When Sir Walter Raleigh was executed he did not want his enemies to see any fear in him. To give evidence of his resolve, in front of everyone, he asked to examine the very axe that would soon behead him. Running his finger along the edge he exclaimed, “This is a sharp Medicine, but it is a Physician for all diseases and miseries.” Whether it’s fact or apocryphal, it’s also been said that the executioner (in a morbidly, strange way) told this casualty of political power games that he would find it more comfortable if he turned his head the other way. So thoughtful. Sir Walter replied: “My friend, it matters little how the head lies so long as the heart is right!”
The word “conscience” is composed of two Latin words: con, meaning “with,” and scio, meaning “to know.” Our conscience acts as an internal judicial witness. It precisely observes and records, in the light of God’s law written on our hearts, all our secret thoughts and actions. It also warns us, as H.L. Mencken wryly noted, “that someone may be looking.” The truth is, nothing is hidden from God. Our conscience, therefore, helps us “to know” whether our actions will accuse us or approve us before Christ Jesus, our Judge (Romans 2:14–16). Disregarding one’s conscience and living in disobedience of God’s holy law leads to a “defiled conscience” (Titus 1:15), that is “seared” (1 Timothy 4:2) and desensitized to what is right and wrong. The only way we can have a good conscience, and maintain it thus - living free of condemnation, guilt and shame, is if we have first received (and daily acknowledge) God’s grace and forgiveness through faith alone in Jesus Christ, who lived the life we should have lived (perfectly keeping the law), and sacrificially died the death we should have died, as our substitution. This good news means that a believer and follower of Christ can daily draw near to God, “with a true heart in full assurance of faith,” knowing that “our hearts (have been) sprinkled clean from an evil conscience” (Hebrews 10:22).
A good conscience before God provides great peace of mind. As Thomas Brooks said, “A good conscience and a good confidence go together.” When we have true peace within, we can face tough battles without. Restlessness, however, can be the result of a guilty, conflicted conscience. It drains away one’s strength and peace. It’s difficult to live confidently and witness for Christ if your conscience is witnessing against you. A Christian’s conscience is to function in tandem with God’s Word. One’s conscience alone is not a reliable indicator of what is true or false. Some try to justify a lifestyle that is contrary to the teachings of Jesus on the grounds that their conscience does not convict them. This is the terrible danger of a “seared” conscience. Our conscience is only a safe arbiter and guide when the Word of God is the respected authority. Thankfully, for repented sinners, God’s authoritative Word also declares that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Therefore, “Peace of conscience,” as William Gurnall wrote, “is nothing but the echo of pardoning mercy.”
In Christ, a good conscience before God also removes the fear of what others may think about you, or say about you. Yes, you may feel perplexed as you lie upon your pillow at night, but to paraphrase Sir Walter, “My friend, it matters little how your head lies so long as your heart is right!”
Thanks for meandering along with me,