Posts Tagged 'Christian Ethics'

CHRISTIAN ETHICS, 6

 

Three More (Ethical) Hot Potatoes

Living an ethical life for the Christian means living up to Biblical standards, not down to worldly standards. When you stop and think about it, a Christian would actually have lower his standards to be ethical according to the world’s definition of “ethical.” This, of course, presupposes that Christians want to live up to Biblical standards. In the modern arena of life, sometimes it’s very difficult to spot a Christian in the crowd!

It’s unfortunate that so many believers have such limited knowledge of Scripture that they are unable to think critically about important issues of the day. Such is the case with the last three hot (ethical) potatoes in our series. We Christians refer to non-Christians as “the lost.” We call them “lost” for a couple of reasons. First, they are lost because they are “lost in their sins.” When you are lost in your sins, your destination is Hell. That’s not politically correct, but it’s a fact. Second, we call the non-Christian “lost” because they are ignorant. That is, they literally don’t know right from wrong; their minds are corrupt and they are unable to come to a correct conclusion on many issues. This is why you, Mr and Mrs Christian, need to live as ethically as you can! You can show these lost folks a better way. It is your witness; it is your testimony; it is your obligation to both God and the lost.

1. Hot potato: Sanctity of life

(a) Humans—a very special creation, Genesis 9:6; Psalm 139:13—16

From an abortion clinic's pathology lab. Each container houses an aborted baby.

You don’t have to watch, listen to, or read American media to discover that Americans have a very (to me) strange, sick obsession with abortion. How obsessed are we? In 2010, there were approximately 3,500 per day. Now, that’s sick. What makes it even worse is that many of those abortions were performed on Christian women. Christians have a perplexing notion regarding abortion. Christian parents preach pro-life loudly and clearly until their little princess breaks the bad news to them. Then it’s usually up to Dad to sneak her over the county line to have an abortion on the QT.

How do Christians live ethically in a culture that has such a cheap and selfish view of life? It all begins with what the Bible teaches regarding when life begins. It is NOT up to the courts to decide when life begins. God creates it, so He is the ONLY authority on the issue of when life begins.

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. (Psalm 139:13—16)

Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the author of Psalm 139 wrote about God’s participation in the development of a life within the womb. It may well be “a woman’s body,” but the new life in her womb is a life carefully crafted by God, and nobody has a right to interfere with His work. These are powerful verses for the Christian to ponder. For the unbeliever, who does not recognize the authority of the Bible, they are meaningless. These verses are for believers; believers are to base their ethic on the sanctity of life on these verses and verses like them. Let the world engage court battles and political decisions in their fruitless quest to justify their slaughter of 3,500 innocent lives a day.

God takes the taking of life seriously, by the way. Consider Genesis 9:6—

Whoever sheds human blood, by human beings shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made humankind.

Here you have verse that settles three things. First, if a fetus is a living person as the Bible says it is, then having an abortion is the shedding of human life. For the unbeliever, that person who had the abortion is ignorant, her mind corrupt, and already on her way to Hell unless she finds Jesus. But the believer who has an abortion has a lot to answer for. Second, this verse clearly teaches that God believes in what we call “capital punishment.” There’s no other way to interpret “by human beings shall their blood be shed.” And third, God holds human life sacred because every human being is created by God in His image.

(b) God’s set time, Ecclesiastes 3:1—2; Psalm 116:15

Human life is in God’s hands. We take pills, have operations, and practice all kinds of “healthy eating” in hopes of eking out an extra year or two of life, but the fact is, life and death are in God’s hands. Christians generally know when life begins, abortion statistics notwithstanding. But things get a little muddled for us at the end of life. When a loved one dies, we say ridiculous things like, “She died too soon.” Or, “He was taken from us at such a young age.” In light of what the Bible says, those statements are ridiculous and meaningless:

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot. (Ecclesiastes 3:1—2)

God has a plan for every human being. Their beginning was determined by God and their end will be determined by God. There is nothing a mere human being can do to add one second to their life when when their time is up. Since God has a plan for every life and a span for every life, who has a right disrupt that plan or shorten that span by murder of any kind? No wonder God takes life so seriously!

For the Christian, the sanctity of life must always be of primary concern before all others. Whether the child is wanted or not. Whether that child has a disability or not. Whether that senior citizen is on life support or not. Convenience, cost, the courts, and quality of life do not determine the Christian’s ethic concerning the sanctity of life. The Word of God does.

