Sound Teaching

This is the teaching site of the West Side church of Christ in Fort Worth, TX. Unless otherwise indicated, all materials were written and prepared by Stan Cox

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Listen to Your Conscience

There is much to say on the subject of the conscience. I would like to share with you a quote from Robertson L. Whiteside’s commentary on Romans. The quote contains the best explanation I have read as to what the conscience is. I will follow the quote with a few comments of my own. Note: The comments are in the context of an explanation of Romans 2:15, which reads, “who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves {their} thoughts accusing or else excusing {them}).”

Following is Whiteside’s entire comment on Romans 2:15.

The construction of the Greek shows plainly that it was the work of the law, and not the law itself, that was written on the hearts of the Gentiles. This, of course, referred to the moral requirements of the law. The moral requirements of the law are just such things as any decent set of people would recognize as proper and right, even if they never had a revelation. Their conscience, like the conscience of those who had a revealed law, would accuse them when they failed to live up to their standard of right, and approve them when they did right as they saw it. That is the office of conscience.

But what is conscience? It is frequently referred to as a guide. But conscience is not a guide at all; that is not its office. Also, it is said that conscience is a creature of education; but I see not how any one would go about educating his conscience. It is also defined as the moral judgment, but that definition does not fit. Your moral judgment may tell you that a certain person did very wrong, but his act does not affect your conscience in any way, unless you feel responsible for his action. Liddell and Scott define the Greek word that is translated “conscience” thus: “(1) A knowing with one’s self, consciousness; (2) conscience.” Where we have two words – “consciousness” and “conscience” – the Greeks had one word, and the connection determined its meaning, or, perhaps speaking more accurately, the connection determined its application. “Consciousness” has a broader application than “conscience.” A person is conscious of his own bodily sensations, whether pleasurable or painful; he is also conscious of his own thoughts and emotions. We are getting at conscience when we think of it as that feeling of pleasure when we do what we think is right, and of pain when we do what we think is wrong. It is that which backs up our moral judgment. Saul of Tarsus always did what he thought was right, and therefore always had a good conscience. But his information was wrong, and therefore his moral judgment was wrong. Our judgment may be wrong because the ideas upon which we base our judgment may be wrong. But no matter how we have been taught, we can expect our conscience to urge us to do what we have judged to be right, unless it has been deadened by long indulgence in things we know to be wrong. It seems to me that a live, tender conscience is infallible. But as to moral judgment, no man can safely say that he is right on everything. Gain all the information you can so that you can form correct judgments, and give heed to the urge of conscience.

Robertson L. Whiteside A New Commentary On Paul’s Letter To The Saints At Rome, pages 58-59

Two thoughts to consider, with Whiteside’s excellent explanation in mind. In order to obtain “purity in conscience” it is necessary to:

  • Make sure your moral judgment is well informed. In effect, study diligently to determine what God accepts and what God condemns. That way, you can heed your conscience with confidence.
  • Make sure you heed your conscience at all times. Do not allow your heart to be hardened. If you get a feeling that you have done wrong, don’t ignore it, but rather give it place. We should never sublimate the shame we feel when we do wrong, rather we should confess our sin, and ask God’s forgiveness. Continually ignoring our feelings of shame eventually will lead to the point where we feel no shame at all. Our heart will be hardened, and the voice of conscience will cease.