I’ve spent the last few posts being pretty abstract about why we need the Gospel story as our moral compass. I have not, however, told you what it looks like to live a life where the Gospel truly is your moral compass. I want to begin that here, but it’s probably going to take three more posts to finish. Lucky you.
In my last post, I bemoaned the inability of two major prevailing worldviews to give a solid underlying standard for morality, and why that’s actually a big problem. Christianity, however, provides a clear, underlying standard by which to determine what is good and what is not. You might be thinking this fixed underlying standard is the Bible, and you would be right, but only to an extent. The 66 books of the Old and New Testaments provide us the all-sufficient beginnings by which to determine truth, but these Scriptures actually point to another source of our daily, functional standard by which to live: The Word of God.
Yes, you read that correctly. I’m making a distinction between the Bible and the Word of God. The Scripture itself teaches that the writings of the Law, Prophets, and Apostles is but a subset, or a single component of God’s Word. Think I’m a heretic yet? Then allow me to ask you a question: In Acts 4:31, when the believers were filled with the Holy Spirit and “spoke the word of God boldly,” what were they speaking? Or in Acts 6:7 (and throughout the rest of Acts), when it says “the word of God spread,” is it talking about the 66 books of the Old and New Testament?
Let’s figure this one out via process of elimination. Could it have been the words of the Old Testament that were spreading? Though the Old Testament narrative was certainly a major component of this “word of God” (as seen in Peter’s rockin’ sermon in Acts 3:13-26 and Stephen’s in Acts 7:2-53), it could not have encompassed the whole of their message because it does not explicitly name Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah, or give news of his death and resurrection, which these men were clearly doing.
Could it have been the words of the New Testament, then? Ideologically, perhaps, because the New Testament testifies to Jesus as the Messiah just as these early believers were, but at the time of these events, none of the New Testament had actually been written, so it could not have been the actual words of the New Testament that were being spoken boldly in Acts 4:31 or spreading in Acts 6:7.
I know this is all very basic reasoning, but my point is this: here we have proof that the Word of God is actually bigger than just the 66 books of the Bible. In fact, Scripture teaches that the Word of God, in addition to those 66 books, also includes the Holy Spirit’s words spoken to us now, which “guide us into all the truth” (John 16:13), the Holy Spirit’s words spoken through us now (1 John 2:14, 1 Peter 4:11, Ephesians 6:17), and of course, Jesus himself is called the Word of God (John 1:1-14).
Every time I can think of Scripture mentioning “the word of God”, it is in reference to one of two things. Here they are, the two core components of God’s Word:
1) Revelations of the Holy Spirit Given to Human Beings
Consider Nathan’s convicting words to David, the evangelistic activity of the believers in Acts, or the whole book of Job. All are revelations of the Holy Spirit to one of us; all are rightly called “the word of God.”
2) Christ Himself
Christ is also the revelation of God to human beings, interestingly enough (so maybe this is still the first category after all).
This conception of “the Word” being God’s ongoing, dynamic expression of Himself, rather than merely fixed words He once spoke arranged on a page, fits much more closely with the Greek meaning of logos (translated “the word”) used in the New Testament.
Now, follow my logic here. If the Word of God is the single, underlying basis of our morality, and is God’s ongoing revelation to the world (through expressions given by his Holy Spirit as well as Christ himself, who is the purpose, theme and climax of the Gospel story), then it must be that the rightful guide to everything we could ever consider right and wrong, true and false, good and evil must lie in this great story of God’s redemptive activity in the world, epitomized in the life and sacrifice of his only son, Jesus the Messiah. And now we’re full-circle back to worldviews.
Now, this might sound a little crazy, but it turns out that the basis of all of our morality, all of our conception of what is right and wrong, is actually a story. One single story tells us everything about who God is, who we are, how the world operates, and thus, what is right and wrong. Now, I’m just repeating everything I said in my previous posts, but I want you to understand something here:
The commands in Scripture flow from the narrative of Scripture, not the other way around.
Therefore, the real reason that integrity and generosity are good is the Gospel. The reason betrayal is bad is the Gospel. The only reason generosity is good (to use an example from my last post) is because according to God’s story (his Gospel), God has always been generous, and has made us to experience wholeness when we align our character with his. As with all of his traits, He demonstrates the full extent and perfection of his generosity through the most precious gift ever given, his one and only son, at great cost to himself, that we might benefit eternally. So when we as Christians claim “Generosity is good” or “Integrity is good” our basis and proof is neither a feeling, a sequence of logic, or even an unknowable mystery. It is a story. It is THE story.
The story is also our reason for the things that are wrong. Our basis for “Betrayal is bad” is that God’s story shows us that he never betrays. We can know this definitively from the Gospel because when he had every reason to turn his back on human beings, because we had ignored his presence and denied his goodness in every way possible, he remained loyal and faithful to us, sacrificing his only son on our behalf to set us free. Therefore, for me to betray another person would be inconsistent with the story of God. Once again, the story defines my morals.
And here’s where the dynamism of the Word of God comes in: not only do we have all-sufficient beginnings for our entire morality in the Gospel story, but we are still living the Gospel story, and the Word of God is being spoken and fulfilled in us through the Holy Spirit today. The themes of this story do not change, and so the Holy Spirit will always confirm in specific ways in our everyday lives the truths that God fully illuminated in the death and resurrection of Jesus, the climax of the Gospel story. And therefore, it will always be the perfect, reliable and sufficient source of our morality.
This is exactly why we see a repeated plea of “imitate Christ” throughout the New Testament when strong exhortations are given (Philippians 2:1-16, 1 Thessalonians 1:6, 1 Corinthians 1:11, 1 Peter 2:21). The story would still make sense without the exhortations, but the exhortations make no sense without the story. Anyone who gets this backwards runs the risk of falling into a deadly legalism.
I know all of this “the Gospel is the only basis” can sound horribly simplistic. The thought that a single story tells us everything we need to know about how to live can seem a bit trite and even silly when considering the incredible ethical complexity we will face in our hardest decisions. Don’t hear me saying every kind of action is always good or always bad. It’s clear that some things are good for some and not for others (Romans 14), and that plenty of things can contain both good and bad elements. But I am saying that the Gospel of Jesus is an uncompromisable benchmark to measure your life against. The extent to which something confirms the Gospel, it is good, and to the extent that it denies the Gospel, it is bad. Though this sounds uncomfortably dualistic, it’s also really biblical (Luke 9:50, Luke 11:23, Romans 14:23, Ephesians 5:8).
Wow, that was long. If you made it all the way here, I’m impressed. I’m actually going to apply everything I’ve discussed here in my next blog post. We’re going to watch a video and consider the question, “Why is vulnerability good?” through the lens of the Gospel. You can even try to think of some answers before I post it.