Purity In Conscience

Stan Cox


The Bible overflows with exhortations to purity. Note the following passages as examples of this:

From the preceding passages of scripture, the call of God to purity among His people becomes very clear. This call to purity covers the gamut ... every aspect of our lives. One very interesting area where God demands purity is in conscience. However, a proper understanding of the term "conscience", and the use of the term "purity" in connection with it is necessary for us to understand the teaching of scripture. This we will endeavor to establish in this article.

The Importance of Purity in Conscience

Notice the following types of conscience spoken of in the New Testament:

Good:

Notice especially the usage of the term "good conscience" in 1 Peter 3:21. It is used to explain how we are saved by Baptism. Denominational preachers in debate have long used the prejudicial claim, "You think that H2O saves!" that "There is something mystical" in the water. Such is of course not true! Baptism saves us as we respond, in good conscience, to the requirement God has set for us to obtain redemption. In effect, I ask God, "What must I do to be saved?" God answers, in part, "Be baptized" (cf. Acts 2:37-38). I have a conscience that is as it ought to be, and my conscience compels me to respond to the instructions of God. I listen to my conscience, and obey God. And I am saved. My salvation comes about by my "good conscience" responding to God's command. The power is not in the water itself, but as Peter says, "through the resurrection of Christ." Through it all, the statement of Peter stands... "There is also an antitype which now saves us; baptism..."

For our study, we need to recognize that a man cannot obtain salvation without possessing a good conscience.

Pure (Our Term)

Our challenge is to determine what is a pure conscience? This we will attempt to do. However, first please note the that Bible speaks of other types of conscience.

Weak and Defiled

The context of this passage is important in determining Paul's meaning while using the terms "weak" and "defiled" to describe the conscience of this "weak" brother. As in a similar passage in Romans 14, Paul is dealing with a matter that is not intrinsically sinful. While the brother who is not able to eat meat is described as weak and without knowledge, Paul does not indicate that he is committing sin. He is simply unable to engage in activities which are acceptable to God. Note, "food does not commend us to God; for neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we do not eat are we the worse." However, if this weak brother were to engage in that activity (eating meat), thinking in ignorance that it is sin, he would be defiling his conscience. The conscience of this man can be defiled because it is weak! The conscience, whatever it is, is not strong enough to dictate how that man will act. He acts in a way he thinks he ought not, and therefore sins. For, "...he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin" (Romans 14:23b).

Evil

Seared

What Is the Conscience?

The usage of the term "conscience" must be determined contextually. The greek word, suneidesis, is defined simply as, "A knowing with one's self; consciousness.". Depending on the context, the word is used to refer both to the conscience, and being consciousness or aware.

A more helpful definition is less technical. In plain speech the conscience is...

That feeling of pleasure or accomplishment when we do something we think is right, and that feeling of pain or shame when we do something we think is wrong!

Some have said that the conscience is our guide. Technically this is not entirely accurate. More appropriate would be to say that the Bible is our guide, and the conscience is a "voice" or "feeling" that backs up the guide. Of course, of great importance here is the realization that we must let the Bible be our guide! If we do not, and substitute another set of instructions for God's word, the conscience will be backing up the wrong thing! A revealing example of this is the Apostle Paul.

Paul As An Example

"Then Paul, looking earnestly at the council, said, 'Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day'" (Acts 23:1).

No one can doubt Paul's sincerity at any time in his life. He always followed the dictates of his conscience. And yet, for a time in his life he was actively persecuting the church of God! He did what he thought was right, but what he thought was right was in reality wrong. Paul was not to be condemned for following his conscience when he persecuted Christians. He was right in following his conscience, and we must always do the same. He was to be condemned for not following the dictates of the Lord.!

The Conscience is Reactive

There is an old computer acronym, GIGO, "Garbage in, Garbage out, " which accurately describes how computers work. They are "dumb" machines, only able to react to program input. If the programmer makes a mistake, the computer does not work correctly. Inaccurate results are obtained, or the computer might crash. The conscience is man's "moral computer", and GIGO applies to the conscience also. If the conscience is fed correct information, it is dependable, but if it is fed "garbage", it will lead you astray. The following chart illustrates this vividly:

Examples of Activities With a Good or Pure Conscience

Activities With Good Conscience

Garbage Fed to Conscience

Man on deathbed, "sure" of his salvation

Told "faith only" saves

Young woman aborting her unborn child

Told that baby is only "tissue" and not a person

Homosexual engages in perversions

Told God made him that way. Just "alternate lifestyle", not a perverted one

Man believes that salvation can be found in different denominations

Told that we're all going to the same place. It doesn't matter how you get there

Christian engages in activities such as dancing, drinking, smoking, gambling

Society accepts it, and many rationalize that such is acceptable if done in moderation

Bible Example

Paul - Persecuted the Church of God

Believed that Jesus was a Blasphemer

Simply stated, the conscience can be misled. "O LORD, I know the way of man is not in himself; It is not in man who walks to direct his own steps" (Jeremiah 10:23). "There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death" (Proverbs 14:12). Therefore, we MUST be sure we are not putting "Garbage" in, remembering "Garbage in, Garbage Out."

Applying the Lessons

First, we must study to make sure we know what is God's will for us. It is dangerous to listen to the conscience unless one knows God's will. It could be said that many are listening to their conscience all the way to hell. A diligent study of God's word is essential. "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).

After determining what is God's will, always listen to your conscience! Again, it is a sin not to follow the dictates of your conscience. Remember the words of Paul, quoted earlier, "But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin" (Romans 14:23). This passage describes a man who eats meat while his conscience is tells him not to. He eats despite the fact he feels shame when he eats. His lack of self-control is indicative of a weak conscience. If this type of behavior continues, the conscience will become seared!

How Can A Conscience Become Seared?

A seared conscience results from the continual sublimation of shame. Shame relates to the conscience very closely. Remember part of our definition? The conscience is that " feeling of pain or shame when we do something we think is wrong!" When a person violates their conscience, doing something that causes them to feel shame, there are two possible ways to react to that shame. That shame, (godly sorrow), can lead them to repentance for the sin committed (cf. 2 Cor. 7:10). Or, that sorrow can be ignored, deeply buried into the subconscious. The first time a person sins, and violates their conscience the feeling of shame will be quite strong. But if the feeling is ignored, the next time the feeling of shame is not quite as strong. The third time, the feeling is still weaker, and finally the feeling of shame will no longer be present when sin is committed. This is a seared conscience, and a danger we all should be careful to avoid. A good example of this are the pagans described by Paul in Romans 1:20-32:

"For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man; and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due. And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them."

Described here is a people who have so often ignored God and what was right that they have become totally seared in conscience. They ought to know better, but do not because they have for so long refused to heed the counsel of God. As such they not only glory in what they do, but support others in the same sin. May we never be guilty of the same, for as Paul said, they "are without excuse." Don't let this happen to you, always listen to your conscience.

Conclusion

 A live, tender conscience is infallible in its purpose. Remember, Paul's conscience did not fail him, even when he was persecuting God's people. The conscience did its job. It fulfilled the purpose God intended for it to fulfill. But, the conscience is only beneficial if it receives the proper "input", i.e. God's will for man revealed in the scriptures.

To maintain purity of conscience, we must always heed our conscience. Gain all the information we can from God's word so that we can form correct judgments, then give heed to the urge of conscience.


e-mail this author at stancox@watchmanmag.com

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