A Perfectly Good Conscience
When the apostle Paul stood before the Council in Jerusalem, he declared: “I have lived my life with a perfectly good conscience before God up to this day” – Acts 23:1. Yet, how could Paul make such a claim after watching out for the cloaks of those who stoned Stephen, giving his hearty approval, and later ravaging the church of Christ, dragging off men and women and putting them in prison? He could make such a claim simply because he was living in harmony with the standard that had set his inward moral impressions of right and wrong. His standard was what he thought – Acts 26:9.
All my life I have heard people say: “Let your conscience be your guide.” Yet, conscience is not a guide; conscience is a judge! The word, conscience, is a compound word which has the fundamental meaning of knowing together with oneself. “Hence, it denotes the consciousness which one has within himself of his own conduct which exercises a judicial function – Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament, p. 311.
Conscience is an inward moral impression that passes judgment upon our actions according to the standard by which it was taught – Harper, The Analytical Greek Lexicon, p. 391. Though the word is not used in Genesis 3, we can see the silent judgment of conscience played out even in the Garden of Eden. Why did Adam hide himself? When Adam realized he had violated the standard, God’s word, he immediately was condemned in the court of his own conscience and hid himself.
Spiritually speaking, the only standard that can set our inward moral impressions properly is the word of God! We can readily see in the case of Saul of Tarsus that he indeed had a good conscience but what he thought was the wrong standard! There is an old song that was sung in years gone by called, “Give Me That Old Time Religion.” One of the lines in the song reads: “If it was good enough for mama and daddy, it is good enough for me.” That may sound loyal and good, but mama and daddy are not the right standard!
The apostle Paul later changed his standard and wrote: “I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord” –1 Cor. 4:4. In view of his hope in the resurrection, Paul always labored to maintain a good conscience both before God and men. That is why Christians today still must examine themselves daily to see if they are in the faith – 2 Cor. 13:5.
We read in Rom. 2:14-15 that even the Gentiles, who did not have a written law, did instinctively the things that were in the law, their conscience alternatively either accusing or defending them. The apostle Peter tells us that baptism is “an appeal to God for a good conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” – 1 Pet. 3:21b. How is that true? It is true because we know that only the blood of Christ can give us a good conscience – Heb. 9:14. The alien sinner reaches the blood of Christ when he is baptized into the death of Christ through faith in the operation of God – Rom. 6:3-4; Col. 2:12. In Acts 22:16, Paul’s immersion into the death of Christ was his appeal to God for a good conscience through the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ.
Now we have to be careful not to defile our conscience lest it become seared like a hot iron – 1 Tim. 4:2; Tit. 1:15. When a Christian sanctifies the Lord in his heart and stays ready to give a defense for the hope that is in him, he will be able to maintain a good conscience and put to shame those who may slander his good behavior – 1 Pet. 3:15-16. Paul wrote to Timothy: “The goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” –1 Tim. 1:5. Gentle reader, do you have a good conscience?