Fighting the Conscience Fight
In Jeremiah 13:23, God asks the question “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard its spots?” God follows with His own answer saying, “Then may you also do good who are accustomed to do evil.”
Conscience is powerful. It is the deepest part of us and has the most control over our behavior. Conscience is not automatic but is shaped over a period of time. Thus God responds that those who are accustomed to doing evil cannot turn and do good.
Spiritual presence is a powerful thing. When a person first comes to Christ, the glow of the life of God can overwhelm the normal power conscience has over that person. For a season, that person will sense the presence of Christ and respond to it in a way that his behavior is radically different from his previous behavior. Spiritual presence temporarily overrides the power of conscience, but it is only a matter of time.
As the newness of the presence of God dials back a bit, the old pull of conscience returns. Suddenly the new believer finds that it is not so easy to go with the new behaviors. There is a tremendous fight going on inside between the old and the new.
I’ve seen this fight so many times! We seldom talk about it ahead of time and thus we leave new believer vulnerable to confusion, frustration, and a sense of betrayed expectations. The new walk with Christ was supposed to be fun and easy! Where did this hard season come from?
The answer is conscience. It is very stubborn and slow to change. Once the presence of God fades even a little bit, it will be there as a nagging pull to the new believer saying, “What you are doing is not right!” Conscience is shaped by behavior over a period of time—meaning years. There is strong pull in the new believer trying to force him back to the old ways.
Generally, I find that this difficult time hits the hardest in the third month—though it can hit in days or even hours. There is no more powerful voice inside of us. Conscience was designed to keep the person with good behavior from turning away from his right behavior, but in a person who has been accustomed to doing evil, it pulls him back to the evil. Whatever behavior has been dominant over a longer period of time is what will “feel right.”
For a person get “free,” he has to press through this time of confusion. Once it hits, it generally lasts for at least a three month period. Those who respond well, who continue to obey God, can press through it with minimal difficulty. The new behavior soon reshapes the conscience and all is good. Those who allow the confusion to take over will respond to the cries of the old behaviors. With no change in behavior, there is no change in conscience. With no change in conscience, the fight can go on for years … or the fight can be abandoned as the person walks away from God in frustration over his experience.
Even though I have walked with Christ for years, I have been slow to fully obey God in some of my workaholic areas. In those areas, my old man conscience still tries to rise up and dictate my behavior. When I don’t follow what it says, I feel confused and frustrated. It is not just new believers that struggle with a conscience that is not transformed.
Obedience is the key. Simple obedience over a period of time will change our conscience to the point where what it is right is also what “feels right.” Are you doing what is right, or just what feels right?