Where the conscience dwells
Let us look at conscience in a more comprehensive way: The human person has at least four components – body (physical structure, senses), mind (knowledge, memories, etc.), soul (personality, emotions, passions, etc.) and spirit (life-force, spark of divine-character, etc.). Where does the conscience dwell among these components? Many would say it is a toss between the last three. But, what if conscience exists in all four? Let us think about it.
Back to eating: When a person wants to eat, what stimulus and what human faculty, working together, brought about the desire? We would say the body because hunger is a biological signal for the body to reenergize itself. We call this instinct, no different from what animals experience, perhaps. But here is where the lines diverge: We become clearly aware of a need; that is, our mind becomes aware of the hunger (the hunger is not just of the stomach but of the entire body) after the body (working as a unit) has communicated the need and the feeling. Some people, of course, continually think of food and eat even before the feel hungry. These are “mental eaters” feeding their mind, not their bodies. Preachers would call some of these people, who cannot control their many “appetites”, as those whose god is their stomach.
But it does not stop there. Unlike animals, we have many choices as to how we can eat. We can either buy food or plant it ourselves and harvest it, or a combination of both. Still, others may simply steal food or ask from others without having to work for it – which is a decree given in the Garden (funny how the body and the conscience are so tied up in that story; and yet, so many still think it is myth). Apparently, the conscience works as an indispensable facility even in the most mundane act of satisfying our hunger. We not only feel hunger; we must think of how to satisfy it. The body was designed to feel hunger and to revive itself constantly through feeding. And, the conscience was designed to help us decide the right way of doing so. “By the sweat of your brow, you shall eat.” Anybody still thinks eating has nothing to do with the conscience?
But where do the soul and spirit come into the picture?
Since the mind helps to determine the kind of food we crave for and how to procure it, we still need to decide “how much” satisfaction we want out of eating – organic, vegetarian, Italian, carbo-rich, protein-rich, and a hundred other choices. Animals do not, in general. Emotions, culture, history, health and finance all come into play, making our soul a major player as well, not just the body or mind. And this applies even when we are merely talking of a light snack or a coffee break. Show me what you eat and I will show you what you are – a body lover, a voracious carnivore or a cookie monster.
And that is where the spirit comes into play. A conscience that is subservient to the spirit (evil or not) will determine how a person ultimately feeds, not just himself or herself but others as well. A criminal feeds his loving family using blood money and is not the better for it. A diligent mother will feed her children from income she works hard for and maintains her conscience free. Those who work (in order to eat and survive) while they conscientiously escape the corruption of the world are guided by their righteous spirit (in order to please the Creator); while those who willfully and unconscionably violate the law (commit sin) are guided by their evil spirit (and are dead to God). A healed conscience leads to moral living; a sickly conscience leads to immoral living. Only a great miraculous healer can cure the latter.
From the stimulus of the body to the urgings of the spirit, we eat and live accordingly, oftentimes, unmindful of what is going on in our lives. And we do it over and over again. For better or for worse, we cannot but avoid using our conscience; for that is how we were made by God. The conscience is a product of our entire being; for that is what we are: dust and spirit. Each and every act we do then carries with it the divinely-decreed responsibility to serve the laws of our Creator and of His Creation. Eat and live v.v. Eat and die: our first lesson in the Garden. Today, it is Eat and die, mostly. All because our first parents wounded their consciences and made ours weak as well because of sin.
But despair not! The cure has been given. We can regain a clean conscience again – way ahead of Adam and Eve! Jesus works His power backward, from us to those who have gone before us, and forward, to those who will come to believe in Him.
It seems then that the conscience is both a spiritual force and a human facility leading us to a kind of life that reconciles us to our Creator the way we were meant to behave in the beginning. Back to Paradise before the conscience was broken into pieces. But how do we do that in a world so full of depravity and laws that confuse more than they can assist us in living a simple and happy life? Is the believer required to follow all laws of God and all human laws? We cannot even agree which ones are God’s lawful laws and which are lawful human laws, as well! Religion and politics have made the conscience a ping pong ball being hit back and forth, pinging and ponging incessantly on any single day. And we all play along in the noisy exchanges of right vs. wrong, right vs. right and wrong vs. wrong. It is all insane!
