The apostle Paul had always interested me. When I was a young believer I would read his comments ("...be imitators of me" 1 Cor. 4:16) and think "Sounds a bit arrogant to me." But as God has increased my understanding I have come to the conclusion that he may have been arrogant before he met Jesus on the road to Damascus but once his personal relationship with the Lord began his arrogance was transformed by God to confidence because of the grace of his Lord ("by the grace of God I am what I am" 1 Cor. 15:10).
This week the Bible Study I am involved with studied the role our own conscience plays in our lives. My conscience is that God-given moral rudder that helps me discern between right and wrong and encourages me to do the right thing and avoid the wrong thing.
My "friend" the apostle Paul had lots to say about the conscience. Maybe because he knew first hand how it can fail a person. He had ravaged the church, dragging the believers out of their homes and the synagogues, voting in favor of their death all the while thinking he was doing the right thing (Acts 26:9) His conscience had led him astray and many, many suffered the horrible consequences. But then Jesus showed up on the road to Damascus and Paul was transformed. After he became a follower of Jesus Paul said "I also do my best to maintain always a blameless conscience both before God and before men." (Acts 24:16) He knew that the conscience cannot be left on autopilot. It must be maintained. It has to be "managed".
The conscience can be trained to discern good and evil (Hebrews 5:14). The study made me aware of the need to keep my communication with God ongoing. I need to keep short accounts with God through confession and repentance. The Holy Spirit must have control of me. I need to pray for my conscience. Honesty has to be a priority for me. And I need to be accountable to others who will point out the wrong thinking that creeps into my thoughts.
Training my conscience begins with baby steps. I ask myself, "What little choices can I make that will help me train my conscience to think like God thinks?" Just as little chips in the windshield can turn into big cracks if left unattended so can lapses in judgement turn into major messes. But the opposite is true also. Make a few little choices in the right direction and it will lead to better choices down the road.
I am encouraged that Paul's conscience which was a train wreck on its own became a trusted guide under the control of God. I am encouraged because I can become an imitator of him because he has worked through some of the same issues that I deal with. I can imitate Paul because he purposed to imitate Jesus.