Ethics Trump Morals

by Joseph Franks

Leviticus 18:1-5. And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, I am the Lord your God. You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes. You shall follow my rules and keep my statutes and walk in them. I am the Lord your God. You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the Lord.

The morality of Egypt was not to be respected by Israel. Neither was the morality of Canaan to be a guide for Israel’s conduct. The cultural practices and norms of the surrounding people groups were not to be trusted. Right and wrong was not to be determined by majority vote. Israel was to follow the statutes and rules of Yahweh. The revelation of God’s ethics was to trump the morality of the culture.

It was in seminary that I first learned the difference between morality and ethics. Morality was the study of “what is considered” to be right or wrong by a particular people group. Ethics was the study of “what ought to be considered” right or wrong. Consequently, morality was cultural, relative, subjective, and mutable. Ethics was divine, revealed, objective, and fixed.

Friends, what is it that determines your standards and rules? Do you measure yourself by man’s moral standards, or by God’s revealed ethic? Focusing on morality leads to legalism or antinomian license. You will end up denying people rights that God gives to them, or granting people rights to sin. Both are wrong. However, focusing on God’s revealed ethics leads to good worship, divine commendation, a clean conscience, a sweeter society, and an improved personal life.

As God’s redeemed people, who have been called to be holy, let us make sure we are finding our “holiness standard” from the rock of God’s Word and not from the shifting sands of our modern and most wicked culture.

Jesus says, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” He loves us so much. Let us love him in return.

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