Christian Morality

If history has consistently taught the Christian one thing, then it is the importance of unified commendation. The post-Chalcedon Eastern Church provided a paradigm that ought to be heeded by all believers: where they continued to grumble about the niceties of the hypostatic union, they became weak and (along with other factors) “prepared the way for the triumph of Islam.”[1] Internal theological quarreling weakens the brethren. Therefore, if Christians wish to stand firm against the tides of materialistic morality, the church must unite under the authoritative Christian morality revealed in Scripture. The destruction of the opposition is only a means to an apologetic end, where the rubbish is cleared and the path becomes navigable unto the destination of revelatory affirmations. And even if some minor debris remains, the destination often belittles the wager of the speed bumps. Accordingly, one must affirm the truth of morality as it has been given to mankind in Scripture.[2]

The Metanarrative of Redemptive History

There are several ways and methods one could employ for the task. One could, for example, venture into the discussion with gaudy terms like ‘deontology’ or ‘utilitarianism,’ and these terms would be highly profitable for any student of philosophy. However, in the information age, where it is everywhere accessible but rarely revered, the common folk of moral discussion have no use for these terms. Neither would they be too accustomed to a recited list of pick-pocketed Bible verses. Rather, given the specific audience and the apologist’s personal understanding, Christian morality ought to be apologized through the metanarrative of biblical revelation, centered on the gospel of Jesus Christ. This progression consists in the elucidation of (1) God as the good designer, creator, and ruler, (2) the prelapsarian man and God’s stated purpose, (3) the postlapsarian man and his corrupted fitness, (4) the law and the covenants, (5) Jesus Christ as the image of God in the flesh, resorting the fitness of postlapsarian man, and (6) the call to hope, which is the vision of God’s future glory in the redemption of all things, faith, which is the substance of the things hoped for as seen in the triumph of Jesus Christ, and love, which is the expression of faith. Further explained, Scripture noted the creation of man primarily consisting in his distinctive design in the imago dei (cf. Gen. 1:26-27). Therefore, as the basic intimation of the designation of ‘image’ entails, man was vocationally designed to ‘point’ to God – to image him, to glorify him (cf. Isa. 43:6-7). All of creation was purposed with this function, but man was given the unique fitness to accomplish this end by his ability to reflect the nature of God’s goodness as expressed in man’s moral character. With the prideful disobedience of the fall, however, man rejected his essential fitness to accomplish the end for which he was designed, rejected the freedom of reflecting the goodness of God within a perfect relationship with him, and exchanged the glory of God (cf. Psa. 106:20; Jer. 2:11; Rom. 1:23).[3] Importantly noted, the fall in Genesis 3 described the sinfulness of man coming with his attained ‘knowledge of good evil,’ the intimation being that prelapsarian man was not in need of such knowledge since he was in perfect communion with God, who was the source and fountain of ‘good’ (cf. Gen. 2:9; 3:22). Therefore, the ‘knowledge of good and evil’ – moral knowledge – was an unnecessary compensation for man’s sinfulness, which resulted in his spoiled relationship with God who cannot be united with sin. Sparing an elongated review of the function of the law within a covenantal context (cf. Gal. 3:23-24), in the fullness of time, the Father sent Jesus Christ in the form of a man (cf. Rom. 1:1-5; 8:3; Gal. 4:4-5; Phil. 2:5-8). The New Testament writers referred to Jesus to as ‘the image of God’ (Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:3) and ‘the second Adam’ (1 Cor. 15:21-22, 45; cf. Rom. 5), and in light of his perfect life, consisting in perfect communion with the Father (cf. John 16:32), submission to his will (cf. John 6:38), and complete sinlessness (cf. 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15; 7:26; 1 John 3:5), the intimation was thus a restoration of man created in the imago dei, where Jesus executed the fitness of man to point to the goodness of God. Rather than boast in this perfection, however, the Father ordained for Jesus to die for the ungodly (cf. Acts 2:23; Rom. 5:6; Gal. 3:13-14; Eph. 2:5). It was by the unjust death of the perfect Son of God that imperfect man’s exchange of God’s glory for creation (cf. Rom. 1:22-23), for which the penalty was death (cf. Rom. 6:23), was atoned for in full (cf. Isa. 53:6; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 2:9; 1 John 2:2; 4:10). In an expression of ultimate vindication, the Father resurrected the Son of God in glory (cf. Rom. 4:25; 8:34; 1 Cor. 15:3; Phil 2:9-11; Eph. 1:19-20), whereby his eternal righteousness could now stand in the face of the Father, between his righteousness and man’s sinfulness (cf. Rom. 8:34; Gal. 2:20; 3:27; Heb. 9:12). The means of transference for Jesus’ righteousness unto sinful man was allotted by the grace of God through man’s faith (cf. Rom. 3:28; 4:16; 5:1; Gal. 2:16; 3:13-14; Eph. 2:8-9; 3:17). Faith united the person of Jesus with man (1 Cor. 15:48-49; Gal. 2:20-21; Eph. 3:24), marking the greatest action of man as the act of faith, which applies the work of Jesus Christ to the man. Therefore, the New Testament speaks of exclusively pleasing God and acting morally through faith (Rom. 14:23; Heb. 11:6), which acts to restore perfect communion with God, once again, through the mediatory role of Jesus Christ. The progression works to restore the conditions of prelapsarian man, where the knowledge of good and evil is resolved in one’s restored relationship with God, often expressed as living by the Spirit (Rom. 8:4-5, 10-11, 13; Gal. 5:16, 25). Man’s righteousness is as filthy rags (Isa. 64:6), but through faith, the glorious righteousness of Jesus Christ is reckoned to man’s account. Christian morality, then, primarily consists in a restoration of man’s true identity through the accomplished identity of Jesus Christ, which acts to reinstate the fitness of man (transformational) to accomplish the end for which he was designed – to glorify God. The obligation of man, therefore, Christian morality, essentially consists in faith; and faith has two complementary elements: hope and love. Faith, hope, and love are the inter-working of Christian morality. With the accomplished work of Jesus Christ, the precedent was set for the eschatological restoration of all things (cf. 1 Cor. 15:23-28; Rom. 8:22-23; Eph. 1:20-23). In view of this coming renovation, man is called to hope (Rom. 8:24-25; Gal. 5:5). This hope, moreover, is substantive in the present by faith (cf. Heb. 11:1; hypostasis), because faith is the actual of the potential, the certain of the uncertain, and the substance of the thing hoped for.[4] In the action of bringing the hope into the present by faith, faith then is essentially expressed in love (cf. Gal 5:6, 14; Eph. 3:17). We are called to imitate God and walk in love (cf. Eph. 5:1-2), because love is the expression of faith, and faith imitates God by one’s living in Christ, where man’s imitation is applied by Christ living through him. More explicitly stated, Christian morality is understood and implemented with three motions centralized by faith: (1) in regards to perspective, man is brought to the truth of the work of Jesus Christ, supplying the hope of making all things new (cf. 2 Cor. 5:17; Eph. 1:9-10; Rev. 21:5); (2) faith actualizes the understanding by subjectively engaging in this truth with trust; and (3) this trusted truth is thus transformational, where one lives with a supreme love for God and a love for others (cf. Deut. 6:5; Matt. 22:37-40; Luke 10:27; Rom. 13:8-10; Gal. 5:14). Importantly, though justification is sola fide, faith is never alone; it is intrinsically dependent upon its object (hope) and necessarily expressed in love (cf. 1 Cor. 13:2; Jam. 2:17).

