Christian morals



21. Could you tell me something more about the conscience; I know that the Holy Spirit awakes it, but what effect does sin have on the conscience? Is there any Biblical basis for the well known ‘scruples of conscience’?



The Scripture states in various ways that every human being has a conscience. Now, the conscience of those who are far from God is contaminated by dead works, that is, by the sins they commit and of which they are slaves.

Paul says to Titus about those who don’t believe: “Even their mind and conscience are defiled” (Titus 1:15 – NKJV). It is evident that a man feels this contamination because when conscience is contaminated, it rebukes him. When the Scribes and Pharisees brought to Jesus that woman caught in adultery and they asked Him if they had to stone her as the law of Moses commanded to do, and Jesus said to them: “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first” (John 8:7 – NKJV), the Scripture says that “those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last” (John 8:9 – NKJV). Why were they convicted by their conscience? Evidently because they themselves, who were ready to condemn a person, deserved to be condemned for their sins, which lay heavy on their conscience. However, although men’s conscience is contaminated by sin, it continues to bear them witness that they must do certain right things, which are written in the law. For Paul says to the saints of Rome: “Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them” (Romans 2:14-15 – NIV). A contaminated conscience can be purified only by the blood of Christ, for the author of the epistle to the Hebrews says: “For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Hebrews 9:13-14). The atoning sacrifices prescribed by the law cannot cleanse a man’s conscience from sin, for the Scripture says about the first tabernacle that “was a figure for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience; Which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation” (Hebrews 9:9-10). Therefore, it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins from man’s conscience. But what that blood cannot do can be done by the precious blood of Christ, the Lamb of God who was foreordained before the foundation of the world to offer Himself in order to take away our sins.

Once a man has obtained the purification of his conscience through the blood of Christ, he must be diligent to keep a clear conscience. For Peter exhorts us to have a good conscience (1 Peter 3:16). This is confirmed also by Paul when he says to Timothy: “Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned” (1 Timothy 1:5), and again: “This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before on thee, that thou by them mightest war a good warfare; Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck” (1 Timothy 1:18-19). Obviously we can keep a good (or clear) conscience only by living a holy and blameless life. When, by the grace of God, we conduct ourselves honestly toward men, our conscience does not rebuke us for Paul says to the Corinthians: “I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear” (1 Corinthians 4:3-4 – NIV), but it bears us witness that we are conducting ourselves rightly and we can boast about the testimony of our conscience as the apostles did, as it is written: “For our boasting is this: the testimony of our conscience that we conducted ourselves in the world in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom but by the grace of God, and more abundantly toward you” (2 Corinthians 1:12 – NKJV). How important it is to have such a testimony of our conscience! How beautiful and gratifying it is to be able to say: “We are confident that we have a good conscience, in all things desiring to live honorably” (Hebrews 13:18 – NKJV) and again: “I thank God, whom I serve with a pure conscience, as my forefathers did” (2 Timothy 1:3 – NKJV).

So let us always strive to have a pure conscience toward God and men, as Paul did, as he said before Felix the governor: “I myself always strive to have a conscience without offense toward God and men” (Acts 24:16 – NKJV).

If a believer rejects a good conscience, his decision will have baleful effects on him because he will suffer shipwreck concerning the faith, for Paul says to Timothy: “This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before on thee, that thou by them mightest war a good warfare; Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck: Of whom is Hymenaeus and Alexander; whom I have delivered unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme” (1 Timothy 1:18-20). Let no one deceive himself, for all those whose conscience have become corrupted have suffered shipwreck concerning the faith.

In the light of what the Bible says, therefore, sin defiles conscience (both the conscience of unbelievers and believers), and the so called ‘scruples of conscience’ are nothing but those fears that assail our mind when we are tempted to do evil things and also when we are tempted to do something which grieves our brother (even though it is not evil in itself), and thus if we did it, we would put a stumbling block or obstacle in our brother’s way. For instance, eating pork before a brother who considers this kind of meat to be unclean, or drinking wine before a brother who abstains from drinking wine.