The Struggle for a Good Conscience

At times the spiritual struggle rages from within.  There is a constant struggle that goes on in every Christian with the conscience. How we handle this conflict may decide whether we win or lose the war with sin.  Consider two types of spiritual battle that we all face:

1. There is the struggle for self-praise and worth by the conscience; that is, doing what one knows he ought to do.

  • Romans 14:22 –  Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God.             

2. There is the struggle to have a clear conscience before God.

  • Acts 24:16 …This being so, I myself always strive to have a conscience without offense toward God and men.


I.  What is the Conscience? 

A.  Literally, from the Latin, the word “conscience” is derived from: the prefix con (with, together), and science (to know).  Hence, it is a “knowing together with oneself.”

1. The Greek word, suneidesis (soon-i’-day-sis) carries the same meaning. It denotes self-knowledge.

a.  On the word, Thayer says,The soul as distinguishing  between what is morally good and bad, prompting to do the former, and shunning the latter, commending the one, condemning the other.”

b.  William Hendriksen states, “Conscience is man’s moral intuition, his moral self in the act of passing judgment upon his own state, emotions, and thoughts, also upon his own words and actions whether these be viewed as past, present, or future.”

  • Rom 2:14-1514 for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, 15 who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them

c. Though the word “conscience” is not used in the O.T., the presence of it is affirmed, even in the first appearance of sin.  Genesis 3:7-107 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings. 8 And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 Then the Lord God called to Adam and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 So he said, “I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself.”

  • 2 Samuel 24:10 – “David’s heart smote him” (KJV)


II.  What is the Purpose of the Conscience? – Many view the conscience (inner voice) as a moral guide. Many times we hear people say, “Just let your conscience be your guide” or “As long as one follows his conscience he is safe” or “As long as one is sincere he is all right.” This is a deceptive and dangerous approach to morality that leads to a false perception of what is right and wrong.

A.   It is not a moral guide. It cannot be a guide for anything because that is not its function.

1.  It would have be infallible in its judgment.  The word of God is the only infallible guide in spiritual matters.

2.  It is possible to be conscientiously wrong about what is right. Consider the apostle Paul (Saul).

  • He persecuted the way of Christ, putting both men and women in prison for serving the Lord (Acts 22:4).
  • Before king Agrippa he said, “I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth” (Acts 26:9).
  • He also said, “Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day” (Acts 23:1).
  • He was acting in accordance with his conscience (in all good conscience) when he was doing what as morally wrong. Paul said he “was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief” (1 Tim. 1:13).

3.   The conscience therefore does not determine (what is right or wrong) – it only reacts.  Robert Whiteside describes it this way… We are getting at conscience when we think of it as that feeling of pleasure when we do what we think is right, and of pain when we do what we think is wrong. It is that which backs up our moral judgment. Saul of Tarsus always did what he thought was right, and therefore always had a good conscience. But his information was wrong, and therefore his moral judgment was wrong. Our judgment may be wrong because the ideas upon which we base our judgment may be wrong.  A pagan believing in the existence of idol gods has a good conscience and is very sincere in worshiping idols. But his sincerity and conviction do not make him right in the matter.

  • In this sense, a good conscience is one that does not condemn itself – It is pure from any perception of guilt.

B.   The reliability of our conscience is based upon the standard (information) it is reacting to.  Our consciences tell us what is right or wrong in relation to our standard.  Thus the conscience is like a watch.  It can serve a useful purpose, but only if set correctly. If set incorrectly (i.e., if misinformed about what is good or bad), it can lead to wrong choices and encourage sinful actions.


III.  Striving for a Good Conscience:  While the conscience may not always be a reliable guide, God desires that we have a good conscience regarding our faith.

A.  The Goal of a Good Conscience1 Timothy 1:5 – 5 Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith,.,,  Paul’s point is that the law of God is designed to develop within us a pure heart that trusts and obeys God and therefore does not condemn itself.  This good conscience is only made possible through God’s forgiveness.

