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  • Rick LoPresti

This is your conscience speaking

The conscience has often been depicted as an angel sitting on one shoulder speaking into one ear telling us to do right, and a demon on the other shoulder speaking into the other ear tempting us to sin. While this is not accurate, it does describe the essence of what goes on in our conscience. We should first ask what the conscience even is before going any further. The Greek word translated conscience in the New Testament is syneidēsis, which is defined by Strong’s Concordance as “the soul as distinguishing between what is morally good and bad, prompting to do the former and shun the latter, commending one, condemning the other”. This is the only word translated as conscience in the New Testament. The word conscience only appears in the New Testament where it appears 31 times. The English word is defined by Webster as “the sense or consciousness of the moral goodness or blameworthiness of one's own conduct, intentions, or character together with a feeling of obligation to do right or be good”. It comes from two root words - con which means with, and science which means knowledge.

The Bible describes the origin of the conscience. After each day of creation, God said that it was good (Gen 1). After the sixth day, He said it was very good. God made man in His image and likeness as a living soul (Gen 1:26-28, Gen 2:7). That is not referring to man’s physical existence, but his spiritual makeup. God gave man a moral component and introduced choice by placing the two specific trees in the garden - the tree of life which was not off limits and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil which was (Gen 2:9). God was not setting them up for failure. Love and morality must be chosen. They could have chosen to live forever (Gen 3:22), and they were warned about sin’s consequence which was death (Gen 2:16-17). They were naked and not ashamed (Gen 2:25).

The subtil serpent questioned the word of God, twisted what He had said, and said God’s warning was a lie (Gen 3:1-7). He said God was really holding something back from them. He said God knew they could decide on their own what was good and evil. He said that in the day they ate the forbidden fruit their eyes would be opened to that. God had said it would cause death. Not knowing evil is innocence. The essence of sin is deciding right and wrong for ourselves without God. When Eve saw that the fruit was good for food, pleasant to the eyes, and to be desired to make one wise, she ate and gave her husband to eat. All the other fruit was also good for food and pleasant to the eyes (Gen 2:9). The only thing God forbade was that which would destroy them. Satan used the same three areas Eve was tempted in to tempt Jesus in the wilderness (Mt 4:1-11). John described them as the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1n 2:15-17). Adam’s and Eve’s eyes were opened, but not to something great. They saw they were naked and made aprons out of fig leaves. They felt shame for the first time. They had consciousness of sin. It did not elevate them. It brought them down. Their attempt to cover their shame was futile. As soon as they pulled the fig leaves off the tree, they were dead and would shrivel. Their aprons did not cover all their shame, like a hospital gown does not fully get the job done. They did not pray or repent. They tried to do it on their own.

When they heard the voice of God, they hid as though God did not know and could not see. God asked four questions. They were not needed to get information. They were an offer of an opportunity to confess and repent. It’s like a mom asking her only child little Johnny if he broke the lamp. God asked Adam where he was. This was rhetorical. God knew exactly where Adam was spiritually and physically. He was trying to get Adam to face it. Adam answered that he was afraid. He had no reason to fear anything before. God asked Adam who told him he was naked. The answer was their conscience told them. The Lord then asked if he had eaten the forbidden fruit. He blamed his wife and indirectly blamed God. God asked Eve what she had done. She blamed the serpent. Although their answers were not factually wrong, they failed to take responsibility for their decisions which is an essential part of repentance. The result was serpent was to crawl, the woman was to have painful childbirth, and Adam’s work was to be fruitless. They were going to die physically, and they were separated from God spiritually by sin (Is 59:1-2). God made them coats of animal skins which required bloodshed and death to produce. Since then, bloodshed and death were required to cover sin and shame. Ultimately it was the blood and death of Jesus Christ that fulfilled this need forever. God made them coats which were garments to cover them more fully. When we read about God driving them from the garden and blocking their way to the tree of life, our conscience gives us condemnation, but actually that was a great act of mercy by God. He did not want man to have access to eternal life in a sinful state with a guilty conscience. He had plans to reinstate man and everything he had lost, but not yet (Acts 3:19-21, Rom 8:16-25, Rev 22:1-2).

When the hypocrites brought the woman caught in the act of adultery to Jesus to try to trap Him, He ignored them. When they insisted that He answer, He told them that he who was without sin should throw the first stone (Jn 8:1-11). Beginning at the oldest, they left one by one being convicted by their own conscience. Jesus did not condone the woman’s sin, but neither did He condemn her. He knew the hypocrites’ hearts. How did they manage to catch her in very act? Were they watching? Was it a set-up? Where was the man whom she was sinning with?

