For the past few days we have studied Colossians 2:16–23 and Paul’s condemnation of those who were using the law inappropriately in Colossae to bind consciences and distort the meaning of right and wrong. That the law can be distorted, however, does not mean that God’s law does not have a place in helping the new covenant believer discern right from wrong. In order to get a better handle on how to use the law of the Lord rightly in making ethical decisions, we will now take a short break from our studies in Colossians to explore the topic of Christian ethics more deeply. Dr. R.C. Sproul will guide our study through his teaching series Building a Christian Conscience.
Scripture is clear that there are objective standards of right and wrong that transcend every culture. In other words, there are ethical standards that do not change according to time or place. Yet while we know that such standards do exist, applying them to make right decisions in particular situations is often more difficult than it might first appear. Sin affects every part of us and our world, clouding our minds so that it can be difficult to discern God’s will in many situations (Rom. 1:18–32). We are left with two fundamental issues related to making ethical decisions properly. First, we must know what our Creator requires of us in order to do what is right. Merely knowing what will please Him, however, does not guarantee that we will do it. We need the desire to choose the good; otherwise, we can never please God.
Thankfully, we who have been redeemed by Jesus have been granted the Holy Spirit, who works within us to lead us to seek God’s favor (Ezek. 36:26–28; Rom. 5:5). Yet though we have been given a new desire to do what pleases Him, we do not always know what the good and proper course of action is in every situation. This is due, in large measure, to our insufficient knowledge of God’s will and the ways in which past sins can complicate the present and limit our options. Although we must do all things to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31), we must still overcome our ignorance of Scripture and the particulars of each ethical conundrum in order to fulfill this call. There exist, to our eyes, some gray areas when it comes to ethics, though our failure to discriminate between black and white in some situations is due to our finitude. For the Lord, there are no gray areas; every situation to Him is clear.
Though the Spirit grants us new life in Christ, this does not mean we immediately overcome our ignorance of God’s ways. Instead, the Spirit works through Scripture, illuminating it as we read and hear it so that we might learn what the Lord requires of us in every instance. The only way we can grow in our ability to discern what pleases God is to meditate on His Word, for its commands are the basic building blocks of Christian ethics.