When I first met my husband, I was an emotional mess-a mix of hurt and anger from the physical, emotional and sexual abuse I endured growing up. However, Dave had prayed for a wife, specifically someone who needed help. Well, he certainly got that when he married me. And he did help me tremendously by simply being happy.
You see, I was pretty hard to get along with back then. And also, because that abuse mostly came from my father, I was determined that no man would tell me what to do ever again. Now you can imagine what it must have been like for Dave to have to deal with me on a daily basis with that attitude. But the one thing he did that ultimately made me want to change was stay the same.
As long as I've known him, Dave has always been consistently happy, regardless of what was going on. And in the early stage of our marriage, he never let my negative outlook or behavior change his. He was a joyful, stable, godly example of unconditional love in spite of a difficult situation. He consistently exhibited the peace that I needed-and wanted-in my life so badly. Eventually, because of Dave's consistency, and the fact that I really did love God, my conscience started to bother me about the way I acted.
What Is the Conscience?
The conscience can be a strong guide in life if we allow it. It seems there are lots of people who go to church regularly, know the Word from front to back, and still behave in ways that are not so godly. But when our conscience becomes enlightened by the Holy Spirit, it will act as a sign post or guideline that we can follow with confidence and peace as we're learning better behavior.
The function of the conscience is to correct and reprimand, or to make us feel uneasy when we do something unpleasing to God. The Vine's Greek Dictionary describes the conscience as "a knowing…the faculty by which we apprehend the will of God…that designed to govern a life or that distinguishes the morally good or bad, prompting one to do good rather than bad." As we become more sensitive to the Holy Spirit, the easier it is for our conscience to guide us on a regular basis.
Who's the Boss?
God is speaking to us. But are we listening to Him? When our conscience begins to nudge us for whatever reason, we might have this low-level misery or uneasiness about whatever it is we've done or we're about to do. At times like this, it's wise to prayerfully consider whether we're offending God with our actions. The feeling may persist for awhile if we continue, but at some point we certainly can override the conscience, because the Holy Spirit will never force us to obey.
On the other hand, beware of an overactive conscience. Sometimes, maybe because of a legalistic mindset, you can tend to feel guilty about every little thing. That's no way to live, and it's definitely not what God wants for His people.
And then it is possible to be in such a state that the conscience becomes seared, or hardened. That is a very dangerous condition, because we're likely to do or say things that really should bother us, but don't. And many times, those things cause pain for others around us.
Why Me and Not You?
The thing about the Holy Spirit's guidance, or our conscience, is it's personal. That is why some people can do things that may bother others. For instance, in Romans 14, it talks about how one person's faith allowed them to eat certain foods that another's weaker faith convicted them for. Or some observed special days that others paid no attention to.
Verse 4 warns us not to judge others over things like this: Do you have any business crossing people off the guest list or interfering with God's welcome? If there are corrections to be made or manners to be learned, God can handle that without your help (The Message).
Today, we might talk about things like smoking, drinking, dancing or going to movies. For example, there are certain types of movies I won't watch, but I know others who can watch them and not be bothered at all. I also used to smoke for a lot of years, and even taught a Bible study in my home for part of that time. Some people judge these things as terribly sinful, but they can overeat and gossip about others and see nothing wrong with that behavior.
But here's the thing…God sees our heart right where we are and He deals with us individually. That's exactly why we shouldn't be judgmental of one another. We are all at different places, and each one of us will give our own account for the things we do. It's between us and the Holy Spirit.
Sure, there are specific instructions that we all can and should follow, such as don't lie, steal, murder, commit adultery, etc. But the bottom line is this: As we cultivate our own close, personal relationship with Jesus, He will lead us according to His purpose for each individual's life. We will grow to know that little nudge inside that says, I don't know about that, or, That's a good idea…do it. We will come to a point that we can safely trust our conscience to be our guide.
Like Colossians 3:15 (AMP) says, Let the peace (soul harmony which comes) from Christ rule (act as umpire continually) in your hearts [deciding and settling with finality all questions that arise in your minds…. Peace will accompany the decision to follow our conscience. It acts as the umpire, calling the plays in the game and giving the final word-safe or out.
So, I encourage you to pray for personal guidance from the Holy Spirit. Learn to recognize His voice in your ear, that nudge in your heart-it's your conscience. Also, let others do the same without judgment. Our godly life grows as our commitment to recognizing, acknowledging and following our godly conscience develops.