Mar25WedMarch 25, 2020
Simple question for you: What is the conscience? Think for a minute about how you would answer that question. It’s not easy. The conscience is one of those things that almost every human has a general sense about, but that sense is very general, experiential, and fuzzy when it comes to actually defining it. We know when our conscience is having an effect on us, but to come up with a definition and specifics is tough. Maybe stop right now and try writing out a definition…see where you get with that before reading on.
Difficult? Have no worry! The second chapter of Naselli and Crowley’s book Conscience does all of the heavy lifting for the reader in terms of coming up with a definition; all the reader has to do is read!
If one wants a biblical definition of something, it only makes sense that one investigates what the Bible says about that topic. That is how the authors wisely approach the formulating of a definition for conscience. They note that the word conscience occurs 30 times in the New Testament: “Conscience occurs twice in Acts, twenty times in Paul’s letters, five times in Hebrews, and three times in 1 Peter” (33).
Here are the Scripture references:
- Acts 23:1
- Acts 24: 16
- Romans 2: 15.
- Romans 9: 1
- Romans 13: 5
- 1 Corinthians 8: 7
- 1 Corinthians 8: 10
- 1 Corinthians 8: 12
- 1 Corinthians 10: 25- 27 (x2)
- 1 Corinthians 10: 28– 29 (x3)
- 2 Corinthians 1: 12.
- 2 Corinthians 4: 2
- 2 Corinthians 5: 11
- 1 Timothy 1: 5
- 1 Timothy 1: 19
- 1 Timothy 3: 9
- 2 Timothy 1: 3
- Titus 1: 15
- Hebrews 9: 9b
- Hebrews 9: 14
- Hebrews 10: 2
- Hebrews 10: 22
- Hebrews 13: 18
- 1 Peter 2: 19
- 1 Peter 3: 16
- 1 Peter 3: 21
There is much to be gleaned from a study of these passages, and much to be gleaned from the author’s commentary. Please read this section and study the Scriptures. It is good stuff! The summarizing ideas that come out of these Scriptures give us both a definition and some important implications.
The authors note both positive and negative ways in which the New Testament speaks of the conscience:
- The conscience can be good in the sense of blameless, clear, clean, and pure (Acts 23: 1; 24: 16; 1 Tim. 1: 5, 19; 3: 9; 2 Tim. 1: 3; Heb. 13: 18; 1 Pet. 3: 16, 21).
- The conscience can be cleansed, that is, cleared, perfected, purified, washed, purged, and sprinkled clean (Heb. 9: 9, 14; 10: 22).
- The conscience can be weak (1 Cor. 8: 7, 10, 12).
- The conscience can be wounded (1 Cor. 8: 12).
- The conscience can be defiled (1 Cor. 8: 7; Titus 1: 15).
- The conscience can be encouraged or emboldened to sin (1 Cor. 8: 10).
- The conscience can be evil or guilty (Heb. 10: 22).
- The conscience can be seared as with a hot iron (1 Tim. 4: 2).
If you want to bring these observations from the theoretical to the “real life” just think about a time you struggled with sin. Think about your experiences as you walked down that dark path of willful sinning against your conscience. Did not your experience match what the Bible lays out as the negative consequences of not heeding your conscience? This is practical information that helps us better understand the conscience.
The authors also note what the Bible teaches the conscience can do:
- The conscience can bear witness or confirm (Rom. 2: 15; 9: 1; 2 Cor. 1: 12; 4: 2; 5: 11).
- The conscience can judge or try to determine another person’s freedom (1 Cor. 10: 29).
- The conscience can lead one to act a certain way. (Rom. 2: 15; 3: 5; 1 Cor. 10: 25, 27; 10: 28).
Again, bringing that to a very practical level, consider how important #3 is. If conscience has a bearing on how we behave—and I think we all know it does—than this isn’t the stuff of the intellect only, it is crucial in our walks.
The authors do arrive at a definition; “The conscience is your consciousness of what you believe is right and wrong” (42).
There are many implications and application to this now seemingly simple, biblical definition. How does your definition of the conscience compare to the author's definition?
Finally, the authors whet our appetites for the rest of the book by laying out how this information will be applied in the ensuing chapters:
- What should you do when your conscience condemns you? (ch. 3)
- How should you calibrate your conscience to match God’s will? (ch. 4)
- How should you relate to fellow Christians when your consciences disagree? (ch. 5)
- How should you relate to people in other cultures when your consciences disagree? (ch. 6)
This book, Conscience, by Naselli and Crowley would be near the top of my list of books that I would like my whole congregation to read. I hope my brief summary of this wonderful chapter makes the reason for that desire apparent. This is gold. Let’s keep mining this book for its riches in the coming weeks.