Where Are We?
In previous essays I’ve tried to get to the roots of the moral crisis that engulfs contemporary culture. At the origin of this crisis stands the abandonment of the long-accepted notion that human beings acquire experiential knowledge of the good as communities and transmit it through tradition. Simultaneously, modern culture adopted a romantic notion of the good as a feeling of well-being and an individualist view of how we come to know the good.
Given its subjective view of the good, modern culture can no longer make sense of the right as a moral rule that conforms to the moral law. Hence the “right” becomes a private assertion of “what is right for me” or it is identified with legislated human law made through the political process. The simmering crisis becomes open conflict when society’s subjective views of the good and right become concrete disagreement about specific moral behaviors. These disagreements can be settled only by coercion in one of its modern forms: protest, cancellation, intimidation, or legislated human law.
Christians who submit themselves to the authority of Jesus Christ and the scriptures and retain the traditional view of the good and the right find themselves under fire. When confessing Christians oppose the dominant culture’s subjective view of the good and the right they are made to appear backward, oppressive, insensitive, cruel, and downright hateful. Indeed, they are portrayed as enemies of humanity worthy of marginalization, legal proscription, and even persecution.
Clash of Moral Visions
We are now at the point in our discussion of the moral crisis where I need to speak about specific behaviors. And I want to begin with the body and sex. In the contemporary controversy over the use of our bodies we see most vividly the clash between two irreconcilable moral visions. During the course of the last one hundred years Western society has been increasingly sexualized and sex has been politicized. The reasons for this development are complex, and I will explain them in greater detail later in this series. However I will say this in advance: progressive culture from its beginnings in the Enlightenment to today sees Christianity as the greatest enemy standing in the way of its advance. With the rise of the Romantics in the early nineteenth century, nascent progressive culture came to see that Christianity’s limiting of sexual relations to lifetime marriage between man and woman grounded in a sacred moral order served as the foundation of conservative and traditional culture. The family is the perennial bearer of tradition. If society is to be made into a progressive utopia, Christianity must be marginalized if not destroyed. If Christianity is to be destroyed, marriage and the traditional family must be destroyed. And marriage and the traditional family can be destroyed only by removing the limits on sexual activity and transforming the meaning of sex. Sex must be removed from the sacred moral order and reconceived as a means of self-expression and self-fulfillment. Without tradition, isolated, and with their identity being reduced to race and gender, individuals may then be willing to become wards of the progressive state and its educational institutions.
We’ve Been Here Before
But the clash between moral visions is not new. The New Testament is replete with warnings about this collision of worlds: two opposing kingdoms (Col 1:3), life and death (Col 2:3), visible and invisible (2 Cor 4:18), the way of the Spirit and the way of the flesh (Gal 5:13-26), and many others. One of the clearest contrasts is found in Colossians 3:1-14. Paul contrasts two ways of living as opposition between two orientations, to things above or to earthly things:
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. 7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8 But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
The New Testament clearly views the moral life as an essential aspect of a comprehensive and internally consistent way of life, at once religious, spiritual, and moral. Its specific moral rules are not isolated and arbitrary. The moral prohibitions in Colossians 3:5-11, quoted above, are interrelated. All of them deal with “earthly things.” The list in verse 5 centers on misuse of the natural urges of physical body: “sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed.” The list in verse 8 has to do with misuse of our need for acceptance and fellowship from others: “anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language.” The physical dimension cannot be separated from the social and neither from our relationship to God. We use our bodies to communicate with others and our physical urges almost always involve interaction with others. They can be used to honor God or disrespect him.
Body, Soul, and God
The New Testament affirms the created goodness of the body. But the body is not absolutely good. Its goodness lies in the possibility of its proper use as determined by the intention of creator. It can be misused and misdirected. Those whose minds, hearts, and wills are set “on things above” want to use their bodies for the Lord, but those whose minds, hearts, and wills are set “on things on the earth” view their bodies as instruments for their own pleasure and power. Those who direct their minds toward Christ desire to learn the purpose for which God created their bodies and the rules for their proper use. To those whose minds are set on earthly things, the Bible’s moral rules for the proper use of the body seem strange, unnatural, and oppressive.
The Bible speaks of human beings as body and soul. We are physical and mental. We possess freedom at some levels of our being, but at other levels the automatic processes of nature operate apart from our choice or awareness. The Bible is not concerned with the philosophical problem of the composition of human beings, with debates about the nature of the soul and the relationship between soul and body. It is concerned with the orientation of the whole human being toward or away from God. But the Bible acknowledges what we all know from experience, that there is a hierarchical order in the relationship between body and soul. The mind is the ruling aspect and the body needs to be ruled and guided by the mind, which in turn needs to be informed by the moral law and common sense. Our minds enable us to gain the wisdom we need to discern between good and bad and right and wrong. The body apart from the mind possesses no conscious knowledge of the good and right. It works more or less automatically and instinctively. (Contemporary culture reverses the order by looking to the irrational passions–in contemporary terms “the inner self”–for guidance about what is real and good.)
