Meditations in 1 Peter : 44 : A Clear Conscience
1 Pet 3:16,17 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.
Conscience is a strange thing. It is that capacity that we humans have to feel guilty, to have this nagging in the back of our mind that something we have done or are about to do is wrong. It is all about right and wrong. The apostle Paul once said, “I speak the truth in Christ–I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit,” (Rom 9:10) which is interesting because it implies that for the Christian, the Holy Spirit is an additional aid to our conscience and He also works in the same way to check us. Elsewhere Paul declared, “I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man,” (Acts 24:16) which suggests that our points of failure can be in respect of the Lord and of people. The non-Christian tends to be aware of conscience in respect of other people but not in respect of God. The Christian’s first port of call in respect of conscience is God.
Paul’s whole discussion in 1 Corinthians, about eating meat sacrificed to idols, indicates that different people can have different levels of conscience awareness. For some eating meat given to idols wasn’t a problem, but to others it was something that really worried them, so not all issues are as clear cut as we might like.
“Keeping a clear conscience” thus means, ensure that there is nothing nagging in the back of your mind that you have done or are doing something wrong. Conscience is like a moral barometer within us that gives us an early warning that we are going off track.
In the context of what Peter has been saying, he now says use your conscience to check out your life in the face of the opposition you may be receiving. He’s spoken of suffering and opposition already in this letter and now he’s just putting a check on us in respect of our behaviour. When he says, “so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander,” he is assuming that we have checked our consciences and have found that what we have done has been good and right, yet he acknowledges that we can still get opposition even when we do what is right and good. It doesn’t matter, he says, if they speak badly against you, as long as you have checked to make sure that in your own conscience you are sure you have done what is right. Eventually they will be ashamed of what they have said about you; leave it up to God to convict them!
But it is important that you are absolutely sure that you have given them no grounds for saying bad things about you. Sadly that is not always so; Christians do sometimes lay themselves open to criticism because they were casual and careless about their speech or behaviour. We probably all do it at some time – say something about a person or situation, that is not well thought out and so which opens us to criticism. Of course if we are doing things that are morally questionable, then of course we open ourselves to the charge of hypocrisy. Thus this call to check our consciences is a very needy one. Similarly if we respond to opposition using the same weapons of harsh criticism and abuse, that the world uses, then again we are opening ourselves to criticism and further opposition. That surely must be what Peter has in the back of his mind here because he has been counseling us in this letter to respond well to opposition and so if we respond in an un-Christ-like manner we will have put ourselves into the wrong.
There is an interesting point here that needs facing: your conscience can be silent if you are ignorant of God’s will for you. That is why teaching is such an important part of a Christian’s life. That is why Peter is writing this letter. Until we have thought through these things and thought about the way Christ handled opposition, we may not realise that our hostile retaliation to others is not what God desires of us and our conscience may be silent when we are. There may be a disquiet from the Holy Spirit but we may not recognise that. Thus conscience can be enlightened and brought alive by Christian teaching, by the teaching of the New Testament. Is that why sometimes Christians seem to be so little different from other people, because they have not learnt what God’s will for them now is and so their consciences have not been brought into play?
Submitting to God’s will and plans for your life is now a crucial element of your life as a Christian and indeed some times it does seem that God allows us to go through times of persecution and opposition to purify and strengthen us, and so His will in such times is that we get His grace to cope with it. Thus Peter says, “It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.” There is no blessing or no glory in suffering if you have brought it upon yourself, but if the suffering comes when you are only doing good and right, then that is an opportunity for the Lord to be glorified through your life and for you to receive a new and deeper experience of the Lord’s love and grace as you cope with it. The Lord will be glorified when you receive His love and grace and cope in a Christ-like manner: “His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms.” All the heavenly onlookers will see (the rest of the world may not!) and they will realise you are what you are by the love and grace of God and He will be glorified. Hallelujah! So let’s heed Peter’s teaching and let’s let his words stimulate our consciences to lead us on to better things.