Introduction to ethics

by David Stone

read : Christian Views on Ethics part 01 & Christian Views on Ethics part 02

Being human is special to God

It is the fact that God thinks human beings are special that makes human life ‘sacred’. We may not see anything very remarkable in another individual, especially if they have some disability. But God’s estimate of human worth and value does not stem from the qualities we display. Instead it comes from his decision to love us, come what may.

For Christians, the best example of God’s love is seen in the life and death of His Son, Jesus Christ.The coming of God into the world as a human being, Jesus, demonstrates the supreme status that we have at the summit of God’s creation.

This is further underlined by the Bible’s claim that men and women are made ‘in the image of God’ (Genesis 1:27). Out of every living creature, they have a unique ability to relate to him and to one another.

However, we do not have the authority to take innocent life (Genesis 9:5) and we must care for the poor, the weak and the ill (e.g. Deuteronomy 15:7). The length of our life on earth is God’s decision, not ours. He has not chosen to give control of when it will end to anyone else.

People are called to reflect God’s character

On the other hand, the significance of life this side of the grave must not be overstated. The Bible stresses that this life is not all there is. God desires to give us a level of reality known as ‘eternal life’. In comparison, our time on earth is only a brief apprenticeship (Romans 8:18).

There is another aspect to what it means to be made ‘in the image of God’. Each one of us carries the dignity of responsibility for what we do. We are not simply puppets on strings. God has made us and placed us in charge of the world around us. It is ours to enjoy, look after, manage and care for.

Despite the risks, he gives us genuine freedom to choose whether to follow his guidelines or reject them. Such freedom must not be lightly denied to other people or used against their best interest.

Made in the image of God

Not just what, but how

Near the beginning of the Bible are some instructions (Genesis 1:28, 2:2, 18, 23-24). They are sometimes called the ‘creation ordinances’ or the ‘Maker’s instructions’. These affirm:

  • them importance of us having one day in seven free to rest from our work – Sabbath rest,
  • the dignity of work
  • the need for human companionship – supremely in marriage and family life,
  • the vital need for each person to have a relationship with God.

Being out of step with our creator leads to many other things going wrong

But the Bible also recognises that our ability to decide right and wrong has been spoilt because we tend to reject God’s right as Creator to govern our lives. This also inhibits our abilities to put such decisions into practice. Such an attitude of rebellion means that things are not necessarily the way they should be.

Being out of step with our Creator leads to many other things going wrong. This is one of the principal reasons why he has given us rules in the first place.

God’s law is seen in the Bible as his provision for the fact that we need guidance about what is right and wrong. In the Old Testament, God offers his people a series of binding relationships, known as ‘covenants’. He promises to bless them if they keep his commandments and punish them if they do not.

Much of the Old Testament is concerned with urging people to return to their obligations under the covenants to obey God. Human beings are not programmed like robots. They do not automatically do what God says. Instead they are invited to choose to obey him.

The New Testament offers a fresh perspective, based on the life and teaching of Jesus Christ, where we’re not merely told what to do but helped to do it. Christian faith offers not only forgiveness for the mistakes of the past. It is also offers a new power to respond to God’s love. This leads beyond what we would otherwise be capable of which allows us to live as he intends us to.

In the Christian understanding of things, this power comes to us as it came to Jesus: that is, through a relationship with God made real by the Holy Spirit.

Helping One Another

Although most Christians believe in the supreme value of the Bible as a guide to belief and behavior, they also believe that guidance can be found elsewhere.

Looking back to see how Christians in the past have faced similar situations is one very useful starting point. Advances in technology mean that some right-or-wrong situations are completely new. However, most of the fundamental issues that underlie these dilemmas have been faced before in one form or another.

Then there is the role of the Christian community today. Christians depend very much on each other to stimulate and challenge their thinking on moral issues. This helps them find out together the will of God and the direction they should take.


Christian views on ethics stem from the idea that God has a say in how we decide what’s right and wrong. We can discover this by careful study and application of principles found in the Bible.

Further Reading

Atkinson D. Pastoral Ethics: A Guide to the Key Issues of Daily Living. Lynx. 1994.

Previously a medical doctor, David Stone is now vicar of St Jude’s Church in Earls Court, London and a member of the Church of England’s General Synod.

Christian Medical Fellowship (CMF) Files No. 3, 1998