Leon L. Combs, M.A., M.Div., Ph.D.,
April, 2010, Modified November 12, 2015

We begin with a dictionary definition (

First let me say that it certainly seems obvious that many animals have a conscience. We had several dogs and the one who showed the existence of a conscience more than others was our Sheltie. When she had done something that she knew she should not have done, it was very obvious from her expressions and her actions. How do animals develop a conscience? Perhaps animals develop a conscience the same way people do by learning from those taking care of them. Owners of animals teach them what to do and what not to do so they are teaching them a “morality” based upon their “family” principles. Animals that are not domesticated learn survival methods in their packs, but they still learn. Much study has been done about the conscience of animals and is readily available on the WWW.

People also learn at an early age from their parents what is right and wrong and they try to conform to that behavior and fit into the family. People are more complicated than animals and they develop their conscience from their family and then from readings and interactions with other people in their environment. They also modify their conscience as they interact with other people, judge reactions to their actions, and consider consequences of actions. Thus the development of a conscience begins very early in life and continues throughout young adulthood. I heard that a young child is essentially a sociopath since they have only a rudimentary conscience that is being developed. Certainly all parents know that a very young child is mainly interested in their own needs and is very self-centered. A person’s conscience is probably mostly set by the early 20’s unless some extreme modifying event occurs such as a religious conversion. Since I am not a psychologist, I will not venture any further into speculations about conscience development.

From the above definitions, it is clear that to understand the meaning of conscience one has to have a clear understanding of ethical and moral principles. Morality is based upon the principles of right and wrong developed by a particular group of people whereas ethics is the formulation of right and wrong developed from some code that is external to any individual group of people. Morality also changes with the development of a society (some would say that morality evolves) but ethics should not change since the external code is supposedly from a fixed source. Of course the world has been unable to accept one fixed source of ethical behavior for all mankind. To be consistent with their religion, members of various religions should have their fundamental book as their fixed external ethical source. The Christian should have the Bible as the external code. The Jew should have the Torah or Talmud as the external code. The Muslim uses the Koran as an external code and many other religions similarly have other external codes. From Wikipedia I found the following comments that help in understanding some of how the world has defined and reacted over the years to conscience definitions and actions based upon consciences.

The following is from
“Modern-day scientists in the fields of ethology, neuroscience and evolutionary psychology seek to explain conscience as a function of the brain that evolved to facilitate reciprocal altruism within societies. Those supporting this approach to conscience argue that people have a set of instincts and drive which enable them to form societies. Groups of humans without these drives, or in whom they are insufficiently strong, cannot form cohesive societies and do not reproduce their kind as successfully as those that do.

Charles Darwin, for example, considered that conscience evolved in man as an outcome of having to resolve conflicts between competing natural impulses with some about self preservation, but others increasingly about safety of a family or community. The claim of conscience to moral authority, thought Darwin, emerged from the "greater duration of impression of social instincts" in the struggle for survival. In such a view, behavior destructive to a person's society (either to its structures, or to the persons it comprises) is bad or "evil.” Thus, conscience can be viewed as an outcome of those biological drives that prompt humans to avoid provoking fear or contempt in others; being experienced as guilt and shame in differing ways from society to society, and person to person. A requirement of conscience, under this approach, is the capacity to see ourselves from the point of view of another person. Persons unable to do this (psychopaths, sociopaths, narcissists) therefore often act in ways which are "evil.” A central requirement of this view of conscience is that humans consider some "other" as being in a social relationship. Thus, nationalism is invoked in conscience to quell tribal conflict, and the notion of a Brotherhood of Man is invoked to quell national conflicts.

World conscience is the universalist idea that with ready global communication, all people on earth will no longer be morally estranged from one another, whether it be culturally, ethnically, or geographically; instead they will conceive ethics from the utopian point of view of the universe, eternity or infinity, rather than have their duties and obligations defined by forces arising solely within the restrictive boundaries of 'blood and territory.’ Often this derives from a spiritual or natural law perspective, that for world peace to be achieved, conscience, properly understood, should be generally considered as not necessarily linked (often destructively) to fundamentalist religious ideologies, but as an aspect of universal consciousness, access to which is the common heritage of humanity.

