Posted in Salvation, Theology

Musings on Matthew 16:18

“…on this rock I will build my church” (Matt 16.18; italics added).[1] What is the rock to which Jesus refers? Is it a play on the name Petra (rock), which is the meaning of Peter? Or is “the rock” to which Jesus refers; Jesus the Christ?

An important aspect the reader must consider is the topic under question. What is the topic? Who is Jesus of Nazareth? Jesus asks first, “Who do the people say that I am?” (Matt 16.13). He then asks, “Who do you [my disciples] say that I am?” (Matt 16.15). That right there is the topic (focus) of the whole dialogue, in case you missed it.

Peter’s answer is quick and to the point, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Matt 16.16). Jesus immediately praises Simon Peter’s answer, and explains that this conclusion was not of natural origin “…flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Matt 16.17). The Lord then identifies Peter, this son of Jonah, making the aforementioned declaration, “and on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt 16.18; italics added).

We are full circle. What or rather who is the “rock” to which Jesus refers? Is the rock Peter? Certainly, the book of Acts demonstrates the leadership qualities associated with Peter, starting with his message on the day of Pentecost (cf. Acts 2). Or is “the rock” still found in the original question that Jesus posed to his disciples? “Who…am I?”

If Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, then what is the proper designation for Him found in the Old Testament?

Well, there are actually quite a bit. Jesus is called the root and/or the branch of Jesse, the son of David (cf. Isa 11.10; Zech 3.8; 6.12). Jesus is said to be the “messenger of the covenant” (Mal 3.1). Jesus is identified as the shepherd who will guide and protect the children of God (cf. Psa 23; Zech 13.7; Mic 5.4; John 10). Along with the many metaphoric titles attributed to him, Jesus is likewise called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isa 9.6). The one that ought to catch our attention however, is that Jesus is referred to as the rock which was uncut by human hands that grows into a great mountain (Dan 2 34-35, 44-5). Jesus is the precious cornerstone upon which the leaders of Israel stumble, and foolish men of all nations reject (Psa 118.22; Isa 28.16; Zech 10.4; also see 1Cor 1.22-24).

Which makes more sense? To inject our own wisdom on the subject of what Jesus might mean by Peter as the rock? Or to build our thinking upon a biblical witness? Doesn’t it seem much more likely that Jesus is the rock, uncut and un-fashioned by human hands…that precious cornerstone that the supposed[2] builders reject? Yes, it does. And if we are willing to accept this truth we find that this is precisely the conclusion that Peter himself draws in his own teaching on several occasions:

  • “This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone” (Acts 4.11).
  • “For it stands in Scripture: Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.’ So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’” (1Pet 2.6-7).

And as Scripture testifies there is no other foundation that a person may be built upon (or a group of people) that is more secure than that which God has established: “For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1Cor 3.11; also see Rom 9.33; 1Cor 10.4). To put one more proverbial nail in the coffin for those that teach that Jesus cannot be the rock to which the conversation between him and his disciples referred to I will close with Christ’s own testimony:

Why do you call me “Lord, Lord,” and not do what I tell you? Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: “he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.” (Luke 6.46-49).

The fact remains that “There is none holy like the Lord; there is none besides [Him]; there is no rock like our God” (1Sam 2.2). The rock is Jesus Christ, and the citizenry of His Kingdom are those that believe in Him. To put anything in place of Jesus as Lord is to live a life of foolishness. To suppose that you can build anything of lasting worth apart from Him is one of the greatest deceptions that the devil has laid at the foot of human beings. Not to mention the great contention and confusion wrongly interpreting this passage has caused throughout the centuries.

ENDNOTES:

[1] All Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the English Standard Version (ESV).

[2] I use the word “supposed” because had they been true builders rather than false builders (blind guides), then they would have believed the testimony of Jesus and believed in Him. Instead they chose to “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom 1.18).

Posted in Christian Living

Faith: Sight Beyond Sight

“For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2Cor 5.7).[1]

“I’ve got to let it go. I gave it to the Lord.”

We walk by faith, not by sight.

“I want the Lord to take it, I can’t handle it no more.”

We walk by faith, not by sight.

“I’ve prayed about it a lot. I asked the Lord to take this burden from me. I don’t want it anymore.”

We walk by faith, not by sight.

“I think I’m fine, but then what I’ve prayed about…what I’ve sought to give to the Lord keeps getting put into my lap.”

We walk by faith, not by sight.

