God made us in His image (Genesis 1:27), which means we carry His traits within us—one of those traits is the natural ability to recognize good and evil, right from wrong. This "moral compass" is the human conscience, and it is a part of every human being from birth. We feel pleasure when our words, actions, and thoughts conform to our value system, and we feel guilt, shame, or remorse when we go against it.
The Gentiles, who knew nothing of Mosaic Law, still had the moral standards of God's Law written on their hearts, as evidenced by their consciences (Romans 2:14-15). While external circumstances, misunderstanding, or rebellion against God may skew or twist a person's conscience over the course of their lives, that doesn't change the fact that all people are born with God's moral standard built in. God is the Creator of ALL people—whether they call Him "Father" or not.
The Greek word translated “conscience” in the New Testament is suneidēsis, meaning “moral awareness.” That is, we have the ability to self-evaluate, becoming aware of where we excel morally and where we struggle. Our conscience is a "witness" of our inner selves, charging us when we do wrong or are insincere towards others and satisfying us when we are morally aligned (Romans 9:1; 2 Corinthians 1:12).
The apostle Paul often referred to his conscience as being "good" or "clear" (Acts 23:1; 24:16; 1 Corinthians 4:4). When he did self-evaluations, he found his words, actions, and thoughts to be in line with his morals and values, which, of course, he had developed based on God's standards as laid out in His Word. Having a good and clear conscience verifies the integrity of Paul's heart (2 Corinthians 5:11).
Each person's conscience reveals the strength of their true moral value system. Paul's conscience proved the maturity and integrity of his faith, how well-informed his value system was, and how his sense of right and wrong was very strong. On the other hand, a weak conscience is evidence of an immature, indefinite, or skewed moral value system. A weak conscience leads to feelings of guilt, shame, and fear, often inconsistent or unnecessary for the issues at hand. As we mature in our faith, our conscience will grow stronger.
If a person has flatly refused to listen to God or change anything based on their internal moral compass, the Bible calls this a "seared" conscience (1 Timothy 4:1-2). That is, their conscience has been burned into insensitive, calloused scar tissue—no longer able to feel or discern any difference in anything. Someone with a seared conscience pays little to no attention to their moral compass and feels free to sin without remorse, deluded into thinking everything is A-OK with their soul. Someone with a seared conscience is concerned primarily with themselves alone and shows little compassion, sensitivity, or kindness to others.
In 1 Corinthians 8, Paul talks about how everyone is in a different place in their spiritual journey and how we must respect others' personal convictions. (Also See Romans 14.) He specifically references eating food that has been sacrificed to idols, because there was a disagreement among the new Corinthian Christians about whether or not that was OK. Some understood that there is only one God and that food sacrificed to idols was the same as any other food—for other "gods" are not real. Others, while they believed in God the Father, had not quite come around to understanding that these idols weren't real, so they continued having superstitious views and prejudices against anything related to pagan rituals.
Paul encouraged the more mature believers to help those with "weaker consciences" by NOT partaking in their freedom to eat food sacrificed to idols. To do so would welcome condemnation from their weaker brothers and sisters, which may cause them to stop trusting or listening to those of more mature faith. Ultimately, this situation could hurt the less mature believers because they would isolate themselves with their well-meaning-but-misplaced concerns. So those with a more mature faith should treat those with a "weaker conscience" with compassion and grace rather than harsh judgment. (Also See: What does it mean to cause someone to stumble?)
As Christians, we need to do the hard work of keeping our consciences clear by obeying God and listening to the Holy Spirit when we're convicted of sin. Studying God's Word helps us become more familiar with what God wants us to do so we can apply those lessons in our daily lives. When we DO find ourselves in sin, we should allow our hearts to soften to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, renewing our relationship with God continually.
God made us in His image (Genesis 1:27), which means we carry His traits within us—one of those traits is the natural ability to recognize good and evil, right from wrong. This "moral compass" is the human conscience, and it's a part of every human being from birth. We need to do the hard work of keeping our consciences clear by obeying God and listening to the Holy Spirit when we're convicted of sin. Studying God's Word helps us know what God wants us to do so we can apply those lessons in our daily lives. When we DO find ourselves in sin, we should allow the Holy Spirit to guide us, renewing our relationship with God. Those with a more mature faith should treat those with a "weaker conscience" with compassion and grace rather than harsh judgment.
Cat is the web producer and editor of 412teens.org. She loves audiobooks, feeding the people she cares about, and using Christmas lights to illuminate a room. When Catiana is not writing, cooking, or drawing, she enjoys spending time with her two kids, five socially-awkward cats, and her amazing friend-amily.