Christians have a foundation for ethics that can be seen to be more solid that that of others who look to mankind rather than God as their source for ethics. The most direct way that we access that source of truth in knowing what is right and wrong is scripture. But how do we use the Bible in ethics? Kyle Fedler in his book, Exploring Christian Ethics, suggests that there are five ways that Christians use the Bible in ethics. His five ways are:
1) Laws – finding specific commands in the Bible to follow
2) Themes or ideas – finding principles to guide how we live
3) Circumstances – finding a similar situation in scripture
4) Character imitation – modeling after Biblical examples
5) Character formation – transforming how we live
When I ask students which of these they think is most important they commonly choose themes or ideas, and I understand why they say that. When we are searching for what is right to do in the unique issues of modern bioethics, we are commonly dealing with situations that those in biblical times never imagined. We are able to find scriptural guidance by applying themes or principles we find in the Bible to our current dilemmas.
When they say that, I suggest to them that another one of the ways may be more important. Frequently our biggest ethical problem is not that we don’t know what is right, but that we don’t do what we already know to be right. Ethics is not just an academic exercise; it is about how we live. That is where character formation comes in.
We are bent and broken people who too commonly incline toward what is wrong. We need to be transformed. That can happen when we meet in scripture the One who has the power to make all things new.