Morality & Ethics: A Biblical Approach

Morality and integrity are at the core of a life lived in the discipleship of Jesus Christ. Andrew Dubrin (Professor of Management Emeritus at the E. Philip Saunders College of Business at the Rochester Institute of Technology) defines integrity as “loyalty to rational principles; it means practicing what one preaches regardless of emotional or social pressure.”[1] This seems to be a basic principle of management but when dealing with ministerial leadership and matters of the moral turpitude, it is far from a practical standpoint. Integrity and morality rock the foundation of our human nature and speaks to the core of understanding our walk toward sanctification.

Jesus speaks of moral integrity in the Sermon on the Mount. He does so in many different terms than what first century Judaism would had described. He makes a point to center on the character of the person and not merely their actions. That particular character is based on the call and promise of Christ. His salvation is by grace, but our blessedness is out of our decision to follow him; “he calls them blessed, not because of their privation, or renunciation they have made, for these are not blessed in themselves. Only the call and promise, for the sake of which they are ready to suffer poverty and renunciation, can they justify the beatitudes.”[2]  With this, Christ sets up a different kind of world: God’s Kingdom here, on earth, where salvations abodes in grace and our works transcend mortal action.

Christ is laying the foundation for a call to arms where we are asked to believe in him, love one another, have hope that God will provide and reward, and renounce earthly living. “What we have come to call the Sermon on the Mount is a concise statement of Jesus’ teachings on how to actually live in reality of God’s present Kingdom available to us from the very space surrounding our bodies.”[3] He goes on to describe morality lived righteously from the inside out. Working our moral self as a notion carried out with the truth of Christ, the conviction of the Spirit, and the grace of God.

Paul further exhorts the Colossae Church to live a life of integrity through the Spirit. He writes: “sets your mind on things that are above, not that are things that are on earth.” (Col. 3:2 ESV) This is much like Christ’s sermonic call to arms; not just act but look to heavenly objects, not earthly ones. The only things in Heaven are souls or people who are saved. Paul is telling us that earthly desires and pleasures are not of importance but saving souls for Christ are the only thing that matters. This is the ethical life to live.

 Paul goes on to echo secular renunciation in verse eight when he asks us to “put them away” (Col. 3:8) or renounce our earthly lives. Paul is calling on believers to commit to a heavenly life, lived in God’s kingdom, here on earth, in order that we can appear with Christ in glory when he returns (3:4).

 Moreover, Paul extols the virtues of excepting grace as a substitution for morality; “the work of grace is inside out so that private matters of the heart are always fleshed out in the public actions of the body. For the Christian, the marketplace, the town square and their ruling elites are under the lordship of Christ too.”[4] The wickedness of man comes from the heart; therefore, the heart is the place to begin sanctification, through a constant mortification of our earthly sin. We have to constantly take off our worldly self and put on the grace we find in Christ. In Colossians 3:5 it re-iterates that this process is daily, it is a never-ending one of physical human nature; “you must always be at it while you live; do not take a day off from this work; always be killing sin or it will be killing you.”[5]

Although both the Sermon on the Mount and Colossians chapter three have interlocking themes and paralleled theology, they do have one striking contrast in content; Paul gives a more practical application of what to do in order to accomplish sanctification. The passage in Matthew, if not interpreted correctly, gives us an impossible depiction of a sinless life. The life Jesus describes is one that we all aspire to, but it is so impractical in day to day living that his antidotes to sin come off implausible. Without a proper contextual interpretation and explanation that Christ is describing a sinless life, in the Kingdom of Heaven, through full sanctification, it is difficult to fully understand His intent. Jesus Christ is describing what the coming Kingdom will hold for all those who believe; all the saints fully in the image of God, as we ought to be. The Sermon on the Mount has a more theoretical approach to the Kingdom that is now while Paul speaks of a practical approach to dealing with sin after the Kingdom has been established by the ministry and death of Christ.

The final question is how we continue to live moral lives of integrity while stationed here on earth in contrast to a secular world? John Owen writes: “As Christ is the pattern for morality, the Spirit is the power that makes Christian living possible.”[6] The life of the average Christian or ministerial leader will continue to transform as he/she further partakes in the secular world while  attempting to find ways to live a morally righteous life in Christ. If you carefully analyze the conceptual theme of separations and renunciation found in the New Testament, Christ and his followers were constantly exhorting disciples of Christ (Christians) to separate themselves from the world. Modern-day Churches and faith-based communities try to insert themselves into the world. This will ultimately have catastrophic effect for the Christian community, as evidence is already beginning to show a laisse-fair attitude the Church has come to sexuality, divorce, greed, idolatry, etc. A reckoning is coming, and it seems as if the Church will not be ready.

 

Bibliography

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. The Cost of Discipleship. New York: Touchstone, 1995.

DuBrin, Andrew J. Leadership: Research Findings, Practice, and Skills. 5th ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2007.

Owen, John, and Richard Rushing. The Mortification of Sin. Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2009.

“The Foundation of Pauline Ethics.” Bible Gateway. Bible Gateway Blog, 2015. Last modified 2015. Accessed July 25, 2018. http://www.biblegateway.com/. https://www.biblegateway.com/resources/commentaries/IVP-NT/Col/Foundation-Pauline-Ethics

Trull, Joe E., and James E. Carter. Ministerial Ethics: Moral Formation for Church Leaders. 2nd ed. Winnipeg: Media Production Services Unit, Manitoba Education, 2012.

Willard, Dallas. The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1998.

 

Footnotes:

[1]Andrew J. DuBrin, Leadership: Research Findings, Practice, and Skills, 5th ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2007), 172.

[2] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (New York: Touchstone, 1995),106.

[3] Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1998), 97.

[4] “The Foundation of Pauline Ethics,” Bible Gateway, 2015, , accessed July 25, 2018, http://www.biblegateway.com/.

[5] John Owen and Richard Rushing, The Mortification of Sin (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 2009), 5.

[6] Joe E. Trull and James E. Carter, Ministerial Ethics: Moral Formation for Church Leaders, 2nd ed. (Winnipeg: Media Production Services Unit, Manitoba Education, 2012), 45-46.

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