Why Did You Do That?


Just yesterday, my youngest son did something stupid.

To tell the truth, his mom and dad often do stupid things, too—daily. But our job is to correct him and help him to be better than we are (which means making him prone to doing fewer stupid things). So we corrected our child.

The main way we corrected him was by asking him a question: Why did you do that?

ask blackboard chalk board chalkboard

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His reply was, “I don’t know.” When he responded that way, we knew clearly where our real work needed to begin. We needed to help him understand why he does inappropriate things. If we could help him understand why he does these things, we might also be able to lead him to see why he should not do them—and why he should do more positive things instead.

This struggle in our day to day child-rearing turns out to be a struggle that sits at the heart of Christian ethics. Christian ethics is about what we ought to do, what we ought not do, and why we ought to do/ not do certain things. On this last question, the “why” question, there is much debate among Christian thinkers. Why ought we love others and not murder them?

The simplest ethical response is, “Because God says so.” (But why does God say so? How do we know?)

The answer growing more popular these days to the “why” question is something like, “because good people (God’s people) do good things.” This latter answer operates on the idea that our character determines our actions. According to this view, God is intensely concerned to shape our character so that good actions which please him will flow from our good character. A classic example of this approach comes from Jesus in Matthew 12:33-35,

red cherry fruit on brown tree branch

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Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil.

Christians obviously want to be good trees bearing good fruits. The kind of person you are determines the kind of actions you will perform. But there’s a  big #Problem!

How does this work? By nature, we aren’t good trees! Scripture tells us that we are by nature dead—children of wrath (Ephesians 2); Scripture says that by nature not a single one of us is righteous (Romans 3); and the Bible teaches that by nature our hearts seek to do evil continually even from a very young age (Genesis 8).

The naturally bad trees will not attempt to do good—that would be working against our own nature (like a peach tree somehow deciding to grow a watermelon). If, on the other hand, we simply confess we are bad trees and thus must do bad works, we fall victim to fatalism and disobey God’s instructions openly. How in the world can a naturally bad tree produce good fruit?

Here is where Christian ethics must begin—with theology! Christian living begins with God supernaturally revealing himself and his gospel to those who are by nature children of wrath. God reveals both himself and the sacrifice Jesus made in order for those who believe to be “converted” into good trees bearing good fruit. As Paul writes in Ephesians 2:4-5,

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved!”

God makes His people alive! God reveals himself and his will to his people. His people love and trust him. They trust him to teach them how to live in this world and how to remain safe in his presence forever. Because God is good, everything he commands his people is also good.

The key to Christian ethics is simple: Start with a good and gracious God making his will known; then make disciples (teach people of all backgrounds to obey what Jesus teaches).

Disciples start obeying. From their obedience, disciples grow more and more good fruit. Obeying Jesus leads to better discernment. As the writer of Hebrews says it,

“But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hb 5:14).

So, Christian ethics, like child-rearing, is a process of asking and answering, “Why did you do that?” –followed by, “Why don’t you simply trust God and do what He says?” #Discernment #Sanctification