Twice, while defending what he believed, Paul referred to his conscience. Our conscience is that part within us that distinguishes between what is right and what is wrong and serves as a guide to what we do. Having a clear conscience means that we do not go against what we believe is right and do what is wrong.
After Paul was taken into custody at the temple in Jerusalem, the Romans wanted to know why the Jews were enraged by him. They had Paul brought before the Jewish council, the Sanhedrin, in an effort to discover why the Jews felt so strongly against him. As Paul began to speak to them, he made a statement that caused the high priest to order him to be struck on the mouth: “Brothers, I have lived my life with a clear conscience before God to this day” (Acts 23:1 NET).
Why did the high priest react so violently to Paul saying this? It was because Paul, being a Jew, had spent time among Gentiles. The high priest found it particularly offensive that Paul could do this and then say that his conscience was clear. Earlier, when Paul told the crowd at the temple that he had been sent by God to the Gentiles, the Jews who were there reacted quite violently against him (see Acts 22:21-23).
Due to a plot against his life, Paul had been taken to Caesarea where the Roman governor lived. Felix, who was the governor, then ordered the Jews to come and present their accusations against Paul before his court. When Paul began to speak he once again appealed to his conscience being clear.
“But I confess this to you, that I worship the God of our ancestors according to the Way (which they call a sect), believing everything that is according to the law and that is written in the prophets. I have a hope in God (a hope that these men themselves accept too) that there is going to be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous. This is the reason I do my best to always have a clear conscience toward God and toward people” (Acts 24:14-16).
Paul tried at all times to have a clear conscience. Even before he met Jesus, his life was centered on God’s word. But he hadn’t discovered that Jesus was the promised Messiah. As a result, he was convinced that he needed to oppose those following Jesus, including imprisoning Christians and even voting against them when they were sentenced to death (see Acts 26:9-11).
We need to train our conscience. We do this by spending time with God and his word so that we know right from wrong. As we live our lives based on God’s word, our conscience is trained through the correct decisions we make.
We need to realize, though, that just because our conscience may be clear, it doesn’t mean that we are living right. Like Paul, we may not have the necessary information to make a correct application to our lives. But, because Paul lived his life in the hope of a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous, when Jesus appeared to him he was able to update his conscience based on the new information that Jesus was the Messiah.
It is important that we base our lives on what we believe. As Paul later wrote, “whatever is not from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). But it is also important that we base what we believe on God’s word.
We need to invest time in God’s word so that our conscience will be accurately trained and we, too, can live with a clear conscience.
Photo: Herod’s palace in Caesarea Maritima, where Paul appeared before the Roman governors and Herod Agrippa.
Readings for next week:
21 May – Acts 23
22 May – Acts 24
23 May – Acts 25
24 May – Acts 26
25 May – Acts 27