A Conscience Example
Acts 23.1 and 24.16 speak of Paul’s decisions coming from a conscience he said was “good.” This “good” conscience was witnessed in two areas of his life.
Under the Law of Moses. “For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers” (Galatians 1.13-14). Paul’s conduct under the law was not questioned. He persecuted the church, doing what he could to eliminate those who taught about Christ, while pursuing the traditions of the law of Moses. In Philippians 3.5-6, he admitted persecuting the church, because he was doing the very thing the law stated: Practicing Judaism sincerely and faithfully. For that, he was considered “blameless.”
Under the Law of Christ. The level of zeal Paul displayed under Judaism was transformed in the same zeal under the law of Christ. 2 Corinthians 11.23 says, “Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one - I am talking like a madman - with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death.” In v. 28, there is no question as to his sincerity and sacrifice for the cause of Christ. His endurance for the law of Christ was possibly unmatched by any other apostle (2 Corinthians 12.15).
Under both laws, Paul lived in good conscience. How could this be, when the two laws are different? He could have followed both, but not without violating his conscience. He could not believe some portions of one law, because it would demand he refuse parts of the other law. Paul even said he could not follow (be married to) both (Romans 7.2-4). No one could do that.
The explanation is found in 1 Timothy 1.12-14: “I thank Him that enabled me, even Christ Jesus our Lord, for that He counted me faithful, appointing me to His service; though I was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: howbeit I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord abounded exceedingly with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. Faithful is the saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.”
The explanation found in 1 Timothy 1 tells us a conscience is set by input - knowledge. Whatever you put in, you get out. Decisions are made from a heart based upon knowledge received and a conscience acting upon knowledge, whatever the knowledge and amount received.
Looking back in the law of Moses, what Paul received about persecuting Christians came from Deuteronomy 13.1-5. That passage included the command to put to death those who spoke “rebellion against Jehovah.” Paul’s information in the law was right, and he acted in harmony with it. The question is: Was this the law he should have followed at the time of the existence of the church of Christ? How could something in the law of Moses, a law from God, be so right, yet so wrong, to do? Paul explains that in Acts 26.12-20, after saying the did all he did in good conscience. Paul received the truth from God. At that time, the world needed a zealous Jew, who knew the law, to be converted as a means of salvation for other Jews (Romans 9.1-3). It convinced him he was wrong, and he asked what to do to change because his conscience convicted him of following the wrong pattern. He wanted to know what to do to have a good conscience. He did not want to linger in guilt.
In Paul’s conversion to the law of the Lord who he persecuted (Acts 9.1-18), we see how likely it can be to act in harmony with our conscience, feel right taking an action, yet be totally wrong.
This should make an impression upon our own conscience. It is only as good as the knowledge we receive. A conscience by itself can never be a “failsafe” guide, unless it is instructed by the word of God, and in particular, the law of Christ. Therefore, it is important to grow in the knowledge of Christ (2 Peter 3.18).
If you value a good conscience and desire to establish it, free from guilt or wrongdoing (1 Peter 3.16), you must know it is not accidental or miraculously given. Acts 24.16 says you must “exercise” to have a good conscience - an exercise in the law provided by God (2 Timothy 3.16-17). Humbly search for what is right and wrong, no matter how painful and extensive the effort. Be prepared to admit you’re wrong, even when you thought you were right. Repent. Be sensitive - not hardened - to the transgression of the law. Follow the pattern found in 1 Peter 3.21 of how to convert a conscience: “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Then imitate the traits of a good conscience from 1 Timothy 1.5: “But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.”
Your conscience is the most valuable restraining device you have. Seek truth with it. If you know good, do it (James 4.17). God has set eternity in our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3.11), a way to discern right and wrong.
Let Him have his way with thee.