How Do We Determine Right and Wrong?

Finding truth for questions around LGBT

In response to some of the posts I’ve written on issues like transgenderism and Fifty Shades of Grey, I’ve heard from women who are angry that I would present some sexual choices or lifestyles as morally wrong. Here is an example:

Who are you to say that sleeping with another woman is wrong? If that’s how a person was created, let them be who they are! Not accepting a person for how they are created is cruel and the opposite of how a Christian should love.

How do we determine right and wrong in personal issues like homosexuality and erotica? Who has the authority to define morality? The Supreme Court? A popular vote? A panel of psychologists?

Isaiah warned us that good and evil could get all mixed up. “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter” (Isaiah 5:20).

In today’s culture, right and wrong are sorted through a grid of what we perceive as being the best for ourselves and our fellow humans. Essentially, human beings are now “god,” with the authority to determine our own moral compass.

With this type of humanistic worldview, morality is defined as “do no harm.” Ethics and morality are measured by whether or not people are harmed. “She’s not hurting anyone, so how could she be doing something wrong?” From this perspective, Christians who stand against gay marriage, for example, are thought to be doing harm. They are “hurting” people who want to celebrate the gay lifestyle. In contrast, those who want to participate in gay marriage are viewed as doing no harm.

Can something be immoral even if it doesn’t “hurt” someone else? Up until 50 years ago, we were considered a “God-fearing” society. Even those who didn’t claim to be Christians had a sense of honoring God as a moral authority. Consensual sex outside of marriage, frequenting strip clubs, and swearing were thought to be immoral even though they didn’t “harm” others. Morality was based on God’s expressed design for how and why he created humanity. Now it seems like everything is okay as long as no one gets hurt. This is humanism at its finest. Even God exists only if he suits our purposes. Paul predicted that we would be exactly in this place (See 2 Timothy 3).

If you are a follower of the Lord, you can’t base moral decisions primarily on how our decisions affect other people. A biblical definition of right and wrong is based, first and foremost, on honoring and revering God. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10). Before Jesus told us to "love your neighbors as yourself," he said that the greatest commant was to "love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength." (Mark 12:29–31). Even more important than how we treat each other is our complete surrender to and worship of our Creator.

As creatures created by a sovereign God, we have no greater call on our lives than to submit to his will and his design. Morality ultimately revolves around the Lord’s expressed desire for us, revealed in the pages of the Bible.

Some may argue, "Those in the LGBT community were born that way!" Rather than argue whether or not this is true, it is clear that some people—for whatever cause—have a deeply-ingrained tendency toward same-sex attraction or have profound struggles with gender identity. Even if this confusion or sense of sexual orientation started “from birth,” Scripture is still true. There is a difference between how we were created—God’s original intent—and how we are born. No one would say that a child was “created” with a disability even if she was born with a handicap. Because of sin, our physical and spiritual nature do not perfectly reflect God’s creative intent.

Paul says in Romans 7–8 that we are born with a nature that is hostile and rebellious to God. “Those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God” (Romans 8:8). We are born broken, rebellious, and sinful. Fellowship with God can only come when we trust Christ to crucify our old sinful selves with Christ "so that sin might lose its power in our lives” (Romans 6:6). We are each born into selfishness, depression, fear, and sexual brokenness.

Honoring God as Lord often means denying human desires. Jesus himself demonstrated this when, before his crucifixion, he prayed, “Not my will, but yours be done" (Luke 22:42). During his lifetime, he said things that hurt and offended many people as he proclaimed truth. Even his death on the cross was offensive, as Paul testified, “So when we preach that Christ was crucified, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say it’s all nonsense. But to those called by God to salvation, both Jews and Gentiles, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Corinthains 1:23–24).

Both the Old and New Testament are filled with examples of humans suffering harm because of continued sin and rejection of God. Because of their lack of reverence for God’s holiness, Ananias and Sapphira were supernaturally killed (see Acts 5). In reverence to God, the early church excluded people from fellowship because of their unrepentant sin. This certainly “hurt” them, but the greater good was acknowledging God’s holiness as the compass of all morality. In Hebrews 12 we are told that God disciplines those he loves and that this discipline is painful. The conviction of sin is not pleasant, but God “disciplines us for our good, in order that we share in his holiness” (Hebrews 12:10, NIV).

If there is no God, then our cultural values are correct—everyone should do what is right in his or her own eyes. But if there is a God, we must worship him and submit to his will as revealed in the Bible. He is the only one who has the authority to define morality, “for all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God” (Romans 13:1).

Truth will never be found by looking inward to how we feel but by looking upward at the power and majesty of our Creator. Psalm 103 tells us that the Lord has compassion on those who fear him. He knows what limited creatures we are and how we struggle. God’s love is for the man or woman who battles sexual confusion and brokenness, but his compassion has never been expressed in allowing us to celebrate our sin and brokenness. Instead, God calls us to embrace his strength as we submit ourselves to him. “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you” (James 4:7–8, NIV).

The current moral climate presents us each with a personal choice. Do you acknowledge a Creator who has the authority to define morality apart from human understanding?

“If Jesus is not Lord of all, He is not Lord at all.” —A.W. Tozer

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

Juli Slattery

Juli Slattery is a TCW regular contributor and blogger. A widely known clinical psychologist, author, speaker, and broadcast media professional, she co-founded Authentic Intimacy and is the co-author of Passion Pursuit: What Kind of Love Are You Making?

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