Putting it All Together

Article / Produced by TOW Project
Putting it all together

Commands, Consequences and Character – three different approaches to making ethical decisions. And, as we have seen, there are plenty of variations within these streams. The truth is that in real everyday situations most people use a combination of approaches. For example, it’s hard to apply specific commands or rules without also considering the consequences of such actions. At the same time, when we weigh and compare different consequences we’ll want to identify the rules that lead to those results. And in the end, regardless of whatever we’ve decided in theory, it is actually character and an openness to the nudging of God’s Holy Spirit that often dictate how we act.

So when it comes to making moral decisions, we find ourselves involved in an ethical dance that is an interplay between these different approaches.

Summary of the Three Approaches

Approach to ethics




Key concept




Primary question

What do the rules say?

What will produce the best outcome?

Am I becoming a good person?

Which of these approaches do you favor in your own decision-making? Frequently, it depends on the nature of the situation you find yourself in. For example, are you trying to solve a major moral dilemma … or is this an everyday moral choice? Let’s explain what we mean.

Major Moral Dilemmas

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Sometimes major moral dilemmas require and allow for careful consideration over an extended period of time. In such cases, one way of going about this decision-making process is to:[29]

  1. Gather all the relevant facts.
  2. Clarify the key ethical issues.
  3. Identify rules and commands that are relevant for the case.
  4. Consult the important sources of guidance — especially the Bible, with sensitivity to the best way of reading the Bible to address this situation. But also consult other relevant sources.
  5. List all the alternative courses of action.
  6. Compare the alternatives with the principles.
  7. Calculate the likely results of each course of action, and consider the consequences.
  8. Consider your decision prayerfully before God.
  9. Make your decision and act on it.

As you can see, setting a course when faced with a major moral decision calls for a lot of blood, sweat and tears! Especially for an organization. However, when it comes to dealing with everyday problems that we meet as individuals, the pace of life is likely to make us more streamlined.

Everyday Moral Choices

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We have already suggested that most ethical decisions in our daily lives and work are made instantly, often under pressure and without much room for forethought. They are instinctive, being the product of habits of a lifetime, as well as shaped by the culture of the places we work and by the peer groups and faith communities we belong to.

Such decisions are influenced by the extent to which Christian virtues and character have been molded into the core of our being. This is regular Christian discipleship.

However, the importance of being as the foundation for our doing does not mean we have no need for moral reasoning. Within the virtuous life there is still a place for understanding rules and calculating consequences — but here the rules and consequences are subordinated to the virtues. They’re viewed as servants rather than masters. For example, even a person with the virtue of honesty has to understand and obey the rules of Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (International Financial Reporting Standards, outside the USA) in order to produce accurate financial statements. Terms such as “in our opinion” and “unforeseeable” have particular definitions that must be followed. But an honest person always uses the rules to increase the overall accuracy of the financial statement, never to find a way to obscure the truth without breaking any laws.

This emphasis on virtues does not eliminate moral dilemmas. In fact, competing virtues are also capable of pulling us in different directions. Examples of this are the tensions that sometimes exist between justice and peace, or loyalty and truth, or courage and prudence.

Making good moral decisions in these cases is less about seeing one right answer (because there probably is not just one) and more about striving for a balanced Christian response that recognizes all the competing priorities.

We are not just left striving earnestly all the time to discern and enact the perfect Christian response. In fact, recognizing that we live in a fallen world means realizing that often there is no perfect Christian response — that sometimes all courses of action include negative consequences. It is only by God’s grace that we can live forgiven and free as Christians. No longer desperately dependent on trying to do the right thing in order to earn God’s approval, but still committed to try to do the right thing as defined by the character of our Lord and Savior, the carpenter of Nazareth, in whose footsteps we follow as we go about our daily work.

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Click here to go to the Systematic Presentation of Ethics
Click here to go to the Bibliography