Weekend Broadcast

Kant's Moral Argument

A Message by R.C. Sproul

Everyone has a sense of right and wrong.  The philosopher Immanuel Kant argued that humanity’s moral capacity proves the existence of God.  In this lesson, Dr. R.C. Sproul shows that Kant’s argument agrees with the New Testament.  We will find that, to acknowledge the reality of moral law, we must accept the existence of God.

From the series: Defending Your Faith

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Further Study On This Topic

  1. article

    The Law of God in the Hearts of Men

  2. devotional

    Dying in Faith

  3. article

    The Origin of the Soul

The Law of God in the Hearts of Men

Ken Jones

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is typical of his correspondence to other churches in that the first half of the letter is devoted to outlining the various doctrines that are constituent parts of the gospel message. Throughout his letters, the apostle has a great deal to say about Christian conduct, but it is always done in light of the mercies received and the grace given.

For example, the first three chapters of Ephesians focus almost entirely on the riches of God’s grace as it is found in the person and work of Christ. In the second half of the letter, Paul, using those present realities as his backdrop, exhorts the Ephesians with a number of imperatives. He begins the exhortations in chapter 4: “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” In verses 17—24, Paul is even more explicit in applying the grace received to the manner in which Christians are to live their lives: “You must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds” (v. 17). His rationale in verse 18 is that the other (unregenerate) Gentiles are “darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God.” He goes on to say that this is “due to their hardness of heart.”

In verses 20–22, Paul contrasts the Ephesians with other Gentiles by reminding them of what they have been taught in and by Christ. The conduct that he admonishes in verses 25–32 (and throughout the remainder of the letter) is not only in light of the grace they have received in the gospel but also in light of their condition before conversion and what they are presently being taught. To be more accurate, one of the things they had received in the gospel is a new heart awakened to the righteousness of God’s law and enabled by His Spirit to pursue it. The gift of a renewed heart is part of what is promised in the new covenant (see Jer. 31:33). Ezekiel 36:26–27 is explicit: “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”

One might argue that even the apostle Paul acknowledges that Gentiles have the law written on their hearts (Rom. 2:15). Yes, all men and women have some sense of a moral standard, but the unregenerate do not have God as the basis of their moral standard. Paul’s point in Romans 1:19– 23 is that even if the morality of the unregenerate is religiously motivated, their darkened hearts cause their conception of God and their sense of connection to Him to be distorted.

The metaphor of a “heart of stone” used in Ezekiel 36 and the “hardness of heart” alluded to in Ephesians 4:18 are apt descriptions of the unregenerate condition because they punctuate the inability of the human heart to respond to God and to the things of God — particularly His law. This is what Paul refers to as “dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked” in Ephesians 2:1–2. But as promised in Ezekiel, God has “removed the heart of stone” and replaced it with a “heart of flesh.”

This removal and replacement is the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, which animates the soul with new and holy affections, appetites, and abilities. In Philippians 2:13, Paul says, “It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” The exhortations that are set forth in Ephesians 4:25–32 are to those who are recipients of the grace outlined in the first three chapters.

The gospel announces what God graciously gives in the person and work of His Son, which includes the imputation of His righteousness for our justification. God’s promises also include the gifts of a new heart and new affections toward His law, from which our sanctification flows. The conclusion Paul makes is that the beauty and majesty of the law of God that was obscured and distorted by sin has now (by the regenerating light of His Spirit) been renewed in the hearts of His chosen people. Therefore, as the sanctifying work of the Spirit conforms each of God’s children to the image of His Son, our behavior (words, thoughts, and deeds) will be motivated by proper love for God our Father and proper love for our neighbors.

Two things should be noted here. First, Christian morality is never a matter of keeping God’s law as a means of gaining a right standing with Him. Second, Christian morality is not mere conformity to abstract rules of conduct. As Walther Eichrodt has observed in his Theology of the Old Testament: “Inasmuch as the will of God emerges as the supreme norm behind all particular requirements, the desired unity of the moral sphere shifts in essence to the personal activity of the covenant God.” God’s commandments are an eternal reality for His covenant people because He has written His law on our hearts and has awakened us to His holy will. Our sanctification consists in a growing disaffection for the will of the flesh (our fallen nature) and a growing affection for the will of God.