2. Ethnic discrimination

Here is another obsession of Americans. We are absolutely obsessed with a person’s race, color, ethnicity, and so on. Even our national census has questions about race. Race determines who gets into some colleges and who gets some jobs. All this in a country that claims to be “colorblind.” As Christians, we need to know what the Bible says about this issue.

(a) The principle, Leviticus 19:33, 34

When foreigners reside among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigners residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.

That principle sounds reasonable, but when we consider the context in which God gave it, it becomes quite stunning in its implications. The Israelites were God’s chosen people. They were given a piece of land to live on by God Himself. They were the recipients of tremendous blessings from God just by virtue of their special covenant relationship with Him. Yet here we have God laying down a principle for all time: treat a stranger as if they were not. Love the stranger as you love yourself.

It is God’s declaration that God’s people should not discriminate against any person who is from a race or ethnic group different from themselves. Rather than treating someone differently because they are from a different ethnic group, Christians are to consider them no different (no better or no worse) than themselves.

Naturally, we as believers don’t carry that to a ridiculous extreme. Leviticus does not teach “moral” or “cultural relativism.” We balance this teaching of acceptance with other teachings about being separate from the world and not allowing the world into the Body of Christ. There is a world of difference between multiculturalism and multi-ethnicity. The former is highly destructive to society, but the latter is wholly Biblical. All of us, “red and yellow, black and white,” stand equal before our Creator.

(b) The problem, Luke 10:29—37

One day, a lawyer wanted to test Jesus and justify himself. The question he asked our Lord had to do with going to heaven. Jesus’ answer was simple. If you want to go to heaven, all you have to do is obey the law of God and love your neighbor as yourself.

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

In answer to the second question, Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan. In the story, an unfortunate man was robbed and beaten up and left for dead on a the side of a road and all kinds of people just walked by him, not offering to help him. They all had a good excuse for not helping this poor guy. While we don’t know his ethnicity, we do know who eventually stopped to offer aid: a Samaritan.

This Samaritan, a half-breed really, went out of his way to help a stranger. He put into work the principle outlined in Leviticus. What’s the point of the story? That a half-breed is more ethical than a priest? No! Jesus’ point in the parable is that we believers ought to be willing to extend a helping hand regardless of the other person’s ethnicity.

3. Addictive behaviors

(a) Money, 1 Timothy 6:10; Proverbs 13:11; 28:19, 20

There is nothing wrong with wealth or money. There is nothing unethical about being wealthy or having a lot of money. There is no virtue in being poor. As you read the Old Testament, wealth is seen as a reward for obedience in the lives of such people as Abraham, Job, and David. The more they obeyed the Word of God, the more wealth God gave them. Over in the New Testament, the ministries of Paul and Jesus would have been non-existent had it not been for the support of wealthy people. Wealthy individuals made missionary endeavors possible. We give the Holy Spirit credit for the rapid expansion of the Church in Acts, but let’s not forget how much wealthy believers did to help spread the Good News!

The ethical issue surrounding money isn’t that Christians shouldn’t have much of it, but that they shouldn’t be in love with it. Loving money is unethical because it leads to unethical behavior that touches virtually every aspect of your life.

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. (1 Timothy 6:10)

Indeed, loving money opens the door to all kinds of grief and trouble! When we “love” money, we become addicted to it; we find ways to accumulate it, often to our detriment. If you have ever watched the zombie-like senior citizen yanking the slot-machine lever in Las Vegas, gambling away his pension and working on his Social Security check, you have a good picture of what Paul meant by “piercing themselves with man griefs.” When you are in love with money, you lose all perspective. You’ll do things you thought you would never do to get more money and get it as fast as you can. Proverbs gives us some excellent wisdom about this:

Dishonest money dwindles away, but whoever gathers money little by little makes it grow. (13:11)

A faithful person will be richly blessed, but one eager to get rich will not go unpunished. (28:20)

(b) Sexual addiction, Matthew 5:28; Psalm 101:3, 4

Addiction to things like pornography prove to be a snare; it is unethical behavior for the Christian because, like loving money, it distorts your view of the world around you and leads on a path that will destroy your life.

But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:28)

Jesus sure sets the ethical bar high! But remember, as Christians, we are to live up that His bar, not the world’s bar.

