Knowing Our Conscience (Part 1 of 2)

Few days ago I was having a fellowship with my Christian companions. We got into this matter of "having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience" (Hebrews 10:22). One of them brought up the etymology of the word, "conscience". So I decided to do some homework on it.

The Etymology of Conscience

The Latin word for "conscience" is conscientia. The preposition com-/con- means "with" or "thoroughly," meanwhile scientia means "knowledge" or "knowledge acquired by a study." So literally, the word "conscience" means "with knowledge."

Cultures Influence the Function of Our Conscience

Vincent Van Gogh once said, "Conscience is a man's compass." Yet it just dawned on me this morning how our conscience is daily bombarded with all kinds of education, all kinds of knowledge existing out there in the world.

For so long, I've learned that conscience is the leading part of our innermost being, our spirit (Romans 9:1 with cross-reference: Romans 8:16). I also have learned that if we do not hold a good conscience, we would become shipwrecked regarding the faith (1 Timothy 1:19). However, I was always puzzled by the phrase "evil conscience" from Hebrews 10:22. I thought conscience itself should be of God, should have an innate knowledge of God. There is neither good nor evil, everyone's conscience should be already functioning according to God's standard.

On one hand, it's true. When we were regenerated with the life of God, the Holy Spirit came into us to vivify and indwell our spirit, of which the conscience is the leading part. On the other hand, we cannot deny the fact that our culture has majorly molded the function of our conscience. This is very real in our daily life.

Yes, I'm talking about our own, cherished cultures. I am of Asian descent. Showing honor to our elders is a big deal in our culture. I love eating rice. Using chopsticks to eat brings my dining experience to another level of enjoyment. I can go on and on. However, that is just a proof that everyone has different standards or, I should say, different feelings within their conscience concerning things.

Let's take it to the extreme. What is wrong with cannibals? Don't they have some conscience? Why don't they have feelings? The answer is they are missing the "with knowledge" part in their conscience because cannibalism is deeply embedded in their culture.

Well, in the case of cannibalism, we can easily call it an "evil conscience." Yet the truth is there's only one kind of conscience that is good and pure - the conscience filled with the knowledge of of the glory of Jehovah (Habakkuk 2:14).

(Click Knowing Our Conscience Part 2 to continue)


  1. That is so interesting that our culture shapes our conscience. I want my conscience to be filled with the knowledge of the glory of Jehovah!!

  2. Yes, it's interesting, isn't it? A lot of people don't know this simple secret. That is why many times our conscience do not match God's standard, His feelings, shown in the Holy Bible.

    But the awesome part is that as we enjoy reading and digesting the Word of God, we don't have to try to match God, the divine element embodied in the Word will spontaneously become ours. We become what we eat. :)

  3. We touched how culture effects our conscience in my sociology class! However, I appreciate your angle much more. :)

    1. Thanks, Vania. I hope you get to read the second part of this sequence as well - that we can educate our conscience.


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