Everyone has one, but not everyone uses it. Some are transformed by it, some ignore it, and some kill it. But everyone has it — a conscience.
What is this thing that everyone knows, some acknowledge, some follow, and some pervert? Jerry White describes the conscience as “that part of every person which, willingly or unwillingly, responds to a universal moral law — in fact, to God’s moral law. It communicates this awareness to the mind, forcing the mind to either obey or ignore the urging of the conscience.”
Even more simply, Puritan pastor Richard Sibbes has said that the conscience is “the soul reflecting upon itself.” That is, the conscience is the mind of an individual contemplating his actions and then making a moral self-evaluation of those actions.
While everyone has a conscience, Scripture also instructs the believer to cultivate and develop his conscience. Consider Paul’s own self-evaluation in Acts 24:16 — “In view of this, I also do my best to maintain always a blameless conscience both before God and before men.”
Not only did Paul have a conscience and not only did he submit to that conscience, but he also worked hard to keep that conscience clear — so that he was unconvicted by guilt from that conscience.
Here is an important step in the process of sanctification of the believer. It is not only wise to learn and know the truth and not only essential to live the truth that is known, but it is critical to also act quickly in clearing a conscience that has been sinned against.
John MacArthur is helpful on this topic:
Procrastination [in confession] allows the guilt feelings to fester. That in turn generates depression, anxiety, and other emotional problems. Guilt feelings may persist long after the offense is forgotten, often spilling over to other areas of our lives. That’s one reason people often feel guilty and are not sure why. Such confused guilt may be a symptom that something is terribly wrong spiritually. Paul may have had that in mind when he wrote, ‘To those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled’ (Tit. 1:15).…
The conscience is an important key to joy and victory in the Christian life. The benefits of a pure conscience comprise some of the greatest blessings of the Christian life.…the apostle Paul frequently appealed to his blameless conscience in the midst of the afflictions and persecutions he suffered (e.g., Acts 23:1; 24:16; 2 Cor. 1:12). Through those trials the knowledge that his heart was unimpeachable supplied him with the strength and confidence to endure. Paul carefully guarded his heart and conscience lest he lose that source of assurance.
So listen to your Scripturally-informed conscience and when you violate that conscience, clear it quickly.