They aren’t hard to figure out.
Don’t lie … covet … commit adultery … steal … worship anything but the true God. There are plenty more commands just like them in Scripture.
These are examples of explicit instructions in the Bible — ones that don’t exactly require advanced theological degrees for interpretation. Scripture also directs us implicitly where you might have to piece things together to understand its thrust, but with explicit statements, things are about as black-and-white as they can be.
Well, OK, there are times when even explicit directives fall into muddy water. The Egyptian midwives lied to save the lives of Hebrew babies and Rahab lied to protect the Israelite spies, and the Bible says both were blessed by God because of their actions.
If I had space here and you were so inclined, we could have a very interesting discussion about the various ethical frameworks, including graded absolutism, which I think best addresses scenarios like the above.
But instead, let’s talk about an easy way to diagnose the head-scratcher moral dilemmas we face as Christians from time to time — the ones where we really aren’t sure if zigging or zagging is the right move. It’s the simple and most effective way I’ve ever found.
You and the image of God
When it comes to the question of who and what we are, the Bible sums up the answer this way: “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness’” (Gen. 1:26). Simply put, we are image-bearers of the Creator.
But what exactly does that mean?
While we could do a lot of unpacking on the theological doctrine of anthropology, let’s stay on track and just quickly mention that one of the things being made in the likeness of God signifies is that we share, imperfectly and finitely, in God’s nature — specifically, His communicable attributes (e.g., being, personality, truth, wisdom, love, righteousness, justice), which provides us with the capacity to have spiritual fellowship with Him.
His image in us was effaced, but not erased, by the Fall, which is why you see statements in Scripture such as, “put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Eph. 4:24, my emphasis) and “put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him” (Col. 3:10, my emphasis).
But even in our fallen state, since God is a moral being, we all innately know right and wrong (see Rom. 2:14-15). This is a buzz-kill for a lot of people who do everything in their power to escape that fact, which is why you see the silencing of speech that speaks out against sin and ‘safe spaces’ that prohibit any truth that challenges how they want to live.
As J. Budziszewski wrote in his book, The Revenge of Conscience: “Those who rationalize their sins find it to be so much work that they require other people to support them in it.” As Christians, I think you’d agree that we’re to live in a polar-opposite way and invite correction when we stray from how God intends us to live and act.
But occasionally things aren’t so cut-and-dry when it comes to living right before Him, and that brings me to the game changer that I think helps us make the hard calls when we need it. In his message “The Image of God in Man”, R.C. Sproul perfectly sums up our responsibility when it comes to being made in the image of God: “To reflect His glory”.
Now think about that for a minute, and focus on the word “reflect,” which is what makes Sproul’s statement stand out so much to me. I also like the synonyms for “reflect” that help hammer his point home even more: reproduce, imitate, replicate, echo, mirror, reveal.
In whatever we do, however, we act and behave, our entire way of life is to reflect who God is. And this helps enormously when it comes to deciding whether something we’re about to engage in is sketch.
Just stop and quietly ask yourself: “Will this reflect God’s glory?”
If it isn’t exhibitive of God’s character then maybe (or most probably), it’s something on which you should bail. And chances are, you likely knew that from the beginning.
You knew because you have His Spirit within you and “the Lord will give you understanding in everything” (2 Tim. 2:7). That understanding in us is why we see a somewhat prickly admonition from Jesus’ half-brother that is pretty explicit: “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin” (James 4:17).
Hard to misinterpret that, wouldn’t you say? But don’t worry — being someone “who knows the right thing to do” becomes a lot easier in my opinion when you apply the am-I-reflecting-His-glory litmus test, which should help keep all of us in the right lane.
Robin Schumacher is an accomplished software executive and Christian apologist who has written many articles, authored and contributed to several Christian books, appeared on nationally syndicated radio programs, and presented at apologetic events. He holds a BS in Business, Master's in Christian apologetics and a Ph.D. in New Testament. His latest book is, A Confident Faith: Winning people to Christ with the apologetics of the Apostle Paul.