Commands and Character
We are concerned with two questions here:
- What would God have me do?
- How would he have me do it?
The short answer is that we should act and be like Christ. God, Paul tells us, has predestined us as Christians 'to be conformed to the likeness of his Son' (Rom 8:29), to be 'imitator(s) of Christ' (1 Cor 11:1) (or alternatively 'imitator(s) of God' (Eph 5:1). This is because Christ is 'the exact representation of (God's) being' (Heb 1:3), the one who 'has made him known' (Jn 1:18)).
What is a Christian?
In considering this we need first to remind ourselves about what we Christians are (Eph 1:3-14). We are people chosen by God and adopted into God's family as a result of his own initiative which we have responded to by repentance (turning from sin) and faith (trusting belief). As a result of Christ's death on the cross on our behalf and his subsequent resurrection we have received God's forgiveness for our sins and received the Holy Spirit both as a guarantee of our inheritance of eternal life and as the agent helping him to live in obedience to our new master. As chosen children of God, loved, saved, forgiven and empowered we are now committed to serving him for ever. So while we have been saved by God's grace through faith (and this is God's doing not his) (Eph 2:8-10), nevertheless this faith finds its expression in obedience and love (Gal 5:6). There is thus an inextricable connection between the faith that saves and the good works that are the evidence of its existence (Jas 2:14-24). We have become, in effect, love-slaves of God (Rom 6:15-18) As we grow faith, and as our understanding of what God does and who he is develops, so we will be increasingly transformed into the likeness of Christ (2 Cor 3:16-18) becoming more and more like him both in obedience and character.
The Basic question
The basic important question to ask about any given decision must be 'What would Jesus have done in this situation?' We are limited here for a start. In order to act as Christ would in any given situation we need both his understanding of the will of God and his character - and for each of us that is a lifelong journey as he gradually prunes us through his Word and produces in us more of the fruit of his Spirit. The harder the ethical decision, the more it will make us aware of how far we have to go, both in our understanding of will and our emulation of his character. Nonetheless Jesus not only calls us to follow in his footsteps, but also by his Spirit within us gives us the power to do so. How are we to grow? His own teaching on this matter is clear: we grow in our knowledge of him and love for him by holding to his teaching - by hearing his words and obeying them (Jn 14:21).
Sharing Christ's character
This will primarily involve us increasingly sharing the character of Jesus Christ. It is one thing to recognise the right thing to do in a medical ethical dilemma. It is quite another to have the faith, patience, perseverance and courage to do it. Often we will find that the situation tests us to our absolute limit and exposes the fact that we have a long way to go. We are simply revealed in the context of the dilemma for what we are; lacking in the Spirit's fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal 5:22-23). Our lives simply do not measure up to that description of love (which Christ fulfils perfectly) which is given to us in 1 Corinthians 13.
We will all make mistakes but God has not finished with any of us yet. Even when we fail, he is there willing to forgive us, and help us try again.