"Now this is our boast: Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, with integrity and godly sincerity. We have done so, relying not on worldly wisdom but on God’s grace." 2 Corinthians 1:12
The apostle Paul writes with great confidence that his conduct in the world and towards his fellow believers is right before God. The questions that his boast raises are the following:
How can Paul be so sure that he is right and who or what determines what is right and wrong?
Although Paul did not depend on his conscience to determine whether he was right before God, he regarded his conscience as the umpire of his life.
"I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me." 1 Corinthians 4:3,4
The One who determines what is right or wrong is God Himself. We cannot depend on human wisdom or the world's wisdom or even on our own wisdom to determine what is right and what is wrong. However, we can choose who or what will govern our conscience.
The conscience is the invisible umpire who judges according to one's own standard, the world's standard or God's standard.
For example, if I choose my feelings and desires to govern my conscience, I will live according to what I desire and will be ok with that. Or, if I choose to let what is socially acceptable or that which the media communicates is acceptable to govern my conscience I will live according to the world's standard and be ok with that. Likewise I can choose to let my conscience be governed by what I, myself consider to be right and live according to my wisdom and be ok with that.
The problem, however, is that what is ok for me may not be ok for you. In that case, who is to say what is right and what is wrong?
A quick test will help you think about this question of what determines what is right or wrong:
- Is same sex marriage ok? Why or why not?
- Is murder ok? Why or why not?
- Is incest ok? Why or why not?
- Is adultery ok? Why or why not?
- Is fornication ok? Why or why not?
- Is stealing ok? Why or why not?
Perhaps your general answer would be something along the lines of: as long as I don't harm another person, I can do what I like and that's ok.
The problem, once again is, who determines what is harmful to another person?
As a believer in God as the Judge of all, I choose to align my conscience to the righteousness (that which is ok before God) that is at work in my life by the influence of the Holy Spirit and revealed by His Word. Every believer has received the gift of righteousness that is at work in his or her life (see Romans 5-7). Together with God's revealed will (the Bible), the Holy Spirit makes God's heart and willl known to the believer's conscience so that s/he can have the confidence that s/he is living according to God's standard with integrity and godly sincerity. God's gift of His presence and the revelation of His will is the grace by which the believer is called to live his or her life.
Can we say with Paul, "Now this is our boast: Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, with integrity and godly sincerity. We have done so, relying not on worldly wisdom but on God’s grace."?