The Balance of Conscience and Compassion
Following Jesus' Example
Consider Henry Ford, a pioneering industrialist who revolutionized the automobile industry with his innovative assembly line. Despite his remarkable achievements, Ford held anti-Semitic views, publishing materials that propagated hateful stereotypes about Jewish people.
Ford could not have achieved the success he did in transforming the automobile industry without a high degree of conscientiousness. Conscientiousness is a personality trait with various facets including diligence, responsibility, responsibility, orderliness and thoroughness. This trait equipped Ford to achieve heights his peers wouldn’t have without his leadership.
We like to see conscientiousness in our accountants, engineers, and surgeons. Conscientiousness and its facets are also heralded as a virtue in Christian circles. This is evident in the standards of dress and conduct often adopted by traditional churches.
In the annals of church and secular history, there are individuals who stand as beacons of conscientiousness, raising the bar for what can be achieved, and improving lives on the process. But their actions have at times been marred by a lack of moral guidance exemplified by the charitable love shown in the life and death of Jesus. This serves as a poignant reminder that conscientiousness alone can falter without a moral foundation.
Conscientious Christians face a challenge—balancing their moral convictions (or lack of moral convictions) with the guiding influence of the Holy Spirit.
The Perils of Conscientiousness without the Holy Spirit
Conscientiousness, or the trait of being diligent, responsible, and thorough in one's actions, is admirable. However, when Christians act solely based on their aspirations and convictions, without the Holy Spirit's influence, there can be pitfalls. Their actions may reflect the influence of their conscience, but they might miss the mark in terms moral correctness.
Consider Jesus and his disciples who were criticized for plucking and eating grain on the Sabbath, which violated the Jewish law (Mark 2:23-28). The law of God condemned Sabbath-breakers to death. This Jewish law about plucking grain was added on to serve the interests of conscientious leaders who wanted to protect the sanctity of the Sabbath. While this rule was born from well-meaning intentions, Jesus defended His and His disciples’ actions, stating, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath." In this moment, Jesus demonstrated that conscientiousness adherence to God’s law must be guided by love and compassion for people, not rigid adherence to rules.
Sometimes human rules are designed to meet the needs of those who make the rules, and do little to improve the lives of the people who are restricted by the rules. God’s laws are designed to bring reconciliation to broken relationships.
The Risk of Self-Righteousness
Conscientious Christians may sometimes fall into the trap of self-righteousness. Achieving some degree of adherence to a set of religious rules, they may act with a sense of moral superiority, looking down upon those who do not conform to their beliefs or practices. This can lead to contempt, faultfinding and evil surmising, rather than the compassion and understanding that Christ exemplified.
Consider the Pharisees who brought a woman caught in adultery to Jesus, asking if she should be stoned as the law required. Jesus responded, "Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her," (John 8:1-11). He showed that conscientiousness should be tempered with humility and an acknowledgment of one's own imperfections.
The Call to Act in Good Conscience and Conscientiousness
Jesus serves as the ultimate model of acting with both a good conscience and conscientiousness. His life was marked by unwavering dedication to God's will, guided by the Holy Spirit, and infused with boundless love for humanity.
The pinnacle of Jesus' love is seen at His crucifixion. The natural inclination of the human heart is to defend our rights and opinions, even at the cost of our marriages, our relationships with children and other family members, and to the detriment of God’s church. In the heart of Jesus we see instead a love for others greater than the love He had for himself demonstrated by His willing sacrifice to suffer the penalty for our rejection of His rules.
Conscientiousness is a noble trait, but it must be grounded in a good conscience guided by the Spirit of charitable love, as demonstrated by Jesus. We should strive to emulate His unwavering commitment to God's will, His compassion for others, and His humility by acknowledging our own shortcomings. In doing so, we can navigate the fine line between conscientiousness and self-righteousness, ensuring that our actions truly reflect the heart of Christ's teachings.