1.  Forgiveness is possible because of Jesus’ sacrifice.  Heb 9:11-14 –  But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation.  12 Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.  13 For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh,  14 how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?  The blood of Jesus cleanses the conscience by removing the recognition of guilt produced by the law.  We are justified (pronounced innocent.)

2.  Peter says in 1 Peter 3:2121 There is also an antitype which now saves us — baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,  The word for interrogation is also rendered “appeal” (ASV). In baptism we make an appeal to God for a good (clear) conscience, thus it is only after baptism that we are forgiven. Baptism connects us with the blood of Christ, and so, in that sense, baptism saves us.

3.  We maintain a good conscience through obedience to the will of God.  Paul demanded that those who served as deacons be able to “hold the mystery of Christ with a pure conscience”. (1 Tim. 3:9) They are to be men who live up to what they know to be right. Those who know what God commands and obeys His word, are approved within themselves by their conscience. Paul speaks about the Holy Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are the children of God. (Rom. 8:16). If we know to do good, but do not do it, it is sin, and our conscience condemns us.

a.  1 John 3:19-21 – 19 And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him. 20 For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. 21 Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God.  If our own hearts (consciences) condemn us, God will likewise condemn us. If we live up to our conscience, then we have confidence before God.


IV.  Protecting Our Conscience: There is an absolute requirement of God concerning your conscience.  You must never act against it. This is the force of Paul’s words in  Romans 14:2323 But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin. It is wrong to practice even that which is right, if we go against the urgings of our own conscience and do it with doubts.

A.  This is not because it is always right, but because it is always needed in the fight against sin. It serves an indispensable purpose in the working of the shield of faith. Our consciousness of sin in our lives must always be awake and real.  Why is it so important to not violate our conscience?

B.  God warns against “defiling” the conscience. Titus 1:15-16 – To the pure all things are pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; but even their mind and conscience are defiled.  16 They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every good work.  This defiling is caused by consistent disregard to the urging of an educated conscience. In 1 Cor. 8:7ff the weak conscience becomes defiled because the Christian disregards his conscientious doubts and eats meats when he is convinced that it is wrong. He acts against his conscience. It is the fruit of hypocrisy.  But the harm does not end there.

C.   When one constantly acts against his conscience, it becomes insensitive to the knowledge of sin, and thus loses its power and purpose.  The Bible refers to this as searing the conscience. 1 Tim 4:1-2 – Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, 2 speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron,

1.  The word “seared” here is the Greek word kausteriazo (kows-tay-ree-ad’-zo) to brand (“cauterize”), …to render insensitive. MacArthur says… The false teachers’ consciences have been so ignored and misinformed that they have become like scar tissue burned senseless, which cease to function. With scarred consciences, they feel no guilt or remorse as they purvey their false doctrines.

2.  Have you ever driven a car without brakes?  If we destroy our conscience, we will have no brakes when temptations attack.  The conscience works like brakes on a car. If you apply the brakes and the gas at the same time (work against your brakes), the brake linings will burn up and will not stop the car.

D.   One who continually makes excuses for not doing what he knows to be right he will in time destroy his conscience.  He may decide to remain willfully ignorant of what God requires and thereby render his conscience useless. Paul spoke about those who “…did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind (conscience) , to do those things which are not fitting;  (Romans 1:28)


Conclusion:   Violating one’s conscience is spiritual suicide.  The knowledge of God’s words that produces faith becomes worthless apart from the proper working of the conscience.  Thus what God has designed to shield us is rendered ineffective.  What are the applications?

  • We must look into the Bible and strive to know God’s will. Our consciences must be educated by the Spirit of God.
  • We must strive to live up to the knowledge of our consciences in all things. Our first concern is to please God, and thus keep our consciences pure before Him.  “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).
  • We must protect our consciences through consistent obedience and the practice of love towards those who are weaker in conscience. The call of the working conscience is repentance.  (we will look at this closer tonight). Do not quench the words of the Spirit and the urgings of your conscience.

Hebrews 13:18 –  Pray for us; for we are confident that we have a good conscience, in all things desiring to live honorably.

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