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Tuesday, July 10, 2012 | Comments (15)

by John MacArthur

In 1984, an Avianca Airlines jet crashed in Spain. Investigators studying the accident made an eerie discovery. The “black box” cockpit recorders revealed that several minutes before impact a shrill, computer synthesized voice from the plane’s automatic warning system told the crew repeatedly in English, “Pull up! Pull up!”

The pilot, evidently thinking the system was malfunctioning, snapped, “Shut up, Gringo!” and switched the system off. Minutes later the plane plowed into the side of a mountain. Everyone on board died.

When I saw that tragic story on the news shortly after it happened, it struck me as a perfect parable of the way modern people treat the warning messages of their consciences. The wisdom of our age says guilt feelings are nearly always erroneous or hurtful; therefore we should switch them off.

But that kind of thinking betrays a deep misunderstanding of what the conscience is and how it works. Your conscience isn’t the voice of God or the law of God. It’s not an external force of any kind.

As the Puritan Richard Sibbes wrote, the conscience is "the soul reflecting upon itself."1 Richard Sibbes, Commentary on 2 Corinthians Chapter 1, in Alexander B. Grosart, ed., Works of Richard Sibbes, 7 vols. (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1981 reprint), 3:208. Put another way, it is the human faculty that judges our actions and thoughts by the light of the highest standard we perceive. Like any warning system, it needs to be programmed—it needs to be taught and trained to discern right from wrong before it can be fully effective.

That’s why a Mormon’s conscience binds him to the ceremonies and rituals of the Mormon faith. It’s why a Catholic’s conscience binds him to the pope, the saints, and the sacraments of the Catholic Church. Your standard for morality—whatever it is—will shape, guide, and direct your conscience.

Therefore, it’s absolutely crucial to establish the Lord’s holy standard for purity and godliness in your own heart. Anything less will lead you to have a weak, shallow conscience that regularly permits you to fall short of God’s commands.

Or worse—it could lead you to sin. If you subscribe to the world’s no-shame, man-centered standard, your conscience can actually encourage you to sin. It can become so perverted and twisted that it makes you think you ought to be lying, cheating, and gossiping. It might even make you believe, as many people do today, that there is something wrong with you if you’re not regularly getting drunk, defrauding people, and having sex outside of marriage.

The fastest way to turn yourself over to the corruption of the world is to adopt its faulty, post-modern standard of morality and pervert your own conscience.

Instead you need to guard your conscience and protect it from the pollution of the world. You need to feed it regularly on the rich truth of God’s Word, establishing His perfect law as the standard for your life. You do that through faithful personal Bible study, consistent intake of quality teaching and exhortation from Scripture, godly accountability and persistent self-examination.

The Lord gave you a conscience to help protect and defend you spiritually. But you’ve got to protect and defend your conscience if it’s going to do you any good.


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#1  Posted by Rudi Jensen  |  Tuesday, July 10, 2012 at 4:39 AM

This is the first time I see a topic without a single Bible-verse. That should make it suspect :-)

What a challenge God gave us. Saved by grace alone, by Christ alone, and then grow up to live holy and perfect as Christ.

On the one hand being weak in the flesh, and strong in the Spirit.

On the one hand to feel like a hypocrite before a holy God, and on the other hand long for glorifying God in the body.

Yes, Jesus fulfilled the demands and payed the price, but we must still deal with our wicked heart.

#2  Posted by Grendalyn Nevarez  |  Tuesday, July 10, 2012 at 6:55 AM

It has been very hard for me to understand why is it that, in my case my mother who is a catholic, being confronted with the truth of God on many theological and doctrinal errors of the catholic faith, seems to understand but however can't come to grips with parting with the false system she's in. It is her conscience, trained in the catholic ways from a very early age, its just as Dr. MacArthur says, it binds them to the system.

#3  Posted by Darlene Robertson  |  Tuesday, July 10, 2012 at 7:55 AM

Although, a single Bible-verse was not given I am reminded of Psalm 19:7-9, especially verse 7 His perfect law which states " The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul; The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;

The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether." What better way to train your conscience. I am also reminded of Romans 12:2 "And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind..."

#4  Posted by Drew Pitchford  |  Tuesday, July 10, 2012 at 10:36 AM

@ Rudi,

Dr. MacArthur goes into much more detail in his book The Vanishing Conscience. There is plenty of biblical support for what is said here. This is like a synopsis of a very broad and important topic.

