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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: God Has Spoken to Us

Don Stewart :: How Does the Human Conscience Reveal God?

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How Does the Human Conscience Reveal God?

God Has Spoken to Us – Question 7

Everyone has a conscience—an inner awareness of what is right and what is wrong. The Bible says that human conscience testifies to God’s existence. Let us consider the following points:

1. Human Beings Have Been Made in God’s Image: This Includes a Conscience

Only human beings have been made in the image of God. The first chapter of Genesis tells us that God made humanity in the Divine image. It says,

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, after our likeness, so they may rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move on the earth.” God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply! Fill the earth and subdue it! Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and every creature that moves on the ground.” (Genesis 1:26-28 NET)

The image of God is an intellectual and moral image. In many ways we reflect God. This includes our sense of right and wrong. Through the conscience, God has built this into each and every one of us an idea of good and evil, right and wrong. This is true for every human being.

2. Our Conscience, or Inner Awareness, Tells Us That God Exists

The Bible says that God has revealed Himself to each person through his or her conscience. Paul wrote to the church at Rome about how the Gentiles, or non-Jews, are convicted by their conscience. He said,

When Gentiles, who do not possess the law, do instinctively what the law requires, these, though not having the law, are a law to themselves. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness; and their conflicting thoughts will accuse or perhaps excuse them... (Romans 2:14, 15 NRSV)

These verses show that the Lord has placed knowledge of Himself within the heart of each human being. Humanity knows intuitively the difference between good and evil, right and wrong because someone greater than them has put it there. Furthermore, they know from their conscience that they will ultimately be held responsible for their behavior.

Scripture says that both Jews and Gentiles will be held responsible for what has been revealed to them. The Jews, who have received the written Word of God, will be judged accordingly.

The Gentiles, however, have not been given a written Word from God. They will be judged on a different standard. Their judgment will be based upon an unwritten law—that which is written on their hearts. Their own conscience will act like a prosecuting attorney. It will make it clear they are guilty before God because of their sin. Therefore, all are without excuse. Paul explained to the Romans why God judged the Gentiles:

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves... For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural... And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a base mind and to improper conduct. (Romans 1:24, 26, 28 RSV)

Though they knew about God, they chose not to honor Him. The Old Testament prophets often spoke of God’s judgment on the Gentile nations; this was case even though these nations did not have the special relationship with Him as the nation Israel. Their conscience was sufficient testimony to God’s existence.

3. The Conscience Has Been Corrupted by Sin

There is something else. Our conscience is fallible because it has been corrupted by sin. The Bible speaks of the conscience of humans as being weak. Paul wrote to the church at Corinth,

For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”—yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. (1 Corinthians 8:5-7 ESV)

Paul also spoke of consciences that were seared. He wrote the following to Timothy:

The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. (1 Timothy 4:1-2 TNIV)

Because the human conscience has been marred by sin, people seek other ways to worship God that He does not accept. They build temples, shrines, and worship idols in an attempt to please God. Yet there efforts do not glorify God. Paul wrote,

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. (Romans 1:20-23 NASB)

God cannot be glorified through these types of human efforts to worship Him.

Therefore, while each human being has a conscience, this conscience is continually disobeyed. Human beings know how they are supposed to behave because of the conscience that God has given them.

Furthermore, they are unable to get rid of this conscience that He has placed inside them. However, because of sin, they consistently violate their conscience. They know what they are supposed to do but they do not do it.

4. The Conscience Is an Insufficient Testimony of God

While the conscience testifies to God’s existence, it is an insufficient witness. Although the conscience indicates the existence of God, it does not provide any personal knowledge of Him. There is no specific testimony as to which God exists, or how we can know Him. Again, the identity of God is not revealed. Therefore, the testimony of the conscience is insufficient.

5. God’s Revelation through the Conscience Stabilizes Human Societies

One positive outcome of this revelation of God through the conscience is the relative stabilizing of human societies. Because each human has some moral sense of right and wrong, evil does not entirely run rampant; it is held in check to some degree. It is only this God-revealed sense of right and wrong that keeps the society from becoming entirely evil.

While the non-believer does not have a perfect knowledge of God through the conscience, there is some knowledge of God that remains.

There are some who appeal to a statement in John’s gospel to support this idea that God’s light is in everyone. He wrote,

John was not the light, but he came to declare the truth about the light. The real light, which shines on everyone, was coming into the world. (John 1:8, 9 God’s Word)

Everything has the light of God in them through the human conscience. However, because of sin, that revelation is distorted. God’s voice is heard but it is not the only thing the conscience hears. People have some awareness of good and evil, right and wrong.

However, this awareness is always limited because of our fallen nature. Therefore, the universal moral codes that we find are in some ways, a reflection of the Creator.

6. Unbelievers through Their Conscience Can Judge the Behavior of Believers

The conscience of the unbeliever is, in some way, qualified to judge the behavior of believers. Paul wrote to Timothy about the qualifications of an elder:

He must moreover have a good reputation with the outside world so that he may not be exposed to scandal and be caught in the devil’s snare. (1 Timothy 3:7 REB)

Peter wrote something similar. He said the following:

Maintain good conduct among the Gentiles, so that in case they speak against you as wrongdoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. (1 Peter 2:12 RSV)

This basic sense of right and wrong is still there with unbelievers however distorted it may be.

7. Only Jesus Christ Can Cleanse the Conscience of Sinners

Until a person comes to know Jesus Christ in a personal way, their conscience will be an insufficient guide to truth about God. Our conscience needs to be cleansed from sin. The writer to the Hebrews stated that only the blood of Christ can cleanse the human conscience. We read,

For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Hebrews 9:13, 14 NASB).

In another place in the Book of Hebrews we have the following command:

...let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:22 NASB)

To the church at Corinth, Paul wrote the following:

Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. (2 Corinthians 4:1, 2 TNIV)

Jesus Christ alone can cleanse the conscience of human beings.

8. Church Leaders Need a Clear Conscience

Those who lead God’s people must have a clear conscience. Paul said the following about qualifications of church leaders:

Deacons must also be of good character. They must not be two-faced or addicted to alcohol. They must not use shameful ways to make money. They must have clear consciences about possessing the mystery of the Christian faith. (1 Timothy 3:8, 9 God’s Word)

The New Revised Standard Version puts it this way:

Deacons likewise must be serious, not double-tongued, not indulging in much wine, not greedy for money; they must hold fast to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. (1 Timothy 3:8, 9 NRSV)

When a person comes to trust Jesus Christ as their Savior, their conscience can function as it was originally created. Otherwise, the conscience cannot correctly lead them to worship the true God.

Summary – Question 7
How Does the Human Conscience Reveal God?

Human beings have been made in the image of God. This includes the knowledge of what is right and what is wrong. The Bible says that the conscience testifies to God’s existence. Both Jews and Gentiles have the testimony of their conscience as to the fact that there is a God.

However, by itself, the conscience is an insufficient guide. The conscience tells us that God exists but it does not tell us who this God is. The conscious is also a fallible witness because it has been corrupted by sin.

The good news is that once a person comes to Jesus Christ as their Savior their conscience can function as it was originally created.

In addition, the conscience does not reveal truths about God that can produce certainty. Sin distorts our idea of what is right and what is wrong. It leads us to faulty reasoning.

On the other hand, the Bible contains clear and precise statements about God. Thus, it is to Scripture that we go to discover ultimate truth. Indeed, it is our only infallible guide.

The Bible also says that those who are in church leadership need a clear conscience to go about doing God’s work. This way they can go about doing the work of the ministry in the correct way.

Only Jesus can cleanse the conscience. This is a point that the Bible clearly makes.

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