For some time now, righteousness has been under attack—concerted, conscious, systematic attack—in our creative arts, our popular literature and music, our TV screens, our educational institutions, and even in our churches. What do I mean by “righteousness”? Well, it is not without significance that in past generations such an explanation would not be necessary. However, today, it is often necessary to explain that what the philosopher calls ethics, the theologian calls morals, the educator calls values, and the man on the street calls goodness, the Bible calls “righteousness.”
This attack on righteousness/morality/goodness/ethics/values has produced the very worse results. Statistics prove there is more crime, more juvenile delinquency, more suicide, more adultery, more divorces, more homosexuality with each passing year. But then someone says, “What do you mean ‘worse’?” You see, when there are no standards, one can ask a question like this and many people will even think the questioner is smart. But when one replies to the pseudo-intellectual’s question with the remark, “By worse, I mean more immoral,” one had better brace for an indignant, “Don’t you try to impose your narrow, moralizing views on me.” You see, in today’s society, if one wants to convince Americans about the “rightness” or “wrongness” of something, one must not talk about morality. Instead, one must talk the language of a New Age. In other words, talk about health; talk about scientific facts; talk about self-esteem; talk about economic considerations, but don’t ever talk about ethics or morality.
We frequently use the terms ethics and morality as if they are synonymous. This, I think, is correct. But there is a more formal usage of these two terms. It is to this we now turn our attention. Ethics comes from the Greek and morals from the Latin. The roots of both mean “custom” or “habitual mode of conduct.” In formal English usage, morality has kept its original meaning of custom or habit (viz., morality has to do with conduct as it is commonly practiced in the everyday affairs of life). On the other hand, ethics has come to mean the formal, philosophical pursuit of general, systematic standards for evaluating human conduct in general. What this all means is that ethics is “What should I do?” and “Why should I do it?” while morality is “This is what I actually do!”
As stated above, the two basic questions associated with ethics are, “What should I do?,” which has to do with the norm, and “Why should I do it?,” which has to do with the obligation. Furthermore, and here is the real crux of the matter, apart from Creation there are no real ethical obligations; no such things as absolute norms for conduct, no real moral absolutes.
Jehovah says, “You shall diligently keep the commandments of the Lord your God, His testimonies, and His statutes which He has commanded you” (Deut 6:17). God, the Father, says, “Obey my voice” (Jer 11:7). God, the Son, says, “Keep my commandments” (Jn 14:15). In Isaiah 33:22, God says He is King, Lawgiver, and Judge. Thus, in an ethical sense, all three branches of government reside in Him—the Executive, the Legislative, and the Judicial. We see, then, that God is commanding us to do what He thinks ought to be done. It is His statutes that are the ethical norm. Hence, the next logical question is, “Why should we have to do what God tells us?” The answer is, “Because Jehovah is the Sovereign of the universe; He is the Creator, we are the creatures; He is the potter, we are the clay!” Because Jehovah Elohim is the Creator, we are obligated to do exactly as He says, for this is the whole duty of man (Eccl 12:13).
Accordingly, one does not have to be a member of the church of Christ to be morally responsible before God the Creator. All he has to be is a member of the human race. Every single human being is obligated to do God’s will because this is the obligation of the creature to the Creator and the clay to the Potter. Apart from any other consideration, the Creator-creature relationship forms the basic context for the ethical life of all men.
The Creator, realizing it is not within man’s ability to direct his own steps (Jer 10:23), has provided His creation with a special revelation. In this special revelation, which is called “the Scriptures,” He has given His creatures those things that are “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17). God-centered ethics is built on the nature of God, the will of God, the way of God, and the Word of God. A biblical worldview believes that God has identified in the Bible certain things that are inherently right or wrong. This worldview says that there are ethical absolutes and that eternal consequences are attached to the decisions we make regarding these ethical absolutes. Finally, the truths taught in the Bible are designed to live within human skin, to be seen and read by unbelievers, as God’s people bring to bear His mind, His will, and His purposes in the everyday decisions of their lives.
How do we make moral choices? By knowing God and His Word.