"Let your conscience be your guide". There could hardly be a more universal saying. But to this advice must be added: yes and no - perhaps - sometimes; and, it depends. The subject of the human conscience is very complex, far beyond any exhaustive treatment in this short article. However, it is a subject that is referred to twenty nine times in the KJV of the New Testament. It is always translated from the same Greek word. There is no word in the Old Testament translated as "conscience". The conscience is there, but treated somewhat more indirectly. For the writers of the New Testament, it is a very important subject. Everyone has a conscience (though some may not seem to).

We all must deal with the conscience. God intended so. It is a very important part of the mechanism for our completed creation in His image. As we grow in Christ, and we sin less and less, something else begins to take shape. We realize that we have more and more a clear conscience. The clearer the conscience the more like Christ we are. The pursuit of a clear conscience is a spiritual activity, and having one is a benchmark of character - it is confirmation that we are in the center of God's will at any moment. Much is said in the New Testament about obtaining and preserving a clear conscience.

The word for conscience means "co-perception" - like one seeing like two. An internal "third man" to either approve or disapprove the dialogue of our inner world with the outer world. As an arbiter, it must be protected in certain situations to preserve its role. It must be protected and kept pure. It can be purged and cleaned, if defiled, by the sacrifice of Christ and the inward working of the Holy Spirit. Our conscience is a conduit for conviction by the Holy Spirit enabling repentance. One part of the objective of our life in Christ is to develop a clear conscience, in complete agreement between our being and God. Then - only then - are we a whole in Him. It is also an inner witness that God built into every human being - a witness for or against our thoughts, words, and actions (Romans 9:1). It can be injured, warped, and seared, shap by events, circumstances, to accommodate various inner agendas. It can inform us and misinform us. It can comfort and threaten us. Unsullied, it is a mirror that reflects our character at any given moment. It is a reflection of the depth of our being.

One of the first references to the conscience is by Jesus Himself when the woman caught in adultery was brought to Him for His expected condemnation (John 8:9). Here we see the conviction ability of the human conscience. Paul affirms before the Jew's Sanhedrin that he had always, since His conversion, lived with a clear conscience (Acts 23:1; 24:16)). Notice the contrast. The self righteous Jews conscience condemned them at the witness of Jesus to of their attitude, whereas Paul, led and governed by the Holy Spirit had a clear conscience. Paul also says that in order to have a clear conscience, he had to "exercise himself" (KJV) in order to be void of offense of God, and that his conscience bore witness to his right standing with God, the Holy Spirit being in agreement that it was true. The Apostle Paul made many allusions to the place of the conscience, and the importance of having a clear conscience is affirmed again in Romans 13:1-7. Here subjection to the powers that be is required, which also helps prevent the wounding of our conscience.

Conscience is also important as it relates to what each of us allows in areas of life that God leaves up to each of us to discern. If we stand in judgment of another Christian as to what their conscience does or does not approve of, and attempt to impose our conscience upon theirs, we sin against them and thereby against Christ (1 Corinthians 8:12). We must not cause them to violate their clear conscience. Keep in mind, we are speaking concerning things that are neutral, that God leaves up to each one to make a judgment. In this we are learning to discern between bad, better, good, and best. The goal being that we eventually choose the very best (Philippians 1:10; 2 Timothy 2:20-21). That is what God wants all of us to have. If our conscience is clear, believing we are within God's will, we may not be held accountable until correct knowledge comes. Once the correct knowledge comes, our conscience has been educated, and we are accountable. Our conscience is now working through the Holy Spirit to convict us in all parts of our life - thoughts, words, and actions. Some will say that their conscience never "bothers them". Sometimes the reason they say it doesn't is that it is seared, or because it does - another mental gymnastic to avoid the witness of the conscience. How desperate is the heart to avoid truth (Jeremiah 17:9-10)!

Our conscience we must remember, is a neutral third man, a co-percepter. As such, it can give us distorted feelings and convictions unless educated with correct knowledge, producing a feeling of quilt that is not valid, but none the less real and until educated correctly, it must be respected in order to not be defiled (1 Corinthians 8:5-13). In certain circumstances a conscience thus defiled, although not sin, has the affect of sin to the one whose conscience is defiled. In this we can see the accountability of those who cause the defiling, and the accountability of the one who is caused to sin by violating his conscience. How important that we all, as the Apostle Paul said, be "void of offense"! He had a clear conscience - but that fact did not mean that he was perfect yet - he pressed on and kept going and growing (Philippians 3:12-16). Whatever the issue, response to the conviction of conscience must be sincere and totally honest (2 Corinthians 1:12). It is by means of the conscience in every human being that God can hold humanity accountable without them ever hearing His Law. Within the conscience God has written an internal law of basic right and wrong (Romans 1:18-22,2:14-16). When entwined with the intricate working of the Spirit of God, they are mysterious in their workings. But in the natural person, devoid of the Holy Spirit, the conscience is manipulated and distorted by the around and by the flesh (Romans 2:15). A clear conscience is in many ways the final natural internal witness of the state of our character.

Those who deceive others by hypocrisy, or refuse to continue to grow in grace and knowledge of Jesus are in danger of searing their conscience. The danger in this is that a seared conscience can no longer be brought to repentance and right knowledge. Their conscience does not function in them any more as God intended - it has become desensitized and beyond feeling and insensitive to the conviction by the Holy Spirit. Such can go so far as to become unable truly to repent (Titus 1:15; Hebrews 6:1-8).

As Christians, we are to purge sin from our lives until we serve God with a clear conscience (Hebrews 9:14). If we are allowing our conscience to be molded through God's Word, allowing the Holy Spirit to write His character into our conscience, then it will be a witness for our actions (our "works"). When we guard our "heart", we also guard our conscience, for in both are the real issues of our lives (Proverbs 4:23). There are three measures of our inner life in Christ: a pure heart, love from that pure heart, and a clear (undefiled) conscience (Titus 1:5; 1 Timothy 3:9). For a while, in this flesh we must do business with our conscience. It is God's gift to you and me. May we accept it with with thankfulness, guard it, and use as He intended. If we do, it will redound to His glory, and to ours.

Some day, when that which is perfect has come, there will be no more need for the conscience as we know it. The conscience will have served its purpose. It will be cast aside, making room for the perfect righteousness, and wholeness of Godly character. There will be no sin in us or around us. There will be nothing for the "third man" to accuse, and nothing that needs tobe confirmed. Our "conscience" will be clear permanently.

What a wonderful time that will be!

But, until then... we must guard our conscience and the conscience of others, so we all may all have a clear conscience. "Let your conscience be your guide"? - Yes ... IF!

"...let us draw near with a sincere heart in the assurance that faith brings, because we have had our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodes washed in pure water. And let us hold unwaveringly to the hope that we confess, for the one who made the promise is trustworthy. And let us take thought of how to spur one another on to love and good works" - Hebrews 10:22-24 (NET)