Good Conscience

Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me;
~ Romans 15:30

Withal praying also for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds:
~ Colossians 4:3

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

And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men.
~ Acts 24:16

For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world, and more abundantly to you-ward.
~ 2 Corinthians 1:12

Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned:
~ 1 Timothy 1:5

Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ.
~ 1 Peter 3:16

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:
~ 1 Peter 3:21

Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men.
~ Romans 12:17

A Good Conscience, by Arthur W. Pink. The following contains an excerpt from his work, “From Studies in the Scriptures, January 1938”.

Pray for us: for we trust we have a good conscience, in all things willing to live honestly.— Hebrews 13:18

This expression, “a good conscience,” occurs in several other passages in the New Testament. Because of its deep importance, it calls for our closest attention. Much is said in the Word about conscience, and much depends upon our having and preserving a good one. Therefore, it behooves us to give our best consideration to this weighty subject. Not only is it one of great practical moment, but it is especially timely in view of the conscienceless day in which we live…

Now conscience is either good or evil, according as it is governed by the revealed will of God. Briefly, the evil conscience first: this is of several kinds. There is the ignorant and darkened conscience, relatively so and not absolutely, for all…possess rationality and the light of nature. This is the condition of the heathen, and alas, of an increasing number in Christendom, who are reared in homes where God is utterly ignored. Then there is the brazen and defiant conscience, which blatantly refuses to be in subjection to God’s known will; such was the case with Pharaoh. In the case of Herod, we see a bribed conscience, pretending that his oath obliged him to behead John the Baptist. The seared and insensible conscience (1Ti 4:2) pertains to those who have long resisted the light and are given over by God to a reprobate mind. The despairing and desperate conscience leads its possessor to lay violent hands upon himself.

At the new birth, the conscience is renewed, being greatly quickened and enlightened by the Holy Spirit. Through the exercise of faith, the conscience is purified (Act 15:9), being cleansed by an appropriation of the blood of Christ (Heb 9:14). A good conscience may be defined as one that is set to please God in all things, for it hates sin and loves holiness. It is governed by the Word, being in subjection to the authority of its Author. Its binding rule is obedience to God and to Him alone, refusing to act apart from His light. Consequently, the more conscientious the Christian is, the more he refuses all domination (the traditions and opinions of man) that is not divine, and the more likely is he to gain the reputation of being conceited and intractable. Nevertheless, each of us must be much on his guard lest he mistake pride and self-will for conscientious scruples. There is a vast difference between firmness and an unteachable spirit, as there is between meekness and fickleness. How is a good and pure conscience obtained? Briefly, by getting it rightly informed and by casting out its filth through penitential confession. The first great need of conscience is light, for ignorance corrupts it. “That the soul be without knowledge, it is not good” (Pro 19:2). As a judge that understands not the laws of his country is unfit to give judgment on any matter that comes before him, or as a dim eye cannot properly perform its office, so a blind or uninformed conscience is incapable to judge of our duty before God. Conscience cannot take God’s part unless it knows His will; and for a full acquaintance with that, we must daily read and search the Scriptures. “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word” (Psa 119:9). Oh, to be able to say, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Psa 119:105).

Let us now mention some of the qualities or characteristics of a good conscience. First, sincerity. Alas, how little of this virtue is left in the world: what shams and hypocrisy now obtain on every side—in the religious, the political, the commercial, and the social realm. This is a conscienceless generation; consequently, there is little or no honesty, fidelity, or reality. That which now regulates the average person is a temporary expediency rather than acting according to principle. But it is otherwise with the regenerate. The fear of the Lord has been planted in his heart; therefore, can he say with the apostle, “We trust we have a good conscience, in all things willing to live honestly” (Heb 13:18). A sincere conscience genuinely desires to know God’s will and is truly determined to be in subjection thereto. Guile has received its death wound, and the heart is open to the light, ready to be searched thereby.

Tenderness is another property of a good conscience. By this quality is meant a wakefulness of heart so that it smites for sin upon all occasions offered. So far from being indifferent to God’s claims, the heart is acutely sensitive when it has been ignored. Even for what many consider trifling matters, a tender conscience will chide and condemn. Job resolved to preserve a tender conscience when he said, “My heart shall not reproach me so long as I live” (Job 27:6). Again, we may understand this characteristic from its opposite, namely, a seared conscience (1Ti 4:2), which is contracted by a habitual practice of that which is evil, the heart becoming as hard as the public highway. Pray frequently for a tender conscience, dear reader.

Fidelity. When conscience faithfully discharges its office, there is a constant judging of our state before God as a measuring of our ways by His Holy Word. Thus, the apostle Paul could say, “Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day” (Act 23:1). The favorable judgment that others may entertain of him will afford no satisfaction to an upright man unless he has the testimony of conscience that his conduct is right in the sight of God. No matter what the fashions of the hour or the common custom of his fellows may be, one whose heart beats true to God will not do anything knowingly against conscience. His language will ever be, “whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye” (Act 4:19). On the other hand, his frequent prayer is, “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psa 139:23-24).

