A normative ethic philosophy is a system of ideas that sets guidelines for determining right or appropriate behavior as it applies to a group. It is similar to morality, which applies to individuals. Throughout history, mankind has developed several different theories of ethics based on the consequence of the action, the governing law of the culture, or other means. Christian ethics is that system which is mandated by God as explained in the Bible.
An ethic is different from a law. Ethics are philosophies as to how to find out what would be a good law to follow. Some comparisons are listed below:
Biblical ethic: worship God as holy (Deuteronomy 6:13) Biblical law: do not sacrifice to idols (Exodus 20:5)
Biblical ethic: love God (Deuteronomy 6:5) Biblical law: obey God (Deuteronomy 6:1-3)
Biblical ethic: honor your father and mother (Exodus 20:12) Biblical law: do not curse your parents; obey your parents (Exodus 21:17; Deuteronomy 21:18-19)
Biblical ethic: love others (Mark 12:30) Biblical law: do not steal (Exodus 20:15)
Biblical ethic: consider your body a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19) Biblical law: do not practice sexual sin (1 Corinthians 6:9)
Christian ethics also give overall guidelines without specifically stating all the laws which would epitomize those ethics. In this case, we are called to develop the spiritual maturity to determine our own course of action.
Biblical ethic: we should use our body to honor God (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) Specific action: do not indulge in mind-altering drugs for the purpose of entertainment
Biblical ethic: children are a blessing from God (Psalm 127:3-5) Specific action: abortion and child abuse are unbiblical
At other times, Christian ethics lead us to reject manmade laws. Although we are to obey our civil authorities (Romans 13:1-7), Christian ethics must always come first, the classic example being spreading the gospel (Acts 4:18-20).
Passages like 1 Corinthians 6:12 (NASB) ("All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.") and Romans 14:1-6 make it appear that Christian ethics are relative to the situation and the spiritual maturity of the individual. But the discussion about eating meat sacrificed to idols in Romans14:1-6 demonstrates how an ethic can be represented by different laws at different times. The ethic in both the Old and New Testaments is "be set apart" (Leviticus 20:26; 1 Peter 2:9). In the Old Testament, this ethic was followed, in part, by certain dietary restrictions (Leviticus 11). In the New Testament, it is expressed by love (John 13:35). The dietary restrictions were removed as an obsolete cultural reference (Mark 7:19), but there may come a situation where love for a fellow believer is expressed through a voluntary restriction of certain types of food (Romans 14:19). This is not ethical relativism because the ethics did not change. It is only the applications of the ethics that had to be modified.
Part of spiritual growth is coming to the realization that believers are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), indwelt with the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13), and freed from the law (Romans 8:2). But we are still bound to Christian ethics, and the Bible is filled with specific ways in which we can manifest those ethics. Whatever the law, Christian ethics can be summarized in Mark 12:29-31: Jesus answered, "The foremost [commandment] is, 'HEAR, O ISRAEL! THE LORD OUR GOD IS ONE LORD; AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH.' The second is this, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.' There is no other commandment greater than these."
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