Making Biblical Decisions: A Seared Conscience – April 26, 2024

With any discussion surrounding the conscience, we must remember that it has been impacted by the fall. If we fail to understand this critical point, we can fall into serious danger through our conscience. Scripture reveals that the conscience can be seared, scarred, and ignored. When we ignore and violate our conscience, it is a sin and has real-world consequences.

As we ignore our conscience, Scripture reveals that it becomes seared (1 Timothy 4:2). As we ignore our conscience’s warning, we stop feeling its pangs. In high school, several of my friends and I worked in jobs involving mowing and landscaping. When we started these jobs, we developed blisters on our fingers and palms from our tools. Over time, these blisters hardened into deep patches of dead skin or callouses. The thing about callouses is that you cannot feel anything through them. We would often disgust the girls we knew by taking pins and running them through the callouses. We were able to do so because they were unfeeling. The skin was dead and desensitized, so we received no warnings of pain. This is the illustration that Paul uses for the conscience that no longer warns of impending sin and error. It has been so ignored we can no longer feel it.

In 1 Timothy 4, Paul warns Timothy and the church of impending danger, not from outside the church, but from inside the church. Some who claim to be Christians would move away from God’s Word and lead others with them. They would depart because they would buy into false teaching subtly brought into the church by Satan. While they initially felt the pangs of conscience, they ignored these warnings. They seared their conscience by convincing themselves that their actions were right.

Some who are part of the body of Christ, some who seem to be Christians, will depart from the Word and will begin to make Christianity something that it is not. They will turn away from the theology of the Word and begin to accept and promote the humanism of the world. An important lesson is that a mere profession of faith does not guarantee the actual possession of eternal life. Just because something or someone claims to be Christian does not make it so. We are reminded of the parable of the seeds. Some seeds will appear to take root but are not genuine.

The cause of their departure is not their high intellect. The cause of their departure is not some new revelation. The cause of their departure is not an overwhelming love for people, which drives a desire to make Christianity palatable. No! Paul informs us that the cause of their departure is something far more sinister. It is the false teaching from Satan that makes that which is wrong seem like it is right. Another important note is that these errors rarely come through people easily identified as non-Christians. They are nice people. They don’t seem to be doing wrong. But this is because they have had their conscience seared. These people have no sense of the heinousness of their actions because their consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. By constantly arguing with conscience, stifling its warnings, and silencing its alarm, these people have reached the point where their conscience no longer bothers them. “Grieving the Holy Spirit has led to resisting him, and resisting him to quenching him. Then, through their own rebellion and obstinacy, their conscience will have been rendered (and that will be permanently) seared.”[1]

When we no longer listen to our conscience, it becomes quieter until it is imperceptible. Don Carson notes that this silence becomes incredibly dangerous because we get into the habit of ignoring the conscience even when it is appropriately warning us of evil.[2] Through this repeated abuse, we nullify the conscience and make it worthless. Suppose we persist in setting our minds on earthly things. In that case, we can arrive at the point where we boast about things we should be ashamed of (Philippians 3:19). As we continually defy our conscience, we can no longer distinguish between right and wrong. Sadly, when these warnings fall silent, the danger is not gone. We are in a more perilous position.[3]

As society slides further into ruin, Christians stand in danger of joining in this slide when we ignore our conscience. The writer of Hebrews informs us that our conscience is deceived by sin and, through this deceit, is hardened (Hebrews 3:13). Unfortunately, this hardened conscience falls into pride and becomes further desensitized to sin. This process leads to a vicious cycle through which sin desensitizes our conscience, and our desensitized conscience leads to more sin. Romans 1 indicates that as society slides deeper into this cycle, God judges the culture by removing his presence and allowing sin to be its just result.

Ignoring the conscience becomes one of the most dangerous actions a Christian can take. Through this action, the Holy Spirit’s tool in our lives to warn us of sin falls silent. We begin a slide into deeper sin without shame because we sear our conscience. As we make decisions, then, it becomes vital that we listen to our conscience. While others may think we are soft or foolish, listening to your conscience is a sign of wisdom.

[1] William Hendriksen, Exposition of the Pastoral Epistles, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2002), 146.

[2] D. A. Carson, The Cross and Christian Ministry: An Exposition of Passages from 1 Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, n.d.), 123.

[3] John MacArthur, The Vanishing Conscience (Nashville, TN: Nelson Books, 1995), 38.