THE SPIRITUAL LIFE AND ETHICS
Written by: Unknown Posted on: 05/06/2003
Category: Bible Studies
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All scripture quotes are from the 1901 American Standard Version.
THE SPIRITUAL LIFE AND ETHICS
This is a study on the spiritual life and ethics.
Ethical behavior is a major area in the spiritual life. Many
believers are not as ethical as they should be and many
unbelievers are more ethical than believers. This topic will be
discussed in five major categories.
I. TOTAL DEPRAVITY AND THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD
The first category deals with total depravity and the
righteousness of God. Both aspects deal with the issue of
ethics, or touch upon it.
A. Total Depravity
There are several erroneous concepts that people have
about total depravity. Total depravity is a theological term
describing a truth taught in Scripture, but there are four
erroneous concepts concerning total depravity.
The first erroneous concept is that the natural man has
no concept of right and wrong. That is a mistake. The natural
man does have a concept of right and wrong as Paul makes clear in
Romans 2:14-15, for he teaches that the works of the law are
written in the hearts of even the pagan world. The works of the
law which are written in "their hearts" which includes their
conscience. When they do evil their conscience will either
accuse or excuse their actions. The natural, unregenerate man
can have and does have concepts of right and wrong in their
consciousness, in their conscience, and in their reasoning power.
The second erroneous concept about total depravity is
that all men are completely sinful. This is not true either.
This is not what total depravity means. In fact, II Timothy 3:13
teaches that there is still something left in humanity that is
still good. The image of God is still in man and so there is
still something in man that is good.
The third erroneous concept is that man performs every
type of sin. This is cancelled out by Matthew 23:23; total
depravity does not mean that every man does every type of sin.
The fourth erroneous concept is that the unregenerate
man has no good works. Yet the Bible does teach that all men do
have some good works.
These are four false concepts about total depravity.
So, what does it mean? What is the correct doctrine of total
depravity? Three things should be noted. First, it means that
sin has touched every part of man; every part of man has been
touched by sin (Rom. 1:31-32; 3:9-18). Second, total depravity
means that all men have a tendency to perform evil (Rom. 7:17;
7:20, 21, 23, 25). The third thing that total depravity means is
that no one has any good works in the sight of God. Although man
can do good works, those good works in no way commend him to God.
That is what total depravity means. It means that sin has
touched every part of man, it means that all men have this
tendency toward evil, and that no man's good works in any way
commend him to God. It is because of total depravity that
believers and unbelievers both have a tendency toward unethical
behavior and unethical behavior on the part of a believer will
affect his spiritual life.
B. The Righteousness of God
The Bible speaks of two types of righteousness: God's
righteousness and man's righteousness (Rom. 10:1-4; Phil. 3:7-9).
The Bible clearly draws a distinction between the two types of
First, man's righteousness does not satisfy God, but
God's righteousness does satisfy God, does satisfy His demands
Second, man's righteousness is practiced in the
strength of his flesh, but God's righteousness is practiced on
the basis of faith, by faith (Phil. 3:9).
Third, in relationship of the righteousness of God to
the unbeliever, there are two problems. The first problem is the
problem of sin. Because he is totally depraved, sin has touched
every part of him, he has a tendency toward evil and unethical
behavior. Even when he does behave ethically, his good works in
no way commend him to God. His second problem is that he does
not have the righteousness of God. The solution to the two
problems of the unbeliever is found in II Corinthians 5:21. To
deal with the problem of sin, he needs salvation. By that
salvation he is forgiven of all of his sins. Second, he needs to
have the righteousness of God. When he believes in the Lord
Jesus Christ, the righteousness of God is imputed to him. It is
placed upon his account.
Fourth, in relationship of the righteousness of God to
the believer, two things should be noted: position and practice.
Insofar as position is concerned, the believer possesses the
righteousness of God. The moment he believed on Jesus as his
Messiah, the moment he accepted Jesus as his Saviour, at that
moment he received salvation and at that instantaneous moment the
righteousness of God was imputed to him, He is now viewed as
being righteous. Positionally speaking, the believer possesses
the righteousness of God. As far as practice is concerned, the
believer now has the option to work out God's righteousness or to
work out man's righteousness (Matt. 6:1-18; I Cor. 3:1-23). In
the area of the spiritual life and ethics, if he works out man's
righteousness, he will be guilty of unethical behavior. This is
why so many believers are unethical. They have chosen to work
out man's righteousness. It might be "good business sense," but
it may still be unethical. However, if he chooses to work out
God's righteousness and obey the word of God and the commandments
of God, then he will be characterized by ethical behavior.