Stumble upon this first section and you may assume that I am uttering some catechism, or maybe a mystic mantra. Even as I wrote the lines above I kept imagining one person uttering their moments of frustrated despair, while a great crowd answered in response to them the simple fact that Christians, those who have been purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ, are called (commanded and encouraged) to “walk by faith, not by sight.”

Paul’s discussion of this in his 2nd letter to the Corinthians deals with the struggle of living in this tent of flesh we find ourselves in and the longing aspiration we have to be with our Lord, dwelling with Him throughout eternity. (This is simply what Paul calls life; see 2Cor 5.4). He is encouraging the Corinthian Christians to “not lose heart…for this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are [temporary], but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2Cor 4.16a, 17-18).

Truth be told I have been chewing on this 2Corinthians 5:7 for a while now. So much so that I’ve gained a better appreciation of the saying “like a dog with a bone.” If you have a dog or if you’ve ever had one and you watched them for a while after giving them a bone you’ll know what I mean.

Our dog will take her bone in her mouth and carry it around the yard for a while looking for a place to bury it. Then at some predetermined time only she can know she digs up the bone and chews on it. This is an ongoing process until she has either forgotten the bone or she’s crushed it to dust. This phrase by Paul has become my bone, and I keep coming back to it again and again.

What happens when we are confronted with circumstances we do not like? When the burdens of this life cause us to groan? When false ideas gain acceptance and the truth is vilified? What is our normal Christian response? “I prayed about it,” or “I gave it to God,” or “I just want God to take it,” or “I’m trying to let go of it and let God have it.” The subject of the “it” is not nearly as important as our understanding of reality. The reason I keep chewing on this verse is because the way we verbalize and think about our circumstances is very telling.

What does it mean to live by faith and not by sight? Well in order to answer that we need to define “faith” and “sight.” Don’t worry I have no desire to get philosophically deep here, but just hit the basics. Faith is in a word “trust.” Faith is trusting, believing, and having a hopeful assurance, a dogged conviction in something or someone. For the Christian our faith rests in the Triune God of the Bible. We trust in and are confident in His Word. We believe and trust in His Sovereignty. All the earth is the Lord’s and all that is therein (cf. Psa 89.11; 24.1-2). Nothing happens by chance or accident in my Father’s world (cf. Isa 46.10; Eph 1.11). He is behind all things and sustains all things, and even controls all things…even something as miniscule as the falling of dice (cf. Prov 16.33) or the loss of hair (cf. Matt 10.30).

When Christians live by faith we live with the knowledge that God and nothing else determines all things. We trust that all things are under His dominion. But, what about sight? Obviously, when most people think of sight they refer to that which is done by the human eye. Light enters in and insight about our physical surrounding is gained. However, sight even in every day English, means more than what we physically see. Sight in this way then is understanding and comprehension.

When we see things, we are looking at things or people or places in our immediate surroundings. We then interpret those various objects in light of our worldview. This includes the various circumstances we face in life.

And now we have gone full circle.

When the Holy Spirt says we are to live by faith and not by sight, this does not mean we close our eyes to walk the dog or think that reality is just an illusion. Rather, we do not trust in the circumstances around us. Life is hard. Life is full of trials. Life causes us pain and groaning. And life, makes the Christian yearn for better days. We long for a time when the effects of sin and the pain and sorrow that naturally spring from living in a fallen world will be forgotten memories.

Persecutions, trials and tribulations though are the reality until we put off this tent in which we are now living, and that’s the point. What do we do when evil seems to win, and the unrighteous appear to get away with wrong? How do we react to bad health or broken relationships or rebellious kids?

When we focus on the circumstances in life and the hardships they tend to bring, we lose sight of one very important truth: God is in control of it all. The way we talk about our circumstances and prayers; the way we say we are tying to let go and let God, we unknowingly show the error in our thinking. We are not in control of life, but God is. How can we give Him something when He already has possession of it? How can we let go of something, when we never truly had a hold of it anyway? Living by Faith is trusting that God rules every aspect of our lives…the good, the bad and the ugly. Our understanding (sight) of these matters is trivial, but we still seek it.

That’s the reason this subject has been sticking in my craw for the past few months. The way we talk about our lives and the way we try to handle the circumstances that spring up are out of whack. Like the father in the gospel’s I find myself saying, “I believe Lord…help me in my unbelief” (Mark 9.24). Not help me “let this go;” Not “take this from me;” but rather, Lord forgive me for my unbelief and increase my faith. I know you are in control of all things, Lord…give me the strength necessary to rest in that truth. To trust in You and to be comforted by you. I cannot give you what you already have. You’ve put these things in my life and brought the outcome out the way you saw as right, help me to acknowledge that though my understanding is incomplete…you are in control of it all. Please, Lord teach me—teach us— to rest in that.

