In his book, The Reason for God, Tim Keller considers what he calls the “free floating” morality of the postmodern era. It isn’t that people have no ethical convictions. They actually have rather strong—even fierce—convictions, evidenced by the shrill tone of cultural debates. These convictions, though, are “free floating” in that they aren’t rooted in principles and fail to withstand sound logic. In other words, convictions have morphed into mere opinions apart from good reasons. As a colleague often says, “You’re free to have your own opinions, but not your own facts.” The missing ingredient in our moral thinking is the failure to ground opinions in a truthful foundation.
Unfortunately, Bible-believing Christians, while seeking clarity, may unwittingly advance the problem. When approached with an ethical issue or dilemma, they run to the Bible and scramble to find a few specific verses that either affirm or deny one side of the case in view. In some cases, like adultery, this is easy, because the Bible speaks clearly and repeatedly on the issue—the Ten Commandments, the words of Jesus, and the teaching of the apostles can be assembled to form a substantive, cumulative case. On other issues, though, such an approach may not render the desired clarity. Take the lottery for example. One is hard pressed to gather a collection of verses that speak specifically to the issue of state-sponsored gambling. Sure, one may appeal to principles and apply them to the situation (such as Romans 13:10, “Love does no harm to a neighbor), but equally well-meaning Christians may see the casting of lots as a sanctioned form of gambling. Other issues, like war or social drinking, are often treated the same way. Without a Bible verse that says, “thou shalt not drink,” or “thou shalt not go to war,” some will place various Bible verses on an imaginary weight scale. If one finds more verses that seem to convey a “pro” position than verses that convey a “con” position, the “pro” side wins, and vice-versa.
In the case that a believer can neither gather an adequate sample of verses nor find conclusive biblical evidence, he or she is left to seek a position by more subjective, sometimes spiritualized means, such as prayer, intuition, and searching for guidance from the Holy Spirit. Granted, the Bible allows for a few grey areas and, in these areas, encourages wisdom and responsibility without offering absolutes (see Romans 14), but these Christian approaches can be as “free floating” as the postmodern position. What if one person believes he has enough verses to certify a “pro” position, but his rival discovers a few more verses for the “con” position? Does it become a 1-up game until the Scriptures are exhausted? What if one believes that, through prayer and introspection, the Spirit has led him to a firm “con” position, while another—by the same method—is equally convinced of the “pro” side?
Fortunately, the Bible isn’t a rule book that addresses every specific scenario, a puzzle to be worked, or a jungle of hidden clues to be discovered. The Bible contains rules, of course, but more importantly, it unveils a grand story, a metanarrative. The Bible reveals truth about God, the world, humanity, sin, salvation, and destiny. Placed in broad categories, the Bible tells of creation, fall, and redemption. God made a good and perfect world, the pinnacle of which is humanity, made in his own image. Humanity rebelled against the Creator and fell into sin, bringing the curse of death and plunging creation into a distorted, perverted state. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, entered history, fulfilled the demands of righteousness, suffered the due penalty for sin, and rose again to conquer sin’s wage—death. He forgives, redeems, and transforms those who trust him by faith, saving them from the judgment to come. Jesus has promised to return and, when he does, initiate a new creation in which the world will not only be set right again, but will be more glorious that it was originally.
Because this grand scheme offers the truth about the world, it can be truthfully applied to help guide believers when faced with moral choices. Consider the three components of the Christian worldview (creation, fall, redemption), and use them as a lens for interpreting an ethical scenario by asking specific questions. Consider the questions and issues below.
- CREATION: What component of God’s good, original design is under threat or needs protecting? If alcoholic beverages are in view, sobriety is required to rule the earth well—a creation mandate. On the issue of abortion, human life is made in God’s image and inherently valuable, therefore must be protected. Gambling threatens the mutually beneficial nature of human transactions.
- FALL: How might a good component of God’s design be distorted or perverted? With alcohol use, drunkenness hinders perception, fosters incorrect action, and prevents sober stewardship of life. Abortion requires devaluing—even dehumanizing—human life, in order to justify the killing. Gambling can feed selfishness and greed, leading one to take unjust risks that make transactions harmful instead of beneficial.
- REDEMPTION: How does the gospel provide healing and hope in the situation? In all situations, there is forgiveness of sins. Through Jesus, the debt of guilt is cancelled (Col 2:13-15). The grace that saves us from the penalty of sin also rescues us from its power (Rom 6), resulting in change. Finally, Jesus will return and make right all that has gone wrong (Rev 21-22), which gives us hope.
