The Calluses on My Conscience
You must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. Ephesians 4:17-19
At the gym, I spend time every day either hanging from a pull-up bar or with a barbell in my hands. The repeated friction induces a stress reaction in the skin and subsequently, calluses build up. These calluses protect the underlying tissue by piling up dead layers of skin and as such, they are insensitive and unfeeling. In the hands, this can be a protective, healthy phenomenon.
On the conscience though, it’s decidedly unhealthy. Whenever I’ve suffered the consequences of my self-destructive nature, I’ve had to look at my life, asking how I got there. I never set out to cause myself such pain. I didn’t start on day one lying, cheating, and stealing to get pills to feed my addiction. I got there by daily giving in to small things. Eventually, as I tolerated the small things, they built up like a callus. In my addiction, behavior that once would have horrified me, eventually became normal. Through repeated exposure, my conscience became calloused, unable to feel the things that should have wounded it.
In today’s passage Paul warned against this. He spoke of those who don’t follow God and said we must not walk as they do. By repeatedly surrendering to their nature, they became incapable of knowing right and wrong. In doing so, they tolerated behavior that turned them from God, alienating them from the life they were meant to live.
Unfortunately, we often don’t worry about the little things. Sure, we don’t commit the big sins, but the little ones are no big deal, right? It is, however, the little failures that cause the calluses to build up. As we tolerate little lies, indulgences, and indiscretions (that are no big deal) those behaviors gradually become normal. Then, through repetition, we push further and further, eventually taking ourselves somewhere we never meant to go.
If we want to experience life in God, then we must maintain a healthy conscience, feeling right and wrong. This means responding to our conscience when it’s triggered. Just as we can become calloused, we can also train ourselves to be more sensitive. We can learn to guard ourselves against the little indiscretions that pile up. When we feel God tugging at our conscience, we must respond in obedience to that voice. In doing so, we’ll maintain a healthy conscience, which protects us from ourselves.