Letters to My Friend -

Your Good Conscience, Not Some Else's

Things have been tense lately as election day approaches in the U.S. Emotions are running high. People have been pressured and even attacked by their family, church family, and friends in ways that feel invasive and lacking in Christian grace. I find it all rather appalling and overwhelming at times.

I was lying in bed thinking about something I had seen myself and just feeling kind of sad and lost in the maze of unkind assertions, when a portion of a verse came to mind.

"the answer of a good conscience toward God"

And something that I already knew in theory struck me more fully, namely this: that my conscience is meant to answer to God, not another Christian. To God. No one else.

Oh, but that does annoy and even anger some people! They are so adamantly sure that we should be voting and just exactly whom we should be voting into office. The idea that we might have a different conviction from theirs, and that it might be OK with God, is apparently frustrating to them beyond endurance or forebearance. They simply cannot tolerate it. And they say so - one way or another.

But, my words are not for them. I already know that few of them will listen to biblical reasoning, mostly because they haven't given me any obvious and clear scriptural commands to show that we must vote and that we must vote for the candidate of their choice.

I want to talk to those of you who are feeling the pressure, the accusations, the rudeness, the unkindness, even attacks.

Your conscience answers to God, not men. You are not obligated to act based on someone else's conscience - or faith either for that matter.

All of the verses I could find about a good conscience are in the New Testament. There aren't many, so I thought I would share them with you.

Acts 23:1 And Paul, earnestly beholding the council, said, Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.

This was said when Paul was answering the chief captain and the Jewish religious leaders right after his arrest in Jerusalem. Notice that his good conscience was before God, not before men.

1 Timothy 1:5 Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned:

Here Paul was just getting started with his letter to Timothy. The wording indicates that charity comes out of a pure heart and a good conscience and faith unfeigned. I find it interesting that charity is an outflow of these three things. However, this does not speak well for people who cannot show charity to their fellow believers. We might ask if there is a lack of a pure heart or a good conscience or of faith that would lead to this lack of charity.

Regarding the issue of voting, the anger, attempts to manipulate, and even vitriol that comes out of some people indicates that they don't have faith that God is in control. They seem to feel compelled to force us to live by their conscience, not our own. They apparently don't believe God's will can be done if we don't follow their commands. That shows a lack of faith, specifically in Romans 13:1 - Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. If they truly had faith that this is true, they would not feel it necessary to beat other Christians over the head with what their own conscience tells them to do. This is especially true of a subject that has no direct biblical command.

Having said that, though, let us take heed to ourselves that we strive to show charity even when others fail to. We need to seek those three things ourselves - true faith, a good conscience, and a pure heart - in order to do this. Remember that Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, 1 Corinthians 13:4.

Hebrews 13:18 Pray for us: for we trust we have a good conscience, in all things willing to live honestly.

This is from the closing remarks of Hebrews. The writer trusts they have a good conscience and says they are willing to live honestly in all things. If your desire is to live honestly before God and you don't have a clear conscience to vote or to vote for the candidate of someone else's choosing, you need to follow your own conscience before God. When we allow others to dictate to our conscience and manipulate us into agreeing with them to gain their approval, we are being dishonest with ourselves, with them, and with God. You cannot be dishonest and have a good conscience. Please don't allow yourself to be bullied into such a position. [Further reading: Are You Violating Your Conscience?]

1 Peter 3:16-17 Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ. For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing.

In the context I believe this is speaking about the ungodly calling us evildoers. Sadly, we sometimes have this coming from Christians instead. But here's the thing, we can know that their accusations are false if we have a good conscience towards God. If we are striving to follow the Lord's leading and will and keeping our conscience soft towards His Spirit, we can know that we are not doing evil in the sight of God. In the final analysis, that is all that matters.

1 Peter 3:21 The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ:

This verse is clarifying that it is not the water baptism of the putting away of the flesh that saves us, but the baptism of the Spirit of God which results from the answer of a good conscience toward God. This is the verse that first came to my mind that night I was pondering this subject. I just want to repeat, our conscience answers towards God, not other people. It doesn't matter how wise or mature they seem to be in their Christian life, if they are trying to compel us to bow to their conscience instead of answering to God and His word, they are wrong.

In this matter of voting, there is no clear scripture in the New Testament that tells us to vote. As I pointed out before in another place, the church at Rome more than likely had believers who had the right to vote in the Roman Empire. Of all the places that it should show up, it should be somewhere in Romans IF it was something that God thought was our "Christian duty." He didn't mention it, so I cannot believe that it is required for us to be found faithful to the Lord. What God doesn't say in His word is so often just as significant as what He does say.

So, whatever happens in the U.S. (or any country where you, friend, might live) leading up to and in the wake of elections, know this - your conscience answers to God. Don't let yourself be brow beaten, intimidated, manipulated, or in any way made to feel "less than" because you choose not to vote or because you don't vote for the candidate of someone else's choosing.

Keep your eyes on Jesus. Try not to be offended, because, believe me, I know the offences can be very real.

Ephesians 4:31-32 Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.

Yes, sometimes we may need to step away from someone for a season in order to minimize their offences, but don't let's be the ones offending if we can avoid it. Sometimes we are compelled to speak up for the sake of our faith and hope in Christ Jesus, but in every case where these things are coming from fellow believers we need to proceed with these verses in mind.

The good news is that God is still on the throne. It doesn't matter to Him that some of His children doubt His ability to get His will done without our vote or our vote for their "candidate of choice." He isn't limited by the faithlessness of men and women. Don't you forget that.

Romans 14:12 still holds true too: So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God. You will give account to GOD, not that person who is breathing out threatenings and accusations against you today. And the Lord knows what is going on and what should happen - good or bad. (Did you know that sometimes He actually wills things that make us uncomfortable or appear to be bad? True story.) No one is going to stop or start His divine and perfect will in a voting booth. He is not limited by man. He never has been. And He never will be. Don't let someone's hard words fool you into thinking otherwise.

Give us the hope in the thought of thy coming;
Let that sure word be our comfort and stay;
Waiting and hasting thy day of appearing;
Keep us untroubled by doubt or dismay.
Though earth be rent and the heavens be shaken,
Though the great mountains be cast in the sea,
Thou art our help in the hour of affliction;
Hope of the world, where is hope but in thee?

- From While We Are Waiting by Annie Johnson Flint

Because Jesus Loves You, Mary Stephens

background and graphics by Mary Stephens
vintage graphic: unknown source