IS CONSCIENCE A SAFE GUIDE?
“Always let your conscience be your guide.” “Just do what your conscience says.” This is the attitude many people have when trying to determine what is right or wrong. They think as long as the conscience is followed, on some doctrinal matter or even on a moral issue, they will be correct. Is conscience really a safe guide or is there another guide which must be considered?
What do we mean by the conscience? The conscience involves an internal recognition of right and wrong regarding our actions and motives. It can be described as the part of the mind which either approves or disapproves of one’s actions on the basis of them being either in or out of harmony with the standard one has chosen.
It is important to recognize that a conscience not properly “programmed” with the right standard will lead a person astray. For example, a person might not think it is wrong to lie so he could tell a lie and his conscience would not condemn him. He would, of course, sin by telling the lie, but since he had not been taught properly about lying, he could lie with a good conscience.
Further, if conscience is to be our guide, there would be as many guides, or standards, as there are people. A person’s conscience, for example, may tell him a certain practice is correct or it may even result in him thinking he is saved. Another person’s conscience may tell him the exact opposite. With this approach, right and wrong is based only on what each individual perceives it to be.
Paul serves as a good example in this area. Prior to his conversion, he persecuted Christians, and he did so with a good conscience thinking he was doing right. Before the Jewish council (much later) he said in Acts 23:1, “ . . . Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.” Paul always did what his standard told him to do, but before his conversion his standard was not correct. In Acts 26:9 he said, “I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.” Thus, Paul’s actions prior to becoming a Christian make it clear that a good conscience is not proof of a person’s actions being right.
What is to be our standard? It is to be the Bible, God’s Word. Christ has all authority (Mt. 28:18). We must abide in the doctrine of Christ and not go beyond His Word (II Jn. 9, Rev. 22:18-19). It is important for us to align our conscience with the teaching of God’s Word.