“For ‘who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him?’ But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16 nkjv). “Cling to your faith in Christ, and keep your conscience clear. For some people have deliberately violated their consciences; as a result, their faith has been shipwrecked” (1 Tim. 1:19 nlt). “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life” (Prov. 4:23 nlt).
by John David Hicks
In Scripture, your conscience is a part of your heart. Your heart is your whole inner life, your character, the real you: your feelings and desires, your will, your thoughts, and your conscience. It is the center of your moral and intellectual consciousness. It is the control room of your soul that makes you a self-determining being with the freedom of choice (Matt. 15:19; Rom. 10:10).
The dictionary defines the conscience as: “a knowledge or sense of right and wrong, with a compulsion to do right; moral judgment that opposes the violation of a previously recognized ethical principle and that leads to feelings of guilt.” The word conscience (con + science) literally means “with knowledge.” Whenever you sin, you do so “with knowledge” that what you’re doing is wrong. Your conscience wants to vote for what is right. That is why God will speak to you many times through your conscience (1 Tim. 1:5). You will know right from wrong as you listen to your conscience. It will remind you of sins you have committed, so that you will come to the Savior.
Before we were born again, all of us were separated from God, and our conscience was programmed by our parents and our culture which affected our moral and ethical conduct. The “mind of Christ” or a “renewed mind,” 1 Timothy 1:5 says, “comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” A clear conscience is a faithful monitor of your life. For your conscience is what interprets your enjoyment of life. It will give you confidence to fulfill your destiny and develop an attitude that makes you “more than a conqueror” through Jesus Christ your Lord.
To have the mind of Christ, Hebrews 10:22-23 says, “Let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful” (nasb). When you are redeemed, born again, and made a child of God, your conscience is in the process of being renewed into God’s way of thinking. Paul told us in Romans 9:1, “With Christ as my witness, I speak with utter truthfulness. My conscience and the Holy Spirit confirm it” (nlt).
As a “new creation in Christ,” you are guided by the Word of God and by the witnesses of the Holy Spirit. “Do not be conformed to this world (this age), [fashioned after and adapted to its external, superficial customs], but be transformed (changed) by the [entire] renewal of your mind [by its new ideals and its new attitude], so that you may prove [for yourselves] what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God, even the thing which is good and acceptable and perfect [in His sight for you]” (Rom. 12:2 amp). The Lord brings healing and enlightenment to your conscience when your mind is renewed. Your desire to obey God and live by His Word will cleanse, mature, and change your conscience.
We must make a distinction here, between the unredeemed and the Christian believer. Sin has consequences, but it does not separate a believer from God. Hebrews 13:5 makes it clear, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” It is the full rejection of Christ that is the unpardonable sin (1 John 5:16-17; Heb. 6:4-6; 10:26-30). A. W. Tozer says, “Any person who has ever committed that dark and dread unpardonable sin feels no guilt and confesses no worry…for Christians with guilt and concern, the very fact that a person is worried and concerned indicates that the Spirit of God is still working in his or her life.” Even when you sin, the Holy Spirit is right there, convicting of sin and with your confession cleansing you from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).
The Bible warns us about a hard heart and a seared conscience. “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron” (1 Tim. 4:1-2). From a seared conscience come false doctrines, legalism, perfectionism, and immorality. A defiled conscience operates by its own self-centered standards and convictions. It does not look at things as good or bad but on how it affects me. Nearly every kind of sin can be rationalized away until the ego controls everything. The ego will do anything to serve its self-interest. Paul in Romans 1 explains that God turns a seared conscience “over to a reprobate mind…. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity,” and he names their sins (verses 28-32).
By ignoring and disobeying God their hearts became hardened, their conscience seared. Listen to what the Holy Spirit says in Hebrews 3:7-11, “Today when you hear his voice, don’t harden your hearts as Israel did when they rebelled, when they tested me in the wilderness…. I was angry with them, and I said, ‘Their hearts always turn away from me. They refuse to do what I tell them.’ So in my anger I took an oath: ‘They will never enter my place of rest’” (nlt).
