THE LIFE-STYLE OF A BELIEVER
A Prolegomenon on Christian Ethics
This is an advanced teaching on another very important subject. Again, I will not take credit for most of this teaching and you will recognize the different styles of writing – the author’s and mine. You should know by now that men of God wrote the Word as they were inspired by the Holy Ghost using their own personality. The gospels were written using the personality and writing styles of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The man of God who initially wrote this teaching could be very simple and very intellectual. This teaching was written for strong standing believers and leaders, however can be understood by most Christians. I found it to be a fascinating work. I will edit, revise and add or complete certain Scriptures and sections to make it easier for you to understand. This great author and man of God would not want me to reinvent the wheel, so the teaching will be somewhat revised so that you, the Christian believer, will have access to and a greater understanding of this teaching.
What is written in this teaching is the truth from God’s Word and not from man’s opinions or ideas or misinterpretations or erroneous interpolations. You are going to learn an extremely great amount of the rightly divided Word pertaining to ethnics and morals, and in many cases, it will surprise and enlighten you concerning areas of your life that you may not think of very often. Overall, the teaching is most positive and so very important. You will finally be able to understand and renew your mind to the truth of God’s Word regarding this subject. Let’s begin.
Right and proper conduct is for a person to live according to the principles of God's rightly divided Word. These principles set forth in God's Word are the basis of Christian ethics, or if you prefer, the believer's life-style.
Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil. – Ecclesiastes 12: 13, 14
meant to be living by God’s Word. It is
All Christian ethics are found in the Word of God, specifically in those Church Epistles addressed to the born-again body of believers, as well as the scriptural records of the person of Jesus Christ and of other men and women in the Word whose lives manifested these principles.
This teaching is intended to be a prolegomenon, a basic and critical introduction, on the topic of ethics for believers. If the principle of our position is accepted that the Word of God is the Will of God and is the ultimate authority in the field of ethics, then the logical deductions will be even more firmly established than the facts of any science because they are based on unchanging truth. Facts can be changed and argued. The truth of God’s Word is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Therefore, it can only be witnessed to.
Different premises cause different systems of ethics. Therefore, recognition of our stated premise is essential to understanding and accepting the system of ethics based upon it. Technically, ethics is the science of conduct, producing a defined result. The word "ethics" also means the science of morals. "Ethics" is from the Greek ethika, which is derived from ethos, meaning custom or habit. The word "morals" comes from Latin, moralis. The goal of a code of ethics is to help people live virtuously, morally, uprightly - in order to manifest the more than abundant life. So to be spiritually minded is life and peace, but to be carnally minded (5 senses only) is death.
For to be carnally minded is death; but to spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity [in conflict] against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. – Romans 8: 6, 7
I believe it is possible, if we accept the premise that the Bible is our ultimate authority, that we can collect a body of specific truths of universal application. From this single premise we have produced a coherent system of general Biblical principles applicable to all believers who want to follow the accuracy of the Word. The study of this system of principles is the "science of ethics." Living the principles in God’s Word is the "art of ethics."
Ethics is an applied and directive science, teaching man how he ought to behave. It is not a natural or descriptive science. In all other sciences except ethics, values are arbitrarily imposed by man's desire and vantage point. Therefore, scientists start from different premises with different understanding, due to rearing, habit, personal taste, and exposure. Premises are seldom settled upon by logic. People simply choose a particular premise. In our case, we choose the premise that the Bible is the only and ultimate authority. What is "right" is what God's Word says is right. What is "wrong" is what God's Word says is wrong. Likewise with "good" and "evil." The definition of terms dealing with ethics must be in agreement with God's Word. We must always define our terms, think clearly and logically, and use plain, simple language.
The more searching and our analysis of the Word and the more accurate our understanding of the Word, the more insights we will gain into the true nature of man. Therefore, the more we know of the Word, the more complete, satisfactory, and detailed our science of ethical behavior will be. This is referred to as the ‘renewed mind’ and is our key to power.
I Beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable [logical] service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. -- Romans 12: 1, 2
Moral or ethical progress generally fails to keep pace with material and intellectual progress. Thus, man is usually not morally or ethically good enough for the task to which he is called because of his lack of true knowledge of the Word of God, or lack of desire to believe God's Word. A major difference between the precepts of ethics and of all other sciences lies in the hypothetical precepts of the form: if you desire such and such a result, you follow such and such a method. In contrast, however, the precepts of Christian ethics are categorical or absolute precepts or imperative in the essence of "thou shalt" or "thou shalt not."
According to jurisprudence, a law is a command to do or refrain from doing something issuing from a competent authority. Our competent and sole authority is the Bible, the Word of God, rightly divided. Thus, in Christian ethics the commands, laws, and rules are categorical, such as found in Isaiah 30: 21: "... This is the way, walk ye in it. ... "
And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left. – Isaiah 30: 21
Notice what happens in the next verse when we turn to the right or to the left….. Ye shall defile………….
Never look to the left or to the right when you are walking with God. This is nothing but a distraction from the god of this world. It takes mental discipline and the more Word you know, the stronger you will be in your mind and your actions.
The conduct or behavior of an animal is prescribed by its physical constitution, its animal nature. Biologically, man, Homo sapiens, is an animal. However, when a person is a Christian, he or she is more than a physical and mental being; he or she has a spiritual side, which no other animal - human or beast has.
Instinct, is for man and animals, an innate psychological, psychophysical, mental disposition which leads to action in a certain way. The will, emotions, and reason, while all single entities, are unified in one person who is body, soul, and spirit. A man's intellect is the whole person thinking; his will is the whole person choosing; his emotions are the whole person liking or disliking. A man's belief and conduct are indissolubly bound together as roots, trunk, limbs, branches, twigs, and fruit are organically connected to one tree. His thinking is done in the light of his own interests.
Conscience is a moral awareness established within us by the habit patterns we have formed due to previous teaching. A person may be honest and sincere yet narrow and prejudiced. A man may know a statement to be true, yet deliberately desire to disagree, or, being weak in desire, settle for less than the truth. This is referred to in the Bible as a spirit of slumber.
(According as it is written, God hath given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear;) unto this day. – Romans 11: 8
Have you ever met anyone like this? Take notice of the last part of verse 7 .. “and the rest were blinded”. Now look at the beginning and near the end of verse 8. It is in a parenthesis which is a Figure of Speech illustrating an explanation. God is explaining the end of verse 7. Precision.
A man cannot be argued into agreement on the Word of God, ethics, or anything else. He has free will. One person may appeal to and even convince another by logical argumentation and reasoning so that the one feels obligated to admit that the other is right, according to a specific definition, yet he does not will to do what is right. On the other hand, he may desire to do what is right, but being weak of will or of renewed mind, he may fail to bring his good desires into concretion. In other words, men cannot be argued or forced into agreeing on opinion or virtue. No one wins an argument. A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still. Dale Carnegie made millions of dollars by writing a book on how to function socially using biblical principles.
There is no sphere of human activity where ethics is not involved. Whenever men continue to choose evil when they know good, that choice will always be spirit influenced. Ethics determines what is best. However, there are circumstances where what is best or right is not always possible. Each situation must be judged on its own merit and, above all, the motive must be considered.
There are three basic propositions for man in this life:
1. Man is born to live for the glory of God.
2. Man is to be born again and comes to a knowledge of God's Word so as to effectively witness to the glory of God.
3. Every man is an individual in himself and is never a means to another man's end.
There are five categories of duty for a Christian believer:
1. The believer's duty to God.
2. The believer's duty to himself.
3. The believer's duty to the household.
4. The believer's duty to the family.
5. The believer's duty to society (unbelievers).
The presence of God is man's "natural environment," man as he ought to be.
