Tag Archives: Christian conscience

Whose Voice is It?

Someone recently asked a question like this:  “So is it my conscience or the evil one’s voice I hear accusing me?”

Does it matter?  I wonder if we err when we try to see clear distinctions between these things.  Would it matter to the evil one if your conscience condemned you?  Probably not, if you listened.  And would your conscience have been constructed in such a way that you would condemn yourself even when Jesus does not condemn you if the evil one’s influence had not moved it in that direction?  The two are connected.

In other words, as we dissect our feelings and the undesirable activity that goes on in our heads, maybe what we learn isn’t all that helpful anyway.  Someone asked this question: “If Satan starts a fire over there and you rush to put it out; then he moves to another place and you move to battle him there; and then he moves again and you go to meet him—who are you following?”

Perhaps the answer for us is simply to begin to seek the Lord’s voice.  He says that those who belong to Him know His voice.  I can’t tell you how many times I have heard that challenged.  For years I have argued against the idea that the Christian life is passive.  We are not under law to follow the law, but we have a long way to go to really walk in relationship with our Lord.  That’s our goal—to know Him and grow in that knowledge.  That’s where we will find freedom and peace and true joy.  In Jesus.

Our position is secure because of Him, but there is much about who we are in Him that we have yet to understand and enjoy.  Ignore any voice that condemns you and binds you, whether you think it comes from inside or outside.  Learn to follow the Savior’s voice.  That’s the only one that matters.

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The Christian and the Conscience

When the conscience became a tool of the Law everything turned toward the things of the Law.  Rules, standards, things to avoid—these became the focus of religious (Law-centered) life.  Good was obeying.  Evil was disobeying.  People still made choices, but they made choices with a new perspective.

But here’s the problem: the conscience was still broken.  The conscience, even under the Law, could not discern right from wrong.  So David wrote:

Who can understand his errors? Cleanse me from secret faults. Psalm 19:12

And the author of Proverbs called his readers to wisdom, to go past the voice of the conscience to the voice of God:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths. Proverbs 3:5-6

So, even before the cross, the people of God were to be aware of the brokenness of their conscience.  They were to seek the word of the Lord.  Their own understanding, that which the flesh system had built in them, was insufficient and deceptive.  They would not be able to depend on it for truth.  They needed the voice of the Lord.

When Christ came to us and we were saved and His life became ours, two things happened in relation to the conscience.  First, the reality of our situation changed.  We no longer were under condemnation of any kind and the Holy Spirit was resident within us.  All our sins—past, present, and future—were washed away in the blood of Jesus.  We were set free from the domination of sin forever.

But our conscience doesn’t understand that.  I ask people all the time to tell me how much sin is on their accounts with God.  I get all kinds of answers.  Some say lots; others say only what has not been confessed; some understand that there is no sin on their accounts because it has all been dealt with on the cross.  But the reality of that truth does not come from our flesh.  Our flesh is still the same old system it always was.  It still sees life the way it used to.

Our flesh is a system with which we are very familiar.  We grew up with it.  We put it together over years and through many experiences.  It is very difficult for us to leave it behind.  Much of the perspective offered by our flesh still makes sense to us.  Our conscience is still active and still messed up.  It still misleads us and it still condemns us.

John wrote:

For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God. 1 John 3:20-21

In other words, if your conscience condemns you, find the truth in the Lord.  He knows and He tells you that there is no condemnation (Romans 8:1).  If your conscience does not condemn you, give thanks that you are beginning to walk in the Spirit.  Either way, your focus should be on the Lord.

and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

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The Conscience and the Law

It would be difficult to determine what the conscience was like before the Law.  The Scriptures tell of a law written on the heart (Rom 2:15), which may be a reference to the general knowledge of good and evil all people carry whether they know of the Law or not.  Even if this “law in the heart” can be ignored or deceived, it is still present in some way.

But when the Law was given to Israel and, through Israel, disseminated to the world, a framework or definition was given to the conscience.  Now God was in the equation and things like holiness and righteousness were presented to the conscience.  Suddenly, those confronted with the Law found an expression for the general shame they felt.  They had sinned.