Before the apostle Paul became a Christian, he aggressively persecuted the church even unto death (Acts 7-9, Acts 22:4, Acts 26:11, 1Cor 15:9, Gal 1:13). You would think anyone with such a background would have problems with his conscience as a Christian. Yet no one on the Bible talks more about the conscience than Paul. Of the 31 times the word appears in the New Testament, 27 of them are by Paul. He said he had a clear conscience 7 times:

1. Good conscience before God (Acts 23:1)

2. Void of offence toward God and man (Acts 24:16)

3. My conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost (Rom 9:1)

4. Our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience (2Cor 1:12)

5. I thank God, whom I serve from my forefathers with pure conscience (2Tim 1:3)

6. Having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience (Heb 10:22)

7. We trust we have a good conscience (Heb 13:18)

Paul wrote that the Gentiles who did not have the scriptures like the Jews did were still accountable to God because of their conscience (Rom 2, especially vs. 15). Before Moses wrote the law, we can see that many aspects of it were already written in the conscience of man:

1. Good

a. light and dark (Gen 1)

b. immaterial over material (Gen 1)

c. delegated authority (Gen 1)

d. obedience and life, sin and death, good and evil, word of God and lies in garden (Gen


e. covenant (Gen 2, Gen 9, Gen 12-22, Gen 26, Gen 28, Gen 31, Gen 32, Gen 35, Gen


f. hope/promise/Messiah (Gen 3:15, Gen 49)

2. Bad

a. death penalty (Gen 2, Gen 4, Gen 9)

b. nakedness (Gen 2-3, Gen 9)

c. humanism (Gen 3)

d. blood and death required (Gen 3, Gen 4)

e. altars and sacrifices (Cain and Abel, Noah, Abraham)

f. murder (Gen 4, Ex 1)

g. unrighteous marriages, wickedness, evil imaginations, corruption, violence, before flood

h. judgment (Gen 3, Gen 4, Gen 6-9, Gen 11, Ex 3-19)

i. drunkenness, nakedness, rape, sodomy (Gen 9, Gen 11)

j. false religion (Gen 11)

k. lying/dishonesty (Gen 12, Gen 20, Gen 26, Gen 27)

l. adultery (Gen 12, Gen 20, Gen 26, Gen 27, Gen 39)

m. slavery (Gen 15, Ex 1-14)

n. prostitution (Gen 34, Gen 38)

o. idolatry (Ex 7-14)

Here are the other references to the conscience by Paul:

1. Be subject to civil authority (Rom 13:5)

2. Conscience about meat offered to idols (1Cor 8 &10)

3. By manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God (2Cor 4:2)

4. Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience (1Tim 1:5)

5. Holding faith, and a good conscience (1Tim 1:19)

6. Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience (1Tim 3:9)

7. Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron (1Tim 4:2)

8. Unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and

conscience is defiled (Titus 1:15)

Peter refused to accept that Jesus would have to suffer (Mt 16:20-25). At the last supper, he initially refused to let Jesus wash his feet (Jn 13:4-11). In the garden of Gethsemane, he refused to accept that he would deny the Lord (Mt 26:30-35). He fell asleep three times while Jesus prayed in the garden, and he denied Him three times (Mt 26:36-46 & 69-75). He cut off the ear of one of the men who came to arrest the Lord trying to stop it (Jn 18:10). Yet the Lord restored him after His resurrection (Lk 22:31-32, Mk 16:17, Jn 13:36, Jn 21). He was the main speaker on the day of Pentecost and a main leader of the early church (Acts 1-12). He later wrote two epistles, and the main theme of the first one is suffering for Christ (1Pet 2:19. 1Pet 3:16). It was Peter who made the only other reference to the conscience when he said water baptism is the answer of a good conscience toward God (1Pet 3:21).

There is not a person that has ever lived from Adam until today that has not experienced their guilty conscience like the people who brought the adulteress woman to Jesus. So how do we get a good conscience? There is only one way our conscience can be cleared. It does not matter how much religious activity we engage in (Heb 9:9). Only the blood of Jesus Christ can do it. “How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God (Heb 9:14, Heb 10:2)?” The blood of Christ is applied to us in water baptism in His name (Mt 26:28, Acts 2:38, Acts 10:43-48, Acts 22:16). As Peter said, it is the answer of a good conscience toward God (1Pet 3:21). Once our sins are remitted by His blood, we can “draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience (Heb 10:22)”. The only other alternatives are trying in vain to justify ourselves or denying our conscience until it no longer speaks to us (Rom 1:18-32, Eph 4:17-20, 1Tim 4:2). The psychopath may not feel guilt, but that is no relief from the problem. That is like someone whose nerves are so damaged they no longer communicate pain to the brain. The damage is still being done but they can no longer sense it. They word for “having their conscience seared with a hot iron” in 1Timothy 4:2 is the Greek word kauterizo which is where we get the word cauterize from. It is far better to feel guilt and shame for sin than to no longer feel anything. At least our conscience can then do what it should and lead us to repentance. Then the blood of Christ can restore a good conscience.

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