How our conscience can be misled
Every human heart has been implanted with a God-given conscience. Even as toddlers, we instinctively know that we should not lie, steal, or abuse others, as written in the Ten Commandments. Yet the Bible also warns us that our consciences can be misled or even killed off by “deceptive spirits and teachings that come from demons.” When our moral judgments are not steered by God’s Word and the Holy Spirit, we will by default, go with whatever this world teaches us or whatever feels right to us instead.
Romans 2:14-15 NLT Even Gentiles, who do not have God’s written law, show that they know his law when they instinctively obey it, even without having heard it. They demonstrate that God’s law is written in their hearts, for their own conscience and thoughts either accuse them or tell them they are doing right.
1 Timothy 4:1-3 NLT Now the Holy Spirit tells us clearly that in the last times some will turn away from the true faith; they will follow deceptive spirits and teachings that come from demons. These people are hypocrites and liars, and their consciences are dead.
Our conscience has many teachers since young; our families, teachers, philosophers, spiritual leaders, peer groups, and the media. All these influence our understanding of what is right or wrong, acceptable or not.
When we turn to Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, there is only one Teacher for our conscience, Jesus Christ. Suddenly, we will find that there is a whole lifetime’s worth of personal ideas and beliefs to unlearn. Much of what we once believed to be good may not actually be pleasing to God at all. The Bible says we need to put away our “old self” and renew our thoughts about our true standards, in light of God’s righteousness and holiness.
Matthew 23:8,10 ESV But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ.
Ephesians 4:22-24 ESV to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
The work of deceitful spirits on our conscience
This world, however, will relentlessly tempt us to compromise our values, and follow the patterns of the many in this world who walk along the “easy way” to destruction.
Romans 12:2 ESV Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Matthew 7:13-14 ESV “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
We hear worldly persuasions that tell us “you only live once,” “everything is worth trying once,” “you owe it to yourself to know what it’s like,” “everyone else is doing it,” “this is what cool people do,” “don’t be such a loser,” “it’s okay, no one will be hurt,” “don’t worry, no one will know,” and so forth.
Such worldly mantras are in reality, teachings that originate from demons. Deceitful spirits will tempt us to look at our own interests, rather than others’, and to compromise our moral integrity in order to benefit ourselves. When we are exposed to such teachings frequently enough, they will subconsciously form a foundation of lies in our hearts.
Philippians 2:3-4 ESV Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Deceitful spirits are also active within Christian circles – as they have been since the first churches were established, as indicated in Paul’s letters to the Corinthian and Ephesian churches.
2 Corinthians 11:3,13-15 ESV But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.
Ephesians 6:11-12 ESV Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
Demons will try to lead us to think that:
- All Christians are intrinsically good | 1 John 1:8 ESV If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
- God has given us the intelligence to figure things out on our own, without His counsel | Isaiah 55:8 ESV For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
- We ought to go with what feels right in our hearts | Jeremiah 17:9 ESV The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?
- If we see other Christians doing it, it must be okay | Titus 1:15-16 NLT .. their minds and consciences are corrupted. Such people claim they know God, but they deny him by the way they live. They are detestable and disobedient, worthless for doing anything good.
- We can continue to hang around bad influences and not be corrupted | 1 Corinthians 15:33 ESV Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.”
- We can use the Bible to judge and condemn others, rather than use it to test our hearts for sin | Romans 2:1 NLT You may think you can condemn such people, but you are just as bad, and you have no excuse! When you say they are wicked and should be punished, you are condemning yourself, for you who judge others do these very same things.
In short, we will be taught to trust our (sinful) human instincts or other (sinful) human beings, rather than have our conscience ruled by God’s Spirit.
Romans 9:1 NIV I speak the truth in Christ–I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit-
Fighting the battle to keep our conscience clear before God
The Bible states that it is a battle to keep our consciences clear. If we don’t fight well, our faith can be “shipwrecked” beyond salvation. Those who follow God’s discipline and guidance are never shipwrecked. When we allow God to steer our own conscience, He will lead us to safety, even through dangerous waters.
1 Timothy 1:18-19 NLT … May they help you fight well in the Lord’s battles. Cling to your faith in Christ, and keep your conscience clear. For some people have deliberately violated their consciences; as a result, their faith has been shipwrecked.
Isaiah 43:1-2 ESV …“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.
Many believers, however, could be slowly sinking without even noticing it until it is too late. As we give in to compromises over and over again, until the cracks in our conscience are big enough to shipwreck our faith.
When our moral standards look no different from the world’s, we know that our conscience is already dead.
Here is what the Bible tells us to do instead:
- Surrender the right to judge our conscience to God, only He can judge and guide us perfectly | 1 Corinthians 4:3-4 NIV I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.
- Don’t water down or brush aside God’s commandments, thereby deceiving ourselves into thinking that our conscience is clear before God when it is not | James 1:22 NIV Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.
- Remember that God sees everything we think and do, and examines our ways, we cannot escape from God | Proverbs 5:21 ESV For a man’s ways are before the eyes of the Lord, and he ponders all his paths.
- Resolve to do what is right, even if it risks persecution and rejection | James 4:17 ESV So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.
- Put away all anger as well as sinful inclinations, as these will hamper our conscience to follow God’s righteousness | James 1:20-21 ESV for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.
- Desire to live blameless and simple lives | 2 Corinthians 1:12 ESV For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity…
- Be careful to never deny Jesus Christ | Matthew 10:33 ESV But whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.