Dying in Faith

Suffering and related concepts often prompt us to think of death, and this is because much of the pain we see around us is related to illnesses that bring human life to an end. Hardly any day goes by when we do not see or read of a suffering person passing from physical life into death. Consequently, the Bible, because it is God’s Word for all of life, has much to say about death, the final event of our earthly lives.

Without a doubt, all people will experience physical death — unless they are walking the earth at the moment when Christ returns to consummate the kingdom (1 Cor. 15:50–57). Thus, the focus in Scripture is not on the question of whether we will die but rather how we will die. In discussing this issue, the Bible tells us that we die in one of only two ways: in faith or in our sins. Dying in our sins will result in eternal conscious punishment, in our being counted among the goats that do not get to enjoy the benefits of the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 25:31–46). According to the biblical imagery of judgment, goats represent those who never truly placed their faith in Christ alone before their death (John 8:24). Without a living and persevering faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, it is impossible to enter the glories of life eternal when we die (Matt. 25:41–46; James 2:14–26).

Eternal life, on the other hand, is the reward of all those who die in faith. Death for the believer is not the end but only the beginning of a new, glorious existence — one in which we enjoy face-to-face communion with the Lord forever. Everyone who trusts in Jesus alone for salvation belongs to His flock of sheep. They get to enjoy the bliss of living in God’s blessed presence (Matt. 25:31–40). Today’s passage leaves us without any doubt that God is not ashamed to be the Lord of those who trust Him (Heb. 11:13–16). As we place our hope in Him, we can be sure that our suffering will one day end and that our earthly labor will be rewarded.

Persevering faith is the type of faith required for salvation. It is easy to have a fleeting and false trust in the Lord when things are going well for us. Authentic faith, however, endures even in the most difficult circumstances of life, moving us to trust God even when we are at our wits’ end (Matt. 13:18–23; Heb. 11).

The Origin of the Soul

R.C. Sproul

Students of philosophy are well aware of the watershed significance of Immanuel Kant's epochal work, The Critique of Pure Reason. In this volume Kant gave a comprehensive critique of the traditional arguments for the existence of God, wrecking havoc on natural theology and classical apologetics. Kant ended in agnosticism with respect to God, arguing that God cannot be known either by rational deduction or by empirical investigation. He assigned God to the "noumenal world," a realm impenetrable by reason or by sense perception.

The impact on apologetics and metaphysical speculation of Kant's work has been keenly felt. What is often overlooked, however, even among philosophers, is the profound impact Kant's critique had on our understanding of the soul.

Kant placed three concepts or entities in his noumenal realm, a realm above and beyond the phenomenal realm. The triad includes God, the self, and the thing-in-itself, or essences. If God resides in this extraphenomenal realm, then, the argument goes, we cannot know anything about Him. Our knowledge, indeed all true science, is restricted to the phenomenal realm, the world perceived by the senses. Kant argued that we cannot move to the noumenal realm by reasoning from the phenomenal realm (a point that put Kant on a collision course with the apostle Paul).

Kant's agnosticism moved beyond theology to metaphysics. Since meta-physics is concerned with that which is above and beyond the physical, it is deemed a fool's errand to seek knowledge of essences. The phenomenal realm is the world of existence, not of metaphysical essences or "things-in-themselves." There may be metaphysical essences but they cannot be known by human reason. That Kant did a hatchet job on metaphysics as well as theology is clear.

Again, what is often overlooked is that the hatchet had more work to do. By assigning the self to the noumenal realm, Kant also hacked away at the concept of the human soul. This has had a devastating impact on subsequent views of anthropology. Pre-Kantian thought gave heavy weight to the importance of the human soul. Post-Kantian thought has as all but eliminated the soul from serious consideration.

