Whatever Happened to Morality?
by Rick Shrader
The contemporary moral climate does not favor a faith as tough and fibrous as that taught by our Lord and His apostles. Christ calls men to carry His cross; we call them to have fun in His name! He calls them to suffer; we call them to enjoy all the bourgeois comforts modern civilization affords! He calls them to holiness; we call them to a cheap and tawdry happiness that would have been rejected with scorn by the least of the Stoic philosophers!1 (A.W. Tozer)
The frothy entertainment culture in which we live is a narcotic: not only is it addictive, so that we always want more; it also eats away at us, skewing our priorities, rotting our values as surely as too much sugar rots our teeth.2 (Carl Trueman)
How often have we all spoken, written, taught, or preached on the subject of morality over the last twenty years? Yet it seems as if every year the subject becomes more needful and the current cultural malaise even more dire. Nothing seems to shock us, surprise us, or even anger us. Within the last week of this writing, four NFL players have been arrested for everything from murder to wife-beating. On one news station a pastor and a pro-homosexual were debating and when the pastor mentioned that God has said that homosexuality is wrong, the other man said no one has a monopoly on God and that his god disagreed. Around our country this week the American Atheists are erecting monuments next to the 10 commandment monuments stating that America was in no way founded upon Christian principles. In a scene captured on a home video, a large man bursts into a home with a young child and her mother, punches the woman multiple times in the face, slams her to the floor, throws her down the basement steps, and then calmly proceeds to rob the house. Meanwhile, a well-known rock singer and sex-symbol does a lewd dance for the king of a foreign country for a cool million dollars and no one even bats an eye. And these things were news just this week! No wonder most Christian parents feel that if they can just keep their kids free from sex and drugs until they’re 18, they have raised exceptional kids! Sadly, maybe they have.
The church seems pretty good at pointing out the speck of immorality in the world’s eye while ignoring the beam of immorality in its own eye. We have our cussing preachers, our rapping gospel singers, our tattooed professional athletes, our pants-on-the-ground teenagers, and reputation-in-the-world mega-pastors. But in the church we have repentance and restoration of sinning and erring brethren because the church is a society within a society. Regardless of what the world does, we can and should act Biblically. That doesn’t mean we always do, but we should. Sure, we have our times when we overlook too much or overreact too much, but that is not the norm. Love is the norm.
I do not mean to diminish nor malign the brother or sister in Christ. A true believer is and always will be a child of God. And, in addition, a human being is a fellow creature made in the image and likeness of our God and we cannot easily speak positively of God and negatively of those made in His image (James 3:9). But in the same parable of the speck and beam (Luke 6) the Lord Jesus said a good tree will bear good fruit and a corrupt tree will bear corrupt fruit. An evil heart will bring forth evil treasure and a good heart good treasure. “And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46). Adrian Rogers used to say what goes down in the well of the heart will come up in the bucket of the mouth. A judgment of thought and motive is presumptuous and wrong, but a judgment of immoral actions spilled out for all to see is only honest and necessary. “All things that are reproved are made manifest by the light” (Eph. 5:13).
The word “moral” or “morals” is practically nonexistent in our English Bible. The KJV does not have the word at all, The NASV uses it once in Job 11:15 as “moral defect” and twice in 2 Peter 1:5 as “moral excellence” where the KJV has “virtue.” The NIV uses it once in James 1:21 as “moral filth.” The ESV does not use the word. This is interesting because Biblical words have a weightier effect on our everyday lives. A word like “holiness” seems to retain its meaning whether used in a positive or negative sense. I’ve not heard anyone say, “Don’t push your holiness on me,” but I hear “don’t push your morality on me” all the time. The same thing has happened with the word “culture” which is not found in our English Bibles either. That word has changed dramatically over the last fifty years. We know we can’t love the “world” but it seems we have no problem loving the “culture” even though the two may be identical.
