Knowing the Good and Doing the Good

by Andrew Walker April 8, 2015

Why Your Church Should Care About Ethics

“Ethics” as a discipline often gets treated as a second-class citizen behind the glories of theology. This is a mistake. Ethics is applied theology; and knowing how Christian ethics relate to our understanding of the Christian life makes it a supremely important for the life of the local church.

Here are three quick reasons why ethics matter for the church:

1. Ethics help maintain church purity.

Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light. – Ephesians 5:7-8

Throughout the Old and New Testaments, God commands that His people be consecrated in ways that mark them out as God’s people (Lev. 20:26; 1 Pet. 1:13-16). By taking upon itself a gospel-infused ethic, the church reflects the holiness that purchased her to begin with. The ethics of the Kingdom is a response to gospel proclamation and gospel transformation. When we pursue such things as church discipline, we do so not as a matter of demonstrating our own righteousness for righteousness’ sake, but as a way of maintaining the local church’s fidelity to her mission.

2. Ethics clarify the church’s witness.

You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. — Matthew 5:13-16

Jesus’ call to be Salt and Light in culture assumes that we know what it means to act as Salt and Light. Being precedes action. By clinging to what Holy Scripture defines as right and wrong (Phil. 4:8), the church sets itself apart from the world, for the sake of the world. An ethic grounded in Christian morality act helps act as a protagonist in the divine drama.

3. Ethics build the foundation for repentance.

From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” — Matthew 4:17)

Ethics at the level of the local church is never an enterprise to puff up the church’s standing based on moralism. All that we do proceeds from who we are. To be a redeemed people requires that we be a repenting people. To repent is to turn from rebellion. When the church lives out the mandates that make her uniquely Christian, we announce the prerequisites for entry into the Kingdom: Which is to forsake the ways of sin, and toward the life-giving ethics of the Kingdom patterned after her King. The church cannot announce repentance if the church is a Christianized version of the world.