Sunday, January 15, 2012

Thinking Like a Christian, Week 5: Ethics

What is right?

Logic demands no other conclusion than this: If we are to have a moral order and real values, there must be absolutes. To deny absolutes is, essentially, to deny moral values; or it merely makes values equivalent to individual opinion.

What is the basis of Christian ethics? In short, it is God and His Word. God's moral nature is absolute and unchanging. He always hates evil and loves good; He never makes up new values according to some providential whim. Christian ethics is grounded in the character of the triune God. Some things conform to God's character; others do not. It is our responsibility to determine what does and what does not conform! Consequently, the Christian moral order is eternal and permanent, because it reflects God's unchanging character, and flows from the nature of the Creator to the nature of His creation.

God's Word is His revelation to us. The Bible teaches us what is good and what is evil. Sin is always a violation of God's moral order. General revelation (creation) points out that a moral order exists; special revelation (the Bible) reveals its specifics. This moral order exists outside of man. It is not a creation of his mind, nor could it be.

God and His Word fully explain the Christian moral order.

What are secular ethics? It is interesting to observe that mankind has a "common moral heritage." Some sins, like murder, child abuse, and torture, are almost universally condemned, while some abstract values, like love, justice, or courage, are nearly always admired. Why? Naturalism certainly can't explain this. Could it be that God has made us capable of learning to discern right from wrong?

Secular ethical systems have two major, insurmountable problems. First, in secular ethical systems, all morals are relative. There are no absolute standards to judge right from wrong; one's own impulses and opinions become the basis for ethics. "Broad is the way that leadeth to destruction" (Matt. 7:13) is the verse that comes to mind. The second major problem is that secular ethical systems are always based on man's thinking. Whether based on naturalistic, economic, or some other philosophy, human ideas are inadequate to form an ethical or moral code. Determining right from wrong becomes nothing more than a baseless exercise of debate.

How should the Christian respond? First, we must recognize that the mind of man cannot create, invent, or discover any "new morals" or "new moral order." It simply can't be done. Christians also need to avoid thinking that there are any less-than-absolute moral values. There is no such thing. Furthermore, Christians need to recognize "new moralities" for what they are: Man's way of attempting to justify doing what he wants to do. This is a fallacy, and deviates from God's code. Morality is to be a lifestyle for glorifying God. Use your life to demonstrate what is right!

What do Christian ethics contain? Obviously, then contain moral absolutes. The Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount are classic examples; reading them provides a wealth of information about right and wrong. Much of the Old Testament, in fact, describes God's moral order, and how He expects His creation to operate. Jesus Christ, of course, is the living example of moral, ethical living. He was and is the perfect role model. The call to follow Christ is perhaps the simplest way to sum up Christian ethics. As He said to Peter at both the beginning (Mark 1:17) and end (John 21:22) of His earthly ministry, "Follow me."

The Christian also has responsibilities. Matthew 22:35-40 gives us what Christ called the two greatest commandments: To love God, and to love one's neighbor as one's self. This kind of love is not merely a form of compassion, but also requires us to be servantlike, meeting both the social and physical needs of others. Our love of God demands that we serve God (John 14:15), working to achieve His will for this world.

We must also realize and remember the implications of sin. To sin is to come short of God's moral order. All have sinned, and sin demands judgment (Romans 3:23, 6:23). Those of us who have accepted Christ as Savior have had our judgment paid, and should serve God lovingly and humbly for the rest of our days. Sin also brings guilt, because God has made us to realize that we "fall short" of the perfection that His holiness demands. Indeed, we are taught that the law was given, to convince us that we fail to keep it (see the book of Galatians)!

Once a person becomes a Christian, the proper response is to have a zealous desire to keep God's moral code—to do what is morally right. It is not for us only to espouse it; we must live it!
"The human mind has no more power of inventing a new value than of imagining a new primary colour or, indeed, of creating a new sun and a new sky for it to move in." C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, pp. 86-87.

"The Christian ethical system is both like and unlike any other system ever postulated. Every ethical system contains some grain of the truth found in the Christian code, but no other system can claim to be the whole truth, handed down as an absolute from God to man." David Noebel, Thinking Like a Christian, p. 88.

Reminder: This series of "Thinking Like a Christian" entries mirrors what I am teaching in my Sunday School class at Colonial Hills Baptist Church in Taylors, SC.  This series goes on hiatus and will, God willing, be resumed later in the year, with five more lessons.  The book Thinking Like a Christian is written by David Noebel and makes an excellent resource for the study of worldviews and how Christians ought to live in this present day.

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