Morality has become a relativistic word. A quick look at the history of Webster’s dictionary shows this. Noah Webster, in his 1828 dictionary, which was basically his own writing, said that “the word moral is applicable to actions that are good or evil, virtuous or vicious, and has reference to the law of God as the standard by which their character is to be determined.”3 He also defines “moral law” as “the law of God which prescribes the moral or social duties, and prohibits the transgression of them.” My Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary published in 1967 never uses the word “God” in the definition but only says “conformity to a standard.” That “standard” could be anything anyone wants it to be.
In spite of all of that, I think people today basically know what we mean when we talk of morality. They know it so well that to them it is a matter of someone judging them. Well, that is correct. An immoral thing is wrong and to say so is to make a proper judgment about it. But our society has made the judgment itself the immoral thing, and the thing itself is only a cultural phenomenon. Homosexuality is such an obvious sin in the Bible that only hermeneutical gymnastics could avoid it. Yet homosexuality has become a “normal” lifestyle and speaking against it in any way has become the social sin of “judging.” When Israel of old fell into this same moral contradiction, God told Isaiah to say, “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isa. 5:20).
The Basis For Morality
We Christians are making a big assumption when we talk this way. We understand, and we have been accustomed to society understanding, that we can call something immoral because God has said that it was immoral. Whether we talk of God’s Word, the Bible, or talk of “the moral law,” we have understood that there is a God to whom we all have to answer. At times we have even appealed to societal norms, for example, that our country has always believed in the traditional definition of the family (a man and a woman). But this appeal to societal norm will come back to haunt us when the majority of society believes a different way. It is hurting us now because a few amoral judges can usurp society’s wishes anyway.
Revelation from God will become the key issue (again) very soon. We can say that a thing is moral or immoral because we can appeal to what we know God has said. But when society no longer believes the Bible is God’s Word, there is no longer any certain way of saying what God thinks. B.B. Warfield wrote often that there are only two kinds of religion in the world: humanistic and revealed. Christianity is a revealed religion and everything else was dreamed up in the heart and head of man. This is why I believe that the next battle for the Bible will be theism vs. atheism. Praise the Lord for those believing textual scholars who reinforce the historicity and reliability of the Scriptures.
During WWII C.S. Lewis gave theistic talks over the London radio which became the book “Mere Christianity.” He started his lecture with the illustration of a man getting on a bus and beginning to sit in a seat. Just as he does someone slips in before him. The man turns around and says, “hey, that was my seat.” From this example Lewis built his case that we all appeal to a moral law for right and wrong and that that moral law must eventually appeal back to the God Who originated it. When we have no belief in God, we have no appeal to a moral law because it has no appeal to an Authority who can enforce it, that is, God.
The Weakness Of Morality
The Bible also teaches the fallen nature of human beings. Theologians call it a lapsarian view, that man has lapsed, or fallen, into sin beginning with Adam and Eve in the garden. The Fall, as we call it, separated human beings from their relationship to God and has brought upon them a depravity that reaches to all parts of their being. Because of this, man, at his best, is still a condemned sinner awaiting God’s judgment. Isaiah said that even our righteousnesses are as filthy rags in God’s eyes (Isa. 64:6).
Fallen man has gravitated gladly to modern teachings of evolution or historical revisionism because this removes the historical possibility of a real fall and therefore relieves man of real guilt. Add to that a Star Wars view of the future and man no longer believes there is a real judgment coming. Even some so-called believers are positing a view that a literal hell would be unworthy of a holy and just God. Say what you will, but when we have removed a literal view of the Scriptures, especially regarding these things, the human nature feels free to behave the way it likes, and that way is not acceptable with God.
The age of grace is a conundrum to sinners. Even Peter prophesied that the scoffers of the last days would credulously ask, “where is the promise of his coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation” (2 Pet. 3:4). How can there be a God who cares when He has not intervened into human affairs in the last two thousand years? As the world gets worse and worse, and bad things continue to happen to good people, either God does not care or He is unable to do anything about it. The conclusion has been to eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die!
