Truth and ConscienceBy Dan Vis
May 16, 2022
This week I want to share another memo about truth, and specifically, how we should respond to truth. This memo was reconstructed from lecture notes on a class I only remember teaching once about the connection between truth and conscience. But it significantly impacted my thinking. Enjoy!
There's a common misconception about how the conscience works going around. I've run into on multiple occasions, and you probably have too. In fact, you may have even seen things from this perspective yourself at times.
I typically see it when giving Bible studies. I'll be teaching some basic principle of Scripture, and lay out the relevant verses in as clear and simple a way as I can. And as I go through the lesson, I ask a series of small decision questions. Does this make sense? Is this clear? Can you see this is what the Bible teaches? All through the study, my partner will be nodding their head in general agreement.
And then come these problem words:
"Yes, I can see this is what the Bible teaches, but the Holy Spirit hasn't convicted me to make that change yet".
The truth of Scripture is clear, but they are waiting for some sort of feeling from the conscience to confirm it is time to act on what the Bible teaches. The misconception is that the conscience sends a signal apart from our ability to discern truth. It's a subtle, but deadly trick of the enemy.
“It's a dangerous misconception to think we need some sort of feeling from the conscience to confirm we should act on what the Bible teaches.”
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I'm convinced this understanding of the conscience is flawed. And unless the misconception is corrected, it can keep a person from acting on the vital spiritual principles they need to experience real life transformation.
Understanding ConvictionActually, the word "convict" or "conviction" is not found a single time in the KJV version of the Bible. And the word "convicted" only appears once. In that verse, conviction does seem to be connected with the work of the conscience:
And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.
But the Greek word translated as "convicted" in the verse above is found an additional 15 times in the New Testament. And interestingly enough, in none of those other verses is the conscience ever mentioned.
The Greek word we're talking about is the word elegcho and it means to convince, rebuke or reprove. In Matthew 18:15Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother., it is used in the instruction to go and "tell" those who wrong us their fault privately. It's used in Luke 3:19But Herod the tetrarch, being reproved by him for Herodias his brother Philip's wife, and for all the evils which Herod had done, to describe how John the Baptist "reproved" Herod for evils he had done. Paul told Timothy he needed to "rebuke" openly those that sin against leaders in the church (I Timothy 5:19-2019 Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses. 20 Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear.). And leaders themselves are encouraged to use the Word to "convince" those who reject sound doctrine (Titus 1:9Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.).
In every case, the word elegcho describes some process by which God sends a message to an individual. That message, whether received or not, is itself the "reproof" God sends.
In most of these verses, God uses some individual to deliver the message. But in a couple instances, like James 2:9But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors., God uses His Word directly (or in this case, His Law) to "convince" us of sin. That appears to be what is being described in John 8:9And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst., the verse mentioned above. It was the words Jesus traced in the sand that "convicted" (reproved, convinced) the woman's accusers of sin. The feelings they felt when reading those words is irrelevant: the conviction got through.
“Conviction is not a feeling that confirms we should act on truth. Rather it is the message of truth God sends to us, regardless of whether or not we feel impressed to act on it.”
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In other words, conviction is not a feeling that confirms we should act on truth. Rather it is the message of truth God sends to us, regardless of whether or not we feel impressed to act on it. If we see truth, we're accountable, from that instant on.
What role then does conscience play?
The Role of ConscienceIn some ways, our misconceptions about the conscience parallel our misconceptions about conviction. Rather than conscience triggering a "feeling" we should act on something reason discerns as true, conscience is actually the means by which we discern truth.
The Bible describes the conscience as a spiritual faculty resulting from traces of the Law of God imprinted in the heart of every person, by virtue of creation, whether we are a believer or not (See Romans 2:14-1514 For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: 15 Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;)). This imprint of God's Law simply "bears witness" to whether or not something is true.
“The conscience as a spiritual faculty resulting from traces of the Law of God imprinted in the heart of every person, by virtue of creation that simply bears witness to whether or not something is true.”
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Paul wrote that the Holy Spirit used his conscience to "bear witness" his burden for Israel was genuine (Romans 9:1-21 I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost, 2 That I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart.). And in another place he wrote that the "testimony of his conscience" confirmed the simplicity and sincerity of his ministry (II Corinthians 1:12For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world, and more abundantly to you-ward.).
