The conscience is a component of the human “spirit of man.” God has put the conscience in man as an invisible beeper inside every human being. This is to warn us when we’re about to do something wrong. At his second appearance before the Diet of Worms, Martin Luther stated about his stand, “To go against conscience is neither right nor safe.”
Adam and Eve lived in a time of innocence that we refer to as ‘the dispensation of innocence.’ No man had yet sinned against the Lord and God was man’s provider. But as we know from the Bible account, Adam and Eve went against the one explicit requirement God had placed upon them. They were not to eat of “the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.” When they ate of ‘the tree of knowledge’ they illicitly gained that knowledge. With that their conscience became awakened. They were then driven from the Garden of Eden and thus innocence was over for mankind – they now live under ‘the dispensation of conscience.’ Now they were responsible for what they knew was right or wrong.
Thus, when Adam ate of “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” he, and now all mankind as his lineage, came into the possession of an active ‘conscience.’ Thereby a sense of guilt strikes us when we either have committed evil or contemplated committing evil, no matter how small or large. A warning in our conscience gives us pause whereby we know it is sin before we commit the sin. This has been so for mankind ever since Adam.
The Bible tells us that even the most ungodly and unenlightened heathen “show the work of the [moral] law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the meanwhile accusing or else excusing one another” (Rom.2:15).
All of us innately know right from wrong.
It is true that man’s conscience can be violated so often that it becomes calloused or, as Paul puts it: “as seared with a hot iron” (I Tim. 4:2). But also, events or incidents can take place which suddenly awaken the conscience and make it sensitive again. Many a person has indulged in “the pleasures of sin” more and more freely until, suddenly, his sin has found him out and his conscience has caught up with him to condemn him day and night and make life itself unbearable.
The Bible teaches that all men outside of Christ are, to some degree, troubled by guilty consciences and certainly most are “through fear of death… all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Heb. 2:15). But it also teaches that “Christ died for our sins” so that our sin-penalty having already been paid, we might be delivered from our guilty conscience.
The works and ceremonies of the Mosaic religious Law could never accomplish this, but sincere and intelligent believers in Christ, having been “once purged,” have “no more conscience of [past] sins” (Heb. 9:14; 10:1,2). They are, to be sure, conscious of their sins, but they are no longer tortured by a forever-condemning conscience… for they know that the penalty for all their sins, from the cradle to the coffin, was fully met by the death of Christ at Calvary’s Cross.
This is not to imply that even a sincere believer may not be troubled about offending the One who paid for his sins, but he knows that the judgment for these sins is past. Thus, he earnestly seeks, like Paul, “to have always a conscience void of offence toward God and toward man” (Acts 24:16)
(This adapted from – ‘Two Minutes with the Bible’)