A Stunning Foundation for Christian Ethics

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them. For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light.

Ephesians 5:6-8

As a philosophy major in college, I was required to take Phil. 16: Introduction to Ethics. For a semester, my fellow students and I considered basic questions such as: What do we mean when we say actions are right or wrong? What is the nature of the good? Is morality rational? On what basis can we say that a person "ought" to do something?

Philosophers have come up with a variety of answers to these questions. Some stress that the "ought" comes from figuring out the greatest good for the greatest number of people. For example, you should keep your promises because the world will be a better place for everyone if people keep their promises. Others argue that certain kinds of behavior have an essential "oughtness" independent from their results. You should keep your promise, these ethicists might say, because there is something inherently right about promise keeping.

Christian faith offers a variety of ethical approaches. Most obviously, we affirm that God determines what is right and wrong, and that we ought to do whatever God commands. This is surely true. Yet it's not the whole story.

In Ephesians 5:6-8, Christian ethics is based not on God's commandments, but rather on our new identity in God. We are not to deceive or disobey. Why not? "For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light." There is an "ought" here: You ought not to deceive or disobey and you ought to live as a child of the light. This "ought" is based on the "is" of your new identity: Now you are light in the Lord. If we want to find out what we "ought" to do (and not do), we need to pay attention to the "is" of our identity in Christ.

If this philosophical conversation seems a bit obscure to you, consider the following example. On April 14, 1984, while standing before family, friends, and God, I pledged myself in marriage. I became the husband of Linda. That wasn't my entire identity, but being a husband became a central part of who I am as a person. Now, if I were tempted to be unfaithful to Linda and shared this temptation with a friend, he might very well say to me, "Mark, what are you thinking? You are a married man. You are Linda's husband. Be who you are!" Of course, my friend would be right in this exhortation.

Similarly, when you're wondering how you should live your life, when you're trying to figure out what's right and why you should do it, remember this: Your "is" determines your "ought." You are light in the Lord. So, be who you are. Live as a child of light!

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Can you think of other examples, besides that of marriage, when the "is" of identity points to the "ought" of behavior? To what extent does your identity as light determine your behavior? How might you live as a child of light today?

PRAYER: Gracious God, thank you for giving me a new identity in you. Thank you for turning me from darkness to light. Thank you for making me a child of light.

Help me, Lord, to believe the truth about who I am in you. May the "ought" of my life be determined by the "is" of my new essence in you. Teach me to see myself as a light in you. And, by your grace, may I live today, and every day, as a child of light. To you be all the glory. Amen.


Aligning Talents with Dreams

This article is part of a series at The High Calling on Aligning Talents with Dreams. We’re talking about dreams—both big and small—that flow from an intimate relationship with God. And our talents? It’s the way God’s made us, though we may have to sharpen our raw talents into skills. Ideally, we’re equipped with talents to support the dream we’re given. But often, life’s timing isn’t perfect. Maybe we’re waiting to discover the dream, or maybe we’re waiting to develop the talent more fully. What’s it like when our talents and dreams converge? How can we get there? What can we do in-between, when we’re waiting? Join us as we discuss our God-given talents and dreams. Why not encourage others to join the conversation by sending these articles through email, social media or jumping into the comments at our website?

Featured image above by Cristina L. F.. Used with Permission. Via Flickr.