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Bible Principles and Guidelines for Examining Moral Issues

Bible principles about moralityHow should we determine what conduct is moral or immoral? What principles show what is morally right or wrong? The Bible is God's absolute standard of authority to reveal His will, yet we must study to understand and apply it. 

What does God's word say about stewardship, influence, example, and temptation? What priorities should we follow? How should we use the life and character of Jesus as our example? Please consider these Bible guidelines for moral living and conduct.

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2 Timothy 3:16,17 -- The Scriptures instruct us in righteousness, providing us to every good work. Yet we must apply the word properly, study diligently, and pray for wisdom (2 Timothy 2:15; James 1:5-7). We must learn to discern good and evil (Hebrews 5:14).

As you consider whether a specific act is morally pure or impure, here are some Bible principles to help you reach a proper conclusion. As you read the article, please look up the passages in your Bible so you can answer and apply the questions that are asked.

A. Does the Bible Prohibit This Conduct Either in General or Specific Terms?

The Bible contains many lists of sins to be avoided -- Mark 7:20-23; Romans 1:26-32; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Gal. 5:19-21; Eph. 4:17-5:21; Col. 3:5-11; 2 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 3:3; James 3:13-4:10; 1 Peter 4:1-4; Revelation 21:8; 22:15. In addition, other passages discuss individual sins. These prohibitions should be studied and obeyed.

Remember that the Bible teaches in both general and specific terms. Sometimes it describes in detail that a specific act is sinful. Other times it presents general principles which may include many specific sins. Study is required to determine whether a specific act fits the definition of something God has forbidden.

(Note: The following passages show examples in which people applied general principles to specific cases: Romans 13:8-10; Matthew 4:7,10; 21:13; James 2:8,9; note "suchlike" in Galatians 5:21.)

Surely we should avoid what God's word directly prohibits, but we must also apply general principles to determine right from wrong.

B. Will This Conduct Be Good Stewardship?

1 Peter 4:10,11 -- What is a steward? What has God given us that we should use and care for?

[Luke 12:42-46; 16:1,2,12; 2 Chron. 28:1; 1 Corinthians 4:1,2]

Matthew 25:14-30 -- What did the Lord give these men to use? What were the consequences of proper or improper use of them?

Consider some specific blessings we should use for God:

1. Ability and effort

This is part of our stewardship (1 Peter 4:10,11).

Titus 2:14 -- For what purpose did the Lord purify us?

Romans 12:11 -- How should we serve the Lord?

Think: For what purposes does God expect us to use our ability and strength?

[1 Corinthians 15:58; 12:12-27; 2 Corinthians 8:5; Ecclesiastes 9:10; Proverbs 6:9,10; Hebrews 6:12; 2 Peter 1:5-8]

2. Time and opportunities

Life is made of time. God gave you your life to serve Him. You must use it for what is most important.

Galatians 6:10 -- What opportunities must we be sure to use?

John 9:4 -- Explain Jesus' illustration about working.

Think: How is using our time similar to budgeting money?

[Ephesians 5:15,16; Matthew 25:14-30; Ecclesiastes 12:13; 1 Kings 20:40; 1 Peter 4:2,3; Romans 13:13,14]

3. Possessions

Psalm 24:1,2; 50:10-12 -- Who really owns all your possessions?

1 Timothy 6:9,10,17-19 -- What are the dangers of loving money? What should we do with our possessions?

[Haggai 2:8; 1 Chronicles 29:11-14; Matthew 6:19-34; Acts 4:32-35; 2 Cor. 8:1-5; 9:6-10; 1 John 2:15-17; Luke 12:13-21; Deut. 10:14]

4. Health

1 Corinthians 6:19,20; Romans 12:1,2 -- To whom do our bodies belong? What should they be used for? [3 John 2; Rom. 6:12ff]

Think: May we destroy or abuse God's gifts to please ourselves? Are we "pure" if we neglect God's work to please ourselves?

C. Will This Conduct Encourage Others to Serve God Better, or Will It Set a Bad Example?

1 Timothy 4:12; Matthew 5:13-16 -- What should we do for others? How should our lives affect others?

Matthew 18:6,7 -- What happens to us if we lead others to sin?

2 Corinthians 6:3 -- What should we seek to avoid? How might we be guilty of this?

Think: Should we do whatever we want as long it is not inherently sinful, or should we sacrifice our liberties to help others be saved (1 Corinthians 9:19-23; 10:24,31-33)?

Consider these questions about the influence of any act: If others see me do this, will they be helped or hindered in their service to God? What about children? Would I advise new converts to practice this? Will this conduct help or hinder efforts to save the lost?

[1 Corinthians 8; Romans 14; 1:32; Titus 2:7,8; 2 Cor. 6:14-7:1; Ephesians 5:11; 1 Peter 2:11,12; 3:15,16; 1 Cor. 13:5,6; 2 John 9-11]

D. Will This Conduct Place Me in Circumstances that Help or that Hinder My Own Service to God?

Consider the influence an act may have on you yourself.

Matthew 6:13 -- What should we pray for? Should we knowingly enter tempting situations simply to indulge our own desires?

Proverbs 22:3 -- How does a prudent man differ from a fool?

Think: If you know a course of action is likely to lead to sin, does it make good sense to start down that path?

Matthew 26:41 -- What should we do to avoid temptation?

1 Corinthians 15:33; Proverbs 13:20 -- What danger should we watch for? How will wise men act to avoid the danger?

Ask yourself, "Will this act encourage or hinder my service to God? Will it strengthen or dull my interest in spiritual things?"

