A Good Conscience

The conscience is the referee of the soul.

You know, and so does God, how I have been among you since my youth in truth of faith and in sincerity of heart. I have kept, and will keep, faith even with the heathen among whom I live...lest the Name of the Lord be blasphemed through me.

  - Patrick, Confession, Irish, 5th century[1]

This being so, I myself always strive to have a conscience without offense toward God and men.

  - Acts 24.16

The conscience is that function of the soul whereby values, priorities, and default choices are nurtured and engaged. It is the fount from which the will asserts its preferences. The role of the conscience is to “read” the Law of God, which He has written on our hearts (Rom. 2.14, 15), and is ever rewriting there (Ezek. 36.26, 27), in order to determine the best courses of action for our daily lives. The goal for this aspect of the Christian life is to have a “good” conscience (1 Tim. 1.5), a conscience rooted in and tethered to the Law and Word of God.

Human actions originate in the soul. The soul is animated toward action by thoughts and affections. We find some idea or notion stirring in our minds, and it seems to suggest a course of action. Or we are piqued by some feeling, and are inclined to act in line with whatever we feel. Once either the mind or heart begins to be thus animated, the other comes into play as well. The mind wants to scrutinize the feelings and inclinations of the heart, and the heart seeks to dampen or reinforce the thoughts of the mind.

All this happens, of course, quite subconsciously and with great speed.

The conscience “referees” between the heart (affections) and the mind (thought life), sorting out their differences and processing inward impulses into action through the members of the body. Paul relates that a “good conscience” is indispensable to loving God and neighbors (1 Tim. 1.5). If we want to have a good conscience, we must provide it with good guidelines to read.

The problem, of course, is that many people do not operate out of a good conscience, but out of a conscience that has been encrusted with and corrupted by values and priorities which are not in line with our Kingdom-and-glory calling from the Lord (1 Thess. 2.12). A conscience exposed primarily to worldly values, self-centered preferences, and sinful ways can become so circumscribed by evil works that it only ever directs us to wrong choices and sinful acts (Heb. 9.14; Gen. 6.5).

Proper care of the conscience is the duty of all who understand its role and workings, and who are committed to following Christ, seeking His Kingdom, and living for the glory of God. By all means, then, let us imitate the Apostle and the Bishop of Ireland in striving to maintain a good conscience toward God and men, a conscience that operates at all times out of the perfect harmony of love for both.

How is such a conscience formed? By daily steeping heart and mind in the Law and Word of God. The Law of God is holy and righteous and good (Rom. 7.12), and thus guides us into that manner of life that conforms to the example of Christ (1 Jn. 2.1-6). The Word of God is given to equip us for every good work (2 Tim. 3.15-17).

The neglect of the Law and Word of God among Christians today means that their hearts are cold toward God, their minds are dulled by worldly notions, and their consciences are subject to whim, personal preference, and the spirit of the age, having no anchor in unchanging moral norms. Such an untethered conscience cannot bring our thoughts and affections together into consistent actions of love.

The righteous person, David reminds us, makes daily meditation on the Law of God an important part of his spiritual life (Ps. 1). Such a person longs to have the Word of Christ dwelling in him richly (Col. 3.16), and so applies himself diligently in daily reading, meditation, and study. Where such discipline does not exist, how shall we know the will of the Lord, so that we may keep the commandments and teach others to do so as well?

To the Law and the testimonies, then, brethren, and to all the Word of God – for the sake of a Christ-like mind, a heart for God, and a clear and good conscience. Thus we may live in love to God and neighbor (Matt. 22.34-40).

For Reflection
1. How do the mind and heart factor in decision-making?

2. Why do we need to work hard at making sure we have a clean conscience?

Psalm 119.12-17 (Passion Chorale: O Sacred Head, Now Wounded)
Be blessed, O God our Savior, teach us Your holy Word!
Our lips proclaim with favor the statutes of the Lord.
How great our joy, dear Jesus, to follow in Your ways;
What more than this could please us, or brighten all our days?

We contemplate Your precepts and cherish all Your ways,
delighting in Your statutes, rememb’ring all our days.
With wondrous bounty bless us, Your humble servants, Lord,
that we may live with Jesus, and keep His holy Word.

Teach me to love Your Law, O God, and show me how I can make it part of my daily meditation, so that each day I…

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T. M. Moore
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All Psalms for singing from The Ailbe Psalter. Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


[1] Da Paor, pp. 105, 106.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
Books by T. M. Moore