Word of the Week: Conscience

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 “This is not a day care. This is a university!” These words in a post by Dr. Everett Piper, President of Oklahoma Wesleyan University, went viral last week and were reported by most of the media.

Dr. Piper’s post was in response to a student complaint that he was “offended” by a speaker on the campus with whom he disagreed. What was not widely reported by most outlets was the situation that caused the student’s discomfort.

Here it is and the commentary in Dr. Piper’s own words.

This past week, I actually had a student come forward after a university chapel service and complain because he felt “victimized” by a sermon on the topic of 1 Corinthians 13. It appears that this young scholar felt offended because a homily on love made him feel bad for not showing love. In his mind, the speaker was wrong for making him, and his peers, feel uncomfortable.”

“I’m not making this up. Our culture has actually taught our kids to be this self-absorbed and narcissistic. Any time their feelings are hurt, they are the victims. Anyone who dares challenge them and, thus, makes them “feel bad” about themselves, is a “hater,” a “bigot,” an “oppressor,” and a “victimizer.”

“I have a message for this young man and all others who care to listen. That feeling of discomfort you have after listening to a sermon is called a conscience. An altar call is supposed to make you feel bad. It is supposed to make you feel guilty. The goal of many a good sermon is to get you to confess your sins—not coddle you in your selfishness. The primary objective of the Church and the Christian faith is your confession, not your self-actualization.”

Our word of the week is conscience.

The New Testament uses the Greek word, suneidesis, which is translated conscience 30 times. It’s a  compound word that literally means “to know with.” Dr. Vine defined the word as “the witness borne to one’s conduct by conscience, that faculty by which we apprehend the will of God, as that which is designed to govern our lives.” He further writes that the conscience involves, “that process of thought which distinguishes what it considers morally good or bad, commending the good, condemning the bad, and so prompting to do the former, and avoid the latter.”

The Bible speaks of a “good conscience,” a “pure conscience,” an “evil conscience,” and a “defiled conscience.” (1 Tim. 1:19; Heb 10:22; Titus 1:15)

In his book Common Sense Preaching, Dee Bowman writes, “Conscience is the mental apparatus that approves when it thinks or acts in accordance with what he understands to be right, and disapproves when he does that which he understands to be wrong.”

Both by definition and usage it is apparent that the conscience can only operate on the basis on what a person has been taught. It responds to one’s values, beliefs and standards. That is why understanding Truth is imperative. A person convinced of a religious or moral error will not be convicted by their conscience unless their understanding is changed.

Paul said he lived in good conscience, even when he was an unbeliever and killed Christians! (Acts 23:1). The conscience is trained by what it is taught. A conscience that is not taught the truth will guide one in the wrong direction. But when he comesto a knowledge of the Truth, as Paul did, the conscience will convict you to change.

The Bible sometimes uses the word “heart” in speaking of the conscience. After hearing Peter’s sermon, those guilty of killing Christ were “cut to the heart’ (As 2:47). In other words, they were convicted by their conscience when they heard the gospel. In John 3:20-21 the apostle says that our heart “condemns us.” When we violate our conscience, we have a gnawing sense of being wrong. Of course, as Peter observed, one can have a “heart trained in covetous practices” (2 Pet. 2:14). After a period of time of repeatedly sinning, our conscience may become, as Paul put it, “seared with a hot iron,’ referring to a conscience that is deadened and without feeling

Since the conscience is our moral compass, the internal ethical governor of the heart, we must guard it. Train it according to Truth. And daily seek to live according to its direction.

So, when a sermon “offends” you, ask why? Maybe it’s your conscience convicting you and calling for change.

–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman

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