The Conscience vs. the Light of Christ


[A response to an email]

I think there is an important distinction to be made between the conscience itself, and the light of Christ that shines IN the conscience. I understand the conscience to be a faculty or function of the created soul, given to us to discern (even apart from outward information and education) between right and wrong, good and evil, clean and unclean, etc. The conscience is a very good gift, and an important part of what we are, but it is not Christ’s light or truth, nor is it perfect, and in fact (as Paul says), through the contamination of sin, it can become “defiled” (Tit 1:15), “seared with a hot iron” (1 Tim 4:2), and “evil” (Heb 10:22); and therefore is (to various degrees) in great need of being “purified,” or “cleansed,” etc. Christ’s light, on the other hand, is an emanation or manifestation of His very nature, which at times shines IN our conscience, often (especially when we are young, before we are “seared”) convicting, reproving and convincing us of evils and dangers that perhaps our parents or our culture would call harmless, normal, or even good.

So man has a conscience, an inward faculty of feeling or finding good and evil, and this can be influenced either by God’s Spirit, or by a number of other things—like how we are raised, what we see and experience when we are young, what our society thinks is appropriate or taboo, lies from the enemy, etc. But the light of Christ (the living Truth or Perspective of God) that shines IN the conscience, gives us a sense or sight of TRUE righteousness and wickedness (in measure). It breaks through our opinions and cultural norms, and often gives us to feel things that are directly against what we have been taught or have wanted to believe. And if this light (or inward appearing Christ’s nature and will) is reverenced, embraced and obeyed, it grows brighter, clearer and more obvious; and in our submission or obedience, it cleanses us from our contaminated opinions and the strongholds of our mind, causing us to progressively SEE and FEEL what is of God, and what is contrary to Him. I believe this is what Peter is describing in these words: “Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart.” (1 Pet 1:22)

When people talk about their conscience, I would guess that they often don’t really know exactly what they are talking about. They are probably referring to a feeling of “wrongness” that they sometimes feel, but they don’t know what it is, where it came from, or whether they should really pay attention to it. And generally speaking, they learn (over time) to ignore that feeling of wrongness, and go on pursuing their own will, always justifying and excusing themselves for whatever they choose. I have no doubt that this feeling of wrongness, or the feeling that their “conscience is bothering them,” is very often an experience of Christ’s light and love shining in their hearts, warning them of evil, and calling them from it. It certainly isn’t Satan, or the fallen nature of flesh that is convicting them of evil, pride, selfishness, lust, etc. And when they pay no attention to these convictions and reproofs, or seek to suppress them, then they feel them less and less, until (as Paul says) they become “past feeling, giving themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.” (Eph. 4:19)

Now, (in answer to your question) it is possible that some of these feelings of wrongness may be only a learned value or a social norm that they absorbed from their culture or family, etc. But this I can say with great certainty (and from a degree of experience), that if people would actually be willing to stop for a moment, pay attention to these convictions and reproofs, bring them to the Lord to be taught and corrected by Him, then they would in time “have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil,” (Heb 5:14), and become increasingly familiar with the Voice of righteousness that “speaks from heaven,” (Heb 12:25) and “teaches them to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age.” And this, I believe, is why Paul often said things like, “I myself always strive to have a conscience without offense toward God and men;” (Acts 24:16,) and “Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day,” (Acts 23:1), and “I thank God, whom I serve with a pure conscience, as my forefathers did.” (2 Tim 1:3).