The Bible has a lot to say about conscience and how it relates to decision making, morality, and our relationship with God. In just a few words, here’s the key point: our conscience comes from God and helps guide us, but it is not perfect or fully reliable on its own.
In this comprehensive article, we will explore numerous Bible verses about conscience, analyze their meaning, and see how they all tie together to form a complete picture of the biblical view of conscience. We’ll cover questions like: What exactly is the conscience? How does it work?
Can it be corrupted? And how should we use it properly?
Defining Conscience Biblically
Conscience as Inner Knowledge Given by God
The Bible teaches that conscience is an inner sense of right and wrong that God has placed within every person (Romans 2:14-15). It is part of being created in God’s image. Conscience can be viewed as the “voice of God” imparting an intuitive knowledge of His moral law.
Our conscience either accuses us when we violate God’s law or excuses us when we do what is right (Romans 2:14-15).
Conscience Convicting and Excusing
According to the Bible, the conscience has two key functions – to convict and to excuse. When we go against our conscience and do something wrong, we often feel guilty, ashamed or anxious. This is our conscience convicting us of sin.
However, when we seek to honor God and resist sin, our conscience brings feelings of peace, assurance and self-respect. This is our conscience excusing us for doing what is right (1 John 3:19-21).
Conscience and the Law Written on Our Hearts
The Bible teaches that God has written His moral law on the hearts of all people (Romans 2:14-15). This God-given inner sense of right and wrong that we call “conscience” is part of having God’s law engraved on our hearts. Our conscience bears witness to this law in our inner being.
When we violate our conscience, it is because we are going against this moral law within. According to Scripture, even people without God’s written law show the work of God’s moral law written on their hearts by the way their thoughts either condemn or excuse their actions based on the testimony of their consciences (Romans 2:14-16).
How Conscience Works
Conscience Assessing Thoughts and Actions
The conscience is the inner sense that assesses our thoughts and actions to determine if they are right or wrong according to God’s standards (Romans 2:14-15). It either accuses us with guilt when we go against God’s moral law or excuses us when we act righteously.
The Bible says that all people have a conscience, though some ignore or silence its voice (1 Timothy 4:2).
Our conscience works best when we calibrate it to God’s Word, which is the ultimate standard of right and wrong. As we study the Bible, pray, and walk in obedience to God, our conscience becomes more discerning of good and evil (Hebrews 5:14).
However, if we repeatedly go against our conscience, it can become dull or calloused (1 Timothy 4:2).
Training and Corrupting Conscience
Since the conscience judges according to a person’s moral standards, it can approve of sin if those standards are low or corrupted. This is why the Bible warns us not to go against our conscience (Romans 14:23), even if our conscience is poorly or inadequately informed.
Violating our conscience dulls our God-given moral sense over time. The goal should be to inform and educate our conscience through God’s Word so we can mature in our moral judgment.
The Bible says believers can have different levels of conscience on disputable matters like food, holy days, and rituals (Romans 14:1-12). But violating one’s conscience, even a weak or strict conscience bound by erroneous standards, still constitutes sin because it goes against a person’s moral duty as he or she perceives it.
As Christians, we must be patient with one another in issues of conscience, embodying the command to “accept one another” (Romans 15:7). The ultimate goal is training our conscience to be fully aligned with Scripture.
Weak and Wounded Consciences
A weak or overscrupulous conscience gets offended easily, binding itself to standards not explicitly set forth in Scripture (1 Corinthians 8:7). A person with a weak conscience may also live under feelings of perpetual anxiety that their behavior or thoughts might violate God’s standards.
This can result from an unbiblical view of God as harsh, severe, easily displeased, or aloof.
A wounded conscience goes in the opposite direction, feeling little or no guilt over actions that Scripture defines as sinful. A wounded conscience rebels against the awareness of sin, often because of some unaddressed pain or injury from the past.
In some cases, past wounds involving authority figures imprint themselves upon a person’s perception of God.
The good news is that Scripture presents God as a wise, understanding Father who offers grace and forgiveness to all who turn to Him (Psalm 103:8-14). Believers should handle weak or wounded consciences gently and point them to God’s compassionate love in the gospel.
Using Conscience Correctly
Not Replacing God’s Commands
While our conscience can serve as a moral guide, it should not override or replace God’s commands in Scripture (Isaiah 8:20). Our conscience can be misguided or ill-informed at times. As Romans 14:23 states, “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.”
So we need to continually check our conscience against the truths of God’s Word.
For instance, in Acts 23:1 Paul said he had “lived his life in good conscience before God up to this day.” Yet earlier Paul had persecuted Christians when he thought he was righteous to do so. His conscience and sincerely held beliefs had been wrong because they contradicted Christ.
Evaluating Conscience Against Scripture
Our conscience alone is not an infallible guide to truth and morality. While it acts like an inner umpire to prompt us towards right behavior, our conscience needs recalibration at times when held up against the light of Scripture.
As an example, 1 Corinthians 8 addresses eating food sacrificed to idols. Paul explains that while this act might violate some believer’s sensitive consciences, food itself is amoral. So each person must act according to their own conscience but be careful not to flaunt their freedom to more legalistic brothers and sisters.
Pursuing Inner Peace and Purity
While we cannot always trust our conscience fully, a clean but sensitive conscience can foster inner peace and spiritual well-being. As Hebrews 13:18 (NIV) says, “We want to live honorably in every way.”
So we should aim to have a clear conscience before God and others by confessing sins, making amends, granting forgiveness, keeping our word, and acting with integrity. As 1 Timothy 1:5 (ESV) explains, “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.”
In conclusion, the Bible clearly shows conscience is a gift from God that enables inner moral guidance aligned with His universal law. However, conscience is not infallible and must be continually refined through God’s objective revelation.
While an invaluable asset, conscience can never override or contradict the Bible’s clear commands. When used properly in submission to Scripture, conscience powerfully enables living at peace with God, others, and oneself.