Personal Morality & Ethics
When My Best Just Isn't Good Enough
by Rob Armstrong
Most people I know, whether they are religious or not, try to follow some type of moral or ethical standard. Those who are not religious per se, usually try to live a good and moral life by focusing on doing the right thing and treating others fairly. On the other hand, those who consider themselves to be religious, generally try to better themselves by regularly attending a place of worship, or observing sacraments, or by trying to live in obedience to what their religion specifies. In many catholic and protestant churches it is taught (or implied) that if we endeavor to live by God’s Law and do our best to keep the 10 Commandments, we will eventually gain His ultimate acceptance and approval. But regardless of our religious affiliation (or lack of it), if we honestly evaluate our lives against our own standard, whether religious, moral or ethical, we have to admit that we miss the mark and come up short on a regular basis.
Let’s consider, for example, the standards set forth in the 10 Commandments. I'm using the 10 Commandments as an example because they are found in both Jewish and Christian Biblical literature, and the morals they present ("Do not lie", "Do not steal", "Do not murder", etc.) seem to be at the root of almost all of the other world religions as well. In addition, most non-religious people attempt to follow ethical standards that are similar in many ways to at least some of the 10 Commandments ('Treat others the way you want to be treated', 'Do your best to do what's right', 'Don't lie, cheat or steal', etc.). So, potentially, this example has implications for almost anybody.
The 10 commandments were given to Moses and the nation of Israel as recorded in chapter 20 of the book of Exodus. It is important to remember that these commandments were indeed God’s commands. In other words, they were not just a set of ideals or goals to attain to, but they represented what God actually demanded and required of His people. As someone has correctly stated, “The 10 commandments were not 10 suggestions”. When Jesus was on the earth, he summed up the meaning of the 10 commandments in this way, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and strength. And you shall love your neighbor as yourself”. In light of this succinct summary of God's commands, it quickly becomes apparent that those of us who are attempting to live by God's law have been drastically unsuccessful, to say the least! If the 10 commands are our code, creed or standard for living, then obviously we have completely failed in our moral and ethical responsibilities to both God and man. This means that more often than not (certainly more often than we realize or are willing to admit), instead of being law keepers we are really law breakers when it comes to doing what God's Law demands.
If you are among those who try to live by the 10 Commandments, let me ask you to conduct a quick private inventory in the form of two personal questions.
1. Have you ever, even once, truly loved God with all of your heart, soul and strength?
2. Do you truly love your neighbor, as you love yourself?
When I look at my own life, I realize that so many times I go about my day without even considering what God wants me to do, let alone actually loving him with all of my heart, soul and strength. And when it comes to my responsibility to my neighbor, I find that I rarely, if ever, give him (them) a second thought. I am almost always entirely focused on my own agenda, on what I need and want to do.
Listen to what the book of James says about those who try to live their lives by keeping God’s commands, “Whoever keeps the whole law [of God] and yet offends in one point, is guilty of breaking it all” (James 2:10). These words should be a wake up call for any of us who are under the allusion that we will be justified in the end by trying to obey the 10 commandments. And the Apostle Paul, speaking about the same subject says, “All who rely on observing the law are under a curse. For cursed is everyone who does not continue to keep the whole law” (Galatians 3:10). The essence of what both James and Paul are saying is that anyone who breaks even the least of God’s commandments is a 'lawbreaker' in God's sight and those who do not continually obey all of God’s laws are under His just condemnation! This does not speak well of those who try to keep the 10 Commandments.
The Apostle Paul himself said, “[We] know that a person is not declared righteous in God’s sight by observing [obeying] the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we too have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law for by observing the law no one will be justified in God’s sight” (Galatians 2:??). In spite of what we may have believed about these things in the past, the Bible makes it clear that the law and the commandments can never make us righteous in God’s sight. In fact, they only show us how unrighteous we really are. God’s law was given to make us “conscious” of our sin (Romans 3:??), and in order that our “sin might be recognized as sin” (Romans 7:??). The truth is that, according to the Bible, no one can ever be made right with God by endeavoring to keep the law. In fact, the reality is that typically the more that we try to obey God’s commands, the more we fail to do so. This is because of what the Bible describes as our inherent powerlessness and inability. In some cases, those of us who endeavor to live our lives by God’s law end up deceiving ourselves into thinking that we are better than people who are more outwardly sinful or immoral than we are. But the Scripture is clear, “There is no one righteous [in God’s sight]...for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:10 & 23) and “The whole world is a prisoner of sin. So that what was promised being given through faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe” (Galatians 3:??).