To summarize total depravity and the righteousness of
God, man is born totally depraved, and the solution is the
imputed righteousness of God and that is the basis of ethical
II. FREEDOM FROM THE LAW
The second major area in the study of the spiritual
life and ethics is the doctrine of the freedom from the law; what
it does mean and what it does not mean. This will be discussed
in four parts.
A. Romans 7:1-8:4
This passage can be divided into four parts.
1. The Law and the Believer -- Romans 7:1-6
The principle is found in verse 1. He began with the
word, "or," showing that what he was about to say was related to
the previous section of Romans 6. In the previous section he
made the point that the believer is not under the Law, but he is
under grace. The Law ruled over living people only. The Law had
no authority over a dead man. That is the principle. From that
principle, Paul gives the illustration (vv. 2-3). The
illustration is that a married woman is bound by the law of the
husband as long as the husband is alive. If she has
relationships with another man while the husband is living, she
is an adulteress. However, once the husband is dead, she is free
from the law of the husband, because death separates. Now, if
she chooses to marry another man, she is free to do so and is not
guilty of adultery whatsoever. The application of the
illustration is in verses 4-6. Through co-crucifixion, the
believer has been made dead to the Law in order to be joined to
Christ (v. 4). For that reason, the law no longer has authority
over him; he is dead to the Law. The Law instigated the sin
nature to commit acts of sin (v. 5). However, the believer is
now in a new life under grace (v. 6). Being under grace means to
be free from the Law. The believer has been discharged from the
Law. He has died to that wherein he was held. The "law" of this
verse is the entire Mosaic Law, all 613 commandments. The
believer is free from all 613 commandments, including the famous
ten. The believer is free from every type of commandment. That
includes civil, moral, and ceremonial commandments. He has been
freed from the Law. He now has a new life and now serves in
newness of the spirit and not in oldness of the letter.
2. The Law and Sin -- Romans 7:7-12
Paul started out with a problem that the previous
section might raise. Does what he said in verses 1-6 mean that
the Law is sin? This is a false conclusion derived from a
correct premise. The correct premise is that the Law instigated
one to commit acts of sin. But does that mean the Law is sin?
The answer is no. The Law reveals the fact of sin. The fault
does not lie in the Law, but in the sin nature. The sin nature
uses the Law as an occasion to cause one to sin even more.
3. Deliverance and the Law -- Romans 7:13-25
Here Paul pointed out five things: first, it is
impossible to have spiritual victory under the Law. Second, he
looked at the believer as being under the Law apart from the work
of Christ. Third, there is a cycle of proof, contrast, proof,
contrast. What he was trying to show here was that if a believer
tries to live the spiritual life on the basis of the Law, he will
fail. Just as with the unbeliever, the sin nature uses the Law
as a basis to cause him to sin even more. By the same token, the
sin nature will use the Law again to cause the believer to commit
sin even more. The believer is dead to the Law. He cannot be
saved through it, but neither can he live the spiritual life
through the Law. Fourth, the question is, why is there no
deliverance? The reason there is no deliverance when the
believer tires to live the spiritual life by means of the Law is
that the believer's flesh is still under sin. There is no good
thing in the flesh of the believer. There is the constant
presence of the sin nature and, because of the presence of the
sin nature, he will never achieve the spiritual life by means of
the Law. Fifth, his conclusion was that there is no deliverance
or victory under the Law. That means there is no justification
through the Law, and it means there is no sanctification under
4. Deliverance and the Holy Spirit -- Romans 8:1-4
Here Paul made five points. First, he drew a summation
when he said there is now no condemnation to them that are in
Christ Jesus. Even when believers sin, there is now no
condemnation. Second, he pointed out the principal: the
believer is now under the Law of the Spirit of Life in Christ and
this has made him free from the Law of sin and of death. Third,
he pointed out again the inability of the Law: it could not
empower one to live the spiritual life. The reason is that it
was weak through the flesh; the flesh weakened the believer's
ability to keep the Law. Fourth, through the death of the Son,
sin was condemned in the flesh. Fifth, this in turn leads to the
enablement of the Holy Spirit. Negatively, sin condemns.