ENDNOTES:

[1] All Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the English Standard Version (ESV).

Posted in Christian Living, Christian Witness, Worldview Analysis

Holding the Right Kind of Basket: A Discussion of Christian Social Justice

If this world is going to hell in a hand-basket, should Christians be the ones holding the handles? Or is fighting satanic forces every step of the way a false calling?

I raise these questions because of the current debate found within the Christian church regarding social justice. There are those that take the stance that Christians should not be involved in attempting to right social wrongs. That the Christian is only supposed to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. “We are about saving souls, stupid. Not realigning the deck chairs on the titanic!”

A very notable preacher and president of a particularly prestigious Christian seminary holds this particular opinion with great conviction. He argues that even though Jesus faced a host of social injustices in his day, the Lord’s approach was to “[preach] the good news of forgiveness and salvation…Politics and social activism are not the answer…we should focus on those things of eternal value.”[1] Let us take this statement at face value for a moment (we will return to the conclusions you may draw from it later). Obviously, this man believes that proclaiming the gospel is a good thing (no denial here!), but there seems to be a disdain towards “political” or “social” justice. Why?

Some of this requires a bit of a history lesson, but rather than delving into a boring (to some, not to me) discussion about what took place in the past that helped form this ideology allow me to give you a brief summary. During the 20th century there was a sizeable movement within the Christian community that put more stress on addressing the needs of the poor and downcast in society, but in so doing they shortchanged sharing the gospel. The gospel of God become of secondary importance. Or to put it another way, “Loving the neighbor” took on greater significance than “Loving God.”

That last statement may seem a bit confusing, because a person may wonder how in the world sharing the gospel is really about “loving God?” Here’s the crux of it, “Salvation is not as much about people as we may like to suppose. Rather, the gospel is first and foremost about glorifying God, exalting His Name above all others. The purpose of the gospel is all Hail Jesus! True if you listen to His voice, you will be saved. If you follow Him, you will find peace and rest. If you honor Him, you will inherit eternal life and become joint heirs for all eternity. All of those wonderful truths are real, but they are only the secondary outcome to what the gospel is truly about. The gospel is about the honoring of the Triune God of Scripture. A recognition if you will of the great and glorious and awesome Creator and Sustainer of all.

The liberals of the twentieth century found giving someone a cold cup of water, offering clothes to those need and visiting the poor in prison (a euphemism for loving your neighbors) as superior to all that messy business of telling the people the truth that they are at base sinful creatures destined for all eternity as an outcast. In reaction to this, the conservatives (fundamentalists/pietists/etc.) denounced any and all forms of social justice. The pendulum swung in the other direction, where sharing the gospel was heralded as the truly spiritual position. Add in a bit of end times skepticism and ta-da any pursuit that isn’t evangelistic (in a very narrow sense) is seen not only as a waste of time, but wrong.

Thus, you get comments like these by well-meaning Christians: “The social gospel [justice], on the other hand is an attempt to appease the world and the culture by encouraging Christians to adopt political social justice ideas through the guise of ‘gospel mandates…Nowhere in Scripture…the gospel isn’t found in politics…in social justice. The gospel is found only in Christ who was crucified on our behalf so that we could live, and there is but one gospel mandate.”[2] Thankfully, not all Christians share this mindset. Actually, neither does Scripture or Christ, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

Actually, “scripture and history are not on [their] side. The gospel entered a non-Christian society and transformed it. We may live in a post-Christian world, but it wouldn’t take much time or effort to reverse it.”[3] History shows the reforming efforts of the Christian worldview put into practice. While, our nation may have a bloody past in removing the tyranny of slavery England did not. William Wilberforce a Christian member of parliament made it his life goal to see black chattel slavery abolished in his nation. Right before he died his Christian battle for social justice was realized and the hateful practice was finally done away with. In the 19th century Christians fought against and ended the practice of abortion using political, journalistic, and pastoral avenues.[4]

Of course, now is when the tide seems to turn back towards the favor of those who believe Christians should only be concerned about evangelism (the gospel) and not justice (social/political). They argue, “Yes, but now look at how things are. History may say something different, but here we are again!” Okay, I suppose then we could argue that God was a fool for righting the wrongs in the nation of Israel during the period of judges. Things kept getting worse, but God kept putting His nose into a helpless and hopeless situation. And if we’ve gone that far, why not go a little farther. Jesus was likewise just as stupid! He ate with outcasts (sinners, tax collectors, prostitutes and the like), He healed on the Sabbath which was a breaking of that societies tradition (Luke 6.6-11) and He allowed those who were hungry to eat when those in authority frowned on such practices (Matt 12.1-8).

