the human CONSCIENCE
(for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified; for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them) - Romans 2:13-15
The conscience is an innate human faculty, meaning that it is naturally inborn in every human from birth. It could be considered to be one of several innate spiritual qualities with which humankind is predisposed. These are gifts of the Creator and constitute part of what makes us in 'His likeness'. Among humankind, the faculty of conscience is universal, and we first become aware of it at a tender early age.
The concept of 'conscience', as commonly used in its moral sense, is the inherent ability of every healthy human being to perceive what is right and what is wrong and, on the strength of this perception, to control, evaluate and judge the potential or fulfilled execution of their actions.
Some call it the voice of God. Some call it a 'moral muscle'. Sometimes it may come though as a voice, and other times it just seems to be a feeling like a slight stab or the twinge of a nerve. If we train ourselves, we can learn to recognize and pay attention to this small and quiet 'heads-up'. The growth of your spiritual life depends on your learning to hear it and allow it to regulate your actions. Self-control is what you will achieve.With training we can also learn to completely ignore the conscience, and after a while, it seems to waste away. Soldiers, for instance require some training to blunt their conscience sufficiently to allow them to kill another human being in battle. A severely guilty conscience has been known to drive men mad, or worse, as in the case of Judas Iscariot:
How is it that the human 'will' can so easily thwart the conscience? They say the shortest complete sentence in the English language is, "Go." There may be some truth to that, but it is equally true that the shortest complete sentence in the English language is, "No." We all need to learn how to tell ourselves "No" and repress impulses.
We will not always feel the condemnation of the conscience immediately. Often, it's so impeded by emotional interference and confusion, that the human 'will' can repress the ever-nagging conscience, yet deep down in our beleaguered little brains the quiet little voice of the conscience will never forget. Curious thing. It never forgets. The human conscience - it never sleeps - even when you do.
Our will has the power and ability (free-will) to either accept or reject the judgment of the conscience. If this voice is repeatedly ignored, the voice becomes beaten down like the punk in a Dirty Harry movie. After a while, it doesn't get up again. It can be scarred and calloused to the point of being silenced but will never go away entirely. Whenever an opportunity presents itself, this voice will speak up again to remind us of past sins and damnable actions we've committed. The conscience won't let us forget from our youth into our very old age. We may be able to squelch the little voice throughout our sojourn through life, but the subdued little voice will eventually triumph in the life beyond in the judgment. We can't fool God, we can only do our best to maintain a clean conscience, hopefully getting wiser as we get older. Older and wiser, however, does not provide much in the way of protection, and then we are left to pray for mercy and beg forgiveness. we'll have plenty of company.
Then Judas, His betrayer, seeing that He had been condemned, was remorseful and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, "I have sinned by betraying innocent blood." And they said, "What is that to us? You see to it!" Then he threw down the pieces of silver in the temple and departed, and went and hanged himself. - Matthew 27:3-5
When the demands of conscience for either condemnation or absolution are met and satisfied by Christ’s substituted sacrifice, the sinner’s bad conscience turns into a good one. This is salvation in effect, and regeneration in truth. It is not merely lifting up one’s hand while others’ heads are bowed and eyes closed, nor just being baptized and received
as a church member, but it is having a good conscience which proceeds from a real conversion, brought about by serious confession, and true faith in Christ, by which the forgiveness of sins is obtained and the renewal by the Holy Spirit into a new life and a walk is initiated. Strictly speaking, if the Gospel has not penetrated a man’s conscience, that is, if he has not experienced the power of God in his moral exercises, he is still outside of Christ and is not saved, no matter how long he has been a church member.
When exposed to stimuli which could be triggered by any of our senses, be it visual, auditory, or another - various neural transmitters and their receptors are activated in the brain. Brain waves begin to step up and 'potential action' is energized, lighting up the synaptic networks, dipoles begin to bubble and boil. Cranial nerves then relay information between the brain and parts of the body. Some of the cranial nerves control the senses, some control muscle movement, and some have both sensory and motor effects. Somewhere in this swamp of dynamic brain activity lurks the conscience, always on the alert. This is when a specific action is contemplated, and the next thing you know a claxon sounds inside your head, along with a cacophony of alarm bells, beeps, honks, toots, and a shriek or two. Yet all this noise in your head may or may not be overpowered by your 'will'. Have you heard it said that "the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak"? One must learn to exercise their will as an important element of their spiritual being in the wrestling match between the free will and the conscience. Perhaps it is the personal sense of will, or will-power, that is the moral muscle we need to exercise.
