An Evil Conscience
Have you ever wondered how it's possible for people to do evil things and not be bothered about them? Some people can lie and never lose any sleep. They can steal and do other evil things, and it never seems to upset them. It seems that they have no limits to the evil that they could do; why is that?
But you and I are bothered by even a little thing until we come to the Lord and get it straightened out. How can some people do evil things and not be disturbed? The answer may be that they have an evil conscience.
"Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water" (Heb. 10:22).
Here the writer used Old Testament symbolism to convey a New Testament truth. Two ideas are here. One is just as the Israelites sprinkled the doors posts that the judgment of God passed over them; so is it true of ourselves. The blood of Christ has be applied to our souls and we have forgiveness as the judgment for our sins were meet on Christ.
Second idea here is that, when the priest was ministering in the tabernacle, he had to wash his hands and his feet at the laver so he would not defile the tabernacle. You and I, when we fellowship with the Lord, must be sure that we are washed clean. "Create in me a clean heart, 0 God, and renew a right spirit within me" (Ps. 51:10). "Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts" (v. 6).
Th writer uses these ideas when he brings up what’s called an evil conscience.
I. What Is an Evil Conscience?
Let's try to understand this concept of an evil conscience by answering several questions. First of all, what is an evil conscience? The simplest explanation I think is simply this: An evil conscience is the opposite of a good conscience. A good conscience is effective—it convicts us when we have done wrong, and it encourages us when we have done right. But an evil conscience encourages the person when he does wrong and bothers him if he does something right!
I think Isaiah 5:20 describes people who have an evil conscience: "Woe unto them that call evil, good, and good, evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!"
In other words, they brag about the things they ought to be ashamed of. Paul wrote about them in Philippians 3:19: "Whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things." The things they ought to be ashamed of, they glory in! When they do something good, it disturbs them. Why? Because they don't want to do good, they want to do evil. When they do something to hurt someone else, it doesn't bother them because their inner light has turned into darkness.
Remember what we have read of darkness? This takes us again to Matthew 6 where the Lord Jesus compared conscience to a window that lets in the light: "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" (v. 22,23). Note this important statement: "If, therefore, the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!" (v. 23).
Remember Conscience is the window that lets in the light(God’s Word). As we sin against the Lord, that window gets dirtier and dirtier. Finally, the light doesn't disappear, the light turns into darkness! That which should guide us into truth guides us into error. This is an awesome thing. Jesus did not say that, as we continue to sin, the light disappears. No, He said a far worse fate will overtake us: The light will turn into darkness! That which should be a blessing to us becomes a curse. That which should help us begins to hurt us.
So an evil conscience is one that calls evil, good and good, evil. It puts darkness for light and light for darkness. An evil conscience does not convict us when we have done wrong. We get accustomed to our sins, and our conscience does not bother us.
II. What Causes an Evil Conscience?
I think the simple answer to that question is this: a failure to be serious about sin. It is dangerous to take sin lightly. If I can, without feeling guilty, do something today that six months ago would have bothered me, then I may be starting to get an evil conscience. When you start to take sin lightly, you are moving in the wrong direction — moving from light to darkness.
I think one reason why many people today take sin so lightly is that they take God very lightly. When we do not have a holy respect for God, then we have no respect for holiness or for God's judgment of sin.
In I John 1, John talked about people who try to cover their sin. He pointed out that they cover sin with their speech. "If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth" (v. 6). They begin to lie to other people. They say, "Oh, yes, I'm in fellowship with God." They sing the songs and give their testimonies, but they're walking in the darkness.
In I John 1:8 we see them start to lie to themselves: "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." They can tell the same lie so often that they really start to believe it! First John 1:10 says, "If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us." Next they lie to God! They might go through a form of prayer, but they aren't really praying. It is all a masquerade.
What’s the progress to an evil conscience?
A good conscience functions properly.
But if we sin against that good conscience, we develop a defiled conscience.
"Unto the pure all things are pure, but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled" (Titus 1:15).
A good conscience becomes defiled because the window starts to get dirty. The more we sin against the Lord, the dirtier that window becomes.
This can lead to a seared conscience. "Speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their conscience seared with a hot iron" (I Tim. 4:2). This image is not difficult to understand. When your skin is burned, it develops a calloused area of scar tissue, and that area loses its sensitivity. In a similar manner your conscience can be seared.
First, a good conscience becomes a defiled conscience, and then a defiled conscience becomes a seared conscience. It's possible to get to such a low point in our lives that sin doesn't bother us anymore. We can lie with a straight face, and it doesn't bother us one bit. This, of course, leads to an evil conscience.
III. What Are the Evidences of an Evil Conscience?
Someone may ask, "How can I know if I have an evil conscience?" Let me give you some evidences of an evil conscience.
Playing With Sin
The first evidence is that you play with sin. Whenever you start playing with sin, you don't take it seriously. The person with an evil conscience can play with sin and not be worried.
