<%@LANGUAGE="VBSCRIPT" CODEPAGE="65001"%> The Conscience and Morals as They Relate to the Christian Lifestyle
Pursuing the Truth Ministries
Home Resources Media Resources Questions About Us Contact us

The Conscience and Morals as They Relate to
the Christian Lifestyle

By Pastor William R. Cunningham
June 11, 2006

Introduction

Each day we are faced with decisions.  Some are intellectual, analytical, and some are moral in nature.  How do we know what is right and wrong outside of the law.  What I mean by that is how do we know what is morally correct if it is not an issue of legalism or law.  Is it wrong to ignore someone’s plea for help when he or she is in trouble?  Should we go to the aid of someone that we do not know when that person is being attacked?  Can we justify a particular action?  These and similar questions deal with the topic of morality, namely the standard of right and wrong or acceptability.

We are going to discuss the concept of morals in this study.  We are going to examine morality and conscience to see how they affect what we do in our lives.  We are also going to view these from a Christian perspective since there are several ways to perceive morality and conscience.

 

Objectives

The objective of this study is to make you more aware of the importance of those things that influence our morals and conscience.  I hope that you would see how the moral standard ultimately comes from God and is not man-made faculties as many believe.  Ultimately I hope to demonstrate the utmost importance of influencing ourselves with the word of God and those things that would contribute to a proper Christian lifestyle.

 

Conscience

What is the conscience?  The Tyndale Bible Dictionary defines the conscience as follows.

  1. Self-awareness of an act being in harmony with one’s moral standards
  2. Inner witness of spiritual and moral truth

Of importance to note here is that the conscience is not considered an absolute determinant of right and wrong as we will see later.  This is primarily because of the sin nature that corrupts all aspects of our being.  The conscience should also not be considered to be the voice of God.

We see Adam and Eve’s conscience at work in Genesis 3:8-10.

Genesis 3:8-10 (NKJV) -- {8} 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. {9} Then the Lord God called to Adam and said to him, “Where are you?” {10} So he said, “I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself.”

Here we see an indication of Adam and Eve’s conscience telling them that what they did was wrong even though they already knew beforehand that it was wrong (from a legalistic standpoint, i.e., they broke the law of God).

Paul seems to indicate that the moral code of God is written in our hearts.

Romans 2:14-15 (NKJV) -- {14} 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, {15} 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)

This verse actually suggests a couple of things, which we will get to later.  It suggests that there is a moral standard already in us and that our conscience bears witness of that standard.  Paul seems to suggest that the conscience is a type of judge either accusing us or excusing us.

Romans 9:1 (NKJV) -- {1} I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit,

Here we see again the apparent role of the conscience in that it bears witness to a standard.

The Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary defines the conscience as the inner awareness of conforming to the will of God or departing from it, resulting in a sense of approval or disapproval.

We see the conscience at work in King David in 2 Samuel 24:10.

2 Samuel 24:10 (NKJV) -- {10} And David’s heart condemned him after he had numbered the people. So David said to the Lord, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done; but now, I pray, O Lord, take away the iniquity of Your servant, for I have done very foolishly.”

Again we should note that the conscience is not the ultimate standard for right and wrong (See 1 Cor. 4:4).  The Lord is the ultimate judge of right and wrong.

The conscience should also not be considered to be merely a matter of intellect or reason.  However, the conscience may spawn us to contemplate our actions. 

 

Thomas Aquinas

In this regard I think I should bring up Thomas Aquinas’ thoughts on the conscience.  Thomas Aquinas is one of the most influential Catholic philosophers and theologians from the 13th century.  Thomas Aquinas is also the foremost proponent of natural theology, which is a theology where the knowledge of God is accessible to all humans without a need for special facilities.

Thomas Aquinas taught that the conscience is our God given faculty to reason.  The act of reasoning would lead us to the “good” decision.  This reason comes from God however.  We have an inner awareness of right and wrong, which comes from God.

 

The Promptings of the Conscience

The conscience may prompt different actions in different people for the same situation depending on their beliefs.  This suggests that the operation of the conscience is learned or implanted by our culture.  Therefore our beliefs have a significant affect on the operation of the conscience.

The conscience is often depicted as an angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other.  However, these really only represent the struggle that we face each day as we decide to d good or bad.  However, these really only represent the struggle that goes on inside of us.  The conscience is therefore within the person and we see another force compelling us to follow the conscience and another force compelling us not to (violate our moral code).

Human conscience is widely acknowledged to encourage one to do right.  There is much discussion as to the origin and role of the conscience.

There are three views of the conscience, which we will not get into in this study.  However, you may wish to research these to get a better understanding of the place of the conscience in our lives.

  1. Secular view
  2. Religious view
  3. Philosophical view

 

Summary of the Conscience

We could generally say that the conscience is that faculty that judges between right and wrong.  It makes a distinction between a good act or a bad act and it depends on the moral values to make that distinction.  Note that the conscience does not determine what is right or wrong.  It makes us aware of the right or the wrong.  The right and wrong is determined by our moral values, which we will discuss in the next section.

The conscience alerts us as to whether an action is right or wrong.  This is important because laws cannot do this since there will always be a situation that is not directly dealt with in law.  Therefore, we need something else that would guide us to what is right or wrong in any given situation.  This discerning agent is the conscience.  However, as I said previously, the conscience doesn’t define what is right and wrong.  What we consider right and wrong is located in our moral values.

 

Morality

Morality deals with that which is considered or regarded as right or wrong, acceptable or unacceptable.  There are three contexts of morality.

  1. Individual morality
  2. Systems of principles and judgments (moral values) shared within a culture, religious, secular, humanist or philosophical community.
  3. Codes of behavior or conduct derived from the moral code

Our moral values are highly influenced by the culture that we belong to.  We tend to conform to the general moral code of our communities (religious, peer, etc.).

