We live in an age where self-help courses abound. Many of these have to do with our health. How to get fit, how to stay fit, how to minimize our risk of heart attack are just a few. I’m not sure whether I’ve seen a course about “how to have a healthy conscience.” This is so important to our mental health, to our relationships and our relationship with God.
It has been said “that we are the choices we make”. Our life is made up of a whole range of choices, mundane and unique. Our life can be changed by a single choice.
How do we know what to choose? What yardstick do we use to keep ourselves in check and to test our decisions?
For many, their conscience is that yardstick. It was Jiminy Cricket who said “let conscience be your guide!” A noble sentiment indeed. We applaud those who make a conscientious stand. But conscience of itself cannot be sufficient. One person’s conscience will cause them to blow themselves and everyone around them up whereas another’s will cause them at great risk to protect a person who would otherwise be wrongly sent to the gas chamber.
Our conscience is not a blank slate nor is it neutral. It is a part of how God made us. A mechanism designed by God to help us choose between right and wrong and the better from the best. As such it is a vital part of our make up. But it must be nurtured and encouraged.
When it accuses us of doing wrong, let’s say for being jealous of a friend’s success or possessions, we are wise to pay close attention to it. If we change our mind and genuinely seek to rejoice in their success we have strengthened our conscience. If we fail to respond, our conscience becomes scared or desensitized to the good and we open ourselves to bitterness, rudeness, greed, unkindness or hatred, which in turn could lead to theft and murder.
Responding to a guilty conscience ought to lead us back to God the Father in true repentance, to His Son for pardon and to the Holy Spirit for help in replacing the wrong pattens with the right thoughts, words and actions.
Our conscience needs to be nurtured and informed by God’s Word and God’s Spirit. It is the mind of Christ that must be our guide. The benefits are clearly for our good. Charles Colson puts it succinctly when he outlines the daily choice before us all, “we can live by the Word of God or be consigned to the whim of the moment.”
A healthy conscience can be ours. It must first be cleansed of its guilt through faith in Christ. Then reprogrammed by a practical obedience to God’s Word. The health that comes is liberating, we will be freed from the false guilt sometimes laid upon us by other people and their expectations and free to respond to the real guilt prompted by God’s Spirit.
Article by Peter Brain