The Problem of Original Sin
“Through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners” (Romans 5:19)
by Rob Armstrong
Adam's First Sin
In Adam All Die
Romans 5:12-21 “...sin entered the world through one man [Adam], and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned...the many [all Adam’s offspring] died by the trespass of the one man...The judgment [God’s judgment] followed one sin and brought condemnation...by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man...one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people... through the disobedience of the one man the many [all Adam’s offspring] were made sinners...” (NIV)
In the verses above, the Apostle Paul tells us that sin came into the world for the first time when Adam rebelled against God in the garden of Eden. Because of Adam’s one act of disobedience, all of his offspring “were made sinners”. In other words, sin is in our genes. This means that we are sinful, not only by our actions and behaviors, but also by nature. The dictionary defines the word “nature” as that which comes naturally, innate, to be born with, a permanent part of a person’s being or character. King David said, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5). Because we are Adam’s natural sons and daughters, it follows that for us sin comes naturally. This means that from God's point of view, no one is truly righteous. As the Scripture says, “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away... there is no one who does good, not even one... For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:10&23). Although we may look good when we compare ourselves with others, we all fall infinitely short of God’s perfect standard and his glorious perfection.
A Helpless Condition
Powerless to Change at the Core Level
In one one of the oldest books ever written it says, “What is man, that he could be pure, or one born of woman, that he could be righteous?... If even the heavens are not pure in his eyes, how much less man, who is vile and corrupt...” (Job 15:14-16). In these ancient verses the book of Job paints an unflattering picture of mankind. Hundreds of years later the Apostle Paul would personally illustrate the truth of Job’s words by saying, “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out” (Romans 7:18-19). Like Paul, we have all had the desire to do what’s right, but because of our inherent sinfulness (passed down from Adam) we tend to default to a place of spiritual and moral weakness. Although we may have the right intentions at times, we often fail to follow through and do what we know is right. Yet God’s Word is clear on this matter, “Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin." (James 4:17). Sometimes we excuse or rationalize the bad things we do by blaming our circumstances or other people. But, at one time or another, all of us wish that we could change and do better especially when we feel ashamed, as when we hurt someone close to us by being selfish or losing control of our passions or temper. According to the Bible the problem is that we are unable to truly change ourselves at the heart level. As the prophet Jeremiah once said, “The heart is deceitful above all else and desperately wicked who can know it” (Jeremiah 64:6). The Scriptures also tell us that our minds and thoughts are at odds with God as well. Although we often sin passively (quietly ignoring God and disregarding his intended will for us), sin in any form is actually antagonism and rebelliousness toward God. The Bible tells us that our sinful minds are “hostile to God" (Romans 8:7) and, as a result, we “cannot please God” (Romans 8:8). At times we may be able to temporarily modify our behavior or break an embarrassing or unhealthy habit, but essentially at our core we are self-centered and ungodly, as well as powerless and unable to please God.
The Ultimate Sacrifice for Sin
In Christ All Shall Be Made Alive
God’s solution to the sin problem does not include our own self improvement, or our determination to do better, or our religious devotion. Nor does it include our obedience to his commandments. In fact, the Bible tells us that “what the law could not do” because of our moral and spiritual weakness, “God did by sending his own son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering [for us], in order that the righteous requirements [demands] of the law might be fully met in us...” (Romans 8:3). What the law of God could never accomplish (because of our inability to keep it) God did by sending Jesus Christ to bear our sins on the cross. Although Jesus was perfectly sinless, he was judged and condemned in our place, so that every demand of God’s law and justice was fully and completely met by him. Because justice was fully served on the cross, there is nothing left for us to do but to receive with simple childlike faith God’s free gift of eternal life and the forgiveness of sins. “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God and are justified [declared righteous in God’s sight] freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement through faith in his blood” (Romans 3:23-25). "For by grace you have been saved through faith and that not of yourselves. It is the gift of God. Not by works so that no one can boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9). "As in Adam all die. So in Christ all will be made alive" (1 Corinthians 15:??).