Many in the “Christian” world today make an appeal to their conscience as a form of authority in the activities which they perform. This can be done in multiple ways, notably, by directly saying that “if it feels right, it is right,” or, by establishing that one does something based upon one’s own authority (e.g., “well, why would God ever have a problem with instrumental music?”). Is an appeal to one’s own authority, through conscience, justified?
Paul deals with this issue quite plainly in Acts 23:1:
And Paul, looking steadfastly on the council, said, “Brethren, I have lived before God in all good conscience until this day.”
Paul had lived before God with a good conscience, despite the fact that he punished and killed the early Christians in Acts 7 and 8. How is that possible if the conscience is our guide in all things? It cannot be!
The problem with the conscience is that while it is inherent in human beings, what it feels in regard to right and wrong is learned. Each one of us trains his or her conscience according to whatever standard we wish to use. Hopefully, it is God’s Word; this is the ideal of the evangelist as explained in 1 Timothy 1:5. Many, however, train it with the world’s standards, and will not change them when they receive Christ. The world has no problem with “no fault” divorce; how many have brought this attitude into the church? The world does not understand the proper way of determining authority, by listening to God over one’s own personal desires, yet which do we see in the church today?
This is not to say, however, that conscience cannot play a role in one’s life. After all, it is one of the main elements that separate man from animal. However, it must be properly trained if it will be used effectively, as seen in Hebrews 13:8:
Pray for us: for we are persuaded that we have a good conscience, desiring to live honorably in all things.
A conscience trained by the Word of God will help lead one into righteousness. The equation does not go the other way; never do we see the conscience determining what is or what is not God’s will for His servants. For any who live by conscience alone, untrained by the Word of God, I urge you to read of His will and to properly equip yourself with the right form of conscience.