I will not look with approval on anything that is vile. I hate what faithless people do; I will have no part in it. The perverse of heart shall be far from me; I will have nothing to do with what is evil. (Psalm 101:3, 4)

The power of your choice! You can choose to turn away for things like pornography. It is our responsibility to “turn it off” in order to not do what “faithless people do.” There are times when we can’t help but see things we shouldn’t. But when we can, it is our duty to take responsibility for what we see. It’s good to remember the old Sunday School song:

Oh, be careful little eyes, what you see.
Oh, be careful little eyes, what you see.
There’s a Father up above, looking down in tender love,
So be careful little eyes, what you see.

Be careful little ears what you hear
Be careful little mouth what you say…
Be careful little hands, what you touch…
Be careful little feet, where you go…

We have barely scratched the surface in the study of Christian ethics. The most important thing to remember is that as a Christian, you are called to a higher standard of living than those who are not believers. This in no way makes you superior to them; it makes you an obedient Christian. Christian ethics is really all about our consecration and dedication to the teachings of the Word of God.

Christianity is different than all other “belief systems” because they all have strict rules and regulations their followers are expected to respect. Not so with Christianity. We recognize that we are created in God’s image. We have an intellect. We have ambition. We have the ability to reason. We have talents and abilities to create wonderful things, and wicked things. We have been given something precious: the ability to think and choose for ourselves. The key for the Biblical ethicist is summed up by Paul:

I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything. (1 Corinthians 6:12)

Don’t lose control of your life! Don’t let the things of this world get a hold of you! Take control of your life; be obedient to the Word of God, rise above this world, and become the ethical person God has called you to be.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

CHRSITIAN ETHICS 4

Ethics, The Holy Spirit, and You

Of all the people living on the earth, Christians should be the most ethical. When you read the Bible, it becomes obvious this is what God wants, and He wants this for different reasons. First, the more ethical we live, the happier we will be. Imagine how good it would feel to never have a “guilty conscience” again! Second, the more ethical we live, the better witness we have. When a person “practices what they preach,” they can more effectively share their faith with others because they will have confidence; their words will ring true, not hollow. Third, the more ethical we live, the more accurate we replicate Christ in our lives. After all, we do bear His Name! We ought to try living as He lived. And fourth, we really have no excuse to not live ethically. The old saws, “the devil made me do it,” or, “God isn’t finished with me yet,” should be expunged from Christian vocabulary because they give the impression Christians are finding ways to excuse their sin, and Christians should never try to excuse their sin!

Living ethically, expected of us by God, can be done right here, right now. We don’t have to wait for the Second Coming and the Millennial reign of Christ to be the most ethical people on earth. Within every believer is a reservoir of dynamic, unlimited, and Divine power waiting to be accessed, guaranteed to give you the supernatural ability to live as Christ did. The Holy Spirit stands ready to help YOU live ethically; all we have to do is yield to that Spirit.

That sounds so easy, and it’s easier to write than to do. The fact is, the wants and the flesh are often at war with the demands of the Spirit. When push comes to shove, we need the Holy Spirit to give us the “gumption” to strike down the flesh. No less a person than the Apostle Paul struggled with this very issue:

So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. (Romans 7:21—23)

1. A life transformed

(a) A new perspective, John 16:8

When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment…

It’s interesting that Christians almost always think of the Holy Spirit as “the Comforter,” yet here Jesus seems to indicate that a primary purpose Holy Spirit is to show to the world what sin is, what righteousness is, and why they, as sinners, are living in a way unacceptable to God. Like they say, “you can’t see the forest for the trees,” so a sinner who is living in sin continually has no idea how sinful he may be. It’s the job or ministry of the Holy Spirit to show him, but how does the Spirit do that?

In the life of the believer, He has the same ministry, but He does it from the inside out. That is, the Holy Spirit convicts the believer of sin; He brings it to our attention and puts us in the position of having to make the choice: Do I sin? Or do I turn away with the help of the Spirit? This is the beginning of ethical living for the believer—simply listening to and obeying the Holy Spirit. For the unbeliever, no such ministry exists. The Holy Spirit does not indwell an unbeliever and they are oblivious to His existence. The Holy Spirit fulfills this aspect of His ministry—showing the sinner what sin is and what righteousness is—through US; through the CHURCH. Think of the implications of that, and think of the responsibility we have as believers! When we choose to sin and rebel against the leading of the Holy Spirit, not only do we harm ourselves, but we literally quench the Holy Spirit and, possibly, harm the sinner who should have been helped by our obedience, but instead sees us behaving just like him!

