What If I Ruin My Kids?
When God calls a woman to be a mother, it is a glorious calling, and
such women should consider and embrace those glories.
Is Your Conscience Captive to God?
R.C. Sproul / January 22, 2017
Is Your Conscience Captive to God?
Many of us are familiar with Martin Luther’s heroic statement at the
Diet of Worms when called upon to recant his teaching. “Unless I am
convinced by sacred Scripture, or by evident reason, I cannot recant,
for my conscience is held captive by the word of God, and to act
against conscience is neither right nor safe.”
Today, we rarely hear any reference to the conscience. Yet throughout
church history, the best Christian thinkers spoke about the conscience
regularly. Thomas Aquinas said the conscience is the God-given inner
voice that either accuses or excuses us in terms of what we do. John
Calvin spoke of the “divine sense” that God puts into every person,
and part of that divine sense is the conscience. And when we turn to
Scripture, we find that our consciences are a significant aspect of
God’s revelation to us.
Where Does Conscience Come From?
When we talk about God’s revelation, we make a distinction between
general revelation and special revelation. Special revelation refers
to that information given to us in the Scriptures. Not everyone in the
world possesses this information. Those who have heard it have had the
benefit of hearing specific information about God and his plan of
General revelation refers to the revelation that God gives to every
human being on earth. It’s general in the sense that it’s not limited
to any specific group of people. It’s global, and it extends to every
human being. The audience is general, and the information given is
general as well. It doesn’t have the same level of detail that sacred
However, to understand the conscience, we must go further than
dividing special and general revelation. Within general revelation, we
must distinguish between mediate general revelation and immediate
general revelation. Mediate general revelation refers to the
revelation that God gives through an external medium — in other words,
the revelation is given through a mediator: creation, in which God
reveals his invisible attributes (Romans 1:20). General revelation
mediated through creation is clear enough that every single person
knows God exists and, therefore, is without excuse (Romans 1:20).
Immediate general revelation is revelation that is transmitted to
every human being without an external medium. It’s internal, not
external. It’s the revelation God plants in the soul of every person.
God reveals his law in the mind of every human being by planting a
conscience within each of us.
Happy Hooker and the Christian Conscience
However, we face a problem: the conscience is fluid. It’s not fixed.
Almost all people adjust their consciences between childhood and
adulthood, and the adjustment is almost always downward. That is, we
learn how to turn the volume of our conscience down so that our ethics
align with how we want to live and not how God tells us we should
Almost fifty years ago, Xaviera Hollander wrote a bestselling book
with a strange title: The Happy Hooker. Hollander, a prostitute
herself, sought to silence the people who believe that no prostitute
in America could find joy in what she was doing. In her book,
Hollander celebrates the joy that she experienced in her profession,
saying that she never felt guilty about what she was doing. To be
sure, Hollander said, the first time she involved herself in
prostitution, she felt pangs of guilt. But over time, she got to the
point where her feelings of guilt dissipated.
However, there was one important exception to this. When Hollander
heard the ringing of church bells, her conscience would flare up. She
was reminded that what she was doing was under the condemnation of
Almighty God. Even this hardened professional prostitute could not
totally destroy the conscience that God had placed within her.
Feeling Ebbs as Guilt Swells
Here is the supreme irony and tragedy of sin: the more we repeat our
sins, the greater the guilt we incur, but the less sensitive we become
to the pangs of guilt in our consciences. Paul says that people store
up wrath for themselves on the day of wrath (Romans 2:5). That’s
objective guilt — they are guilty because they have broken God’s law.
But some people have so destroyed their consciences that they believe
it really doesn’t matter what they do as long as it is consensual and
they can see no harm. Their subjective guilt — their feeling or sense
of guilt that accompanies wrongdoing — diminishes.
We find new ways to accept sinful behavior, both as individuals and as
a culture. As of 2017, we have killed almost sixty million babies,
tearing them limb from limb. People use social media to boast of this
reality, saying how proud they are that they have maintained the
freedom of a woman to abort her child. We now boast about marriage
between a man and a man, and a woman and a woman, without shame. There
is not much of a collective conscience left in this country.
The worst part of Paul’s indictment in Romans 1 is not simply that we
practice things deserving death, despite knowing the righteous
judgment of God — it is that we approve of others who practice them as
well (Romans 1:32). When people destroy their own consciences, they do
everything in their power to destroy the consciences of their
To quiet their consciences, people will seek allies and make
proclamations like, “We’re only crusading for liberty here, for the
freedom of choice.” What a strategy. “I’m not pro-murder; I’m
pro-choice.” That’s what the Godfather would say. “I’m pro-choice. I
choose to murder my enemies.”
We Who Judge Have No Excuse
However, our purpose in discussing these things is not to lament how
bad “the world out there” is, but rather how bad we are in that we
Christians do the same thing. We, too, adjust our consciences to fit
the culture. As humans, we all try everything in our power to excuse
This is why it is so important to keep our hearts tender to the
testimony of God’s word in our conscience. At the Diet of Worms,
Luther did not say, “My conscience is held captive by my contemporary
culture, by the latest Gallup poll, and by the latest survey that
describes what everybody else is atdoing.” Nor did he say, “My
conscience is influenced by the word of God.”
In essence, he said, “I am in captivity to the Scriptures. That is why
I cannot recant.” Had his conscience not been captive to God’s word,
he would have recanted immediately. So, he said, “To act against
conscience is neither right nor safe.”
Learn the Mind of Christ
We don’t want to hear the judgment of conscience; we want to destroy
the judgment of conscience. That’s our nature. The only antidote is
knowing the mind of Christ. We need men and women whose consciences
have been captured by the word of God. Thank God for his word. It
exposes the lies we tell ourselves to make us feel better.
We aren’t going to be judged on the last day on whether we feel
guilty, but on whether we are guilty. But a taste of that judgment now
in part, through our consciences, is a gift from the God who wishes
all would come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). The feeling of guilt is
the signal that there’s probably something wrong. The Holy Spirit
convicts us of sin, and with that conviction comes a certain tender
mercy that leads us to repentance and forgiveness so that we might
walk in his presence.