Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Should Your Conscience Be Your Guide?

One of my work colleagues used to own a brave Labrador. He kept the dog in his yard by use of an invisible fence. The fence worked by inflicting an electrical shock through a collar on the dog’s neck when he got too close to the yard's boundary. But, before the dog receives a shock he receives a series of audible beeps. These beeps are a warning sign that the dog needs to turn around or he will feel the pain of electric shock. This dog knew what that fence could do. However, if he saw something outside the yard that he wanted, he was still brave enough to go get it. In order to do so, he would back up as far away from the fence as he could, bare his teeth and run toward the boundary. As he got close to it, he would howl as he ran right through the pain. That dog learned that if he ran far enough, he would get beyond the range of the fence. The pain would stop and he could go where he wanted. He ignored the warning signals so he could escape the fence's protective boundary. People are not that different from this Labrador. We often ignore the warning signals of our conscience, which otherwise prevents us from doing something wrong. But, if we do this enough something worse happens.

The Dictionary defines conscience as “the inner sense of what is right or wrong in one's conduct or motives, impelling one toward right action.” This begs the question of where such an "inner sense" comes from. Of course, science is entirely incapable of addressing such a question. In fact, the existence of conscience remains as an inexplicable disconnect between humans and animals when viewed through the prism of atheistic evolution. While humans have a conscience, animals are reduced to purely raw instinct totally absent of conscience. Animals have no concept of virtue with many species often eating their own offspring. Since animals don’t have a conscience, where did humans obtain one? We who know God are not incapable of answering this question. 

Our conscience had its beginning in the Garden of Eden. Genesis 2 records, “The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” And, of this second tree, God commanded, “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” Of course we know how the story goes in the following chapter. Eve was deceived by Lucifer (in the form of a serpent) and she and Adam ate the fruit in disobedience to God's singular command. It was at this moment that they obtained full knowledge of good and evil. This is the point at which we as a species received a working conscience unlike all other species. However, this conscience resided in a fallen body. And, the internal spiritual war began in all of us from then until this day. Romans 2:15 says, “They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.”

It is important to note that our conscience, even in the Christian, is not the same as the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit (God) is never wrong, but our conscience can be. The battle that rages within us all, between our flesh and our conscience. And, repeated exposure can result in the searing of our conscience. To “sear” something is like burning it as in the way we brand a cow. The cow’s hide is burned to the point of charring. When that burn heals a permanent scar remains. The scar no longer has nerve endings, and, therefore, the scar tissue has no feeling. A conscience that becomes seared is a conscience that ceases to feel or sense what it should. Searing our conscience is like silencing our warning system not unlike the invisible fence to the brave Labrador. We ignore the pain in our heart and we keep running toward wrong behaviors until the signal stops. At that point, we no longer feel like the behavior is wrong. This is how our seared conscience is trained by our flesh to deceive us. For this reason, the cliché, “Let conscience be your guide” can be very dangerous advice.

In his book The Vanishing Conscience, Dr. John MacArthur says, “The conscience entreats us to do what we believe is right and restrains us from doing what we believe is wrong. The conscience is not to be equated with the voice of God. It is a human faculty that judges our actions and thoughts by the light of the highest standard we perceive. When we violate our conscience, it condemns us, triggering feelings of shame, anguish, regret, consternation, anxiety, disgrace and even fear. When we follow our conscience, it commends us, bringing, joy, serenity, self-respect, well-being and gladness… The conscience, however, is not infallible. Nor is it the source of revelation about right and wrong. Its role is not to teach us moral and ethical ideals, but to hold us accountable to the highest standards of right and wrong we know.” In this regard, searing your conscience is like acquiring a taste for something. If you have to acquire a taste for a certain food or drink that means you don’t like the way it tastes from the beginning. Only after repeated consumption do you begin to like it. In life, we must be ever cautious about acquiring a taste for wrong or unwise behaviors.

How do you know your conscience is seared? If you find yourself addressing a moral gray area with the phrase, "I don't see anything wrong with it," your conscience is probably seared. A sure sign of a seared conscience is an over-reliance on your own opinion rather than God's. You know your conscience is seared when you see that which is wrong as being right. So, how do you know you are guilty of such poor spiritual vision? Well, since God is the source of all righteousness and the One who determines all that is wrong, you know your conscience is seared when you find yourself disagreeing with Him, His Word, or His Bride either in attitude, word or behavior. If you are engaged in any way in even passive disagreement with God, your conscience is to that degree seared. 1 Timothy 4:1-2 says, “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared.” Many in the Church today are actively advocating for behaviors that are condemned even by the pagans among us. And, they do so totally disconnected from God's truth.

So, how do you un-sear your conscience? J. Oswald Sanders said this concerning the conscience, “Every conscience needs instruction. Its delicate mechanism has been thrown off balance by the fall. Just as a bullet will reach the bull’s-eye only if the two sights are in correct alignment, so correct moral judgments are delivered only when the conscience is correctly aligned with the Scriptures.” Romans 13:5 says, “Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience.” The development of our conscience is always God's work that is in progress. The conscience must be trained to constantly be in subjection to God's Word. The conscience is not infallible. It only knows what it has been taught. And, it can most efficiently be taught through the respectful and regular consumption of His Holy and infallible Word. That is the easiest and most straightforward way. If that sounds too cumbersome for you, there is another way. God can un-sear any conscience without your consent. However, God usually uses pain to accomplish it. He does not have to use pain. However, the more that our searing has deadened our feelings, the more pain it takes to awaken the senses again. Having experienced this personally in my own life, I strongly suggest the easier way as a preventative measure over the corrective way of God’s discipline.

In today’s confused world that routinely defaults to the bowing towards the fleshly answer over the spiritual one, we are bombarded by opportunities to sear our conscience. Too many times, when we are presented with a moral dilemma between two parties or between two opposing factions, we too often take one of the two sides. Sometimes that is warranted. However, when pressed to take a side, the Christian default should be to respond by declaring that you take God’s side and God's side alone. You don’t necessarily take side A or Side B. Rather, you always take God’s side. It is not that seldom that both sides A and B actually oppose God. We should rather be right with God than right with anything other.

You can also follow @ReasonIfYouWill on Twitter.