“Pray for us: for we trust we have a good conscience, in all things willing to live honestly.” Hebrews 13:18
Is it right to follow your conscience? Should we let our consciences be our guide, as we make our way through this world? What is the conscience? What does it do? Should I trust my conscience?
We all have a conscience. Someone said, “The conscience is the voice of God in a man’s soul.” I do not know whether that is true or not; but I do know that God has put a conscience in every person, which either accuses or excuses him in all his actions.
Conscience is that voice inside you that you simply cannot silence. You can muzzle it. You can sear the conscience. But you cannot silence it. It is that faculty of the mind, which God has put in us all, by which we judge the moral character of human conduct, our own and others. It is an inborn sense of right and wrong. As Charles Buck put it, the conscience is “the secret testimony of the soul, whereby it approves things that are good, and condemns those that are evil.”
Your conscience is the law of God written on your heart (Rom. 2:14-15). All men have a sense of right and wrong which, to a greater or lesser degree, reflects the law of God written upon the heart in creation. The conscience of a man often produces a sense of guilt, legal fear, which many mistake for conviction (John 8:9).
But the conviction of sin is more than a sense of guilt and just condemnation. The conviction of sin arises from the revelation of Christ in the heart and is accompanied by a conviction of righteousness and of judgment. Holy Spirit conviction is that gracious work of God the Holy Spirit by which he effectually applies the gospel to the hearts of chosen, redeemed sinners, causing them to see that Christ alone is and must be the object of faith, that righteousness has been established by the obedience of the God-man, and that divine justice has been satisfied by the sin-atoning blood of Christ (John 16:8-11).
It was their conscience which caused Adam and Eve to hide from God after the fall. It was their conscience that made them know their nakedness and filled them with shame. And the fact that they could appease their consciences with fig leaf garments, made by their own hands, shows that the conscience of fallen man is, like every faculty of human nature, utterly perverted and depraved.
We must not trust our consciences. The conscience cannot be trusted any more than the thoughts of the depraved mind or the emotions of the depraved heart can be trusted, because our depravity has made us perverse in all our faculties.
The Scriptures tell us plainly that the conscience of fallen man is “an evil conscience,” from which we must be cleansed by the blood of Christ (Heb. 10:22). The consciences of lost religious men are “defiled” (Tit. 1:15), so defiled that they may, in a sense, have “a good conscience” while performing abominable things (John 16:2; Acts 23:1; 26:9).
The Apostle Paul, writing by divine inspiration, tells us that when he was persecuting the church, wishing himself accursed from Christ, his conscience was bearing him witness. He was fully convinced that he was doing the right thing (Rom. 9:1).
Some are so hardened by free will, works religion or by ungodly behavior, often by both, that they live with a “seared” conscience (1 Tim. 4:1-2). Such men and women, even children (as we have seen in our newspapers in recent years) have consciences which are so cauterized and hardened that they are past feeling. They have no regard for the rightness or wrongness of what they say or do. They have no conscience of anything. John Gill wrote, “Under a cloak of sanctity they commit the most shocking impieties.”
If you work at it, if you hold down the truth of God long enough and persistently enough, you can cauterize your conscience. You can so sear your conscience, so harden yourself, that your conscience will excuse your wickedness and even justify your self-righteousness. We must never trust our consciences.
Let us ever be careful not to violate our consciences, not for anyone. But do not trust your conscience. He who trusts his own conscience, like he who trusts his own heart, trusts both a fool and a devil. Our guide in all things must be the Word of God alone! —Not our feelings!—Not our desires!—Not the opinions of others!—The Word of God alone!