The blinders that we wield are truly amazing. How do we not see that when Jesus challenged those traditions (oral laws), he was fighting for social justice. Part of his preaching the gospel was not only a call to repentance, but an acknowledgment of the rule of God (i.e. the Kingdom of God is at hand, near, in your midst).  You see, “True spirituality is the Christian faith manifested. Jesus exhibited His love for the world in deeds of love and righteousness.”[5]

Now in closing I want to deal with two errors in logic I see Christians using when they argue; 1) That Christians should be about the gospel and not social justice, 2) Jesus was not a reformer.

The first is an argument that pits the gospel against social justice. The arguer states that Christians can and should only be concerned about the gospel, not social justice. It’s a simple either/or fallacy[6] which is akin to the phrase “My way or the highway” an ultimatum that ignores any other possibilities. The simple fact of the matter is that the gospel proceeds any and all forms of true social justice. A redeemed person is driven by the love of God and therefore wants to do right in His eyes and for his/her neighbors (even enemies). The gospel comes first as a heart changer, but a changed heart then moves to do what is just and good, imaging the God who created Him.[7]

The second is driven by an argument of silence, not to mention it ignores the historical status of Israel as Roman captives and the reform that Jesus did start to bring about during his earthly ministry. Arguments from silence don’ t prove anything. Here is a simple way of recognizing the folly of this position. Jesus did not marry or have children, he did not start a business or open an orphanage, Jesus did not leave his country to go on mission trips either or own a home. What Jesus did do was apply the precepts of God’s Word to everyday life. Scripture commends all these activities and many more things not mentioned in the life of Jesus.

Here’s the conclusion:

Social justice is not primarily about saving souls but doing what is right in the eyes of the Lord. Had Christianity taken the position historically that many privileged Americans hold today, then things like slavery, abortion or governmental tyranny would never have been opposed. Many who oppose any form of political involvement, the establishment of ethical norms, and justice for the poor, are living off the backs of previous generations of Christians who held an entirely different view. If this world is going to hell in a handbasket, Christians should not be the ones holding the handles, but fighting satanic forces every step of the way.

ENDNOTES:

[1] John F. MacArthur, “God, Government, and the Gospel: How Should Christians Think About Political Activism?” in Right Thinking in a World Gone Wrong: A Biblical Response to Today’s Most Controversial Issues, Nathan Busenitz, ed. (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2009), 125, 126. MacArthur is the president of the Master’s Seminary, host of the radio program Grace To You, and pastor of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California.

[2] News Division, “How the Social Gospel is Becoming the Dominant Theology in Evangelicalism,” Pulpit & Pen (blog), modified April 28, 2018, http://pulpitandpen.org/2017/03/16/how-the-social-gospel-is-becoming-the-dominant-theology-in-evanglicalism/.

[3] Gary DeMar, Myths, Lies & Half Truths: How Misreading the Bible Neutralizes Christians (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 2004), vii.

[4] George Grant writes, “Like so many times before, the dark specter of death cast a long shadow across the American landscape during the nineteenth century. And like so many times before, faithful followers of Christ rose to the occasion to defend the needy and the helpless with their very all-in-all…they demonstrated in word and deed that every human being is made in the image of God and is thus sacred.” George Grant, Third Time Around: A History of the Pro-Life Movement from the First Century to the Present (Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth & Hyatt Publishers, 1991), 21, PDF e-book.

[5] DeMar, Myths, Lies & Half-Truths, 20. Italics in original.

[6] Fallacy of bifurcation which ignores all possibilities and limits them to two.

[7] The gospel versus social justice may also be seen as a category error. This is more than likely brought about because Christian conservatives today have allowed those from a more theologically liberal bent to define the phrase social justice into social gospel. The gospel is a different category than social justice. The gospel is about heart reformation derived from the good news of God in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Social justice is about reforming the errors of injustice and evil and replacing them with godly good.

Posted in Christian Living, Theology

The Nature of Sin: Action or Desire?

Sin is an interesting topic and not one limited to Christian conversation. I am often amazed at how freely the word is used and the subject is addressed in literature, in entertainment, and I suppose sometimes in art. How sin is defined and applied will vary depending upon the persons’ religious convictions,[1] presuppositions, assumptions, biases, etc.

