While I was teaching a lesson of Bible study to a group of Christians, I was asked to explain how can a Christian distinguish between the reproof of his own conscience and the reproof of the Holy Spirit. The knowledge of this distinction is very important for the decision we make in our Christian living. I am going to present this difference in this message.
1. Our conscience proves that the Law of God is written in our hearts.
Apostle Paul says in the Epistle to Romans, when he speaks about the nations that have not yet heard the Law of God because it hasn’t yet been preached:
For when Gentiles (that are the pagans, those who do not know the law of God) who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus. (Romans 2:14–16)(NASB)
Every man has the basic precepts of God’s law written in his heart, that’s why everyone can make the basic distinction between what is good and what is bad and the conscience is the one that accuses man when he does things that are not in accord with God’s will. One’s own conscience will be the one to bear witness against each man at God’s judgement and people that didn’t know the law of God will be judged by the way they listened, and went against their own conscience, that was an expression of God’s law written in their hearts.
2. The conscience of the unsaved man is subject to his sinful flesh.
Apostle Paul, further on in the Epistle to Romans speaks about his state and his inner battles that he had had until he was saved by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Even if he uses the present tense, he talks about past things and he says:
For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good (own conscience) is not (because of the sinful flesh).For the good that I want, (the advice of the conscience) I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. (the wish and the desire of the own conscience). For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, (own conscience) but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind (conscience) and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. (Romans 7:18–23)(NASB)
The basic truth of this passage is that the sinful flesh of each man will always be in contradiction with man’s conscience, but it is for many times more powerful than the conscience, or the conscience and the man finally perform all sins that the sinful flesh leads to, because, as the Scripture says, man without the Holy Spirit, the unsaved man “is sold slave to sin”.
3. The presence of the Holy Spirit sets free one’s conscience from the power of his sinful flesh.
Apostle Paul, writes in the Epistle to Romans, as it follows on:
Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:1–4)(NASB)
If the conscience couldn’t oppose the pressure that was put upon by the sinful flesh before, the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives sets us free from this pressure of the earthly flesh, and it gives us power to act according to the striving of our conscience led by the Holy Spirit.
4. Newly born again Christians or spiritual immature have their conscience weak.
When he wrote to the Christians from Corint, where there were many pagan temples, Paul was writing about some Christians that
being accustomed to the idol until now, eat food as if it were sacrificed to an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled. (1 Corinthians 8:7)(NASB)
Paul explained above that an idol is nothing and that it exists only in the imagination of those who invented it and worship it. Those who knew that thing, if they would have eaten in a pagan temple, or meat offered to the idols, they didn’t defile themselves, because they knew well that God’s is the earth and all that is on it and that the idol had no dealings with that meat. Nevertheless, if a newly born again Christian, who doesn’t yet have this conscience of the reality about the idols and that thinks that however, an idol is something, so
if someone (this Christian) sees you, who have knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols? (1 Corinthians 8:10)(NASB)
According to this verses, a weak conscience is the one that doesn’t have sufficient knowledge of God’s will in regards with what is good and what is bad, and still, under the pressure of temptation accepts to do what he considers bad. Immature Christians act this way and the Bible says they are people with a weak concience. We, the other ones, have to be attentive with regards to people that have a weak conscience, so that we might not provoke them through our knowledge about some things to go against their weak conscience. The Scripture says that
by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. (1 Corinthians 8:12)(NASB)
Beware to act this way.
We draw some important conclusions based on these studied biblical passages. The conscience of a sinful man is an expression of God’s law that is written in each one’s heart and that makes man distinguish generally between good and evil. On judgement people who didn’t hear about the Gospel and faith in Jesus Christ will be judged in accord with their conscience, namely if they did what their conscience told them, or against their own conscience. The sinful flesh of each man has more power than the conscience and that’s why, the unsaved man lives in a permanent dilemma, when he wants to do good, but he has no power to do it and does the evil that he doesn’t want to do. When a man turns to God from his heart, when he repents and is born again receives the Holy Spirit, that gives him power against his earthly flesh and so, he will act according to the striving of his conscience. For a man that has the Holy Spirit doesn’t make sense to see the difference between the reproof of the Holy Spirit and the reproof of the conscience, because our conscience is subordinate to the Holy Spirit, whom we received from God. We choose in our conscience if we obey the Holy Spirit or our sinful flesh.
What is your relation with your own conscience? Do you have power to accomplish nice things that your conscience strives for? Or do you lack this power? Is your earthly flesh more powerful than your conscience? Think of the last decisions you made. What do they testify with regards to the condition of your conscience and with your inner state? If you can not act in accord with your conscience, maybe it is the reason that you haven’t yet received the Holy Spirit because you haven’t repented honestly so that you may be born again? What impedes you to repent and to be born again, to receive the Holy Spirit?
Or maybe you are a newly born again Christian, who has a weak conscience and give up to your sinful flesh? Do you have a discipline to study the Holy Scriptures and in this way to strengthen your conscience, so that it may be strong against the temptations and taking decisions? How often do you pray for this?
May God give us wisdom and a strong conscience to live according to the precepts of the Holy Spirit and not to be deceived by our sinful flesh.
Translated by Djugostran Felicia