Consciences in Conflict

Consciences in Conflict

The Disney classic “Pinocchio” popularized the saying “Let your conscience be your guide.” In a previous article we cautioned against individuals thinking that because they have peace about acting in a certain way, it is something of which God approves. We saw that, in the Scriptures, the charge to “let the peace of God rule in your hearts” is addressed to a group and not just to one person. That begs a question: What then is the value of an individual’s conscience?

Conscience is the inner voice that approves or disapproves of what you have done or are thinking of doing; it is more like a judge than a guide. The verdicts it hands down can be accurate or misleading depending on how long ago it was calibrated or tuned.

How Does A Conscience Develop?

When we entered this world it is as if we had an empty vessel within. It had nothing to offer us for nothing had been put into it; we were in a state of innocence. But gradually information was received and processed within that vessel that would give it the ability to make us feel comfortable or uncomfortable with our actions. Whether it will comfort or condemn any individual is greatly influenced by a mixture consisting of his or her exposure to traditions, education, past experience and the standards of society. The conscience of Saul of Tarsus was no exception to this rule. His actions were approved according to the contents or ingredients in his vessel as he traveled the road to Damascus. The tradition of his fathers (Gal. 1:14), his education (Acts 22:3), the backing of the council of elders at Jerusalem (Acts 22:5), all contributed to him having a good conscience while zealously pursuing an evil purpose. His claim, “I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day” (Acts 23:1) was not a lie.


Renewing of his mind had to take place; Saul had to receive and submit to information he received from a superior Source, One that would modify or expel the other ingredients in the vessel. This process began with the revelation which he received on the Damascus road, he now called“Lord”the one He had been persecuting. Saul’s conscience would no longer act favorably to any vestiges of past ignorance and unbelief; he would renounce the confidence he might have had in the flesh and under the Law. For him to live was now Christ.

It must be the same with us who have not had such a dramatic awakening to the truth. Instead it might be truly said of many readers that, “From a child you have known the Holy Scriptures which are able to make you wise to salvation” (2 Tim. 3:15). Not that we did not need to be converted and personally receive Christ, but as with a countless multitude of others, the revelation of Christ available in the Bible was at hand. The moment we received Him as revealed in its pages, we began to think about things differently and our consciences became sensitive to things that never bothered us before, and it also approved that in which we once had no interest. Conflict with the world around us, the flesh within us and the Devil wherever we thought he was acting began. These were sure signs of our new allegiance. With others, our conscience now marched to the beat of a different drummer. But alas, we found it possible to sometimes be out of step with our fellow soldiers – even those in the same battalion! Why?

A Different Mix

The New Testament epistles show that differences of opinion among Christians is not a problem that developed only recently. Consciences that have been fed from different sources are bound to disagree as to what constitutes acceptable behaviour. The trouble is we are not always willing to recognize that fact; we want others to conform to what our conscience may permit or forbid. We are not speaking here of doctrinal error; that must be handled differently.

Romans chapter 14 shows some of the situations in which trouble developed in the early churches. A Gentile convert might not share the concern that a Jewish convert was likely to have over meat bought in the market. Even if was approved by a pagan priest to be offered to a god or gods, did not the Jew understand that heathen gods did not really exist? Why was he asking where this meat was purchased? As his host, would he be serving his guest anything harmful? Each would be judging the other as to his spiritual condition.*

Other matters, like the observance or non-observance of special days, provided opportunity for one saint to despise another. In doing so he was ignoring the fact that God had received the one he condemned. One of the purposes of Christ’s death and resurrection was that “He [not they] might be Lord of both the dead and the living”(v. 9).‘therefore, even those appointed to be guides of the flock are warned against ‘being lords over those entrusted to them’ ” (1 Pet. 5:3) and Paul was concerned lest he might appear to “have dominion over your faith… for by faith you stand” (2 Cor. 1:24). And in Rom. 14:4 he says, “Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand.

Current Issues

This writer has observed how damaging pre-judgments can be to the fellowship of a local church, and how disruptive in a home. Sons and daughters can be adversely affected when parents voice or show their disapproval of what the consciences of others permit them to do – the Sunday School teacher who attended a theatre, the elder who drank a glass of wine at a wedding, parents who sent their children to a Roman Catholic school when they could easily have home- schooled them, etc., etc.

We would recommend that before anyone associates with a local church they should read that fourteenth chapter of Romans and give it much thought lest their consciences become a cause for schools of opinion to develop and disruption to occur. It is humbling to realize that sometimes we become enlightened and have to change our minds about issues we once stood strongly for or against. For us, that is often a necessary ingredient for growing in grace.

*Moslem influence is strong in the meat industry. Without realizing it you may soon be buying and consuming meat that conforms to Sharia law and has been blessed by an Imam. Will “meats” again become a controversial issue among Christians?


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Colin Anderson

Bible teacher, with a particular interest in building up new and struggling churches. Commended from Danforth Gospel Hall. Married Joan Michell from Grace Bible Chapel, Timmins, ON in 1960. Worked with Chester Donaldson in the early days of Northland Bible Camp, and with Jim Booker to start Galilee Bible Camp. Taught for three years at a Bible school in Kampala, Uganda (1967-1970). Helped establish Richvale Bible Chapel, Markham Bible Chapel, and Sudbury Bible Fellowship. Currently serving in southwestern Ontario.