In the Garden of Eden, Eve was encouraged by the serpent to eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Genesis 3:6-8 “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings. And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.” Why did Adam and Eve make themselves coverings of fig leaves and hide themselves from the presence of God? Because they had eaten of the tree; they knew good from evil; they knew they had disobeyed God.
Even today, we each have this knowledge of good and evil. Our thoughts distinguish what is good from what is bad and encourage us to do the good and avoid the bad. Our thoughts tell us when we have done something wrong and our thoughts tell us when we should do something good. This thought process is what we call our conscience. The consciences of Adam and Eve told them that they were naked and they had done wrong in disobeying God. The apostle Paul described the work of the conscience in Romans 2:14-15 “For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them.”
While a person’s conscience tells him right and wrong, it is an imperfect guide; it may not always be accurate. If a person is immature or has not been taught God’s will, they may think they are doing right but in reality they are doing wrong. A person’s conscience may need to be trained. Hebrews 5:13-14 “For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”
Sometimes people do evil so long that they begin to think that what they do isn’t so bad after all. When our skin is seared with something very hot, we lose the ability to feel. In the same way, our conscience can lose its ability to feel that something is wrong; the conscience then is no longer a good guide. 1 Timothy 4:1-3 “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.” A person’s conscience can be defiled. Titus 1:15-16 “To the pure all things are pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; but even their mind and conscience are defiled. They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every good work.”
It would seem that almost everyone has the same conscience that certain things are wrong such as murder and theft. But our consciences are not identical. It may be that your conscience allows you to do something because you have faith that it is acceptable with God but my conscience and my faith does not allow me to do it. If you disregard my conscience and proceed with your action, you may embolden me to follow your example which would result in my sin and your sin. 1 Corinthians 8:11-12 “And because of your knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? But when you thus sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.” We need to consider the conscience of our fellow Christians. Romans 14:22-23 “Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin.” This scripture was written about the differences in conscience for eating certain foods. But the principle is that whatever is not from faith is sin. I understand this to teach that if your conscience says that something is wrong but you do it anyway, you are sinning. 1 John 3:20-21 “For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God.”
The apostle Paul wrote the following encouragement to Timothy. 1 Timothy 1:18-20 “This charge I commit to you, son Timothy, according to the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, having faith and a good conscience, which some having rejected, concerning the faith have suffered shipwreck, of whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I delivered to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.” I encourage you also to wage a good warfare and have faith and a good conscience. Have strong faith. Listen to your conscience – doing the good you should do and avoiding the evil you should not do. Consider also the conscience of others that your actions may not cause them to violate their conscience and sin.