The highest goal for a person is the eradication of impurity from sin in their life and the lives of companions. In the pursuit of this goal the person is free and responsible, but they are also burdened by the darker aspects from heritage by a seemingly inescapable place among people who have no desire to do the will of God.
While this is so, it is also certain that Truth has powerful allies in the human soul and in the human situation, and beyond them, no matter how ineffective these allies may appear to be at any specific moment.
God does not coerce us, but neither does he leave us entirely alone.
So, the question arises what can, and should a responsibly inclined person do to discharge their responsibility faithfully as a member of the human race?
One answer that is often given in response to the question is “follow our conscience.”
When properly understood and as far as it goes, this is sound advice
As it is clear that there are few statements that are more firmly entrenched in Christian morals than this: “conscience must always be obeyed.”
But we need to understand what is properly meant by conscience and what are its limitations.
Thomas Aquinas called conscience
“the mind of men passing moral judgments.”
Although it appears to be insufficient as a definition in that it restricts conscience to the intellectual field, when conscience also has clear emotional significance.
The definition is even more inadequate in that it seems to make conscience a purely human matter.
We can see in Romans 2:15 conscience is portrayed as “separated from the self and personified as a further witness standing over against it”.
Which show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the meanwhile accusing or else excusing one another;
Conscience does not serve as a judge or a legislator; that is a modern take on the concept. Instead, in the Biblical sense, conscience serves as a witness to what we already know.
And from other passages it is clear that the apostle Paul regarded conscience as a monitor which should by right have considerable authority in the life of the individual. He said that he had “lived in all good conscience before God” and that he “exercised” himself to this end.
23:1 And Paul, earnestly beholding the council, said, Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.
24:16 And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offense toward God, and toward men.
Perhaps we should think of conscience as the compelling moral awareness which is born of the meeting of the mind and will of man with the Spirit of God.
While conscience has such important functions, it must not be equated with the voice of God.
Conscience can and does stumble and mislead. It can hesitate and can even become so scarred and hardened as to be almost totally ineffective for good.
Conscience has authority but not infallibility. It is deeply rooted in human nature but is self-centred and varies with the setting in which it is trained, so that it may be good and clear, or weak and indecisive.
In addition to these inadequacies, and going beyond them, is the fact that we so frequently refuse to obey the voice of conscience when this voice is most clear and reliable.
The plain truth is that even an erring conscience should be obeyed, but that if we do obey an erring conscience, we could well be responsible if it is possible that we could have known better.
Conscience must not only be obeyed: it must also be educated and enlightened.
Thus, a wise man wrote, “Keep thy heart with all diligence” by which he meant “Make sure that your conscience is enlightened.”
This is also what is suggested in
Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.
We should do these things, but even then, we know that they are not enough.
To violate one’s conscience is indeed a sin (as we’ll discuss in a moment). But what makes something a sin is not merely being out of alignment with our values but in choosing our own will over the will of God. Our conscience is therefore only trustworthy when it does not lead us to choose our will over God’s will.
We have to remember that acting according to conscience may sometimes be sin. If the conscience is misinformed, so then we seek the reasons for this misinformation. Is it misinformed because we have been negligent in studying the Word of God?
No conscience which is self-centred and socially conditioned, even though well trained and painstakingly followed, is an adequate guide for a person who must face eternity with God while at the same time who must live in this temporal sate.
None of us can fulfill the divine purpose in us if our life is merely “the answer of a good conscience”
Unless God shall do for our conscience something which can be done by no one else.