A Matter of Conscience

They are the soul's set of the saw.

Kingdom Values (1)

“But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” Matthew 6.33

Our highest priority
In this concise instruction, Jesus announced the highest priority for His followers. Before everything else in our lives – all our material needs, any obligations or responsibilities, everything that pertains to physical life and health, at every moment in every situation – we are to seek the Kingdom and righteousness of God. 

We must get our minds and hearts around this priority, so that understanding and desiring the Kingdom will guide all we do. But we must also embed Kingdom-seeking in our conscience, together with the values that accompany this highest priority in life. Seeking the Kingdom and righteousness of God is not simply a matter of affirming something Jesus taught, or of really wanting to live this way. Unless Jesus’ highest priority is the highest and defining priority in all our soul, we will not have much success in fulfilling His commandment.

The human soul consists of three equal and interacting spiritual components. The mindprocesses thoughts and information. The heartgenerates affections. And the consciencemanages our default priorities and values. What comes to expression in our lives – all our words and deeds – is a result of a continuous process in the soul, where what we think, how we feel, and what we value interact with God’s Word and Spirit to determine what we will be, do, and say.

It’s not quite that simple, of course, but in the most general of terms, this is how human beings function. Secular and naturalistic thinkers deny the spiritual aspect of human life, reducing everything about us to matter and energy; but this does not change the fact that all people are made in the image of God. The world may deny the reality of the soul, but the followers of Christ must accept His Word and work hard to nurture their souls according to its teaching. For apart from a strong soul, rightly oriented to Jesus, we will not be able to fulfill His highest priority for our lives. And a strong soul begins with a healthy conscience.

The role of the conscience
The Scriptures have less to say about the conscience than about the mind and the heart, but what they say is rather important. The conscience arbitrates between the mind and the heart, guiding thoughts and affections into actions in line with the values and priorities of the soul. So it’s important that we have a good or a clean or pure conscience if we are to fulfill our calling to seek the Kingdom and righteousness of God (cf. 1 Tim. 1.5, 19; 2 Tim. 1.3).

But what makes for an unhealthy conscience? To be brief: Wrong values.

The structure of the conscience is comprised, to a large extent, of values. Valuesare simply those settled views, beliefs, opinions, convictions, default choices, and courses of action, which we hold to be most important. They are the soul’s “set of the saw.” Values are foundational to daily life because they play a huge role in determining how we think and what we feel strongly about, and therefore what we are likely to do. We’re not usually conscious of our values. Instead, having become so used to exercising the same preferences over and over, our values simply settle into our conscience without our having to think about them every time they come into play. Within the conscience, values shape our thoughts and affections, which, in turn, determine the course of our daily lives.

So if our values are wrong or weak or unhealthy in any way, it doesn’t matter how nobly we think or how earnestly we feel, we’re going to live according to the values that prevail in our conscience. This makes structuring our conscience on Kingdom values essential to fulfilling Jesus’ highest priority for our discipleship.

Getting our values right
Let me illustrate this. Suppose you become convicted, let’s say, during a sermon or Bible study, that you need to spend more time in prayer. In your mind it makes sense, and in your heart you really feel like it would be important to do so. So, you tell yourself, starting tomorrow, you’re going to pray more.

And perhaps you do for a day or so. But soon your prayers begin to trail off. You don’t get up as early as you said you would. You choose not to keep those prayer appointments with God that you wrote down on your schedule. And the time you do spend in prayer is becoming as shallow and unfruitful as it ever was.

What’s happening? 

Well, even though you have a good idea about praying more – your mind is rightly engaged – and you really feel like you should pray – your heart is revved up for it – there’s a problem in your conscience. You still value certain things more than prayer – such as, sleep, busyness, being on social media, or just wasting time. Because you didn’t consider the role of your conscience in the matter and took no steps to embed more prayer as a value there, you simply let certain unexamined values linger, when you should have served them notice and evicted them forthwith. Then you could get to work building a new values component in the foundation of your soul, one that would allow you to enjoy greater success in realizing the life of prayer you thought and felt like you wanted to have.

If weak, wrong, or other unhealthy values make up the brickwork of your conscience, you’ll not have the kind of strong conscience a healthy, Kingdom-seeking soul requires.

But if we can identify, own, embrace, nurture, and embrace certain Kingdom values, then we’ll find that seeking the Kingdom and righteousness of God will become more firmly embedded in our conscience and all our soul, and we will live more consistently on that highest priority path.

For reflection
1.  How do you understand the make-up of the soul? What are the functions of its various components? How do you experience these in your soul?

2.  Where do people’s values come from? How do values work to affect how we live?

3.  Does it make sense to think that there should be certain values characteristic of a Kingdom-seeking way of life? Explain.

Next steps – Preparation: What do you think would be some really strong, Kingdom values to lodge in your conscience? Share your thoughts with a Christian friend.

T. M. Moore     

Is the Kingdom of God a daily reality for you, or just something you think about from time to time? That is, have you made the Kingdom turn into a richer, fuller experience of following Jesus? Our book The Kingdom Turn can help you realize more of the presence, promise, and power of the Kingdom. Order your copy by clicking here.

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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. 

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