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Can Your Conscience Be Your Guide?


Tug of war

Scripture: 1 Timothy 1:18-20

I. Introduction: People often say, “Let your conscience be your guide,” but is that a wise thing to do? The truth is that some people have ruined their lives by following damaged consciences. That was the case for several men in the church at Ephesus who were teaching false doctrine and leading people astray, and many “suffered shipwreck” (1 Tim. 1:18-20).

Like them, any time we disobey the Lord, we are headed for disaster. God’s will discipline us in order to restore us to Himself, but if we follow His plan, this pain can be avoided.

II. God has given every one of us the universal gift of a conscience—an internal capacity to discern the difference between right and wrong. It operates according to how well it has been programmed:

A. Individually: The formation of your conscience began when you were a child, and this process continues with each choice you make. When your parents taught you appropriate behaviors, they were programming your conscience and helping you distinguish between right and wrong. Throughout your life, many people have influenced the development of your conscience either positively or negatively.

B. Corporately: Every society has a corporate conscience that determines what is acceptable. That is why, when the leaders and citizens of a country turn away from God’s standards, the nation will suffer shipwreck unless they change direction. This why believers are called to stand up and be a good influence.

C. Divinely: When God created Adam and Eve, He designed them to obey Him. That was the value system meant to govern their behavior. When they sinned, an internal alarm went off, and they tried to hide from Him because they felt guilty. Everyone possesses the same warning system. According to Romans 1:19, “That which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.”

III. The purpose of your conscience is not to guide you. The Scriptures never advise believers to follow their consciences alone because their condition and reliability vary. In fact, it’s described in both positive and negative ways throughout the Bible. It can be:

A. Good (1 Tim. 1:19)

B. Clean (2 Tim. 1:3)

C. Blameless (Acts 24:16)

D. Weak (1 Cor. 8:7-12)

E. Defiled (Titus 1:15)

F. Evil (Heb. 10:22)

G. Seared (1 Tim. 4:1-2)

IV. The true trustworthiness of your conscience is determined by its programming and your consent to heed it. Paul cautioned believers to guard against an insensitive one, which is seared “as with a branding iron” (1 Tim. 4:2). After you have repeatedly said “yes” to sin, you will no longer feel conviction because the warning bell has been muted.

V. Only a good conscience protects us. The unsettling alarm that sounds within us when we’re contemplating a bad decision is the Lord’s way of protecting us from foolish choices. When the Word of God, the Holy Spirit, and the conscience work together, you have a powerful protection and guidance system.

VI. You can trust your conscience under certain conditions. Despite the general unreliability of the conscience, if these qualities are present, you can trust its messages because it has been transformed and aligned with God’s will:

A. When Christ is your Savior and Lord

B. When the Word of God is the basis for your conduct

C. When you have a strong desire to obey the Lord

D. When you prayerfully consider your decisions

E. When your conscience instantly sounds an alarm as you consider a wrong thought or action

F. When you feel guilt immediately after being disobedient

G. When you’re compelled to repent of your sin

VII. Conclusion: What kind of conscience do you have? Is it one that is sensitive to the Lord and His Word, or do you no longer hear the warnings? Although we may want to rationalize, defend, or excuse your sins, God wants us to be truthful, confess them, and let Him reprogram us—to make our consciences clean and strong. If they are, we can experience true peace, joy, and security.

( By Dr. Charles F. Stanley. Copyright 2012 In Touch Ministries, Inc.)