[1] Mark Noll, Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012), 71. By contrast, the West suffered little dispute and almost immediate satisfaction with Chalcedon, and therefore “charted a course for fruitful theological reflection on that life-giving mystery,” ibid., 71. [2] Cornelius Van Til correctly noted, “…It is Scripture, and Scripture alone, in the light of which all moral questions must be answered,” The Defense of Faith, 4th ed., ed. K. Scott Oliphint (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Pub, 2008), 77. [3] This is an extremely crucial elucidation in regards to the essence of what sin is – i.e. an exchange of God’s glory for that which is unworthy, which defies the very design and purpose of man. [4] Hebrews 11:1 reads, Ἔστιν δὲ πίστις ἐλπιζομένων ὑπόστασις, (estin de pistis elpizomenon hypostasis, faith is the substance of things hoped). The emphasis is on ὑπόστασις (hypostasis), which is the same Greek word used in Hebrews 1:3 (ὃς ὢν ἀπαύγασμα τῆς δόξης καὶ χαρακτὴρ τῆς ὑποστάσεως αὐτοῦ, os on apaugasma tes doxes kai character tes hypostaseos, He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature) describing the incarnation of Jesus Christ.

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2 thoughts on “Christian Morality

  1. The Eastern church grumbled over the hypostatic union while the Western church suffered little dispute? The eastern church prepared the way for Islam? Absolutely horrendous scholarship. The christological disputes between the Calvinists and Lutherans must just be a minor footnote, eh? I’m afraid your going to have to do more than cite Noll on that point.

    • Thanks for the comment whitefrozen! In the nature of citations, the application in the paper is only a summation of the original author’s lengthy elucidated analysis. Therefore, I will provide the paragraph from which the citation was pulled: “The intramural theological quarreling that followed Chalcedon in the eastern part of the Christian world had one particularly unfortunate long-term consequence. That quarreling, when compounded by the acrimony between the churches that accepted Chalcedon and those that did not, constituted one of the factors that weakened Christianity in that region and so prepared the way for the triumph of Islam, sweeping out of Arabia in the mid-seventh century” (Noll, 71; my emphasis added).

      Hopefully this better contextualizes the point Noll attempted to make; but moreover, it was merely one example of the overall principle straining to be emphasized – i.e. disunity within the Christian community weakens it. I do not see how that deduced principle is the result of bad scholarship, and I do not see how utilizing the theological quarreling of the eastern church post-Chalcedon is a bad example. Furthermore, the theological quarreling was only one of the factors, meaning that the entirety of the preparation (much of it indirect) is a complex system of connections. I in no way sought to emphasize that this was the only reason that led to a weakened church in the seventh century.

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