Bothering Your Conscience

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Regarding Scripture: II Corinthians 5.11

We have all experienced at some point in our lives what our mothers called “a guilty conscience”. Our mothers were trying to tell us that we felt bad because the actions or thoughts we had went against what we had been taught; and that the guilty conscience was a way of making sure we did the right thing – providing we listened to that little voice in our heads. The conscience is a very powerful part of our awareness. When trained, the conscience can empower us and help us. But, like all things in life, our conscience is not always trained up in godliness.

Having a good conscience is valuable, but if one has a conscience instructed in non-convenient non-expedient things, the conscience brings depression, fear, and guilt. The conscience is real and the condition it is in is real and both affect our well-being. defines conscience as “The awareness of a moral or ethical aspect to one’s conduct together with the urge to prefer right over wrong.” Thayer defines conscience in this manner: “the soul as distinguishing between what is morally good and bad, prompting to do the former and shun the latter, commending one, condemning the other.” What is interesting, is that both definitions refer to morality. If one’s conscience is trying to determine and act upon what is morally right, then that means the conscience and the definitions assume that there is a moral lawgiver. This makes the situation with the conscience unique.

Quoting from the NASB, in II Corinthians 5.11 Paul states, “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, but we are made manifest to God; and I hope that we are made manifest also in your consciences.” There are at least two powerful concepts mentioned here. First, Paul knows that Christianity is a persuasion. Just like people are persuaded to purchase one product over another, people become a Christian because they have been persuaded to the teachings that prompt discipleship. Second, Paul mentions that he hopes that the persuasion is demonstrated. But demonstrated where? In the conscience of the one who was persuaded to become a Christian.

This has a powerful application. When the conscience is persuaded to accept something, the conscience motivates the person to do something. This indicates that once one is persuaded that God is the lawgiver, the one persuaded needs to change their conscience to a new reality, a new way of defining moral right and wrong. Hebrews 10.22 tells us that developing a new conscience is not immediate; it is a process of gentle cleansing; and according to I Peter 3.16-17 when given time, people will be able to have a good conscience and they will be able to persuade others.

The application for us as disciples is this: we need to learn how to persuade people and learn how to appeal to their conscience so that they too can live as a Christian disciple.