Furthermore, he explains that the focus of his ministry was to speak truth to conscience, not to reason or intellect. His goal was by "manifestation of the truth" to commend himself "to every man's conscience in the sight of God" (II Corinthians 4:2But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God.). Paul understood that the real faculty by which man discerns truth is the conscience. "The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." (I Corinthians 2:14But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.).
In other words, when you see something is true in the Bible, the fact you see it, is itself evidence the conscience is working. The conscience doesn't need to send some separate signal or feeling to confirm reason. As soon as you discern a message is true, conscience has already validated it.
The Heart of the ProblemThe real problem is not God's ability to get a message through to us. "Reproofs of instruction are the way of life" (Proverbs 6:23For the commandment is a lamp; and the law is light; and reproofs of instruction are the way of life:). And in my experience, if a person will consider the Word with "an honest and good heart" (Luke 8:15But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.), it's not that hard to discern if something is true. The core problem is more our unwillingness to act on the messages God sends.
“The real problem is not God's ability to get a message through to us, or our ability to discern if something is true. The core problem is our unwillingness to act on the messages God sends.”
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When God sends a reproof we know is true, through whatever channel, the question should not be, am I convicted about this? Or how does this make me feel? Or do I have an impression to act on it? The fact we have discerned the message is true means God has sent it, and it has been properly validated by our conscience.
Rather, our questions should be, is this information accurate, correct, right? Is this really what the Bible teaches? As soon as we discern a message is true, we've been convicted.
And if so, our real focus should be on our response. The response of a healthy, mature believer is to automatically ask: Lord, what would you have me to do? We need to be decisive and determined about acting on God's Word. We must cultivate a character that responds instantly--concerned only that our actions are faithful to God's Word. Or to quote Paul, once more:
And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void to offence toward God, and toward men.
ConclusionDon't fall for the misconception truth needs to be confirmed by some separate "feeling" sent off by the conscience. The message itself, is the reproof, and our ability to know it is true, is the conscience.
Rather, focus your efforts on personal implementation of whatever message God sends. Failing to do so loads our conscience with a burden of guilt and hinders its future usefulness. Whereas consistently responding to truth keeps the conscience clear, sensitive, and effectual.
It's not about feelings, but simple personal integrity.
CommentsHave you encountered this particular misconception? Or perhaps been influenced by it yourself? How important is it to understand how the conscience works? To always act on truth God sends to us? Share a comment below...
|Posted by Deanne Reinke on 10/08/22|
|This article made me think of Psalms 119:59-6059 I thought on my ways, and turned my feet unto thy testimonies.
60 I made haste, and delayed not to keep thy commandments.:
I thought about my ways and turned my feet to your testimonies. I made haste and did not delay to keep your commandments.
I agree that the core problem is our unwillingness to act on the message that God sends. This article will help me in my Bible Studies when this reason is given to me by people I am working with. Thank you for sharing this resource. It will also be helpful when speaking with family members who question my beliefs
|Posted by Julio Useche on 10/05/22|
|Thanks Pastor Dan, I'll take a look at that section of the book, but think I'm beginning to understand what you're saying. Thank you for your help!|
|Posted by Julio Useche on 10/05/22|
|Pastor Dan, thank you for the explanation. I have your book, Moral Machinery. Can you please tell me what section you're referring to so I can read it and get a better understanding? Thank you!|
|Posted by Dan Vis on 10/04/22|
|Sorry if that confused things Julio. Here's my thoughts on the subject.
The Bible makes it pretty clear reason is not dependable, nor are feelings in the pursuit of truth. When Paul preached, he didn't appeal primarily to the reason. It was "by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God" (II Corinthians 4:2But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God.). It's the conscience that discerns and responds to truth.
I have a whole section on this in the book Moral Machinery, and the relationship between these different faculties. But in short, reason has a role in verifying our understanding is correct, and emotions a role in discerning something does or does not feel right. But over relying on reason can lead to rationalizations and over relying on feelings can lead to delay and neglect.
Once we realize the conviction is in the message, then conscience immediately responds to truth, without requiring it to make sense (reason) or for some deep feeling (emotion). Our only question really, is what does the Bible actually teach.
