A Good Conscience
All these scriptures and even more have in common what we want to think about tonight as we move forward into our study of conscience about having what the bible calls a good conscience.
Listen to them again:
Act 23:1 And Paul, earnestly beholding the council, said, Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.
1Ti 1:5 Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned:
1Ti 1:19 Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck:
1Pe 3:16 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.
The first thing that we see when we look at the NT is that we can have and should have a good conscience.
Conscience should be considered one of the servants God has given us to help us in our Christian life. The New Testament speaks of many different kinds of conscience: a pure conscience as well as a defiled conscience, a good conscience and an evil conscience, a strong conscience and a weak conscience.
We want to focus on the characteristics of a good conscience. The Apostle Paul said in Acts 24:16, "And in this do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offense toward God, and toward men."
What are the characteristics of a good conscience? It has at least three characteristics.
I. A Good Conscience Is Effective
First, a good conscience is effective. It works. If you had an automobile that didn't run, you wouldn't call it a good automobile. You'd just call it an automobile that's not running. If you have a conscience that is not operating effectively, you could not call it a good conscience. A good conscience is one that actually works in our lives.
A. A good conscience effectively keeps us on course.
"As I besought thee to abide still at Ephesus, when I went into Macedonia, that thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine, neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions rather than godly edifying which is in faith, so do. Now the end [object] of the commandment is love out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned, from which some, having swerved, have turned aside unto vain jangling" (I Tim. 1:3-6).
Paul warned Timothy to stick to the doctrines of the Word of God. They help us develop a good conscience, and a good conscience will keep us on course.
Verse 6 uses the phrase "have turned aside." This phrase means they have missed the mark, they have swerved, they have gone off course. You see, God has a course for each of us, and we had better stay on that course. If we don't stay on course, we won't achieve the purposes God has for us. A good conscience keeps us from going off course to fables and foolish arguments.
A. Helps Us Be Victorious
A. Second, a good conscience will help you to have victory.
First Timothy 1:18,19 says, "This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy, according to the prophecies which pointed to thee, that thou by them mightest war a good warfare, holding faith, and a good conscience, which some, having put away concerning faith, have made shipwreck."
First you go off course, and then you wreck the ship. We are in a battle. We must fight a good warfare. Some warfare is bad, but this is a good warfare, a warfare against the world, the flesh and the Devil. Those who have faith and a good conscience can fight the battle and win the victory. Nothing gives you greater courage as you face the battles of life than a good conscience, one that is functioning well in your life.
Timothy had some battles in Ephesus where he pastored. That would not be an easy place to pastor. Ministers write to me or phone me and say, "Brother Wiersbe, I am in a rough place!" There are no easy places. Wherever you lift the banner of Jesus Christ, the Devil is going to fight you, and if he can, he will use the members of the church to do it! If you hold on to faith and a good conscience, you can wage the good warfare.
B. Helps Us Be Honest
A good conscience not only keeps us on course and helps us to have victory, but a good conscience will also help us to be honest. Hebrews 13:18 says,
"Pray for us; for we trust we have a good conscience, in all things willing to live honestly." The word translated "honestly" means "beautifully, seemingly, fittingly." The Christian life is to be a beautiful life. Christians should not create problems—they should solve problems. Usually a Christian doesn't create problems, he reveals them. The problems were already there. But if you have a good conscience, you will be able to live an honest life, a beautiful life. People will look at you and say, "There is something about him or her that is really lovely."
It's unfortunate when Christians don't pay their bills. It's unfortunate when Christians have a bad reputation in the business community. If a person has a good conscience, he will live honestly, pay his bills and keep his promises. He will be true to his contracts because his conscience will help him to live honestly.
C. Keeps Us Witnessing
In I Peter 3:14-17 we discover that a good conscience is effective to keep us witnessing. "But and if ye suffer for righteousness' sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled, but sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear, having a good conscience, that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good manner of life [behavior] in Christ. For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well-doing than for evil-doing."
Peter was writing to people who were being falsely accused. That's a hard thing to experience. They were being accused of saying and doing things that they had not said and done. How were they to prove that these accusations were wrong? Were they supposed to go to court? Were they supposed to hold a protest meeting? No, he simply said, "Be ready to witness."
Obstacles can become opportunities. When people are making trouble for you, it is an opportunity to witness if you have a good conscience. If you've done evil, your conscience will rebuke you and convict you, but if you are doing good, your conscience will strengthen you. There is nothing like a good conscience to keep you strong when people are lying about you.
