Keep a good conscience

Why is it important to keep a good conscience?

Our conscience is a very important component of our spiritual make up, and it is important to understand what it is, how it functions, and what to do with it. This is because we can backslide severely, and even ruin our faith, if we don’t keep a good conscience.

1 Tm 1:19 keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith.

In 1 Tm 1:19, Paul observed that some people rejected the idea that one needed to keep a clean conscience. He further observed that when they did that, the inevitable result was that they lost their faith and ended up in hell.

For this reason Paul made sure that he kept a good conscience.

Heb 13:18 Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a good conscience, desiring to conduct ourselves honorably in all things.

The end result was that at the end of his life he could say that he fought the good fight and kept the faith.

2 Tm 4:7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith;

One aspect of the good fight is the fight to keep a clear conscience. We too need to fight to keep a clear conscience so that like Paul, at the end of our lives, we can say that we have kept the faith.

There is another reason why it is important to keep a good conscience, and it has to do with God answering prayer concerning us. When we ask people to pray for us, we ourselves must also make sure that our conscience is a good conscience. Otherwise, there is no point in others praying for us.

Heb 13:18 Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a good conscience, desiring to conduct ourselves honorably in all things.

People sometimes pray and get no answer. Then they ask other people (perhaps godly men or women) to pray for them and still nothing happens. Why is that so? Has the devil succeeded in jamming God’s wireless Internet connection? Surely not! What then is the reason? The answer may lie here: there is no point in other people praying for us if we ourselves do not have a good conscience.

To summarize: we need to keep our conscience clean so that righteous people can pray for us effectively and so that we can keep the faith.

What is the conscience and what is its role?

Our conscience is a component of our spiritual makeup. It tells us whether we are doing wrong or right. That is, it is an inbuilt arbiter of the moral Law of God.

Rom 2:15 in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them,

Our conscience speaks to us by inserting thoughts into our mind. It accuses us (saying that what we thought or did was wrong) or defends us (saying that what we thought or did was right).

Our conscience is good when there is nothing wrong that it can accuse us of. This happens when every wrong thing that we have done is taken care of i.e. every sin is forgiven, and every wrong thing that needs to be set right is set right. When our conscience is clear God is for us and not against us.

There are just two states that our conscience can be in: good or bad.

The Bible uses various terms to describe a good conscience: good conscience = clear conscience = clean conscience = perfect conscience.

The Bible uses various terms to describe a bad conscience: bad conscience = defiled conscience = accusing conscience = weak conscience = wounded conscience = bothering conscience = evil conscience.

When our conscience is bad God has got something against us.

What does it take to keep a clean conscience?

Keeping a good conscience is a two step process. The first step in keeping a good conscience is like desiring to draw a straight line as straight as possible. The second step is to fix the crookedness in the line that we actually end up drawing.

The author of Hebrews puts step one in this way: a good conscience is one that desires to conduct itself honorably in all things.

Heb 13:18 Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a good conscience, desiring to conduct ourselves honorably in all things.

As Paul went about in life, he desired to conduct himself honorably in all things. That is, Paul wanted to do the right thing every time.

This is the first step – to desire to do the right thing every time. To say it another way, to keep a good conscience you need to desire to not do anything wrong at any time.

Water baptism is an appeal to God for a good conscience.

1 Pet 3:21 Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you – not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience – through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

In water baptism we are asking God to bring us to a state where we always do what our conscience says is the correct thing to do. It is saying, "O God, I don’t want to sin anymore. Please help me to not sin anymore."

The second step is to handle situations where the line was not drawn perfectly straight. That is, when we think or say or do things in a manner that is offensive to God we need to repent and retract and make restitution.

Mt 5:23-24 23 "Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering."

For example, suppose you were tempted to despise someone and you gave in to it. At that point, your conscience is defiled. You need to repent of it by acknowledging that you just sinned and asking God to forgive your sin.

If we have an impure heart (a heart that makes generalizations about people’s behavior) then our conscience bothers us continually because our entire attitude is wrong.

Tit 1:15 To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled.

In such cases we need to continually repent and take strong action to change our attitude.

For another example, suppose you told someone a lie about someone else. At that point, your conscience is defiled. You need to repent of it by acknowledging that you just sinned and asking God to forgive your sin. You also need to retract your statement, letting the person know that you told a lie, if and when God prompts you to do so.

For a third example, suppose you stole something from a person or an organization. At that point, your conscience is defiled. You need to repent of it by acknowledging that you just sinned and asking God to forgive your sin. You also need to make restitution to that person or organization if and when God prompts you to do so.

