As well, there are a growing list of moral issues that we are facing today, that we have never face before. Issues involving sexuality, genetics, medicine, reproduction, life and death, to name a few. How do we as believers make decisions not based on our gut reactions or our perceived ideas of what we think is right or wrong based on tradition, culture, and religion? That is why we need to answer the question, “How do Christians make moral choices." Before we answer the question, we need to establish that there are several moral position to choose from: Moral Relativism, Cultural Relativism, Situation Ethics, Behaviorism, or Moral Absolutism.
Moral Relativism is morality not based on any absolute standards. It teaches that truth is based on variables such as situations or feelings. Those who adhere to Moral Relativism push the issue of tolerance. The moral relativist claims that by enforcing an absolute moral code on someone is intolerant and therefore wrong.
This position is untenable for three reasons. First, evil should never be tolerated. If there are no moral standards, the result will be anarchy. Second, their argument is self-defeating. The fact that the moral relativist does not tolerate the intolerance of the moral absolutist undermines their positions. Refusing to be tolerant to the intolerant sets them in a position of establishing an absolute. Three, the moral relativist cannot explain why someone should be tolerant.
Cultural Relativism is a morality based on whatever a particular cultural group approves as right or wrong. Thus, culture becomes the dominant determiner of moral or immoral. Such a position is fatally flawed. First, there are at any given time many competing cultural groups. Second, with so many competing cultural groups, each determining their morality, it is impossible to condemn one group over another. For example, according to Cultural Relativism, the extermination of the Jews under Hitler would be acceptable because the Nazis made decisions within the context of their cultural worldview.
Situation Ethics is a morality based on the context of a situation, instead of an absolute moral standard. Where Moral Relativism holds to no right or wrong, Situation Ethics uses the needs of the given situation to determine what is right or wrong. Adherents of this view claim that “all laws and rules and principles and ideals and norms, are only contingent, only valid if they happen to serve love.” In other words, as long as love is the goal, the end justifies the means. For example, if an individual is married to an invalid than it would be loving for them to have an affair because their needs were unable to be met by their spouse.
Situational Ethics does not hold up in light of who God is. First, God is good and unchangeable.
- For the Lord is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting And His faithfulness to all generations. - Psalm 100:5
- For I, the Lord, do not change… - Malachi 3:6
Second, God is love.
- The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love (agápē). - 1 John 4:8
Behaviorism is a morality that is the result of one’s genetic makeup, environmental circumstances, or conditioning. This ethical view believes that people are victims of forces outside of their control. Therefore, people are not responsible for their behaviors. Proponents of this view believe that human freedom and human dignity are outdated and should be discarded.
Scripture directly opposes the ethical position of Behaviorism. Romans 1-3 teaches that people are morally responsible for their behavior and actions. Adam and Eve were created morally good.
- God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. - Genesis 1:27
- The Lord God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed. Out of the ground the Lord God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. - Genesis 2:8-9
- God blessed them […] Then God said, Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you; […] I have given every green plant for food; and it was so. - Genesis 1:28-30
- The Lord God commanded the man, saying, From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die. - Genesis 2:16-17
Moral Absolutism is a morality that is based on universal precepts and principles found in God’s Word. These precepts and principles are absolute because God is the ultimate source of morality.
- You are good (ṭôb) and do good; Teach me Your statutes. - Psalm 119:68
- And He said to him, Why are you asking Me about what is good? There is only One who is good (agathós)… - Matthew 19:17
God established a code of ethics for humanity to live by — “Be holy as I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44; 1 Peter 1:16). God’s ethical code is found in the moral absolutes of His Law, specifically the Ten Commandments. Thus, God’s Law in an instruction manual on how to be holy or make moral life choices.
Making moral decision is sometimes difficult when confronted with an issue which is morally ambiguous. There are several steps one can take to make right moral choices. However, before examining those steps, the following question must be answered. What makes a person moral or immoral in doing an act? The question is not what is moral or immoral, but instead what makes a person moral.
Some may answer that the consequences make the person moral. Consequences do not make a person moral or immoral. How something turns out does not determine an individuals morality. Something could be moral, but the consequences turn out bad. Those who choose to identify morality by consequences are called consequentialist. If someone does something out of fear of punishment, then he or she did not do it because he or she is moral. If someone does something out of fear of what others think, then the person did not do it cause he or she is moral. They may have made a moral decision, but because they allowed the consequence to determine the course of action, they were not acting morally. A non-consequentialist does not allow the consequences of a given decision to determine his or her morality. Instead, a non-consequentialist consults a set of moral absolutes to determine his or her decision.
Doing a morally good act does not make one moral. The Pharisees are a perfect example of immoral people performing moral acts. Outwardly they conformed to the Law, but inwardly they were plotting to lie, cheat, steal, and even murder. The only way an individual can be considered as being moral is if he or she freely performed a morally good act with the right motivation.
The key to being a moral person is freedom of action. In other words, a person cannot be considered morally responsible, if they do not have freedom of action. God gave Adam and Eve the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil to demonstrate that they had Freedom of Action. By placing the Tree before them, God gave them a choice. Regardless of the choice they made, the choice demonstrated that they were morally responsible creatures. Without the freedom of action, people would be neither moral or immoral. As an amoral creature, humanity could not be made in God’s image. Since humanity is made in God’s image, they have freedom of action and the ability to be moral or immoral.
Therefore, a person cannot be held morally accountable unless they act freely. This rule expresses itself in two ways. First, no one can be held morally accountable for doing what he or she could not fail to do. Second, no one can be held morally accountable for failing to do what he or she could not do.
The issue of morality comes down to three options: the Morally Obligatory, the Morally Permissible, and the Morally Supererogatory. Morally Obligatory acts are those actions delineated by rules which declare what one must do or not do. For example, the law says do not steal or murder. Therefore, I am morally obligated not to steal or murder. Morally Permissible acts are those actions which are neither encouraged or prohibited. In other words, there is no moral rule which outlaws the issue. Examples of morally permissible acts are watching a movie or going to the store. However, the particular movie you watch or store you go to may not be permissible and would fall under a moral obligation.
The Morally Supererogatory acts are those actions which go above and beyond the call of duty. These actions are only done for good or right causes. It is an act which one does that is not obligatory but permissible such as sacrificing one’s self for another. If someone is in a position to help someone in need and by doing so does not endanger his or her life or removes his or her rights, then he or she is obligated to help. If someone is in a position to help someone in need and in doing so endangers his or her life or removes his or her rights, then he or she is not obligated to help. For example, if you see a house on fire, you would be morally obligated to call 911. However, you are not obligated to go into the house. If you chose to enter the house to see if anyone is trapped, you would be doing something that is morally supererogatory because you are endangering your own life to save the life of another.
The following steps then outline the steps one would take in making moral decisions.
- STEP 1: Identify and choose an ethical theory.
- STEP 2: Gather all the available information and options on the situation.
- STEP 3: Look for a moral precept or principle that covers (i.e., directly or indirectly) the situation.
- STEP 4: If two rules apply but conflict with one another, decide which rule has the greater priority.
- STEP 5: If after consulting all relevant precepts and principles and either the rules conflict or it is difficult to decide which one has priority, then the only option is to consult the consequences and decide what to do.
To honest, there is so much more to say. However, by following these five steps, we can alleviate much of the angst and difficulties we will face when confronted with issues of morality. Let’s be honest, at some point we are all going to be to be faced with a difficult moral choice. Its far better to be prepared before the issue arises, so that we know we have made the choice which honors God.