Q.

Please comment about the conscience. I have heard that we should not let it be our guide, as the saying goes; but what is it, and what value does it have?

A.
The conscience can be defined as “the basis or standard for what an individual says and thinks,” a “modus operandi.” It is the conglomeration of what a person has been taught, how he or she has been trained, and what the person has experienced (or not experienced). This conglomeration, in turn, influences the person.

Since the Bible is the only sure standard, the saying, “Let your conscience be your guide” is trustworthy only as far as the person’s conscience is in line with Scripture. “Let your conscience be your guide” is a comprehensive statement that includes the consciences of both believers and unbelievers. However, their consciences may be in varying degrees short on Bible truth, thus the problem with the saying.

For example, a person whose conscience is devoid of Scriptural standards and who lets his “conscience be his guide” may have no qualms about “trying to live a good life” to be saved or about accepting such sins as homosexuality or adultery. He or she can “let his conscience be his guide” and live these lifestyles because his conscience is devoid of Scriptural standards in these areas. Others may have heard what the Bible says about these and other matters, but they have suppressed the truth or excused it away. But it is the Bible, not the conscience that determines what is right and wrong.

The Bible indicates that both believers and unbelievers have a conscience, but the Bible makes a distinction between the two types of people when it comes to the conscience. Of the unbeliever the Bible says that the law of God is “written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness” (Romans 2:15). However, the mind can rise above the conscience and reject truth and justify wrong.

The apostle Paul told about his pre-conversion days this way: “Indeed, I myself thought I must do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth” (Acts 26:9). In 1 Timothy 4:2 we read of unbelievers who sear their own consciences, making them completely unresponsive to the truth. Unbelievers can also be pricked or cut to the heart in their consciences (Acts 2:37; 7:54).

The conscience of the believer, in contrast, is essentially a new conscience. It needs building up from the beginning of the new life onward, as part of the total package we call growth in grace. The more a believer grows spiritually, the more the conscience will conform to the Word of God. The conscience in turn serves as a valuable judge in everyday life as to whether or not the believer is following and obeying God’s Word. Thus one must never violate a conscience that is in tune with Scripture. The believer’s conscience must be clear (2 Timothy 1:3) toward both God and others (Acts 24:16).

Do you have feedback or a Bible question to submit? Send to nolson@garbc.org or mail to Norman A. Olson in care of the Baptist Bulletin, 1300 N. Meacham Rd., Schaumburg, IL 60173-4806.

Reprinted from the Baptist Bulletin (January 2005).
© 2005 Regular Baptist Press. All rights reserved.
Used by permission.