#5  Posted by Rudi Jensen  |  Tuesday, July 10, 2012 at 10:55 AM

Thanks Drew Pitchford, I'm studying Gods holiness right now.

It must be the ultimate price, Gods glory revealed.

#6  Posted by Jean Selden  |  Tuesday, July 10, 2012 at 12:34 PM


If anyone is suspect of anything that you print, I would suggest that they examine what was printed, then make a statement challenging it if it doesn't line up with God's Word.

This blog was absolutely eye and heart opening to me. I have often been told by professing believers that unless they are convicted of wrongdoing, even though forbidden in scripture, then it is okay for them to do. It was mostly in cases of drinking, immoral movie and tv watching and gambling. I now understand why they are unable to come to a full knowledge of the truth. Their consciences are dull and need to be sharpened and that is something that we all need to constantly pursue.

Thank you again. My whole family is consistentlynfed and challenged by your gift of wisdom and your devotion to our Creator.

Abundant blessings to you all at GTY .

Jean Selden

#7  Posted by Rudi Jensen  |  Tuesday, July 10, 2012 at 12:34 PM

#2 Grendalyn

I really feel with you and pray for you.

False religions is an abomination and a blasphemy against God. Therefore we must destroy every argument against Christ.

The problem is that the sinners takes his excuses to the extreme where relations can break, as the Bible says. It happened to me many times. But we must confess Christ as Lord. Do it gently but persistent, making it clear what is on stake.

We cry out for mercy for our loved ones.

#8  Posted by Darren Boehm  |  Tuesday, July 10, 2012 at 7:58 PM

thankyou for your wisdom John Your ministry has greatly blessed my life

#9  Posted by Grendalyn Nevarez  |  Wednesday, July 11, 2012 at 9:49 AM

@Rudi Jenson

Thank you. God bless.

#10  Posted by Brandon Coulter  |  Wednesday, July 11, 2012 at 10:56 AM

I have a question regarding a sensitive conscience. Can the conscience be too sensitive and convince the believer that there is sin when there is not? Leads to consistent guilt, shame, and despair? Where does this come from?


#11  Posted by Jeremiah Johnson (GTY Admin)  |  Wednesday, July 11, 2012 at 11:11 AM

Hi Brandon,

Great question. John's going to tackle that exact issue in an upcoming post. Look for it early next week.

In the meantime, the short answer is yes, a conscience can be too sensitive. That's the very issue Paul was addressing in 1 Corinthians regarding the meat sacrificed to idols. While Paul and the mature Corinthian believers knew simply eating was not a sin, he encouraged them to abstain for the sake of their weaker brothers' consciences.

A sensitive or weak conscience is the product of spiritual immaturity, and if it's not carefully trained (as John says above) it can lead to legalism. John will have much more to say about that next week.

#12  Posted by Isaiah Stillman  |  Wednesday, July 11, 2012 at 11:29 AM

So very , very convicting !

#13  Posted by Brandon Coulter  |  Wednesday, July 11, 2012 at 12:28 PM


Thanks for the response! Look forward to reading that post! I also wonder where the "accuser of the brethren" would come into play? Seems like he may use our conscience as well?

#15  Posted by Simbarashe Mugomezi  |  Thursday, July 12, 2012 at 10:26 AM

wow this is amazing i think John alluded to this amazing truth before about the conscience in one of his teachings and use that very story as well. I am grateful that God has brought some great men into my path for example John Mac definitely! always leading us to our knees because we our absolutely in need of our Saviour to wash our corrupt minds and conscience so that we can be useful for service. hey and lead other's to the truth!!!

thank you John keep doing what you are doing!!

God bless

Simbarashe Mugomezi

#16  Posted by Kathy Demming  |  Sunday, July 15, 2012 at 6:51 PM

I want to thank you Pastor John for your teaching and now blogging on this important issue. It has been a helpful tool not only in a life that was backslidden, graciously The Lord put a hungry heart for the truth and by many of your other sermons on this it helps me immensly to strengthen and equip my own conscience, but also help other believers when they don't even know their conscience needs to be trained and we need to discern how we react to our conscience. Know that your resources are being widely used over here in Penna. for all age groups who are hungry for the truth, and in our biblical church we use many of your resources. THANK YOU, may God continue to Bless His truth.