Types of Conscience

Text: 1 Timothy 1:5

One of the goals of preaching/teaching the word of God is a “good conscience.” Our conscience is designed to help guide us to do what is right (“right” depends on how it is trained). If we want to accomplish this goal, we need to understand more about the conscience. There are at least six different types of conscience addressed in the New Testament. We will consider them here.

Good Conscience

  • good conscience is one which is free from guilt – we are doing what we believe to be right; used two different ways in the NT (of those who did right and those who did wrong)
  • Those who do right are to have a good conscience (1 Timothy 1:5) – keep a good conscience (1 Timothy 1:19); if we follow God, we can have confidence, not fear (1 John 3:21; 2:28-29)
  • However, it is possible to do wrong and have a good conscience (Acts 23:1) – Paul did many things against Christ (Acts 26:9-11; 1 Timothy 1:13-15); he believed he was right (Acts 24:16)
  • Many have a good conscience because they do what “seems right” to them (Proverbs 14:12) – but this is not enough

Defiled Conscience

  • defiled conscience is one which causes one to feel guilt for doing what is either right or innocent – right is something required by God (2 Timothy 3:16-17); innocent is not right or wrong in itself (Romans 14:2-3)
  • In Corinth, some had a defiled conscience (1 Corinthians 8:7) – much of the meat sold in the markets in Corinth had been used previously in idol worship; Paul explained that buying/eating it did not constitute participation in idolatry (1 Corinthians 8:4-6)
  • However, those “accustomed to the idol” could not separate the idol worship from eating (1 Corinthians 8:7) – for them, to eat would violate their conscience and embolden them to sin (1 Corinthians 8:10-11; cf. Romans 14:23)
  • If one has a defiled conscience, they need to be patiently taught the truth (Romans 14:1; cf. Acts 18:26)

Seared Conscience

  • seared conscience is one that no longer feels guilt for sin – whether one followed the right or wrong standard, it is a conscience that has been violated so many times that it no longer works
  • The Spirit warned of those who would fall away due to a seared conscience (1 Timothy 4:1-2) – when one sins, godly sorrow leads him to repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10); feels guilty, wants to be right
  • But when sin becomes persistent and habitual, guilt is no longer there (Genesis 6:5; Jeremiah 6:15)
  • seared conscience is prevented by laying aside sin (Hebrews 12:1) rather than continuing in it (2 Timothy 3:13) – if one has a seared conscience, little can be done until they have a change of heart (Hebrews 6:4-6)

Weak Conscience

  • weak conscience is one that has simply not been trained in what is right – lacks knowledge from God that provides the right standard
  • In Corinth, a weak conscience led to a defiled conscience (1 Corinthians 8:7) – lacked knowledge; one can have a weak conscience and also have a good conscience (Acts 23:1; 1 Timothy 1:13)
  • The remedy for a weak conscience is training in the word of God (Hebrews 5:14)

Evil Conscience

  • An evil conscience is one that has not been forgiven of sin (Hebrews 10:22)
  • All have had an evil conscience at some point (Romans 3:23) – forgiveness is found in Christ (Hebrews 9:14; Ephesians 1:7); this cleanses the evil conscience

Clear (Pure) Conscience

  • clear (pure, KJV) conscience is one that has been forgiven (1 Timothy 3:9) – cleansed by Christ; this is the good conscience of those who do right (1 Timothy 1:5, 19; 1 Peter 3:16)
  • We cannot purify our conscience on our own – must appeal to God to do it (1 Peter 3:21)
  • God cleanses us when we obey the gospel (Romans 6:3-4) – continues to as we obey (1 John 1:7)

Conclusion

  • The goal of our instruction is a “good conscience” – but goodness is by God’s standard, not man’s
  • It is not enough for us to think we are doing what is right – we must actually be right; involves knowledge, obedience, and forgiveness
  • We can have “our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience” (Hebrews 10:22) – done in baptism; appeal for a good conscience (1 Peter 3:21); receive forgiveness (Acts 22:16)

Adapted from an article written by Harry E. Ozment – Types of Conscience


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