How Do You Determine Right from Wrong?
By Pastor Bob Russell
Several Christian parents have recently expressed concern about the eroding moral values of their millennial children. Children who were raised in the church a decade ago are now ambivalent about right and wrong. What was considered abhorrent a generation ago is now widely accepted. What was considered proper years ago they now often regard as offensive.
Parents moan, “My kids say I have no right to judge the behavior of others.” They protest, “As long as people are happy or fulfilled they shouldn’t be criticized. Who are we to say what is right or wrong for someone else?”
A few years ago Charles Colson insisted that no society has long endured without a common moral consensus. He decried the myth of moral relativity which produces chaos and confusion. Imagine a football game where there is no common set of rules to abide by. One team puts twenty men on the field. Another conceals knives up their sleeves. The game would quickly be reduced to total chaos.
Colson wrote that today’s myth of moral relativity, “…hides the dividing line between good and evil, noble and base. It has thus created a crisis in the realm of truth. When a society abandons its transcendent values, each individual’s moral vision becomes purely personal and finally equal. Society becomes merely the sum total of individual preferences, and since no preference is morally preferable, anything that can be dared will be permitted.”
Isaiah the prophet warned there would come a day of such moral confusion that men would call evil good and good evil. (See Isa. 5:20.) That’s where we are today. In this era of moral relativism, how do we determine right from wrong? What’s our common moral consensus?
Some rely on majority opinion. Francis Schaeffer called it, “51% morality.” If the majority concludes a behavior is moral, it’s moral. But the vast majority were condemned as immoral in Noah’s Day and perished in the judgment of the flood. The majority of Germany’s parliament voted for the Enabling Act in 1933, a law that gave Adolph Hitler the freedom to act without parliamentary consent. J. Vernon McGee suggested that sometimes majority opinion just means you have a lot of fools in one place!
Others use personal feelings to determine right from wrong. What is moral is what I feel good after. What is immoral is what I feel bad after. There’s a song that says, “It can’t be wrong ‘cause it feels so right.” But the conscience can be programmed wrongly. The conscience can be completely seared. A terrorist may feel gratified after killing dozens of innocent people with a bomb. He’s genuinely convinced his god is pleased. The Bible says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end, it leads to death” (Prov. 14:12).
Some suggest what is legal determines morality. As long as the law doesn’t forbid a behavior, it’s permissible. But in the Sudan, it’s legal to beat your wife or to sexually mutilate your daughter. It’s legal to smoke marijuana in Colorado but not in Kentucky. Man’s laws are very imperfect and grossly inconsistent.
We often hear that love should define right from wrong. It’s not wrong as long as you do the loving thing. Therefore any behavior between consenting adults is okay as long as the people involved care for one another or don’t hurt one another. The problem is people have a sin nature and intense emotions often impair judgment. In a moment of passion, it may seem like the loving thing for a married man to have an affair. On the surface, it appears loving for a mate to enable a husband’s addiction or a parent to cater to a child’s every whim. A brother and sister may “love” each other, but that doesn’t mean it’s right for them to marry.
An authentic Christian is one who acknowledges Jesus Christ as the ultimate standard of right and wrong. Jesus told Pontius Pilate, ‘Whoever is on the side of truth listens to me” (John 18:37). The Apostle Paul told the Athenians that one day God would “judge the world with justice by the man (Jesus) he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:31).
Jesus is the eternal standard of right and wrong. He emphatically stated, “I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the father except through me” (John 14:6). He is the same yesterday, today and forever.” His moral values don’t change like shifting shadows.
This Jesus is not an imaginary friend who can be conveniently manufactured in individual minds to accommodate personal preferences. There is a literal, historical Jesus revealed clearly to us in Scripture. The Apostle John wrote, “These are written that you may believe Jesus is the Messiah, the son of God and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31),
The primary way you get to know the real Jesus is by studying Scripture in its entirety. Jesus Himself prayed, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). Jesus did say all the commandments can be reduced to two; Love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind and then love your neighbor as yourself. He added, “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:40).
Motivational speaker Zig Ziglar said when he was vastly overweight his doctor introduced him to an unusual diet. The physician said, “On this diet, you can eat anything you want to eat…Now here’s a list of the things you want to eat!”
That’s why Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commands” (John 14:15). That’s why George Washington, our first President said, “It’s impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible.”
Author Jeffrey E. Ramey said it well: “Who decides what is right and wrong in the world? Who has the authority to define morality for all of creation? It is not the courts, congress, the media, public opinion, the “politically correct” police, the “tolerance” brigade or even the church. The only answer has been, is and always will be Jesus Christ. You can find His opinion on a great variety of subjects in His best seller…The Bible.”