Should I Listen to my Conscience?

by | Feb 5, 2019

We don’t talk about our conscience much, but they frequently reveal themselves in our lives. In my early days as a young Christian, I had no problems riding the public transport system for free if the gates were open. Today, my conscience would prevent me from taking advantage of the opportunity and not paying the legitimate fare. Something within my conscience shifted in between that time.

The same conscience has prevented me from pursuing spiritual ideas I’ve had because they didn’t follow the pattern of how things were done in my church.  I felt like my sense of “wrongdoing” was more to do my spiritual setting than anything else. But somehow a louder message had resounded in my consciousness that what I was doing was defiant and incorrect.

We see that while our consciences are a gift from God and applied correctly can be helpful and encourage us to live lives sensitive to God’s words. It can also be a hindrance when we’re biblically resolved on issues, but our hyper-sensitive conscience condemns us.

The question then becomes how do we calibrate our conscience, so we’re not needlessly binding ourselves to extra rules? Does our conscience always judge correctly? How can we train this gift of conscience, so we don’t become fretful and anxious?

Is our Conscience always Correct?

The complex relationship between our conscience and decisions plays out in Jesus’s encounter with Peter on a rooftop. In a vision, Jesus tells Peter “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat” but Peter responded to the eating of meat “Surely not, Lord” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” (Acts 10:9)

Previously, Jesus himself said repeatedly that what you ingest doesn’t make you unclean and he was indifferent to the types of food we can eat Mark 7: 14-15 NIV.  However, Peter’s oversensitive conscience led him to recoil at the thought eating of meat. This built wall of conscience caused him to dismiss direct instructions from Christ himself that the food was ok to consume.

This comes as no surprise when we look into Peter’s background. Peter was Jewish and so spent a significant portion of his life holding onto food and drink prohibitions based on Old Testament Law. Eventually, the moral code cemented into his consciousness until it became difficult for the voice of God to even break through.

It is possible in our Christian lives to have our conscience calibrated to a greater degree to our traditions, that we developed hyper-sensitive responses when our lines are crossed. We end up viewing matters that are not proportionally aligned to how God views things.

An Oversensitive Conscience

Having become a Christian during my university year – I have grown up in a unique spiritual environment where there was no collaboration with Christians outside our tribe. When confronted with professing Christians outside my circle, there usually followed a hypersensitivity towards everything they would say and do – which sounded immediately wrong and an affront to the belief systems I’d grown up in. Often I walk away from these interactions possessing a vague, pervasive feeling that my displeasure has more to do with me than how God viewed that person.

It is likely that Peter in the passage above would have considered the Gentiles unclean too ( Acts 10 v 28 – 29). On the outside in, it would be easy to look at Peter reactions and think the problem lies in the Gentiles or the food. But the problem lies in neither but rather Peter’s oversensitive conscience. Peter’s traditions had become so embedded, it was difficult for it to be corrected and thus caused him to have an automatic negative response.

Here we see that our consciences can be theologically incorrect when we mislabel things by “calling this impure that God has made clean.” 

Callibrating an oversensitive conscience?

Neurologists will tell you that if you were to place a patch over a newborn’s eye over two years. The nerve cells will eventually deaden, and the baby will lose the ability to see in that eye. That is because the nerve cells remained unexposed to sight as a result, they don’t have a chance to be exercised.

When the Bible talks about having a weak or strong conscience – it is implying that a strong conscience is more desirable than a weak conscience (1 Corinthian 8:7). A weak conscience will often accuse us and label things as wrong that are not wrong.

This self-condemning mode of living can lead to perpetual guilt and anxiety but this doesn’t have to be the forward pattern. We can strengthen our consciences in a similar way to the newborn’s eye; the result of such training can lead to a more mature and balanced Christian life. Here are 2 tips.

Listen to your conscience, even your weak conscience. Those with a weaker conscience will frequently waver, but even in those moments of uncertainty, the bible says that we should not betray our conscience. This doesn’t mean your conscience is necessarily correct, but we should obey it nonetheless because “whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin. (Romans 14:23)

Inform your conscience with God’s words. As you grow in your understanding, your ability to make correct judgments will sharpen. Our conscience is not immutable, and it can change if we educate it more to God’s word than the words of man. It can become a better instrument to the same degree that we scripturally inform it.

We’re often embedded in church communities and cultures that rides its pet issues which can engender a conscience that is hypersensitive to certain matters. By feeding our conscience correct biblical proportion on a full range of matters, it will prevent allergic reactions to pet peeves and help us to become more sensitive to the full range of God’s word.

Only Jesus Can Redeem.

God has also gifted us with more tools to guide us than leaves us in a place of unknowing. The holy spirit, his words, and our conscience are to be our guides. An oversensitive conscience can put you under a constant weight of guilt, a yoke that God has not called you to carry. ” my yoke is light. And a desensitize conscience will not fully display God’s glory through a life that is set apart.

The best type of conscience is a reliable conscience; here it is considered blessed “Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves”. (Romans 14:22)

Remember that even when our conscience rightly or wrongly accuses us, they point us in the correct direction of a mighty saviour who washes away our guilts and refreshes our soul so that we don’t have to be suspended in a place of condemnation. He has given us a conscience and he has given us forgiveness.

For further reading: Conscience by Andrew Naselli and J.D Crowley

Written by Ann Ajet

Ann Ajet is a lead writer at Bread and is based in London.  She covers real-life issues in the Christian walk. When she’s not writing, she’s exploring street food markets with her husband and daughter.

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