This is a whole new perspective on obedience! We obey, not only for our sake but also for the sake the unbeliever, who is lost in his sins, has no choice but to sin, but can see us and therefore can see a way out of his lost state. At the very least, when we live in obedience, it can cause an unbeliever to stop and question his behavior and maybe, Lord willing, cause him to ask why we live the way we do, thus opening the door for us to share our faith.

(b) A new owner, 1 Corinthians 6:19—20

When we consider what happened at our conversion, living ethically becomes an urgency, not an option. Thanks to the work of Christ, we have been gloriously and permanently set free from sin’s hold on us. Once we were slaves to sin, but now we are “dead to sin,” it no longer has a claim on us in any way. Sin has no claim on our minds—we don’t have to sin in our thoughts. Sin has no claim on our time—we don’t have to spend our free time sinning. Sin has no claim on our talents—we can use them to glorify God. In short, we are now free in the purest sense, to pursue righteousness, holiness, peace, and joy in the Lord. And yet, with this freedom, which sinners cannot experience, by the way—we are called to live by certain “rules of conduct” based on the fact that we, though free from sin, are now owned by Someone else:

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.

Paul wrote that in the context of sexual sin. But the principle of “honoring God with our bodies” extends to every aspect of our lives. Since ownership of our bodies transfered to Jesus at our conversion, for us to return to our old way of life would be a violation of that spiritual transaction. Therefore, ethical living is the best way to honor Jesus Christ, both as our Savior but also as our new Master.

2. Spirit controlled living

(a) Thinking new thoughts, Romans 8:1—9

For many believers, verse one of this group of verses stands out as one of their favorites:

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…

The profound truth of that verse is life-changing. If we are in Christ, we can never be condemned for our sins; there is no other way to interpret that. Simple and straight forward, this verse further illustrates the magnitude of what Jesus did for us. He saved us from our sins in every way—He separated us from them; they are no longer attached to us and God will no longer associate them with us. Yet there are many forces in the world around us determined to draw us back into a life of sin in an attempt to undo what Christ did. Think about it: the media, our careers, our friends, even our family members can be used by Satan to that end. How do we fight all of these forces? Like so much of what we do, it all begins between our ears:

Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. (Romans 8:5)

This describes a whole new way of thinking; a way of thinking based on what the Holy Spirit wants, not on what we want. We flippantly use the phrase “led by the Spirit” as a way to describe living according to the will of God, but rarely do we stop to wonder where we get that information. Just where do we discover what the Spirit desires for us? If we believe that the Word of God is God’s final Word to us, then we must immerse ourselves in the Word of God, discover what it says, then—and only then—can we be led by the Spirit. From time-to-time in our immaturity, the Holy Spirit will come to us and supernaturally move us along a desired path, but the longer we serve the Lord, the more we are expected to know His Word. There is no way around the Bible! It must be the focal point of our new way of living.

(b) Living a new way, Romans 8:12—14

At first glance, verse 12 seems like a downer when we compare it to verse one:

Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the sinful nature…

Nobody likes to talk about “obligations,” but here it is in black and white: Christians, as free as we may be in Christ, have a sacred obligation NOT to live according to the “sinful nature.” We sometimes joke about Christians who seem to be “so heavenly minded they are no earthly good,” because their lives seem to be so different from ours. Throughout the history of the Church, there have been sects that sought to live separate from the rest of the world to the point where they lived in small communities, cut off from society. Is this what the Bible teaches? No; living a new way means living IN the world in such a way as our new lives become obvious to those who see us. Living a life of separation does not mean literal separation from everybody, but spiritual separation from sin and the forces that seek to tempt us to sin.

Our obligation is to get a handle on our sinful nature and live contrary to it! Coming to Christ does not make us robots; it does not remove our ability to choose; it does not mean that we forfeit the ability to think and reason and question. In fact, coming to Christ sets us free to do all those things in a way untainted by sin. But our obligation is live according to the Spirit; God wants us to choose to live that way; He does not force it on us. And God has given us something to help us make that choice: the fruit of the Spirit.

3. The fruit of the Spirit

(a) No conflict, Galatians 5:17, 19—21

Christians have been redeemed—they have been “bought back” from the world. Some Christians think this redemption is all about their souls. To them, redemption is all about going to heaven when they die. They couldn’t be more short-sighted. While it is true our souls have been redeemed, our redemption includes all we are are: our bodies, our minds, our emotions, our temperaments, and our natures. Because our whole being has been bought by God, every time we make an unethical choice, every time we conspire to sin, we are thrown into a conflict. Paul understood this conflict well:

For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. (Galatians 5:17)

The last phrase of that verse says it all: we are not free to do whatever we want. This stands in contrast to the attitude of the world today, that tells us we should do whatever makes us happy, or whatever makes us feel good. The attitude today is “I deserve to be happy.” In fact, Paul makes it very clear how dangerous that attitude is in verse 21:

I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

There should be no conflict, but when we feel it, we know we are in the wrong. The conviction of the Holy Spirit, even though it makes us uncomfortable, is essential in keeping us on track so that we will ultimately prevail and inherit the Kingdom of God.

