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A Biblical Foundation for Ethics

[when considering ethics, it is worth highlighting] the covenantal context of the commandments in the OT and the eschatological context of the Sermon on the Mount in the NT. It is misguided to abstract the Ten Commandments from God’s gracious and powerful act of redemption for Israel and his covenant commitment to them to be their God. They are not universal ethical rules. They are directions on how Israel is to live the free life as God’s people in grateful response to all that he has done and is for them. It is also a mistake to talk of the beatitudes in Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount as virtues to be cultivated and rewarded, and of the sermon in general as the epitome of Jesus’ ethic, usually held to be an impossible ideal which we should strive to live up to nonetheless. The ethic of Jesus is not an impossible ideal. Its context is the eschatological event of the coming of the kingdom of God. With the coming of Jesus God’s gracious rule arrived.This event is announced with the beatitudes – which, take note, do not have the form of imperatives but are a series of strong indicatives – they are announcements or pronouncements of blessing to the desperate and needy (the arrival of the ‘Year of the Lord’s Favour’ – the true ‘Year of Jubliee’ – with Jesus himself)- they are not rewards for the virtuous. The teaching that follows is both descriptive of the freedom that Jesus himself brings, and prescriptive for those who are set free by him. It is because the Kingdom of God (the liberating reign of God) has now come in Jesus that the way of life described in the sermon is possible. We are called by Jesus to follow him. There can be no following without his call and no call without the expectation to follow. The gracious presence of Jesus himself frees us for a new and exciting way of living with him as the sermon both describes and prescribes.

– David McGregor

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