Positively, the Holy Spirit enables. Together, the righteous
requirements of the Law are fulfilled.
To summarize what Paul has been saying in this passage:
first, there is no deliverance under the Law; second, deliverance
is based upon the work of Christ; third, deliverance is
accomplished by the Holy Spirit; and, fourth, one purpose of
freedom from the Law is to bear fruit.
"Anti" means "against" and "nomianism" is from the
Greek word, nomos, which means "law." Basically the word means,
"against law." Many believers throughout church history have
misunderstood what is meant to be freed from the Law. They have
been guilty of the other extreme, which is antinomianism. They
have turned against all kinds of law. They took the Biblical
teaching of freedom from the Law of Moses to mean that the
believer has no law to obey. There are believers still teaching
that today. They get rather flippant and spiritual sounding by
saying, "I just do whatever the Spirit tells me to do;" although
often what they claim the Spirit told them to do violates the
commandments the Spirit gave in the Scriptures. Antinomianism
then is the teaching that freedom from the Law means that the
believer is not under any law whatsoever. That is not biblically
true. Believers have been freed from the Law of Moses, but not
to live any way they choose, but to walk by the Holy Spirit.
Their walk by the Holy Spirit fulfills the Law. It is true we
are no longer under the Law of Moses, we are freed from all 613
commandments of the Law of Moses. However, we are under another
law today. We are under the Law of Christ. Just as the Law of
Moses had many commandments, the Law of Christ also has many
commandments. There are many commandments for the believer in
the Law of Christ, and, as believers, we are obligated to obey
these commandments. We have laws we have to obey, they just do
not happen to be the commandments of the Law of Moses.
C. The Law of Moses and the New Testament Imperative
Concerning the relationship of the Law of Moses and the
New Testament imperative, there are four things by way of
contrast. First, the Law of Moses included penalties for
disobedience, the Law of Christ does not; the Law of Christ only
includes chastisement, which has a corrector force. Second, the
Law of Moses provided no enablement to keep the Law; the Law of
Christ does by means of the Holy Spirit's ministry of indwelling
by which He enables the believer to keep the demands of the Law
of Christ. Third, the Law of Moses resulted in man's
righteousness, but the Law of Christ means that the believer
lives out God's righteousness. Fourth, the motivation for each
is different: the motivation under the Law of Moses was
blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience, therefore,
"obey in order that you may be blessed." The Law of Christ,
however, states "You have been blessed, therefore do."
Because this is a major issue in the area of the
spiritual life and ethics, this will be discussed in ten
1. Romans 14:1-13a
The main point of this passage is freedom from the Law
and freedom in Christ. First (vv. 1-3), he discussed two
brethren, one was strong and one was weak. However, the two
brothers were both obligated to refrain from judging each other.
Second (vv. 4-9), Christ is the Lord of both. Christ is the Lord
of the weak believer and He is the Lord of the strong believer.
Because Christ is the Lord of both, that is the reason for the
previous command that neither one should judge the other. Third
(vv. 10-12), he pointed out that the right to judge belongs to
Jesus. He is the rightful judge and He alone is to judge the
actions of a fellow believer. These are actions which the Bible
leaves in a neutral state, not actions that actually violate
commandments of God. If a believer lives immorally, he should be
condemned by the local church. But in dealing with amoral
issues, in those areas which are neutral, biblically speaking,
the right to judge belongs to Christ. Fourth, the conclusion
(v. 13a) is, "Therefore, let us not judge one another anymore."
In the areas of amoral issues and in the area of neutral issues,
this is the principle.
From this first passage there are four observations.
First, all have rules to live by. Some of these rules are
biblical rules, some are man-made rules, some are church rules,
some are government rules, some are employer rules, and some of
these rules we made ourselves. Second, an honest conviction may
lead a believer to conformity to a non-essential. A believer may
have a specific conviction about a specific amoral, neutral
issue, and that will lead him to conform his action to that
(Rom. 14:5). That does not make him a legalist. Every believer
has the right to live by whatever extra-biblical laws he may
choose. However, the third observation is that one becomes a
legalist when he begins imposing his own will and standards upon
a fellow believer. That is where he has gone too far. While
every believer has the right to live according to a set of rule
that he has chosen to keep, once he starts judging the
spirituality of fellow believers, or judging the ethics of fellow
believers based upon their conformity to these extra rules, then
he has become a legalist. The fourth observation is that there
are two attitudes to avoid in this relationship (Rom. 14:10).
