We live in an age of unprecedented moral confusion. The public consensus on basic moral issues—the fruit of Christian influence on Western civilization—has been tragically eroded. As pragmatism and relativism reign supreme, we are reliving the period when “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judg. 21:25). In the midst of this fog, the Christian faith presents us with a coherent worldview that provides straightforward direction on central ethical questions. In this article, we will consider how the Christian ethic speaks to a number of hotly contested issues of our time.
What are the defining principles of the Christian ethic? We immediately think of the two greatest commandments, as expressed by our Lord Jesus: to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matt. 22:37–40). It is entirely true to say that the Christian ethic is love-centered. But what does it mean in practice to love God and others? What does Christian love actually require of us?
To answer this crucial question, we must turn to God’s moral laws, expressed most directly in His commands. Christians have traditionally recognized the Ten Commandments, delivered to Moses on Mount Sinai and written on tablets of stone by the very finger of God, to be a summary of the moral law (Ex. 20:1–17; 31:18). These commandments, which represent our fundamental duties toward God and our fellow human beings, are reaffirmed as abiding moral principles in the New Testament (Luke 18:20; Rom. 13:8–10; James 2:11). It is crucial to recognize, however, that even at Sinai these divine commandments were far from ethical innovations. No one should think that idolatry, murder, adultery, and theft were permissible before the Mosaic covenant. The Ten Commandments reflect what Reformed theologians have called creation ordinances: universal moral norms that are grounded first and foremost in the character of God, and secondarily in the nature of human beings and their social relationships as originally created and ordered by God.
What this implies is that the Christian ethic is rooted in the biblical doctrines of God, creation, and mankind. In fact, once we see that all the basic foundations are laid in the opening chapters of Genesis, the majority of moral issues fall quite readily into place, even allowing for the challenging ethical decisions we occasionally face. Core biblical truths we should acknowledge in these chapters include the following: (1) God is the sovereign Creator of all things, who rules and speaks with absolute authority; (2) there is a natural order to the creation, which we should respect; (3) God made mankind in His own image; thus, we have a special dignity and worth, and we should seek to reflect the character of our creator in all that we do; (4) God’s design for mankind includes a basic sexual differentiation and complementarity: male and female; (5) God established the covenant of marriage for the purposes of companionship, procreation, and sexual intimacy; thus, human society is structured around the basic family unit: one man and one woman, united in marriage, raising children (if God so blesses) to form new families; (6) God initiated the human race with a single family, decisively establishing the fundamental unity and solidarity of all mankind.