Category Archives: Ethics

Does God Hold Me Responsible For What I Do In My Dreams?

It’s unlikely God holds us much more accountable for the fantasies that appear in our dreams than He does for the predispositions to sin that we all share, including temptations or evil thoughts that drift into our minds. In fact, some of the things that happen in the theater of our dreams may help us be more aware of our deepest longings, conflicts, and fears.

Sexual fantasy, rage, and violence often occur abruptly and seemingly uncontrollably in dreams. We don’t know how much we are capable of regulating behavior in dreams. Some of the ascetic church fathers thought we are responsible for what we do in dreams, but Scripture nowhere indicates that this is true.1

Dreams are generally things that “happen to us,” not things we consciously choose to do. To the extent that our dreams are “lucid”—that is under the control of our conscious mind—we may find we encounter some genuine temptation. (See What should I think of what I experience in dreams? and Is it possible that some dreams contain important symbolic meaning—or even a message from God?)

If troubled by dreams, we should commit them to the Lord, asking for protection as we sleep. We should also ask Him to instruct us as we sleep and strengthen our ability to resist both conscious and unconscious temptation.

  1. Furthermore, Scripture nowhere implies that we adopt the other extreme forms of self-discipline the ascetics embraced, such as living in isolation, eating starvation diets, tormenting themselves with hair shirts that constantly itched, remaining unbathed so that lice could multiply, and so on. Back To Article

 

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Is it wrong to ask God to provide financial gain?

Jesus made it clear that the measure of a person’s value has nothing to do with their material possessions. In fact, He declared that “mammon” (Syriac for wealth or riches) is one of the most common obstacles to having a right relationship with God (Matthew 6:24; Luke 16:9-13).

If we pray for improvements in our finances, we are like a child asking his father for a new bicycle. There is nothing wrong with asking, as long as we are willing to accept “no” as a possible response.

Just as a father may realize that his child isn’t mature enough to ride a bicycle on busy streets, God may realize that we aren’t ready for a financial windfall. He may know that we still need to learn discipline and self-control in order to achieve financial gain and handle it when we have achieved it. Or he may know that would be better for the development of our character if we never gained it.

If we pray for financial gain, it should be worded something like this:

“Heavenly Father, if it is Your will for me at this time, please help me financially. I have (list them) serious concerns, and don’t know how to deal with them. Please give me guidance and wisdom.”

 

 

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How Can We Love our Neighbor as Our Self, as Jesus Commanded?

Loving other people as oneself is a difficult goal. But Jesus clearly made it fundamental to Christian living. On one occasion, an expert in the Jewish law challenged Jesus with the question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered, “ ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself’ ” (Luke 10:27 NKJV).

Although the goal of loving one’s neighbor as oneself is difficult, it isn’t impossible.  In Luke 6:36-38, Jesus gives some basic principles that help us understand what it involves:

Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful. Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you (NKJV).

This passage contains two principles. One principle is that our expectations of our neighbors are directly related to the expectations that will be placed on us. As Jesus said, “With the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.” The expectations we have of others will be required by them (and God) of us. But even subjectively, we already love—or hate—our neighbors as ourselves. We subconsciously project our own attitudes and values upon other people, expecting them to perceive us as we perceive them. If we are impatient and judgmental towards others, we assume others will be impatient and judgmental towards us. If we are compassionate and patient towards others, we won’t have to deal with the pressures that come from assuming that others view us with hostility and impatience. Love or hatred directed outwards is always matched by love or hatred directed inwards.

The second principle is that love for one’s neighbor should never be confused with indulgence. A father who gives his children anything they want spoils them. If we love our neighbor as our self, we must be as careful in setting standards and goals for him as we do for ourselves. If God were a genie in a lamp who gave us anything we wanted, would we ever be satisfied? Of course not! Love for our neighbor involves the same principle. While love always seeks to promote the other person’s well-being, at times it is manifested in acts of charity and at other times in firm confrontation.

Our neighbor is just like us. At times he needs mercy, at times he needs correction, but he always needs our love.

