Making Biblical Decisions: Violating Your Conscience – April 19, 2024

The conscience serves as the God-given tool to convict and keep His image bearers from sin. Even the world recognizes that to go against one’s conscience is foolish. However, Scripture takes the ramifications of ignoring or defying one’s conscience further. Romans 14:23 informs us that when one is convicted by conscience and continues with the action, it is a sin. The morality of the action is inconsequential. Violating your conscience, even if the action is not a sin, is a sin in God’s eyes. For “whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” Our intentionality in ignoring the God-given alarm system is an act of defiance against God.
However, believers have the Holy Spirit indwelling them. Perhaps the conscience will fall silent when we face issues that are not sin. This is not the case. Many Christians discover that the conscience becomes more active once they enter a relationship with Christ. Because we recognize sin’s horrendous nature, our conscience’s condemnation can become more assertive. The Holy Spirit writes the laws of God on our hearts as New Covenant children (Jer. 31:33-34). This action by the Holy Spirit supercharges our conscience. As a general rule, then, Christians should assume the validity of the promptings given by their conscience. We should do what our conscience says until we understand otherwise through the clear teaching of Scripture.
The hospitality that should mark believers results in relationships with people from differing backgrounds and levels of sensitivity concerning our conscience. Because violating the conscience is a sin, the Christian should respond to these differences in two ways. First, concerning their fellow believers, they should not mock, ridicule, demean, or encourage the other person to violate their conscience. As we saw previously, this is a failure to show Christ’s love to the other person. Second, however, we should also not violate our conscience for the sake of that relationship. To do so is a sin.
In 1 Corinthians 10:25-29, Paul continues the discussion surrounding the controversy of meat offered to idols. In this section, Paul pictures the dinner in which friends gather. You notice that the host is serving an excellent steak as the meal is served. If your conscience informs you that you cannot eat meat offered to idols, this could become an awkward situation. At this point, you do not know where the meat came from. Paul advises that you not ask where the meat came from so that you can eat without violating your conscience.
Yet, what should the Christian with a sensitive conscience towards meat do if the host announces that he purchased the meat at the temple meat market? Verse 28 is clear that you should not eat it. Don’t violate your conscience. To violate one’s conscience, even for the sake of a relationship, is a sin. As my elementary teacher used to say, “It is never right to do wrong to have a chance to do right.”
There is an interesting twist in the situation in 1 Corinthians 10. There is also a possibility that the one visiting does not have a sensitive conscience to idol meat. However, the host does have a sensitive conscience toward eating this meat. Yet, the host wants to maintain a good relationship with the visitor and knows he loves this meat. As a result, the host endeavors to ingratiate himself with the visitor by demonstrating that his love for the visitor is more important than his conscience. In verses 28-29, Paul states that the visitor should refuse the meat to preserve the host’s conscience because violating our conscience is a sin.
As the Reformation took hold through the writings and leadership of Martin Luther, the Catholic Church sought to squelch the rebellion and bring Luther back into the fold. They called Luther to answer for his writings and teaching at the Diet of Worms held in Worms, Germany, in 1521. The Catholic Church leaders called on Luther to recant his teachings against selling indulgences and his teaching for salvation by grace through faith alone. In response, Luther made a statement that all would be wise to follow. “Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot, and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.”[1] Luther followed his conscience, which led to the danger of imprisonment and death. But, he understood that violating his conscience was a sin. So should we.


[1] Ronald H. Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (New York, NY: Abingdon-Cokesbury, 1950), 182.