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Are Christian Ethics a Barrier to Success?

What if you never told convenient white lies? What if you always kept your word, even when it cost you significant sums of money? What if you always put your loyalty to Christ first and refused to work on Sunday or at other times when the saints met? What if you consistently put the interests of others ahead of your own? What if you put family and church priorities ahead of professional priorities? Could you survive in the real world? Could you be a success?

Four out of five Americans say selfishness is a serious national problem, but four out of five also say having a high-paying job, a new car, and a beautiful house is important to them. This type of thinking can be styled as compartmentalization: What concerns society as a whole and me as an individual are two different things. I'm okay, but society is not. This curious lack of introspection leads to self-satisfaction and complacency on the one hand and to an angst about the decadence of American civilization on the other.

Compartmentalization distinguishes between public morality and private morality. I can berate the criminal justice system yet mail all of my personal bills using stationary and stamps taken from the office. I can decry the rising tide of sex and violence in American society yet watch "R" rated movies, MTV videos, and soap operas all week. I can become indignant at the social injustices perpetrated by a "corrupt" congress yet feel no compunction about divorcing my wife.

Making the walk consistent with the talk is the challenge Christians face. Desires and aversions that overwhelm fear, reason, and the Spirit's guidance often drive smart people to make dumb moral choices. Desiring prosperity, we have an aversion to wearing unfashionable clothes or to driving an old car. Desiring freedom, we feel an aversion to being tied down by responsibilities. Desiring novelty or adventure, we develop contempt for the routines of tradition or daily existence. Desiring prestige and success, we pursue self-interest and avoid any threat to our self-esteem or financial security.

Contemporary culture teaches us to put our individual desires and aversions on the throne. What is more, culture justifies yet another form of compartmentalization by claiming that there is no one single moral standard to live by but instead many different standards, some of which apply to family, some to business, some to sports and recreation, and some to politics. According to this view, what is right or wrong for an individual will depend on the standards of the arena in which he or she has to make the decision. Right and wrong for society as a whole are ultimately determined by election results, jury decisions, public opinion polls, consumer surveys, and market forces.

Because ad hoc standards are nebulous and because the results of polls change on a monthly basis, modern morality resembles a will o' the wisp that can never seem to decide which of its desires or aversions should take priority. People make moral decisions inconsistently, almost whimsically, depending on which of the confusing ad hoc standards appeals to them most at the moment of decision. Even Christians, influenced by this cultural mentality, will do what they know is wrong simply because they "feel like it."

True and authentic Christian ethics challenge us to transcend the values of our culture by incorporating the eternal values of God into our lives in a consistent manner, regardless of the personal cost. In this sense, Christian ethics are profoundly counter-cultural, and it takes courage to stare their implications straight in the eye inasmuch as our comfort, convenience, and material well-being may lie at risk. Thanks be to God his grace is sufficient even though our own spiritual fortitude may not always be!


1.Is scorning worldly success the first step to an ethical Christian life? Why or why not? Is it true to say, "It's a lot easier to be moral if you don't mind being poor"? Comment on Proverbs 30:8-9.

2.Are Christians who patronize "R" movies or watch steamy soap operas hypocrites when they decry the evil influence of sex and violence in society? To what extent does art influence and eventually shape personal morality?

3.Do you know of Christians who compartmentalize their ethical lives? For example, they act according to one set of values at work and another at church or at home. Describe what you have experienced.

4.In what practical ways do we let the Spirit control our moral lives and bear spiritual fruit? How can we ensure that it is Christ and not self or culture that directs our choices and actions?

5.The politics of morality usually keys in on private issues like abortion, homosexuality, and pornography. Why not address public issues like economic policy and the redistribution of wealth? Can you point to examples of how people separate private and public morality? Does the Bible make any such distinction? What does scripture have to say about the morality of society as a whole?

6.In the O. J. Simpson criminal trial of 1995, lawyers asked the jurors to right the wrongs of a racist criminal justice system on the one hand and to heed the evidence, the voice of reason, and the cries of justice on the other. When values conflict in modern society, to what standard do people turn when making serious decisions?

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Very interesting site!

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on May 11, 2007 10:45 AM.

The previous post in this blog was Why Do Ethics Need Christianity? Part Two.

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