The Ethical Imperative

With all the news floating around lately about ISIS and the horrific persecution of Christians I, like many, have been sobered. I have been shocked into confronting the reality of how dark the darkness really is, and how much Satan truly hates Jesus and his church. But I have also been newly encouraged by the truth of God’s Word. Jesus’ words resonate in my heart, that “on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (1)

As Christians, we have the comfort of understanding the sin nature of the human race, and what happens when people are redeemed and made new in Christ. But while we may still experience fear and despair, we ultimately have the peace of knowing why there is evil in the world, and that God has not abandoned us to be casualties in some cosmic joke of pain and suffering. He is building his kingdom, and calling people everywhere to himself. He is mighty and powerful, even in the face of persecution. The good news of what Jesus did for us is moving forward despite opposition, to the ends of the earth. And even in Muslim countries where the name of Jesus is illegal, he is yet proclaimed. As hard as it is to hear about what is happening to the Christians in Iraq and Syria, this strengthens my heart. Jesus assured us when he said, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (2)

The book of Revelation details the coming global upheaval and persecution of Christians. It should be no surprise to us when we look around our world, to see the veneer of human ambition crumbling into the dust of apostasy and one-world “unity.” Because God told us this would happen. Jesus said, “Be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand… What I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.” (3)

As I work out Jesus’ admonishment to “stay awake” in my own heart and mind, I see confirmation of what Jesus warned us to be on guard against. I see it in the language used by the elite of the New Spirituality. I see it in the philosophies of a culture harnessed by the power of mass-media. And I admit that sometimes it scares me. But I cling to the cross, and Jesus’ blood which covers me like a cloak, protecting me from those who seek to destroy. Jesus said, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (4)

We know from scripture that a world-wide attack on believers will coincide with the rise of one man – antichrist, whom the entire world will worship. But the world cannot hate Christians without loving something else, and I believe that something will be themselves. The world pushes the message so hard: “it’s all about you,” “you deserve it,” “there’s a hero in you.” The ultimate message being sent is that “God is within you.” The same lie the serpent told eve – that truth is within you. It seems incredible to think that the whole world would buy into worshipping some person as God. But if that man were to come preaching the gospel of self – of god within us all and in all things – well, the world could get on board with that. Because who doesn’t love themselves? To put it in perspective, the goal of Satanism is self-indulgence. It is the true religion of self. As followers of Christ, it should alarm us that we too have fallen prey to the influences of this life-philosophy. We have been naive, falling for the old lie, marketed and packaged to look like something new; something that promotes our health, happiness and well-being.

As I understand it, when speaking in terms of morals and ethics, morals are the rules, while ethics are the reasons for the rules. As Christians, we believe in a moral Law giver. We look to the account of the 10 Commandments, where God gave Moses the moral Law for the people to live by. When Jesus came, he fulfilled that Law through his perfect, sinless life on our behalf, keeping for us the law that we could never keep ourselves. But he added a new commandment to the Law, saying, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (5) How amazing that in the freedom that Jesus, the only law-keeper gives us, we are required but to love God. From that love good works will flow from our lives; yet it is him at work in us doing the good we do, and not we ourselves.

True God-pleasing love only comes from God himself, and can only be taught to us by Him. We are only able to love him, because he first loved us. We are only able to serve one another because he served us. Jesus washed his disciple’s feet so that they would understand that they should wash one another’s. Jesus loves us with a sacrificial love that was willing to die to save us, and so we should love one another. Without love for God, our morality shatters, because it becomes wholly dependent on our ability to keep the law. When it comes to morality, we all fail the test. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus expanded the Law, making it even harder for us to keep, saying that even to lust after someone in your heart is as bad as committing adultery; that even being angry with someone is as bad as committing murder.

But the world doesn’t look to the Ten Commandments or Jesus for their moral bearings. I think it’s fairly accurate to say that most people form their morality within their own hearts.  I am reminded of the movie The Matrix, in which appeared the ancient Greek Maxim “Know Thyself.” In our culture’s quest for truth and enlightenment, the emphasis isn’t on God, but self.

It was Kant who taught that the moral law comes from within each individual. He used a term called “The Categorical Imperative,” to describe his fundamental principle for all morality. “Categorical” in the sense that it applied to all human beings equally and unconditionally, on the basis that humans possess a rational, free will. “Imperative” in the sense that it was a command: that because we are rational and free, we are obligated to follow a moral law. According to Kant, “Duty is the necessity to act out of reverence for the law.” According to my own definition, the “Ethical Imperative” for the Christian would be that we must love God, who is outside of ourselves, and that out of that love, all other good works flow. But for Kant and for much of the world, the term carries a different meaning: the “Ethical Imperative” is our duty to we obey the moral law within.

One of the most profound accounts in scripture is when Pilate is faced with the decision of whether or not to hand Jesus over to the Jews to be crucified. Jesus tells him “Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice,” to which Pilate responds with the question, “What is truth?” But rather than waiting for an answer, he walks out. In essence, Pilate seems to be asking, “Can a person even define truth?” Yet before him stood God in the flesh, the one who said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” (6)

On another occasion, Jesus said,

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (7)

Passages like this one used to confuse me. I read them as God’s stern warning to me, to try to follow the moral Law perfectly. And it always felt hopeless to me; because I knew my failures, and how wide I missed the mark. But now I understand that Jesus alone fulfilled the Law, praise his name! No one else has ever been able to live a morally perfect life. But Jesus did. And because he did it on our behalf, we are no longer under the guilt and punishment that comes from sin and moral failure. We have security in what Jesus has done for us. What he did is final, complete. In Jesus’ last words on the cross: “It is finished.”

Our ethics are unchanging, rooted in the Law of love God has written on our hearts. He said, “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,” then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more. Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.” (8) But the world’s ethics are not constant; they are constantly changing, dependent on majority rule. Our ethics are motivated by Christ’s self-sacrificing love, but the world’s ethics are motivated by individualism and the “common good.” Our ethics are about trusting in God’s wisdom to define good from bad, truth from lie. The world’s ethics are about human reason, and society determining what is good, bad, or indifferent.

It is important for us as believers to think critically about Truth, and how people arrive at their various conclusions regarding it. It will have bearing on all our lives, in this post-modern, shrinking globe we are now living in. Yes, Jesus told us what was coming. It came for his disciples, and it comes today, too. He said, “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” (9) And, “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.” (10)

Brothers and sisters, as we face a world that hates us, let’s not cower in the corner in fear. Let’s rejoice and leap for joy! Because God’s kingdom is not of this world. When we see the persecution of his people, we know that his kingdom, invisible to the eyes of others, is moving forward. And we count ourselves among the most blessed people on the earth. Because we are not slaves to a moral law, but we follow the moral law giver, and he has drenched us in grace. We don’t follow him because it’s our duty; we do it because we love him.

“God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us.” – 1 John 4:16b-19

Scripture References:

1. Hell will not prevail against the church – Matthew 16:18
2. Jesus has overcome the world – John 16:33
3. Be on guard and stay awake – Mark 13:23-37
4. Don’t fear those who kill the body but can’t kill the soul – Matthew 10:28
5. The great commandment: love God – Matthew 22:34-40
6. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life – John 14:6
7. Jesus didn’t abolish the Law, but fulfilled it – Matthew 5:17-20
8. God’s Law is written on our hearts and minds – Hebrews 10:16-18
9. You will be hated for my name’s sake – Matthew 10:22
10. You are blessed when people hate you – Luke 6:22-23


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