Conscience can be defined as “an inner feeling that acts as a guide to the rightness or wrongness of one’s behavior.” For those with a biblical worldview, the conscience is the part of the human soul that is most like God (Genesis 3:22). Those who disbelieve God have a difficult time explaining the existence of the human conscience. Evolution cannot account for this facet of the human spirit, which cannot be explained by a “survival of the fittest” mentality.
The conscience of man was awakened when Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s command and ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3:6). Before that, they had known only good. The word knowing in Genesis 3:5 is the same word used elsewhere to describe sexual intimacy (Genesis 4:17; 1 Samuel 1:19). When we choose to “know” evil by intimate experience, our consciences are violated and emotional discomfort takes over. Whether we acknowledge God or not, we were created to have fellowship with our Creator. When we do wrong, we sense that we are at odds with our created purpose, and that feeling is deeply disturbing.
It was God whom Adam and Eve had offended; yet God Himself provided the solution to their violated consciences. He slaughtered an innocent animal to cover their nakedness (Genesis 3:21). This was a foreshadowing of God’s intended plan to cover the sin of all mankind.
Humans have tried a variety of things to clear their consciences, from charity work to self-mutilation. History is replete with examples of mankind’s efforts to appease his conscience, but nothing works. So he often turns to other means of drowning out that inner voice that declares him guilty. Addictions, immorality, violence, and greed are often deeply rooted in the fertile soil of a guilty conscience.
However, since all sin is ultimately a sin against God, only God can redeem a violated conscience. Just as He did in the Garden of Eden, God provides us a covering through the sacrifice of something perfect and blameless (Exodus 12:5; Leviticus 9:3; 1 Peter 1:18–19). God sent His own Son, Jesus, into the world for the purpose of being the final, perfect sacrifice for the sins of the whole world (John 3:16; 1 John 2:2). When Jesus went to the cross, He took upon Himself every sin we would ever commit. Every violated conscience, every sinful thought, and every evil act was placed upon Him (1 Peter 2:24). All the righteous wrath that God has for our sin was poured out on His own Son (Isaiah 53:6; John 3:36). Just as an innocent animal was sacrificed to cover Adam’s sin, so the perfect Son was sacrificed to cover ours. God Himself chooses to make us right with Him and pronounce us forgiven.
We can have our consciences cleansed when we bring our sin, our failures, and our miserable attempts to appease God to the foot of the cross. The atonement of Christ forgives our sin and cleanses our conscience (Hebrews 10:22). We acknowledge our inability to cleanse our own hearts and ask Him to do it for us. We trust that Jesus’ death and resurrection are sufficient to pay the price we owe God. When we accept Jesus’ payment for our personal sin, God promises to cast our sins away from us “as far as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12; cf. Hebrews 8:12).
In Christ, we are freed from the stranglehold of sin. We are set free to pursue righteousness and purity and become the men and women God created us to be (Romans 6:18). As followers of Christ, we will still commit occasional sin. But, even then, God provides a way for us to have our consciences cleared. First John 1:9 says that, “if we confess our sin, he is faithful and just to forgive our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Often, with that confession comes the knowledge that we must make things right with the ones we have offended. We can take that step with the people we have hurt, knowing that God has already forgiven us.
Our consciences can remain clear as we continually confess our sin to God and trust that the blood of Jesus is sufficient to make us right with Him. We continue to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). We trust that, in spite of our imperfections, God delights in us and in His transforming work in our lives (Philippians 2:13; Romans 8:29). Jesus said, “So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). We live with a clear conscience by refusing to wallow in the failures that God has forgiven. We stand confident in His promise that, “if God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).