Clarity or Confusion?
1. Moral relativism and absolute truth
January 24/25, 2004
MAIN IDEA: Contrary to current public opinion, there is such a thing as absolute truth, and it is found in the Bible.
1. Listeners will be informed of the intellectual and moral bankruptcy of the post-modern notion of “tolerance” (moral relativism).
2. Listeners will dedicate themselves to using scripture as their guide to absolute truth.
3. Listeners will learn how to deal with those who reject Biblical truth.
Last weekend visited mother in law and when time to return home a funny thing happened. Our car alarm started going off. …..
We had been warned to get rid of this, that it would cause us trouble, but it seemed like everything was fine. A couple hundred dollars later, everything is fine.
My point – just because you don’t see a problem right now doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
There is a problem with our society. And though it never quite gets the headlines, it is slowly eroding the foundations of our society. What is the hidden danger, the menace that is causing inestimable amounts of suffering and moral decay in our society – and even within the church?
Moral relativism: The prevailing philosophy of our day that teaches there is no absolute truth, and that all philosophies, all religions, all opinions, are EQUALLY VALID, with no way to distinguish one as being morally superior to others. It’s also known by the name “tolerance”. It’s the philosophy that is taught in our schools and in our media that there is nothing that is true everywhere, and that everything is true somewhere.
Why is moral relativism or “tolerance” so dangerous? Because it is an intellectually bankrupt, morally bankrupt, and completely anti-Christian philosophy which pulls the foundations of our society out from under us, leaving us a lot like Wile E Coyote when he has run off a cliff. Sooner or later, there are dire consequences.
When it comes to knowing what is true, we can either follow the world’s advice or follow God’s word. And the source we use for truth and instruction in our lives will either lead us to CLARITY or CONFUSION. Over the next few weeks we will be discussing some of the more controversial moral issues of our day, and it is my hope that as we think about them, we will be able to push back the curtain of moral CONFUSION, and discover the joy of living in the light of CLARITY regarding the moral issues we all face.
In this message I aim to help you with the following 3 objectives:
1. Think critically about the whole notion of moral relativism.
2. Commit to following the Bible as your sure source of moral absolutes.
3. Learn how to deal with those who reject Biblical truth.
Don’t think this is important? Consider the following statistics…
According to a survey done by Barna Research back in 2001
About 3/4 ’s of all adults in America rejected the notion that there are absolute moral truths. Most Americans believe that all truth is relative to the situation and the individuals involved. Similarly, at least 80% of our teens embrace the same position regarding moral truths. Not only did more than 4 out of 5 teenagers say there is no absolute moral truth, 4 out of 5 also claim that nobody can know for certain whether or not they actually know what truth is.
Only 6% of teens, and 9% of born-again teens believe in moral absolutes.
Clearly, the church is missing something – and the time is now to start speaking up about the problems inherent in moral relativism.
WHY IS MORAL RELATIVISM INTELLECTUALLY AND MORALLY BANKRUPT?
1. If there is no absolute truth in spiritual matters, we are forced to accept contradictory “truths”.
Jesus claimed He is the only truth and only way to God – that no one can come to the Father except through Him.
Islam claims that Christianity is false.
How can they both be true? They cannot be true for some, and not for others – they make claims of exclusivity. Jesus did not qualify His remarks by saying, “I am the way, the truth, and the life for Palestinian Jews and Western Europeans.” He claimed to be the only way for everybody.
Islam declares that Israel should be destroyed. Pacifism would reject that. Which is right? Why? Why should I listen to your religious philosophy if mine is just as valid, even if it means I have moral freedom, and maybe even a moral obligation to kill others in the name of my religion or philosophy?
You cannot have mutually exclusive viewpoints be true. One must be right and another wrong.
We must be willing to consider the option that though it may be difficult to discover the truth, this does not mean that truth does not exist.
TRANS: But an even bigger problem arises from the idea that there are no moral absolutes…
2. If there is no absolute moral truth, there is no basis for morality.
Consider this example:
The setting: A thief is casing a jewelry store so he can rob it. He has entered it to check out any visible alarm settings, locks, layout, etc. In the process, he has unexpectedly gotten involved in a discussion with the owner of the jewelry store whose hobby is the study of philosophy and believes that truth and morals are relative.
"So," says the owner, "everything is relative. That is why I believe that all morals are not absolute and that right and wrong is up to the individual to determine within the confines of society. But there is no absolute right and wrong."
