Conscienceless Youth

by Bill Denton

"This command I entrust to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you fight the good fight, keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith" (1 Tim. 1:18-19).

More than ever before in American history—indeed in Western history—we are witnessing the near-death of conscience. I regularly confront that brutal truth in prisons across the country.

"An incident in Indiana a few years ago brought it home to me dramatically. That day a young inmate responded to my proffered handshake by smacking my hand away—a first for me. In many years of visiting prisons, I had never before encountered such direct and immediate hostility from a complete stranger. I saw in those eyes that day a chilling hardness I had never encountered before. Since then, however, I have seen a similar hardness reflected in the eyes of countless other inmates, particularly younger ones.

"The assistant warden there was a Christian I had known for some years, and I asked him what was happening. Ten years ago,' he replied, I could talk to these kids about right and wrong. Now they don't even know what I'm talking about.' He went on to share that older prisoners were demanding protection from the newly-arrived 19- or 20-year-olds. Historically, it has been younger guys who needed protection from the older cons.

"The horrifying truth is that we have bred a generation with unformed consciences."

—Charles Colson, Wheaton College Magazine (Summer, 2000)

Unformed consciences. That's a scary thought. Not that a person's conscience is necessarily reliable, but even though it is an imperfect thing, the conscience has served us well by forcing us to think about right and wrong, to experience guilt when we've done wrong, and even to serve as a deterrent to doing wrong. One of the best things about the conscience is that it urges us to consider whether what we have done, or are about to do, is the right or best thing. Without it, human life is reduced to little more than animalistic behavior.

We have a brand new class of graduates heading out into the world in a few days. Some leave their childhood behind as they complete high school. Others begin adult life in earnest as they graduate from college. For all of them, I pray that their conscience is not unformed. In all their education, I pray that they have maintained a tender conscience.

Unfortunately, they will face growing temptations to repress or suppress their consciences. They will be encouraged to avoid guilt. They will be told that they must seek their own truth, and what is right for them. Few will tell them that they should consider how their behavior affects either themselves or other people. The sad truth is that many will be led into a moral wasteland where the concepts of right and wrong are minimized for personal gain and pleasure.

In John 16:8, Jesus said about the Holy Spirit, "And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment." I pray that the Spirit of God keeps working on the hearts of our young people. It's the only way that the eternal truths of God can bring real enlightenment and freedom from sin. Our young people need such conviction, but it can only happen to those who have a well-formed conscience. Young people, do not harden your hearts against God. There is no future in it.

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