The first attitude to avoid at all costs is judging, especially
in this context, the weaker brother judging the stronger brother.
Usually, that is the case. Usually, the one who does the judging
is the weaker brother. The weaker brother must not judge the
strong brother. The weaker brother must realize that the strong
brother is free to partake of neutral issues. The second
attitude to avoid is becoming a despiser, a word that means, "to
think little of." This is often the attitude developed by a
stronger believer toward the weaker believer. A strong believer
who knows that he is free to do something must not despise the
weaker believer for his convictions. He has a right to those
2. Romans 14:13b-21
The point of this passage is, "giving no offense."
This passage has three parts.
First (v. 13b), no man is to put a stumbling block
before another. There are three key terms that need to be
clearly defined because they involve the spiritual life and
ethics. The first key term is "stumbling." The meaning of
"stumbling" is when a brother patterns his life after the liberty
of another believer, but does not have the faith to accept the
fact that God gives him liberty to do that which the brother is
doing. If the weaker brother does this, he will fall into sin
(v. 23). A weaker brother stumbles when he has problems with
certain issues, but goes ahead and does them to imitate a
stronger believer. Because he is not able to partake of this in
faith, he sins and, therefore, stumbles. The responsibility in
the realm of stumbling is this: the strong believer is to so
guard his conduct that a weaker brother does not follow his
pattern of life so as to fall into sin because of a lack of faith
on his part.
The second key term is "offended." To "offend" in this
context means that a strong believer allows a weak brother to see
him exercise the liberty that he has, which the weaker one does
not have, and so the testimony of the stronger one is jeopardized
before that brother. In this case, the weaker brother does not
stumble into sin but the testimony of the strong believer has
been set aside as far as he is concerned. He has been offended.
As a result, the strong believer no longer has any spiritual
input into his life. The responsibility which comes out of the
concept of being offended is that we must so conduct our manner
of life that the weaker brother is not given cause to discount
out Christian liberty.
The third term is "made weak." "Made weak" in this
context means that a spiritually immature brother understands the
teaching of liberty, but he sees a brother partake of that which
he is free to, but the weaker brother is repelled from the truth,
and is not willing to have anything to do with it. He is driven
to a weaker position still.
The second part of the passage (v. 14) discusses the
fact that things in themselves do not defile. He is not dealing
here with the differences between kosher and unkosher, clean and
unclean. The distinction is between the weak and the strong in a
specific area. Anyone who reckons something to be unclean, for
him it is. It may not be unclean for another, but it is unclean
for him. Third (vv. 15-21), the stronger believer is to limit
the use of his liberty because the law of love always supercedes
the law of liberty. The stronger believer needs to follow two
goals. First, follow after peace; peace between fellow brethren,
peace between believers who are strong and believers who are
weak. Second, seek to edify. Seek to build up the weaker
3. Romans 14:22-15:3
His point here is having a good conscience before God.
This passage has three divisions.
The first division (vv. 22-23), is to discuss the
danger of liberty. For the strong, the danger is the flaunting
of his liberty. He can practice liberty, but he should not
flaunt it. He may have to limit the occasion and place where he
will use it. The danger of liberty for the weaker believer is
acting apart from faith. If he chooses to imitate the stronger
believer, but does not have the faith to do so, he sins.
The second part of the passage (15:1-2) speaks of the
sacrifice of liberty and points out two things. First, the
strong believer should bear the infirmities of the weak believer,
which means giving up the use of his liberty in certain
situations for the weaker brother's sake. Second, aim to edify.
This should always be his goal. Aim to edify, to build up the
weaker believer. The sacrifice that the strong believer must
make is always viewed as temporary until the weaker brother
matures. Once the weaker brother matures, the stronger believer
no longer has to limit his liberty in a given area.