"That is a very interesting perspective," says the thief. "I was brought up believing that there was a God and that there was right and wrong. But I abandoned all of that and I agree with you that there is no absolute right and wrong and that we are free to do what we want."
The thief leaves the store and returns that evening and breaks in. He has disabled all the alarms and locks and is in the process of robbing the store. That is when the owner of the store enters through a side door. The thief pulls out a gun. The owner cannot see the man’s face because he is wearing a ski mask.
"Don’t shoot me," says the owner. "Please take whatever you want and leave me alone."
"That is exactly what I plan to do," says the thief.
"Wait a minute. I know you. You are the man that was in the store earlier today. I recognize your voice."
"That is very unfortunate for you," says the thief. "Because now you also know what I look like. And since I do not want to go to jail I am forced to kill you."
"You cannot do that," says the owner.
"Because it is not right," pleads the desperate man.
"But did you not tell me today that there is no right and wrong?"
"Yes, but I have a family, children, that need me, and a wife."
"So? I am sure that you are insured and that they will get a lot of money. But since there is no right and wrong it makes no difference whether or not I kill you. And since if I let you live you will turn me in and I will go to prison. Sorry , but that will not do."
"But it is a crime against society to kill me. It is wrong because society says so."
"As you can see, I don’t recognize society’s claim to impose morals on me. It’s all relative. Remember?"
"Please don’t shoot me. I beg you. I promise not to tell anyone what you look like. I swear it!"
"I do not believe you and I cannot take that chance."
"But it is true!" I swear I’ll tell no one."
"Sorry, but it cannot be true because there is no absolute truth, no right and wrong, no error, remember? If I let you live and then I left, you will break your so-called promise because it is all relative. There is no way I could trust you.”
"But it is wrong to kill me. It isn’t right!"
"It is neither right or wrong for me to kill you. Since truth is relative to the individual, if I kill you, that is my truth. And, it is obviously true that if I let you live I will go to prison. Sorry, but you have killed yourself."
"No. Please do not shoot me. I beg you."
"Begging makes no difference."
In the end – if there really is no moral absolutes, no absolute truth, then there is no way to judge Hitler or Saddam or Stalin as evil. They were simply following the truth they believed in. There is no way to ever say anything is evil, because that is an absolute moral judgment.
It is at this point that the whole argument for moral relativism falls apart, because there is NO ONE who is willing to say that a Hitler was free to follow his own convictions and murder millions of innocent people!
TRANS: But even if someone concedes that moral absolutes must exist, an ever bigger question lurks…Where can I find those moral absolutes? Where do I go to discover the truth that does not change?
IF ABSOLUTE TRUTH EXISTS, WHERE CAN IT BE FOUND?
If you want to find truth that doesn’t change, you’ll want to limit your search parameters:
1. Only look at things that have stood the test of time.
2. Only look at things that have worked for all segments of society (rich, poor, educated, uneducated, western, eastern, and everywhere in between)
At the risk of sounding intolerant…I believe that absolute truth can be found in 3 places.
1. In Jesus. (John 14:6)
2. In Jesus’ teachings. (John 8:31-32)
3. In the Bible (John 17:17, 2 Tim. 3:16-17)
But don’t take my word for it. In his own words, Jesus said…
John 14:6 Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
Jesus also said…
John 8:31-32 Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."
In this passage Jesus gives us a “TRUTH CHALLENGE”.
This verse tells us how it is we can discover the truth. It starts by holding to Jesus’ teachings. Start with Jesus. If you can’t quite believe that the whole Bible is the source of truth – then at least start with the teachings of Jesus. Put them to the test. Use them as the moral authority in your life, and see what happens.
So Jesus, in his own words, said that truth was found IN HIM, and in HIS TEACHINGS. But that’s not all he said. He also said that truth was found in God’s word.
John 17:17 “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.”
What did He say was truth? Our feelings? Our philosophies? No he said God’s word is truth. And as Isaiah wrote…
Is. 40:8 The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.
Jesus is the truth. Jesus’ teachings are truth. God’s word is the truth. Absolutely.
TRANS: But, you say, I believe this, Don, but the problem is whenever I try to appeal to scripture with my friends and family, they have this knee-jerk reaction against it. How do I get past this “wall of defense”?
HOW CAN I DEAL WITH PEOPLE WHO REJECT THE TRUTH OF THE BIBLE?
