“in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them,”
The conscience is of extraordinary importance to understanding both guilt before God and also our means to be right with Him. Our conscience bears witness of our conduct and our ability to comprehend the will of God. It truly is God’s design for our internal moral government. Despite the sin of Adam and the curse brought to earth through that disobedience, all mankind still has a conscience that is the sail of the ship of the soul. Paul affirms that even the Gentiles had the ability to have comprehension of God’s moral standard even without the written Law, it was a Law imprinted on their hearts.
Let’s not mix the standard that Paul says in chapter 3:23 that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We know, that no one without faith in Jesus Christ can have eternal life and salvation. Yet, we must also acknowledge that despite our sin, we still bear the image of God, the Law of God on our hearts and a conscience that tells us when we have violated this Law. This may be an answer to our question, “why are some people more open to the Gospel then others?” I believe it has to do with this passage in particular. Paul says that their conscience either accuses them because of their rebellion and wickedness. They numb their conscience and make it callous towards the truth and the internal Law of God written on their hearts. When people willfully choose to sin over and over they harden their heart towards God, so when the Gospel is presented to them they, like Pharaoh in Genesis, harden their hearts more towards Him. This is in a sense how depravity works in a nation. Take the United States for example, over the last four to five decades we have seen a steady decline in morality in general. Even though all people know the truth, over generations and years of time, they harden their hearts towards God. Thus they make it harder and harder to accept the Gospel because of their hard heartedness.
The second category of people are those who Paul says their thoughts defend them by witness of their conscience. Though not sinless, they choose to not surrender their lives to a life of debauchery and live according the Law written on their hearts from God. Once they hear the Gospel, it resonates with them because it is a fulfillment of what has been written on their heart.
The Greek word for conscience is “suneidesis” which means “a knowing with or to know”. Our conscience knows what is true and right. God has given this to us for multiple reasons.
We are made in His image and bear His character within us. Despite sin, we carry the Law written on our hearts.
It helps us be more responsive to the Gospel because we already know that we have violated the Law of God.
In the day of God’s judgement, we will stand guilty or innocent and have no excuse because our conscience will bear witness to our choices that we have made.
It is so valuable for us to understand and take full advantage of the conscience given to us by God. It is a tool for us to better follow the moral standard of God and it is a tool to share the truth of the Gospel to others. We can use the conscience as a means to help others understand why there is right and wrong. Why they feel guilty when they do something wrong and why they feel happy when they do something good. God has created His world with incredible purpose and design. He has not left us without tools to see and understand our need for Him. The better we use these tools the more effective we will be in reaching the lost.