That's a good question--probably worthy of a whole topic of its own... But hopefully this is enough to help a bit!
|Posted by Julio Useche on 10/04/22|
|I have been here in this same position where feelings have kept me from accepting truth. I've seen it many times with others as well where they've gone through a series of bible studies and even baptismal lessons, but are still waiting for some "conviction" before committing to be baptized. The one thing I'm struggling with is disconnecting reason from truth. It seems to conflict God's own words to us "Come now and let us reason together..." (Isaiah 1:18Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.). Could you explain this further to me Pastor Dan? Or maybe I'm misunderstanding your statement "Don't fall for the misconception truth is discerned primarily by the intellect, reason..."?|
|Posted by Louise P on 10/01/22|
|Focus your efforts on personal implementation of whatever message God sends. So important, but always dependent on my response... praise God for promises such as Philippians 4:13I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.!|
|Posted by Dan Vis on 09/30/22|
|Wow, that's a nice poem Kat! Some great lines in there. Thanks for sharing! Hope he doesn't mind it being posted. :)|
|Posted by Kat on 09/28/22|
|Love this article, Pastor Dan.
Especially loved your quote:
‘When God sends a reproof we know is true,…the question should not be, am I convicted about this? … The fact we have discerned the message is true means God has sent it, and it has been properly validated by our conscience. Rather, our questions should be, … Is this really what the Bible teaches? As soon as we discern a message is true, we've been convicted.
And if so, our real focus should be on our response. The response of a healthy, mature believer is to automatically ask: Lord, what would you have me to do? We need to be decisive and determined about acting on God's Word. We must cultivate a character that responds instantly--concerned only that our actions are faithful to God's Word.
I have seen individuals convicted of a certain truth during a Bible Study, but because their church teaches that “we are not under Law, but under grace”, and they don’t want to make that lifestyle change, they push it aside and stop studies altogether. The Holy Spirit must surely be grieved if they’ve chosen to harden their hearts against the Truth of God’s Law (John 17:17Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.). It is a lesson to me to act on His Word PROMPTLY, before the impression goes away, otherwise, I’d be left with a heart that is slowly dying spiritually. Very difficult to reawaken that dying heart when it is continually closed off to the Spirit’s influence. I don’t ever want to be in that position.
|Posted by Dan Vis on 09/28/22|
|Yes the Moral Machinery lays a foundation for a lot of my thinking on these kinds of topics. And this memo definitely ties into the idea of the conscience being a spiritual faculty, rather than a mental one.
Appreciate your comments. Some really good points there Barbara!
|Posted by Dan Vis on 05/24/22|
|You have a great way of cutting right to the heart of things Valerie. I appreciate that. It is about accountability and integrity. Those are two things God is always calling us to. Nice post!|
|Posted by Dan Vis on 05/17/22|
|I'm not sure I would say there are no feelings or reasoning involved Christian, but rather that it is dangerous to wait for some feeling to confirm truth is truth, and that reasoning can easily turn to rationalization where we talk ourselves out of truth. I think the point here is simply that simply being able to see something is true, after carefully and honestly studying it is itself the mark of conviction. And there may not be any supernatural confirmation that goes with it.
There are some powerful thoughts in your post Paul, particularly the work of the Holy Spirit in "renewing the neural pathways" in restoring trust, and your point that truth is sometimes hard to receive because it loads the heart with "a burden of guilt". And how the atonement helps with both these areas. I'm sure this is part of what Paul meant when he talked about our hearts being cleansed "from an evil conscience" (Hebrews 10:22Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.). Much more we could say about this important them for sure. I have written some on this in the Moral Machinery book. Great post!
|Posted by Paul Carson on 05/16/22|
|Romans 8:7Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. suggests that even the 'honest of heart' will resist truth. Such is the strong influence that the devil and his lies has upon the minds of individuals. James 4:4Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God. affirms that the unregenerate heart is in conflict with God, whether aggressively or passively.
Sharing truth - God's word, the gospel of Jesus Christ - will war against the lies believed (because we don't like to be shown to be wrong). Enter Holy Spirit!
Without the Spirit of Christ renewing the neural pathways and restoring trust in our heart then conscience remains at enmity with truth, loading it "with a burden of guilt".
