Man is inherently different from animals in that he possesses a conscience from where he knows, within, what is right and what is wrong. Thirty-two times in the New Testament the word conscience is used and always means to “know from within.” God gave man the ability to test everything in life at a court which resides within us. Our words and actions are judged by our own knowledge within whether they are approved or condemned.
Paul writes that even Gentiles who do not have God’s written law, understand what is right and wrong by their conscience. People all over the world know what they should do because God has given them the ability to know these things through their consciences of sin and righteousness that resides within each one of us.
Even Gentiles, who do not have God’s written law, show that they know his law when they instinctively obey it, even without having heard it. They demonstrate that God’s law is written in their hearts, for their own conscience and thoughts either accuse them or tell them they are doing right. ~Romans 2:14-15 (NLT)
Our conscience is not the law of God, but it bears witness to God’s law because both have the same source. We have a conscience because God created us this way. This awareness of what is right and wrong is one of the undeniable evidences of God’s existence and the fact that He created us different from the animal kingdom. We know when we are right; and we know when we are wrong. This is possible because a judgement system exists within us that tells us these things.
A conscience of right and wrong is not found in the animal kingdom. Animals act instinctively, not by a moral code.
The conscience is not necessary in the evolutionary processes of Darwin. In fact, it is an annoyance to the premise that the strong survive by overcoming the weak. In the animal kingdom we do not see a conscience nor regret for harsh or aggressive actions. These behaviors are normal and expected, only by human beings.
The presence of innate knowledge is unique to human beings, and is a stunning indication of our origin.
God claims that He made us in His Image. He is perfect in moral behavior and He created each one of us as moral beings. From our beginning, we were created with a righteous and perfect moral code. It was only after the fall when experience in both good and evil presented a problem with mans moral compass.
Morality is not understood as necessary but that human beings naturally expect morality. For example: we might take something that does not belong to us, while we feel extreme offense at having something of ours taken by another.
Human beings often have difficulty with forgiveness or grace in the face of offenses committed by another, while pleading for mercy and forgiveness when they have done the offending.
The presence of an inner awareness and need for moral treatment by other people—though we do not do the same in our own life—speaks volumes about the origin of moral behavior. We all understand that doing right is desirable in human society, doing wrong is offensive to most all of the human population.
It is impossible to attribute this innate sense of right and wrong to social engineering. The quality of righteousness is desirable at even a very young age before it is imprinted into the heart and mind of an adolescent.
This basis for morality also works well in those who do not believe in God as they also feel guilt when they do wrong. The atheist is right that God is not necessary for a person to understand the difference between right and wrong for even those who do not believe that God exists have a conscience. It is not the presence of moral values which proves the existence of God but the conscience which causes guilt in the face of wrongdoing. This conscience is a gift from God and proves that His makers mark is imprinted upon the heart of every person.
In the spiritual sense, consciousness of God and what He requires of us, depends upon our spiritual knowledge of God and what He has said in His word. The greater our spiritual knowledge of God, the stronger our inner conscience will become. The more that a person suppresses their conscience by a denial of God and His world, the less the conscience operates within a person.
The Results Of A Suppressed Conscience
Individuals who suppress their conscience long enough and continue to do wrong, cause the conscience to no longer function. When human beings violate their conscience repeatedly, this ability to sense the difference between right and wrong becomes seared and these persons lose their ability to feel guilt. When this process has reached its completion an individual may become a Sociopath.
A few of the behaviors that develop in people who have lost or do not possess a functioning conscience:
- They do not recognize the rights of others.
- People are seen as instruments to be used.
- A grandiose sense of self.
- A person can tell a lie or speak an untruth without guilt.
- It is almost impossible for this person to consistently tell the truth.
- A complete lack of remorse or feelings of guilt
- Any sense of empathy or love comes from an underlying ulterior motive.
- Often promiscuous, with deviant sexual behavior
- Lack of empathy for the suffering of others
- Leading parasitic lifestyle, taking pleasure from the pain of others
Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron. ~1 Timothy 4:1-2
Notice that the conscience, which has been provided by God, is damaged by denying God. This, in turn, opens the spirit of this person to “giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons.” This conscience that is seared, or can no longer feel guilt or remorse, leads to an abhorrent lifestyle.
It is interesting that this loss of conscience is linked to demonic activity in the life of a person. This is not to say that this person has knowingly participated in the worship of demons. A denial of God removes His protection from our life and opens us up to the possibility of demonic oppression or possession. These individuals become prey for demonic activity that can further sear the conscience and prevent a person from feeling any guilt or empathy towards other people. Along with the loss of a clear moral compass that dictates what is right or wrong behavior, these individuals are without feeling concerning how their behavior hurts or affects other people.
