Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Living Ethically in the Light of the Bible
Luke 6:43-49; Colossians 2:16-23; Psalm 133; 1 Chronicles 29
The Colossian believers were exposed to people who taught that rules and rituals were key to moral progress. Some were submitting to arbitrary rules to avoid certain things. Others were being judged because they failed to comply with these rules or engage in particular practices. Paul points out that while self-imposed religious rules and denial of pleasure are often claimed to lead to wisdom and maturity, they often have the opposite effect. Seeking to control bodily lusts, they empower the flesh; supposedly based on humility, they stoke smug arrogance; claiming higher wisdom, they descend into worldly foolishness.
The problem is not with rules and rituals themselves. God used many of these in the Old Testament to guide and train Israel. 1 Chronicles 29:19-21 records with favour how Solomon kept God’s commands and carried out his rituals. The problem arises when we focus more on the rules and practices rather than God himself. Then we start to add our own rules and reject those who don’t comply with those. David reminds us that integrity arises from the heart (1 Chronicles 29:17-18). Even the good that we do is possible only because of what God has done for us. God wants our hearts to be loyal to him, and our minds focused on him.
Paul likewise draws the Colossians back to their relationship with Christ. Our selfish nature will not get better because we force ourselves to obey rules. Strict rules and severe practices may make us feel and look better, but real moral progress requires the death of our sin nature. This happens when we die with Christ (Colossians 2:20). We can then grow in him by deepening our connection with him. As we draw closer to Christ, and abide in him, our heart will change. Our desire to do the right thing will increase and our intentions will become more honest.
Jesus likewise teaches that ethics has its roots in our hearts. We do what our nature leads us to do. A thornbush produces thorns, not figs. It will have to become a fig tree if it is to produce figs. That is the nature of things. Likewise, our fallen, sinful nature will need to be changed if we are to produce good fruit. When we die in Christ and take on a new nature, good things can come from the good in our hearts (Luke 6:43-45). Changing behaviour will not change our nature. But when we come to know Christ, we are given a new foundation that should lead to good fruit. As we listen to the words of Jesus, and those of Scripture more generally, our words and deeds should change to reflect those of the new nature we have been given (Luke 6:46). That is the source of real moral progress.