(b) Live by the Spirit, Galatians 5:16, 22—25

To help end the conflict, we have the fruit of the Spirit. The key to ethical living is allowing the fruit of the Spirit to grow in our lives. Paul makes it crystal clear that if we are walking by the Spirit—paying attention to what the Holy Spirit wants for us—then we will NOT give in to our sinful natures. Furthermore, walking in the Spirit is no mystery for we have a list of how to do it! We call this list “the fruit of the Spirit,” and if you are doing your best live according to this list, then you will be living ethically. Contrary to what some may think, the fruit of Spirit is for all Christians, not just the so-called “super saints!” The fruit of the Spirit should be the norm for all believers.

The thing about the fruit of the Spirit is that there is ONE fruit with many parts. This indicates that all the “virtues” are linked together to make up that ONE fruit. The implication is a bit startling: all Christians are expected to exhibit the fruit of the Spirit in its entirety. Yes, each piece of the Spirit’s fruit should be seen in our lives. That requires a lot of work. For some of us, certain pieces of the fruit of the Spirit will come easy, others will be hard to manifest. But it is our privilege to cultivate a life a where the whole fruit of the Spirit may be seen all the time. This can only happen when we allow the Holy Spirit to work in us on an ongoing basis.

When we start living like that, we will be living in the ethical way God desires.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

CHRISTIAN ETHICS 3

 

Christ in YOU!

A lot of modern Christians look at the disciples with envy. They think that Jesus’ friends had a closer relationship with Him than we ever could because the disciples actually lived with Jesus; they interacted with Him on a daily basis in a way we can’t.

While it is true that Biblical characters had unique experiences with Jesus during His earthly ministry simply because they were alive at the same time, the fact is we should never “idealize” anybody alive during Biblical times. When Jesus ascended to the Father, He made it possible for every single believer to have virtually unlimited fellowship with Him thanks to the Holy Spirit’s presence in their life. And the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit was something the disciples never had while Jesus was alive in the flesh.

When Christ takes up residence in our lives through the Holy Spirit, everything about us changes. These changes, many of which can be seen by others, vary from person to person. Our age, personality, temperament, and other factors determine what those changes will be and look like. At our conversion, we become “new creations.” We begin to live new lives of holiness and purity. It is never easy, it is always a challenge, but we have the promise of Christ’s presence and power to help us.

The thing about this new life is that sometimes it is passive, reflected in the thousand and one things we do each and every day without thinking. Other times it is demonstrative; we are to demonstrate our faith by purposely making decisions that reflect our ongoing relationship with Christ. This may effect how we dress or the kind of entertainment we enjoy or the people we associate with.

1. Live in Christ’s presence

(a) Through obedience, John 14:19—24

It was Jesus’ final meal. Very shortly, Jesus would be arrested and crucified. Gathered together with His disciples, Jesus spoke of many things which left His friends confused and frightened as they faced an uncertain future. Imagine the difficulty of understanding this:

Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. (verse 19a)

With this sentence, Jesus was putting forth a very profound idea: His followers would be markedly different than those who don’t follow Him. Followers of Jesus will continue to “see” the Lord while others would be unable to. Think of the privilege! With that singular privilege, though, came a solemn responsibility: strict obedience to the teachings of Christ.

Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. (verse 21a)

Our love for Christ is linked to and evidenced by our obedience to His Word. Or another way to put it, our obedience to Christ is the means by which we enjoy and maintain a personal relationship with Him and experience His presence. There is no substitute for obedience. No number of words or declarations of love can take the place of obedience.

(b) Through unity, John 17:20—23

John 17 records a profound prayer of Jesus, in which He prayed for Himself and His disciples. Among the things He asked for on behalf of His disciples was protection:

My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. (verse 15)

Verse 18 indicates exactly what He expected from His disciples:

As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.