It is clear that the human conscience, which causes us to feel guilt, is intended as a sign that God exists.
The Conscience And Christians
For those who love and trust Christ, the conscience acts as a teacher to show us what is proper and what is not. Every person who first trusts in Jesus is similar to a child who is growing from childhood into adulthood. Like children, the baby Christian must be guarded and protected, taught gradually and nurtured.
Many new Christians have very weak consciences. Some have come out of substance abuse and have a low tolerance for people who use alcohol, drugs, or other substances. For these individuals their conscience is very sensitive to people who claim to be Christians while having a beer or glass of wine. The older Christian may have the freedom to drink an alcoholic beverage with dinner or at home. For the new Christian who has been freed from an addiction to alcohol, seeing another believer exercise their freedom can have catastrophic results.
For this reason, Paul states in 1 Corinthians that the mature believer in Christ should be sensitive to the newer believer and his conscience. A mature follower of Christ should avoid a public display of drinking alcohol so as not cause any new Christian to stumble.
But you must be careful so that your freedom does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble. For if others see you—with your “superior knowledge”—(drinking or doing anything to make them stumble), won’t they be encouraged to violate their conscience by (doing what you are doing, though they feel it is wrong?) So because of your superior knowledge, a weak believer for whom Christ died will be destroyed. And when you sin against other believers by encouraging them to do something they believe is wrong, you are sinning against Christ. So if what I (eat or drink) causes another believer to sin, I will never (eat or drink) again as long as I live—for I don’t want to cause another believer to stumble. ~1 Corinthians 8:9-13 (NLT)
The issue here is not whether you personally have the freedom to do something for which the Bible does not specifically condemn, but whether another Christian may feel that this is wrong. If you want to exercise your freedom to have a beer or glass of wine, Paul says, have it at home—out of view of other Christians who are less mature or have less freedom that you have.
We do this for the sake of love and because of the conscience of other believers who would be affected by seeing us in public drinking an alcoholic beverage (or anything else that may stumble another person).
Our conscience is provided for us by God as a measurement to determine what is right and what is wrong, but also how our behavior might affect other people. If you are a known Christian by unbelievers and you are seen at a restaurant having a beer, how will this affect their view of you as a follower of Christ? If an unbeliever hears you using foul or abusive language, telling a joke with a sexual innuendo, how will this affect your witness for Christ?
For this reason, we must be very careful about how we live and speak in the presence of other Christians, as well as non-believers. We should care as the followers of Jesus, how our behavior affects other Christians and those who don’t know Christ yet.
How To Grow Your Conscience
The fastest and most effective way to develop a mature conscience is to commit yourself to daily study of the Bible. Whether it is 15 minutes or an hour, any exposure to the word of God on a daily basis will have a tremendous affect on the life of a believer.
Follow this quiet time alone with the Lord in His word with a few minutes of prayer. Tell the Lord about all your problems, hurts, concerns, and needs. He already knows these things, but communicating them to Him in prayer will help you. When we talk to God about our life and tell Him how we feel, our hearts become opened and aware of what He wants and desires for us. Prayer does not change God, it changes us. We are the ones who come into an awareness of who we are, who God is, and what our relationship with Him means, when we talk to Him every day.
Fellowship with other believers is also essential to a growing relationship with God and the development of a healthy conscience. We need to be with other people who also love Jesus and want to live their lives for Him. At church, social events, in corporate Bible study, worship, or prayer, Christians grow tremendously.
By being with other Christian we learn that the conscience of new believers are often weaker than our own. We learn to think of other people before we say or do certain things. We learn that how we live—either for Christ or for this world—affects our witness to the world.
If we exercise our freedom in Christ in the presence of a newer believer, this less mature believer may decide to imitate us and cause harm to their own conscience. Just as with children, we don’t pamper them, but seek to lead them into maturity be setting a good example of what a true follower of Jesus should look and sound like.
Many people in the world are watching those who claim to know Jesus to see what kind of a person you are. If your speech and actions are not at all the type that we see exhibited by Jesus, then we become a barrier to people who may come to Christ. If we live our life without compromise, speaking and acting like Jesus has shown us in the New Testament, then people in the world will be attracted to Jesus.
Pay attention to your conscience, it is a messenger sent to you out of love to help you live a happy and effective life.