100 Our Conscience and the Holy Spirit
Updated: Mar 26
Have you ever been confused by the idea that if the Holy Spirit is guiding our conscience why do we at times arrive a very different opinions as to what is the right thing to do? It appears that someone is not really listening to the Holy Spirit. Then comes the enlightening idea that perhaps the conscience cannot be equated with the Holy Spirit. So what is the role of the Holy Spirit? Come and join us as we discover the role of the Holy Spirit is the same as that of Jesus, which was to bring joy and abundant life. So the idea that the Holy Spirit makes us feel guilty for the things we do is not correct. Discover where those feelings of guilt and shame actually come from and that the Spirit is intent on bring the fruits of the Spirit into our lives. Amazing!
The Holy Spirit and the Conscience
For too long in my life I thought the condemnation I felt came from the Holy Spirit. I am not sure if I came to this wrong understanding on my own or if I was taught it. I was also puzzled why my maternal cousins who were all Christians had a different conscience to mine. My paternal cousins were agnostic but they had consciences too. If they were ambivalent about God, why did they have a conscience if conscience was the work of the Holy Spirit?
Why did God ask Adam, “Who told you, that you were naked?” if the Spirit had done so? (Genesis 3:11).
Consider the evidence from Jesus about the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
John 14:26 NLT But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.
The Holy Spirit continues the ministry of Jesus. Whatever we say about the Spirit needs to be congruent with Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. “My representative,” means as my ambassador. He will do as I did. We are a team working towards the same ends. Jesus very seldom condemned actions in people and when he did there were tears in his eyes (Matthew 23:37-39). Jesus was in the salvation business not the judging or condemning business (John 3:17; 12:47).
Here is the passage that leads many to think that the Holy Spirit is our conscience.
John 16:5-9 NLT “But now I am going away to the one who sent me, and not one of you is asking where I am going. 6 Instead, you grieve because of what I’ve told you. 7 But in fact, it is best for you that I go away, because if I don’t, the Advocate (Comforter) won’t come. If I do go away, then I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will convict the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment. 9 The world’s sin is that it refuses to believe in me.
First, we explore the meaning of some terms alluded to in this passage and associated with the conscience.
Conviction: This term has many synonyms: show, convince, make aware, prove that they are wrong, expose, reveal. It means to powerfully convince a person. It is more than a cognitive or logical persuasion since strong emotion is experienced when one is convicted.
Refusing to believe in Jesus manifests in diverse ways: Atheism, Agnosticism, Moral Arrogance, Rebellion against Jesus, Betrayal or Denial of Jesus, Apathy towards Jesus as a saviour. The devils were eyewitnesses of Jesus’ incarnation but never turned to him for salvation from rebellion. They refused to believe in him as saviour. Humanists find meaning in acts of service, living morally and generously but this does not mean they are believing in Jesus as their Saviour. Christians can be humanists and think this is what saves them or connects them to Jesus.
Sense of Integrity:
All people have a conscience unless they are psychopaths. The conscience is the result of having a sense of integrity. A sense of integrity means knowing there is a right way and a wrong way of thinking, feeling,and behaving. This ability is part of being made in the image of God. Children are good at challenging parents over inconsistencies because they have this sense. This sense of integrity does not indicate what is right and what is wrong. What is right and wrong depends on your moral development and this is what we mean by the conscience.
The conscience is developed under the guidance of parents, relatives, church, significant people, education, and culture. It differs from culture to culture, family to family, church to church. Adventists have a detailed conscience with at least health, diet, Sabbath behaviour, recreation. Some cult members border on neurosis with their overburdened consciences. I am not suggesting Adventism is a cult. Imagine drinking Jim Jones’ laced cool aid because your conscience approves this kind of submission to “god.”
Condemnation arises from the devil (accuser of the brothers), people who judge or condemn us, and our sense of integrity. When we violate our conscience our sense of integrity warns we are in moral danger. These warnings are what we refer to as guilt. Guilt may be genuine, false, or neurotic guilt.
Genuine or True guilt:
Genuine guilt Is dealt with as follows. Identify and confront the wrongdoing(confession); Make restitution; Purpose to change your ways. A good example is the dialogue between Jesus and Peter about his denial of Jesus. Peter needed this therapy to deal with his guilt and restore him as an apostle.