I spent the greater part of my life growing up in a theological tradition[2] that tended to limit the sin of the individual to acts of wrong behavior. Such sins were described as being unloving (selfish) or merely missing the mark. I suspect that this viewpoint is what became popular over time in the culture of the denomination, over and above the writings of the past. Nonetheless, this seems to be the prevailing attitude expressed in much of American Evangelical Christianity.

An example of this is seen in the current sexual revolution now taking place in this nation. Desire is separated by action. In short, desire is okay, understandable and maybe even legitimate (“that’s just the way you are”), as long as we do not act out those desires. Often the argument is laid out in this fashion, “I was/am tempted to do this or that, but I did not, therefore, I am not guilty of sin.” Sounds reasonable. Many believe it. Yet, we need to ask, “Is this true?” How does God’s Word deal with our sin? Does the Bible only condemn the act and not the desire?

The scriptural definition of sin is pretty straightforward, “Sin is lawlessness” (1John 3.4). Jesus summed up the fulfillment (upholding) of the Law of God in two points: 1) Love the Lord your God with all that you are, 2) Love your neighbor as yourself.[3] The logical order of these two points is that loving God your Creator enables you to love human beings your fellow creatures.  Or to put it another way, loving your neighbor is the natural outflow of having a heart devoted to the Lord.

Thus, we are told these truths consistently in Scripture:

  • “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1John 4.7-8).
  • Therefore, “the aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1Tim 1.5).
  • “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Gal 5.14).

Now if the law is fulfilled by loving God and fellow human beings, and the breaking of the law is refusing to do what is right—for sin is lawlessness—then does it not follow that only our actions are condemned and not our desires? No. Surprising to say that is wrong. This smacks in the face of what many Evangelical Christians believe to be logical. The idea that only our actions are wrong and not our intentions is blatantly false.

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s” (Exod 20.17; cf. Deut 5.21). Coveting something is desiring something that is not yours, and it is the desire which is labeled as a breaking of the law of love…a sin. Based upon this law, Jesus makes the following conclusion: “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person” (Matt 5.19-20a). The desires of the heart are what the Lord identifies as sinful, not just the action. “The devising of folly is sin…” (Prov 24.9a), not just the things we do.

Many of the Ten Commandments focus on the action[4], but less we say that only our deeds are weighed as evil before God, He clarifies the true source of the problem and condemns the very desires that we have. As a child I grew up to think that sinning in “word, thought and deed” was a ridiculous notion; an extremely legalistic view of sin. However, now that I am a man I see that God is the one who condemns our words, thoughts and deeds. Our actions are driven by our thoughts (desires), and when our desires are that which are contrary to our Creator’s they give birth to sin; the list of which seems to know no end (cf. James 1.14-15; Rom 1.24, 26, 28-32).[5]

Christians who have a malnourished diet come to erroneous conclusions. Identifying sin as only an action of the body (theft/murder) and not an action of the mind (thoughts/desires) is not only inaccurate, but damaging to the Christian lifestyle and witness. When we tell people that it is okay to have this or that desire just as long as they do not act on it, we do two things. First, we mislead them. Second, we become liable for the sins that they commit as a secondary accomplice.

We who are teachers, who claim to be mature in the faith, ought to do a better job instructing members of our household (the Body of Christ) in keeping even the least of the commandments lest we turn the Lord’s anger in our direction (cf. Matt 5.19; 18.6). Our goal ought to be obedience and adherence to God’s Word, not pacifying the masses both inside and outside our churches.

ENDNOTES:

[1] In the future we shall discuss the religious nature (affiliation) of all people, even those who prefer the category of atheism or secular humanism.

[2] Wesleyan-Arminian; particularly that found within the Church of the Nazarene.

[3] Cf. Matt 22.40; also see Deut 6.5; 10.12; Mark 12.29-30; Luke 10.27. The non-believer is found in open hostility to these precepts: Rom 8.7; Col 1.21.

[4] This is where most people tend to lean in study the Law of God. That the Ten Commandments are only concerned with external action and do not really address matters of the heart is a false notion; although, it remains a fairly popular one in much of Christian thought. This is sometimes expressed with the common phrase, “Christianity is a relationship not a religion” that is to say true Christians are only concerned about matters of the heart and not externals as if the two are opposed to one another.

