Ethics & Salvation

29 Oct

Most discussions about Biblical issues in Christian circles fall into one of three categories: (1) soteriology — that is the discussion of salvation; (2) ethics — that is, how then shall we live in light of salvation; and (3) irrelevant and silly — that is most of what Christians fight about.

Obviously this is a bit of an over-simplification.  Other important issues are things like hermeneutics, ecclesiology and missiology.  But the truth is that all of those are subsumed in discussions of salavtion and ethics.  Hermeneutics (how we interpret scripture) is foundational to both.  Ecclessiology (theology of church) gets lived out in an understanding of what the saved community IS (salvation) and what this community is supposed to DO (ethics). Missiology (theology of evangelism and missions) is also foundationally about salvation and ethics. 

So these are key issues…

But they are separate issues…

And it is important to remember which we are talking about when…

My hypothesis is that if we had a better understanding of which we were talking about when, we would fight a lot less and have a lot more productive discussions.

For Christians, salvation issues are a big deal.  Heaven and hell hang in the balance.  Getting these issues correct is a pretty big deal.  The nature of salvation includes some pretty big theological issues (such as the nature and work of Christ, the reality and consequence of sin, the character of the Father, the work of the Holy Spirit, free will, election, grace, justification, sanctification, glorification, etc).  Volumes have been written on these issues.  Which is good, because they are important.

Then there are ethical questions and issues.  The essence of Christian ethics is this: once saved, how should I live.

As followers of Jesus, this is where we live (or should live).

Ethics is also something that sometimes is quite clear, but often is quite complex.  Sometimes scripture speaks directly to an issue, sometimes we must infer based on Biblical principles.  Within the realm of Christian ethics, there can be (and often are) multiple faithful answers.  But not always.

What does “multiple faithful answers” mean?  It means that equally faithful and committed Christians can come to different ethical conclusions about an issue, without one being “more Christian”, “more faithful” or even “more right” than the other person.  Most ethical questions fall into this category, but not all.  The Bible is full of some clear back-and-white ethical commands.  But the truth is that the vast majority of ethical issues we face in our day have not been spoken to directly in the scriptures.  Or f they have, it is with more “gray” and nuance than many of us are comfortable with.

Why is this important?

Because when dealing with ethical issues, we need to both take scripture seriously while also being careful to not make black-and-white what scripture leaves gray (or is silent on).  We must follow our convictions, but also respect others.  We can disagree without resorting to name-calling or questioning people’s salvation or faithfulness.

Anyway, I think it is worth knowing (and noting) which issue(s) we are dealing with when…

1 Comment

Posted by on October 29, 2009 in Uncategorized


One response to “Ethics & Salvation

  1. Ben

    October 29, 2009 at 3:00 pm

    <p>YES… in other words, salvation should produce an ethical life. (This is what James is suggesting…) and that an ethical life is evidence of an authentic work of salvation in one’s life (also what James is saying). Jesus says the same thing when he talks about knowing a tree by its fruits.</p><p>YES… salvation and ethics are linked. I would argue that you cannot live a truly (fully) ethical life apart from life in Christ (I know that is a controversial and unpopular position). This is not to say that one can not be an ethical person in the general and broad sense without being a Christian, but rather they cannot fulfill the foundation and essence of the ethical precepts of "love God and love others" apart from Christ.</p><p>BUT… it is helpful to keep the issues distinct. While there are not multiple paths to salvation (Jesus is pretty clear that HE is the way, truth and life and no one goes to the Father but through Him), there can be different faithful answers in terms of ethics… (see previous comment I posted for examples).</p><p>I am not suggesting that once "saved" how we live does not matter. Nor am I suggesting that either salvation or ethics are more or less important.</p><p>I do think that there are some differences in terms of exegesis and hermeneutics when dealing with the scriptures… I think it is important to know the difference between the issues in terms of discussion, etc… </p><p>Another way to think about the difference is to think about the difference between Biblical command and Biblical wisdom.</p><p>The bible COMMANDS that we are to LOVE OUR ENEMIES (therefore it is a sin when we fail to do this). In contrast, the book of Proverbs warns against the dangers of wealth (this is wisdom) — but that doesn’t make wealth evil nor is it sinful to acquire wealth. While both are inspired (and I would argue infallible and inerrant), Biblical COMMAND and WISDOM is different in terms of interpretation and application.</p><p>In the same way, issues of salvation (soteriology) are different from ethics. Both are inspired (and I think infallible and inerrant) but still different in terms of interpretation and application.</p><p>I hope that makes sense… and thanks for your thoughts! You always help me refine my thoughts and ideas, which is a good thing…</p><p>BD</p>



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