Depending on where you look the quotation, “Let your conscience be your guide” gets attributed to Marvin Gaye or Jiminy Cricket. Both “stars” from the 1960’s, neither one is a definitive source for developing life skills. Yet many of us believe our conscience does in fact guide us toward a moral and/or Christian life.
I wish it were so!
First let’s define conscience as “an inner feeling or voice viewed as acting as a guide to the rightness or wrongness of one's behavior.” Let’s not presume we always follow this compass of right and wrong. However, just as my dog looks right at me when I call her, then takes off in the other direction, we don’t always go in the direction of good unless it pleases us somehow.
When the Apostle Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthian Church, he suggested a very clear purpose, “When I first came to you, dear brothers and sisters, I didn’t use lofty words and impressive wisdom to tell you God’s secret plan. 2 For I decided that while I was with you I would forget everything except Jesus Christ, the one who was crucified.” (1 Cor. 2:1-2) He revealed the simplicity of the new deal God offered to humanity, salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. Paul didn’t offer a moral code, or another set of necessary sacrifices, but a relationship with God through the power of the Holy Spirit. Paul differentiates the conscience and the Holy Spirit in Romans (9:1) when he suggests they both agree and affirm his understanding of God’s love and grace.
The main thing is faith in the risen Christ.
Wesley understands the conscience as helpful for discovering God’s grace and His invitation to a relationship. It is the “law” imparted in our hearts allowing us to see our need for grace, to see our inability to love God or neighbor without the supernatural activity of the Holy Spirit.
In the last week our country experienced revolutionary change when the Supreme Court ruled same sex marriage the law of the land. Revolutionary because it nullified the teaching and practice of virtually every orthodox Judeo/Christian faith, as well as Islam. Doctrine which spanned millennia, upon which many cultures derived what philosophers call the “social contract.” At its heart, this is a political decision attributed to a change of our nation’s collective conscience.
As an Ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church I am prohibited from performing same-sex ceremonies or allowing their performance in either of our facilities. This hasn’t changed, though one day it might.
As a follower of Christ I long to see people come to saving faith, to discover God’s goodness for themselves. The Scriptures of the New Testament never suggest people must follow a moral code! They paint a beautiful multifaceted picture of God, through the story of Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, interacting almost exclusively with the faithful.
Paul’s words, written for the church in many locations and for all times, point away from the law, away from the conscience, and toward the crucified and risen Christ as our way through this life and into the next.
Neither our collective conscience nor public opinion negates this claim, according to Jesus’ claims, as affirmed in Paul’s and others’ inspired writings, nothing else works.