March 3, 2014 Broadcast

The Razor's Edge

A Message by R.C. Sproul

Without question there are certain issues in life that are either black or white. That is, they are either right or wrong. But what about those areas that seem unclear? How does a Christian live in the tension of those gray areas with a clear conscience? Beginning this series on Building a Christian Conscience, Dr. Sproul teaches us principles God has given us in Scripture to make right decisions.

From the series: Building a Christian Conscience

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Further Study On This Topic

  1. article

    How much weight should our opposition to abortion carry in our voting decisions?

  2. devotional

    Ethics for Situations

  3. article

    Decisions, Decisions

How much weight should our opposition to abortion carry in our voting decisions?

R.C. Sproul Jr.

How much weight should our opposition to abortion carry in our voting decisions?

God calls us to think His thoughts after Him. That means all of His thoughts. That is, we ought to have a sound and biblical view on everything the Bible touches on. Where it touches on political issues, we are called, again to have sound biblical views. We need to think biblically about what is just war and what is not. We need to think faithfully about taxation, and the size and scope of government. We need to think through what obligation, if any the state has to protect property, to protect our lives.

That said, there are precious few things that frustrate me more about the evangelical right than its utter foolishness with respect to proportion politically. We bundle together this issue and that, everything from tax rates to school vouchers to flag burning to abortion, and call it “family values.” There is a right and a wrong answer on all these issues. But abortion is not like any of the others. It stands out all on its own. In a hundred years, the Christian church will not hang its head in shame that it did so little to pass a Constitutional Amendment against the burning of the flag. In a hundred years, no elderly Christian will be looked at with suspicion by the younger generation because they didn’t do more to lower the tax rate. In a hundred years, if God should be so gracious, we will be looked upon as that godless generation of the church that watched tens of millions of babies go to their deaths. Indeed, we'll be remembered as those “Christians” who elected men to office who believed that the state ought to protect the rights of some mothers to murder their babies.

It is unfair to draw too tight a comparison between abortion in America and the Holocaust in Nazi Germany. There are significant differences. First, the Holocaust was carried out, by and large, in secret. The rank and file Germans had no idea what was going on. We, on the other hand, every last one of us, woke up today knowing that four thousand babies would die today. We, on the other hand, have four thousand mothers, every day, who knowingly do this. We, on the other hand, have four thousand fathers, boyfriends and husbands who every day encourage this. The Holocaust lasted roughly ten years, and the Nazi’s killed roughly six million people. We, on the other hand, have been at this for 35 years, and have killed more than fifty million babies. It is an unfair comparison, unfair to the Nazis. We are far worse monsters.

How much weight should our opposition carry? I have purposed in my heart that I would never vote for a man for any office that is not committed to using every power at his disposal to protect and defend every unborn child. Never. Ever. If every Christian would simply make that simple pledge, then we would win this battle. As it stands, at best we vote for candidates who might nominate or support judicial candidates who might vote for this small impediment or that to abortion on demand. At worst, we vote for the guy with the R by his name. We need to get rid of our strategies, and get on our knees in repentance. We need to stop negotiating with candidates over the bodies of dead babies.

Ethics for Situations

Yesterday we briefly examined the difficulty encountered when trying to make ethical decisions. All of our choices are made in response to particular situations, and we must strive to take what Scripture says into account if we are to please the Lord.

However, as we also noted, this is not the same as situational ethics. This idea gained popular hearing beginning in the 1960s with the publication of Joseph Fletcher’s book, Situation Ethics. In this work, Fletcher asserts that the only moral absolute is to do “whatever love demands” in any given situation.

This principle is not necessarily objectionable if it is filled with biblical content. However, this is not usually the case with those who embrace Fletcher’s paradigm. The meaning of love has been made highly subjective in our day, and individuals usually believe they can determine by themselves what love demands in any given instance. On a popular level, we see this working itself out in the sexual morals of our society. Oftentimes, one person will attempt to pressure another into pre-marital or extra-marital intercourse by saying, “If you love me, you would do it.” Our society’s proclivity for confusing the descriptive science of morals with the normative science of ethics compounds the problem. Not surprisingly, the sinful behavior of humanity becomes normative and thus defines love in our culture.

What the Lord requires of us can be summed up in love of God and neighbor (Matt. 22:34–40). But we must always remember that only the Lord can tell us what love truly is. Love is the greatest commandment, but it is not the only requirement given to us. Other stipulations must be obeyed if we are to exercise true love. As 1 John 5:3 says, “This is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.”