1. Treat people with gentleness and respect. (1 Pet. 3:15-16)
1Pet. 3:15-16 But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.
“It is an admirable thing when one is willing to die for the truth. It is more problematic when one is willing to kill for it. Throughout this century, the church has shown itself more willing to do the latter than the former.”
- Daniel Taylor, “Deconstructing the Gospel of Tolerance”, Christianity Today, Jan. 11, 1999, p. 48
Over the next few weeks we’re going to take a look at some of major moral issues of our day, with the hope of cutting through the confusion of what the world has to say and to discover what scripture clearly teaches. But if we become a bunch of Pharisees, armed with the ‘truth’, and go around shooting people with it – we will get nowhere.
Yes – we need to know what the truth is about what is right and wrong.
Yes – we need to live it out, even when we don’t understand WHY God has instructed us to live that way.
Yes – we need to hold out the truth like a light in a world that is growing increasingly dark.
But NO – we do not need to bang people on the head with our Bibles.
It is far easier to denounce the wrong in this world and those who call evil things good than it is to demonstrate compassion, love, and the grace of the Lord Jesus.
I can’t get beyond the image the gospels give of Jesus being SO FUN to be around. He hung out with “sinners”. He had fun with them. But he never condoned as acceptable their sin. He was “a friend of sinners”. That’s why the second way to reach people who reject the absolute authority of the Bible is to…
2. Demonstrate God’s kindness toward people. (Rom. 2:4)
As Romans 2:4 says, “…God’s kindness leads you toward repentance.”
Arguments, proofs, and logic will not convince a heart to turn toward God in repentance. Demonstrating kindness, love, and mercy toward people will.
Is this a tightrope walk? Yes it is. That’s why we need the Holy Spirit. That’s why we need to abide in Christ every day and seek His wisdom for what to say and how to act when people seem upset by our “intolerant” views.
In this message we’ve covered a lot of ground. I started by pointing out that we live in a world that increasingly rejects the notion that truth is absolute, and that anyone can even say with certainty that something is morally right or morally wrong.
I then demonstrated that this philosophy of moral relativism is really a house of cards that falls apart when looked at critically or logically.
I talked about how Jesus, His teachings, and the rest of scripture are the truth we can trust in.
And I’ve stated that if we are to reach our friends and family with the love of Christ we must demonstrate His love to them at the same time that we help them see that there really is absolute truth in the scriptures.
I close with the lyrics of a song by my all-time favorite Christian musician, Rich Mullins. But before I do, let me just clearly state my hope for you today.
If you are a believer who has been infected by the philosophy of moral relativism, – I charge you not to believe for a moment longer that truth is relative. Renounce that destructive way of thinking, and reaffirm your faith in God and his eternal, unchanging truth.
If you are not currently following Jesus, I hope if nothing else happened today that I have challenged you to think critically about the whole notion of moral relativism. But more than that I hope you’ll consider taking the “truth challenge” that Jesus offers in John 8. Read the words of Jesus, follow them, and see what changes come about in your life. Put Jesus’ words to the test.
The Maker of Noses
I believe there is a place
Where people live in perfect peace
Where there is food on every plate
Where work is rewarded and rest is sweet
Where the color of your skin
Won’t get you in or keep you out
Where justice reigns and truth finally wins
Its hard fought war against fear and doubt
And everyone I know wants to go there too
But when I ask them how to do it they seem so confused
Do I turn to the left?
Do I turn to the right?
When I turn to the world they gave me this advice
They said boy you just follow your heart
But my heart just led me into my chest
They said follow your nose
But the direction changed every time I went and turned my head
And they said boy you just follow your dreams
But my dreams were only misty notions
But the Father of hearts and the Maker of noses
And the Giver of dreams He’s the one I have chosen
And I will follow Him
May we all follow the Father of our hearts, the Maker of our noses, and the Giver of our dreams. He is the way, He is the truth, and in Him alone, is found abundant life.
SMALL GROUP QUESTIONS
1. Polls show that less than 1/4 of adults and 1/5 of teens believe there are moral absolutes. Does this surprise you? Why do you think the idea of absolute truth has become so rare?
2. Read John 7:53-8:11. In what ways was Jesus “tolerant”? How was he “intolerant”?
3. Read James 1:19-20 and 1 Peter 3:15-16. How does these scriptures apply to debates over moral issues?
4. What moral teaching of scripture is hardest for you to swallow as “true”? Why?