Many of us remember the classic character Pinocchio and the advice he was given to “be a good boy” and always “let your conscience be your guide.” Jiminy Cricket comes alongside Pinocchio in his journey to become a “real boy,” and he advises Pinocchio to “give a little whistle” when he gets in trouble and doesn’t know what to do and “to always let [his] conscience be [his] guide.” Was this animated children’s story correct in its advice of how to use one’s conscience? To answer that question, another question must be answered first. What is the conscience? Let’s take a moment and get a biblical sense of what conscience is and whether our unaided conscience should be our guide.
The conscience is a God-given element in the lives of men and women that points to their uniqueness and their being made in the image of God. Man—male and female—alone is made in the image of God. Conscience compels us to constantly make evaluations about whether something is good or evil, right or wrong, ethical or unethical, sin or not sin. At and in creation, the conscience of man was pure. But after the fall of Adam and Eve into sin, the conscience, like everything else in a person’s life, was infected and affected by that original sin. Thus, the conscience rightly desires to guide, but because of the fall, we cannot let our unaided and uninformed conscience be our guide.
What is the God-given antidote to a fallen conscience? First of all, we must realize that we do not depend on our unaided conscience. Therefore, the antidote begins with the right use of God’s Word as our only rule of faith and practice in life. In other words, we must accurately and intentionally know the Word of God to live under the eye of God. Therefore, as in every other area of our lives, the Word of God must inform the conscience as it is applied to the conscience. The unaided conscience affected by our sin nature and the influence of the world can and will call good evil and evil good. Therefore, we are utterly dependent on the Spirit of God to give us understanding of the Word of God to instruct our conscience so that we can then use it as God intended it to be used. Its right use is to rightly discriminate with biblically informed accuracy what is good and what is evil.
It must also be remembered that Scripture teaches us that the conscience can become “seared” or “hardened” to the truth (1 Tim. 4:2). The seared or hardened conscience can lead to an individual and societal embrace of that which is shameful as if it were shameless, as well as shaming that which is good, beautiful, and true. False teaching, hypocrisy, the doctrine of demons, and reigning sin—all can contribute to not only a perverted conscience but even a seared or hardened one. A hardened conscience avoids the means of grace, furthering the hardening of that conscience. The means of grace are designed by God to inform and develop the conscience in alignment with God’s Word through private and corporate worship—the right use of the means of grace. A true believer has the sealing, saving, and sanctifying presence of the Holy Spirit. That Holy Spirit, indwelling the believer, will drive the believer toward Christ by His powerful presence and the Word of God read, preached, sung, confessed, and prayed.