Relate these words on my behalf to the son of Saran; the task he has undertaken is not light. Let his conscience be clear and far-seeing, let it be humble and without pride.
- The Rule of Ailbe, Irish, perhaps 8th century
Then Paul, looking earnestly at the council, said, “Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.”
- Acts 23.1
Every Christian knows about the soul. But what we know about the soul is pretty vague. We cannot maintain the kind of close watch over our soul that Scripture requires (1 Tim. 4.16), or nourish our soul for holiness, unless we clearly understand its components and functions.
The soul – the spiritual center of a person – is made up of three interconnected, overlapping aspects. The better we understand these, the more effective we can be at submitting our soul to the transforming power of Christ and His Word.
The mind handles the information flow; the heart is the seat of the affections; and the conscience is the third partner in the soul, the keeper of our values and priorities. These three components maintain an ongoing dialog that determines which actions we will take. Each of these components is spiritual, and they overlap with one another as they work to integrate thoughts, feelings, and values into Christ-like action.
Paul says that the conscience “bears witness” within our souls, in some cases accusing and in others excusing us of the things we think, feel, and do (Rom. 2.15). Concerning the conscience, he says (Acts 24.16) we should always strive to make sure it is “good” in relation both to God and man – nothing to accuse us of concerning either.
The conscience is that region of the soul where our priorities are determined, anchored, nurtured, stored, and deployed. It is the keeper of values, the priorities manager for the soul.
Whenever a matter comes before the soul, engaging mind and heart, the conscience comes into play with its raft of values, priorities, and default choices. The conscience arbitrates between what we’re thinking and how we’re feeling, searching out our best thoughts and most pure affections according to what’s consistent with God’s will. Then the conscience channels thoughts and affections together into practices – words and deeds – in the life of faith.
Taking care of the conscience, therefore, is a matter of utmost importance. God jump-starts our work in this area by writing the works of the Law on our hearts where our conscience can “read” it (Rom. 2.15; cf. Ezek. 36.26, 27). If God considered the best trainer of the conscience to be His Law, who are we to look anywhere else?
Every day the priorities, values, and default convictions that guide our thoughts and affections are being developed and engaged within our souls through the conscience. Left to itself, the conscience too easily becomes encrusted with the wrong kinds of values and convictions (Heb. 9.14); it must be daily purified and renewed by the work of Christ, Who fulfilled all the Law for us. Following the example of Christ, we turn to the Law, and all the Word of God, for the daily corrections and reinforcements our conscience requires in order to function as the Lord intends.
We need to make sure that we are continuing to nurture this keeper of priorities according to the manual and standards of the Lord. And that means reading, meditating, and studying the Word of God in prayer, looking to Him for the values, priorities, and choices that should guide our every step; and setting them firmly in place through ready and consistent obedience. The goal is a good and clear conscience, one that shapes the other components of our soul for a life of Kingdom righteousness, peace, and joy.
Perhaps this will be the week that you begin to make reading and meditating in the Law of God a part of your own regimen of spiritual disciplines.
Apart from that, how will you ensure that clarity, humility, uprightness, and love will guide your thinking, direct your affections, and determine the values and priorities that guide your life?
Psalm 33.4, 5 (Truro: Shout, for the Blessed Jesus Reigns)
Joyfully shout! His Word is true; He does His work in faithfulness.
His love prevails the whole world through; the Lord loves truth and righteousness.
Be at work in me, Lord, in my soul, in my conscience, to help me value what I should, so that I…
Help with the Law
Our book, The Law of God, contains the Ten Commandments and the precepts and statutes that support, clarify, and illustrate each of the Commandments. Here’s a convenient way of reading and re-reading the Law of God in order to gain the mind of the Spirit and of Christ (cf. Ezek. 36.26, 27; Rom. 8.5-9; Jn. 14.26). Order your copy by clicking here. Our book, The Ground for Christian Ethics, presents a lively dialog explaining why the Law of God is so important, and guiding you in how to read and understand it. Click hereto order a copy for yourself.
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T. M. Moore, Principal
All Psalms for singing from The Ailbe Psalter. Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.