Additionally, in order to keep a good conscience in God’s sight, we must accept suffering that we do not deserve.

1 Pet 3:16 and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame.

So here is a situation: you’ve done nothing wrong (yet). Then you hear that someone spoke evil of you to your friend. You then go and speak evil of the person who spoke evil of you. Now you’ve done something wrong and acquired a bad conscience. For the sake of keeping a good conscience God expects you to bear up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. So you’ve got to do the three Rs: repent, retract and restitute.

1 Pet 2:19 For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly.

When others sin against us we should not return evil for evil, and if we have done so, we must set it right so that our conscience is kept good.

It is that simple, and yet very difficult. Why? It is because of our pride. However, the value of having a good conscience is enormous, and the price to have a good conscience is worth paying.

How sensitive is your conscience? There was a time when David had a very sensitive conscience – which is one of the reasons why he was a man after God’s own heart.

1 Sam 24:5 It came about afterward that David's conscience bothered him because he had cut off the edge of Saul's {robe.}

Saul did a lot of evil to David, and David could have justified his behavior above. But when God prompted him to repent and retract what he did to Saul, David did so.

Isn’t it amazing that so much about keeping a good conscience is with respect to how we deal with other human beings?

Have a sober estimate of yourself

Don’t automatically think that you have always had a perfectly good conscience.

This was what Paul said before.

Ac 23:1 Paul, looking intently at the Council, said, "Brethren, I have lived my life with a perfectly good conscience before God up to this day."

But then he sinned by wishing God’s judgment upon the ruler of the people.

Later, he was not so confident – instead of saying that he continually lived with a good conscience he just said that he tried to live with a good conscience.

Ac 24:16 "In view of this, I also do my best to maintain always a blameless conscience both before God and before men.

Conscience in the Old and New Testaments

In the Old Testament, sins could not be truly forgiven because the price of sins was not yet paid. As a result, the sacrifices of animals did not cleanse the conscience.

Heb 9:8-9 The Holy Spirit is signifying this, that the way into the holy place has not yet been disclosed while the outer tabernacle is still standing, which is a symbol for the present time. Accordingly both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make the worshiper perfect in conscience,

It was only in the New Testament that the conscience could truly be cleansed, because the price for sins had been paid.

Heb 9:13-14 if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?

A dead work is a work that results in spiritual death. That is, a dead work is a sin. When you sin, your conscience points out that you have sinned. But once your conscience is cleansed from your dead works it no longer points out that sin to you. This initial cleansing happens when you are born again. After that, when you sin, as long as you walk in God’s light, the blood of Jesus cleanses you from all sin.

1 Jn 1:7 but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.

In the Old Testament, the conscience was not clean – that is, the conscience still reminded people of sin that they had committed and already sacrificed for.

Heb 10:2 Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness of sins?

In the New Testament our conscience is made clean through the forgiveness that is in Christ.

Heb 10:22 let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

The New Testament relation between the conscience and the Holy Spirit

For those who are born again, their conscience testifies along with the indwelling Holy Spirit.

Rom 9:1 I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit,

In a believer, the conscience works under the control of the Holy Spirit. That is, the Holy Spirit speaks to us through our conscience.

Consider Rom 13:5.

Rom 13:5 Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience' sake.

"For conscience’ sake" means "in order to keep our conscience clean."

What Paul is saying in Rom 13:5 is that when we do things, we should do things, not just because of fear of punishment (i.e. not only because of wrath), but more so because our conscience tells us what is right and what is wrong. Our life should be a life controlled by our conscience, and our conscience should be controlled by the Holy Spirit.

Christian leaders really need to keep their conscience clean

Keeping a clean conscience is even more important if you are a leader, serving God in the church.

Paul served God with a clear conscience. When we serve God we too must serve Him with a clear conscience.

2 Tm 1:3 I thank God, whom I serve with a clear conscience the way my forefathers did, as I constantly remember you in my prayers night and day,

There is no point in serving God if He has something against you. Consider Mt 5:23-24

Mt 5:23-24 23 "Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering."

If we are to be reconciled to our brother before we serve God how much more should we be reconciled to God before we serve Him?

When we instruct people in the Lord, our goal must be to lead them to a good conscience.

1 Tm 1:5 But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.

You can’t lead people to a good conscience if you yourself don’t have a good conscience. That is why it is important for a leader to have a good conscience.

Elders must not just hold on to the mystery of the faith, but must do so with a good conscience.

