I remember growing up constantly being told, trust your conscience and you won’t go far wrong. The psychologist Carl Jung once said that despite clear evidence of our self-deception, “deep down below the surface of the average conscience a still, small voice says to us, something is out of tune.” But can our conscience itself become out of tune? What if instead of truth, that still, small voice was wrong? We certainly shouldn’t eject the role of our conscience as a way in which God guides our morality and holds us to account. But we certainly shouldn’t assume that because something feels right, it is.
In 1 Timothy 4:2, Paul is addressing Timothy as he is charged with bringing back the Church of Ephesus that has been led astray. The members of the Church have been interacting with Christians who have “fallen away” and adopted some strange ideas. One of the most interesting of Paul’s comments here is the description of these false teachers as having a seared conscience. Paul writes:
Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.
Paul is writing about both the current situation in Ephesus, but also as something Christians should look out for in their future. In other words, he is also writing to you and me.
When I stop and reflect upon this, actually there are a number of things that come to my attention. In such a sexually saturated culture as ours, it is easy to approach our relationships much in the same way as non-Christians and not feel even a pang of guilt in our conscience. Equally, when the world calls certain behaviours worthy of pride, we may feel like agreeing with them. It may not feel wrong, in spite of the reality of what God’s Word clearly states. If that is the case for us we must be especially on guard because we are most likely to be led astray. To come back will involve the difficult talk of re-orientation, and the decision not to trust the inner-voice alone, but the voice of God Himself. Our God is the God of grace and forgiveness, and our appropriate response to Him should be loving obedience flowing from the understanding that He alone knows best.