Tranquility. This is the sure reward of sincerity and fidelity, for Wisdom’s ways (in contrast from those of folly) “are ways of pleasantness and all her paths are peace” (Pro 3:17). An offended conscience will offend us, and “a wounded spirit who can bear?” (Pro 18:14). The Christian may as well expect to touch a live coal without pain as to sin without trouble of conscience. But a clear conscience is quiet, condemning not, being unburdened by the guilt of sin. When we walk closely with God, there is a serenity of mind and peace of heart that is the very opposite of the state of those who are lawless and disobedient. “The wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest” (Isa 57:20). The tranquility of a good conscience is an earnest of the undisturbed calm that awaits us on high.

But let it be pointed out that every peaceful conscience is not a good one, nor is every uneasy conscience an evil one. The conscience of some is quiet because it is insensible. “When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace” (Luk 11:21). That is a quiet, evil conscience because (it has been) put to sleep by the opiates of Satan. True tranquility of conscience is to be determined from the other properties: it must issue from sincerity, tenderness, and fidelity, or otherwise it is a seared one. We must consider not how much inward peace we have, but how much cause. As in a building, not the fairness of the structure, but the foundation of it is to be most regarded. On the other hand, a tender conscience is liable to err through lack of sufficient light and needlessly write bitter things against itself, which is a “weak conscience” (1Co 8:12), as we may also be troubled by sins already pardoned.

Now a good conscience can only be maintained by constant diligence: “Herein do I exercise myself to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men” (Act 24:16). The apostle made it his daily employment to keep his conscience clear that it might not justly accuse him of anything, so that he should have the witness in his own heart that his character and conduct were pleasing in the sight of the Holy One. The maintenance of a good conscience is an essential part of personal piety. “This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy…Holding faith, and a good conscience” (1Ti 1:18-19) That is the sum of personal godliness—faith being the principle of things to be believed by us, conscience (being) the principle of the things to be done. Faith and a good conscience are linked together again in 1 Timothy 1:5 and 3:9, for we cannot hold the one without the other.

If the reader will turn back to Acts 24, he will find that Paul was replying to charges brought against him. In verses 14-16, he made his defense, giving therein a brief epitome of practical and experimental Christianity. As the foundation, he gives an account of his faith: “Believing all things which are written,” as the immediate proof thereof, “and have hope toward God”; and then a brief account of his conversation: “herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence.” A saving knowledge of the truth, then, is such a belief of the Scriptures as produces a hope of eternal life, which is evidenced by a keeping of the heart with all diligence. The same is enumerated again in “the end of the commandment” (the design of the gospel institution), (which) is that love (that) fulfils the Law, issuing from a heart that beats true to God (1Ti 1:5).

“Herein do I exercise myself”: we must make it our constant endeavor. First, by a diligent and daily searching of the Scriptures that we may discover the will of God. We are exhorted, “Be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is” (Eph 5:17), and this in order that we may ascertain what is pleasing to Him, so that we offend not either in belief or worship. A conscience ill-informed is, at best, a weak and ignorant one.

Second, by a serious inquiry into the state of our heart and ways: “Stand in awe, and sin not: commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still” (Psa 4:4). We need to frequently challenge and call ourselves to account. If we would have conscience speak to us, we must speak often to it. It is given us for this very reason, that we may judge of our state and actions with respect to the judgment of God. Then “let us search and try our ways” (Lam 3:40). Take time, dear reader, to parley with yourself and consider how matters stand between you and God. Short reckonings prevent mistakes, so review each day and put right what has come between you and God.

Third, a uniform course of obedience: “Hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him” (1Jo 3:19).

Fourth, by a constant alertness: “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation” (Mat 26:41).

Fifth, by a serious resistance and mortification of sin: cutting off the right hand and putting out the right eye.

Sixth, by a sincere repentance and confession when conscious of failure.

Seventh, by faith’s appropriation of the cleansing blood of Christ.

Jesus Christ has offered so all-sufficient a satisfaction for all the claims of injured justice that now God hath no fault to find with His children. He seeth no sin in Jacob, nor iniquity in Israel (Num 23:21), nor is He angry with them on account of their sins—a peace unbroken and unspeakable being established by the atonement that Christ hath made on their behalf. Hence flows a peace experienced in the conscience…for when the conscience sees that God is satisfied and is no longer at war with it, then it also becomes satisfied with man; and conscience, which was wont to be a great disturber of the peace of the heart, now gives its verdict of acquittal; and the heart sleeps in the arms of conscience and finds a quiet resting place there.—Charles Spurgeon