Let your conscience be your guide ?

We had an interesting discussion last night at our small group meeting.  We digressed from our topic of prayer and got into the issue of whether Eastern meditation, yoga, etc.,  are neutral, beneficial, or inherently wrong and to be avoided by Christ-followers.   Some in the group said that such practices are intended as worship to pagan gods and that as Christ followers they would not participate in such practices.  Others said no, there’s nothing wrong with being involved in these practices – as long as your own devotion is to the true God, you can’t be harmed by pagan religious practices.

Rather than addressing this issue directly, I want to reflect on one of the statements that one often hears in such discussions.   Because our culture is rapidly moving away from the idea that there is any such thing as absolute truth, many Christ-followers, in an attempt to be tolerant, will say that we have to let our conscience be our guide.  But is this true?  Is our conscience a reliable guide in determining what to avoid and what to embrace?

Conscience is a wonderful gift from God but it is not infallible.  To take an extreme example, Hitler’s conscience allowed him to arrange for the murder of 6 million Jews.  Our conscience is a reflection of our belief system and our experiences.  It can be defiled or seared (hardened) even though we are Christian believers.  If you are used to a certain way of thinking or behaving your conscience may not recognize it as sin, especially if you have not worked through the implications of your Christian faith.  A Biblical example of this is found in 1 Corinthians 5 where the Apostle Paul had to rebuke the Corinthian Christians for practising incest.  Even though these people had become Christians, their belief system still heavily reflected the sexualized culture of Corinth in which they had been immersed since childhood, and they were actually proud of what they saw as their maturity in Christ which allowed a man to have a sexual relationship with his father’s wife.  This may seem to be an extreme example but it is proof that your conscience is not an infallible guide to right and wrong, and it’s an example that is actually very pertinent to our situation where Christians live in a culture whose predominant value system is rapidly moving farther and farther away from the beliefs and values of Christianity.

So, should you let your conscience be your guide?  Yes, if your conscience has been properly shaped and guided, it can be a reliable guide to behaviour, but an uninstructed, hardened or dulled conscience can also lead you astray.   For these reasons I find it more helpful to say that as Christ-followers we need to make our decisions with a mind that has been instructed by the Word of God, a will that has learned to surrender to God, and a spirit that has learned to listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.