Nothing is Unclean: Why We Are Told to Follow Our Conscience

Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide!

"For there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so."

William Shakespeare

Probably the most alluring aspect of religion is the clear guidelines. While some people may hate the idea of being told what to do, there are others who love the safety of feeling like they are always doing the “right thing.” In a confusing and complex world, it can be seductive to reduce everything to black and white rules and order. This is why it is important to understand the theology of “no thing is evil,” because it is one of the most distinguishing factors of Christian spirituality.

Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died.

Romans 14:13-15 (ESV)

It is pagan to externalize good and evil. Jesus teaches that both come from the heart.

“There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.”

Mark 7:15 (ESV)

Pagans and superstitious people fear objects and things. They keep “good” idols and talismans hoping to invite luck and fortune. They burn and destroy “bad” things afraid that they will curse them or bring them bad luck. These are signs of spiritual immaturity, and of no value to those learning to live free in Christ and alive in spirit.

We are to be bound to nothing, and free in Christ.

“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything.

1 Corinthians 6:12 (ESV)

To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled.
Titus 1:15 (ESV)

When we think things are good or evil, it messes with our heads. We are supposed to be free to choose whatever is helpful, useful, edifying, or productive to our purposes. This is what “following our conscience” means. If a carpenter thought a hammer was “evil” he would never use it. If a carpenter thought a hammer was “good” he would use it too much, and often when it wasn’t the best tool. No, a carpenter must see tools and objects as just things to be used at their discernment.

While the secular world debates if drugs, alcohol, foods, etc. are “good” or “bad,” Christians should keep a clear head and simply state, “I do not think this is useful to me” or “I think this an appropriate use for this.” When we do this, we act as free people, neither afraid of or bound to anything.

To read the Bible as a book of Law is just bad theology. Period.

If anyone wants to be contentious, I say that we have no such custom, nor do any of the churches of God.
1 Corinthians 11:16 (ESV)

The letters from the Apostles were meant as guidance and advice for applying the Gospel of Christ to the circumstances and lives of the different churches, they are NOT new rules and laws. If you understand this, the whole Bible makes sense. If you think the New Testament is just “the new Law” then you will have struggle your whole life trying to make sense of the seemly contradictory rules they give. Jesus fulfilled the Law, those who follow Christ live as governed from the conscience.

For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

Jeremiah 31:33 (ESV)

The importance of a clear conscience to spiritual development.

One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.

Romans 14:5 (ESV)

However not all men have this knowledge; but some, being accustomed to the idol until now, eat food as if it were sacrificed to an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled.
1 Corinthians 8:7 (ESV)

In order to grow spiritually, we have to make the best decisions possible with the understanding that we have. If we do not do this, we will be sacrificing our ability to mature and enslave our minds to the expectations of the world and institutions around us. Our goal is always act with a clear conscience before the heart of God. The Latin expression for this is “Coram Deo.” In truth, rules are often an excuse to defer personal responsibility for our choices. That means, on the inside, we may be killing our spirit even when we say we are just doing the “right thing.”

so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.
Ephesians 4:14 (ESV)