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

An active conscience is an unhappy conscience. A conscience is an important check to our fallen nature. After Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit of the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, the state of man instantly changed from “untested innocence” to “sinner.” Our forefathers immediately hid from God for they had this strange sense that they had violated God’s commandment and they knew they did not deserve His approbation any longer. The “human conscience” had been born. From then on, every normal human being has a component that may be informed to identify good and evil, right and wrong.

Some have defined the conscience as “my knowing of myself.” For years, my definition of conscience has been “what God says about what I have done” based upon Romans 2:15. A proper dictionary definition says that the conscience is consciousness, feeling, sense, moral sense; knowledge of right and wrong with a compulsion to do right; moral judgment that prohibits or opposes the violation of a previously recognized ethical principle.

It is instructive that the dictionary definition begins with consciousness, for the whole deal of the conscience is to cause awareness within the individual. A clear conscience is an inactive conscience, quiet, silent, settled, calm, and carefree. A violated conscience is an active conscience, stormy, uneasy, nagging, buffeting, and complaining. The Greek word translated conscience is suneidesis—“co-knowledge (with oneself).” The conscience functions as an umpire with a club. From our earliest days this component of our inner man has been with us. It has the capacity to file away within it those moral, ethical, and religious concepts of good and evil that are instantly flagged before our mind’s eye when we do something that violates its catalogue of acceptability, or sometimes when we contemplate transgressing our conscience.

The conscience is only as trustworthy as what it has been fed. It can never be the final judge and jury of an individual’s guidance, let alone a filter that equips a man to discern what parts of God’s law he is bound to follow and what is discretionary. As an illustration of a damaged conscience, 1 Timothy 4:1–2 informs us, “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron.” Always beware of liars who seek to sooth your offended conscience! Guard against a seared, insensible, and ineffectual conscience that has grown calloused through the abuse both from without and within. A violated conscience is a guilty conscience and it must be handled biblically or there will be lasting consequences.

Thank God if you had good parents who planted within you a healthy conscience of moral, ethical, and religious instruction! Your conscience functions in the capacity of Romans 2:15, “Who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between their thoughts accusing or else excusing them.” When such an individual has a healthy, functioning, and equipped conscience, and is challenged with the Gospel and recognizes that, in sin, he has violated God’s holy law and His holy character, conviction besets him and, with the aid of the Word of God, the Holy Spirit plants new life within him, cleanses him, and washes his conscience clean. Then is operative Hebrews 9:14, “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?” Over in 10:22 the same author says, “let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of the faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”

Living in obedience to your Lord is a newness of mind because of a newness of life (Romans 7:6) such that Romans 8:6 can plainly say, “For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Are you faithfully seeking to equip your conscience with the tools it needs to be a faithful conscience by searching out a biblical church, faithful friends, and maintaining consistent Bible devotions? Is your conscience a healthy conscience because you know what God defines as right and wrong? Are you obedient to the Lord and not offending your biblically equipped conscience? Trust and obey.