But the age of grace is designed for man to be left with the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit’s conviction, and the historical fact of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. God will not miraculously intervene into the sinfulness of this world and open up the earth as He did in the wilderness when Korah and his followers rebelled and “went down alive into the pit, and the earth closed upon them” (Num. 16:33). God is longsuffering because of the atonement for sin made by Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 3:9) and will wait until the end of this age and then judge the world severely for its unbelief and the immoral result of its actions.
The Triumph Of Morality
That coming judgment will be the triumph of morality. Paul explained to the Thessalonians that in this age believers suffer at the hands of an unbelieving world, but this only confirms that judgment, when it comes, will be righteous.
“So that we ourselves glory in you in the churches of God, for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure: which is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God, that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer: seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you; and to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thes. 1:4-8).
That is a New Testament passage, and there are many more that explain that severe judgment is still coming on unbelievers because their sin is not forgiven through faith in the cross-work of Jesus Christ. Rather, sinners treasure up for themselves “wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; who will render to every man according to his deeds” (Rom. 2:5-6).
In addition to the triumph of morality at the judgment of God, Jesus Christ will usher in His kingdom that will last for a thousand years, the millennium, and will bring universal righteousness at last to the earth. The promises, Old Testament and New Testament, will be literally fulfilled and morality will be the norm for the first time since Adam’s sin. Zechariah says it will be so pervasive that, “In that day shall there be upon the bells of the horses, HOLINESS UNTO THE LORD; and the pots in the LORD’s house shall be like the bowls before the altar” (Zech. 14:20). Rather than now, when every billboard, every commercial, every advertisement, every program, song, movie, or video, is semi pornographic or worse, then every bell that rings will be dedicated to the holiness of God!
In the mean time, we can remember that the truth of God’s morality cannot change even in this age. Marriage cannot change in God’ eyes; fornication cannot change in God’s eyes; the Word of God cannot change; and sin and the sin nature cannot change from what God has said that it is. Man may redefine it, disbelieve it, curse it, or flaunt it in our faces, but truth will be truth with God, sin will be sin, and righteousness will be righteousness.
The Battle For Morality
For now we understand, like Paul, when he was almost stoned to death yet exhorted the believers in Lystra “to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). Paul reminded the Roman believers that they were joint heirs with Christ, “if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together” (Rom. 8:17). We are here on the earth, in this time, to earnestly contend for the faith (Jude 3). It is enough to know that we are fighting a losing battle. The world will not be converted and we will not bring in the kingdom of God by our own efforts. It is ours to be faithful and to preach a gospel of deliverance for any individual who will believe to the saving of his/her soul.
The churches in the last days will, no doubt, have to address current issues in the country where believers live. How much can we give unto Caesar before we have to stop and give the rest unto God? How much social and political involvement can we do before we are merely wasting precious time for ministry? How long can we maintain properties, exemptions, licenses, accreditations, and other requirements without bowing too far to earthly authority?4 But more important than all of those, how much can we continue loving this world more than heaven? When will we become too earthly minded to be of any heavenly good?
And So . . .
When the maniac of Gadara was cleansed of his demons (Luke 8), the towns people were “afraid” when they saw him sitting and clothed and in his right mind (vs. 35). The world is afraid of the power of righteousness. Paul told the Philippians, “and in nothing [be] terrified by your adversaries: which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God” (Phil. 1:28). God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, and love, and a sound mind (2 Tim. 1:7). We must always remember, “greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world” (1 John 4:4).
Notes: 1. A.W. Tozer, Mornings With Tozer (Camp Hill: Wing Spread Pub., 2008) reading for march 20th. 2. Carl Trueman, Reformation: yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow (Kindle Version) 111. 3. Noah Webster, American Dictionary of the English language , 1828 (Chesapeake, VA: Foundation for American Christian Education, 1995). 4. I’m not being flippant, I am suggesting that the future may hold the necessity for some very tough decisions for local churches and other ministries in this country as well as others. Paul called the last days a “perilous time.”