The Faculty of the Conscience
by Glen Jackman | Posted June 20th at 2:49am
Here we will go into a deeper look at the faculty of the mind referred to as the conscience.
Your conscience is a gift from God, allowing you communion with the Holy Spirit to guide you in your redeemed life as you refer to the Word of God. It is the connective communicative path of union between God and man, whereby we hear the commands of God relative to obedience unto life versus disobedience unto death. It gives us an instinct that God has placed in our consciousness the echo of His Word, via this faculty – conscience — to know the difference between right and wrong.
For example, Joseph’s brothers felt remorse of conscience after placing him in a pit before selling him to traders that took him off to Egypt and then sold him into slavery. (Genesis 42:21) The scriptures make it clear that the communication of God is via his Spirit to our spirit. The Holy Spirit speaks to our heart to guide us into holy conduct, wisdom, safety, prosperity and health. Your ears will hear him. Right behind you, a voice will say, “This is the way you should go,” whether to the right or to the left. (Isaiah 30:21 NLT)
The clear conscience Paul could write to the Corinthian church stating that his conscience was clear regarding his faithful ministry to them: Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, especially in our relations with you, with integrity and godly sincerity. We have done so, relying not on worldly wisdom but on God’s grace. (2 Cor 1:12 NIV)
Maintaining a clear conscience will ensure that we do not deviate from how the Lord leads us daily. Cling to your faith in Christ and keep your conscience clear. Some people have deliberately violated their consciences; as a result, their faith has been shipwrecked. (1 Timothy 1:19 NIV)
We want to keep our conscience clear – free of doubt that we have compromised obedience — as we are under a probationary period before the 2nd Advent of Christ when he comes to judge the world. The apostle Paul stated: My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. (1 Corinthians 4:4)
The violated conscience A progressively violated conscience can lead to habits of disobedience that lead to a dangerous point of waywardness when one can no longer hear the Holy Spirit, or further when one can become devoid of the Spirit of Grace. In the last time, there will be scoffers following their ungodly passions. It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit. (Jude 1:18-19) In fact, one can become entirely cut off from the Spirit’s leading: Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared… (1 Timothy 4:2)
Man very frequently opposes what he or she knows to be the will of God by a distinct perception of judgement communicated by the Spirit applying the Word of God to the conscience. One of the great Puritan theologians wrote of the conscience: “This is sin; God sees it; God will punish it,” causing a man to feel restless and anxious, often with a physical sensation of disturbance. Man frequently wishes that such an impression was not so lively; however, despite all opposition, such judgment frequently makes its presence felt relating to mans’ will. The will is presented with a judicial communication that he is standing against the Spirit. 1
Karl Barth of the conscience writes: We must constantly decide between the secularity and the sanctification of our existence, between sin and grace, between a human being who forgets God, which is absolutely neutral concerning Him and therefore absolutely hostile, and one which in His revelation is awakened by faith as one called into the church, to the appropriation of His promise. 2
Yet Barth goes on to warn that our conscience may not be biblically grounded if not well-exercised in its use daily: It is obviously erroneous to state that the intellect of man, being in the state of sin, cannot err. This is directly contrary to Scripture, where we read that man is “blind” (Revelation 3:17), “having the understanding darkened” (Ephesians 4:18), and that “spiritual matters are hidden from the wise and the prudent” (Matthew 11:25). It also states that one can have a zeal, “but not according to knowledge” (Romans 10:2), that “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him” (1 Corinthians 2:14), and that there are “men of corrupt minds” (1 Timothy 6:5). 3
“Conscience” translated into the Dutch language (mede-wetenschap) means “knowledge of concurrence.” The conscience is man’s judgment concerning himself and his deeds, to the extent that he is subject to God’s judgment. The conscience consists of three elements: knowledge, witness, and acknowledgement. Willhelm Braekel expands on this: 4
- First, there is knowledge of the will of God at work. He commands or forbids every man with promises and threats. The conscience prescribes what must either be refrained from or be done. The more clearly and powerfully it does this, the better the conscience functions. Note the attribute of knowledge: Even Gentiles, who do not have God’s written law, show that they know his law when they instinctively obey it, even without having heard it. They demonstrate that God’s law is written in their hearts, for their conscience and thoughts either accuse them or tell them they are doing right (Romans 2:14–15).
