Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
March 11, 1954
NUMBER 43, PAGE 6,10b

"Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide" - Is A Thing Right Because One Believes It To Be?

Thomas Allen Robertson, San Bernardino. California

1. A Discussion Of The Doctrine

The doctrine that man is all right so long as he is honest, sincere, and thinks he is right is a very popular one today. In religion, the great mass of the people have subscribed to the sentiment that it makes no difference what one believes, just so long as he is honestly and sincerely convinced that he is doing right. One might as well contend that it makes no difference what one eats or drinks, just so long as he thinks it is good for him. It is not the mere fact of eating that sustains life (not the mere physical act of chewing and swallowing), but it is the THING eaten. One cannot get the same results from chewing and swallowing poison that one can get from chewing and swallowing wholesome food. So it is not the simple act of believing that saves the soul, but it is what one believes and what one does as a result of that belief.

This truth is easily recognized, by almost everyone, in any other field except religion. Suppose one went into a butcher shop and ordered a pound of round steak, and the butcher would just reach into the meat case, pick up a piece of steak, wrap it, and hand it over the counter and say, "A dollar and ten cents please." Would one accept it? Of course not. The customer would ask, "Since you did not weigh the steak, how do you know that is a dollar and ten cents worth of steak?" If the butcher should reply, "I know I gave you full measure because I feel it right here," and then pat himself in the region of his abdominal cavity, the customer would say, "Put the meat on the scales, please."

Intelligent men demand a standard, and they demand that the means of arriving at that standard be kept accurate, whether they are buying a pound of steak, a yard of material at the dry-goods store, or five gallons of gas at a filling station. In a matter in which our money is involved none of us wants to trust the matter to anyone's feelings. We are not willing to trust the clerk's feelings that he is giving a full pound, or measuring off a full thirty-six inches to the yard, or a full measure when we order five gallons of gas. We want to see the measure, no matter how much the clerk might feel like he was right; the buyer knows that the clerk's feelings can't be accurate, no matter how honest and sincere he may be. Yet in matters of religion this same cautious buyer is likely to say, "It doesn't make any difference what one believes, just so he thinks he is right!"

II. A Few Examples To Show That This Is False

The doctrine that a thing is right so long as one believes it to be paves the way for every kind of unscriptural practice. If it is true, then the only authority in the realm of religion is the honest feelings of the individual, and Christianity is based not on facts but on opinions, fiction, and feeling. But the New Testament teaches very plainly and emphatically that there is a pattern, a standard, and pronounces condemnation on those who do not conform to it. Paul warned against accepting any who came unto them and brought not "this doctrine" (2 John 9-11); Jude taught that the faith had been "once delivered," and urged the early Christians to contend for it (Jude 3,4), and Peter said, "If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God." (1 Peter 4:11)

The Bible, both the Old Testament and the New Testament, is filled with examples setting forth the principle that a thing is not right merely because people honestly and sincerely believe it to be. Through trickery, Jacob deceived Isaac (Gen. 27:23), and Isaac actually believed completely in his heart that Jacob was Esau and gave Jacob the blessing he wanted to give Esau. Did the fact that Isaac was honest in his belief make Jacob to be Esau? Years later, Jacob was deceived into believing that his son, Joseph, was dead (Gen. 37:33), and for many years he mourned him as dead. Yet all of the time of his sorrow, Joseph was not dead but was living in Egypt. Could Jacob's sorrow have been any more real or profound if in truth Joseph had been dead? If the feelings are convinced that a lie is the truth, then the emotional result is precisely the same as it would be if the thing believed were true. Then we have the case of the young prophet who believed the lies of an old prophet and paid for the fact that he let the old prophet deceive him with his life. (1 Kings 13) Believing a lie will not make it the truth. One last Old Testament example is that of King Ahab who didn't want the truth and rejected the prophet that told him the truth and listened to the lying prophets who had the lying spirit. On the advice of the lying prophets Ahab went into battle and was killed. (1 Kings 22) The fact that a man is deceived and believes a lie does not in any way excuse him. In fact, the Bible tells us that those who do not love the truth shall be sent a "strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: That they might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness." (2 Thess. 2:11,12)

As we come to the New Testament, the outstanding example that one is not right simply because he has a clear conscience is Saul of Tarsus. Saul of Tarsus said, "I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day." (Acts 23:1) Yet during that time that he lived "in good conscience" he had laid waste the church, persecuted the saints of God, and breathed out threatening and slaughter against the Way. He had thought he was doing right; his conscience was clear. But believing it was right did not make it so. One's conscience may be misinformed or misled. Because the conscience is a creature of education, it is not a safe guide in matters of religion or any other matter. There is a standard of right — and that standard is not the feelings.

III. A Few Popular Doctrines

Let us apply this matter to the popular religious ideas of our day. Many have taught, for example, that Christ built one church, not churches. (Matt. 16:18) There was one church set up on Pentecost, not churches, and people were added to that one church. (Acts 2:47) Christ purchased the church, not churches, with his own blood. (Acts 20:28) Christians are all one body in Christ. (Rom. 12:5) Paul said, "For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body." (1 Cor. 12:13) The one body into which men are baptized is the body of Christ, and Christ's body is the church. (Gal. 3:27; Eph. 1:22,23; Col. 1:18) In talking about the unity of the faith Paul said, "There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all." (Eph. 4:4-6) Hence, no matter how deeply one may FEEL that there are many churches, all pleasing to God, the Bible plainly teaches that there is one, and only one, church pleasing to God.

Many have been convinced that Mary, the mother of Jesus, and certain of the "canonized" saints can intercede, mediate, and act as intermediaries between God and man. But the New Testament teaches that all authority in heaven and on earth belongs to Christ. (Matt. 28:18) And not only does the Bible fail to teach anything about these saints acting as influential friends of God, but the Apostle Paul conclusively said, "For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus." (1 Tim. 2:5) No, believing it is right does not necessarily make it so. One may be, and many have been, honestly mistaken.