor it. Just as we are called upon to honor our parents even though they are human and imperfect, likewise we are to honor our own conscience.
OUR CONSCIENCE + GOD’S TRUTH = GUIDANCE
Developing a healthy knowledge-base [in our heart and mind] of the truth of God through the study of the scriptures (through reading, discussion, and listening to preaching and teaching) is foundational to keeping our conscience healthy. Our implementation of God’s truth into and through our life in agreement with our healthy conscience is critically important.
Living and speaking in truth is then confirmed by a healthy conscience:
“I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit…”
~ Romans 9:1
GUARD THE CONSCIENCE OF THE WEAK
Not only should we guard our own conscience, but we should help to guard the conscience of the weak, the young, or the spiritually immature. Their conscience may not be as healthy and discerning of what is right and wrong. They may see you doing something that you have a right to do (according to your healthy conscience) but their unhealthy or damaged conscience may impress upon their own mind and heart that doing that is wrong.
Our appropriate response should not be condescension, but loving and with honor for their conscience. Patiently instructing them and helping their conscience to heal and/or mature is more important than us insisting on our “right” to do whatever unimportant thing we are doing with which their conscience disagrees.
In the early church a question had arisen: Can Christians buy the food (meat) in the local market place that had been used in sacrifices to idols? Paul said yes, there isn’t a problem with the food (because there is only one true God), so you can buy it and eat it with a clear conscience. Eating the food is not a participation with other god’s.
“So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that ‘An idol is nothing at all in the world’ and that ‘There is no God but One.’”
~ 1 Corinthians 8:4
Though Paul answered this question and made it clear to the church, there were still some whose conscience was not adjusting to the truth as quickly as others. He added this caveat:
“But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.”
~ 1 Corinthians 8:7-8
Our rights to participate in things that are not foundational to Christian discipleship should be laid down when it will be beneficial to another. This is called… “Love.” Our obligation to love overrides our rights to non-foundational matters in life. Our conscience should first be sensitive to others’ needs before we participate in things that wound our weaker neighbor’s conscience.
“Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols [and thus dishonor their conscience that tells them it is wrong]*?
So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.
Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin [going against their own conscience]*, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.”
~ 1 Corinthians 8:9-13, [abc]* Inserted by author for clarification
When Paul says “I will never eat meat again,” he is not saying he became a vegetarian for the rest of his life. He is not saying that the chutch needs to forever bow to the dictates of the consciences of the immature and the weak. He is simply saying that he will walk in-step with (and not wound) his weaker neighbor’s conscience until such time as they mature and are healed.
GOD IS STILL THE FINAL JUDGE
Even if our conscience approves of something, it does not transform it into a righteous or acceptable something. Right is still right, and wrong is still wrong. Even the Apostle Paul spoke of having been faithful to his conscience, but acknowledged that his own conscience was not perfect and still not the final judge of his life and motives.
“My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.”
~ 1 Corinthians 4:4
Developing a sensitivity to the Holy Spirit, reading and studying the scriptures, listening to the church leaders as they disciple us, honoring our own conscience in daily living, and lovingly honoring and protecting the conscience of the weak or broken, these are all components necessary to building, healing, and maintaining a healthy and clear conscience.
Some people choose to accept the “teaching” of the world, and by so doing they wound and twist their own conscience until it is no longer healthy enough to lead them even in the most basic ways of right living. The most basic right and wrong is no longer discernible by their conscience.
Thankfully, Christ offers healing to them, and if that describes your condition, He offers you today a pathway of healing for restoring your conscience to a healthy condition. You can begin the process right now by simply calling out to Him, “Lord Jesus, please rescue me!” and then let the healing process begin…
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