Jesus’ mission became the mission of His disciples, and ultimately ours. This is pretty heavy stuff! Jesus came into the world to save it. And that is our mission; to take the Gospel to sinners. Right in the middle this thought, Jesus prayed an interesting couple of sentences:

My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. (verses 20, 21a)

Jesus’ supreme desire for His followers—all His followers, through all the ages of time—is that they live in unity with each other as they fulfill their mission. This is pretty profound; our unity is to look like the kind of unity that exists between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That surely is not how the Church of Jesus Christ looks today! We are a fractious, divided, and divisive bunch, that’s for sure. What’s worse is that many Christians want unity as badly as Jesus wanted it but they are willing to sacrifice doctrinal purity for that unity. That should never be the case; our unity should be based on the solid teachings of Christ.

Why is unity so important? It is because our unity is a testimony to the world around us:

I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (verse 23)

If we understood this, maybe we’d work a little harder at getting along with each other.

2. Put on the new self

(a) A new creation, 2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 4:20—22

If there is one truth that sticks out like a sore thumb in much of Paul’s writings it’s this: As a Christian, the life you have today is far different than the life you had before you became a Christian. At least, it’s supposed to be different! Through the work of the Holy Spirit in us, we are born again, we are new creations, we are regenerated, we once lived in darkness but now we live in His light. Whatever metaphor you may like, the reality should be clear.

Living as a new creation isn’t easy. In fact, it requires a Herculean effort some days! As Paul told his friends in Corinth, “the old is gone, the new is here,” but that’s just the beginning. He fleshed out this idea when he wrote to the Ephesians:

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires. (Ephesians 4:22)

That phrase “put off” means an effort is needed. Nobody can “put off” somebody else’s old self, we are supposed to be “putting off” our old self. It’s a effort.

(b) A new attitude, Ephesians 4:23, 24

Once we “put off” our old self, something else has to happen. It’s not enough to simply try living right! We are to “put on” our new self. And this starts, like most things, between the ears:

…to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:23, 24)

The Holy Spirit comes into our lives and sets us completely and gloriously free by dumping all the trash out of our minds so we may begin our new lives by thinking right; by having a totally new outlook on life. On the power of attitude, Winston Churchill observed:

Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.

It really can make all the difference and a lot of Christians are either unaware of the importance of the right attitude or choose to keep their old, worldly attitude, resulting in a stunted and immature Christian life. Do you find living for Christ hard or next to impossible? Then check your attitude!

In Philippians 4, Paul helps us understand how to think right by giving us a list of good things to think about:

[W]hatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (Philippians 4:8)

That takes a lot of work to do even though it sounds easy. Changing one’s habitual way of thinking is like giving up an old friend for some. It’s comfortable to think negatively all the time or to always see the bad and never the good. But that’s not God’s way. Thinking like God thinks is not an option! But thinking like God thinks can go a long way in making a godly life a reality and the norm.

(c ) A new direction, Colossians 2:20—23; 3:1—4

One of the tests of our “new life” is the direction we take. Do we continue to live life bound by man’s rules, regulations, and principles? A lot of Christians do and they never experience the freedom that comes from the “new life.” God doesn’t want you strangled by a bunch of made-up rules and laws for living based on nothing more someone else’s ideas. This is what Paul tried to tell the Colossians:

Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!” Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence. (Colossians 2:21, 23)

Having the appearance of wisdom can only get a person so far. And there is a segment of the Church that loves “such regulations” because it makes them “feel” like they are something more than what they really are. In fact, living a holy life as prescribed by Christ has nothing to do with living a life full of negatives, like, “Don’t do this,” or “I won’t do that.” Christianity is not asceticism. Christianity is a life full of freedom and joy. It is a life distinguished, not by the things we don’t do, but rather by the things we do that set us apart from the rest of the world.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (Colossians 3:12—14)

How is this possible? The key may be found back in verse 3:

For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.

Your death is a spiritual fact! It is an accomplished fact! If you are dead and still alive, then something must have happened to you; you must be something different than you were before. You are a “new creation,” and according to Paul, “hidden with Christ in God.” What does that mean? It does NOT mean we lose our individuality because of our new faith. It does NOT mean we lose our personalities or any of the things make us who we are. Rather, it means “who we are” and “what we want” is now tempered by Christ. Our lives—our essential beings—are hidden in Christ; that is, our lives are kept safe so that one day we will actually be with Him in reality.

When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (verse 4)

Your new life is worth so much, it is being kept safe by Jesus Christ Himself! That alone should give us pause to consider how we are living this new life of ours. Since it is worth so much, let’s put forth the effort to live according to Christ’s will.