 

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Isn’t Investing Money Just Another Form of Avarice, Like Gambling?

Investment seldom seems like a good idea in the midst of a bad economic downturn. This doesn’t mean that investment is always wrong. There are times when a farmer will invest a lot of time and money in seed and soil preparation and planting of crops, only to see crops destroyed by a drought, flood, or hailstorm.

Scripture doesn’t teach that we should avoid money, but that we should keep it in proper perspective. It is a tool that should be used wisely, not an idol at the center of our life.

In his parable of the unworthy servant, Jesus made it clear that one of the indications of bad faith is an unwillingness to take appropriate risks with the assets God has given us (Matthew 25:24-30).

In our present-day culture, careful investment of money is no different than it would have been for an Israelite to provide for his family through the purchase of property or other marketable items. Life involved risks in ancient Palestine, just as it does today. Droughts or disease could destroy crops, thieves could steal wealth, and war or disease could deprive a person of everything they labored to accumulate.

In a simple “iron age” culture, such as the culture in which the Israelites lived, many of their circumstances were different from ours. Nevertheless, the Israelite farmer would have to plant his seed, trusting God to provide the proper amount of sun and rain to nourish his crop. Most of us don’t make our living through agriculture, but we must wisely invest our time, skills, and our financial assets to provide for our families, the work of the church, and the care of the needy.

The fact that the master was angered by the servant who did not gain interest with his mina (Luke 19:20-24) implies that God expects us be wise in handling everything He gives us—abilities, opportunities, and finances. This can be applied to individuals and to Christian organizations. All of us must handle money as a sacred trust—not letting it “be idle” but using it to do the utmost for the glory of God. This doesn’t mean recklessly gambling or giving it all away—something we might do to avoid the responsibility of managing it properly—but using it wisely so that it can be a source of blessing not only to our family, but to others in need.

The principle from Scripture that is most applicable is that we should not be enslaved by mammon.1 There are many passages that make it clear that God expects us to be good stewards of the assets He has given us, and this principle would undoubtedly include our financial assets.

  1. The New Bible Dictionary offers a concise definition of mammon: “This word occurs in the Bible only in Mt. 6:24 and Lk. 16:9, 11, 13, and is a transliteration of Aramaic mamona. It means simply wealth or profit, but Christ sees in it an egocentric covetousness which claims man’s heart and thereby estranges him from God (Mt. 6:19ff.); when a man ‘owns’ anything, in reality it owns him” (p. 730). Back To Article
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If Jesus was God Incarnate, Did God Die on the Cross?

A basic doctrinal truth held by all orthodox Christians—including Catholics and evangelicals—is that in Jesus Christ God became incarnate in human flesh (Matthew 1:16-25; John 1:14; John 20:26-29; Romans 8:3; Philippians 2:4-8; 1 Timothy 3:16; Hebrews 10:5).

Even though Scripture clearly describes the passion of Jesus Christ, many Christians are unwilling to acknowledge that the divine Son of God suffered and died for our sins. While they affirm that Jesus Christ was truly one human/divine person, they say it was only Christ’s human nature—not His divine nature—that suffered and died.

But if God was truly incarnate in Jesus Christ, how could only Jesus’ human nature suffer the agony, separation, and death described in the Gospels? If only Christ’s human nature experienced suffering, agony, spiritual and physical death, how can we speak of a true incarnation; and how can we be assured of the infinite value of His suffering and death on our behalf?

The Bible makes it clear that we could not be saved if Christ Himself hadn’t borne our sins on the cross (2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 3:13; Hebrews 9:28). In AD 325, the Council of Nicaea strongly affirmed the deity of Jesus Christ, realizing that our salvation depends upon the incarnation. If Jesus Christ were not both truly God and truly man, His death couldn’t atone for our sin. Only God would be capable of the infinite sacrifice necessary to the sins of the world. (See the ATQ articles, Is it necessary to have a clear understanding of Jesus Christ’s deity in order to be saved? and How can it be morally right for Jesus Christ to die for our sins?)

