Sunday, November 16, 2008
The Conscience: Friend or Foe?
The conscience is that “inner voice” that is in all of us. It comes from the Latin and means “co-knowledge.” It is how God wired us. He gave us a “voice” to guide us, but when sin is thrown into the mix the conscience can fly sideways and easily send us adrift from what God desires for us. Most certainly the conscience is our guide, but sometimes it can get us lost because of the deceitfulness of sin. The conscience is our highest level of moral authority according to the teachings of Scripture.
Romans 2:15 gives me hints about how the conscience can permit or accuse what I do.
1 Timothy 4:2 talks about how my conscience can be hardened.
1 Corinthians 8 tells me about how my conscience can be weak and condemning.
In counseling I typically see three types of consciences:
#1-A biblically informed conscience. This is a person who has over the years informed their conscience with the bible. They have gone from a hard conscience not caring about God to living within God’s kind guidance. They are not typically bound in their conscience by legalism. For example they can drink a glass of wine, not get drunk and their conscience is free and clear and God-glorifying. Or they can dress like their culture, but not draw attention to themselves by either being very different in dress or by being immodest and seeking acceptance by showing off body parts: they, just like the Savior can blend, but not sin.
#2-A hardened conscience, influenced by sin. This is a person who does not really care about morality, God or others. Their god is their belly, as the bible calls it. They live for themselves. They are selfish, self-centered and pursue various forms of hedonism for self-gratification. They may give a courtesy nod to their conscience by saying that as long as I’m not hurting anyone then I’m okay. This is a conscience-acknowledging statement. Their conscience does not let them alone, at least not in the beginning. The logical end of this kind of living is God turning them over to their sin. You can find this downward spiral in Romans 1:18 through the end of the chapter. The beginning of the path downward is the person who tries to suppress their conscience. If they succeed, which they really cannot do, they will head into deeper sin while hardening (suppressing) their conscience along the way so they can live with their sin. They are usually miserable, though they go to great lengths to mask their misery.
#3-The weak conscience informed by tradition, culture or religion. They have lists, rules, regs, laws, preferences and more. They can be tightly wound and very opinionated regarding their preferences and do not necessarily struggle with imposing their “standards” on others. They can struggle with anger and it is not unusual for them to be participating in some kind of secret, habitual sin.