Christians should not approach moral scenarios as biblical empiricists, searching to collect some statistically significant amount of data to tilt the scale. Rather, believers should approach ethical choices in the way the Bible itself addresses them—in context of the grand scheme God has revealed.
Before Jesus ascended into Heaven, he gave Christ followers the command to “make disciples.”(Matthew 28:19-20) He stated that His command was based upon the fact that He possessed all authority in Heaven and on Earth.(Matthew 28:18) Yet, when one examines the decline in conversions and church members in Southern Baptist churches, it is apparent that we as a denomination are not being obedient to the command to “make disciples” in the Great Commission. In this post, I offer five major reasons why we do not make disciples.
- We don’t love God. Jesus told His disciples, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”(John 14:15 ESV) He is not implying that we will live a life of perfection here, but He refers to the overall posture or trajectory of our lives. We turn from loving ourselves to loving Christ. We turn from loving our sin, including sins of omission, to loving Christ. If we encounter someone who repeatedly sins in a particular area and never repents of that sin, we would say that the individual does not show evidence of repentance and is probably not a disciple; however, the willful refusal to make disciples is a sin of omission against Christ. Can we claim to love and follow Jesus and yet willfully disobey His command to make disciples in light of John 14:15? If we love God, we will make disciples.
- We don’t love people. Paul states that the love of Christ compels him to share the gospel of reconciliation as an ambassador of Christ.(2 Corinthians 5:11-20) This love refers both to his love for Jesus and to his love for people who don’t know Christ. When Jesus encounters the leper in the Gospel of Mark, His love moves Him to touch and heal the man.(Mark 1:40-45) The Good Samaritan’s love moves him to act and save the man left wounded on the side of the road.(Luke 10:33-34) Can we say we love our neighbor and not share the gospel with him/her? Can we say we love people and not seek to lead them to Jesus? If we love people, we will make disciples.
- We don’t think sharing the gospel is essential for salvation. A recent poll states that 92% of evangelicals believe that people are saved only through Jesus Christ; however, another survey of Protestant church attenders indicates that 48% of Protestants believe that people can obtain eternal life by sincerely following other religions apart from Christianity. Do we really believe that disciples sharing the gospel and making disciples is the only way people will come to saving faith in Christ? Do we think people can find God through other religions as long as they are sincere? Do we think people will receive the gospel apart from the church pursuing the Great Commission by seeking to make disciples? If we believe in the exclusivity of Christ and the need to share the gospel verbally, we will make disciples.
- We don’t share the gospel because we are afraid. Some self-professed Christ followers do not share the gospel because they are afraid of rejection by the unchurched. They might also fear losing a relationship if they share the gospel. It is significant that Jesus’ last words in the Great Commission are, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”(Matthew 28:20 ESV) Christ promises His presence to allay our fears. We can also take encouragement from the evidence of how the Holy Spirit empowered and emboldened early Christians, sending them out to witness boldly.(Acts 4:31) Do we really believe that the Holy Spirit will empower our witness of the gospel? Do we believe in His ability to bring the spiritually dead to life? If we believe in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, we will be bold witnesses of the gospel.
- We don’t share the gospel because we do not feel sufficiently equipped. Another reason some people who claim the name of Christ do not share the gospel is they feel they lack training or knowledge to share with people. First, we must remember our role in sharing Christ. We are called to be witnesses who give testimony regarding Jesus and how He changed our lives.(Acts 1:8) We are also called to know God’s Word and the content of the gospel so that we can share God’s Word. Paul told Timothy, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”(2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV) We do need to rely on Scripture and the content of the gospel found in Scripture in order to make disciples. Regular intake of Scripture will help to equip us for making disciples. Do we really believe that our role is to be witnesses? Do we really believe that the gospel of Scripture can change lives? If we believe in the power of the gospel and the Word of God, we will use Scripture to make disciples.
None of the 5 reasons for not making disciples listed above sufficiently excuses us from disobeying the Great Commission. If we take sins of omission as seriously as we take sins of commission, our hearts should break over our failure to obey Jesus’ command to “make disciples.” So I ask us, do we love God? Do we love people? Do we believe the gospel is essential to salvation? Do we trust the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in sharing the gospel? Do we believe in the power of the gospel and the Word of God? If we answer “Yes” to these questions, we will make disciples.