The conscience has essentially two moral functions. First, before a contemplated action happens, it's a guide alerting us to do the right thing even as we are rolling the idea around in our heads. And secondly, it's judging us after an action is done (or not done), whereby the conscience rewards us for being obedient to God's voice or condemns us for our willful defiance.
THERE'S NO WAY AROUND IT, WE'RE ALL SINNERS IN THE EYES OF GOD
Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, "This is the way, walk in it," Whenever you turn to the right hand Or whenever you turn to the left. - Isaiah 30:21
This is why the prophets and apostles in the Bible stressed the message of repentance so much. Yeshua Himself stressed repentance in His ministry: "From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Matthew 4:17) Repentance is the spiritual labor of regeneration. Without such effort, spiritual miscarriage may take place, and the church may produce a member with a defiled conscience, having neither new birth nor spiritual life.
Today, we rarely hear any reference to the conscience from the pulpits. Yet throughout church history, the best Christian thinkers spoke about the conscience regularly. At trial, Martin Luther was quoted as saying: “Unless I am convinced by sacred Scripture, or by evident reason, I cannot recant, for my conscience is held captive by the word of God, and to act against conscience is neither right nor safe.”
A great many of our contemporary Christian brothers and sisters might ignore God's voice when it comes up at an inconvenient moment. We hear of the scandals all too frequently, and there are most likely many, many more we never hear of. We're all sinners to one extent or another. Some may listen to the spiritual teaching coming from the pulpit every Sunday. They may study their Bibles routinely and are well aware of the spiritual teaching that comes from the dogma and doctrines of the church, or even personal brotherly advice from a friend. However, none of these speak to the person at the crucial moment of an impulsive decision. The conscious, though, is always right there in the trials of the moment. It's the voice of God transmitting directly into one's head, but the interference of the hearts emotional desires can block the transmission, leading to sin.
IT IS ONLY THROUGH THE MESSIAH YESHUA THAT ONE CAN ATTAIN A CLEAN CONSCIENCE
It is impossible for anyone outside the Judo-Christian community of faith to acquire a clean conscience in the Biblical sense. Inside the community of faith there is a distinct difference though it still stands that there are none without guilt. Paul for instance, must surely have felt some guilt over his hunting down of Cristians to be turned over for stoning (“I thought to myself that I had to do many things hostile to the name of Jesus of Nazareth” - Acts 26:9), or his break-up with Barnabas and Mark (Acts 15:39) and yet he insisted that he always had a good conscience.
In 2 Timothy 1:3 Paul even declares he has served God with a pure conscience as his Jewish forefathers did. Scripture informs us of more than a few instances of the forefathers committing acts befitting a guilty conscience. Paul must surely have meant that his forefathers, as Paul, must have had such a firm faith in forgiveness that in God's eyes they had a pure conscience. Or do we suppose the priestly sacrifices were sufficient to wash clean the guilt of the forefathers?
One of the most compelling Biblical accounts relating to the conscience comes from the Book of John:
Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him [Yeshua] a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst, they said to Him, "Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?" This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear. So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, "He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first."
And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, "Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?" She said, "No one, Lord." And Jesus said to her, "Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more." - John 8:3-11 (NKJV)
Yeshua told His apostles that after His resurrection He would send a helper, in the form of the Holy Spirit of God. - (John 15:26). Whereas the conscience condemns sinners according to their sinful state, the Holy Spirit presents to them the way of salvation accomplished by Christ on the cross. The unregenerate conscience says to the sinner, “All your righteousness is as filthy rags.” The Holy Spirit says, “Christ will cleanse you from all unrighteousness." Conscience says, “Man himself should be responsible for his sins.” The Holy Spirit says, “God’s Lamb takes away the sins of the world.” Conscience says, “You are not worthy to be saved.” The Holy Spirit says, “Jesus Christ promises that he who comes to Him will never be turned away.”
So, we see the conscience wants to condemn, coming into conflict with the Messiah who wants to save, yet the power of Yeshua can even turn around the damnation of a guilty conscience. In fact, it's only through the power of Yeshua's sacrifice that the conscience can be overcome. It's understood that there are none of us with a clean conscience, but through Yeshua.
Maturity as a Christian, doesn't seem to make too much of a difference, judging by the number of scandals church leaders are involved in. However, any of us can train ourselves to recognize the small, quiet forewarning in our head directing our thoughts to the consequences of poor judgment. Learning to recognize the 'voice of God' in these small, quiet warnings will help us to achieve 'self-control', and self-control is one of the greatest assets of a God-fearing life.
The passage of time provides no relief. Is there any way to escape the damnation of the human conscience?