Ethics: Becoming what we are in ChristIntroduction
A disciple should aim to be righteous, pure, good, moral, loving - to be holy, 1 Thes.4:1-12, Eph.2:8-10, 1 Cor.7:1 - God is holy and therefore we should be holy, 1 Peter 1:15. To be holy simply means to be separate, or cut-off, from evil. In practice, holiness shows itself in moral excellence. Of course, only God is perfect, but his perfection is the ideal we are to aim at. As we walk with the Spirit, the experience of life will mould our natures toward God's perfection, so that at the last day we will stand before our God prepared for our rule with Christ. Our Lord is intimately involved in our lives now, so purity of thought, word and deed should be our goal, 1 Cor.3:16-17.
A moral rule of thumb
In the words of Jesus, Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
When faced with a moral dilemma we should ask the question, is this thought, word or action of mine, either an affront to God, or may fellow human? If yes, then try not to do it. A good thing to remember is that the Lord sees everything we do, including the motive behind it, Dan.2:22, 1 Cor.3:20. Every time impurity enters our lives he has to turn his face from us. Yet, never forget his forgiveness is unbounded, even though we don't deserve it, 1 John 1:9.
To determine whether a thought word or deed is acceptable to God we will have to rely heavily on the Bible. Purity and goodness is not always just common sense, especially if we've come from a rough background. Paul had to write to the Christians at Corinth in the first century and tell them that sexual immorality was not acceptable to God. For a Corinthian it was normal behavior, so how were they to know; it's the same for us. So, let the Bible tell you what is good and pure and right, what is moral.
Our desire to be Christ-like, to be loving toward God and neighbor, is motivated primarily by the indwelling compelling love of Christ within us. As a believer, we have an intimate association with the indwelling Spirit of Christ which compels us to love as Christ loves. Put simply, when we put our trust in Jesus he becomes intimately involved in every moment of our lives; he is always with us, strengthening and encouraging. So, as we look to Jesus to further his work of renewal in us, he motivates our heart to desire to be the person we are already in him. There can be no greater motivation toward holy living.
It is impossible for us to be moral, good, pure, ...., to be holy, by ourselves, Rom.8:8. God therefore makes goodness possible by the following means:
1. Identification with Christ. We have died with Christ - the old self has been put to death and we have risen to new life with him, Rom.6:1-10. By taking hold of Jesus as our Savior and Lord (by identifying with him, becoming one with him) then what follows is that:
i) His death overcomes the power of sin in our lives by freeing from the subjection of the law.
ii) His resurrection implants an indwelling power to do good in our lives.
2. The work of the Holy Spirit. He is a life-giving Spirit,1 Cor.15:45, who leads us, Rom.8:14, and controls us, 1 Cor.2:15.
The example of Christ as the supreme moral principle
It is God's will for us that we conform to the image of his Son, Rom.8:29, 2 Cor.3:18, Phil.3:21, therefore we are to follow the example of his life, Matt.20:25-28, Mk.10:42-45, Phil.2:6-8, 1Pet.2:21-24. In dealing with people we are best to follow Christ's example of love. He accepted people, faults and all; he showed forgiveness and mercy.
The Commandments as moral principles
1. The Old Testament. All the Commandments are summarized in the command - "You are to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your mind and with all your soul and your neighbor as yourself."
The Ten Commandments explain in more detail what this means, Exodus 20:1-17:
Love God: Care for him only, his worship, his name and his day as a special day.
Love neighbor: Honor parents, life, sex, property, truth and be content with your lot.
Large slabs of law in the books of Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy explain in greater detail what it means to Love God and love neighbor. When reading this Law we must take into consideration a number of points:
Some of this law is now irrelevant as it was written for people in different circumstances than our own. None-the-less the underlying principles are still valid.
Some of the laws are stop-gap measures, e.g., divorce is allowed but controlled. It was the best that could be expected at the time (and we still can't expect much more!).
Ritual laws have no bearing on a Christian since they were only pointers to Christ. (cf. Leviticus). Similarly, food laws have little bearing today since they were mainly concerned with hygiene where there was no refrigeration.
2. The New Testament. Jesus said "Think not that I have come to destroy the law....... I have come to complete it", Matt.5:17. So, Jesus builds on the Ten Commandments and gives God's final word on what he expects of mankind and then sets about to obey it on our behalf. This final word is perfection, a perfection that only Jesus can reach. The ideals of Jesus remind us that if perfection is the only standard acceptable in the sight of God, then sinful humanity is going to have to rely on someone else's perfection. God's gift to us is Christ's perfection; without that gift we are lost.