(C)  2011 WitzEnd

CHRISTIAN ETHICS 2

The Law of Love

Probably one of the most over-used and abused words in the English language is “love.” Consider the following statements:

  • I love this car!
  • I love Italian food!
  • I love that TV show/movie/song/book, etc.!

Have you ever said things like that? Do you realize how ridiculous it is to use the word “love” like that? We all do it, though; when we want to emphasize how strongly we feel about something we whip out the word “love.” That’s an unfortunate habit that Christians would do well to disabuse themselves of. Really, it would be better to say things like:

  • I really like this car!
  • I really enjoy Italian food!
  • That is such a good TV show/movie/song/book, etc.!

Because the word “love” is so misused, a lot of us don’t know what it really means. Even when we manage to use it correctly, because we don’t fully understand it, all we are doing is saying a word, we aren’t following through and bringing it to fulfillment with concrete actions and attitudes. This results in an ethical problem for Christians because for us, Christ’s law of love is supposed to be the guiding principle for all we do; in all our relationships, both with other people and with God.

Love is much more than a feeling; it is something meant to be demonstrated. Herein lies the problem. The demonstration of love is largely a subjective thing, subject to our temperaments, our personalities, and sometimes our circumstances. Yet, the proper demonstration of love is potentially the greatest witness we can have for Christ. Without a doubt, love is something we all need the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to demonstrate consistently.

1. Love: A command

(a) Love God, Mark 12:28—31

In this passage of Scripture, Jesus was put to the test by two groups of Jews; religious leaders and a group of pro-government Jews. Initially, Jesus was asked about paying taxes (verse 14), then a question about the resurrection (verses 18—23).

After deftly handling those questions, Jesus was approached by one of the teachers of the law and asked a question very important to Jews: which commandment is most important. In a scintillating moment of brilliance, Jesus quotes the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4),

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.

There was no answer more appropriate for Jesus to give, but that wasn’t enough for our Lord. He continued with a commandment about love. First, the command to love God. This was also highly appropriate since it was God who initiated the great covenant with His people, which itself was based on His love for them. Even the most hardened Jew would have no problem with the second part of Jesus’ answer.

Then, Jesus added the second greatest commandment, which He wasn’t asked about. As far as Jesus was concerned, love for your neighbor is second only to love for God in order of importance. These two commands are linked together and involve far more than paying lip service to either party. Loving God involves actions, not just words and feelings, and if we are to “love our neighbor as ourselves,” then that means far more than just saying nice things to them. Imagine the foolishness, for example, of being hungry and just talking about eating but never eating. It’s the same thing with claiming to love God and others, love has to be demonstrated in order for it to mean something. Simply saying that you love God or telling your neighbor that you love them is virtually meaningless unless those words are backed up by actions. For his part, Jesus’ questioner got precisely what Jesus was trying to say, and we have to give him credit for that:

Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” (Mark 12:32—33)

(b) Love believers, John 13:34—35

This “new commandment” given by Jesus to His disciples was given during what we commonly refer to as “the Last Supper.” In between Judas’ betrayal of Jesus and Peter’s denial of Jesus, our Lord gives this command specifically aimed at believers and their love for each other.

The first thing that strikes us about this is that love for other believers had to be commanded! Loving other Christians ought to be as natural as breathing, yet apparently it isn’t as easy as it sounds. When it comes to loving one another in the Body of Christ, He is to be our great example: “as I have loved you.” So, if you are stumped about how to love the person who sits in front of you in church, then the onus is on you to re-read how Jesus loved His disciples, and the Gospels are replete with examples of ways in which Jesus manifested His love for His followers.

The second thing we notice is one of the reasons for loving other believers: “everyone will know” that you are a Christian. Loving a brother or sister is a good witness within the church, but it is a powerful witness to the outside world! As those looking in see our acts of love towards one another, they will know for sure that our faith is real.

2. Love meets law’s demands

a) Love your neighbor, Romans 13:8—10

These verses don’t really have to do with paying off monetary debts, nor are they an admonition against borrowing money. The previous verses deal with things like that:

Give to everyone what you owe: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. (verse 7)

In fact, the true Biblical ethicist always pays his debts, no matter what that debt may be—money, or otherwise. This is in stark contrast to the wicked:

The wicked borrow and do not repay, but the righteous give generously. (Psalm 37:21)

Having dealt with money, Paul goes a little further. He knows Christians want pay off their debts. Nobody wants to be known as a deadbeat who defaults on a debt. Nobody likes to be in debt; when you are paying off a debt it’s like a monthly bloodletting until its paid off! A lot of people today will use their tax refunds to retire a debt, just to have the peace of mind that the debt is gone. Paul artfully lets his readers know that there is another debt just as important as, say, a mortgage or car payment, and it should be treated the same way; the debt to love one another. Imagine what the church would look like if we fell all over ourselves “pay the debt of love” to our brother or sister. We would never walk away from a financial obligation, so why do we walk away from the “love obligation?”