Notice the order in the five categories of duty for a Christian believer. The first is to God:
But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. -- Matthew 6: 33
The second is to himself:
And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? -- Matthew 7: 3
Get your act together before you try to help someone else. You cannot help someone with problems when you have problems of your own.
The third is to the household:
Now the difference between the household and the family can confuse some Christians. I am going to rid that confusion for you once and for all.
There are believers that are really rooted and grounded in the Word. Many live together or are in constant touch with one another through classes and fellowships. I experienced this type of lifestyle and it was the greatest time of learning and enjoyment in my life. This is what God refers to as the household.
As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all × [men is in italics – scratch it], especially unto them who are of the household of faith [God’s household]. – Galatians 6: 10
The fourth is to the family:
The family includes all the Christian believers that are born again but are not dedicated to a detailed study and application of God’s Word. If you are part of the household and your neighbor is a Christian, but without dedication, your neighbor is part of the family of God. Easy enough – you should be able to understand this.
Now, the fifth duty is to society and this society of people are unbelievers. That’s right. We have a duty to them. God loves them as much as He loves us.
Now, in conclusion of this section, your first duty is to God, then to yourself, then the household, then the family, then the unbelievers. If there are no household members anywhere where you reside, then your duty shifts to the family.
ETHICS AND THE INDIVIDUAL
The education and discipline of the mind according to the accuracy of God's Word is the highest education of all intellectual powers. Man must so educate his will and desires that he becomes the master in the tabernacle of his own being. He must educate his mind to love good and abhor evil, and educate his intellect so that he has a coherent system of true beliefs.
There are five basic types of judgments which a man can make: truth judgments, ethical judgments, expediency judgments, esthetic judgments, and judgments of fact. Unity, certainty, and stability are qualities of life which every man should desire to attain.
The teaching that "the end justifies the means" is ethically wrong. Arguments of immediate expediency, failing to evaluate the total situation in a moral light, are erroneous. No human being is ever a means to another's end. Every man counts for one and no man for more than one.
Greed in a man's life is the desire for exclusive possession. "Enough" for most men is more than they have. Men's hearts are generally set on material acquisitions, but in practice happiness depends less on what they have than on what others have and they have not. A person never feels the lack of material things of which he or she has no knowledge. People who are covetous will treat you like an object. Take a look at II Peter.
And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgement of old lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not. – II Peter 2: 3 [The words that are omitted in the KJV are not in the text.]
Covetous people will treat you like you are merchandise. I met a woman in a disco that said to me that no matter how much she had, she always wanted more. I made a courteous disappearing act.
Mere possessions give no lasting pleasure. There is a great new freedom once man has, by his will, released himself from the "wheel of things," "the Jones syndrome," [keeping up with the Jones’] and shaken himself loose from the tyranny of possessions. Man's basic human nature has the desire to possess. Lust, greed, and rage are all perversions. Sadism is a fruit of lust and unrestrained greed, and its outcome is hatred and bitterness. God's Word says that no one is at liberty just to please himself. He must sublimate his desire for individual possession until it becomes a desire to serve in love and to develop to the utmost this service for others rather than himself.
Moral judgments must be passed on motives rather than on actions. Self-discipline with a view to obtaining self-mastery is a requirement. Man must become master in the tabernacle of his own being.
And that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you; That ye may walk honestly toward them that are without, and that ye may have lack of nothing. – I Thessalonians 4: 11, 12
There is great freedom in self-discipline.
Seeking to define clearly when the gratification of a bodily desire becomes sinful is extraordinarily difficult. To say that excess indulgence alone is sinful, simply shifts the difficulty from one point to another. You are left with the question, what constitutes excess? Desire should be simple. The zest of living is increased by simplicity, even in the food that we eat. In many of the richest, fullest, deepest, and most vital lives passion plays a great part; but passion must be curbed, restrained, and controlled. Passion must be a servant, not a master of a man’s life.