The “mind of Christ” starts with a clean conscience. But, how do you get a clean conscience and a pure heart? When our conscience speaks, it will always speak for what it knows to be right. It remains silent about wrongdoing that it may not be educated about. Therefore, we are to educate our conscience with the Word of God for it to have sufficient substance from which to draw. When our conscience speaks, we can trust it to guide us to do right. It will never speak and lead us to engage in a known wrong. If it is seared or uneducated about a matter, it will remain silent and not voice a direction. Its silence should not be mistaken for approval. It may be seared or simply not know what the Word would instruct about a particular event or choice.
The key is found in 1 John 1:7, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” “Walking” in the Bible is a metaphor for how you live your day-to-day life. The “light” of the Holy Spirit will let you see reality and truth. It will expose sin and overcome darkness. Every day you will choose to either walk in the light or move toward darkness. Some of the most important choices are about what you set your heart upon. You will live by faith or you will live by your strength or self-reliance.
God’s purpose in salvation is that you surrender to the reign and rulership of the Holy Spirit: “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit” (Gal. 5:25 nkjv). In other words, if the Holy Spirit lives in you, let Him direct you! Then, according to Paul, your conscience will act like an umpire or judge regarding your thoughts and conduct as either good or bad. Your conscience is your moral muscle. As you develop your conscience you will have standards and convictions. There are some things you will not do, some places you will not go, and sins you know that you will not commit. The conscience is your spiritual GPS, operated by your human spirit that is designed to help you navigate life.
Paul goes on in 1 Timothy 3:9 that you “must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience.” As you develop a tender conscience to the Word of God and the Holy Spirit, you are able to “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life” (Prov. 4:23 nlt). Listen to your heart (Prov. 22:17).
So, if you try to cover your sin, your conscience and heart will send out an alarm to your spirit. The joy of the Lord will depart because you “grieve the Holy Spirit” (Eph. 4:30). But as you walk in the light by confessing your sins, “he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). God speaks in your conscience, but He’s distinct from it. God is not your conscience.
If your conscience could tell you everything, even right and wrong, then you would not need God. “Lean on, trust in, and be confident in the Lord with all your heart and mind and do not rely on your own insight or understanding. In all your ways know, recognize, and acknowledge Him, and He will direct and make straight and plain your paths” (Prov. 3:5-6 amp). “Watch [or guard] over your heart [innermost thoughts, pictures, and words] with all diligence, for from it [your innermost thoughts, pictures, and words] flow the springs of life” (Prov. 4:23 nasb). You are daily educating your conscience.
Whatever you set your heart upon will ultimately determine your behavior. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matt. 6:21-23).
The Bible gives us a picture of how an idol speaks and how God speaks to your heart or conscience.
First, some of the elders of Israel came to Ezekiel to inquire of the Lord. The Lord told Ezekiel that they had set up idols in their hearts. Ezekiel had preached on the stumbling blocks of idolatry. His message was, “Repent! Turn from your idols and renounce all your detestable practices!” (14:6). The elders did nothing. Now God would let them stumble and it would be their downfall. God told Ezekiel, “When they inquire of the Lord, I will let their idols answer them; but they will think that it came from Me.” That is God’s attitude toward idolatry. The idol in your heart will speak to you and you will think it is God, to your own downfall.
The answer is, “Repent! Turn from your idols and renounce all your detestable practices!” That includes pride, greed, pornography, and wickedness to others. Idolatry is a substitute for God.
Second, in Hebrews 12:1-3, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
The answer, as you look and consider Jesus, “you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Because you have “thrown off everything that hinders and the sin of unbelief that so easily entangles, and are running with perseverance the race Jesus has marked out before you.”
So how do you obey the light of God’s Word and the Holy Spirit? Watch for His signal! Your conscience is like a traffic light that gives you guidance and warns you of danger ahead. The light is meant to keep you on the right track. If you choose to ignore the yellow light of caution or the red light that means stop, then you can expect danger. Look for the green light, which means, “Go with His blessing in His power and authority” (Eph. 3:20-21).
When you are living under the lordship of Christ, the green light stays on longer and the yellow and red lights you can see clearer. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey what I command” (John 14:15). “If any man desires to do His will (God’s pleasure), he will know (have the needed illumination to recognize, and can tell for himself) whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking from Myself and of My own accord and on My own authority” (John 7:17 amp).