What about human laws?
Hence, in answering the question — “Do we sin against human or human-made laws? Do we disobey God when we violate human laws?” Or do we merely violate our own conscience and that “for us” that is a sin against ourselves? We might feel the guilt as well; but I believe we sin against our own conscience but not necessarily directly against God. Paying taxes is giving tribute to human rulers, not worshipping God. (Loving God is the basis of life and salvation, the light of truth. Loving humans merely follows from that.) When we fail to pay taxes, we are guilty of violating a human law, not a divine law. We can be jailed for it and having paid for it, we regain our innocence. But would God punish us for violating human laws that are not the same as God’s laws? Is a person who refuses to submit to a military draft a sinner? If it is against a person’s conscience to kill a human being, he would be sinning against the conscience if he goes to war. Is not the government guilty instead of trying to force him to violate his conscience?
But it is a different thing when we violate the law of God. To kill a person is against the law of God “to love our neighbor”. By killing another, a person destroys his conscience not merely because he violated his own conscience but also the Spirit of God through the law that was planted in his mind and spirit. Likewise, a person becomes guilty if he or she violates the gospel of God because by not believing that Jesus is the Son of God, he or she has rejected the grace of God Who gave Jesus as the savior who can cleanse our sins. We have a conscience-problem based on our rejection of God; and He is giving us a cure. If we reject the cure (faith), we remain in sin and in death. He will not pardon our sin, cleanse our guilt or raise us to eternal life – whether now or later.
So, to the issue whether people, who have religious qualms, inhibitions or prohibitions, are sinning or guilty of sinning or not, that is their own problem. If their conscience allows them or prohibits them, let them be accordingly. It is their conscience that will judge them. And if they do sin against God and His Spirit in spite of our efforts to correct them, then we should let them be. God is their Judge. If He pardons them, what of it? If He condemns them, what can we do? We can only try to teach them the essential truth from God.
God’s laws are absolute, human laws are not
There are sins against our conscience; there are sins against our bodies. How God deals with us when we commit these sins is His concern, not ours. Our task is to know what God’s law is and what human law is, and live accordingly. There will always be a human law to try to place order in our lives – which simply means enforcing the right upon those who do wrong; because the righteous will always do right. To follow the law is every person’s choice. If we apply our conscience well, order arises. But let the ruler not presume to be better or higher than God by thinking that human laws are absolute. Only God’s laws are absolute. Only God, through His Spirit can convict us of sin that could lead to eternal punishment. Human laws merely reflect the higher order of God but will not carry or impose the same standard of measure or judgment for that would be equating human laws with God’s laws. That is why Paul often said, “I speak for myself, not for the Lord.” We need to know our limits when it comes to judging others by our own conscience. Better still, let each person’s conscience judge him or her. We will experience more freedom and tolerance if we do.
If you believe you sin against your conscience or against your body, do something about it. The Holy Spirit is given to teach you, correct you and rebuke you. A person who carelessly disobeys traffic rules or dietary rules or financial rules may not live a safe or happy life. There is no physical or personal security and real contentment in that kind of life. When he or she dies but has the promise of salvation by virtue of faith in Christ, he or she will be saved. But the person who does not have Christ and His Spirit in His or her life is already dead. While the conscience still works to guide that person with respect to human laws, the law of God has already judged that person as guilty of unbelief. Unless, he or she turns to God and believes in Jesus Christ.
