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On Morality

November 4, 2019

It’s a word that automatically sounds old fashioned. Some people might find that old-fashioned-ness to be comfortable. Some people might feel that it is stodgy. We haven’t, in our public discourse in this country, talked openly about morality in years– at least, this is how things seem to be.

In church, on the other hand, we (hopefully) do still talk about things being absolutely right versus absolutely wrong. There are some areas that can be described as gray, in God’s word– but there are a lot of areas that are really pretty cut and dried; pretty much described as being either “right,” or “wrong.” My aim in this short little written piece is not to list off which things are still morally “good,” or morally “bad.” My aim, rather, is to point out that there are at least two different approaches to morality going on in our society— and it’s part of where we find Christians– often, at least– parting company with secular society. It even is behind where a certain amount of our arguments arise.

As I already pointed out, the Bible describes some things as being pretty clearly either “right” or “wrong.” For Christians (with the exception of so-called liberal or progressive Christians) — for Christians, we take what the Bible has to say as being pretty much THE final word on a moral issue. God’s word serves as our guide, and it critiques our lives. We know, based on the word, when we are outside of God’s boundaries for our lives, and when we need to turn back to Him. It is a timeless anchor point, that helps us live out our lives of faith in a world that keeps trying to change itself. Morality, for Christians, is for the most part extremely absolute.

Modern secularists don’t take this same view. We see, time and again, that some in our society (they may be a large group; they may just be a very vocal group, but they are not an inconsequential group, regardless) continue to look at what has been called “right” and “wrong” and has decided that these moral boundaries are inconvenient. They get in the way of individuals pursuing their own happiness. They make people feel uncomfortable– which can be damaging, it is supposed, especially if the people in question seem to continually want what is– by historic morality– immoral. Those who take this view quickly make a further leap: they assume that morality is just social convention, and that it can be changed to whatever society is willing to accept. All that has to happen, to rework morality into something more convenient is to get society to accept the new view. This view can encourage old-fashioned morality to “get with the picture” and “keep up with modern movements.” Morality, for many secularists, is arbitrary, and can be whatever society needs it to be. “Whatever society needs morality to be,” in turn, is typically determined by those same secularists, who then work to remake society according to their grand, new designs.

Realizing these two different approaches to determining right and wrong (and there are others out there, as well, further complicating things!) it should come as no surprise that our society is as polarized as much as it is, and is divided along so many moral questions. Secularists do not recognize the absolute authority of the Bible, nor other absolute authorities or guides. Christians observe the world seemingly to slide into further ungodly moral decay.

Is it impossible for any sort of civil middle ground to be worked towards? Honestly, I do not know. Some of that is probably based on how reasonable we all are willing to be as citizens. I don’t think we need to simply settle for a middle ground, however. Although our society is pluralistic, and has committed itself to allowing some pretty broad freedoms (especially in terms of morality), we have a task from our Lord that has the possibility to change the makeup of our society’s convictions.

I am referring, of course, to evangelism. At the heart of evangelism is giving people the good news of God’s love and free gift of salvation in Jesus, because of the cross. Necessary to evangelism is telling people the bad news– that they are on the wrong side of God’s holy standards and laws– and that they deserve judgment from Him, and they will experience it, unless they are saved from it. Being saved by Jesus is a free gift, received simply by faith in Him. The result of believing in the gospel (and, by prerequisite, the holy law of God, which has us all in trouble) — the result of a person believing the Christian message is a natural shift in how one goes about morality. Left to His own devices, I believe the Holy Spirit is quite able to guide new believers into a more absolute, biblical understanding of right and wrong.

If all of this is true, then there remains at least one clear charge to take from this: If we want to begin to see a reduction in division in our society over moral issues, one of the best places to start is by praying for the changing of people’s hearts, and serving as good witnesses to the truth that we have been given from God– the truth which sets you free from moral guilt, and gives you hope and peace. As this happens, some of the people who have been fighting to make morality “get with the times” will, instead, shift into having God’s morality help them “get with His picture.”