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Judges 21:25

“In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

Hebrews 13 features specific guidance on how Christians are to live in light of the perfect atonement offered by Jesus. This guidance touches on many ethical matters, including marriage, sex, covetousness, and idolatry (vv. 4–6, 9). That raises the question of how Christians are to establish ethical standards and make ethical judgments. We will now take a short break from our study of the book of Hebrews to consider this question. Dr. R.C. Sproul’s teaching series Christian Ethics will form the basis for our devotions on this subject.

From the beginning, human beings have engaged in the study of ethics, attempting to determine the basis for what is right and wrong. Although there has been much disagreement over what constitutes the standard of ethical judgments, most ethicists have believed that there is some objective standard to which human beings are accountable. That began to change with the eighteenth-century Enlightenment and the philosophical movements that followed it. The Enlightenment represented a confidence in the power of human reason unaided by divine revelation to solve our problems. However, this confidence eventually gave way to despair when people discovered that human reason has limits. We cannot know everything. Instead of returning to divine revelation, however, ethicists began to say that the limits of human reason mean that we cannot know the objective standard for ethics even if one exists. Eventually, this bore fruit in modern ethical relativism, which says that there is no universal moral standard, that what is right for one person may not be right for anyone else. Today, most Westerners would confess moral relativism.

Although such relativism is a new development in the West, it has appeared in human history before. We see in Judges 21:25 that during the era of the judges, everyone in Israel did what was right in their own eyes, and this because there was no king. There was no human king because there was no human monarchy, but there was also no divine King because while God ruled over Israel and the world even then, the Israelites did not obey His law. His moral standards were seen as optional; they did not believe they were obligated to keep His objective moral law. Functionally, they rejected His kingship over them. So, they did whatever they wanted. Without belief in a fixed, transcendent standard of right and wrong, they had no reason to do otherwise.

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

People may deny that there is a fixed standard of right and wrong for everyone, but if they really believed this, they would not get upset when their property is stolen or when someone hurts one of their loved ones. They get upset because they expect all people to abide by a standard that exists outside of us. They know that God demands certain things of all people, and this awareness is a point of contact where we can begin pointing people to the Lord.

For Further Study
  • Psalm 14
  • John 18:38
  • Romans 2:12–16; 3:9–18

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