If you have ever tried holding an ethical discussion with someone who complete rejects the Christian faith, you know how frustrating it can be. Humans have an innate sense of ethical direction but, apart from the gospel, it is completely unmoored from any stable foundation. The best that worldly ethics can do is argue for morality based on general consensus or what is determined to be good for the majority of people.
Last week, we considered, in small chunks, Peter’s ethical exhortations in 1 Peter 1:13–24. We examined his exhortations to holiness, fear, and love, and observed that he roots each exhortation in the gospel. He understood that Christian ethics cannot be divorced from the gospel. The gospel is the foundation from which every ethical discussion must flow. It is because we have been “obedient children” to the gospel (v. 14), because God is our “Father” (v. 17), and because we were “ransomed … with the precious blood of Christ” (vv. 18–19) that we can embrace ethics that honour God.
Peter knew that his readers were suffering immensely for their faith and that they faced the temptation to cave to Christ-denying pressure in the face of such suffering. He therefore reminded his readers of the gospel by which they were saved to exhort them to godly living. As we face our own pressures and temptations to forsake biblical ethics, we need to reflect on the foundation of those ethics. Only as we root our behaviour in the gospel will we live with hope in a world that calls for us to compromise.
As you head into a world that is opposed to grace, you will face the temptation to forsake the obligations of grace. You will be tempted to compromise your holiness, fear of God, and brotherly love. The world will seek to persuade you that Christian ethics are old fashioned and that to oppose worldly ethics is to stand on the wrong side of history. You will be challenged about your “archaic” views of sexuality and the sanctity of human life. You will be scorned as you embrace Christian integrity and “puritanical” purity. You will be told that it is time to move beyond these things. But if you dig deep enough, you will discover that worldly ethics lack any solid foundation. Facing such pressure, you will need to return to the gospel as the foundation of your ethics.
Scot McKnight suggests that there are four things we should keep front and centre as we seek to root our ethics in the gospel.
First, we must be grounded in the character of God. Peter reminded us that “he who called you is holy” and that Christ is “without blemish or spot.” If we are children of God, and thereby participants in the divine nature, we are likewise called to pursue lives of holiness, blemishlessness, and spotlessness. We do so not only because it is best for human flourishing (though it is) or because the majority of people expect it from us but because we are focused on God’s character. His holy character motivates our own holiness.
Second, we must be grounded in the sinfulness of humanity. Peter speaks of “the passions of [our] former ignorance” and reminds us that we were “ransomed from … futile ways.” He reminds us that we needed to be “purified” and “born again.” Contrary to godless philosophies, humanity is not basically good. If we root our ethics in the assumption that most people are good, we will find ourselves on a shaky foundation. Christian ethics are rooted in the understanding that humans are essentially evil and that Christ died to cleanse us from the filth of sin. This understanding motivates godly ethics.
Third, we must be grounded in the need for divine revelation. Peter exhorts his readers to “set [their] hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” He quotes Scripture to exhort his readers to holiness and reminds them that “the word of the Lord remains forever.” Christ-honouring ethics do not come from within us. We must look to Scripture to learn how to live a life that is honouring to God. As we go through this life, therefore, we cannot look to the latest guru or to generally acceptable behaviour to determine how to live. Scripture must be our final authority.
Fourth, we must be grounded in the need for salvation. Time and again, Peter brings his readers back to the gospel. We are believers “through him … who raised [Christ] from the dead and gave him glory, so that [our] faith and hope are in God.” It is impossible to live a life honouring to God apart from salvation in Christ. Unbelievers may pursue what is best for them or guide themselves by a purely humanitarian compass, but they cannot live lives that glorify God. If we want to pursue truly Christian ethics, the power to do so comes only through the gospel.
Yesterday, we heard about the expectations that grace places upon us. This morning, be reminded that the power to meet those expectations comes only through the gospel. Root your ethics in the gospel alone if you will live a life honouring to God.