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On the Conscience

In my preaching I always try to engage the conscience. Rather than just making vague, surface-level, impotent observations about Scripture, my goal is to preach the text in a way that each person feels a heaviness upon their conscience. The hope is that this conviction, Lord willing, leads to repentance and faith. Spiritual growth begins when the conscience is agitated.


What exactly is the conscience? The conscience is the human faculty that distinguishes between right and wrong. The conscience is not itself the basis of right or wrong. It is not the law of God. Rather, the conscience is the internal mechanism that tells us whether we are following the law of God.


The function of the conscience is twofold. It either accuses us or defends us (Rom 2:15). When our conscience accuses us, it attacks us by making us feel guilty, shamed, depressed, and anxious. To suffer a guilty conscience is miserable. The conscience can be unrelenting and unforgiving in its accusations. However, the conscience also defends us from charges of wrongdoing. Let’s say that you’ve been accused of some sin that you didn’t do. You might have an inner peace about this situation. Where does some of this peace come from? The conscience. It protects us from false accusations.


A troubled conscience is a real nuisance. Only the blood of Christ can cleanse the conscience (Heb 9:14). Only his grace can quiet its relentless attacks. Herman Bavinck, my favorite theologian, says this: “A true conscience comes only through faith; its accusations can be stopped only by the cross, where God’s law was fully satisfied.”


What’s the application? Listen to your conscience. Don’t run from its accusations. When it accuses you, take those accusations to God. Ask God to cleanse you from an “evil conscience” (Heb 10:22). You might need to apologize to someone to achieve a clean conscience. If you need to do that, do it now. Immediately. Do not allow your conscience to condemn you anymore. Following Paul’s example, “always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man” (Acts 24:16).


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