- Secondly, there is the element of witness. After man’s obligation is held before him, it determines whether or not he has acted according to light and knowledge. The more painstakingly the conscience takes note of man’s deeds and his conformity to the commandment held before him, the more it keeps a precise record thereof, and the more clearly and powerfully it witnesses to man, the better it performs its duty. Note, they have a conscience that bears witness to their conduct—the witness to their conformity or lack of accordance to a commandment within God’s Word—is described by the apostle when he states: “their own conscience and thoughts either accuse them or tell them they are doing right” (Romans 2:15)
- Thirdly, there follows an acknowledgement. The righteous God is also aware of this and will reward or judge him accordingly. The more clearly the conscience acknowledges the knowledge of God and is sensitive to it, and the more it either reassures itself concerning this or is powerfully affected as a result, the more faithfully the conscience performs its task. We acknowledge that God is aware and will either reward or punish. These activities of the conscience can also be observed in the following texts: “With Christ as my witness, I speak with utter truthfulness. My conscience and the Holy Spirit confirm it.” (Rom. 9:1 KJV); “By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God;” (1 John 3:19–21 KJV).
The conscience is either good or evil. It is good when it performs its duty well. The conscience is good when:
- When our conscience immediately reveals and represents the will of God, obligating and stirring us up to do the will of God. “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind” (Romans 14:5).
- When our conscience is sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading, it may agitate or trouble us. “David got up and cut off the edge of Saul’s robe secretly. But it came about afterwards that David’s conscience bothered him because he had cut off the edge of Saul’s robe.” (1 Samuel 24:4-5)
- Similarly, the conscience reassures us: “I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying; my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 9:1); “By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything.” (1 John 3:19–21); “For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity” (2 Corinthians 1:12).
- Someone is said to have an evil conscience whenever evil thoughts or deeds fills one with anxiety, fear, and remorse. This realization isn’t that the conscience is corrupt, but instead that it is performing its duty well, but it is referred to as evil because it convicts a person of evil thoughts or deeds.
If the conscience does not perform the above tasks well, it is corrupt in and of itself, being remiss in its duty either in all or two of these activities. 5 The Spirit of truth enlightens a good conscience, and therefore always makes its decisions according to the standards of God’s holy Word. The conscience also may be distinguished as pure (1 Timothy 3:9; 2 Timothy 1:3); evil (Hebrews 10:22); defiled (Titus 1:15); weak (1 Corinthians 8:7); and seared (1 Timothy 4:2).
The witness of our spirit. Our spirit witnesses that we are aligning with the Spirit of God. Further, it consists of the consciousness that individually, we possess the character of the children of God. John Wesley held that the testimony of a good conscience within our heart: is the testimony of a good conscience toward God; and is the result of reason and reflection on what we feel in our souls. Strictly speaking, it is a conclusion drawn partly from the Word of God and partly from our own experience. The Word of God says everyone who has the fruit of the Spirit is a child of God. Experience or inward consciousness tells me that I have the fruit of the Spirit, and hence I rationally conclude; therefore, I am a child of God. Now, as this witness proceeds from the Spirit of God and is based on what He works in us, this is called the Spirit’s indirect witness to man’s soul. The direct testimony of the Spirit is fully confirmed. How am I assured, continues John Wesley, “that I do not mistake the voice of the Spirit? By the testimony of my own spirit; by the answer of a good conscience toward God: hereby I shall know that I am in no delusion, that I have not deceived my own soul. The immediate fruits of the Spirit, ruling in the heart, are love, joy, peace, mercy, humbleness of mind, meekness, gentleness, long-suffering. And the outward fruits are the doing of good to all men, and uniform obedience to all the commandments of God”. Then, we may say that these two witnesses, God’s Spirit to man’s conscience, taken together establish the assurance of salvation. 6
1 Willhelm Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, Translated by Joel Beeke
2 Karl Barth, Dogmatics
4 Willhelm Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, Translated by Joel Beeke
6 John Wesley, (Wesley, Works, I, p. 92)