One of the most fearful truths taught in Scripture is that physical death is not the greatest evil. The greatest evil is “the second death” (Rev. 21:8). Spiritual death is the second death. It is separation from God.

What Jesus dreaded when He said “Let this cup pass from Me” (Matthew 26:39) could not have been merely death by crucifixion. Other martyrs have faced equally horrible deaths with composure. Nor could it be a premature death in Gethsemane at the hands of the devil. Our Lord said that this cup came from God—“Shall I not drink the cup which My Father has given Me?” (John 18:11). Moreover, Jesus expressly declared that He wouldn’t die until He voluntarily laid down His life. He said, “I lay down my life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again” (John 10:17-18).

Scripture makes it clear that the Son of God suffered most when He was experiencing separation from the Father. This “cup” is the agony of hell Jesus had to endure on the cross. It was the experience of God’s wrath, as in Psalm 75:8, “For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup, and the wine is red; it is fully mixed, and He pours it out; surely its dregs shall all the wicked of the earth drain and drink down.” On the cross, God made His Son “who knew no sin to be sin for us” (2 Cor. 5:21). He poured upon Jesus Christ His wrath against all sin, causing Him to endure the desolation of hell. This sense of abandonment began to sweep over Jesus in Gethsemane. On the cross, it finally caused Him to cry out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matt. 27:46). The cup that Jesus dreaded, therefore, was the abandonment by God, which makes hell, hell.

Although most classical theologians taught that Jesus Christ suffered only in His human nature, a distinguished minority, including Ignatius of Antioch, Tertullian, Martin Luther, A. H. Strong, Jurgen Moltmann, and D. A. Carson, disagree. Charles Wesley wrote:

And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Savior’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain?
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
Amazing love! How can it be
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

’Tis mystery all: th’ Immortal dies!
Who can explore His strange design?
In vain the firstborn seraph tries
To sound the depths of love divine.
’Tis mercy all! Let earth adore,
Let angel minds inquire no more.
’Tis mercy all! Let earth adore;
Let angel minds inquire no more.

He left His Father’s throne above,
So free, so infinite His grace!
Emptied Himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam’s helpless race.
’Tis mercy all, immense and free,
For O my God, it found out me!
’Tis mercy all, immense and free,
For O my God, it found out me!

Scripture itself speaks of God’s capacity to suffer (e.g., Judg. 10:16; Jer. 31:20; Hos. 11:8). Isn’t it presumptuous to assume that the Creator knows less of suffering and emotion than His creatures.

Perhaps the assumption that Jesus Christ’s divine nature couldn’t experience suffering and death is based on faulty reasoning rather than Scripture and reality. Any argument used against Jesus Christ’s divine nature experiencing death can be applied against the incarnation itself. How could the eternal God be incarnate in a time-bound, finite man? How could the eternal God set aside His omnipotence and omniscience? We don’t doubt these things, so why should we doubt that in some sense the second person of the Trinity suffered and died on the cross of Calvary?

While we raise these questions, we acknowledge the need for humility No one should assume they have an absolute answer to this question any more than they can pretend to understand the Trinity or the incarnation.

 

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Are the Ten Commandments for Christians?

The Mosaic Law, including the Ten Commandments, was given to the people of Israel (Exodus 20:1-17), not Gentiles. It included both moral principles and ceremonial laws and regulations. It was intended to bring awareness of sin and guilt (Romans 3:19-20; 7:7-13; 1 Timothy 1:7-11), not to be a way of earning salvation. (Hebrews 11 explains how Abraham was saved by faith long before the law was given through Moses.)

The Jews referred to the Ten Commandments as “the ten words” (Deuteronomy 4:13). They were the basis of the entire Mosaic system, and as such they contain principles that remain the foundation of Christian ethics.

