Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
May 11, 1967
NUMBER 2, PAGE 11b-12

Types Of Conscience

Harry E. Ozment

There is a popular idea in the realm of religious thought that states if a man obeys what he believes to be right, he will be saved. When this is analyzed, it simply means that as long as a man obeys the dictates of his conscience God will save him. Is a man saved if he has a "good" conscience? Virtually all denominationalists and perhaps some Christians would answer an emphatic "yes." I believe that if we could set the conscience in the Bible perspective, we could convert many to the truth. To this end, then, let's study the six different types of conscience as they are discussed in the word of God.

(1) A good conscience is defined by the Bible as one void of offense. Notice this closely - a "good" conscience does not mean a "sinless" one. This classic example which illustrates this fact is that of Paul. In Acts 23:1, he said, "I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day." How could Paul say this when he had consented to the murder of Christians? He said in Acts 26:9-11, "I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. Which thing I also did in Jerusalem: and many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them. And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities." And Paul had lived in all good conscience? Certainly! He had sinned -and yet had a good conscience! How? He gives the answer in Acts 24:16, "And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offense toward God, and toward men." Paul had never violated his conscience. His conscience had been taught wrong; therefore, it did not convict him when he did wrong. The heathen in Africa has a good conscience when he throws his child to the crocodile. That doesn't mean, however, that it's right and well-pleasing to God to do it. All it indicates is the wrong standard of authority is being used -- what man has been taught (i.e., the dictates of his conscience) versus what God has revealed in his holy word.

(2) The Bible also speaks of a defiled conscience. This is the exact opposite of a good conscience. A defiled conscience is one that has been violated. Paul said in I Cor. 8:7, "Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge; for some with conscience of the idol unto this hour eat it as a thing offered unto an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled." A brief explanation is due this passage. Corinth was an idolatrous city. As a result, the marketplaces sold some of the meat that had been offered to idols. When a person bought meat, therefore, in the public marketplace, he didn't know whether or not it had been sacrificed to idols. Hence, some of the Christians in Corinth thought it wrong to buy any of the meat, lest, by chance, they buy that which had been used in worship to idols. Paul said that it was not wrong within itself to buy meat in the marketplace; but, in order not to influence a weak brother to violate (defile) his conscience, they were not to buy such meat. This principle now comes to light: it is wrong to violate our conscience in anything. This is what Paul was talking about in Rom. 14:23: "He that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin." If a person thinks it is wrong even to partake of the Lord's Supper, he would be sinning if he did partake of it! That's a fix, isn't it? This person (if a Christian) is sinning if he does partake of it and is sinning if he does not. Solution? Teach the conscience the will of God. In no circumstance can the conscience be violated or defiled.

(3) Another conscience that is somewhat related to a defiled one is a seared conscience. This is one that will not convict of sin committed because it has been habitually defiled (violated). Paul speaks of this in I Tim. 4:2b: "Having their conscience seared with a hot iron." Cattle-ranchers brand their steers with a hot iron. After the wound has healed, one can take a pin or needle, prick the branded place, and the steer will sense no pain. His nerves have been seared or deadened in that particular spot. This is exactly the way with a conscience. It can be pricked so often that, finally, its senses are deadened -- it no longer tells a person to stop doing that which he did think to be wrong. Attendance of the services will serve to illustrate this. The first few times a person misses worship, his conscience convicts him -- it tells him that he should not have neglected his God-given duty. However, if negligence of the services continues, it becomes easier each time until, finally, that person's conscience does not convict him at all.

(4) I Cor. 8:7 also teaches that there is a weak conscience. Notice the definition of a weak conscience in the first part of the verse: "Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge. " A weak conscience is one without knowledge, one that has not been properly taught. This emphasizes once again the importance of following the word of God instead of man's own conscience -- for his conscience can be untaught and ignorant. The conscience, then, cannot serve as a guide in spiritual matters. Do you now see that it is possible to have a good conscience and a weak one?

(5) The Bible speaks of an evil conscience. An evil conscience is one that has sin on it -- has not been cleansed from sin by the blood of Jesus. The inspired writer said in Heb. 10:22, "Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water." All of us (if we are responsible and accountable) have, at one time, possessed an evil conscience. This in no way implies that we have lived an immoral and wicked life. It does imply that we all have sinned (i.e., have an evil conscience) and that we all have need of the blood of Jesus to cleanse our past sins. Paul said in Horn. 3: 23, "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." John said in I Jn. 1:8,10, "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.... If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us." Do you see now how a person can have a "good" conscience and yet possess an "evil" one?

(6) Heb. 10:22 also implies that there is a type of conscience that is cleansed from all past sins. Paul gives its name in I Tim. 3:9: "Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure (Gk. "katharos" - "as being cleansed") conscience. "A pure conscience is one that has been cleansed of sin by the blood of Christ. This is the only conscience that can give us hope of a home in heaven. Furthermore, this conscience can be had only through a submission to God's holy authority. Paul said in Rom. 6:3-4, "Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into his death." The blood of Christ can be found in his death, for he shed his atoning blood when he died. Therefore, when one is baptized, he comes into contact with the blood of Christ, and his conscience is purified -- cleansed of sin. This is the conscience, therefore, for which we should all strive.

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