Forthright Magazine

The value of a healthy conscience

Just how important is a good conscience? Some people possess a tightly wound conscience. Others exemplify a relaxed conscience. Sometimes those with a more permissive conscience may poke fun or denigrate others who are very conscientious.

Paul had some important principles to teach about our conscience. We would do well to meditate on his words.

Paul pointed to the health of a person’s conscience as being one factor revealing one’s standing in the faith. He associated these two ideas in 1 Timothy 1:5-6.

Having charged Timothy to stop the false teaching occurring in Ephesus, the apostle explained his motive for this command as, "love issuing from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith" (1 Timothy 1:5). To let go of these qualities could lead to shipwrecking one’s faith (1 Timothy 1:6). Our conscience is important!

Paul proceeded to explain that to "fight the good fight" required holding firmly to the faith and a good conscience (1 Timothy 1:19). Once again he reminded Timothy that failure could shipwreck one’s faith (1 Timothy 1:20). Our conscience is important.

Furthermore, a seared conscience is one reason why some depart from the faith (1 Timothy 4:1-2). Since we train our consciences by accepting ideas and through repetitive behavior, to destroy our conscience requires effort.

When we initially violate our conscience we feel shame and guilt. However, repeated ungodly behavior and a diet of unhealthy ideas eventually anesthetizes the feelings. No longer will there be any twinge or pang of something being wrong – a seared conscience.

In Disney’s adaptation of Pinocchio, Jiminy Cricket, serving as Pinocchio’s guide, advises "let your conscience be your guide."  Such advice is only helpful if one’s conscience has been trained and nourished upon truth and godliness. If it is filled with junk thinking and frequent repeated violations, it won’t be helpful.

At the other extreme is an overactive conscience that views nearly everything as unacceptable. A healthy conscience nourished upon what is true will be neither too lax nor too restrictive. Jesus taught, "My yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:30).

Sometimes today, it appears to me that a good conscience might be undervalued. Paul would remind us that a good conscience is valuable for a good standing in the faith.


Barry Newton
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