How often do we hear people justifying their actions saying, “My conscience is clear?” Does our conscience really matter when someone comes to question our words and actions? As far as the apostle Paul is concerned, how we assess our conscience is irrelevant when we are made to account for our actions. He said, “My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me” (1 Cor. 4:4). It is the judgement of the Lord that matters and not the way we judge ourselves based on our conscience. We could have done something with a clear conscience but we might have offended others. In such a case, we may have a clear conscience but not necessarily be innocent. And if we are not innocent, then we are guilty – guilty of being an offense to others.
But what is conscience? It is the inner man within us that grieves whenever we do wrong but rejoices when we do right. When we violate our own conscience by the wrongs that we do, there is this feeling of guilt that will bother our conscience. A bothered conscience will cause us to be restless, and robs us of peace with God and man. For this reason, the apostle Paul said, “So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man” (Acts 24:16). Our motivation in doing things will play a significant role in knowing whether we have a clear conscience or not. We can always pretend to have the right motive but God exposes the thoughts and the intents of the heart.
Many people do wicked things the way they do – wantonly and without fear – because they have corrupted consciences. The apostle explained, “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron” (1 Tim. 4:1-2). A conscience that is seared emanates from a heart that is hardened. It is insensitive and commits sins unrestrained. People who have seared consciences lie through their teeth and without blinking an eye. They steal, kill and destroy without fear or remorse.
Although there are those whose consciences are seared, they are not hopeless. To emphasize the power of the Lord to forgive sins, the Book of Hebrews now tells us, “ How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!” (Heb. 9:14). Indeed, through the blood of Jesus we can be cleansed from anything that contaminates our conscience. It is when we are cleansed by the blood of Jesus that we can have a clear conscience and be found innocent before God.
We all want to have clear consciences. However, many eventually find themselves with a seared conscience because they do not bother to repent of the “small” sins that they have committed. They consider these too insignificant to merit their attention. And as they keep doing these seemingly insignificant sins, they soon realize that their conscience is no longer bothered. They have become habitual sinners. They could start with a white lie but soon become compulsive liars, lying through their teeth. There are also others who used to be bothered by their consciences because of the sins they committed. They were initially repentant, desiring to make right their wrongs. However, as they look around and see others doing the same thing without seeming to be bothered at all, they harden their own hearts since they now have company. And the more they are surrounded by guilty people, the harder their hearts and consciences become. The apostle Paul warned, “Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character’” (1 Cor. 15:33).
Therefore, let us not justify our actions by claiming that we have clear consciences. We could have done so in the name of the Lord and with clear conscience, but the fact that someone called our attention tells us that we have offended someone – albeit unknowingly. This does not make us innocent and therefore, we are guilty. Our better response is to humble ourselves and ask for forgiveness. It is only then that we can indeed live with a clear conscience and be pleasing before God and men. But remember that only a redeemed conscience can respond this way. It is imperative then that we ask the Lord Jesus Christ to redeem our conscience through the blood that he shed on the cross. This is best done when partaking of the cup and the bread during communion. The apostle Paul said, “A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup… if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment” (1 Cor. 11:28-31). Yes, let us examine ourselves and repent. Hallelujah!