Scripture is filled with warnings concerning our conscience. Jeremiah spoke about his people having, “forgotten how to blush” (Jer. 8:12). Further, he said that when wickedness was done in Israel, “my people love to have it so” (Jer. 5:31). Paul speaks of those who, “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” and therefore do not pay attention to God’s will (Rom. 1:18). Later, Paul again mentions people who had spent so much time in sin that they were, “past feeling” (Eph. 4:19). Jesus Himself spoke of those whose, “hearts have grown dull, their ears hard of hearing, and their eyes closed” (Matt. 13:15).
All those passages point to one frightening truth: it is possible for people to get to a point where sin no longer pricks our conscience and causes us to feel guilty (hence the term, “seared” — 1 Tim. 4:2). When we become numb to the presence of sin, it becomes impossible to please God (Rom. 8:8). How do people often sear their consciences?
Procrastination — When Felix heard the Gospel, he told Paul, “When I have a more convenient time I will call for you” (Acts 24:25). One would-be disciple told Jesus, “Lord, let me go first and bury my father” (Lk. 9:59). Seems like everybody could come up with an excuse for not obeying God today. The result of hearing and not doing God’s will is self-deception (Jas. 1:22). How can we afford to procrastinate when we have no future time promised us (1 Thess. 5:2)?
Rationalizations — Rationalization is the art of making what we know to be wrong seem right. “Well, I lied, but it was for her own good.” “I know God says it’s wrong, but doesn’t He want me to be happy?” “I know it’s wrong, but I’ll do it and ask forgiveness later on…” Rationalization is one of the fastest and most efficient ways to sear our conscience.
Compromise — Christians are commanded to, “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them” (Eph. 5:11). However, when standing for what is right might make us a little uncomfortable, the temptation is often to compromise what God’s word says for what will seemingly make life a little easier. It’s frightening how fast one compromise: “It won’t hurt if we just sleep in on one Sunday” can become a habit.
Apathy — Many people are seared by spiritual inactivity and lethargy. From the outside, they may appear to be “good” people, but the word of God has no noticeable effect on their growth and development, spiritually speaking. This is a great concern, for God’s word commands us to grow (2 Pet. 3:18), and be transformed (Rom. 12:1-2). Jesus said that those who hear His words and fail to do them are foolishly building their spiritual houses on a foundation of sand (Matt. 7:24-27).
Pride — Another way to sear our conscience is to hold so strongly to our own beliefs and opinions that we cannot be instructed by God’s word. This is exactly what the Pharisees did; they set up traditions and elevated them to the same status as God’s word (Matt. 15:7-9). When their beliefs were challenged by Jesus, they proudly held on to what someone else had taught them. May we always take care to be teachable, not proud and stubborn.
Levity (Laughter) — Many a conscience has been seared while distracted by laughter. The very context that mentions people being past feeling (Eph. 4:18-19) also speaks of “coarse jesting” (Eph. 5:4). Is it possible in our entertainment culture that Christians are, in the words of one author, “amusing themselves to death?” When a child of God begins to laugh at sin, his conscience is often being seared without his knowledge. May God help us to be as sensitive to sin as He is! —JB