Chapter Seven

A World Without Conscience

If a Christian stepped back two thousand years to Paul's world of the first century, he would find the experience distressing, traumatic, and deeply disturbing. Many Christians have romanticized the thought of stepping back to that world by imagining the excitement of experiencing the feel of the Apostles' world. Such an experience would prove far more terrifying than exciting. One can not imagine what he would hear and see.

Many conditions of that age would deeply distress today's Christian. The slavery he encountered would shock and frighten him. In every major city slaves would outnumber free citizens. More disturbing than their number would be their identity. Indentured slaves included many former shopkeepers, businessmen, and farmers who could not pay their debts. Because bankruptcy did not exist, hard times and indebtedness could make anyone a slave. Among the slaves were the educated, the skilled, and the best trained people of nations other than Rome. They were the spoils of victory after a conquest. Many slaves came from the middle class and the elite of fallen societies.

Equally shocking and terrifying would be the attitude toward human life. An invitation to the circus was an invitation to entertainment unknown in this society. Commonly the entertainment was witnessing people in an arena fighting in a determined effort to kill each other. These death struggles included a battle between two gladiators, an "every man for himself" battle with many contestants, and pitched battles between two forces. Occasionally defenseless people would seek to flee from wild animals. Thousands would gather to cheer as they enjoyed the sport of violent human death.

Due to poverty, exposing infants was a common practice. Baby girls, considered a liability, often were taken outside of town shortly after birth and left to die of exposure. Some people made a livelihood by collecting and caring for abandoned infants until they could be sold as slaves. Human life was cheap.

The acceptance of and nature of sexual immorality would be distressing. Both male and female prostitution was used to worship pagan goddesses by rites of fornication. Such temples maintained women to serve as sacred prostitutes. The temple of Aphrodite in Corinth had one thousand such women.

How does one account for such evil days and horrible conditions? Was it the result of savagery, primitive cultures, or substandard civilization. Was the world composed of ignorant, uneducated, unthinking people? History reveals those were not the reasons. Roman civilization still influences today's world. The great Greek culture was still alive and influential. The Jewish culture of that day directly influences Christianity of today. Writers, historians, artists, and philosophers of that period are still worthy of study.

How did that age become so insensitive and immoral? While no one factor produced those conditions, a major contributing factor was this: they were a world without a conscience.

The Christian's Conscience
In Scripture there is a strong emphasis on the importance of conscience. Sunadasis, the Greek word translated conscience, means, "a knowing of oneself." It is the central self-consciousness of a knowing and acting person. Acknowledging a good and a bad and a right and a wrong, it is the awareness that personal conduct, intentions, and character must be measured by moral goodness.

Everyone has a conscience. While its values and standards are learned, the conscience itself is not acquired. Though it can be destroyed, everyone possesses one.

The responsibility to develop and live by a godly conscience is taught clearly in Scripture. Emphasis on the importance and the role of the conscience includes the following. Christians obey the laws of the land for conscience's sake (Romans 13:5). They accept the responsibility of not injuring the weaker conscience of unlearned Christians (I Corinthians 8:9-13). After learning to forsake false teachings, they learn to love out of a pure heart, a good conscience, and an unfeigned love (I Timothy 1:5). Holding to faith and a good conscience keeps them from shipwrecking the Christian faith (I Timothy 1:18, 19). Hopefilled Christians who cope with severe opposition ultimately win the respect of their revilers by holding to faith and a good conscience (I Peter 3:15, 16).

A Christian's responsibilities regarding the conscience include training it by the teachings and standards of the Word, living by it in all godliness, and respecting the consciences of other Christians. Considering social conditions in the first century, the instruction to educate and to live by one's conscience would have created a distinctively different life which others would not have understood. Today the difficulty and distinctiveness of living by conscience should be no surprise.

A trained conscience is essential to Christian existence. A trained conscience makes many evil, ungodly acts unthinkable. It makes one constantly aware of his responsibility for his own conduct and behavior. It increases one's sensitivity toward others and their lives. A godly, righteous life is impossible without a trained conscience.

Conscience Blesses Society
Citizens with strong, godly consciences are an invaluable asset to any society or nation. The individual is the most effective regulator of human conduct in any society. A massive police force, stringent laws with severe penalties, or incentive rewards will never provide effective control of any society. People feeling the responsibility to control themselves is the most effective means of control in any society. Society benefits everytime a person accepts the moral responsibility to control himself. When many people accept that responsibility, the social benefit is broad based. A society with godly people of devout conscience in the majority reaps specific blessings. Homes are more stable. Children receive greater love and caring. Businesses are concerned about honesty and giving value. Laborers are more conscientious and more concerned about productivity. Crimes against people decline. Respect for law increases. Legislation will consider the best interest of all people.

That citizens of godly conscience are assets to a nation is not speculation. The American society has demonstrated that truth. Citizens who possessed strong consciences once characterized this nation. No longer ago than the 1950's, houses and outbuildings were left unlocked, tools were not locked away, and loaded cars were left unlocked. A missing tool or machine meant a neighbor had borrowed it. Business deals were made and honored with a promise and a handshake.

Earlier years were characterized by greater integrity. Communities would work and harvest a sick neighbor's crop or rebuild the house of a burned out family. Everyone knew each other and honored the unwritten law which declared that neighbors did not abuse neighbors. Strangers were welcomed and helped.

