Before I became a Christian, if my conscience bothered me it was because I was afraid of ruining a relationship with other people. What would they think of me? How would I explain myself? Those were my only concerns.
Now, as a Christian, conscience functions in an added dimension. I say added, because I can still be concerned about what people think, but with Christ living in me, the sense of having done something wrong comes from Him, not from my concerns. That is, if I sin, the Spirit of God is grieved, and because He lives in me, I feel that grief.
And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. (Ephesians 4:30)
This addition didn’t show up immediately. Learning to be sensitive to the Lord requires two things. One is becoming more and more surrendered to Him. The other is time spent in the Word of God so that I know His will. He began to renew my mind and conscience.
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1–2)
Chambers says that the Spirit does not come with a voice like thunder. Instead, His voice is so gentle that it is easy to ignore it, or just miss it. Yielding to God improves my hearing! It helps me focus more on what He is saying and reading His Word helps me know that it is God speaking, not any other spirit or my own imaginings.
I’m also helped by His persistence. The enemy comes and goes with his lies, but God’s Spirit is like an elbow nudging the ribs. He persists. He keeps coming back.
He makes even His feelings known to me if I won’t listen to anything else. That is, the joy of the Lord is a good sign of a clear conscience, and a sense of grief indicates something is wrong. However, neither are 100% reliable. False guilt is one of Satan’s tricks. Human delight can fool me too. The most reliable source is the Bible combined with that gentle voice of assurance or of grief.
Paul said, “I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man.” (Acts 24:16) This means that sin and disobedience affect both relationships. I might not be concerned ‘what other people think’ and not feel any human sting in my conscience because I’ve said or done something offensive. But the Holy Spirit knows. He will give a sense of unrest in my heart and direct me to make it right with anyone that I’ve unknowingly injured in some way.
Paul ‘took pains’ to keep his conscience clear. The original Greek words indicate that he continually learned by repetition and strenuous effort. He did not take this lightly. He says in 1 Thessalonians 5:19, “Do not quench the Spirit.” Do not put Him out; He is a fire that is needed to burn from my life all that resists God, and that ruins my relationship with Him and with others.
From all this, paying attention to my conscience as governed by the Holy Spirit and keeping short accounts with God should always be at the top of my priority list.