Christian practice – when conscience conflicts with the Spirit

The Holy Spirit’s job is to keep us on track with everything Jesus taught (John 14:26, 16:13-15), and install everything that Jesus is in us, so that we become more and more like him (2 Corinthians 3:18). 

But what if there are things that conflict with what we’ve always thought was God’s will – that we’ve made sacrifices sticking to as well – and now we’re being asked to change our thinking and maybe accept something different? 

It happened to Peter in Acts 10. He got this vision where he “saw the skies open up. Something that looked like a huge blanket lowered by ropes at its four corners settled on the ground. Every kind of animal and reptile and bird you could think of was on it. Then a voice came: ‘Go to it, Peter – kill and eat,’” verses 11-13.

Peter was shocked: “Oh, no, Lord. I’ve never so much as tasted food that wasn’t kosher.” But the “voice came a second time: ‘If God says it’s OK, it’s OK,’” verses 14-15. But it went totally against what Peter had grown up with, on two counts: he’d never eaten any of the foods defined as “unclean” in Leviticus 11; plus he’d grown up believing Gentiles were unclean. But now he was being told to eat unclean foods as a lesson “that I should not call any man impure and unclean,” verse 28

So the Holy Spirit was teaching Peter something that conflicted with Peter’s conscience. And it really rocked Peter back on his heels. He “was still thinking about it” three verses later, but he couldn’t come up with any satisfactory answer. Peter simply didn’t get it.    

But it wasn’t his job to get it. It was the Spirit’s job, because the Spirit was now Peter’s guide, not his conscience – just as Jesus said back in John 16:13, that “when the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth.” So it was the Spirit’s responsibility to sort Peter’s mind out, and enable him to override his conscience. Peter couldn’t do that, but the Spirit could.

And this is the realm we’re now living in, where the Holy Spirit is tuning our minds to understand the truth of Scripture, as in the case of Lydia, a faithful conscience driven Jew in Acts 16 who, when faced with Paul’s radically different teaching, the “Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message,” verse 14

So when conscience conflicts with Spirit, the Spirit can sort us out. 

One thought on “Christian practice – when conscience conflicts with the Spirit

  1. Isn’t that amazing! It’s that “lightbulb moment” where we say, “A-ha!” Peter had his “lightbulb moment” when he recognized the poverty of the old system with its many “traditions” and “rituals,” and the necessity of a new priesthood freed from that system. Thus he was confidently able to say:

    “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.” (1 Peter 2:9-10)


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