What is Christian ethics?
Question: "What is Christian ethics?"
Answer: "Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality,
impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming" (Colossians 3:1-6).
While more than just a list of “do’s” and “don’ts,” the Bible does give us detailed instructions on how to live as a Christian should. The Bible is all we need to know about how to live that Christian life. However, the Bible does not explicitly cover every single situation we will face in our lives. How then is it sufficient? That is where Christian Ethics comes in.
Science defines ethics as “a set of moral principles, the study of morality.” Therefore, Christian Ethics would be the principles, derived from the Christian faith, by which we act. While God’s Word may not cover every situation we face throughout our lives, its principles give us the standards by which we must carry ourselves in those situations where there are no explicit instructions. For example, the Bible does not say anything explicitly
about the use of illegal drugs, yet based on the principles we learn through Scripture, we can know that it is wrong.
For one thing, the Bible tells us that the body is a temple of the Holy Spirit and that we should honor God with it (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Knowing what these drugs do to our bodies—the harm they cause to various organs—we know that by using them we would be destroying the temple of the Holy Spirit. That is certainly not honoring to God. The Bible also tells us that we are to follow the authorities that God Himself has put into
place (Romans 13:1). Given the illegal nature of the drugs, by using them we are not submitting to the authorities, but rather, rebelling against them. Does this mean if illegal drugs were legalized it would be OK? Not without violating the first principle.
By using the principles we find in Scripture, Christians can determine their course for any given situation. In some cases it will be simple, like the rules for Christian living we find in Colossians, chapter 3. In other cases, however, we need to do a little digging. The absolute best way to do that is to pray over God’s Word. The Holy Spirit indwells each believer, and part of His role is teaching us how to live: “But the Counselor,
the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (John 14:26). “As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him” (1 John 2:27). So, when we pray over
Scripture, the Spirit will guide us and teach us. He will show us the principle we need to stand on for any given situation.
While God’s Word does not cover every situation we will face, it is all-sufficient for living a Christian life. Most things we can simply see what the Bible says and follow the proper course based on that. In the cases where Scripture does not give explicit instructions for a given situation, we need to look for the principle behind it. Again, in some of those cases it will be easy. Most of the principles Christians follow are sufficient
for most situations. In the rare case where there is neither explicit Scripture nor seemingly clear principle, we need to rely on God. We must pray over His Word and open ourselves to His Spirit. The Spirit will teach us and guide us through the Bible to find the principle we need to stand on so we may walk and live as a Christian should.
Recommended Resource: Moral Choices: An Introduction to Ethics by Scott Rae.
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