Morality for a Christian is the application of God’s laws regarding a person’s private and public behavior. In his or her seeking to live a moral life, a Christian tries to obey the rules for his or her personal behavior that have been decreed by God and recorded in the Bible. Throughout centuries of history these rules have been proclaimed by God’s prophets, like Moses and Isaiah and Jeremiah, taught by Jesus, interpreted by the apostles, like Peter and Paul, established by Emperor Constantine, and proclaimed by various popes, theologians, and preachers, like St. Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Jacob Arminus, Jonathan Edwards, John Wesley, Dwight L. Moody, Billy Graham, and other contemporary preacher/teachers within the Jewish-Christian traditional understandings of what is right and what is wrong.
Problems with moral behavior
In spite of all of the clearly written and proclaimed statements of moral law, individual Jews and Christians and non-members of these biblically based religious communities have found it to be impossible to live in accord with these laws. No one has the ability to be as good as he or she knows that he or she should be. Although most people have a basic understanding of what is right and what is wrong, most of us cannot be consistently right in how we obey God’s laws as well as those that have been established by various governmental authorities.
The psalmist of ancient Israel said that “all have turned aside (from seeking to do good and from seeking God) they have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one” (Psalms 14:3). Paul quotes this in his teaching letter to the Romans in Chapter 3, verses 10-11, and he adds this comment to include believers “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). All human beings live and have lived on a battlefield between the righteous God and his rebellious angel Lucifer or Satan, and this battle between God’s righteous will and Satan’s rebellious desires goes on day after day in everyone’s life.
Attempts to deal with personal immorality
No one likes to admit that he or she is a rebel against God, that he or she is a sinner. Individuals have gone to a great deal of effort in the study of God’s moral laws to find loopholes in these laws that will enable them to excuse their immoral behavior and attitudes. They have written new interpretations of these laws, and defined exceptions to them, like it is all right to use “deadly force” against a person if that person is threatening to use a “deadly” force against you or someone you love.
The book shelves of hundreds of law offices and law schools are filled with books interpreting these laws and their derivatives and how they have been applied in numerous legal cases throughout history. Our courts, including our Supreme Court, are constantly seeking to apply these laws to the behavior of individuals with whom they are dealing. The legislative bodies of our society are regularly engaged in the processes of trying to understand what is “right” for our citizens and what laws need to be enacted in order to get people to behave and to live basically moral lives. But there are hundreds of examples of how some legislators and lawyers and enforcers of these laws do not and cannot live in accord with them themselves. The moral life is neither easily defined nor demonstrated.
God’s summary of his moral laws
Jesus engaged in a lot of discussions regarding the laws of God and personal morality with the lawyers of his people, the Sadducees and the Pharisees. They were constantly challenging him in regard to his interpretation of some of these laws and why his accepted disciples did not follow them more fully. In one situation a Pharisee, an expert in these laws, asked Jesus, as he addressed him as “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” (Matthew 22:36). And Jesus replied with this answer: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37- 40.
This really simplifies the rules for morality, God’s laws for moral behavior. Just love God completely and love everyone else as much as you love yourself. So the moral life is to be lived in love, and immorality is not living with such love for God and others. A life lived in accord with these two laws would be a perfect demonstration of morality.
How to practice morality
In the first place it must be done with a person’s sincere confession of his or her sin and his or her inability to obey God’s laws by his or her own efforts. Such confession and repentance demonstrate one’s acceptance of God’s will and love.
With the acceptance of God’s will and love comes his forgiving grace and his gift of the Holy Spirit. It is God’s grace, faithfully trusting in his good will, and surrender to the transforming power of the Holy Spirit that enables any Christian or believer in Jesus to practice morality, to live a moral life. This is not a matter of regularly practicing traditional religious rituals of worship or even service to others, but it is a matter of being “born” by the Spirit of God. For some particular guidance in this transforming process see my statements on “Basic doctrine regarding sin”, “God’s work of redemption”, and “The Plan of Salvation (Revised)” on this website.
The above Scripture quotations are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright © 1973, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.