I am in the middle of leading a masters course at Southern California Seminary titled, “Christian Ethics and Leadership”.  To open our week one discussion, I asked each student to answer the question “Why is Living the Christian Ethic Important?”.. but I asked them to answer in the context of the following scenario.

Imagine you were talking to a young Christian who is facing a moral dilemma at work.  They tell you that they just want to “follow their heart” because ethics do not matter as long as ones heart is in the right place.

How would you explain to them that accepting and living a Christian ethics is important?

The students had some spectacular insights and engaged in some very good dialogue, but I wanted to share the answer of one of my students with my readers here on More Than Cake.  Here is Kathlena’s very personal answer to the question.

kathlena_mcdanielChristian ethics are important because they lay the foundation and scaffolding for our choices and behavior.  In the text, Christian Ethics in Plain Language, Kerby Anderson states that: “The reason so few people act like Christians is that they do not think like Christians. Behavior results from our values and beliefs. Thinking biblically about the issues of life should ultimately result in living biblically in society.”

When each of us is in a situation where a moral decision must be made, it is crucial to have something other than our heart to be our determining guide. I say this not only because the Bible clearly states in Jeremiah that “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9 NIV)”  but because personal experience has taught me just how deceptive it can be when it appeals to the sinful nature.  I remember dating guys in college who I thought were wonderful guys, only to realize later what creeps they were. When I would break up with them, I would see the faults and asked my friends “Why didn’t you tell me that they were like this?” Only to get the response of “We tried, but you refused to see it!” When we see the end result (warped due to our humanity) as being something “good”,we find ways to justify our actions to achieve that. We will use manipulation, deceit, wiles, half-truths, whatever it takes to get the result we want, when more often than not, the result we achieve is nothing like what we thought it would be.

Case in point.

In college I was friends with a Christian who had a non-Christian roommate named Mike. While his roommate had told me clearly that Mike was not a Christian,  my conversations with him had revealed that he was raised Catholic. My “heart” told me that was really close, and it would only take a little bit to bring him into the fold, as he had a “Christianese” type background. So we began dating, with my plan to surround him with so many Christians that he would have no choice but to surrender his heart. Less than a year later, he was highly involved with our Christian club, and had told me that he had become a Christian. I was thrilled as my plan had worked. We started talking about the future, and I was excited because my plan to meet and marry a Christian man was working. He was involved, went to church, had good morals, etc. and then he joined a fraternity! Within 6 months, the devotion to Christianity had changed course, and that devotion had been given to the pledge class. Excuses were given that he couldn’t go to “X” because he HAD to attend a pledge class event. After our 2nd year of dating it was apparent that there was no passion, no growth, and no submission to obedience to the Lord, and yet, our relationship was deeper, and the temptation to make it permanent increased. I was stuck in a position of loving and contemplating marriage to a man who was not walking with, nor having any desire to be walking with the Lord. When we finally sat down and talked about it, I found out that he “became a Christian because he loved me and knew it was important to me.”  Not the dream that I had envisioned. The Lord gave me the strength to break up with him, and while we have remained acquaintances over the years, it is abundantly clear that no conversion had ever taken place.  My heart had been deceived by my own desires, and while those desires were honorable, they blinded me from the truth.  I learned then at I must measure things by something other than my heart.

That is where the Christian ethic comes into place. It isn’t something that is flexible. It doesn’t change as the culture changes, and it isn’t vague.  Many times we don’t like to see how black and white it truly is, because it goes against our sinful nature. We want to believe that even in the black and white, there must be an element of gray that will allow us to fudge on that one little thing that will allow everything else to come into play.

We often forget that God sees it all. He sees the situation that you are in, the choices that must be made, the outcome of each choice made rightly, as well as poorly. We aren’t calling the shots. We don’t know how any choice we make will come out 100%, but we can hold to the truths of scripture. David prayed “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. (Psalm 51:10 NIV)” because he knew only God was capable of purifying the heart.

Psalm 119 states: “The earth is filled with your love, Lord; teach me your decrees. Do good to your servant according to your word, Lord. Teach me knowledge and good judgment, for I trust your commands. Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word. You are good, and what you do is good; teach me your decrees. Though the arrogant have smeared me with lies, I keep your precepts with all my heart. Their hearts are callous and unfeeling, but I delight in your law.” (Psalm 119:64-70 NIV)

The author clearly understood that there was a distinct relationship between knowing the Word of God, and following the Word of God, when one faced decisions. If we can grasp the concept of doing what is right, even if the only benefit that we see is in our obedience to Christ, then we are right where the Lord wants us: trusting and relying solely on Him, and not ourselves, or others. Whether it is a work, relationship, or legal issue (or other) we cannot “follow our hearts, instead, we must look past everything else and hold up the thing we need to act on, in relationship to scripture. The Bible often uses the illustration of a plumb line to show God’s standards of righteousness. This is a building device that uses the earth’s gravity to show if a wall is out of alignment, so that corrections can be made before the integrity of the structure is compromised. So it is with the Christian ethic. If we use ANYTHING other than God’s plumb line (His Word) to define what is right or wrong, it can compromise our integrity as a Christian, and ultimately destroy our influence and testimony to the world.

Like it or not, the world uses a tough standard in judging Christians. If two politicians are caught in the same compromising situations, and one claims to be a Christian, he is going to be judged as a hypocrite, and anything he says in the future will be held against his former compromise. However, the other politician will be granted more grace, because he is not being held to anything other than other people’s personal ethics. We are called to be holy, different, set apart. The only way we can do that is to show the world that we have the integrity to follow the ethics outlined by the God we claim to serve. It may be a small compromise, but as stated earlier, the smallest compromise could have the greatest effect down the road where only God sees the true outcome.

Dr. J.R. Miller is a Professor of Applied Theology and Leadership & Dean of Online Learning at Southern California Seminary. Outside work, he is a church planter. Dr. Miller has a diverse educational background and authored multiple books on church history, biblical theology, and Leadership. Joe and his wife Suzanne enjoy the sun and surf with their 3 sons in San Diego, CA.

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