False guilt is the result of a misinformed conscience. Some examples from my life are collecting mail on Sabbath was sinful; Attending movies was a mortal sin. I once visited a dying 90-year-old who knew it was a sin to end her prayer without Amen. Truth usually eliminates false guilt. False guilt can be lethal. The first America Adventist missionaries to non-Christians went to Solusi mission, in now Zimbabwe. They were soon all buried in the cemetery there because they would not take quinine as a prophylactic or as a treatment for malaria. Their reason was that EGW said not to take drugs and they classified quinine as a drug. I am sure they were sincere but they died anyway. Their South Africa guide took quinine after the missionaries went to bed at night. He became a missionary and lived a long life.
Neurotic guilt is guilt that no forgiveness can be found for. Shakespeare’s Lady McBeth compulsively washing hands; Believing you caused the accident which killed the driver. Often those with neurotic guilt will try mind numbing chemicals, hypnosis, and self-pity. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an example of neurotic guilt. Neurotic guilt usually requires professional assistance. Our temperament and situation can intensify guilt and shame. Some people are more sensitive than others and their consciences are more tender.
There is also the matter of shame. Shame feels similar to guilt but the origin is with advertising, and significant people who condemn us for who we are, not what we have done.
What shall we say about the HS’s involvement in these matters?
Where is the Holy Spirit when a Religious Committee recommends someone incompetent or someone living a lie for a position? Committees religiously pray about their deliberations.
Jesus did not work with politics, health practices, or diet. Why would the HS be involved in these matters when God gave us brains and each other to figure out justice, mercy, humility, and health?
Jesus brought us out of condemnation to freedom and joy (John 15:11). His first miracle was to brought joy to the wedding feast (John 2). John also places the temple cleansing in chapter 2. Maybe he does this because cleansing the temple brought joy to the devout and also the Gentiles who wished to worship and symbolized the cleaning of the soul temple which results in joy. The Holy Spieit is to continue this work of convincing us of the love of God for each one of us personally. The Spirit ministers abundant life to us as Jesus did (John 10:10).
Here is what the Spirit is cultivating in us: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). Clearly the Spirit is not cultivating condemnation in us. The Holy Spirit, like Jesus, inspires us to a nobler life through inspiration, and never condemnation.
This following passage in Corinthians is normative for the Spirit’s operation:
Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous, boastful, or proud 5 or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. 6 It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. 7 Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance (13:4-7 NLT).
1. The Holy Spirit desires to assist us negotiate the paradigm shifts we need to make: Racism, Sexism, Spiritual Arrogance, and Homophobia. This is to call us beyond our consciences. The Spirit led Peter via a dream to visit Cornelius, a Gentile. There he witnessed Gentiles speaking in tongues and praising God. This was a cataclysmic change in thinking for Peter the Jew: His Christian conscience told him no one could receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit before they had been baptized by water! (Acts 10:44-48).The Holy Spirit had to override Peter’s conscience. His Jewish conscience did not allow him to visit a Gentile. His Jewish conscience did not allow Gentiles to be baptised with the Holy Spirit. This was a miraculous experience for Peter and it enlightened his conscience.
2. We cannot equate our conscience with the Holy Spirit because otherwise we could never be called beyond our conscience as Peter was.
3. Our conscience is not perfect. The Holy Spirit is morally perfect. We cannot equate the two without bringing dishonour to the Spirit.
4. If we equate our conscience with the Holy Spirit then we have elevated a part of ourselves to the level of God.
5. The Holy Spirit has more imagination than our conscience. We cannot limit the Spirit to what we can imagine and approve with our conscience.
The Holy Spirit is not going to tell me if I should buy a Honda, a Toyota, or a TESLA! I have brains and I have you to help make that decision. The Holy Spirit has bigger fish to fry in my life. The Spirit can help you find your lost keys, but the Spirit is more about assisting you giving the keys of heaven to others!
When the Spirit shows up in your life you are blessed beyond measure with the presence of Jesus and his Father. Rejoice and be exceeding glad. This is the source of love, joy, and peace in your life.
Ian Hartley, February 2022