Shallow Confession and Shallow Repentance
Another evidence is shallow confession and shallow repentance. Whenever I make excuses instead of confessing my sin to God, I know something is wrong inside. The person with an evil conscience can make very shallow confessions and very hasty repentance that is not repentance at all—he's just making excuses.
I think another evidence of an evil conscience is that we start to measure sin. We try to convince ourselves that there are big sins and little sins. In God's sight sin is sin, and the more understanding we have, the more we'll realize that what we thought were small sins are just as bad as the so-called big sins in our lives. Someone may say, "Well, I haven't murdered anybody. That's a big sin. I've not committed adultery. Therefore, I can get away with these smaller sins."
The British Bible teacher, Dr. G. Campbell Morgan, used to talk about "sins in good standing." I fear that in our churches today there are sins in good standing. We would expel a member for fornication or drunkenness or murder, but what about gossip? What about lying? What about pride? The person with an evil conscience measures sin—he classifies some sins as big and some as little.
Concerned About Reputation
A person with an evil conscience is more concerned about reputation than about character. If you have an evil conscience, all you are concerned about is that you don't get caught. And even if you do get caught, you can talk your way out of it! People who are more concerned about reputation than about character will do anything privately if they aren't caught or seen publicly. What a dangerous attitude this is because your conscience begins to decay and become evil.
Arguing With the Truth
I think another evidence of an evil conscience is that we start to argue with the truth. When you meet a Christian who is supersensitive about some matter, watch out! He may be developing an evil conscience. You can't talk to him about the subject because he's already made up his mind. He can argue with the truth. He can explain away what he's doing. I have even known professing Christians who used the Bible to support their sin.
IV. Who Can Get an Evil Conscience?
We've asked the questions, What is an evil conscience, what causes an evil conscience and what are the evidences of an evil conscience? Here's another question: Can this happen to anyone? Yes, it can happen to you, and it can happen to me.
It happened to King Saul. I think one of the most tragic biographies in the Bible is that of King Saul. He started off with such great blessings—anointed with the Spirit, surrounded by a group of men who wanted to work with him. He faced great opportunity. He had a marvelous friend, Samuel, who prayed for him. But then Saul got impatient, and he began to lie. He was worried about impressing people. He said to Samuel, "Honor me before the people" (see I Sam. 15:30). He became envious of David. And he ended up in the darkness of a witches' cave because God had forsaken him (see 28:7-25). Then he went to the battlefield and committed suicide (see 1 Sam .31:1-6).
It all started when Saul lied to his conscience and played around with sin. King Saul went down into darkness because he had an evil conscience. Those who were his best friends, he treated like enemies. Those who were really his enemies, he treated like friends.
But I would remind you that this also happened to David. In I Samuel 24 we read that David cut off the skirt of King Saul's robe when the king was asleep. And this bothered David. The Bible says, "David's heart smote him" (v. 5). David's conscience at this point was so tender that this little action upset him. In I Samuel 26 he took the spear and the water jug from Saul, but we don't read that his heart smote him when he did it. A few years later David took Bathsheba and murdered her husband, and for a whole year he covered his sin! Was it possible for the sweet singer of Israel to get an evil conscience? Yes! It happened to David and Saul, and it can happen to you and me!
V. Can an Evil Conscience Be Cured?
This brings us to our final question: Can an evil conscience be cured? The answer is yes. We can come to the Lord and have our hearts cleansed from an evil conscience. First of all, we must confess the sin honestly before God and demonstrate an attitude of true repentance. David, in Psalm 51, gave us a beautiful illustration of how to be broken before God. We need to be cleansed and purged by the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ.
"How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?" (Heb. 9:14). We must truly repent of our sin and confess it to God. We must repair any damage we can through restitution or apology. We must be cleansed and purged of our guilt. We must also draw near to God. "Let us draw near . . . in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience" (10:22). The author of the Book of Hebrews was talking about cleansing by the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ.
If, in honesty, someone says, "I have an evil conscience," I would warn him: Not only will your light turn into darkness, but you will also cause other people to live in darkness. The tragedy of having an evil conscience is the damage that we do to other people. The husband who has an evil conscience will do damage to his wife and his family. The teenager who has an evil conscience will do damage to his parents and his friends. Think of the damage Saul and David caused.
Is there something in our lives today that we are afraid might be found out? Are we cultivating an evil conscience, being more concerned about reputation than about character? Are we more concerned about what people think we are than about what God knows we really are?
I would issue this warning: If you live with an evil conscience, ultimately it will destroy you. It may not kill you the way it killed King Saul, but it can destroy your joy, your power, your fellowship with God, your character. It will destroy your peace. It will destroy your fellowship with those who love you.
But I can say to you on the authority of the Word of God, no matter how dark your conscience may be, if you will come to Jesus Christ and confess your sin in an attitude of true repentance, He will restore you. He will cleanse you. He will wash the window of your soul, and the light will start to shine in again. Then you will want to be very careful to maintain a sensitive conscience, being obedient to God's will.
May the Lord help each one of us maintain a good conscience, lest we develop a defiled conscience and then an evil conscience!
Wiersbe, W. W. Meet Your Conscience (26).