Unbelief rejects conscience totally
Unbelief is a queer thing indeed. It does not seem to require much help from the conscience, as seen from the behavior of people who reject the gospel. For oftentimes, people who turn to the Lord are those who experience a world-turning experience to make them see how their sense of guilt (or conscience) has failed them; that is why God “spanks” them. Still, many do believe merely upon a plain teaching of the gospel. Knowledge per se does not involve the conscience and, therefore, may not lead to conversion or the deeper act of transformation. On the other hand, some people go to the other extreme and play the guilt-trip game, using conscience as a tool to enslave people – body, mind, soul and spirit.
The religious-conscience game
Religions love to play with people’s lives through the Conscience Game: making them guilty of this and that sin through various invented or borrowed traditions and rules. Here is how it basically works: From ancient pagan practices, many religions have developed systems of worshipping idols and even God which have been passed down through countless generations and some of which remain today and made to appear as the “acceptable sacrifice” God requires.
But as we have discussed, God never required Adam and Eve anything except to enjoy the Garden and mind that one single command having to do with the conscience. Hey, how good is that? He gave them everything we could ever think of – the whole Earth, for that matter, and life, marriage, work, food, dominion, etc. What is one fruit compared to all those? Under such an arrangement, everything is allowable but not everything is expedient. They had freedom; but they also had responsibilities.
Where was worship and faith in all these? Walking in the Garden with humans was God’s idea of worship – fellowshipping with humans. We merely imagine as we sing the song “My God and I walk in the fields together. . .”; but our first parents actually did it. Their worship and faith were manifested in their “walking” with God even when He was not around. The conscience was their assurance of that pure relationship.
So it is in the Old and New Testament. Paul would say that all things are allowed but not all things are expedient or beneficial. He gave up his own conscience in favor of his weak brother. “Why should I conscience myself if I see my brother who has a weak conscience and needs my support.” He actually did things he believed to be unnecessary (religious practices and qualms) to lead along a weaker believer. In fact, he said causing believers to sin by “wounding their weak conscience” is sinning against Christ. (I Cor. 8:8-13) He was talking about eating food offered to idols – remember what we said about food?
But that was during a time when the kingdom of God was in transition and the basic tenets of the faith were being established for the future generations to appropriate in its perfected form. And Paul also foretold of that time when all the things people (Jews) did in the ekklesia (the called-out) would give way to the perfect way of love (in the kingdom). Hence, all the requirements of bodily or external worship no longer have any effect on the life and conscience of a genuine believer. If we believe and are being perfected in the Holy Spirit, we have our individual responsibility to unburden ourselves of things that profit us nothing, things that merely burden the conscience while not setting us completely free to serve God as we should.
Thus, Paul would eventually proclaim that “the kingdom of God is not food and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit”. (Romans 14:16-17) This, is the ultimate proof that we have been absolutely freed from the curse in the Garden of Eden! And this should serve as a lesson to those who continue to use religion as a trap to keep people playing the Conscience Game.
The only law for the conscience
The only rule now is this: Love God and Love your neighbor. (I Tim. 1:5) Failing to do these two laws puts us in the danger of eternal punishment. Failing to attend mass or service, failing to say the prescribed prayers, voting for a corrupt politician, not getting married before a priest, not giving tithes or alms, not singing the national anthem, etc. do not matter in the end because they are human inventions and will all expire with our bodies and with this world. In fact, such concerns have led to so much confusion in society and even to the corruption of many lives. We need to be completely sanctified (separated from the world) by the Holy Spirit. For it is the spirit that needs our full attention. The body is corrupted and will decay in the grave. The spirit, however, can be perfected by the power of Christ through the indwelling Holy Spirit.
Two things alone matter, beloved people; no, only one: Love God by following Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life! (If you say you love Him but do not love others, you lie.) Love God in Jesus Christ and your conscience will serve you well. As for the rest of the “do’s” or “don’t’s”? That is your choice! You can decide to have a religiously/scientifically/legally/culturally-burdened conscience or an absolutely-free conscience. The choice is clear as to how we can be happy and fully in the service of God according to our talents. But listen attentively to your conscience with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. He will never fail you, no matter what happens.
Do be careful! You could be neglecting your conscience and wasting your life away.