Today’s passage tells us love must issue from a pure heart, the context showing God’s law defines purity (1 Tim. 1:3–11). But all too often, the church embraces a statistical morality where her people behave just as the majority of the surrounding culture does. This is not as it should be; we must strive not to be “of the world,” submitting to Christ, not to prevailing cultural mores (John 15:18–19).

Decisions, Decisions

Robert Rothwell

Recently, I found myself in a discussion with my sister about some of the things we used to do when we were children. I have to admit that is always fun to reminisce about those days and consider all of the simple things that brought such joy to our hearts so long ago. We recalled with fondness the many games of baseball we used to play with the neighborhood kids in the schoolyard across the street from our house. She reminded me of those many nights my father took us all out to dinner because my mother was busy conducting choir practice at our church. Of course, we could not help but think of those times when we visited our grandparents and swam twice a day at the apartment complex my grandfather managed.

I think one of the reasons why I have such fond memories of my childhood is because of who made the decisions. As is true of most people, my parents made all the really hard decisions when I was very young. From an early age I certainly was aware that my choices had repercussions, but most of these results were not really life-changing. Maybe the hardest choice I had to make for many years was to decide on which toy I was going to spend my hard-earned allowance. My parents, on the other hand, had to make all of the really consequential decisions for myself and my siblings. Decisions about which church to join, which schools we should attend, how to discipline us, and many others had ramifications that still reverberate today, for good or ill. As an adult I need to make many potentially life-changing choices, and more often realize how fortunate most children are to be sheltered from making truly important decisions.

Whether or not we always consider them, every decision we make has consequences. Perhaps they are relatively incidental, such as the need to eat healthier later in the week if we succumb to the temptation to have just one more piece of cheesecake on Monday. Maybe they are more consequential, such as that decision to move to a new town that ultimately resulted in finding a spouse. Whatever the case may be, we will have to deal with the outcome of our choices. As Paul writes in Galatians 6:7, “Whatever one sows, that will he also reap.”

This applies to Genesis 16. As we will see this month, Abram and Sarai make the decision not to wait upon the Lord, but instead look to themselves in order to produce the heir, and thus, the salvation God promised in chapter 15. Despite the various hints that Sarai must give birth to the covenant child, her impatience moved her to substitute Hagar for herself and, with Abram’s acquiescence, produce Ishmael.

The consequences of this decision would haunt the covenant community for centuries. Even though the Lord did bring good out of Joseph’s situation, it was the sons of Ishmael who took him away from the promised land (Gen. 37:28). Later, Amasa the Ishmaelite commanded the armies of David’s wicked son Absalom when his coup d’etat temporarily sent the son of Jesse into exile (2 Sam. 17:25). Moreover, Islam, the greatest religious adversary of the church today, holds Ishmael in high esteem, considering him a prophet and even a forefather of Mohammad. While the first claim is impossible and the second is debatable, we are not astonished to find Islam consciously opposing the Christian church and embracing Ishmael. This “wild donkey of a man” continues to have “his hand against everyone” and “dwell over against all his kinsmen” (Gen. 16:12).

Abram’s place in our Father’s plan to save His people is more important than ours in many ways, and, consequently, his decisions, including the fathering of Ishmael, are far more consequential. However, this does not mean our choices do not have ramifications that may reverberate for generations. Our faithfulness in the workplace, the devotions we have with our families, and the way we treat our spouses will likely be remembered and modeled by our children and friends for years to come. Without worrying and obsessing unnecessarily about every single move we make, we must nevertheless be concerned about the pattern of our decision-making. For example, it may not matter what color shirt I wear today or tomorrow, but it does matter whether my clothing overall conforms to principles of modesty and appropriateness. I may sometimes forget to remind my wife that I love her when I leave the house, but I better make sure a day never goes by when I do not speak those words at least once, for her sake and for the sake of our children.

Abram and Sarai grew impatient after years of infertility and made a poor decision at Hagar’s expense in their attempt to bring God’s promises on their own. But our Lord is eager to forgive, and He worked through their faith to make their pattern of decisions bring about wonderful consequences for His people. As the author of Hebrews tells us, Sarai would later conceive Isaac by faith (11:11), and Abram would offer up this same Isaac (vv. 17–19), thereby showing us what it means to lean wholly upon God for salvation. The ultimate consequence of these decisions was a family through which our Father would redeem the world (Luke 3:23–38).

Our decisions will not be used to bring about the incarnation of the Messiah as Abram’s choice was later used. Yet they will have dramatic influence upon our Lord’s kingdom. May we choose in faith and leave a good example for others.

Since the beginning,

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