A Quick Word on the Conscience and Christian Witness

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A number of people have asked me if my conscience troubles me with the thought of opposing a Trump presidency by checking Clinton in November if it comes to that. In yesterday’s post I offered a brief and simple reply of “Yes.” But I also went on to say that a spotlessly clear conscience may not be open to Christians of conviction if we seriously think we face two “evil” outcomes. Part of what “choosing the lesser of two evils” necessary involves is a conflict of conscience.

As I’ve been asked this question it’s seemed to me that many people think their conscience is the final arbiter of what’s right and wrong. They’ve suggested an implicit trust in their conscience, that internal witness to right and wrong that God has placed in every human heart. But we ought to be careful of implicitly trusting our conscience because the conscience can be weak, defiled, uninformed, overly sensitive, dull or even cut. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done in our spiritual lives for our consciences to function properly.

To be clear, no one is arguing that anyone should “vote against their conscience.” What I’m suggesting here is that we have to have a biblical view of the conscience, inform it by the Bible, before we can act in ways that properly satisfy it.

In that spirit, here are ten summary statements about the conscience from the Bible:

1. We should seek to live in good conscience before God all of our lives (Acts 23:1; 2 Cor. 1:12; 2 Tim. 1:3);
2. We should seek to live with a clear conscience before men (Acts 24:16; 2 Cor. 4:2; 1 Pet. 3:16);
3. Our conscience bears witness for/against us (Rom. 2:15; 9:1);
4. We should submit to government as a matter of conscience (Rom. 13:5);
5. But the conscience can be weak, defiled, and even seared (1 Cor. 8:7, 10, 12; 1 Tim. 4:12; Titus 1:5);
6. We have a responsibility to consider the consciences of others in matters of worship (1 Cor. 10:27-29);
7. God’s word is meant to produce in us godly love that comes, in part, from a good conscience (1 Tim. 1:5);
8. One part of our spiritual warfare and faithfulness is defined by keeping a good conscience (1 Tim. 1:19);
9. The conscience is not perfected by religious acts of worship like sacrifices (Heb. 9:9) but only by the blood of Christ (Heb. 9:14; 10:22; 1 Pet. 3:21);
10. Christians should pray for one another, that our acts lead to a clean conscience (Heb. 13:18).

What is evident in all of this is that the conscience should be a guide, an alarm system of sorts, but shouldn’t be trusted as the final arbiter. The word of God has that place because the conscience needs to be instructed, informed and sometimes reformed. So, in the context of clear and present evil, it’s not enough to simply say, “My conscience won’t let me.” We actually have to ask our conscience some questions about the whole counsel of God in our situation. We may still end up saying, “My conscience won’t let me based upon the word of God,” but that’s a better position than an implicit trust in one’s conscience–which can be wrong and often is for many.

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “There is a higher court than courts of justice and that is the court of conscience. It supersedes all other courts.” Ghandhi was wrong. There is the court of heaven whose laws are written in the scripture. There’s no higher court than God’s; it supersedes the conscience. If we trust our conscience without inspecting it by the light of God’s word, then we’re closer to Gandhi in our view of the conscience than we are the Lord Jesus.

So those asking questions of conscience have a correct concern. We all just need to keep pressing into the scripture for the answers rather than the conscience alone.

 

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