What Is the Conscience?

Today it’s common to hear about people being “socially conscious” or having a “social conscience.” We hear about the need for corporations to be socially conscious, meaning they should care for the environment and natural resources, or help the less fortunate with business profits. We also hear about famous people who go to help in other countries; they are admired and said to have a social conscience.

Charitable works are surely admirable, and as believers in Christ we should take heed to the words of the Lord Jesus telling us that we should remember the poor, be cheerful givers, and love our neighbor as ourselves.

But concerning the definition of conscience, as Christians we must look to the Bible, and not merely to society’s meaning today. Let’s look at some verses and study notes in the Recovery Version to see what the Bible says about our conscience.

What is the conscience?

Every human being, regardless of culture, ethnicity, or background, has a conscience. Our conscience is the part of our human spirit that tells us when we’ve done something wrong, when we’ve offended God. Listen to what Romans 2:15 says:

“Who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness with it and their reasonings, one with the other, accusing or even excusing them.”

The study note on conscience in the New Testament Recovery Version says this:

“Man’s conscience corresponds with the God-created human nature and enables man to know what God justifies and what He condemns.“

How can we know what God justifies, or approves of, and what He condemns? How can we know when we’ve sinned or offended God? It’s the role of our conscience. When we’ve sinned, offended God, or offended others, the job of our conscience is to let us know. It acts like a smoke alarm, sounding out when we’re wrong and remaining quiet when we have no problem with God.

We’ve all heard the voice of our conscience when we’ve sinned or done something that doesn’t correspond with God’s holy, righteous, or loving nature. Our conscience convicts us, no matter how we try to suppress its voice or attempt to reason our actions away. It persists in condemning us. This is actually a good thing; otherwise, we’d be like a house without a smoke alarm; we wouldn’t know when we’re under God’s disapproval. Our conscience lets us know in no uncertain terms what God condemns.

Because of our conscience, we knew right from wrong even before we were saved. When we were unsaved, our conscience told us that we were sinful and in need of a savior. After we’re saved, the Lord lives in our spirit, and our conscience is even more sensitive and active than before. It tells us when we’ve sinned, and our sins create a problem between us and God, disrupting our fellowship with Him.

What is a good conscience?

First Timothy 1:5 says,

“But the end of the charge is love out of a pure heart and out of a good conscience and out of unfeigned faith.”

Part of note 3 on this verse explains what a good conscience is:

“A good conscience is a conscience without offense (Acts 24:16).”

Our conscience is “good” not because we’ve done good deeds, but because it’s without offense. We have a good conscience when we have nothing our conscience must condemn us for. Our conscience is good when we haven’t offended God or anyone else.

So according to what we see in God’s Word, it’s quite possible for us to do good works, to be socially conscious, to help the poor and assist those in need, yet still not have a good conscience.

It all depends. If we’ve offended God, our conscience condemns us; at that time, we don’t have a good conscience, a conscience void of offense, regardless of the charitable acts we’ve performed. Those acts cannot expunge, outweigh, or cover an offense against God in the conscience.

How can we have a good conscience?

Since we’re still fallen sinners even after we’re saved, we’re prone to sin. It takes no effort on our part to offend God by sinning or disobeying Him, or to offend others by our words or actions. And when we do, our conscience condemns us.

So how can we have a good conscience, one without offense? Many times when our conscience makes us aware we’ve sinned, our first reaction is to reason in our mind to justify or excuse our actions to ourselves.

But actually, only the blood of Christ can purify our conscience and deal with the offenses there. Hebrews 9:14 gives us this wonderful word:

“How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God?”

Christ’s blood alone, not our doing good works, making up our mind to do better, or regretting our wrongdoing, can purify our conscience and wash away our offenses. We must simply confess to God the sins our conscience makes us aware of. When we confess our sins to God, He immediately forgives us and cleanses away the stain of sin. God is satisfied with the blood of Jesus, and our purified conscience is peaceful and good again.

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Why is a good conscience important?

The Bible gives Christians a particular word to show us how important having a good conscience is in 1 Timothy 1:19:

“Holding faith and a good conscience, concerning which some, thrusting these away, have become shipwrecked regarding the faith.”

The first part of note 1 on this verse explains further:

“Faith and a good conscience (see note 53) go together. Whenever there is an offense in our conscience, there will be a leakage, and our faith will leak away.”

Since faith and a good conscience go together, the state of our conscience affects our faith. When we allow an offense to remain undealt with in our conscience, our faith leaks away. This leakage can cause us to eventually lose faith in the Lord, even to such an extent that we become “shipwrecked” regarding our faith.

Note 2 explains shipwrecked:

“This shows the seriousness of thrusting away faith and a good conscience. To hold faith and a good conscience is a safeguard for our Christian faith and life. The word shipwrecked implies that the Christian life and the church life are like a ship sailing on a stormy sea, needing to be safeguarded by faith and a good conscience.”

The graphic imagery of a shipwreck shows us the consequences of not caring for our conscience and ignoring its speaking when we’ve offended God. What a sobering word!

We don’t want to become shipwrecked regarding our faith. For us to continue in our Christian life, we must maintain a good conscience. This is achieved by being right with God and man, by our having a conscience that has no offense in it to condemn us for.

Thank the Lord for His clear Word concerning our conscience in the Bible! Let us learn to pay attention to our conscience. Instead of trying to reason our sins away, let us deal with any offense by confessing that sin to God. We can daily experience our conscience being purified by the precious blood of Christ and go on in our Christian life holding faith and a good conscience.