Undoubtedly, we have all made good and bad decisions. At times we choose God, other times we choose sin. Why? Decisions have consequences. So, what drives the decisions that we make? We will investigate that in today’s message. Please read more.
Last week I wrote about the theologically deep topic of free will. Today, I am writing about an even deeper subject, our “conscience”. With back to back deep topics, you may conclude that I have gone off the “deep” end. It just turns out, that on these two weeks, the Holy Spirit has nudged me to explore these heavier than usual topics. Next week, hopefully, He will lead us to a lighter topic. But, for now, let’s dig in.
Our conscience guides the choices we make. Nearly every culture throughout human history has recognized the existence of what we have come to know as “conscience.” Most understand it as an “inner voice,” but not all recognize it as the voice of God. Theologians, philosophers, social scientists, and psychologists have all tried to understand this inner voice. Some may see this inner voice as merely a learned response to social experiences, while others like Sigmund Freud, believed it to be our “superego.”
There is common belief that conscience exists, but the Christian understanding of conscience is much different than the scientific or psychological understanding of conscience. The term “conscience” is a derivative of a Latin word referring to knowledge. Think of conscience as the moral knowledge of self. So, where does this knowledge come from?
Christians believe that conscience is man’s secret core and sanctuary. It is the place where we are alone with God. We believe God’s voice echoes in the depths of our being. Our conscience reveals to us the law God has written on our heart. Our conscience causes us to take responsibility for the choices and actions we make.
Because we have a conscience, we are not left to blindly make choices. If our conscience is well formed and guided by the norms of morality, we make good and upright choices. Unfortunately, our conscience frequently errs. A poorly formed conscience leads us to choose sin. Habitual sin dulls our conscience and clouds our choices.
Let me give you an example. A newly built house may come pre-wired for cable TV, but until the cable company hooks it up, the prewiring is of little good. We come prewired with a longing to return one day to our creator. God’s laws are written on the heart of every person before they are even created, but human nature is flawed, and we are inclined to make bad choices.
Just as a human infant must be nurtured and trained, so too our conscience. Our conscience is not fully developed when we are born. Training our conscience is a lifelong process. Scripture, the traditions of the Church, and the promptings of the Holy Spirit are three great sources for conscience formation.
When properly formed, our conscience leads us to freedom and peace of heart. Psalms 119:105 says, “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light for my path.” It is essential that all Christians spend time reading Scripture because it lights our way.
If our conscience is properly formed, our decisions are made in conformity with the will of God. A well-formed conscience will never contradict the objective moral law, as taught by Christ and His Church. Ignorance and errors of judgement are never an excuse for sin, and they don’t excuse our guilt.
Here are three rules of conscience that we should all abide by:
- We should never do evil so that good may result from it.
- We should do to others what we would want them to do to us. (Golden Rule)
- Sinning against someone else and wounding their conscience is a sin against Christ. We should never do anything that makes someone else stumble.
As humans we muddle our way through life, trying always to interpret the signs of our time through the prism of our conscience. We must allow the Holy Spirit to guide all of our actions and decisions. However, we must also recognize that our conscience is continually bombarded with negative influences. We are constantly tempted to choose our will over God’s will.
We face many challenges while trying to properly educate and inform our conscience. Conscience is complex. We are impacted every day by the stories and images we see and read on the news, the internet, and social media. Group think tries to coerce us into following the crowd. We probably grew up hearing this, “If everyone else jumped off a bridge it doesn’t mean you should.” Said differently, it is not good to choose something sinful, just because everyone else does.
It’s important to note that our conscience can also mislead us. When we have a poorly formed conscience, we can act according to our conscience and yet our actions can be sinful. Also, a poorly formed conscience will continue to convict and plague us with guilt, long after our merciful Lord has forgiven us. Both of these point to the essentiality of a properly formed conscience.
There are many things that can negatively impact our judgement and cloud our conscience. Here are just a few:
- Lack of care when forming our conscience
- Repeated and habitual sin.
- Following the bad example of others
- Ignorance of Christ and the Gospels.
Sadly, I must admit that I haven’t always listened to the inner voice of God, and when I didn’t, it always resulted in bad decisions. Perhaps that is true for you as well. All of us have likely made decisions, that if we had the chance to make them over, we would make a better choice. Thankfully, we have a merciful, forgiving, and understanding God.
In conclusion, our conscience drives the decisions we make. When making decisions we must always listen to and follow our conscience. If our conscience is not in harmony with God’s teaching, we have an obligation to better develop it. And, of course, we should never make consequential decisions with a doubt-filled conscience.
- What steps are you taking to develop a well-formed conscience?
- Are there some areas where your conscience has become dull and is allowing you to make poor decisions?
- Are you making time to hear God’s inner voice every day?
I have hardly scratched the surface of all there is to know about developing a well formed conscience. My hope is that today’s message will spur you on to do some additional study on this seldom discussed, but very important topic.
Heavenly Father, please grant me the wisdom to seek a well formed conscience. Send forth your Holy Spirit to guide me in all of my decisions. Help me to always keep my will aligned with yours. Amen!
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