The Green party politician Bob Brown (who was arrested by the Tasmanian state police for a conscientious act of civil disobedience during the Franklin Dam protest) expresses world conscience in these terms: "the universe, through us, is evolving towards experiencing, understanding and making choices about its future'; one example of policy outcomes from such thinking being a global tax (see Tobin tax) to alleviate global poverty and protect the biosphere, amounting to 1/10th of 1% placed on the worldwide speculative currency market. Such an approach sees world conscience best expressing itself through political reforms promoting democratically-based globalization or planetary democracy (for example internet voting for global governance organizations (see world government) based on the model of "one person, one vote, one value") which gradually will replace contemporary market-based globalization.

The philosopher Peter Singer has argued that the United Nations Millennium Development Goals represent the emergence of an ethics based not on national boundaries but on the idea of one world. Ninian Smart has similarly predicted that the increase in global travel and communication will gradually draw the world's religions towards a pluralistic and transcendental humanism characterized by an "open spirit" of empathy and compassion.

From the above, it is obvious that man’s conscience has played and continues to play an integral role in the actions of mankind all over the world. I have also “bolded” some comments that are especially disturbing to me as a Christian. The one-world government concept is explicitly based upon the development of a world conscience that is not based upon any fundamentalist religious ideologies but on some pluralistic and transcendental humanism characterized by an "open spirit" of empathy and compassion. The idea of merging of religions is reminiscent of my book, “A Search for Reality”. I become more and more certain that the church concept in my book will become a reality in the world. Of course, such a reality is far from the real reality as defined by God.

Having a basic understanding of the above helps in understanding what is happening within the society of the United States. We especially see moves to thwart conscience development based upon fundamentalist religious ideologies. For example, the definition of “family” has been under attack for many years and is slowly being moved away from the Biblical definition of one man and one woman in marriage. The place of women in leadership roles in Christian churches and even allowing practicing homosexuals to be members of Christian churches are examples of ways in which fundamentalist Biblical concepts should affect the Christian conscience. Many churches in the US have moved away from a Biblical foundation as they allow women and homosexuals to be in leadership positions and worship services are focused more on entertainment than worship of God. Rather than putting down women, Christianity lifted them to equal spiritual status: Gal 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

However there is a huge difference between spiritual equality and equal function in the church government. During a formal worship service the Holy Spirit plainly spoke through Paul regarding women in such a setting:
1Tim 2:12 But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.

I know many very capable Christian women and they have very important roles within the church body to guide and teach other women and children. But they are not to have a governmental function within the church. They also are not to have the governmental function of overseer or deacon (a woman cannot be a husband!):
1Tim 3:2 An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,
1Tim 3:12 Let deacons be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households.

Homosexuals are not worthy of the Kingdom of God so they certainly cannot be even a member of a Christian church, much less have a leadership position: 1Cor 6:9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals,

There are many other examples of how the modern church is moving away from Biblical standards. The Bible should be the fundamental document used to establish ethical standards and thus the conscience of Christians and, of course, the foundation for church worship and practice. Unfortunately many churches have decided to edit the Bible to allow functions not intended by God. Unless God interferes, ultimately the concept of “church” will most certainly be as described in my book.

To further develop the conscience from a Biblical standpoint, we need to examine the use of the word “conscience” as it appears in the following verses in the Bible:
1Sam 24:5 And it came about afterward that David's conscience bothered him because he had cut off the edge of Saul's robe.
The above tells us that David had an exceptional conscience. Most people in his circumstance would probably have killed Saul and certainly would not have been bothered about the action ov cutting off the edge of Saul’s robe. But David was already demonstrating a conscience that showed his concern for others and a respect for authority.

