Thomas Jefferson, 3rd president of the United States, is quoted as saying, “Our greatest happiness does not depend on the condition of life in which chance has placed us, but is always the result of a good conscience.” President Jefferson was right, of course, so let’s rehearse why that is so.
In a nutshell, conscience could be described as a critical inner awareness that bears witness to the norms and values we recognize and apply in our lives. In a biblical sense a good conscience must be fundamentally based upon a solid knowledge of what is right and what is wrong. That is just another way of saying that we must know God, Who alone decides and proclaims right from wrong – in essence, what is good and what is evil. Then that knowledge, mixed with belief and desire, compels us to act on it. The Apostle Paul wrote, “This being so, I myself always strive to have a conscience without offense toward God and men” (Acts 24:16). Paul continually worked at having a good conscience and he is one of those whom we could point to as a very positive example.
The fact that Paul had a good conscience however, doesn’t mean that he never did anything wrong. The 7th chapter of Romans chronicles the Apostle’s struggle with sin. He was very honest and open about the internal war that was being waged in his mind. His struggle is the same one that all those of a good conscience face today – all who have a keen inner awareness that bears witness to the biblical norms and values which guide us in life. In Hebrews he said, “Pray for us, for we trust we have a good conscience, in all things willing to live honestly” (Hebrews 13:18 KJV). The principle here is that having a good conscience is contingent upon being willing to live honestly with ourselves. That’s why he acknowledged what he did in Romans 7. Paul also practiced the truth that the Apostle John spoke of in 1 John 1. He would have been confessing his sins to God as he worked at overcoming and his sins would have been forgiven. He would have been cleansed from all unrighteousness. A clear and innocent conscience has nothing to fear and will help us to be in a state of mind where there is only happiness to be gained.
Paul warned of those who, having a derelict conscience, fail to see and understand their own carnal human nature. “Now the Spirit expressly says that in the latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron…” (1 Timothy 4:1-2).
We can “let our conscience be our guide” if that conscience is based upon a knowledge of and willingness to apply the laws of God in our lives.
The moral of the story is that a good conscience will keep us in good stead with God and allow us to be bold and happy in the end.