By Tyson Thorne

January 3, 2017

The second edition of divine law was written in our conscience. The human conscience can be a tricky thing. It is intended to be a guide, or witness, to help us discern right and wrong. It doesn’t teach us right from wrong, but prods us to do what we know to be right. There is a reason, for instance, most every culture acknowledges that murder and theft are wrong. This is an example of God’s law written on our conscience (or heart, as it is referred to in the Old Testament). In Romans 2.15 Paul states:

For whenever the Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature the things required by the law, these who do not have the law are a law to themselves. 2:15 They show that the work of the law is written in their hearts, as their conscience bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or else defend them, 2:16 on the day when God will judge the secrets of human hearts, according to my gospel through Christ Jesus.

In other words, our conscience bears witness to our guilt and to the rightness of God’s divine law. That said, the conscience isn’t perfect. In 1 Timothy 4.2 we learn that the conscience can be seared, or trained to believe a lie is the truth or that a truth is a lie. Think of a lie detector test as an example. One can beat a lie detector if the person being questioned believes what they are saying is true. This is (partly) why these tests are not permitted to be used as evidence in a court of law.

Speaking of court cases, in Acts 23 we find Paul being questioned by the Sanhedrin, the Jewish religious high court. During questioning, Paul states for the record, “Brothers, I have lived my life with a clear conscience before God to this day.” How is that possible, when we know that before becoming a servant of Jesus he had arrested Christians and even assured some of them received the death sentence? Was Paul wrong in his zeal to oppress Jesus-followers? Most certainly. But he believed he was doing right, and therefore did not violate his conscience. So, while the conscience can be seared or retrained so that we no longer feel guilt or shame for our sins, it is from the outset a declaration of divine law.

If the conscience can be trained to misdirect us, then how can we trust it? For unregenerate man, the conscience is largely developed by our families, friends and culture which, while usually fair and proper, are not completely trustworthy. For example, our societies direction regarding issues of gender, marriage and divorce are clearly wrong. Even so, many believe these sources to be trustworthy and train their conscience accordingly. For a conscience to be trustworthy, it must be trained by trustworthy sources. Were do we turn for truth in morality and instruction in righteousness? That’s right, the Bible.

Thinking biblically involves the conscience. God’s word is the gold standard of morality. If your conscience is prompting you to act in a way that is contrary to biblical teaching, then you have identified an area where the conscience must be retrained. But more often than not, particularly for mature believers, the conscience keeps in step with Scripture. This is one more reason why it is important to be biblically literate.

Jerry White, author of the book Honestly, Morality & Conscience provides a clear matrix for determining how to respond to ethical dilemmas.

By following this process -- instead of relying on our own judgment -- we will develop a conscience that resembles what God gave to us in the beginning; one which can be used by the Holy Spirit and that can be trusted by its host.

Learn Biblical Hebrew Online


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