by Dr. Larry Poland
One of our readers, Ronald, posted a great question about the biblical basis for the idea that “the spirit is expressed in the conscience.” I liked the topic so much, I decided to put my response here.
Seldom is there a link made in common perception between the work of God the Holy Spirit and human conscience. Yet, there seems to be pretty clear biblical evidence to support this link. Following are some biblical references that make the point.
1. Christ–and, by extension, the Spirit of Christ–is the “light which lights every man.” (John 1:9). Note that the light of Christ lights “every person,” not just the lives of believers. This would fit into the category of what some theologians would call “common grace,” a grace extended to all humanity as opposed to the grace extended to the elect. The fact that every human society ever found has some common moral dimensions–belief in a higher power, a family structure, and an incest taboo–is proof that the light of God’s moral law cannot be extinguished, even in the most debauched societies. German philosopher Immanuel Kant referred to this as “the moral law within” every person.
2. In John 16:8-9, Jesus promised that, after He left the earth, the Holy Spirit would “convict the world (not just believers!) of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment.”
There are other passages, but these two should suffice to build the link. God’s “moral imprint” on human beings is part of every person’s essential humanity. Animals are not born with this and do not have it unless it is conditioned into them. While “conscience” is often referred to in non-divine contexts, what could be the source of that deep, inner conviction of guilt and of “rightness” we feel, if it is not the work of God’s spirit? It is a shame that this inner voice can be effectively silenced by persistent rebellion against it, clever rationalizing of evil behavior, and repeated indulgence to the point that, as the Apostle Paul dubbed it, conscience becomes “seared as with a hot iron” (I Timothy 4:2).