A good conscience is an effective conscience. It keeps us on course, keeps us victorious, keeps us honest and keeps us witnessing when the going is tough. The person who abandons a good conscience begins to swerve off course and to move toward the dangerous reefs of life, and before long he is shipwrecked.
This is what happened to King Saul. King Saul began to play with his conscience, and before long he got off course. Then he lost the victory and began to lie and make excuses. Before long he was dead. It is an important thing to have a good conscience. A good conscience is effective.
II. A Good Conscience Is Enlightened
The second characteristic of a good conscience is this: A good conscience is enlightened. A good conscience is taught by the Word of God and guided by the Spirit of God.
The Lord Jesus compared conscience to a window that lets in light. Matthew 6:22,23 says, "The lamp of the body is the eye; if, therefore, thine eye be healthy, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If, therefore, the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!"
Conscience is a window that lets in the light, and the more light you have from the Word of God, the better your conscience is going to function. Conscience attaches itself to the highest standard that the person knows. As we grow in our Christian life, our standard gets higher and higher. When we first meet the Lord, we have many things to learn. As the light begins to shine into our hearts, we see the cobwebs and the dust, and we begin to clean things up. The more knowledge you have about God and the more knowledge you have about the grace of God, the better your conscience will function. This is why we must read the Word of God, exhort one another and seek the light from the Holy Spirit.
In I Corinthians 8 Paul made it clear that knowledge and conscience go together. The consciences of some people don't bother them because they don't have the knowledge that should enlighten their consciences. Some people do not have any light; they have darkness—the darkness of superstition and ignorance.
When John Knox was preaching the Gospel in Scotland and seeking to reform the church, Queen Mary, who had a different belief, opposed him. She said to him one day, "My conscience is not so." John Knox replied to Queen Mary, "Conscience, Madam, requires knowledge, and I fear that right knowledge you have none."
III. A Good Conscience Is Exercised
A good conscience is effective. A good conscience is enlightened. And third, a good conscience is exercised.
Paul told Felix, "And in this do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offense toward God, and toward men" (Acts 24:16). Our conscience, like our muscles, must be exercised. If our conscience lies dormant and is not exercised, then it becomes an evil conscience.
Hebrews 5:13,14 describes this: "For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe.
But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil."
Each of our physical senses can be exercised to an amazing degree of proficiency. People can be taught to hear better or to see clearer. Some people have an amazing sense of touch. Even the sense of taste can be trained to a marvelous degree of proficiency. In the same way our spiritual senses—our spiritual sight, our spiritual hearing, our spiritual taste—must be exercised if we're going to have discernment, and this involves conscience.
Conscience must be exercised, otherwise it cannot be a good conscience. And you exercise your conscience when you obey the Word of God, when you do the things God tells you to do. Just as a musician develops skill as he practices his music, just as a cook develops skill as she continually prepares meals or an artist develops skill the more he paints—so the Christian develops a keen sensitivity about what is right and wrong as he obeys the Word of God. A good conscience is one that is exercised.
The Greek word (apeiros) translated "unskillful" in Hebrews 5:13 means "without experience." The Greek word (gumnazo) translated "exercise" in verse 14 gives us our English word "gymnasium." The Greeks were great believers in physical exercise. The writer of Hebrews is saying, "Just as you exercise your physical senses and your physical muscles, so you must exercise your spiritual senses and your conscience, for a good conscience is one that is exercised."
Do you have a good conscience? Is your conscience effective? Is it working? When you have done something wrong, does your conscience bother you? When you do something right and people oppose you, does your conscience strengthen you?
I trust that your conscience is an enlightened conscience and that you are growing in your knowledge of the Word of God. I trust you aren't living by custom or tradition but by the truth of the Word of God.
It is thrilling when you are not only walking in the light of God's Word but also carrying the light with you wherever you go.
Do you have an exercised conscience? Or do you say, "Well, what difference does it make?" The only way to grow as a Christian, the only way to stand as a Christian, the only way to be effective as a Christian is to exercise your conscience and to grow toward maturity in the Lord. It's a wonderful thing to have a good conscience. Do everything you can to keep your conscience in good repair. Once a good conscience starts to fail, you're moving toward shipwreck.
May the Lord help us to have a good conscience.
Wiersbe, W. W. Meet Your Conscience (Page 12).