Referee of the Soul (3)
“This being so, I myself always strive to have a conscience without offense toward God and men.” Acts 24.16
God’s purpose for the conscience
God’s purpose for the conscience is that it should be good, or, as Paul puts it here, “without offense” – clear of sin or mere self-interest in its orientation to God and men. Good is not an idea susceptible to a wide range of relativistic interpretations. Good is what God says it is, because good reflects the very character of God Himself.
Thus, a good conscience is essential for a well-kept heart, a sound mind, and a strong soul. The strength of the soul, in large part, derives from the goodness of the conscience.
Whenever we read the word good in Scripture we must think in terms of that which is pleasing to God, Who is good. A good conscience is a conscience that pleases God because it is untainted with and unhindered by sin. That is, a good conscience does not entertain or dally with anything that is contrary to the holy and righteous and good Law of God, which the Spirit of God is writing on the heart of every believer (Rom. 7.12; Ezek. 36.26, 27). We want our soul to be saturated and suffused with the goodness of God – in heart, mind, and conscience. And it is the role of conscience, as referee of the soul, to maintain that good foundation.
Peter says the way to a good conscience is through the water of baptism, that is, new birth in Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 3.21). The writer of Hebrews agrees, saying that Jesus Christ can “cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (Heb. 9.14). The conscience cannot be tuned for goodness apart from the grace of God and the indwelling work of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 3.12-18). We cannot pass enough laws to make people value the right things and harbor good priorities in their souls. We cannot educate them enough or control them by rules and regulations of any kind to keep their souls from going off course apart from the grace of God. We cannot pay them enough to seek only the goodness of the Lord.
If a person’s conscience is to be good and clear and clean, God Himself must be at work within, willing and doing of His good pleasure (Phil. 2.13).
Starting-point for a good conscience
Thus the Gospel of the Kingdom is the point of the spear for renewing and purifying the conscience. We who have come to believe that Good News understand and have experienced its power to make all things new in our lives. We must not suppose that we can help our neighbors break free of the searing of their consciences and the encrustation of wrong priorities and self-centered values apart from the Gospel of Christ.
But the way we must appeal to them with the Gospel will begin with how we live before them. We who have been redeemed, who have passed through the waters of baptism into a new conscience and a new life, must now labor to maintain, like the apostle Paul, a clean or good conscience before God and men, so that our witness to them will carry more power to persuade.
The Gospel is that starting-point for good conscience, for a set of values and priorities that always directs the will to choose that which is pleasing to God.
So let’s consider two more characteristics of a good or a clean conscience, just to make sure we have the right objectives in mind as we take up the challenge of beefing-up this referee of our souls.
Toward a good conscience
First, the writer of Hebrews says that a good conscience has as a high priority “to live honorably” (Heb. 13.18). The Greek word for “honorably” is καλῶς, kalos, and it is related to both beauty and goodness, two divine attributes. It signifies moral uprightness and health. Acting honorably means acting in a way that allows the glory of God – His Presence and character – to show through “in all things” (cf. 1 Cor.10.31).
Thus, we need to examine and monitor every aspect of our lives, both in how we relate to God and how we relate to our neighbors, to learn what is honorable and God-glorifying, so that we value and cherish those ideas, attitudes, plans, and practices more consistently, day-in and day-out. As we do, we will find that our witness to Christ becomes more consistent and credible.
Second, Paul says that a clean or good conscience engenders works of love toward God and men (1 Tim. 1.5). Our conscience won’t be strengthened for goodness until we are loving God and the people around us more intently, purposefully, and consistently. We need to learn what it means to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves; and then, through prayer and practice, work to make these the default values and priorities of our will.
And to do this, we need to immerse ourselves in any teaching from God which can show us the way to love Him and our neighbors as He intends. This will mean spending more time meditating and walking in His Law (Matt. 22.34-40; 1 Jn. 2.1-6; 5.1-3).
You will know that your conscience is being exercised and strengthened for goodness when you think about the day ahead, praying and planning for ways to show the goodness of God in the land of the living (Ps. 27.13), and as you are continuously mindful of a desire to show the beauty and goodness of God in every situation.
God directs us to have a good conscience, one free of any adverse effects of sin or selfishness and grounded firmly in His Law and all His Word. But this doesn’t just happen. We must look to Christ in faith, seek the counsel of His Word, and draw on the power of God’s indwelling Spirit, praying without ceasing, until, in His time, He begins to shape our conscience for good, and to make it pleasing to Him in all things.
And this, in turn, will see us bring the beauty and goodness and uprightness of Christ more consistently into our everyday lives, making our witness for Christ more credible and effective.
1. What do we mean by a “good” or “clean” conscience? What can keep us from this?
2. Meditate on 1 Timothy 1.5. In this context Paul is teaching about the importance of sound doctrine (how we think and live). How can you see in this passage that the three facets of the soul – mind, heart, and conscience – work together to engender love for God and neighbor?
3. In any situation where we are faced with making a choice or taking an action, our heart (affections) will be feeling one way and our mind (thoughts) will be processing information. It’s possible that the two of these may be working against one another – we feel one way but we think we should do something else. How does conscience function as “referee of the soul” in such situations?
Next steps – Demonstration: What does it look like when someone is living out a clean or good conscience? How would you be able to recognize that? How do you expect to see this in your life today?
T. M. Moore
All the installments in this “Strong Souls” series are available in PDF by clicking here.
Our book, Vantage Point, can help you learn to think with the mind of Christ, work for a good conscience, and see the world and your life as He does. Order your free 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.