So truth must reach the heart. As the symbol of circumcision suggests, there must be a cutting away of old ties, practices, attachments and values, perpetuated under lies believed. Atonement brings the heart of man and the heart of God together. Only from this place can the word of truth be 'heard' and brought to bear in the life. Glory to God for giving us His Son.
|Posted by Christian on 05/16/22|
|Waow, ok so you mean to Say that the conscience is devoid of feelings and reasonnings? It's whether the conscience is aroused, or not for that matter, by means of truth and the Holy Spirit. Correct?|
|Posted by Dan Vis on 05/16/22|
|Yes, this concept shows up in many forms. Getting this right can help us to avoid a number of spiritual snares and traps. Thanks for sharing more examples Dianne, of how this often plays out.|
|Posted by Dan Vis on 07/30/19|
|Guess our posts crossed each other in cyberspace Qing. But wow, what a cool quote. :)|
|Posted by Qing Ling on 07/30/19|
|Valerie you got the crux of it: we are to respond with a child's heart!
Carole you read my thoughts. This memo reminded me of a quote that I love:
"When an honest man, honestly mistaken, comes face-to-face with undeniable and irrefutable truth, he is faced with one of two choices, he must either cease being mistaken or cease being honest." - Amicus Solo
If we agree with a teaching, our conscience has indeed declared it as truth. and if we agree that something is truth, then we must live by it, or be condemned to lose the life-giving power of Truth (John 14:6Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.):
"It is a universal principle that whenever one refuses to use his God-given powers, these powers decay and perish. Truth that is not lived, that is not imparted, loses its life-giving power, its healing virtue. - EG White
And since Jesus = Truth, I dare not bury truth to avoid the hard work it takes to live by it. GW Carver said it right: "Be too brave to lie". It takes courage to live by the truth sometimes.
Deborah sounds like you already have a great tip there in Proverbs 16:3Commit thy works unto the LORD, and thy thoughts shall be established..
Perhaps you could pray and claim: "Teach me thy way, O LORD; I will walk in thy truth: unite my heart to fear thy name." Psalms 86:11Teach me thy way, O LORD; I will walk in thy truth: unite my heart to fear thy name.
I like the word UNITE in that verse. Integrity is the state of being whole and undivided. So if we believe something is true but behave in the opposite way, then our heart is not united with our actions. This is why the opposite of integrity is hypocrisy.
Paul that's a great connection you made there. I won't look at Romans 10:17So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. the same again!
|Posted by Dan Vis on 07/30/19|
|Great post Valerie. I think you grabbed the most important line in the whole article. And then your thoughts on Acts 24:16And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void to offence toward God, and toward men. open up a whole field of possibility. Thanks!
Glad you enjoyed this Carole. That is a pretty solemn thought, isn't it?
You are very welcome Eunice.
Hi Deborah! Glad this was helpful. As for your question, I'm pretty sure you have read Moral Machinery, but it might be worth going back and rereading it. Especially the chapters 3 & 4. Chapter 3 lays out the proper balance between our faculties, and chapter 4 is the process for victory. Of course, you got a great verse there that can work wonders I'm sure! :) Say hi to Steve...
Some great questions Paul, and I see things pretty similarly. Referring to the Moral Machinery again, chapter 6 deals explicitly with the connections between conscience and faith. You should read the whole book to get the full picture, but that's kind of the framework I view things from. But thanks for your great questions, and contributions to this topic. Good stuff...
|Posted by Paul Carson on 07/30/19|
|I like the way this memo emphasises that conscience is the spiritual faculty that bears witness to truth when heard, then conviction follows. My question: Is belief a product of conscience or of conviction?
Because spiritual things are spiritually discerned then the hurdle of conversion - from carnal to spiritual is belief - Mark 9:23Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.; John 3:15That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life..
When I think about reaching others for Christ I pray that "those who are honest of heart" - "Those whose spiritual faculties are not paralyzed" COL 44 - will respond to evangelistic effort.
It seems to me that, conscience is awakened as truth is heard, then conviction clasps hands with belief to propel me to action in faith - Romans 10:17So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God..
|Posted by Carole Bliss on 07/29/19|
|This has been a rich message. I love the statement, when we see truth we are accountable from that point on.
That is powerful.
Thank you for the message
|Posted by Valerie Wise Burrell on 07/29/19|
"The message itself, is the reproof, and our ability to know it is true, is the conscience." You summarize the topic so completely here. It helped me to understand this topic clearly today. I have never read a definition of conscience that makes it so plain.
Also, Acts 24:16And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void to offence toward God, and toward men. is a verse on which to meditate. The words are simple but seems to sum up what my Christian walk needs to be about: "to have a conscience clear of offence to God and towards men". If I am perfect in my walk with God then I am also able to be perfect in my conduct towards men. Understanding this does not require some great revelation but rather a child's heart to respond to the truth. Praise God!
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