Although the ideals set by Jesus are beyond our capacity, they do set us goals to work toward. Paul, and the other apostles, develop many of these ideals in their letters, giving us practical examples of Christ-like living.
i] The gospels. Matthew gives us the most ordered record of Jesus teachings:
Ch.13 Coming Kingdom
Ch.23 False religion
Ch.24-25 The End Times
i] The letters. These are much more practical in their teaching:
(a) Give up certain sins, even though they may be condoned by society, Col.3:5-17, Eph.4:5 etc.
(b) Develop certain virtues - e.g., purity, sobriety, gentleness, hospitality, patience, forgiveness etc.
(c) Develop social relationships: family, Col.3:18-20. Christian fellowship: respect of elders and teachers, recognition of gifts, and responsibility. In the secular society, 1 Peter, Rom.13: prudence, peacefulness, kindness and obedience. In work, Col.4:1, Eph.4:28, 6:9, 2 Thes.3:10: diligence toward the employer and justice toward the employee.
The conflict between Biblical and secular ethics
In the latter half of the twentieth century an increasing disparity developed between the moral teachings of the Bible and the more widely accepted morality evident in modern society. This occurred due to a growing disbelief in the existence of God and thus a consequent loss of church authority. Slowly but surely Biblical morality was replaced by the socialist ethic of equality, prompting the emergence of the ethical isms: racism, sexism, ..... The switch from Biblical to secular ethics was confirmed early in the twenty-first century with the redefinition of marriage. In defiance to God's revealed will, Western societies have tended to reject the notion that marriage is the union between a man and a woman.
Although secular morality often aligns with Biblical morality, at times it does not, and for this reason Christians can find themselves in conflict with those who regard the teachings of the Bible to be bigoted, a product of an ancient world view now displaced by an enlightened modernity. Over the centuries, societies and their shibboleths come and go, but God's revealed Word is eternal.
Some practical thoughts
i] We will never solve the tension of having one foot on earth and the other in heaven. Just make sure you don't put all your weight on the world otherwise you'll find yourself stuck in it.
ii] Enjoy what you have - "Everything from God is good and is to be received with thanksgiving", 1 Tim.4:4. But don't let possessions dominate you - "Do not trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy."
iii] Share what you have - "But if anyone has this world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?", 1 John 3:17.
Take hold of life
Make the most of this short experience - take in everything that you can, and learn, for life trains us for our rule with Christ in eternity - "Whatever you do, put your whole heart and soul into it, as work done for God", Col.3:23f.
Don't become so heavenly-minded that you're no earthly use. Seek God's face in quietness. Don't make a show of your religion.
Don't become a hustle-bustle Christian trying to do too much with too little. Plan your day in line with what you can give.
The ordinary things in life have the same standing in God's sight as the great "spiritual" things. A mother looking after her child is just as faithful a disciple as a missionary evangelizing the world. "Each day is sufficient in itself."
Be transformed by the renewal of your minds, Rom.12:2, Eph.4:23, Phil4:8. Get the mind going along the right track - "Set your minds on the things that are above". The key to this is to come to grips with God's Word. Watch pride, envy, lust and worry.
The tongue is controlled by a fairly small muscle, but it can do a tremendous amount of damage. We must be very careful what we say, Jam.3:1-12.
Luke 6:32-36. Show care and concern towards friend, acquaintance and foe alike. We are to be like our heavenly Father whose love is poured out on all, Lk.6:32-36. For example, don't trample on another's scruples, 1 Cor.10:31-33. Don't make a person's background a barrier, 1 Col.3:11 (race, creed, culture, station ...)
The physical expression of the oneness found in marriage is a wonderful gift from God to aid us in developing the most intimate relationship possible between humans. It should not be cheapened or compromised. Sexuality must always be recognized within relationships and not denied. Such attraction is not evil in itself, while integrity is maintained, but can be a substantial stumbling block.
Children should respect and obey their parents while they are with them. Parents must care for their children both physically and spiritually. It is essential that the kids come to know Jesus, but you can't shove him down their throats.
Care for each other as individuals with a self-giving love. Make Christ the head of your home. Be accepting, make it work. Divorce is not God's ideal, but under extreme circumstances it is sometimes the only option. Aim at reconciliation, but if this is not possible, part graciously.
Moderation in all things. Gluttony and drunkenness is out. Christians have tended to be teetotalers in the western world because of the social problems caused by drink. They have not wanted to support this social evil by being part of it, or lead a weak person into it. None-the-less it is not wrong to drink alcohol in moderation. In his day Jesus drank wine (not grape juice as some people argue!).
Determine where you are most likely to let Jesus down and spend this week praying for his strength to stand for him.