Loving our neighbor isn’t always as a dramatic as the story of the Good Samaritan. Sometimes Godly love expressed by a believer goes unnoticed by that believer, but the the recipient of that love always notices. Sometimes love for a neighbor is just making sure no harm comes to them.

Granted, some neighbors are hard to love. But Christians are not given the privilege of choosing which neighbor to love.

(b) Love without favoritism, James 2:8—13

Here is the hardest part about loving neighbors. Preferring one neighbor over another is a sin. We are not allowed to be selective. We are not allowed to pick and choose the kind of neighbor to love or when to love them.

One thing missed by casual readers of Scripture is this:

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom. (verse 12)

The ethical ideal of loving one another is a command given us by God, but we have the freedom to obey it or not. Love cannot be forced. Christians never seem to realize the awesome freedom we have in Christ, for if we did, out attitudes and behavior would most certainly change! Consider what Paul wrote to the Galatians:

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1)

Christ set us free! But with that freedom comes an awesome responsibility to be obedient to God’s wishes for us. One of them is His wish for His children to love one another without favoritism. Genuine love comes from the inside out; it is not influenced by another person’s clothing or social standing.

3. Love = service

(a) The importance of love, 1 Corinthians 12:31; 13:1—3

The Corinthian church was a mess. There were no less than four warring factions within that congregation, so you can imagine there wasn’t a whole lot of love there. There were spiritual divisions, there were economic divisions, and there were sexual divisions; all this in one church! In an effort to bring some kind of unity to the congregation, Paul urged this large church to practice proper discipline, to respect the differences between men and women, and to desire the best spiritual gifts.

He also spent a considerable number of verses discussing the way of love. If we take a careful look at the first three verses of 1 Corinthians 13, we notice a surprising thing: love soars above all other spiritual gifts. It is valued more even than the gift of faith. In fact, love is more important than the most philanthropic and benevolent act you can perform, like giving away your clothes. Love is more significant than the ultimate self-sacrifice of giving your body for the sake of the Gospel. The fact is, unless love the motiving factor behind all those things is love, then all those things mean nothing in God’s sight.

(b) Evidence of love, 1 Corinthians 13:4—7

Within this group of verses, Paul makes a series of “bullet points” which describe the nature love:

  • Love is patient
  • Love is kind
  • Love does not envy
  • Love does not boast
  • Love is not proud
  • Love does not dishonor others
  • Love is not self-seeking
  • Love is not easily angered
  • Love is keeps no record of wrongs
  • Love does not delight in evil
  • Love rejoices in the truth
  • Love always protects
  • Love always trusts
  • Love always hopes
  • Love always perseveres

These 15 qualities make up our Love Test. If these qualities are found in our lives, then we will be manifesting love to the people in our lives. But just looking at that list of qualities can depress us! How can we hope to have all of those things working at the same time? Unfortunately, there is no verse in the Bible that tells us how easy love is. There is no magic 10-step formula for making you a loving person. We will have to work at it. Sometimes the love will come easy, other times not so easy. But unless we are putting forth the effort, along with the help of the Holy Spirit, to manifest these 15 qualities, we won’t have love.

(c ) Love forgives, Galatians 6:1, 2

Finally, in our study of love as it relates to Christian ethics, we have to make note of forgiveness. That God shed His love abroad in our hearts and forgave us our sins is a given. But if we have received this forgiveness, then we are obligated to show that exact same kind of forgiveness to others.

Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

That may be hard to do sometimes, but forgiving others and helping others in their walk with Christ is all part of showing love.

At the beginning of this study, we suggested that demonstrating love is a very subjective thing, often open to interpretation by others and also subject to our own temperaments and personalities. While that may be true, if we believe the Bible (and assuming we know how to read!), then we have no excuse for not knowing how to express love in the best way possible. Jesus Christ is the supreme example for us. The question so glibly asked these days is, “What Would Jesus Do?” Actually,  you should already know the answer to that. So the question then becomes, “What Will You Do?”

(c)  2010 WitzEnd


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