Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
August 13, 1964

Bible Answers

Gene Frost, 1900 Jenny Lind, Fort Smith, Arkansas

QUESTION: What does the Bible teach about the conscience as our guide?

ANSWER: The conscience is not a guide; it is rather the witness of one's mind to himself as to whether he is living in harmony with his knowledge of right and wrong.

By definition the original term translated "conscience" means the mind as considered as passing judgment on a man's thoughts, words, actions, according to some rule. The English word "conscience" is literally "joint-knowledge" (from con, with scientia, knowledge). A difference in knowledge accounts for differences in conscience. The heathen commits grievous acts, even to killing in worship, with a good conscience because this conduct is right according to the rule by which he lives. For this reason Saul was able to persecute the church with a good conscience because he thought it was right. Conscience therefore does not indicate whether conduct is right or wrong according to God; it simply indicates whether one is doing right as he conceives right to be. For one to be approved of God he must have a good conscience to God's law. (1 Pet. 3:15-17).

The Bible modifies "conscience" by various words as the witness of one's mind relates to either his knowledge or his conduct. One has a "good" conscience, "void of offense" or undisturbed when his conduct harmonizes with his knowledge of right. (Acts 23:1, 1 Tim. 1:19, Acts 24:18) A "weak" conscience is one not fully enlightened. (1 Cor. 8:4-12) An "evil" conscience is an accusing mind, testifying that one has not done what he knows to be right. (Heb. 10:22) And of course one may so act in defiance of an accusing mind until it becomes "seared" and no longer serves to convict evil conduct. (1 Tim. 4:2)

The rule of conduct is the truth as set forth by God. Whatever it says to us is the rule by which we are to live: "let your conversation" (or manner of life) "be as it becometh the gospel of Christ" (Phil. 1:27). Our minds pass judgment on our conduct. Hence we see the necessity of knowing God's will, and then living in harmony with it.

For example, God commands all believers to repent. (Acts 2:37-38, 17:30) This is the rule, Our minds pass judgment on our conduct as to whether or not we have repented. This is the conscience. If we repent we have a "good" conscience; if not, our conscience is "evil." And so it is that an answer of a good conscience is not received until one obeys God's will. (Cf. I Pet. 3:21).

In conclusion, the conscience is not one's guide, it does not determine what is right or wrong. Right and wrong is determined by the rule of life, and the rule of life which is approved of God is revealed in the gospel of Jesus. The conscience is the testimony of one's mind wherein he passes judgment on himself. The benefit of such judgment is no better than the knowledge one possesses; hence for the conscience to benefit one so as to be approved of God, a knowledge of God's rule of conduct must be possessed. Then a man knows within whether he truly has done what he knows to be right, and regardless of outward profession he has within a conscience either good or evil,