Christ fulfilled the requirements of the law (Romans 5:5; 8:1-4), so that Christians are no longer under the external Law of Moses (Galatians 3:1-14; Colossians 2:8-17). The Ten Commandments contain elements of ceremonial law. Christians aren’t required to follow these. Yet, when obedient to the Holy Spirit, Christians manifest God’s love and righteousness in harmony with the Ten Commandments’ moral principles (Romans 13:8-10).1

  1. The works of the flesh and the works of the Spirit listed by the apostle Paul in Galatians 5 demonstrate clearly how impossible it would be to live a Spirit-filled life while violating the moral principles within the Ten Commandments. Back To Article
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Where Was Jesus Before His Resurrection?

Jesus’ clear statement to the believing thief on the cross implies that He was in heaven between the time of His death and His bodily resurrection:

And an inscription also was written over Him in letters of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS. Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.” But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:38-43).

Nineteenth-century Scottish Presbyterian pastor David Brown paraphrased our Lord’s reply this way:

Thou art prepared for a long delay before I come into My kingdom, but not a day’s delay shall there be for thee, thou shalt not be parted from Me even for a moment, but together we shall go, and with Me, ere this day expire, should thou be in paradise.

The term paradise as used in Luke 23:43 can designate a garden (Genesis 2:8-10), a forest (Ezekiel 31:7-9), or (as in 2 Corinthians 12:4 and Revelation 2:7) the place of peace and blissful consciousness that exists for the redeemed in the presence of God.

Just before dying, Jesus said, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit” (Luke 23:46). This implies that when He died He went immediately into the presence of the Father. Both He and the repentant thief were in heaven that day.

On the third day, Jesus was resurrected with a glorified body. But He had not yet ascended to the Father in His glorified body when He encountered Mary Magdalene (John 20:17). Jesus appeared and disappeared during the next 40 days, leaving heaven and appearing on earth in His glorified body, so His ascension wasn’t the first time He had been in heaven since His death. It was merely a deed done publicly to strengthen the faith of His disciples and to clearly demonstrate that His ministry on earth would now be replaced by that of the Holy Spirit (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:7).

When Jesus told Mary not to cling to Him because He hadn’t yet ascended to the Father, He wasn’t implying that He hadn’t yet seen heaven. He was saying that there would be a time in heaven when Mary would once again be able to embrace Him. Now, however, she must not cling to Him, for His earthly work was done.

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Does the Bible Permit Women to Run for High Political Office?

The Bible was written at a time when women were not allowed prominent positions in society. The structure of ancient culture denied women many of the opportunities they rightfully enjoy today. However, in spite of the fact that women were suppressed by culture, the Bible contains many examples of influential women. In the Old Testament, for example, women served as prophetesses (Exodus 15:20; Numbers 12:1-2; Judges 4:4; 2 Chronicles 34:22), and judges (Judges 4–5).

Jesus, the Messiah of Israel and founder of the Christian faith, accepted women as equals in an age when women were regarded as inferior. He recognized no authority besides that of the leader who takes the role of a servant. He defied many of the customs of His day that tended to keep women secluded and in subjugation.

In the New Testament, Priscilla instructed the famous preacher Apollos (Acts 18:26). In 1 Corinthians 11:5, Paul seems to be assuming that women will be speaking openly in mixed church gatherings. Earlier we learn that women had the authority to preach in the apostolic church (Acts 21:8-9). There are many passages in the New Testament that describe the important role played by women, a role they held in spite of many severe, culturally imposed limitations. A significant number of women were included in Paul’s list of valued coworkers in Romans 16.

In general, Scripture clearly portrays the equality of the sexes before God (Genesis 1:27; Acts 10:34; 1 Corinthians 11:11-12; Galatians 3:28). The prophet Joel spoke, after all, of both men and women prophesying (“your sons and daughters will prophesy,” 2:28), and when the gifts of the Spirit are listed and described in the New Testament (see, for example, 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4:7-16) no distinctions are made on the basis of sex.

Although there is some controversy over the specific roles women should play in church leadership, there is no reasonable scriptural basis for believing that women should not serve in secular leadership roles, including top political roles such as United States Senator or President. Candidates running for such important roles should be selected on the basis of their character and wisdom, not because of their race, sex, or any other nonessential criteria.

 

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Does James 2:10 imply that God doesn’t consider some sins more serious than others?