[5] The Roman passage is often cited to condemn the perverse sexual sins that we see in society, but a thorough study will reveal that being turned over by God to the desires of our sinful hearts (which in itself is the expression of wrath described in v.18) is not limited to sins of a sexual persuasion. A vast list of various covetous behavior has been identified with the turning over of one’s mind.

Posted in Communication, Worldview Analysis

False Slogans and Ideas that Dupe a Great Number of People

“You can’t legislate morality!”

Take a moment and let that statement sink in. Do you notice anything wrong with it? Perhaps not. Many don’t. I’ve heard the claim by both Christians and non. Rather than assuming the truthfulness of the statement, what would an intelligent person do? Wouldn’t a wise first step be to ask a very sincere question: “What is morality?” These sort of blanket statements or platitudes need to be critically examined before we adopt them.

Morality is best defined “virtuous conduct.”[1] Morals are “concerned with the judgment or instruction of goodness or badness of character and behavior.”[2] Of course this raises another important question: “Where do morals come from?” Are we born with them? Or are they something that we acquire over time? If we acquire them over time, what is their source?

When babies are born they are known for a few qualities some find appealing others not so much. Babies giggle, cry (or wail depending on the temperament of your child), sleep and poop, among many other things. From the moment they enter our lives we begin teaching them certain guidelines to live by. When they want to crawl towards something dangerous we redirect them (don’t go there it’s bad), when they shove things into their mouths we may, depending on what it is, immediately take the object away from them (you’re not allowed to have whatever you want), when they throw a temper tantrum because they are fighting sleep we may use a variety of tactics to ensure that sleep is what they find (you need your rest). As the child grows so to does their knowledge of right behavior versus wrong behavior. Throughout the child’s life (from infanthood to adolescence) parents ingrain in their hearts and minds, standards of right and wrong in the hope that good character will be the result.

Lying is bad. Stealing your sisters’ toys or smashing your brothers Play-Do castle is wrong. Having a diet that consists of nothing but sweets is not good for you. Sleeping all day, playing video games all night, backtalking your parents, refusing to submit to those in authority (such as teachers, police officers, etc.) are the sort of things that we teach our kids. This is called training (or dare I use the profane word—indoctrinating) your child up in the way they should go.

All of these principles that have been instilled into our children are what we call ethics. Ethics are “a system of moral principles or values.”[3] In short, ethics are rules or laws. Do you see where I am heading yet?

When a person throws up the blanket statement, “You can’t legislate morality!” They are in a sense right. Morals are not rules, they are the expression of rules, principles, statutes, or commands that we have been taught. As we grow our conscience is being trained to follow a certain set of guidelines. Parameters of behavior are established. Boundaries of character are laid down.

Morals are formed from the ethical standard to which we appeal.[4] We do not legislate morals, but we do legislate ethical standards of right and wrong. Those ethical principles then have a direct bearing on our lifestyle in society.

For example, is it right or wrong to take my neighbors Porsche for a Sunday cruise without his permission? What if I just wanted to keep it for the weekend to make a good impression on my friends? Regardless of my intentions my action would be labeled as theft, and the penalty for the crime would vary depending upon a variety of factors; 1) my neighbor’s response, 2) the stipulations found in the law, and 3) the judgement levied by the courts.

Should we have laws in this country that state the taking of my neighbor’s property without his permission is theft? Isn’t such legislation trying to enforce a morality on me that I may find offensive? Isn’t that law trying to curb my behavior in a way that I may find unfair?

The argument that you cannot legislate morality is not only a misnomer but an argument formed not because people disagree with the establishment of right versus wrong, good versus bad behavior, good versus bad character, but because people do not want to be told how they should live. As one writer puts it, “The statement, ‘You can’t legislate morality,’ is a dangerous half-truth and even a lie, because all legislation is concerned with morality.”[5] The ironic thing is that the very same people who argue, “You can’t legislate morality” have no problem whatsoever establishing an ethical code that enforces a way of conduct (morals) upon others with whom they disagree. They are telling you are wrong, while at the same time telling you are right and they want the state to enforce their standard of righteousness.

The Christian is left asking, “What should I do?” To answer I offer the following rhetorical question: “Is cowering in the corner ever a right response?”

ENDNOTES:

[1] “morality,” s.v. The American Heritage Dictionary, 4th ed., 551.

[2] Ibid., 551.

[3] “ethics,” s.v., Ibid, 295.

[4] In the future we shall speak about the different ethical standards of all people. To ease the suspense, you can break those groupings down to two; God’s or man’s.

[5] Rousas J. Rushdoony, Law and Liberty (Tyler, TX: Thoburn Press, 1977), 1.