by Robert Berendt
To one degree or another all humans have a conscience
The word is defined in several ways, but Vine’s dictionary includes: “the process of thought what it considers morally good or bad, commending the good, condemning the bad, and so prompting to do the former, and avoiding the latter.” Conscience toward God is defined as “a conscience so controlled by the apprehensions of God’s presence, that the person realizes that even grief is to be borne in accordance with His will” (Vine). When our conscience toward God brings us to situations where we endure some suffering, that is commendable.
But Peter makes it clear that we must be suffering wrongfully. That is, we suffer because we have acted in a way that is pleasing to God, not in a way that is contrary or wrong. The example Peter gives is Jesus Christ who suffered for us, leaving us an example (I Pet.2:19-21). Jesus was innocent of all sin, but was condemned by false witnesses as though He was a sinner – blasphemer of God, (Matt.26:59-62,65, Luke 23:1-4,10,14,15). They brought false accusations against Christ who consistently obeyed God because He always chose to obey and not to sin. Jesus suffered wrongfully at the hands of His accusers. Peter noted that there is no credit when a person is beaten or suffers for his own faults and takes it patiently. The credit before God comes when you suffer for doing good and take that patiently (I Pet.2:20).
We all have experienced suffering for some fault of our own. It may have been a correction from our parents for being careless, punishment for missing school or misbehaving, suffering for our bad habits that in time cause grief. We also suffered because we did not know the truth of God’s word and were influenced in all we think and do by our adversary Satan. For many of God’s people the understanding and keeping of the Sabbath day has caused them to lose jobs, money and sometimes family and friends. Their conscience toward God rested on the true and correct understanding of His command about the Day of Rest and that suffering was commendable to God. On the other hand, if a person comes to understand the Sabbath and then begins to preach and demand time off in a self-righteous way and is fired from his job, that suffering is not commendable.
God does not always invite a whole family into His truth. That may cause inner turmoil within the family. Jesus said He did not come to bring peace, but His teachings could set family members against one another so that one’s enemies are those of our own household (Matt.10:34-38). Suffering the loss of family love and ties is only commendable if the person who obeys God first strives to keep peace within the family. If one’s actions are harsh and self-righteous, the strife is more of one’s own making and that is not commendable because it maybe born of an inner flaw like pride, vanity and thinking God wants us to witness strongly to everyone we know. People can do much wrong for conscience sake when that which pushes their conscience is not from God.
Peter wrote that God’s people are to submit to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake. That is conscience toward God – but obviously not including sin (I Pet. 2:13,14). It is God’s will that we do good so that as Pontius Pilate could find no fault in Jesus words or actions against Rome, those who govern us should find no fault in word or deed against our nation. Conscience toward God is defined by the truth He asks of us. Until we learn and understand that truth, we may have a conscience toward something which does not necessarily mean it pleases God. Paul also wrote that for conscience sake (toward God) we are to be subject to the rulers, pay our taxes and render to all their due (Rom.13:5-7). Paul went on to write about the greater law of God – that of loving one another (v.8). He noted that when a weak or new person comes into the faith, there would be things they do not understand. He refers to doubtful things like eating only vegetables (Rom.14:1-3). This chapter tells God’s people how to gently and carefully deal with a new convert. That convert may have things within that he feels are from God and acting against his conscience would mean God condemns him (Rom.14:20-23). He would grow into the truth.
Paul puts the greater responsibility on the mature convert. It is obvious that the new person would continue to learn about the laws of God until his understanding is greater. To the weaker person in the knowledge of truth, he would be going against God’s will and thus sinning if he acted against his conscience and that is true for him (I Cor. 8:12). The strong are to bear with the weak as they are learning (Rom.15:1). When a new convert was learning, it was very important for the mature convert to bear with the newer person until they learn. When it came to eating meats that may have been offered to an idol, Paul wrote to beware lest the greater knowledge cause a problem in the new person (I Cor.8:7-13). Obviously as the convert matures in the word of God, they will come to realize what is offensive to God and what is not. Paul goes on to say that if a person was invited to a meal, it was better not to ask where the meat came from because that could become a matter of conscience (I Cor. 10:27-30). He noted that if a question were asked and the conscience of a weaker person could be offended, it is better not to eat than offend (I Cor. 10:27-33).
Paul taught more about conscience. He said he had acted with a clear conscience by conducting himself in simplicity and godly sincerity (2 Cor.1:12,13). The actions of his ministry were guided by his openness in dealing with people and in showing the truth to every man’s conscience (2 Cor.4:1,2). Paul wrote in letters to Timothy about having a good and a pure conscience (I Tim. 1:5, 19, 3:9). He noted that some had strayed from that good conscience (I Tim.1:6). Some would have their own conscience seared with a hot iron (I Tim.4:1,2). The caution Paul expressed was about those who would leave the faith. Formerly mature converts could be caught up in that which was not truth and moved toward adding things that God never intended. Timothy was to instruct the brethren in these things and thus be a good minister of God (I Tim.4:37).
It is godliness that is beneficial for all things and it is in the pursuit of learning and knowing the true word of God that a converted person stands boldly in God’s grace (I Tim.4:8). It seems Paul ran into the problems of some who allowed their pure and good conscience to be defiled (Titus 1:15,16). These seem to speak about God and profess they know Him, but in fact deny God by their words and deeds. Mature converts need to protect their good conscience. It is the blood of Christ that purges our conscience from dead works (Heb.9:14). It is Christ who gives us a clear and pure conscience by removing our sins and teaching us the way to go. Paul concluded by saying he was confident in having a good conscience. That is the goal for us all as it brings us inner peace as we walk with the Father and Son.
Robert Berendt is a retired pastor who now lives in Canada and loves to write from personal experience.