Our consciences are a gift from God. God has given them to all people, even non-Christians to give them a sense of right and wrong. Without our consciences, this world would be far worse than it is now.
The problem, of course, is that our consciences are not perfect, having been stained by our sin. But when we become Christians, the Holy Spirit starts to whisper to our hearts and shape our consciences, and as we listen to him, we become more and more like Christ. At least, that’s how things should be.
Unfortunately, the false teachers in Timothy’s time were not listening to the Spirit as he poked their consciences. Rather they violated their consciences, ignoring what the Spirit was saying, and as a result shipwrecked their faith. Instead of holding to the truth of the gospel, their love for money and prestige had twisted their beliefs, and as a result, their teaching as well.
And so Paul told Timothy,
Timothy, my son, I give you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by following them you may fight the good fight, holding on to faith and a good conscience. Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith. Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme. (18-20)
Paul told Timothy, “Don’t be like these false teachers. Fight the good fight. Take on these false teachers for the sake of the gospel, and hold on to your faith as you have been taught. And hold on to a good conscience too.”
This mirrors what Paul had said earlier, saying that the goal of their teaching (and/or warnings) is “love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” (5)
So Paul says, “Since this is the goal of our teaching, hold on to them.”
He then said, “Some have rejected these.” A better translation is “Some have rejected this,” referring to a good conscience. The NLT makes this very clear, reading,
Cling to your faith in Christ, and keep your conscience clear. For some people have deliberately violated their consciences; as a result, their faith has been shipwrecked. (19)
Paul then gives two examples of such people, Hymenaeus and Alexander, who shipwrecked their faith by violating their consciences.
Many people do the same today.
Some violate their consciences because, after all, “We are all saved by grace. And if we are saved by grace, why not just live as I want? I can just ask for forgiveness later.” But they ignore the fact that because God has saved us, he now calls us to holiness. (I Thessalonians 4:1-8)
Others violate their consciences by convincing themselves that what scripture calls evil is actually good. We see this with homosexuals claiming to be Christians. They know what the scripture teaches about homosexuality, yet because they feel they can no longer fight their sinful passions, do everything they can to pervert the gospel that has been preached for 2000 years.
The gospel and the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality has never changed. But more and more people are violating their consciences and as a result shipwreck their faith.
Note that Hymaenaeus, Alexander, and others were not saying, “We reject Christianity.” They said, “We embrace Christianity,” when all the while they were changing the gospel itself. Many people do the same today. They say, “We are Christians,” and yet violate conscience, changing the faith they have itself.
It is a dangerous thing to violate your conscience. To do so inevitably leads to compromise and a corruption of the gospel you say you believe.
Let us not do that. Rather, let us as Paul charges, hold on to faith and a good conscience, seeking above all things to please our Lord.