Our Consciences and Our Guilt
“The showers have been withheld, and the spring rain has not come; yet you have the forehead of a whore; you refuse to be ashamed.”- Jeremiah 3:3
Walt Disney stands as one of the most influential storytellers of our time. For nearly a century, the movies and other entertainment produced by Disney and his successors have shaped the moral imagination of children and adults alike. This shaping has not always been positive, for while these films sometimes promote sound virtues, at other times they give moral advice that is not trustworthy. One unsound piece of advice is found on the lips of Jiminy Cricket from the movie Pinocchio. His guidance? “Always let your conscience be your guide.”
That instruction assumes that our consciences are infallible, that our inner sense of right and wrong will always direct us toward virtuous acts and feelings. As we have seen, God has given all of us a conscience on which is found the basic elements of His moral law and that responds by accusing us when we have not done what is right (Rom. 2). However, because we are fallen, our consciences do not always work the way they should. In our sin, we can ignore the voice of conscience and we can even suppress the truth of God to such an extent that our consciences become seared and insensitive to His holy standards. We see this in today’s passage, wherein the prophet Jeremiah complains that the people of ancient Judah “have the forehead of a whore” (Jer. 3:3). The idea is that the people have become so hardened in their sin that they do not try to hide it anymore. They lack the ability to blush; like a prostitute, they feel no shame over their sin, or at least they are able to push past the shame and continue to engage in wanton sin.
The voice of conscience can be quite helpful in directing us in what is right and what is wrong, but that is true only insofar as our consciences are shaped and formed by the law of God. A conscience that is not formed by Scripture makes us susceptible to manipulation by others who create extrabiblical standards of morality and then try to heap guilt on us when we do not meet requirements that have no divine authorization. Opening ourselves up to manipulation is a bad thing indeed, but it pales in comparison to the more significant problem with having a conscience not shaped by Scripture, namely, that such a conscience will more readily fail to recognize what is true and good and will less quickly prompt us to repentance. We must know God’s objective law in order to be able to discern whether our subjective feelings match the state of our objective guilt.
The Holy Spirit works through our reading, studying, and hearing God’s Word in order to awaken us to our guilt. He particularly works through our study of the law of God to convict us of sin and to point us to the only remedy, Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:15–29). One of the best ways we can ensure that our consciences are formed according to the Word of God is to study and delight in the law of God.
Passages for Further Study