James 2:10 states: “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble at one point, he is guilty of all” (nkjv).

Some people have mistakenly thought that this verse means that all sins are equal in God’s view, that no sins are worse than others.

In the Old Testament, there were sacrifices to atone for sins done in ignorance or through weakness. But deliberate, premeditated transgressions were a more serious category of sin for which the law couldn’t atone (Hebrews 10). People who committed such sins (Leviticus 6:1-2; 10:1-2; 20:1-27; Numbers 15:32-35; 16:26-32) either had to make restitution (as in the cases of theft or lying) or be put to death (as in the cases of adultery, violating the Sabbath, cursing one’s parents). When David premeditatedly committed adultery with Bathsheba and had her husband killed, he wrote, “You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; . . . The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart” (Psalm 51:16-17 nkjv). David knew that no sacrifice could atone for what he did, and that he could only, like other Old Testament believers who committed such sins, cast himself on God’s mercy. The law provided no forgiveness. He needed grace.

Paul’s declaration in Romans 2 that God will judge “according to works,” “light,” and “opportunity” implies that there are degrees of guilt, as did Jesus’ declaration that rejecting Him and His gospel was a more serious sin than the sin of Sodom (Matthew 10:15; 11:23-24). If there are no degrees of sin, then it would be pointless to struggle to seek the lesser of two evils in the kinds of situations we all sometimes face.

What James is confronting in this verse is the self-righteous attitude that we don’t depend as much on God’s grace as someone who has committed more obvious and heinous kinds of sin. This kind of thinking is self-deceiving and encourages complacency. Any violation of the law is enough to keep us from being justified by the law’s standards. A person who doesn’t murder or commit adultery but shows partiality to the rich should not feel self-righteous. He is a lawbreaker too. The function of the law is not to justify but to bring awareness of sin (Romans 4:14-16; 5:19-21; 1 Corinthians 15:56). We should be humbled and conscience-stricken by the many sins we do commit, and not feel superior to those who sin in ways we don’t.

 

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If a Christian Believer is Already Saved, Why is Ongoing Repentance Necessary?

Jesus linked repentance with salvation (Matthew 4:17; Luke 13:3; 17:3).

In Acts 2:38, the term repentance includes the element of faith. Paul in Ephesus preached turning “to God in repentance” and “faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21). Repentance is an ingredient of faith. It is a change of mind that involves both a negative aspect (a turning from sin) and a positive one (a turning to God). On Mars Hill, Paul declared that God “commands all people everywhere to repent, because He has fixed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by a Man whom He has appointed; and of this He has given assurance to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31 ESV).

Even the most mature Christian harbors unconscious sin (Proverbs 20:9; Isaiah 53:6; 1 John 1:8) and will be corrected by the Holy Spirit as hidden sin is brought to the surface. When Christians come to the realization that they have been committing serious sins, there are two reasons they should repent. The first is to express the genuineness of their faith. (A person who is unwilling to renounce continuing, conscious, serious sin may not be a genuine believer.) The second reason is to maintain a close relationship with their Father in heaven.

As Judge, God declared us pardoned and accepted into His family when we put our trust in Jesus. But as God’s children, we can remain in close fellowship to Him only when we daily acknowledge our sins and ask His help in overcoming them. Jesus said that a person who has been bathed doesn’t need another bath; his only need is to have his feet washed.

Jesus . . . rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. Then He came to Simon Peter. And Peter said to Him, “Lord, are You washing my feet?” Jesus answered and said to him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this.” Peter said to Him, “You shall never wash my feet!” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.” For He knew who would betray Him; therefore He said, “You are not all clean” (John 13:3-11 NKJV).

The bath of which Jesus spoke is that once-for-all, complete cleansing received at salvation. Foot washing symbolizes the family forgiveness maintained by daily repentance and confession.

First John 1:9 declares, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (NKJV). By practicing the words of this verse, we enjoy our relationship with our heavenly Father and we grow in likeness to Him. The daily cleansing we receive through repentance and confession will also make us less vulnerable to temptation and readier to do His will.

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