First, the test of the yellow light is your commitment to obedience. Picture in your mind a flight of stairs. When you first accept Jesus as your Savior and become a Christian, you are at the bottom of the stairs. As the Holy Spirit gives you insight and opportunity to obey, your obedience moves you up to the next step. If you take the opportunity to obey, you are given further insights and additional opportunities. With this step, the believer experiences a deeper fellowship, joy, peace, and wisdom. This is the way you grow and mature in the Lord.
But disobedience causes you to descend the stairs. You stop growing. As a result, God will not give you more insight, until you walk in the light you have (Matt. 13:12). Uncorrected over time, you become lukewarm and forsake your first love, as the apostle John warned the churches in Revelation. Your heart becomes hardened and you return to the ways of the world. The Bible consistently says you must not only hear the word of God, but also do what it says! Your choices to disobey or procrastinate stop your growth.
The second yellow light test is called lag time. Lag time is the time that elapses between when God reveals a truth and when you finally get around to obeying it.
Procrastination is one of the devil’s most subtle weapons. You put off obedience—after all, you can do it later. This works on many Christians, unless they have a commitment to obedience. Satan disguises your disobedience and claims that you will obey sometime in the future. This makes you feel better, but you have been duped into disobedience disguised as future obedience. The longer you put it off, the more likely you will not do it. A mark of growth in your Christian life is a decrease in the lag time in your obedience. Your commitment goal should be to reduce the lag time to zero. Stop, before you run a red light.
The third yellow light test is called the three-second rule. Remembering this principle will keep you from temptation and help you to resist it the moment it comes up. Give yourself three seconds to run from temptation to victory—or to entertain temptation and be defeated.
To entertain temptation even for only a few moments weakens your resistance. “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). David fell into sin because from atop his palace he kept looking at Bathsheba bathing, then he kept returning to the temptation. Run from temptation, like Joseph from Potiphar’s wife. He honored the word of the Lord when he said, “How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” (Gen. 39:9). He escaped with a pure heart, and God honored him.
Recall that you have three seconds to decide to run from temptation. The longer you wait, the stronger the temptation. This kind of obedience only comes from a total commitment to do the will of God (Luke 8:21), and is the “mind of Christ.”
When you run the red lights of your conscience, sooner or later in your battle with temptation you will be hurt, wounded, or maimed. Sin has consequences. “For the wages of sin is death [separation from God], but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23 esv). “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life” (Gal. 6:7-8 esv).
To run a red light is a deliberate act of disobedience to the known will of God. It is manifested in rebellion or indifference to God. When Jesus was asked, “What is the greatest commandment?” He answered to love God and to love your neighbor. “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matt. 22:40). Sin is the violation of relationships with God and man.
In the Bible, King David is one who ran the red lights of his conscience. His godly sorrow led him to true repentance, yet there were consequences to his sins of adultery and murder that affected him, his family, and the nation.
When the prophet Nathan confronted David for his sins, Nathan said, “Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes?” David repented: “Then David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’ Nathan replied, ‘The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die. But because by doing this you have made the enemies of the Lord show utter contempt, the son born to you will die’” (2 Samuel 12:9, 13-14). Notice how David ran the red lights: he “despised the word of the Lord,” which meant that he was either in rebellion or indifferent to God. The consequence of his sin was the death of his child born to Bathsheba. David later wrote, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge” (Psalm 51:4). David’s sincere repentance led him to accept the consequences of his actions no matter how painful they were. God forgave him (Psalm 51), and used it to build character into his life. But the consequence in his children was devastation.
The two books of Samuel are the story of Israel’s kings and their sins from man’s perspective. But the two books of Kings are the story from God’s perspective, and David’s sin with Bathsheba is not mentioned. When God forgives, He forgets; He will not hold your sin against you. Also note, Bathsheba had a second son who became king after his father David. His name was Solomon, which means “peaceable.” David is at peace with God.
Hebrews 12:7-11 tells us of God’s divine discipline of the children He loves. He says it is because He wants you to share in His holiness. Afterward there will be a harvest of righteousness and holy living for those who are trained by it. God’s discipline is a good thing; as you “walk in the light,” you will receive the “mind of Christ.”
“Therefore, since these [great] promises are ours, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from everything that contaminates and defiles body and spirit, and bring [our] consecration to completeness in the [reverential] fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1 amp).
“Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless [because of your conscience] with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen” (Jude 24-25 nasb).