[Romans 13:14; Proverbs 4:23; 6:27; 24:1,2; 5:8; 1 Corinthians 10:12; 5:6,7; Matthew 18:6-9; James 4:4; Genesis 39:7-12; Hebrews 12:15; Galatians 5:7-9; Ephesians 4:27; 5:11; 2 Corinthians 6:14-18]

E. Will This Conduct Lead Me to Respect or to Disrespect Properly Ordained Authority?

God has ordained that certain people have authority over us on earth. To obey God, we must obey these authorities unless they command us to sin (Acts 5:29). For each passage below, tell whom we must submit to.

Romans 13:1-7 [1 Peter 2:13,14; Titus 3:1; Matt. 22:15-21] --

Ephesians 6:1 [Luke 2:51; Romans 1:30,32; Colossians 3:20] --

Ephesians 5:22-24,33 [Titus 2:5; 1 Peter 3:1-6; Colossians 3:18; Genesis 3:16] --

Ephesians 6:5-8 [Colossians 3:22,23; Titus 2:9,10] --

1 Peter 5:1-5 [Acts 20:28; Hebrews 13:17] --

Note: Several verses say to submit to these authorities as we would to the Lord. Consider what this means. Should we look for loopholes, or should we obey the intent of the rules? Should we do secretly what we would be ashamed for the authority to know about?

F. Is This Conduct Consistent with the Standards I Profess to Follow and Expect of Others?

All of us have standards we profess to follow or we apply to others, yet sometimes we justify ourselves in not following these standards. To encourage an honest evaluation, try imagining someone else in the situation, or think of what you profess in other situations.

Matthew 23:3,4 -- What did these people do wrong? Should we expect others to follow rules we do not follow? Should we follow a higher standard around some people than we do around others?

[Romans 2:1,21,22; Matthew 6:1; 7:1-5; Acts 10:34,35]

Think: Would you want your children to grow up participating in an act such as the one you are considering? Would you be ashamed if they knew you did it? Would you participate in this act around church members? Would you be ashamed to have them know?

Hebrews 6:12; 13:7 -- Whom should we imitate?

Think: If you would be disappointed to see elders or preachers participate in an act, then should you do it? [1 Peter 5:2,3; 1 Corinthians 11:1; Philippians 3:17; 4:9]

Matthew 15:7,8 -- What error did these people commit?

Think: Would you feel right if you engaged in the activity in question immediately after singing songs and praying prayers of devotion to God? Would you feel pure before God if you stopped in the midst of the act and asked His blessings on it?

Romans 14:20-23 -- Should you participate in an act that violates your conscience? What should you do if you cannot conclusively prove that a certain act is sinful, yet you have doubts about it?

Think: Sometimes you face two courses, one of which is clearly acceptable but the other appears to be doubtful at best. What should you choose (at least for your own conduct)? Yet take care before you condemn others who practice it -- v1-12.

[See also 1 Corinthians 8:4-12; 10:23-33]

Is your life consistent with your own standards, your own conscience, and your expectations of others?

G. Will This Conduct Harmonize with Proper Priorities or Cause Me to Neglect Them?

Matthew 6:19-21,24,33 -- How many spiritual masters can we have? What should be our highest priority in life?

Romans 12:1,2; John 6:27,63 -- How should we act toward God? Toward the world? What should we emphasize in life?

Many acts are wrong because they emphasize physical things above spiritual things. Others may not be inherently sinful, but must not become so important to us that they hinder our service to God. Are you putting God first in your life?

[Matthew 16:24-27; 10:34-39; 1 Corinthians 6:19,20; 15:58; 2 Corinthians 8:5; 5:14,15; 4:16-18; Galatians 2:20; Romans 8:5-8; Luke 12:15-21; 14:25-33; Colossians 3:1,2; 1 Timothy 4:8; 6:6-19]

H. Will I Be Acting in Love for God and Man?

Matthew 22:37-40 -- What are the greatest two commands?

Matthew 7:12; Romans 13:8-10 -- How will I treat others if I love them?

1 John 3:16-18 -- How did Jesus demonstrate love? Explain how love relates to action.

If you did the act in question, would you be sincerely acting for the well-being of others, or would you be pursuing your own interests regardless of the will of God or the needs of others?

[1 John 5:3; John 14:15; Luke 6:27,28,31-33; 10:25-37; 1 Corinthians 13:1-8,13; Philippians 2:1-5]

I. Would I Want to Be Doing This When Jesus Returns? Would I Do It in His Presence?

We sometimes fool ourselves about the nature of an act, but questions like these should help us evaluate things honestly.

1 Thessalonians 5:1-5 -- When is Jesus coming? What lesson should we learn?

James 4:13,14 -- What else is uncertain?

2 Corinthians 5:10 -- How will our destinies be determined?

Think: Would you be ashamed for Jesus to see you doing this act if He came to visit you? Would you want to face Him in judgment knowing you had done it and not repented? [Romans 14:10-12; Revelation 20:12; Galatians 6:7-9]

J. Would Jesus Do This?

Matthew 10:24,25 -- Describe the goal of a disciple.

1 Peter 2:21,22 -- How should our lives compare to Jesus'?

Every act should be examined by asking, "What would Jesus do?" If He were here now, would He practice this activity, use this language, go to this place, wear these clothes, etc.?

[Matthew 16:24; 1 Cor. 11:1; Eph. 5:1,2; Phil. 2:5; Gal. 2:20]

The Bible is the complete and absolute standard of right and wrong. However, it does not directly describe every act we should avoid. It also teaches principles we must apply. The principles we have studied here should be applied carefully when determining whether an act is moral or immoral according to God's word.

Note: If you would like to study further about related Bible topics, we have a number of other study materials on our web site that should interest you. Please see the links listed below.

(C) Copyright 1999, David E. Pratte;
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