On Sunday evenings in our church, I have been preaching a series entitled, “Ten Dumb Things Smart Christians Believe: Modern Christian Urban Myths.” I got the idea from a book by the same title written by a pastor named Larry Osborne. It really has been a fun study, both for the church and for me.
One of those myths we have studied is the idea that you should, “Let your conscience be your guide.” I have heard people say, “After all, the Bible teaches, ‘Let your conscience be your guide,’ right, Preacher?” And my answer always has been, “Actually, no. That is not found anywhere in the Bible.”
Do you know where that quote actually originated? I’ll tell you later. But first, why is this such a bad idea? Why should I not let my conscience be my guide?
We have a sin nature and blind spots in our lives. Jeremiah, the prophet wrote, “The heart deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” The fact is that our consciences are flawed. They will tell us that something is OK when really it is not. I won’t mention particulars, but we can see that clearly in our world today. We justify our own behavior because we want to do so.
A second reason the conscience is a poor guide is that we can develop a callused heart. As I continue to do something I know to be wrong, I can become more deeply ingrained in that behavior. What once convicted me no longer affects me at all. I become callused to the behavior. It is easier to do more and more wrong. A guitarist needs calluses on his fingers. But a callused heart is a bad thing.
My conscience is more like a thermostat than it is a thermometer. I can set the thermostat in my home to my liking. Different people like different climates. And different people can set their moral thermostats to their own liking. And if there truly is a moral standard, this is a problem. No, the conscience will not guide us as it should.
Pastor Osborne says that your conscience can serve as a good red or yellow light in your life. When your conscience is pricked, it may be a good indication to slow down or stop what you are doing. But just because your conscience is clear does not mean you should go. A conscience makes a poor green light.
So, I have to remind myself regularly that my conscience cannot be my guide. It can help me at times. But my standard needs to be God and his word. Only God can be my guide. And he never will lead me astray.
By the way, where did this idea come from? What is the origin of the saying, “Let your conscience be your guide?” That’s what Jiminy Cricket said to Pinocchio. How did that work out?