By Guthrie D. Dean
Authority refers to “the power or right to act or command.” Ethics has reference to “a set of moral principles or values; the principles of conduct governing an individual or a group.” The chief priests and elders of the people came to Jesus and asked Him, “By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority?”(1) Though they themselves may not have been honest at heart, at least they recognized two things: (1) the need for religious authority; and (2) the fact that such authority must come from the proper source. Jesus, of course, taught by the authority granted to Him from the Father. The will of God, as revealed in the Bible, is our authority in doctrine and practice. It serves as the Christian’s guide in dealing with human conduct. As Paul said to Timothy, “that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.”(2)
The Bible Is Authoritative
In every situation we should learn to answer these Bible questions: “What saith the scripture?”, “How readest thou?”, and “What is written?” Paul tells us that all Scripture is given by the inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all goods works.(3) Peter writes, “According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue.”(4)
We can realize how authoritative His word is from the fact. that it will serve as the criterion by which we will be judged in the last day. Jesus stated, “The word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day.”(5) The apostle Paul speaks of the judgment as “the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.”(6) (Paul’s gospel, of course, was the gospel of Christ). At the opening of the books in Rev. 20, the dead are judged out of those things which are written in the books, according to their works.(7)
Though the standards of men may change; and though the presumptuous may “call evil good, and good evil,” and “put darkness for light, and light for darkness,”(8) the word of the Lord is settled forever, in heaven.(9) It is the rule by which we are to live; for it will definitely be the standard by which we are to be judged.
The Bible Offers A Pattern For Human Conduct
It offers clear principles to help the Christians make decisions in all areas of conduct. Gambling, for instance, is not dealt with per se; but there are principles which relate to the saint’s action in such matters. Abortion may not be specifically dealt with; but the principles which require chaste behavior will take care of the problem before it arises. And the sacredness of life is upheld throughout the Scripture. The New Testament is not designed to be a Book of “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots”; but there are no circumstances that we face which are not covered therein. The Bible offers a clear voice, and throws light on a straight path. It contains “present truth” for “such a time as this.” We are told that the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared unto all men; “teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world.”(10) And note again, what Peter wrote; “according as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue.”(11)
The world about us makes little effort to follow the principles of the word of God, and many even scoff at its authority. But the Christian has no other alternative but to submit to the Lord. If we reject His standard, we are in the same position that Simon Peter was when he asked: “Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.”(12) In matters pertaining to our morals, we must subscribe to the will of God. As the apostles, under fire, remarked, “we ought to obey God rather than men.”(13) We are not to be conformed to this world, but transformed by the renewing of our minds.(14) We are admonished, “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.”(15) We should continue to look up; and keep our eyes on Jesus. In this world of sin and lawlessness, the outlook may be dark; but the up-look is always bright.
The World Rebels At Divine Authority
The sinful world has always condoned such practices as dancing, immodest apparel, profanity, gambling, sexual immorality, and the use of alcohol. This is why godly parents have a continuing responsibility to train their children in the way of the Lord. This is why all of God’s people are to watch and pray. That which is accepted by the world becomes a double-threat to the saint. Young people, especially, do not want to be “different” from their peers. So the challenge to “come out and be separate” becomes even greater as more and more vices are made legal by man’s laws, and become “respectable” in the eyes of society.
Abortion, drug-abuse, pornography, fornication, adultery, and homosexuality are being legalized by a godless generation. As more sins are sanctioned and made legal, the bigger the problem becomes for our country, for the average law-abiding citizen, and for all God-fearing people who are but strangers in a hostile world. But faithful Christians will continue to swim up-stream; even though the rest of civilization may be rushing headlong into the sea of destruction.
Man may be smart enough to split the atom, invent all sorts of gadgets, fly backwards, and walk on the surface of the moon; but he has not authority to legalize sin and speak for God! Philosophers; sociologists; authors; scientists; psychologists; psychiatrists; denominational theologians; legislators; government officials; school teachers; college professors; special interest groups; Hollywood, Las Vegas, and Broadway entertainers; the television and other mass medias must not be allowed to become the Christian’s standard and authority in ethics! They cannot and they do not speak for me. Like Joshua of old, I say, “As for me and my house, we will serve Jehovah.”(16)
This Is No Time For Compromise
Whatever we do in word or deed we are to do all in the name and by the authority of Jesus Christ.(17) Only His truth will make men free.(18) And the truth is the word of the Lord.(19) (As we go forth with the truth we can afford to give no quarters to sin; yet we must continue to show patience and compassion toward the sinner. After all, our service and our worship, must always be governed by two divine principles: spirit and truth(20)).
But this is no time for the trumpet to give an uncertain sound. This is no age for fence-straddling on matters affecting our morals and spiritual welfare. Today we certainly do not need soft preaching and compromise. And it is no time for silence on moral issues.
“I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel; therefore thou shalt hear the word at my mouth, and warn them from me.”(21) God made this statement to Ezekiel when Israel was being torn asunder by idolatry and immorality. It was during the period when the religious leaders had violated God’s laws, and were putting no difference between the holy and the profane, between the unclean and the clean.(22)God’s law in every age has been set up to distinguish between things that differ, and approve of that which is excellent.(23) When that same prophet (Ezekiel) foretold the return of Israel from captivity, he recorded this admonition: “And they shall teach my people the difference between the holy and the profane, and cause them to discern between the unclean and the clean.”(24) God’s word does that for us today; and we dare not compromise its truths. It is high time for all Christians to unsheath the sword of the Spirit and move forward with the fight against moral decay. You are to “cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and show my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins.”(25) Let us always remember that “the battle is the Lord’s.”(26) And if God be for us, who can be against us.(27)
- What two things do we learn about authority from Matthew 21:23?
- What do we mean by “ethics” in this study?
- How can we know that the Bible is our standard of authority?
- Give some New Testament verses which show God’s teaching regarding human conduct?
- Discuss some of the ways in which the world has rebelled against Bible principles of morality.
- How were the sinful people of Ezekiel’s time blurring the divine principles of proper conduct? See Ezekiel 22:26 and 44:23.
- Name the two divine principles by which our service and worship are to be governed. Define these. See John 4:23-24.
- In what ways are Isa. 5:20 and Ezek. 22:26 being repeated in history today?
- Name some influences in the world which must not become the Christian’js authority in ethics?
- Compare the various translations of Phil. 1:10 and explain how this verse is applicable to this study on authority.
Truth Magazine XXIII: 20, pp. 323-325
May 17, 1979