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How Can You Know Right from Wrong? Part Two

Because the Bible is a book of principles and examples, individual Christians have to apply those principles and examples to their own lives. Is it immoral, for example, to drive an expensive sports car when a more sensible economy model will transport you from point A to point B just as effectively? Shouldn't Christians invest their money in good deeds and charitable causes rather than in luxury automobiles? Each of us has to make such choices.

The affluence of America challenges Christians to make moral decisions. The temptations of the good life may lead to sins of omission as well as sins of commission. In our self-indulgence we may forget the poor and oppressed, the very thing Paul was exhorted by Peter, James, and John not to do (Galatians 2:10).

Here, then, are three more tests we may use to examine our actions.

FOUR -- The Fairness Test: How will this affect the lives of other people?

Will what I do serve the good of the greatest number or will it be entirely selfish and self-serving? This is the utilitarian test. When confronted with a moral choice, we typically think first about practicality and personal self-interest. Then we agonize over whether there exists a conflict between our own well-being and the will of God.

Yet the will of God is not some abstraction. The will of God is that we be righteous, that we do what is honest, kind, and considerate, that we look to the interests of others (Philippians 2:3-4; 1 Corinthians 10:24). Is it right for a Christian banker to refuse a home loan to a black family that wants to buy in a white neighborhood? Is it just for a Christian executive to lay off loyal, longtime employees in order to increase efficiency and profits?

Christians sometimes act as though an inexorable economic law--and not God--rules the universe. They justify their actions for reasons Adam Smith would approve rather than for reasons Jesus Christ would approve. Ethical questions are lordship questions. Whom do we serve?

FIVE - The Universal Test: What would it be like if everyone did this?

This is a restatement of what Kant called the "categorical imperative." Would you be willing for anyone and everyone to engage in this practice if they were in your shoes? Diversity is in most instances a good thing. We wouldn't want everyone to choose dentistry as a profession; we wouldn't want everyone to have the same sense of humor or the same taste in clothing. But it would be highly desirable if we all agreed about what was right and wrong.

To a large degree, we do. As C. S. Lewis explains in Mere Christianity, human beings in all cultures believe people ought to behave "morally." They cannot rid themselves of the abiding conviction that truth is better than falsehood or that loyalty is better than treachery or that love is better than hate any more than they can change the color of their hair. The trouble with this natural moral law in human nature is that, while people recognize the law, they resist applying it to themselves personally. The Universal Test requires us to apply to ourselves the standards we expect of others.

SIX - The Stewardship Test: Will my doing this be a waste of my God-given life and talents?

God has made us free moral agents and has set within us a sense of responsibility. The stewardship test appeals to this realization that we are accountable for our time, our money, and our actions (Matthew 25:14-30).

Is it moral for a Christian to buy and use drugs? Are we free to abuse our bodies or waste our money? As servants of God, we are custodians, not owners. The claim, "It's my money (or my life) and I'll do with it as I please," holds no weight with God. Much of the evil we do could be avoided simply by remembering that we are stewards of God's grace.


1.Fairness is based on the notion of what one deserves. Everyone should get his just desserts. For example, it would not be fair to give the gold medal to the runner who finished in fifth place--just because he was your grandson. Why is it that other people "deserve" to be treated right? Can you think of instances in the Bible in which, according to this definition, God was not fair?

2.Are we really responsible for sins of omission? Is that reasonable or unreasonable? Give some concrete examples.

3.Is how we spend our money always a question of Christian ethics or only sometimes a question of ethics? If sometimes, how does one distinguish between when it is and when it isn't?

4.Suppose you had a choice between buying yourself a new dress or set of golf clubs and making a donation to famine relief in Africa, which would you probably choose and why? What would Jesus do?

5.Should you offer a bribe to a policeman in Mexico who stops you for some minor traffic violation or who delays you at the border "just because it's the way of life down there"? Is it bribery if you pay someone to let you do something that is perfectly legal? In such a case, aren’t you really a victim of extortion rather than a perpetrator of bribery? Does Scripture condemn giving bribes, taking bribes, or both (cf. Prov. 17:8, 23; 18:16; 19:6; 21:14)?

6.Are moral choices free or do you sometimes feel "caught" in a riptide of circumstances you are helpless to resist? Can you give some specific examples from your own experience?


This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on May 7, 2007 10:17 AM.

The previous post in this blog was How Can You Know Right from Wrong? Part One.

The next post in this blog is How Can You Know Right from Wrong? Part Three.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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