The conscience is often surrounded by mystery. Some actually view the conscience of man as esoteric and incapable of being understood. Alas, the occult has claimed special insight regarding the conscience. Many have subscribed to the philosophy of "let your conscience be your guide." Some place their conscience over the revealed will of God, the Bible. Concerned reader, the conscience is a biblical subject: "And Paul, earnestly beholding the council, said, Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day" (Acts 23: 1, more later).
Our English word conscience is defined as, "The sense of what is right or wrong in one's conduct or motives, impelling one toward right action" RHCD, pg. 286). "Conscience" is derived from the Greek word suneidesis. Suneidesis is made up of two words: sun, meaning with, and oida, to know. Hence, a co-knowledge. Vine comments thus on suneidesis:
"literally, 'a knowing with' (sun, 'with,' oida, 'to know'), i.e., 'a co-knowledge (with oneself), the witness borne to one's conduct by conscience, that faculty by which we apprehend the will of God, as that which is designed to govern our lives;' hence (a) the sense of guiltness before God; Heb. 10:2; (b) that process of thought which distinguishes what it considers morally good or bad, commending the good, condemning the bad, and so prompting to do the former, and avoid the latter; Rom. 2:15 (bearing witness with God's law); Heb. 9:1; 2 Cor. 1:12; acting in a certain way because 'conscience' requires it, Rom. 13:5; so as not to cause scruples of 'conscience' in another, 1 Cor. 10:28,29 " (Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words).
The pagan who offered his first born son as a sacrifice to the gods did so with a clear conscience. Did God (the ultimate authority) require or authorize such sacrifices? No. However, the pagan believed he was right. Acting upon his subjective belief, his conscience approved his actions. The time to which Paul referred when he had acted in "good conscience" was a period in which Paul (Saul of Tarsus) was having Christians put to death (Acts 23: 1, cp. 26: 9-11). Hence, the conscience can be wrong, depending on the education it has received.
The answer of a good conscience toward God. Peter wrote, "The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ" (I Pet. 3: 21). Beloved, there must be a standard for our conscience to determine right and wrong. In matters religious and moral that standard is the word of God (Gal. 2: 14). Hence, when one acts in concert with their properly educated conscience (taught by God's word), they have the "answer of a good conscience toward God." In the particular of Peter's reference, the matter is baptism. Baptism is commanded of God (Acts 2: 38). Baptism is for the remission of sin and is universal in its application (Acts 2: 38; Mk. 16: 15, 16, click here to read more about baptism). Therefore, when the non-Christian submits to scriptural baptism, they have the "answer of a good conscience toward God." Their conscience (properly taught) approves of their obedience. To the converse, when a person refuses to obey God (they refuse to be scripturally baptized), their conscience condemns them, assuming the conscience has been correctly educated.
For Conscience sake. In Romans chapter thirteen, Paul teaches that the Christian (all men) is to be subject to civil law (vs. 1-7). In this vein Paul makes this statement, " but also for conscience sake" (vs. 5). The two supplied incentives for obeying civil law are to avoid God's wrath and to enjoy a clear conscience. On occasion, maintaining a good conscience can mean that the Christian must suffer. Hear Peter, "For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully" (I Pet. 2: 19). The conscience can and does serve as a great source of motivation to do the will of God. Possessing, rightly so, a good conscience is a great blessing! Paul exercised himself to "have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men" (Acts 24: 16). In this connection, please consider the cogent comments of expositor Albert Barnes:
"Paul often appeals to his conscientiousness as the leading habit of life. Even before his conversion he endeavored to act according to the dictates of conscience .To do that which is right, so that my conscience shall never reproach me. 'Void of offence.' That which is unoffensive, or which does not cause one to stumble or fall. He means that he endeavored to keep his conscience so enlightened and pure in regard to duty, and that he acted according to its dictates in such a way that his conduct should not be displeasing to God or injurious to man. To have such a conscience implies two things: (1) That it be enlightened or properly informed in regard to truth and duty; and (2) that that which is made known to be right should be honestly and faithfully performed " Barnes on the New Testament, Vol. 3, pg. 333).
We are to commend ourselves to the conscience of others. Paul had to constantly deal with false teachers. Such was the case at Corinth. In such a setting Paul wrote, "But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God" (2 Cor. 4: 2). In this appeal to the conscience of other men (Christians at Corinth), notice the climate, "renounced dishonesty," "handled God's word correctly", "manifestation of the truth," and "in the sight of God." These are the elements for the working of a productive conscience. Paul lived and taught the truth; hence, he could appeal to others who also lived this way (2 Cor. 5: 11).
One can possess a seared conscience. Paul provided clear warnings of an impending apostasy (Acts 20: 28-32, 2 Thes. 2: 1-12, I Tim. 4: 1-6). How can one become so removed from pristine Christianity as to teach such corrupt doctrines as mentioned by Paul, some wonder. Here is one reason: "Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron" (I Tim. 4: 2). Paul's reference to a "seared conscience" is apparently referring to a spiritual cauterized conscience. Consider the succinct comments of the Pulpit Commentary: " if the metaphor is from the cauterizing a wound then the idea is that these men's consciences are become as insensible to the touch as the skin that has been cauterized is .The emphasis of tes idias, 'their own conscience,' implies that they were not merely deceivers of others, but were self-deceived" (Vol. 21, pg. 69).
In conclusion, we have seen that there is really no mystique associated with the conscience, as far as the Bible is concerned. Let us ever learn the will of God and apply it to our lives. As we sincerely harmonize our lives with God's word, we can exercise "a conscience void of offence toward God and toward men."