Experts agree that our society is more divided today than at any time since the Civil War. Racial tension. Social unrest. Violence on our streets. Massive political polarization . . . The melting pot is boiling over.
The Church is the Body established by Christ to bring the healing grace of the gospel to our fallen world. Yet many of us have been sidelined . . . paralyzed by the complexity of the issues.
When we are not directly impacted by an injustice, it can be easy for us to remain silent about the offense or even ignore that it is happening. We say nothing when an offensive word or joke is spoken. We do nothing about policies we know will harm those whom Jesus told us to look after and love. We stay in our segregated coves, surrounding ourselves with those who look like us, act like us, and live like us. No one questions those who do not make waves, so we can quickly get lulled into just keeping the status quo and not taking action.
However, a God-centered conscience will not allow us to rest when we see an injustice.
In the context of Scripture, “conscience” is the inner witness of our hearts about what is right and wrong in light of God’s truth and righteousness. It’s that tension you feel when you’re with friends who want to do something you know is wrong.
Our consciences play a key role in helping us do what is right and honor God. A weak conscience often yields to the cultural norms of selfishness, segregation, or prejudice. A strong conscience has the courage to put into action Jesus’s command to “love your neighbor as yourself.”
Because of sin, our consciences don’t function well automatically. But through Jesus’s death and resurrection, we have been given a new and clean conscience that can gradually become more powerful as the Holy Spirit works within us, and as we read God’s Word. Hebrews 9:4 says: “How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!”
With a pure conscience, we can bridge the canyon of hate between races with the love of Jesus.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a minister. His nonviolent resistance was rooted in the gospel. Following his conscience meant doing the right thing before God—even if that meant “civil disobedience” or doing the wrong thing in man’s eyes or breaking the law peacefully. Dr. King said in his “Letter From Birmingham Jail:”
“One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.”
Dr. King taught that civil disobedience results when we follow our consciences with respect to unjust human laws that are in clear conflict with God’s principles. He found this modeled in Scripture:
“Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was evidenced sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire.”
Following our conscience will not always be easy. It will often come with criticism and push back from all sides. But when our conscience is rooted in the truth of God’s Word, each of us—just like Dr. King—can find the strength and courage to stand up and act, regardless of the opposition. Our conscience will lead us to pursue the goals that are important to God’s heart—truth, justice, and righteousness. It will also enable us to fulfill the commission that Jesus gave to us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves (see Mark 12:31).
Each day, we are given opportunities to stand up for what is right. We must join with brothers and sisters of different backgrounds, political viewpoints, and skin color who belong to that beautiful counter-cultural reality known as the Body of Christ. We must be people of conscience and choose to speak up and act.
This article is adapted from Share the Dream: Shining a Light in a Divided World through Six Principles of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a new video Bible study co-hosted by Chris Broussard and Matthew Daniels, J.D., Ph.D.