The nature of the self remains a concern of psychology, but its nature is enmeshed in enigma. Descartes arrived at a knowledge of the self as a clear and distinct idea via a rigorous doubting process. He resolved to doubt everything he could possibly doubt. The one thing he couldn't doubt was that he was doubting. There was no doubt about that. For anyone to doubt that he is doubting, he must doubt to do it. Since doubting is a form of thinking and thought requires a thinker, Descartes arrived at his famous conclusion: Cogito ergo sum, "I think, therefore I am." We notice that in this formula there is an "I," a self, that is necessarily involved in the process.

Kant, himself, could not rid himself of the awareness of his self. He appealed, however, not to a rational deduction by which he came to a conclusion of his self; rather, he coined the idea of the "transcendental apperception of the ego." This technical language is somewhat cumbersome but nevertheless significant. Kant saw the self not as something perceived by the senses. It is an apperception and a necessary apperception for all thought. It transcends the normal process of knowing according to Kant.

What is crucial is that some notion of the self beyond the physical is inescapable. We may argue about how we know we are selves but we cannot deny that we are selves. Descartes was correct: It takes a self to deny the self.

That the human self involves more than the body is clear to all except the most rigorous material determinists who reduce all reality to the purely physical, including thought as mind itself. They reject the Gerstnerian formula: "What is mind? No matter. What is matter? Never mind."

Classical Christian anthropology views man as a substantial dichotomy. This concept is likewise under attack in evangelical circles, not only from the side of trichotomists but also from those who see in it an unwarranted intrusion of Greek philosophy into Jewish-Christian thought. It is rejected by Murray Harris, for one, and was attacked by Philip Hughes, to mention another evangelical scholar.

In my judgment, the rejection of substantial dichotomy rests upon a fundamental error of understanding, a fatal false assumption. Harris and others attack substantial dichotomy because they hear in it a recapitulation of Greek dualism. The Greeks viewed man as a creature locked in a conflict between two opposing and irreconcilable substances, the body and the soul. To the Greek the soul is eternal and good, the body is temporal and intrinsically imperfect. For Plato the nonmaterial ideal realm is the realm of the good. The physical is at best an imperfect receptacle or copy of the ideal. Hence the view emerged in Greek philosophy that the body is the prison house of the soul. Redemption means the release of the soul from the body.

Pythagoras was the source of Plato's theory of the transmigration of the soul, an early version of reincarnation. The soul is eternal but may become entrapped in a series of incarnations during its eternal migration. Redemption occurs when the chain or series of incarnations end and the soul is free to live a bodiless existence.

Herein is the dualism so repugnant to Christian thought. But the problem with the Greek view is not that it has two distinct substances, body and soul, but that it views them as in total conflict with each other, because the physical is inherently evil (at least in the metaphysical sense of evil).

Jewish-Christian thought, however, sees man as made up of two distinct substances that are not in conflict. Nor does the Bible view matter as being inherently evil. For the Christian, redemption is of the body, not from the body. The Christian doctrine of substantial dichotomy is not dualistic. Man is not a dualism but a duality. That is, we have a real body (material substance) and a real soul (immaterial substance). There is an analogy with the person of Christ in that He has two natures or substances, divine and human, united in one person. That He has two substances does not necessitate a dualism in His person. (Of course the human nature of Christ also includes a human body and a human soul.)

That we are made up of body and soul is indicated in the creation account:

"And the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul" (Genesis 2:7).

In the creation imagery man's body is formed first. But the body without the soul remains lifeless. When God breathes the breath of life into the body, then man becomes a living soul. In this account there is no hint of an eternal or preexistent human soul. The soul is as much a creation as is the body. That the soul survives the grave is not a testimony to its indestructibility or of its intrinsic immortality. The soul as a created entity is mortal. It survives the grave only because it is sustained and preserved by the power of God. It is preserved for eternal felicity for the redeemed; it is preserved for eternal punishment for the damned.

The soul of man can live without the body; the body cannot live without the soul. Jesus exhorted His hearers: "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both the soul and the body in hell" (Matthew 10:28).

From biblical revelation we know we have souls. The Bible does not banish the soul to some "never-never" noumenal world of agnosticism. Not only do we have souls, but the nurture and care of our souls is a top priority for the Christian life.

Since the beginning,

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