Apr8WedApril 8, 2020
There is so much good in chapter 4 of Conscience: What It Is, How to Train It, and Loving Those Who Differ that is was hard to decide what to write about this week. I hope you are still reading along with us; this is great stuff!
The title of this chapter is, “How Should You Calibrate Your Conscience?” and that pointed me in the direction I’ll follow for this post. The question which the authors have used as a chapter title assumes something. It assumes that our consciences aren’t infallible.
The authors deal with this assumption explicitly in the sections with the subtitles “How Reliable Is your Conscience?” (59) and “Is Your Conscience Theologically Correct?” (61). The authors emphasize that the believer has a reliable conscience: “So the general principle, especially for Christians who have the Holy Spirit and the holy Scripture, is that you should listen to and obey your conscience” and “As a general rule, you should assume that your conscience is reliable, even if it isn’t perfect. And since conscience is usually right, the Bible says that we should do what our conscience says until we are convinced from Scripture that it needs adjusting” (60).
So a believer’s conscience is generally reliable but it is not infallible. None of us should be surprised at that. First, only God is perfect and we are reminded that a believer’s “conscience is not identical to the voice of God” (61). Further, the doctrine of total depravity affirms that our consciences are not perfect.
Louis Berkhof, in his classic Systematic Theology, makes a clarifying point about total depravity when he confirms that “that the inherent corruption [as described in total depravity] extends to every part of a man’s nature, to all the faculties and powers of both soul and body.” That is, the God-given capacity we call the conscience is one of many things marred by our fall into sin. It is not perfect. It needs to be calibrated.
Coming to terms with this truth has very real consequences in how we direct our consciences as they function within us. We need to obey our consciences as long as we believe they are accurately conveying to us information that aligns with God and his revealed will to us. However, we need to be prepared to calibrate—or correct—our consciences when we become aware that this capacity is no longer aligned with God.
The chapter fleshes out this idea as well as many other related ideas such as: the theologically correctness of the conscience, reasons the conscience changes, delineating the difference between sinning against the conscience and calibrating it, and how to calibrate the conscience.
I’m thankful for the reliability of the conscience in general and for the help the Spirit gives believers in terms of understanding right and wrong. And I’m also thankful for the Spirit’s help to believers as we seek to align our beliefs and practices with what God has revealed in his Word.