I realize that some will think that it is strange to refer to the conscience as an almost independent force in our lives, while denying that the conscience is the same as the Holy Spirit.  But the conscience is an arm of the flesh and the flesh feels and acts almost foreign to the believer.  The unbeliever doesn’t feel this in the same way, but still hears the “voice” in a way that seems separate from himself.  So the conscience became an accuser against those who discovered the Law.

All things work together for good, right?  God used the conscience in the lives of many unbelievers to draw them to Him.  The Holy Spirit spoke truth into their lives and the conscience spoke condemnation.  Why did the conscience speak condemnation, especially when it was supposed to serve the flesh?  Isn’t the flesh set against the Spirit?  Wouldn’t the flesh draw a person to evil?  Why would God use the conscience?

Under the Law the conscience found the reason for its struggle.  It was never the purpose of the conscience to draw us to evil.  The conscience was broken by sin and could not truly discern good and evil.  Decisions were made on the basis of faulty knowledge and perspectives.  We lived under a tension that would not go away.  When the conscience was exposed to the Law, things began to make sense.

Now, remember that the Holy Spirit is very active on behalf of unbelievers.  He convicts them, the Scripture says.  That suggests that He moves them in the direction their conscience is pushing them and makes them ready for the way of salvation.  One example is when David disobeyed God.  Notice what the text says:

And David’s heart condemned him after he had numbered the people. So David said to the LORD, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done; but now, I pray, O LORD, take away the iniquity of Your servant, for I have done very foolishly.” 2 Samuel 24:10

Notice that David’s conscience (heart) condemned him.  But David knew the Lord and the Holy Spirit was active in his life, so David went directly to the One who could and would forgive.  With the condemnation was the salvation, praise the Lord.

But the conscience became a tool of the Law for those who had the Law.

 

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The Conscience is not the Holy Spirit (or vice versa)

Many believers were taught that their conscience was actually the voice of the Holy Spirit.  When they feel caution about an activity, they believe they are hearing the Spirit’s concern about that activity.  The Holy Spirit does speak to those who will listen.  And, I believe, He speaks to us in our hearts with nudges and cautions.  But there are some concerns with thinking that the Holy Spirit is the new conscience of the believer. 

First, the flesh did not die on the cross.  The old man died.  I have taught about the difference between the old man and the flesh in another place.  The flesh continues to be active in our lives and we must learn to trust the Spirit rather than the flesh.  Because the conscience is part of the flesh system we learned through our lives and through the input of others, it did not go away when we were saved.  It continues to try to guide us and show us the difference between right and wrong.

Second, the flesh system is set against the Spirit.  The flesh was formed and nurtured in sin and the perspective of the conscience is based on both attraction to evil and personal condemnation.  Paul constantly calls us to walk according to the Spirit rather than the flesh.  The flesh deceives us because it is based on the lies presented through sin.  The conscience deceives us in the same way.

You know what I mean.  Some people seem to have no conscience.  Anything they choose to do is acceptable in their hearts.  I have heard people justify many terrible things, including murder, as though they had no sense of conscience.  I have had the opportunity to visit with two murderers as they sat in jail awaiting trial.  Neither of them expressed regret for what they did.  There was no shame, no self-condemnation, nothing but frustration at getting caught.

Because the conscience is part of the flesh, it serves the fleshly desires of the sinner.  It finds ways to excuse or redefine sin.  It can be trained to ignore some things while focusing on others.  When a person becomes a believer, that part of the conscience doesn’t go away.  Instead, it is forced to operate within a new system.  And, in that new system, it takes a new approach.

Think about this: what does the flesh want in you?  It wants to go back to the way things were.  So how will it do this when you have come to Christ?  By keeping you from your freedom and forgiveness in Christ and pulling you back to shame, condemnation, and performance. 

For the believer, the conscience will become the inner voice of condemnation.  It will tell you that certain things are evil for you, while others are good.  But it is still deceived and deceiving.  It is still broken.  It does not know what is evil, it only knows what fits its system and what does not.  The new life in Christ, the freedom and victory in which we live, does not fit with the flesh system and it is rejected by the conscience.  The old life of performance and striving does fit with the flesh system, so the conscience will try to draw us back.

The believer cannot trust his or her conscience.  We are to look to the Spirit for guidance.  The source of information we need is not of us.  The Lord will tell us what is right and what is wrong—and sometimes what He says is unexpected.

Thoughts?  Are you totally confused?  Questions?

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