1 Tm 3:8-9 8 Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain, 9 but holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.

The "mystery of the faith" refers to things that the Bible tells us to believe that are hard to understand. It is hard for a sinful man to believe that he can overcome sin. However, the Bible tells us that we can. We may not understand how, but we still need to believe.

Just believing things that one doesn’t fully understand is not enough; one must also act upon what one believes. When we sin, we need to seek forgiveness and repent and continue to press on while continuing to believe that we can overcome sin. This is how we hold on to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.

Sordid gain is to expect and demand money for what you do as a minister of the gospel. If you are a leader, and you are fond of sordid gain you need to believe that God will supply all your needs (this is the mystery of the faith that you must hold on to) and seek forgiveness for, and repent of, being fond of sordid gain (this is how you keep a clear conscience).

Dealing with other people’s conscience

We are not to merely be concerned about our own conscience but also about our brother’s conscience. That is, we must be careful to not say or do things that will cause our brother’s conscience to become defiled.

Paul desired to maintain a blameless conscience not just before God, but also before men.

Ac 24:16 "In view of this, I also do my best to maintain always a blameless conscience both before God and before men.

In other words, he wanted to live in such a way that no man could accuse him of doing wrong.

Rom 12:17 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men.

As a servant of God, Paul want to do what was right in the sight of all men. He wanted others to see that his motives were always good.

Paul understood that God was aware of his motives but he also desired that the people to whom he ministered to were aware of his motives.

2 Cor 5:11 Therefore knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, but we are made manifest to God; and I hope that we are made manifest also in your consciences.

Paul commended himself to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.

2 Cor 4:2 but we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God.

In other words, Paul was saying something like this: "You examine my life – not just my public life, but also my private life. I’m hiding nothing from you. I’m not trying to fool you. I’ve got no hidden agenda. The things I say about God are all true, and I’m not just saying it so that I can get something from you for my benefit; I’m only saying it because it is true and so that you may benefit from that truth." That is how we need to serve God.

Different people have different levels of sensitivity in their conscience. That is, one person’s conscience may say that something is sin, whereas another person’s conscience may not say that the same thing is sin.

We must be careful not to do things that will result in defiling a brother’s conscience.

1 Cor 8:12 And so, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.

For example, in 1 Cor 8 we read of people who thought that food sacrificed to an idol should not be eaten – ever. Some, on the other hand, thought it was okay to eat anything. Paul himself thought it was okay to eat anything, but he took the other person’s perspective into consideration when he did things.

1 Cor 8:7 However not all men have this knowledge; but some, being accustomed to the idol until now, eat food as if it were sacrificed to an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled.

1 Cor 8:10 For if someone sees you, who have knowledge, dining in an idol's temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols?

So we see that a Christian must not only be concerned about their own conscience, but about other people’s conscience too. Therefore, if you think it is okay to do something, but you know that your brother thinks that it is not okay to do that same thing, then you need to be careful to not do that thing in your brother’s presence. This is because, if he sees you do it he might do it too, and sin in doing so because his conscience will not let him do it. When you cause a brother to sin like this, then you sin too.

Sometimes we can refuse to go into details of things so that our conscience will not bother us.

1 Cor 10:25 Eat anything that is sold in the meat market without asking questions for conscience' sake;

However, if someone else (even an unbeliever) thinks that something is wrong we should not do it even if it is right to us so that their conscience won’t get all messed up.

1 Cor 10:27-29 If one of the unbelievers invites you and you want to go, eat anything that is set before you without asking questions for conscience’ sake. But if anyone says to you, "This is meat sacrificed to idols," do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for conscience' sake; I mean not your own conscience, but the other man's; for why is my freedom judged by another's conscience?

In this case, a person (an unbeliever) thinks that something is okay for him to do but not okay for you to do. In such a case, you should not do it in his presence just because he thinks it is not okay for you to do. This is because you will not be able to be a good witness to him if his impression of you is that you do wrong things.

The guiding principle is in 1 Cor 10:31-33.

1 Cor 10:31-33 31 Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 32 Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God ; 33 just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit but the profit of the many, so that they may be saved.

The reason why this guiding principle exists is because God expects us to be considerate of other people’s conscience.

What does your conscience say to you?

Our conscience speaks to us and we need to listen to it.

2 Cor 1:12 For our proud confidence is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in holiness and godly sincerity, not in fleshly wisdom but in the grace of God, we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially toward you.

Paul’s conscience told him that he conducted himself properly towards others. Let us live so that we always have the same testimony too.

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