- Remain steadfast and uncompromising whenever our conscience is tested | James 1:12 ESV Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.
Please avoid falling for Satan’s accusations
The sorrow we feel from a stricken conscience can at times feel almost physical. Our heart may be “pierced” with pangs of guilt. Our thoughts race around in panic. The anguish, indignation, alarm, and discomfort we sense can, however, feel rather similar to when we are wrongly or cruelly accused.
It is important to know that God never accuses or condemns us, it is Satan that does. God’s Spirit will convict us of sin. On the other hand, Satan will shame, blame, belittle, criticise and torment us.
Romans 8:1 ESV There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
The devil will magnify our sins in an effort to make us forget God’s grace. He may even remind us of past failures and mimic unkind words we have heard from other people, to deceive us into thinking that we are worthless, useless, and doomed. Here are some other distinctions between the two voices in our hearts.
Hebrews 4:16 ESV Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Satan accuses and condemns
The Holy Spirit corrects and disciplines
Feels like torment
Feels like a warning
Subtle, cunning, toxic, sounds rational to our fleshly mind
Gentle, soft, kind, speaks wisdom goes against our fleshly mind
Speaks a few times, not pushy
Judge, condemning, brings up the past
Warning, discipline, does not bring up the past
Grows louder with sin
Grows fainter with sin
Please avoid “blind guides”
Throughout church history, religious people of influence have obstructed believers from obeying the truth. Jesus reserved some very strong names for such people, calling them blind guides, hypocrites, filthy, greedy, and self-indulgent.
Galatians 5:7-8,10 NIV You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth? That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. …The one who is throwing you into confusion, whoever that may be, will have to pay the penalty
Matthew 23:24-25 NLT Blind guides! … “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence!
Every believer, therefore, needs to be careful who we identify as our role models or mentors. Christians with compromised consciences will persuade others to follow their sinking standards, rather than to follow Jesus. The Bible warns us about such people and shows us how to recognise some of them.
- They can quote the Bible and act godly, but in fact, lack the power of the Holy Spirit to transform lives, speak in tongues, heal the sick, cast out demons (See Mark 16:17) | 2 Timothy 3:5 ESV Having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.
- They teach about God according to their “opinion” and worldly wisdom | 2 Corinthians 1:12 ESV For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you.
- They don’t practise what they teach | Matthew 23:3 NLT So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach.
- They make faith about rituals, religious displays, and personal honour, rather than Jesus Christ | Matthew 23:4-7 NLT They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden. “Everything they do is for show… And they love to sit at the head table at banquets and in the seats of honor in the synagogues. They love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces, and to be called ‘Rabbi.’
- They mix and match parts of God’s Word to suit popular desires and trends | 2 Timothy 4:3 NIV For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.
We are told to avoid such people and not to follow their example.
Please avoid worldly sorrow
We all make mistakes. Even King David, whom God described as a “man after my heart, who will do all my will” miscalculated his steps and was conscience-stricken afterward. Each time, David’s (godly) sorrow led him to quickly repent before God and be reconciled to his Father in heaven. This is certainly a good example that we can all follow.
Acts 13:22 ESV And when he had removed him, he raised up David to be their king, of whom he testified and said, ‘I have found in David the son of Jesse a man after my heart, who will do all my will.’
2 Samuel 24:10 NIV David was conscience-stricken after he had counted the fighting men, and he said to the LORD, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done. Now, LORD, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant. I have done a very foolish thing.”
1 Samuel 24:5-6 NIV Afterward, David was conscience-stricken for having cut off a corner of his robe. He said to his men, “The LORD forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the LORD’s anointed, or lay my hand on him; for he is the anointed of the LORD.”
The Bible differentiates between two types of sorrow, godly and worldly.
The first leads to salvation and the second leads to spiritual death – and we need to be able to distinguish between the two. Godly sorrow will simply cry out, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” without excuses, while worldly sorrow will react in a way that justifies ourselves and focuses on the good we have done, rather than the sins we need to bring before God, as shown by the Pharisee’s attitude in Luke 18. We may regret our mistakes but we won’t hate our sin or love God enough to stop, ask for forgiveness, or seek reconciliation with brothers and sisters in Christ. Or we may regret our mistakes so much that we start to condemn and hate ourselves. We become constantly anxious, developing almost a form of spiritual OCD (obsessive–compulsive disorder). Neither is healthy for us.
2 Corinthians 7:10-11 NLT For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death. Just see what this godly sorrow produced in you! Such earnestness, such concern to clear yourselves, such indignation, such alarm, such longing to see me, such zeal, and such a readiness to punish wrong. You showed that you have done everything necessary to make things right.
Luke 18:10-14 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Matthew 5:23-24 ESV So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
Welcome the Father’s correction and discipline
We live in times where people call evil good and good evil. Mankind’s sense of what’s right and wrong has become so twisted that it can feel quite counter-intuitive to follow God’s will. We have learnt to believe in ourselves and think we have what it takes to be wise and discriminating. Yet this is not what God’s Word says. He tells us we are headed for trouble if we believe that.
Isaiah 5:20-21 ESV Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight!
Our Heavenly Father reminds us that He disciplines those He loves, for our sake. Like any training, God’s corrections on our conscience may feel unpleasant at first but we will certainly reap the rewards if we listen and obey. God promises us a rich “harvest of righteousness and peace” when we are faithful and follow Him.
Revelation 3:19 ESV Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.
Hebrews 12:11 NIV No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
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