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The Conscience

There is an important word in English, ‘conscience’. All other languages have an equivalent concept. If you look in a general dictionary, the definitions of the word ‘conscience’ in English and other languages are basically the same in their secular concepts.

But a person who reads the Bible and is familiar with the Word of God will realize that there is a difference between the concept of “conscience” in secular vocabularies and the concept in the Word of God. But not all languages are the same. There is a cultural difference. The English language, for example, is closer to the original meaning of the Bible because of the influence of the Bible, while the Chinese counterpart is much more distant. The word “conscience (良知)” in the Chinese language, for example, basically speaks of a moral feeling of man toward man. There isn’t even a concept of “conscience toward God” in Chinese.

While the secular “conscience” is a concept based on social morality, the biblical reference to conscience in God’s word is a deeper concept that refers not only to man’s perception of man, but also, and more fundamentally, to man’s normal perception of the God who made him.

“Conscience” is a kind of perception, which is fundamentally a good perception of God by man, not a good perception of man by man.

The first time the word ‘conscience’ appears in the New Testament is in Acts 23:1. “Paul looked steadily at the council and said, “Brothers, I have acted in good conscience before God until this day.”

It is clear that when the apostle Paul uses this word, he is dealing with a point of reference that God is not a man. His conscience firstly faces God, not man.

When the apostle Paul mentions conscience for the second time in Acts 24:16, he says, “I therefore encourage myself to have a clear conscience toward God and toward men.” There he was facing both God and man.

But the foundation of conscience, its place of origin, and its ultimate point of reference, is with God.

The conscience is God’s own inner witness in the life of man. Although it is not the only witness, it is a very important witness. In the end God has to provide a witness to everything in the whole universe, otherwise there would be no basis for its value and truth. This is a cosmic rule set by God, a law, if you will. This is even reflected in the fundamental physical law of quantum mechanics that God designed and set up (but that is another topic).

“This [conscience] shows the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them.” Romans 2:15.

King Herod in Matthew 14 is a good example of the opposite side of the problem of conscience in man.

King Herod was actually a man of considerable religious knowledge. This can be seen from the respect he showed to John the Baptist. But he was living in sin. He committed a sin (marrying the woman he should not have married), and then this sin gave birth to an even greater sin (killing the man he should not have killed, namely John the Baptist, the greatest prophet Israel had ever seen before Christ).

Sin became a snare and a trap for Herod.

On his the way from sin to further and greater sin, there was a very crucial “guide” who personally swayed him and harmed him. And the identity of this “guide” is Herod was his sense of honor, or really his pride.

If you saw in Matthew 14 why Herod had no choice but to kill John the Baptist, one of the key factors was that he thought he was going to keep his word and be true to his word. He wanted to save face.

Yet the root and place of his so-called honor was actually his ego and pride, not the “conscience” that God placed in man when He created him.

A good conscience is one that has an intuition about God, has a fundamentally correct understanding of the truth, and keeps the covenant and is fair. But with the self-centered Herod, the conscience was extinguished.

What man calls “righteousness” in his pride is not only not conscience, but precisely the opposite. If man allows his pride to take the place of his conscience, he is dead in the eyes of God.