Do you always obey your conscience? Do you sometimes ignore that inner voice that helps you choose the right thing to do?
Perhaps you’ve wished your conscience would just be quiet so you could have a “little fun.” Perhaps its nagging keeps you awake at night.
Don’t End Up Lost Without a Conscience
I haven’t always obeyed my conscience. There have been times when I tried to silence it.
I don’t recommend this.
You’ve heard of people losing their way in the woods, or on the ocean. No compass. No GPS. No familiar landmarks. They lose their sense of direction. Sometimes they travel in circles. Sometimes they travel deeper into trouble. Hunger and cold take their toll.
Some go to sleep and never wake up.
Your conscience is a God-given GPS to help you navigate through life. A healthy conscience is a reliable guide in choosing right behavior. When you shut it down, your life begins to veer off track, until you lose your way.
If you silence your conscience too much, you can end up spiritually hungry and cold. You can be lost and not know it.
That’s the worst kind of lost.
It’s a dangerous position to be in.
Should You Obey Your Conscience at All Costs?
People who stand on principle are seldom popular with the masses. They’re in the minority, and it takes time for the majority to come around.
Often, the majority doesn’t come around soon enough. Many conscientious objectors to the status quo die as martyrs for their cause. Others, who take up the torch and stand on their shoulders, will live to see the world their forbearers dreamed of.
The popular culture often paints people who stand by their conscience as prudish or backward–particularly if their stance isn’t popular. But the backlash isn’t what it used to be.
A few hundred years ago–if they were lucky–people who took a moral stand were only painted with tar and dressed with feathers. Many others were burned at the stake, hung, or killed by more grisly means.
Standing by our conscience sometimes comes at a cost. That cost sometimes influences us to step back and let someone else pay the price. If we’ve allowed our conscience to become weak by ignoring it in areas of our life where it seems like the stakes are small, we’ll likely cave in when the stakes are high.
Some judge God as harsh for tossing Adam and Eve out of Eden for eating the forbidden fruit. The stakes seemed small from the serpents perspective–he argued they had much to gain.
Doubting God, self-doubt and fear can undermine our conscience. Like Adam and Eve, we may veer a little to the left or right the direction God has pointed us. The consequences seem small in the beginning, but a one degree off the mark at the beginning of your journey can put you miles off the mark further down the road.
Look where we are now.
“There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.”
― Martin Luther King Jr., A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches
Was MLK right? Is it worth it to obey your conscience? Should we obey our conscience at all costs?
The Risks of Disobeying Your Conscience
The cost of obeying your conscience needs to be weighed against the long-term consequences.
Many Christians and other people of faith see their eternal destiny at stake. While that’s a self-centered point of view, that perspective at least causes us to pause and think about the present consequences of our action, or inaction.
Those without any faith in a life beyond the grave only have their present life and their legacy to weigh in the balance of risks versus benefits.
Whether you are a person of faith or not, science has recognized at least 4 personal down sides to not to obeying our conscience that we can all weigh in the balance:
1. Early death. The risk of a shortened life from not obeying ones conscience was 3 times greater than the risk of death from a low socio-economic status.
2. More disease. The risk of disease includes greater risk for diabetes, strokes, ulcers and Alzheimer’s.
3. Higher stress levels. By neglecting their conscience, people lose the ability to cope with life.
4. Marital problems. The effects on marriage included higher divorce rates, and a negative effect on the health of one’s spouse.
I take these risks to our happiness and health as evidence that God designed us to obey our conscience. But is the only purpose of this design to have personal benefits?
Obeying Your Conscience to Thrive
Obeying a healthy conscience is part of a building a thriving life that strengthens your faith, creates stronger bonds with people you love, and improves your productivity at work.
While there is that risk that you could be mistaken, and take the wrong stand, the Bible and the Holy Spirit provide guard rails and warning signs to guide our conscience. The Word and the Spirit work to keep is out of the ditches on either side of the road, and keep our moral GPS calibrated to true north.
In the Bible we also learn that a thriving life isn’t only about serving our own needs. A thriving life is also about looking out for the needs and interests of others.
Obeying our conscience is also about the legacy we will leave behind.
Perhaps it’s counter-intuitive, but to truly thrive we need to be willing to die for those we love.
Jesus Christ put His eternal destiny on the line for the sake of humanity. His selfless, self-sacrificing love is His legacy. I’d like such a legacy to be my ultimate motive for choosing what’s right.
The direction of human history has often changed on the shoulders of men and women who chose to obey their conscience for the greater good, and at the selfless sacrifice of their own lives.
The greatest heroes of conscience are those who dream of a better life for those who come after them.
“We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters.” 1 John 3:16 NLT
How strong of a role does your conscience play in your faith, relationships or work? Is it helping you thrive? Please comment below.
Bogg T. and Roberts BW. The Case for Conscientiousness: Evidence and Implications for a Personality Trait Marker of Health and Longevity. Ann Behav Med. 2013 June ; 45(3): 278–288. doi:10.1007/s12160-012-9454-6.
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2007, 2013 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.