My current topic of study is Christian ethics. For eight weeks, we are looking at the question: If salvation is a free gift from God rather than having anything to do with good works, why then are Christians required to do good deeds? This question has been more than an academic debate. In many cases, its interpretation can affect a person’s eternal destiny.
If anyone bases their relationship to God on what they are doing for God, they are in danger. But if anyone claims faith in Jesus Christ but are not doing anything for God, they also are in danger. Obviously, our moral life is important and this is an important question.
The short answer is this: if a person genuinely believes in Christ for their salvation and has received His gift of eternal life, then Christ lives in them and they cannot help but behave differently. This means that a declaration of faith is important, but the test of faith is what happens to the human heart because of it. Faith is not easy to measure, but the life of a person who humbly depends on God should be visible.
All that said, Jesus challenges His people to think eternally. Instead of bowing before the idols of this life that will eventually perish, He said that giving up temporal stuff, or attachment to temporal stuff, to follow Him would have visible results in this life and eternal results in the next . . .
And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? (Mark 8:34–37)
What does it mean to deny myself? God is not saying to fast all the time, to give away all my possessions, to never have any fun, as some would interpret this. He is talking about my inner motivations and desires. Do they come from Jesus Christ who lives in me? Or are they from my old nature that wants things my way? When I make plans, do I consult the Lord? Or do I just make plans?
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. (James 4:13–17)
Thinking from an eternal perspective is also very practical when it comes to fighting temptation. Sin is always about the temporary. Whatever I might gain from yielding to it will eventually be lost, but obedience to God results in eternal gain. That is why the Bible tells me to think about eternity and is quite specific in how that works and what it looks like . . .
Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices (Colossians 3:2–9) . . . For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? (Matthew 16:26)
My hardest fought spiritual battles have been to do as these verses describe. I tend to be a “right now” thinker, not dwelling on the past (which can be good, but is sometimes needed to learn lessons from mistakes) or planning much for the future. While controlling the future is out of my hands, thinking of what I do now in the light of eternity has become an important part of saying no to temporary sinful pleasures and worthless activities.
How can I know what has value and what is worthless? The only way is by knowing what prompts my interest. Is it Jesus through the Holy Spirit? Or does it come from my empty and sinful self? Have I prayed about it? What does the Bible say about it? What have other Christians discovered? What do those in authority over me say?
God does not leave His people without the resources to know His will concerning morality. As I’m learning, Christian ethics is not a fuzzy topic!