Acts 23:1 And 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 24:16 "In view of this, I also do my best to maintain always a blameless conscience both before God and before men.
The above show that Paul’s conscience had been considerably modified by his regeneration as a child of God. As Saul, he had persecuted the early Christians as he thought that he was serving God. Thus he had always tried to attend to his conscience regarding obeying God. After being born again he now had a modified conscience fitting the righteousness of God rather than the righteousness of man.

Rom 2:14-16 For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, 15in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness, and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, 16on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.

These verses inform us that some people have the Law written in their hearts so that their conscience has been modified by His code of conduct. Their thoughts then analyze their actions and judge them by the conscience so that they either accuse or defend their actions or thoughts. Paul then says that the day will come when God will judge even the secrets of men through the new covenant of Jesus Christ.

Paul’s conscience was developed by the Holy Spirit who indwells every child of God:
Rom 9:1 I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit,
1Cor 8:7-12 However not all men have this knowledge; but some, being accustomed to the idol until now, eat food as if it were sacrificed to an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled. 8But food will not commend us to God; we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat. 9But take care lest this liberty of yours somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10For if someone sees you, who have knowledge, dining in an idol's temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols? 11For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died. 12And thus, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.

This set of verses tells us that some peoples’ consciences can be incorrectly developed as they have learned that something is “wrong” from an incorrect basis. Some people think that it is “wrong” to drink alcoholic beverages at all but such cannot be defended Biblically. However Paul tells us that just knowing that something is not a sin does not justify our flaunting that freedom before someone who thinks it is a sin. People must be very sensitive of the conscience of others and respect it by abstaining from any activity that someone thinks is a sin. Even though we must respect the weak conscience, a conscience based upon the righteousness of God cannot be judged by a conscience not so developed: 1Cor 10:29 I mean not your own conscience, but the other man's; for why is my freedom judged by another's conscience?

All Christians should practice their Godly conscience in the world before all people and especially toward fellow Christians:
2Cor 1:12 For our proud confidence is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in holiness and godly sincerity, not in fleshly wisdom but in the grace of God, we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially toward you.
2Cor 4:2 but we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God.

Paul tells us that one goal of proper Biblical instruction is to help others develop a Godly conscience and a sincere faith: 1Tim 1:5 But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.

Although no person can lose his salvation, Christians can be thoroughly disciplined by God if they walk in a manner not based upon a conscience properly developed from the righteousness of God (a good conscience):
1Tim 1:19 keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith.
1Tim 3:9 but holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.

There will be a time when many people who have professed a saving faith will appear to have fallen from it. Actually they were never really saved (1 John 2:19) but only members of the visible church and pretending to be a Christian. Their consciences are really developed by deceitful spirits and demons:
1Tim 4:1-3 But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, 2by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, 3men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods, which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth.

Paul is very clear that his conscience is trained by God and of the kind of the true prophets:
2Tim 1:3 I thank God, whom I serve with a clear conscience the way my forefathers did, as I constantly remember you in my prayers night and day,

A person whose heart is still hard (an unbeliever) has a defiled conscience and his mind will act upon that improper basis to perform sinful actions:
Titus 1:15 To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled.

Works cannot produce a good conscience for that is only from God:
Heb 9:9 which is a symbol for the present time. Accordingly both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make the worshiper perfect in conscience,

But the work of Jesus will cleanse a person’s conscience to serve God:
Heb 9:14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?
Heb 10:22 let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
Heb 13:18 Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a good conscience, desiring to conduct ourselves honorably in all things.

We are responsible to God for actions taken based upon our conscience even when suffering unjustly or slandered. Our behavior will also vindicate our conscience before a slanderer:
1Peter 2:19 For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a man bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly.
1Peter 3:16 and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.

Peter tells us that spiritual baptism (regeneration and justification) based upon the resurrection of Jesus Christ produces a good conscience as the sanctification process purifies the conscience:
1Peter 3:21 And corresponding to that, baptism now saves you-- not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience-- through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,