This past week, a friend and fellow brother in Christ, John, asked the question “What does it mean to have a ‘seared conscience‘?”, and I’ve been contemplating this this very question since the moment it was proposed. The words appear in 1st Timothy 4:2, where Paul was warning Timothy that people will soon depart from the faith due to the insincere teaching from liars. And although I am pulling the terms “Seared Conscious” out of the context of the surrounding verse, I wanted to get a clear idea as to what the original author (Paul) was trying to portray utilizing this terminology. Mostly, I wanted to see if MY conscience had been seared in any way, so that I don’t lead anyone astray, and to try and discern if there is any type of application that I could pull from these two words.
So to begin with, I turned to the Greek, and searched for the term used by Paul (κεκαυστηριασμένων) in this specific text, which appeared only this one time throughout the entire bible but aligned well with the translated terms in our modern Bibles. The meaning derived from this was “having been seared/burned with an iron”. Then I spent some time thinking through the various reasons and ways something would become seared., in an effort to better understand the picture he was trying to paint.
The act of “searing” refers to the “burning” of flesh for one of many reasons, and it is used most often in three different occupations: culinary arts, cattle/animal farming, and in the medical field. For example, a chef will often sear the top, bottom and edges of a piece of meat, in an effort to create a protective boundary so that the various juices and flavors will not escape during the cooking process. Cattle farmers sear the flesh (skin) of their cows with a branding iron to “mark” their cattle, portraying ownership. And medical practitioners use various heated tools to sear (or cauterize) blood vessels and wounds, in an effort to stop bleeding and to prevent infection. With the exception of the decorative uses of searing (cute logos on hamburger buns and cattle markings), the practical purposes of the searing process is to keep in or keep out “something”; to create an impenetrable barrier.
Let’s take a look at the second word in that phrase now….the word “Conscience”. It is through our conscience that we ultimately determine whether what we are doing is “Right” or “Wrong”. It is our conscience that produces feelings of personal anguish or guilt when we fail to uphold or violate the moral or value systems to which we subscribe. And it is also through the work of our conscience that feelings of joy, pleasure, and things alike are experienced when our thoughts and actions are inline with ( or conforming to) our moral and/or value systems. Furthermore, it is also understood that a healthy conscience is continuously being challenged and/or shaped either through our personal environment (through our surroundings/culture), through instruction (through the teachings of others), or through our own experiences. In other words, our consciences are constantly affected and altered by the things we see, the things we hear, and the things we experience personally.
With that in mind, we need to understand most of all that the state of our conscience produces action, inaction, and a number of emotions including sadness, joy, sorrow, regret, anticipation, and a plethora of others. Through time, the continuous challenges and forces that are constantly affecting our consciences cause us to grow in our convictions and understanding. New values are realized; new and deeper emotions are felt, and our sense of morality changes in some way – either good or bad.
As a professing follower of Christ, our sense of morality and set of values are taken strictly from one place: the written, breathed out, inherent Word of God. The bible points us ultimately to the perfect example, Christ Jesus, and it’s through studying God’s Word, through hearing the Word preached, and through the power of the Holy Spirit that we are continuously conformed to Christ’s image (it’s what we call “Sanctification”). Therefore, our consciences are being continuously shaped by our growing understanding of scripture and by the Holy Spirit in his work of revealing to us the meaning of scripture and it’s application in our lives. To put it in the same terms used in the previous paragraph, as Christians, our consciences should be being continuously shaped by our personal environment (through fellowship and community with other believers who point us to Christ), through instruction (through hearing the Word preached), and through our own personal experience (via our personal study of God’s Word, devotions, and through our personal time of prayer).
With all of this said, I believe it is safe to assume that if our consciences were to be seared, it means that something would have occurred (environmental, instructional, or personal experience; work of God; work of Satan) which would have created an impenetrable layer that would keep our consciences from being shaped, affected or otherwise penetrated by anything outside – including scripture. We would therefore not have reverence for some biblical values taught in scripture (though we may have reverence for others), and we would not be repentant or ashamed of recent sin that we discover through studying God’s word (as our conscience wouldn’t be alert to or affected by newfound sin). Furthermore, we would not be effected emotionally by the things that we see or hear, and we would not be driven to action for things that drive us to action in scripture.
So here are a few good questions that came to mind as I was writing… hopefully they will help you think through the state of your conscience:
- Do you look more like the culture around you, or less like it? (Romans 12:3)
- Have you grown spiritually in the past year (Ephesians 4:15)?
- Have you found and repented of sin in your life today? This week? This month? This year so far? Did it effect you emotionally? Did it drive you to action to eschew it?
- The bible clearly teaches us that we’re to care for the Orphans and the Widows (James 1:27)… are you driven to action when you see someone adopting?
- The bible teaches us to care for our brothers in need (1st John 3:17)… have you contributed to the welfare of a needy brother/sister in Christ this week?
- Are you challenged and effected when you hear the Word of God preached?
- Do you struggle making it to church each week? If so, does it cause you sorrow or regret? (Hebrews 10:25)
- What are you doing to take the Gospel to your community and to the ends of the earth? (Mathew 28:19) If nothing, does it cause you regret?