By John M. Trokey
Morality is concerned with establishing and disseminating principles of right and wrong in conduct or behavior. Morality and ethics are closely associated. “Ethics is that branch of philosophy which is concerned with human character and conduct…. It has to do with life or personality in its inward dispositions, outward manifestations and social relations (Alexander, 1013). “Ethics is that branch of philosophy that deals with how we ought to live with the idea of the Good, and with such concepts as right and wrong” (Pojman, Xiii).
Free To Choose
Morality is real only if mankind is free to choose. In a world of fate or determinism, in which all things are predetermined and fixed, mankind has no responsibility. “Freedom is an absolute essential to a truly moral universe” (Greisler, 58). The Bible clearly shows man is a creature of choice, free to choose whatever he wills (Acts 10:35; Deut. 11:26-28; Josh. 24:14, 15). Early in time, when God rejected Cain’s offering, “… the Lord said to Cain, Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it” (Gen. 4:6b, 7). Cain was instructed that he had a choice between right and wrong and was responsible for his choice. Also, Cain’s choice would determine whether or not he would be happy.
John M. Trokey
“We are discussing no small mat-ter, but how we ought to live” (Socrates in Plato’s Republic). How we “ought” to live presupposes that there is an absolute standard of right and wrong. The study of “ought” in Deontic logic “is an attempt to put in formal structure the functioning of the word `ought’ in moral contexts, particularly in moral commands” (Geisler Feinberg, 29). In the Epistle of John, for example, John writes: “he that saith he abideth in Him ought himself also to walk even as He walked.” The idea is we “ought” (are under moral obligation) to walk as Jesus walked. Unless there is an absolute standard of conduct, one would not be under obligation (ought) to act in a certain manner.
God is the Standard
The biblical morality is rooted ultimately and inseparably in the unchanging nature of God. When God ordained the standard by which man should live, he set the standard in him-self. To have done otherwise would have been a denial of his own charac-ter and a denial of an absolute standard. Man may be unfaithful (unbelieving and immoral) but “he (God) abideth faithful; for he cannot deny himself ” (2 Tim. 2:13). The philosophic argument of whether something is right because God wills it or God wills it because it is right is answered in the biblical perspective that God’s expressed will of right is an expression of God’s essential and unchanging character. Right does not exist as something apart from God upon which he arbitrarily decides or upon which he stamps his approval.
God has revealed to man how man ought to live based on his own character. “Seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, in order that by them you might become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust” (2 Pet.1:3, 4). God’s nature or character revealed in the Bible is that God is holy (1 Pet.1:15; Lev. 11:44); God is Light (1 John 1:5); God is love (1 John 4:8, 16; Matt. 5:48); God is righteous (1 John 2:29); God is good (Psa. 118:29); God is merciful, gracious, kind and true (Psa. 116:5; Exod. 34:5-7). What God “is” we “ought” to be.
Jesus the Messiah, God’s Son, came to this world and gave us an example of moral living. And, “the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked” (1 John 2:6). The apostle Peter stated, “Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps” (1 Pet. 2:21b, 22a). The apostle Paul said, “There-fore be imitators of God as beloved children” (Eph. 5:1).
False Standards of Morality
Might is right. Ancient Greek philosopher, Thrasymachus, is supposed to have held that “justice is the interest of the stronger party.” This makes right to be defined by “power.” There are many powers which are exercised upon others; political power, physical power, psychological power, and economic power to name some.
Morals are mores. Right is deter-mined by the group. In our schools, value clarification is this method whereby students themselves deter-mine what is right in any circumstance. A local news program (Sacramento, Ca.) on NBC Jan. 26, 1996 had a report on “Teenagers and Sex.” The question was, “When should I have sex?” The question was answered by a round table discussion. (The conclusion was there is no real or absolute right or wrong on this issue. Right was whatever each individual would deter-mine for themselves.)
Man is the measure. Greek philosopher, Protagorus, said: “Man is the measure of all things.” Therefore right is whatever I determine is right. This was the error in the day of the judges when “every man did what was right in his own eyes” (Judg. 17:6; 21:25).
Right is whatever brings pleasure. This was the Epicurean philosophy of Bible times. It is the spirit of Hedonism.
There is no right. Antinomianism is the philosophy that denies that any-thing is right or wrong. Philosopher, A J. Ayer, insisted that all “ought” sentences actually translate to “I feel” sentences.
God has revealed to man the absolute standard of morality, which is rooted in his own character, exhibited by his own Son, and contained and explained in the Bible.
Today’s church must believe in, defend, and live up to the standard God has given. The great moral questions of today are all answered in the Bible.
God’s people discredit themselves and dishonor God when they complain the moral standard is too high. What the church ought to do is to do their best to bring their lives up to the standard. The church should never allow compromise on God’s moral standard.
Alexander Campbell summed up the standard of morality in seven words, “One God, one moral system, one Bible” (Campbell, 15).
Alexander, Archibald, I.S.B.E., Vol. II, Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1974.
Campbell, Alexander, The Christian System, Standard Publishing Co. (no date).
Geisler, Norman L. The Roots of Evil, Zondervan Publishing House, 1981.
Geisler, Norman L. and Feinberg, Paul D., Introduction to Philosophy, Baker Book House, 1980.
Poiman, Louis J., Ethics, Wadsworth Publishing House, 1990.
Guardian of Truth XL: No. 13, p. 22-23
July 4, 1996