  • Those who act outside of accepted moral activities are considered degenerate
  • Those who act in accordance with accepted morals are considered to be morally sound in that community.

The capacity for morality in a human being is considered to be innate.  That means that all humans have an intrinsic capability to hold a moral code.  However, the actual moral code or moral values that we have are developed through teaching, community influence, parents, culture, and religious beliefs.  Some even suggest that a community cannot survive if it does not have a single standard moral code.

Moral values are enforced by peer pressure, conscience, disapproval, shunning, and sometimes by the law.

Figure 1 below illustrate the relationship between the conscience, morals and communities.  Communities here should be understood to be anything that influences the development of our moral values (parents, peers, church, etc.).


Figure 1

 

Source of Moral Values

Where does our moral code come from?  Where do we get a sense of what is acceptable and what is not acceptable?  We said previously that the moral code is developed by our community for the most part.  Here we see the importance of several things.

  1. Parents control of the children’s environment as much as possible.  The parent has some control over the community that their children participate in.  A parent can for example influence what type of people their children hang out with or where the children go for leisure.  Some parents keep the children busy in specific environments so that they are not exposed to the environments that would be detrimental to good moral values.\
  2. Our control of our environment.  An adult has more control of his or her environment.  For example, an adult can decide not to go to certain types of clubs or participate in certain types of activities.  An adult has more control over what people he or she communes with.

If moral values are developed through our communities (we could be part of several communities) then it would stand to reason that controlling the influence of those communities or controlling access to certain communities and hindering access to others is very important in developing good moral values.  Let me give you some examples of what I mean by this.

  1. Read and study the Bible so that we become familiar with what God says to us
  2. Spend as much time as possible in healthy communities (fellowships).  These fellowships should contribute to good morals or at the very least not subtract from them.
  3. Practice good morals that you acquire from godly communities.  This helps make good morals a normal part of your life and not just an intellectual process.

Now the interesting thing here is that everything that I have just said in this section presupposes that there are good morals that we could acquire.  If there are such good morals then where does it come from?  God is the source of good morals.  C.S. Lewis in his book, “Mere Christianity” points this fact out.  He makes the point that we judge particular acts as good or bad and that we say things like, “He ought to have done this or he ought to have done that.”  How can these be unless there was a supreme morality that we could compare our actions and thoughts against?

We saw earlier that Paul made a point to show that God has written His law in our hearts.  We humans intrinsically know the difference between right and wrong in regards to the morality of God.  I should point out here that our morals are comprised of objects from several communities.  These community-based morals may intersect and they may also contradict each other.  In one community it may be OK to do something, but it is considered unforgivable in another community.  For example, in the corporate world it is considered OK to be aggressive and to look out for yourself to get ahead.  Being nice in corporate America is not considered acceptable.  However, in the church community for example, it is acceptable and desirable to be nice to people.  It is acceptable and encouraged in Christianity that we consider the well being of others sometimes over and above our own well being.

My main point here is that God is the source of good morals.  God is the determinant of what is absolutely right and what is absolutely wrong.  In order for us to know what good morals really are then we will have to go to God.  We can do this by reading and studying His word to acquire the general principles that we need to build good morals.   I should say that I don’t believe that God controls each and every event that happens in our life and that He is trying to tell us each and everything to do when we are faced with a situation (For example, I don’t believe that God is telling you which way to drive home every day).  That is why He gave us a conscience.  However, the conscience has to be properly trained in order to be affective in helping us live the Christian lifestyle.

You are influenced by your surroundings so it would behoove you to surround yourself with those things and those people that would benefit you and not destroy you.  Avoid fellowships that would contribute to bad moral values and participate in activities or with people that would contribute to good moral values.

 

Train

Given that good morals truly come from God and that the conscience is the awareness of this right and wrong then it would stand to reason that we need to be trained to have good morals.  This training can come from a number of sources, but I suppose the most influential are the parents/family, the church community, and peers.  This assumes that one regularly attends Christian fellowship.

I should also say that the earlier this training begins the better.  It is more difficult to untrain someone than to train him a certain way from the beginning.  This is why effective parenting is so important because the parents are probably the most influential people on the child’s entire life and especially for morals.

As adults we can enforce or retrain ourselves by doing what is necessary to acquire the morals of God.  We need to do whatever we can to learn and assimilate the Way of God in our lives so that we would know the righteous thing to do.  Consider what Paul says.

Romans 12:1-2 (NKJV) -- {1} I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. {2} And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

We must be transformed by the renewing of our mind.  This is an important step and it applies to all areas of our life that we want to change.  Changing our dietary lifestyle involves transformation by renewing our minds in regards to diet.  We first need information (from the Bible) and then we can act on that information (being doers of the word and not just hearers).

 

Learn to Listen

We should learn to listen to our conscience.  Haven’t you experienced a situation where you looked back and said to yourself, “Something told me to do that?”  That something is probably your conscience.  We need to be more sensitive to our conscience so that we would more likely do what is good in the sight of God.

 

God’s Way

We see from the above that it is extremely important that we have the Way of God within us.  It is God’s Way that will enable us to discern what is really right and wrong.  Getting God’s Word in us should start as young as possible as the moral values are developed.

 

Conclusion

It is imperative that we learn to live God’s way and developing good morals that are consistent with His Way is the first step.  You won’t find a scripture for every situation that you face.  However, the Bible is full of principles that we can live by and that can be applied to all situations that we face.  Of course remember that the conscience isn’t absolute as only God is absolute.  Learn to listen to your conscience as well as the inner voice of the Holy Spirit.  Mediate on God’s word and just contemplate things in your life.  Live morally and be consistent with God’s way.

© <%= year(date) %> Pursuing the Truth Ministries