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No matter what sort of person anyone becomes in life, all human beings are born with a conscience. We know of it as an innate ability to tell the difference between right and wrong. That sounds like a rather vague statement, and it is because alone it does not tell us what “right” and “wrong” are. So what are they? A good clue can be found in the following Scripture from Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, which tells us about the conscience:


Romans 2:12-16:  For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law (for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified; for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them) in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel.


The “law” that Paul is referring to here is the Mosaic law found in the Old Testament Torah (Pentateuch, the first five books of the OT), specifically delineated more so in Exodus and Leviticus. This includes the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:3-17).


We find prohibitions in these Commandments against such things as adultery, covetousness, and murder, as well as encouragements for children to obey their parents, and so on. Missionaries the world over have found, when encountering peoples who have never heard of Christ or even the Law, that these peoples almost universally have societal prohibitions which are the same as, or similar to, those found in the Commandments and in other parts of the Law. This is, therefore, one more evidence of the trustworthiness of Scripture and the fact that a Creator (the Creator, God) gave each person the ability to tell right from wrong according to His Word, even when neither having heard it nor read it. Jesus also implies the presence of a conscience in reminding His listeners that  sinners know how to do good and right things (Matthew 5:46-47, 7:9-11).


Imprinted on our hearts are Biblical moral principles. The conscience is the element through which these principles operate and thus is the discerner between things which should or should not be thought, said, or done. We can conclude, then, that the heart and the conscience work together.


Of course, having an operating conscience does not make us right with God. Only having salvation through Jesus Christ alone enables us to be righteous in God’s eyes, since the Lord’s righteousness is imputed (credited) to us the moment we are saved. Although the heart and the conscience work together, the heart of an unregenerate person is not completely reliable:


Jeremiah 17:9:    “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?”


When we get saved, our sense of right and wrong is amplified. The Holy Spirit comes to live in our spirit when salvation occurs, revitalizing our dead spirit or inward man, the hidden person of the heart (1 Peter 3:4). As we live and grow in Christ, regularly reading the Word of God and praying and thus growing closer to the Lord, we experience the process of sanctification. At salvation we are made holy in the sense of being forgiven and cleansed of our sins. Sanctification is the process of becoming more and more holy in our conduct and being set apart for God’s use.


Through all this the heart is made more tender, the sin-damaged conscience is repaired, and we become more sensitive to the voice and the leading of the Holy Spirit. These are essential ingredients in Christian growth. Without these processes we remain worldly—carnal—in our conduct (1 Corinthians 3:1-4). That is, although we are born again, in carnal conduct we are still thinking, speaking, and acting as if we are lost. This, of course, is sinful behavior. Sinning carries additional dangers for the lost and the saved alike, thus the Scripture warns against hardness of heart:


Hebrews 3:12-15:  Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end, while it is said: “Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”


If you have any calluses, you know that the thickened skin reduces the sensitivity of where the callus is, perhaps to the point of not feeling anything if it is thick enough. Just as friction produces calluses on the skin, sinning produces callus-like hardening and desensitization of the heart. The more you commit a sin, the easier it is to keep doing it. That is a hardening of the heart. Not only do the heart and the conscience work together, the mind is also part of this unit in our being. What you let into your person, be it through the eyes, the ears, or elsewhere, goes to your heart first. As the heart goes, so go the conscience and the mind, hence this warning:


Proverbs 4:23:  Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.


The word “keep” means “guard.” We are to take care with what we watch, listen to, and so on, and that goes beyond entertainment. Worldly people, while they need to be reached for Christ, are not folks we need to spend inordinate amounts of time around or else we risk becoming corrupted with their sinfulness (1 Corinthians 15:33). Since we live in a world full of sin, we cannot always avoid sin’s presence, but we are not to linger around it to the point that it overtakes us and our hearts become polluted.


Believers have an advantage over the lost in that we can resist sin by the power of the Holy Spirit. The lost do not have the Spirit of God living in them. That does not mean we can be careless, as you have already seen. Remember what was said about the heart, the conscience, and the mind all being parts of a unit? Well, unchecked sinning over time, or some extremely severe sin we commit, can sear the conscience. That is a place you do not want to be in. Note this passage:


1 Timothy 4:1-2:  Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron,…


The context of this Scripture pertains to the last days and doctrinal error, but unchecked sinning and so on can just as surely sear the conscience. The word “seared” is derived from the New Testament Greek word kausteriazo (know-stay-ree-AD-zo), which means to brand or to mark with branding, and in a medical sense, to cauterize. Searing of the conscience is far more serious than hardening of the heart. In the natural, with the proper care or the easing of burdens, calluses can disappear over time and the affected area will thus regain its sensitivity.


Where there has been a branding or a cauterization, the nerves in the burned area have been destroyed. Barring a miracle from God, the feeling in the affected area will never return. Seldom is a person’s conscience completely seared, but any such affectedness at all is detrimental to a person’s ability to function properly towards others. The ability to repent can be badly impaired or completely destroyed, at which point the person in such a condition is given over by God to a reprobate mind (debased in the NKJV). When this happens, a lost person will never obtain salvation and a saved person forfeits salvation. What a terrible thing to suffer! The verses preceding these in Romans deal with people in an ongoing state of habitual sinning and have reached the point of no return:


Romans 1:28-32:  And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.


Here, debased (KJV, reprobate) derives from the NT Greek word adokimos (ad-OK-ee-mos), which here means morally worthless. Such a mind no longer cares about righteousness. The phrase “being filled with” is from one Greek word, pleroo (play-RAH-o), which in essence means to fill to the top. Those who are of a debased mind are literally filled up with sinfulness.


One more word of note in the Greek is the one for evil-mindedness (KJV, malignity). That word is kakoetheia (kak-o-AY-thi-ah), which basically means, according to Strong’s Concordance, “bad character, depravity of heart and life, malignant subtlety, malicious craftiness.” Persons with debased minds are irremediably evil, whether the wickedness of the person with such a mind is immediately obvious or not. A person with a debased mind does not necessarily have to be a psychopathic serial killer or a relentless fornicator. Such a person can also be ordinary or even highly successful in lifetime achievements but be committed to sinful habits or lifestyles that they will never part with.


Either way, such a person is doomed to hell. But can we tell if someone is in such a situation? Outside of explicit divine revelation, no. We as Christians are to pray for sinners, period, and witness to them when able. God knows whom He has fully and finally rejected and whom He is still reaching out to. We should pray for sinners that they, too, do not harden their hearts to the point of searing their consciences and ultimately being given over to a debased mind.


As for those of us who are born again, we must guard our hearts against evil. Again, as goes the heart, so goes the conscience. The conscience is a vital part of our being. Without it we would be no better off morally than animals, which have no moral center. We must be able to tell the difference between right and wrong, good and evil, according to the Word of God, and in His mercy God gave each of us a conscience to do just that. Hardening of the heart not only desensitizes it but also the conscience, and in time that precious discerner of right and wrong in us can be seared. The believer so affected is in imminent danger of being given over to a debased mind and thus forfeiture of salvation, should God not choose to miraculously heal his or her conscience.


There is nothing worth going to hell for, either for the unbeliever to reach the point of total inability to repent or for the believer to reach the point of salvation forfeiture. Keep your heart tender. Stay close to God and sensitive to the voice and the leading of the Holy Spirit. Stay in God’s Word and prayer, and pray for those out there who cannot pray for themselves that God will spare them long enough so that they can have every opportunity to be saved.




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