Our conscience can guide us in wise and helpful decision-making processes through life, but can also be a source of pride and self-reliance. The conscience is a kind of moral compass that we condition by alignment to our preferred version of the truth. It is not necessarily a Jiminy Cricket persona that saves us from ourselves! In fact, when it seems to resonate loudly with some culturally-conditioned standards, we can tend to seek solace in majority sympathies when aggrieved by others.
The Holy Spirit pervades and guides our conscience only to the degree that we shape and feed it with spiritual truth. However, our conscience can be ‘seared’ (or desensitised), too, so that we justify actions and attitudes that are inappropriate, without necessarily believing we are doing wrong (see 1 Timothy 4:2). For example, regularly exceeding the speed limit can dull the sense of responsibility and caution that might have been experienced when learning to drive.
We live in an era where sexual purity has been so compromised that many believe sexual gratification is a right to be enjoyed whenever or however we like, as long as we are not hurting anyone. Even within churches, there have been alarming trends toward greater permissiveness regarding a range of sexual behaviours. How much are God’s standards really allowed to condition our sense of propriety, irrespective of hypocrisy or poor role-modelling by some? After all, objective truth, if believed as truth, does not change over time or over circumstances.
Indignant claims of judgmentalism in churches are often short-sighted. The Bible says that judgment should begin in the house of God (1 Peter 4:17). After all, those outside the church don’t adopt biblical norms. Christians are even instructed not to have ongoing friendship with others who say that they are Christians but who then persist in sexual immorality and other sins (1 Corinthians 5:9-11)!
Why? God is not pro-deprivation. He is pro-respect and sees the tremendous advantage that relationships have when intimacy is protected within a context of honour and submission of our heart and will to one other person for life. And when individual rights and desires are asserted over the requirements of objective truth, then the intrinsic value and rights of others can give way to self-centredness. We can be true to our conscience, but it can be the most deceptive of guides.