Truth Shapes Conscience

[448 words]

Paul, looking intently at the Council, said, “Brethren, I have lived my life with a perfectly good conscience before God up to this day” (Acts 23:1).

In the Bible’s account of his life, Paul—earlier known as Saul—is as close to “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” as anyone you will find.

The evil Mr. Hyde is revealed first as a heartless young Saul who watched over the robes of witnesses of the stoning death of one of our earliest brethren, Stephen (see Acts 7:58). Acts 8 begins by asserting his sentiment about the murder when it states, “Saul was in hearty agreement with pulling him to death.” His thirst for Christian blood continued unsatisfied as he went on a rampage against the church wherever he found it, “dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison” (Acts 8:3).

Later, after he met the resurrected Jesus on the road to Damascus, obeyed the gospel and became a builder of the church, Paul, as he was now called, declared that he had once been the “foremost” of all sinners (1 Timothy 1:15).

However, in the text above it is surprising to learn that when he was Mr. Hyde as well as Dr. Jekyll, Paul lived his life with a “perfectly good conscience.”

How was this possible? How could Paul not have a “bad” conscience about his horrendous sins against the church? Having been raised under a strict Jewish culture, was Paul’s conscience not shaped by a law of God that at the time was “righteous and good” (Romans 7:12)? If there is a conscience implanted even in the hearts of the ungodly (see Romans 2:14-15), then why not Paul?

The fact is Paul always had a conscience but did not always have one that was disciplined by truth. For a while, he persecuted Christians and felt no guilt because his conscience was misinformed.

It is quite an amazing feature of anyone’s conscience that it can be thoroughly shaped by what it is taught. This is why many in our current culture seem to have no conscience about matters that the rest of us feel is horribly wrong.

Take for instance the sin of homosexuality. At this moment, the Supreme Court is considering the definition of marriage and whether two of the same gender can legally be wed. About this one issue, many have no conscience. They do not even consider the possibility that it is inherently wrong (see 1 Corinthians 6:9, Romans 1:26-27). Why? Because the truth has not been allowed to shape their consciences. Just as Saul, they feel no guilt about that which is abhorrent.

Floyd Kaiser
Southwest church of Christ
Ada, OK

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