Duty is what one ought to do. Duty is the law applied to individuals. Duty deals with purpose, aim, and reason for conduct. A man's willful decision toward duty determines his virtue. Virtue is a man's fixed attitude toward his ideal. There are circumstances under which clear and plain duties conflict, and we have to choose at times which duty to perform and which to neglect. It is ethically wrong to worry about things beyond our control.
Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. – John 14: 27
Ethics claims to determine what is right. It does not profess, however, to show that under all circumstances what is right or best is always possible. Each case has to be judged on its own merit, and above all, the motive of the heart must be considered. Before we harshly judge an act, we must judge the motive. What is the motive is the important question. A good man is the one whose heart is set on virtue. A bad man is the one whose heart is set on just the opposite.
Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these ; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. -- Galatians 5: 19- 21
The four cardinal virtues of Plato are wisdom, courage or fortitude, temperance or self-control, and justice. Aristotle, retaining Plato's four virtues, added six more, namely: liberality, high-mindedness, gentleness, friendliness, truthfulness, and decorous wit. The seven deadly sins listed by the Roman Catholic Church are: pride, anger, sloth, sensuality, avarice, gluttony, and envy.
Virtue as defined by the Word of God can be seen in Isaiah 11: 2, referring to the coming Messiah, and is described in part by the fruit of the spirit of Galatians 5.
And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord; -- Isaiah 11: 2
But the fruit of the spirit [small ‘s’, not referring to God himself ‘S’, but to your spirit ‘s’] is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. -- Galatians 5: 22 - 23
The ability to arrive at an intelligent decision between alternative courses of action takes a knowledge of God's Word. Godliness is God-likeness or goodness. "Fear of the Lord" is reverence for Him.
Virtues of Christ: Matthew 5: 1-16
Virtues of Paul: Philippians 4: 8; Galatians 5: 22-23;
I Corinthians 13; Colossians 3: 12-15
Virtues of Peter: II Peter 1: 5-8
Works of the flesh: Romans 1: 29-31; Galatians 5: 19-21
When alone, most people do not control what they will or will not think about. They daydream, "float along," even fantasize. However, there is a duty of disciplined thinking. The power to determine what you will think about and what you will not think about is a valuable aid in resisting temptation. Do not allow mental, moral, or spiritual deterioration. Have knowledge of yourself. Know where you are and redirect yourself to a fuller life.
There is a matter of callous indifference which must also be dealt with in ethics. The Bible refers to the person who is callously indifferent as one who has a "conscience seared with a hot iron" or one who refuses to "abhor that which is evil." Pleasure is not always good. For example, when a person has had his or her mind seared with a hot iron regarding sexual matters, the last stages of vice have been reached, namely homosexuality. It is the lowest form of sexual vice.
Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; – I Timothy 4: 2
Suicide is a violation of the law of individualism. Life is a trust which is given to us to use. Suicide is an act of selfishness. It leaves the living to suffer. Suicide is usually an act of cowardice. Suicide is presumptuous. Suicide is spirit possession.
The individual has a right to defend himself, just as does the state. Under no system of ethics is it held that the duty of any man is to allow himself to be killed rather than to protect himself. Nor is man to allow himself to be despoiled of his possessions rather than to resist.
Living in this world, we have to take this world as we find it and resolutely endeavor to act as virtuously as possible in every situation, striving always to choose the better of two or more alternatives and to make it a better world in which to live. Though we may not be perfect in this world, we must strive to be as perfect as possible.
Let all things be done decently and in order. – I Corinthians 14: 40
Sketch on the canvas of your mind the sort of man you ought to be, and in a given time you will become that man.
No man willing to face the truth will deny the positive effects of the new birth and the renewed mind. The Christian believer is in a position of self-realization because God places in the believer's hands the ability to make decisions according to God's Word. Each man's future is fashioned by means of his own conscious selection and rejection. This is the very essence of determining what will become of an individual. It is the artistic production of one's own life.
[End of Part One]