Those were not perfect times. While thieves and the dishonest existed, their conduct was regarded by most as unacceptable. Those without integrity were held in contempt, and their values did not rule the times.

Such conditions are unimaginable in today's society. Who has not had something stolen? How necessary are locks? Who trusts a stranger? Who regards the business world as basically honest? Who believes the American worker is conscientious and hard working? Almost everyone is skeptical, distrustful, and pessimistic about the honesty and integrity of most Americans.

No one would have believed any 1950 prophet who foretold the following would occur in America: (1) abortions would be used for birth control; (2) fornication would be practiced openly by middle and upper class Americans; (3) divorce and remarriage would be easy and commonplace; (4) drugs for pleasure would have popular endorsement; (5) white collar crime would be more costly than criminal theft; (6) homosexuality would be a legal lifestyle; and (7) private homes would need the protection of burglar alarms. Yet, more than this has come to pass.

Why? Is the American of today less educated? Does privation force people to act less civilized? Has cultural awareness and sophistication tumbled? Is it the result of an inferior lifestyle? Absolutely not! Americans on the whole are better educated with a higher standard of living, better developed culturally, more sophisticated, better informed, and have more control over their lifestyle than in any period of this nation's history. Then what has happened? Among the important changes is this one: too many Americans have become people without conscience. Concepts of right and wrong have drastically changed, and a growing number of people are convinced there is no right or wrong.

How do people without consciences affect the American society? Many steal without guilt--office supplies, personal property, tax dollars, and employer's time. Many can abuse others without remorse--cheat them, lie to them, or physically harm them. Spouses can cheat on mates, children can be neglected or abuse, and basic family needs can be ignored without concern. Corruption, bribery, graft, and fraud can exist in public offices and guilty officials be re-elected to their position. The new creed is this: anything is acceptable if it is profitable or pleasurable.

The Conscience Crisis
A reality more terrifying than those social conditions is the fact that too many Christians are becoming people without conscience. The New Testament church is no longer the vanguard of the conscience. There was a time when Christians would not attend any movie. Suitable music for entertainment was honestly discussed. A Christian woman would not publicly wear shorts. Christians would not swim in mixed groups. Christian men would not appear near nude in public. Virtually all Christians regarded dancing as antispiritual. Drinking was regarded inappropriate anywhere at anytime. Today many Christians engage in every one of these activities with no conscience problem.

Admittedly, those issues often were not approached Scripturally nor addressed wisely in those days. There was more concern for conformity than a clear understanding of Bible standards. Condemnations were too often based on personal preferences or prejudices which evaded real moral issues. Yet, most Christians used their conscience with definite standards of conduct to evaluate what they did. Sadly, that cannot be said of many Christians today.

Activities and involvements contrary to Bible standards of holiness and purity trouble the conscience of too few Christians today. It is frightening to see how few object to using sexual lust for entertainment. Little thought is given to what one sees at the movies. Many Christian women sensually display their bodies without concern for the enticement they generate. Lewd lyrics of popular songs are enjoyed without concern for their influence or stimulation. Many Christians give little thought to how they find pleasure. Conscience is seldom an obstacle.

Integrity is sacrificed with equal ease. Too many Christians can lie, cheat, and be dishonest without guilt feelings. Many firmly believe that dishonesty is essential and necessary in the business world. Unethical practices are matter-of-fact realities, not matters of conscience. The Christian without conscience is too common.

What will become of the nation and the world if the Lord's church becomes a church without a conscience? If the American conscience is to be resurrected, Christians must be an unashamed people of conscience. This society does not need a church who believes in Bible theories. God does not need a people who are experts in the theory of Bible principles. God needs knowledgeable children who have the courage and conviction to live by accurately trained consciences.

Christians have witnessed what people living without conscience have done to this nation. Will the same thing be permitted to happen to the Lord's church? The Lord's church will be a church with a conscience only when each individual Christian becomes a godly person of conscience.


  1. In what ways could a person become a slave in the first century?
  2. Illustrate the fact that human life was cheap in the first century.
  3. Discuss conditions concerning sexual morality in the first century.
  4. What factor made a major contribution to creating such evil conditions?
  5. What is a conscience? What does it do?
  6. Use the following passages to discuss the importance of the conscience to a Christian:
    1. Romans 13:5
    2. 1 Corinthians 8:9-13
    3. 1 Timothy 1:5
    4. 1 Timothy 1: 18, 19
    5. 1 Peter 3:15, 16
  7. What are the Christian's basic responsibilities concerning the conscience?
  8. Give some specific ways in which the conscience serves a Christian.
  9. Why are godly consciences an invaluable asset to any society? Discuss the value of godly conscience to society.
  10. From personal memories or family memories, illustrate the benefits of living a community of people who honor the conscience.
  11. Discuss some specific ways in which the absence of conscience has contributed to moral decay in this society.
  12. Illustrate the fact that many Christians are becoming increasingly unconcerned about the conscience.

Thought Questions

  1. How does a Christian develop and mature his conscience?
  2. What is the conscience of a congregation?
  3. What are the benefits of being a part of a congregation who has a godly conscience?
  4. What is the most important lesson in this chapter?
transcribed by Christy Hesslen
Copyright © 1983, David Chadwell
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