The third part of the passage (v. 3) spells out the
example to follow in all such things. The example to follow
Christ himself. "For Christ also pleased not himself; but, as it
is written, The reproaches of them that reproached thee fell upon
me," and that should be the example to follow.
4. Romans 15:17
The emphasis here is to do all things to the glory of
God. Here he points out two things. First, be like minded with
fellow believers. This does not mean to always agree on
something being right or wrong, but to be like minded in the
sense of being willing to give way for the sake of helping a
weaker brother grow. Second, to agree. That which may be right
for me may not be right for someone else. God's will for his
life is not any of my business. I should reach an agreement with
the weaker brother. I will refrain at certain situations and I
will understand that just because something is right for me does
not mean it is right for him. It could be wrong for him. Where
God may lead me to do certain actions of freedom, He may not lead
another brother to do certain actions of freedom, and God's will
for the other believer is not any of my business as far as my
right to interfere is concerned. It is my business as far as
being concerned that he find God's will and carry it out, but it
is not my business to interfere.
5. I Corinthians 8:1-13
This passage deals with the question: How far can one
go as a believer? In discussing this subject, Paul gives three
The first principle (vv. 1-6), is our freedom in
Christ. We are free in Christ. We are free from the Law of
Moses, we are free in Christ to do whatever the Bible allows us
to do and does not forbid. In all amoral and neutral issues, we
are free to do. According to verses 1-3, knowledge leads to
freedom of action, but this freedom is to be tempered by the law
of love. Yes, we are free to do whatever the Bible allows us to
do, but our actions must be limited by the law of love. In
verses 4-6 he points out again that the believer is free in all
areas of amoral issues, but it must be tempered, limited, by the
law of love of the brethren.
The second principle (vv. 7-12), is that liberty should
not be used where a weaker brother either stumbles or is
offended. Remember, "could" does not mean "should". Just
because you could do something, does not mean you should do
something. Liberty should not be used where a weaker brother
will either stumble or be offended. Again, if he stumbles, he
falls into sin, if he is offended he does not fall into sin; but
he has removed you as having any influence in his life
The third principle (v. 13) is be willing to give up
liberty for the sake of a weaker brother. This does not mean you
have to give up your liberty forever, but in the situations where
you are in contact with the weaker believer, or as long as he
remains a weaker believer in those situations, you will refrain
from the exercise of your liberty.
These are the three principles concerning how far one
can go in I Corinthians 8. In I Corinthians 9, Paul goes on to
give the illustration of rights surrendered. What you do or do
not do in amoral issues does not really matter to God. You must
act according to your conscience. However, God does not allow us
to use our liberty to cause stumbling or offense on the part of a
6. John 17:1-10
The main goal of the believer is to do all to the glory
of God. Under this point three things should be noted.
First, the need of the unbeliever is to receive Christ
as Saviour. When one receives Jesus as Messiah and Saviour, he
glorifies God through the salvation which he receives (Eph. 1:6,
12, 14). Having received Christ, the second goal is to live a
daily life in conformity to Christ. This glorifies God through
the new life which he now lives (I Cor. 10:31; II Cor. 3:18,
I Thess. 2:12). Third, Jesus is glorified by us being brought
into glory or glorified; this is glory through all promises being
fulfilled (Col. 3:4; Heb. 2:8-9).
There is a past, present and future aspect by which we
glorify God. In the past, we glorify God by receiving Jesus as
our Saviour, as our Messiah, and so this was glory through
salvation received. Now, in the present, we lead a daily life
lived in conformity to Christ and this is glory through new life
which is now received. The future aspect is that someday Christ
will even be further glorified by bringing us into glory, bring
us into that same glorified state in which He now is. This is
the future glory, the glory through all the promises being
fulfilled. Past, present and future, we are fulfilling our goal
and the goal of the believer is to do all to the glory of God.
This, in turn, will be the rule of life for our ethical conduct
today. Everything we do we should give glory to God. Unethical
conduct blasphemes God. Ethical conduct on the part of the
believer glorifies God.
7. Dangers To Be Avoided
In the area of legalism three dangers must be avoided.
First, is legalism itself. Again, legalism is not when a
believer chooses to live by a set of rules and regulations which
are outside of Scripture, but when a believer makes a list of
doubtful things, or amoral things, and then uses this list to
judge another believer's spirituality. Ultimately, legalism
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