Have you ever heard the famous quote, ‘Always let your conscience be your guide?’ Do you know whom that quote is attributed to? If you guessed Jiminy Cricket, you are absolutely correct. This phrase was made famous in the Disney movie Pinocchio in 1940. ‘Let your conscience be your guide’ has been quoted in other plays and movies since its introduction in Pinocchio 70 years ago, but the essence of that quote, your conscience, is much older than that. In fact, having a conscience is as old as Adam and Eve.
The definition of the word ‘conscience,’ (WordNet Dictionary, Princeton University), is a motivation that is derived logically from ethical or moral principles that govern a person’s thoughts and actions. Note, in addition, that it also refers to a person’s own sense of right conduct, and it also means that your conscience will trigger within you a feeling of shame or recognition that something wrong has occurred. We all know that feeling very well, and Adam and Eve knew it, too.
Now the serpent was the most cunning of all the wild animals that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You can’t eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit from the trees in the garden. But about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden, God said, ‘You must not eat it or touch it, or you will die.’ ” “No! You will not die,” the serpent said to the woman. “In fact, God knows that when you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Then the woman saw that the tree was good for food and delightful to look at, and that it was desirable for obtaining wisdom. So she took some of its fruit and ate it; she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.
It was at this very moment that Adam and Eve knew the feeling of shame (they realized that they were naked, which up until then was no big deal), and they knew they had to cover themselves up. They now were aware of both good and evil, and each of them now had a conscience.
Because Adam and Eve succumbed to sin and disobedience, we all have a conscience to go along with the propensity to commit sin.
Now, at first blush, you may conclude that having a conscience, in other words, knowledge of good and evil, is necessary to distinguish things that are right, and things that are wrong. On the surface, that’s true. A conscience will alert you to those very things. One needs to keep in mind, however, that it is not just having the knowledge of right and wrong that is important—it is also what you do with that knowledge. If you recall, we also learned that a conscience is also what one can determine as right or wrong in his or her own eyes. It is because of who we are, and our war with the flesh, our perception of right and wrong is invariably skewed because of our propensity to be subject to sin.
Since we were talking about Jiminy Cricket and letting your conscience be your guide, hears what R.C. Sproul had to say about conscience:
“It was Jiminy Cricket who said, ‘Always let your conscience be your guide.’ This is good advice if our conscience is informed and ruled by the Word of God. However, if our conscience is ignorant of Scripture or has been seared or hardened by repeated sin, then Jiminy Cricket theology is disastrous.” – R.C. Sproul, Essential Truths of the Christian Faith (page 151).
Even Scripture refers to both the good and weak-minded conscience where the differences in successes and failures are quite clear:
2 Samuel 24:10
David’s conscience troubled him after he had taken a census of the troops. He said to the Lord, “I have sinned greatly in what I’ve done. Now, Lord, because I’ve been very foolish, please take away Your servant’s guilt.”
1 Corinthians 8:12
Now when you sin like this against the brothers and wound their weak conscience, you are sinning against Christ.
I will praise the Lord who counsels me—even at night my conscience instructs me. I keep the Lord in mind always. Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience is testifying to me with the Holy Spirit.
Since our conscience is highly susceptible to fleshly influences and sinful propensities, we need something more to help us overcome what comes all too naturally for us. We need more than our conscience to overcome the flesh. We need the saving grace of Jesus Christ, who empowers us with His living Word and the presence of the Holy Spirit. Without Jesus Christ, we have the same fate that Adam and Eve experienced once they transgressed against God…separation from God. Sin separates us from God’s very presence because sin is rooted in ungodliness, while God is holy.
So the Lord God sent him away from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove man out, and east of the garden of Eden He stationed cherubim with a flaming, whirling sword to guard the way to the tree of life.
Sin separates us from God, and full-blown sin leads to death…not just physical death, but also spiritual death. It is our eternity that is at stake.
Don’t fear those who kill the body but are not able to kill the soul; rather, fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
Our eternal destiny is sealed in our belief in Jesus Christ as Savior, but it is also our assurance that we have an Advocate that covers our sin. We need an Advocate because our conscience alone does not cover our sins. God knew, from the very beginning, that all of us would need a Savior.
1 John 2:1
My little children, I am writing you these things so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an Advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ the righteous One.
Our conscience needs reinforcement. Where does this reinforcement come from? The Holy Spirit is the living Spirit of God that is always present in the life of the believer. God’s Word gives us instruction that helps us to see things from God’s perspective instead of in our own perspective. Both God’s Word and the Holy Spirit are the guiding forces as we navigate through life and learn how to live our lives according to His will. Your conscience will only take you so far in that direction; in fact, it does not necessarily lead you to the things of God. Remember, your conscience makes you aware of good and evil, but it also allows for the flesh in your life to determine what is good and evil, and the flesh, in all circumstances, has nothing to do with the things of God.
But He (Jesus) turned and told Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me because you’re not thinking about God’s concerns, but man’s.”
For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh. For the desire to do what is good is with me, but there is no ability to do it.
We need both the Holy Spirit and God’s Word to beef up our sense of right and wrong and lead us into holy living. Why both? The Holy Spirit focuses on the things of God and teaches you as you speak to others and make decisions. God’s Word, the Bible, provides the information that gives you insight into how God can truly help you to rely more and more upon the Holy Spirit and conform to His will in everything that you do.
But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit—the Father will send Him in My name—will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have told you.
Even with the presence of God’s instruction through His Word and the Holy Spirit, we are still reminded to pray to withstand and overcome temptation and the flesh that we will always experience as long as we are in the world.
Stay awake and pray, so that you won’t enter into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.
God’s Word and the Holy Spirit, operating through the saving grace of Jesus Christ, teaches you how to be holy and not rely just upon the flaws of relying only on your conscience. He calls us as His people because He has higher expectations for us in our pursuit of Spirit-filled living.
You are to be holy to Me because I, the Lord, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be Mine.
1 Peter 1:15
…but, as the One who called you is holy, you also are to be holy in all your conduct…
Of course, all of this is a moot point unless you have Jesus Christ as your personal Savior. No standard of living without Christ is sufficient because we cannot be holy without His loving, saving grace.
And you were dead in your trespasses and sins in which you previously walked according to this worldly age, according to the ruler of the atmospheric domain, the spirit now working in the disobedient. We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and by nature we were children under wrath, as the others were also. But God, who is abundant in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses. By grace you are saved! He also raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavens, in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages He might display the immeasurable riches of His grace in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift—not from works, so that no one can boast. For we are His creation—created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them.
Have you stopped and reflected on the significance of the presence of the Holy Spirit as a believer in Jesus Christ as your personal savior? Without Christ, we are unable to meet God’s holy standard of goodness.
We need to continue prayerfully that we can live beyond what is considered worldly and live according to what is godly. God’s standard is the standard that we must continually seek, above and beyond our mere conscience.
Therefore, put to death whatever in you is worldly: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desire, and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, God’s wrath comes on the disobedient, and you once walked in these things when you were living in them. But now you must also put away all the following: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and filthy language from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his practices and have put on the new man, who is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of his Creator.
Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in His holy place? The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not set his mind on what is false, and who has not sworn deceitfully. He will receive blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation.
Your conscience is clear as long as you are relying on the Holy Spirit and God’s Word.
2 Corinthians 13:13
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.
All Scripture quotations are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Holman CSB® and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.