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. (Romans 2:15—NKJV)

Our consciences are indispensable tools. Living conscientiously is a great virtue. The Greek word means “to know with” (co-knowledge—with oneself, the witness borne to one’s conduct). Some have said it is “my knowing of myself.” I believe a Christian would fundamentally define the conscience as “what God says about what I have done.”

Among men, the conscience plays the part of an internal boundary referee. It quietly observes your thoughts, words, and deeds from within. Your conscience maintains a file of rules and boundaries to the game of life which it has collected from numerous sources, whether parental guidance, friends, education, or life observation. It freely blows the whistle on any action it observes which it has been programmed to spot.

The conscience has but two weaknesses. First, it may be mistaken in its refereeing if it has not been taught the righteous standards of God. Because of this limitation, it may be strangely silent when it ought to be mightily exercised at an offense to both God and mankind. Conversely, it may be bombarding you with guilt when God has spoken peace. Second, its whistle-blowing may be drowned out by external influences, or seared and desensitized by your direct and constant violations to its collection of conventions and boundaries.

We know when man received his conscience. It was as a result of the first sin in the Garden of Eden. Man violated the freedoms that God had given him by taking of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and his “eyes were opened.” Of all the trees he could freely eat, save the two special trees. Mankind’s freedom has been severely curtailed and, what little there remains, tenuous ever since. Biblically speaking, man’s freedom from the tyranny of sin was totally lost until the cross of Christ; social freedom was lost due to the influences of the conscience; and political freedom has been enjoyed by only a precious few because of courageous sacrifice. Do not let the lesson be lost upon you that all freedom (spiritual, social, and political) comes at a great cost.

Our text teaches the basic mechanics of the human conscience. What we receptively learn during our lifetimes about manners, fair play, good behavior, and citizenship is collected and catalogued by our conscience and is employed by it as a rulebook. The conscience is only as dependable as the rules it is given.

When a person trusts Christ and he is equipped by the Holy Spirit to embrace the teachings of the Bible, his conscience is given a new education every time he opens the Word. According to the book of Hebrews, the believer’s conscience is cleansed by the blood of Christ (10:22). It is purged of uselessness and made serviceable for the purposes of the Lord (9:14). Rather than being an adversary to our freedoms, it is transformed into an ally for eternal good (Hebrews 13:18, 1 Peter 3:16, 1 Timothy 1:5, 19). There is nothing quite as comforting as a God-equipped conscience that is “void of offense” (Acts 24:16) and “pure” (1 Timothy 3:9).

Be wary of a silent conscience. Value a pure conscience. Remember that the conscience is not a “guide” but a “referee.” Pursue your guidance, not from your internal referee, but from your “Coach” in the heavenlies. Allow your conscience to be educated in your daily devotions with God. Trust and obey.