Now consider the two directions mentioned Colossians 3:1-14 again in light of our created nature as body and soul. Paul speaks of the two ways of living, two possible orientations to God of our whole persons. As whole persons we are body and soul, but the body must be guided by the soul. But the mind must be illuminated by moral and spiritual truth from above in order to guide the body to its proper end, which is to serve God. Paul urges us to set our minds and hearts on “things above.” Unless the mind is set on “things above” it cannot lead the body to do good and right. When the mind forsakes “things above,” the body begins to dominate the mind, which then becomes a mere instrument we use to seek out ways to please the body. It thinks only about “earthly things.” Instead of rising higher to become more and more like God, human beings fall to earth to become mere smart animals. Dangerous ones too!
This will be my last reply posted for a while, because it’s time to let others reply to your wise inculcations: but if anyone on this whole earth is able to ‘read’ my mind, then surely it’s you sir!
You’re quite right in most all that you say, excepting that you don’t always explain your brilliant conclusions fully– Jesus puts it almost tersely “… do not worry what they can do, for they can ‘only’ kill you, and after that they can do nothing– worry instead about the one who…”. And ” –if they did not believe the law or the prophets, why would they believe one raised from the dead?”
It cuts to the quick, and yet how many folks really place their faith and lives in such profound revelations. Really? Many are called, few are chosen.
Sometimes it is good to ask questions, as well as singing ” Yes we’ll all go a-riding on-a-rainbow”… How are you going? Why are you going? What do you expect when you get there? How will ‘you’ behave yourself? Will ‘you’ need morals there? Forgive my flippancy.
One was reading some global Christian web-sites around this issue of behaviour, knowledge, and sin, and the nature of our being. Sadly to say that not one that i saw actually concurred with my own bible reading or perceived knowledge. None explained adequately the difference between flesh/ body, spirit and soul (all lower case)- as you have referred correctly and quoted above Ron. And several stated that ” the soul is like the human mind, and only your spirit resides in heaven”.
Nor did any make it clear that God makes our ‘souls’, we are proved on earth with the opportunity to exercise free choices (whether you believe God makes all the options or not !!), and then we are pulled or we ‘fly’ back to God’s eternal love. Hopefully.
The role of the Holy Spirit as the convicter of sin, and convincer that ” the soul that sinneth, it will die” OT/ NT seems blurred by the addition of personal pronouns in some modern translations (‘my’ soul- whose soul?), and changing “it” to “the person who sins..” as if there is something more important than your soul? Ha ha.
It’s my belief that our soul is our being, and calling it the ‘self’ or the ‘ego’ or any such thing bespoils what we are to God (holy, greater than the angels, adopted). He made us individuals, with character and a human personality; and that is the clincher– so many folks are unindividuated (Jungian term) nowadays. That is to say, that they do not know themself ( heart, mind, body, or soul– they have no spirit or hope of a link with the Holy Spirit of Jesus).
It is in crowds, or mass gatherings that we see folks behaving like spirits controlled by legion. Being a difference engine and finding the middle-ground like an automaton is not reflecting, resembling, or worshipping God. And this manifests itself with amorality, sensuality, nihilistic selfishness and sin or total depravity.
There seems very little soul-searching any more, no loving questions, and understanding of Jesus words like ” i will send the Holy Spirit, for it is better for you that…”
As tripartite beings it is so desperately obvious that many people are not aware that they even have a soul, let alone who made it– and why we need the HS as intercessor between our soul (itself initiating all that we as earthly individuals can be) and the next spiritual realm. We need the HS to communicate with, reference and actually feel God, in our fallen spiritual state (our earthly spirit), and while we are flesh. Literally, our soul is being refined, reproved, reborn, converted and prepared to be fit for the company of God– Jesus put it as “nolo me tangere”. For i have not yet risen– do not ‘contaminate’ me!
The purpose, and nature of evil should also be a consequence to fit logically with these matters. It attempts to deprive us of our individuality ( and yes, iur morals) simple because God wants us, as individuals to exercise our divine free will, and return in love with our souls back to him… by choice.
My conclusion would be that it’s going to be almost impossible for folks to reclaim their true individualism, their identity, and their character without the help of the Holy Spirit, initially convicting of sin through repentance (unpleasant to the ego), followed by blessings in the fruit (and self-knowledge) with a pleasant wholesome existence, purely by morals and laws alone.
Whereby NT translates Pleasant= Pure, Lovely, Excellent, Admirable, Sensible, Adorable, Noble and True.
Very best wishes to all.