I’ve done some digging. At the time the New Testament was written, much of that ancient culture was morally bankrupt. Their lifestyle included sexual sins and other corrupt practices. Of course the Bible was written to offer them grace and faith, but it also addresses their behavior.
Those who heard the gospel and believed in Jesus Christ were challenged to turn from the sins of their former lives. They were further challenged to separate themselves from the beliefs and behaviors of their culture. Some of what they had to overcome is hinted at in several of Paul’s letters to the churches. For instance, at Ephesus their past life and some current temptations are spelled out in these two verses:
But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. (Ephesians 5:3–4)In those days, these violations happened in their world. Believers did these things in their pre-Christian lives and some were still behaving this way. Otherwise, Paul would not have needed to write this exhortation.
How is our world different from Ephesus? Today, people live together without being married, hook up for one-night stands, and behave in ways that should not be openly described. Sexual immorality is so common that many think it is normal, not immoral.
What about greed? Isn’t that the main problem that produced the current and worldwide economic downturn? Is our world any better than the one at Ephesus? Not only that, if I stand on any busy street corner in any city, I can hear and see impurity, coarse talk and foul language.
This should challenge anyone who says the Bible is not relevant today. The things that were improper for God’s people back then are still improper. We are called to be His holy people, to be different, to be like Jesus. For us, it does not matter when the Bible was written. To protest its antiquity sounds more like an excuse, a reason to ignore what it says. Christians still need that call to godliness and to thankful speech. Most of us also have “former lives” to turn from as we follow Jesus. We also have to contend with a corrupt culture, avoiding its temptations and behaviors.
Can anyone dismiss biblical ethics because they are for another time and place? I don’t think so. Our world has the same sins, the same needs, and the same resistance to godliness. The protest against the Word of God is not about when it was written, but about what it says.