Romans 13:5: Conscience


Living by a conscience informed by the word of God before the face of God is the basic posture of Christian holiness. We know this well, here is the famous quote of Luther demonstrating this reality at the Diet of Worms when asked to recant of all his statements and writings before the Emperor: ‘Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound to the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. I cannot do otherwise. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.’ 1

As we continue looking at Romans 13:5, Paul makes a casual allusion to a most important motivation for all of the Christian life, ‘Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.’ Paul has been motivating the Romans to submit to the governing authorities. He has just spoken of the fact that those who disobey will incur the wrath of God working through the state to punish crime. But here we see Paul adding another reason, and although it appears to be a throw away comment, this is in fact the greater reason for why Christians are to submit to the government, ‘for the sake of conscience.’ In fact this is the way a Christian lives all of their lives.

Our task today is to truly understand this most biblical way of living. Today the conscience is something that is seen as a weakness. It is usually viewed as an artefact of our childhood rules, or legalistic carry over from a former time which we have been liberated from. The sad truth is that many Christians live ignoring or constantly wounding their consciences. So want to do three things, firstly we will define what we mean by conscience; secondly, we will articulate what it looks like to live by our consciences and then we want to list the benefits of a clean conscience.

1) The Legacy of Luther, p37-38.