Christian Ethics 2022

Principles for Making Wise Ethical Decisions

Apr 24, 2023 2:21:00 PM / by Mark Bailey

This General Session was recorded live at the Shepherds 360 Church Leaders Conference in Cary, NC on October 17, 2022. For information about the next conference, please visit




Well, good afternoon. Thank you for being here and what a privilege it is to be back at Shepherds. It is a sister school to Dallas Seminary, a partner school with Dallas Seminary. It was my privilege to write the recommendation for the ATS that Shepherds be accepted into the Association of Theological Schools.


And so very supportive and it's privileged to team ministry together with them and with this conference. Again, it's a, a joy to be back. And so those of you who are new, welcome, those of you who are returning, thanks for showing up. I appreciate it. I appreciate it. We're here to talk about right decisions, right and wrong decisions.


I'm reminded that you can make good choices and you can make bad choices. But in that, the words of that, eminent theologian, yogi, He said, if you ever find a fork in the road, take it. That's a typical yogi bear. Okay. He says the future isn't anything like it was before and things like that.


But what road to take on decision making? There's big decisions and there's small decisions, and we'll talk about that a little bit. But CS Lewis has a great quote that many of you have heard or read. Every time you make a choice, you're turning that central part of you that chooses. Into something a little different than it was before, and taking your life as a whole with all your enumerable choices, all your life long, you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature or into a hellish creature.


In my time together with you, I, I wanna share with you three things. I wanna share with you a principle I wanna share with you, a personal illustration. And then I want to turn to a passage that supports that principle. I, I heard it years ago and it became very meaningful to me in my family as Barbie and I were seeking to raise two boys in godliness.


And this is the principle. It's a paraphrase of a biblical concept. God is not mocked. Whatever a man sows that will, he also reap. You can choose your actions or you can choose your consequences, but you can't choose both. Now, let me illustrate it. If you want peas, you can't plant corn. If you want corn, you can't plant beets.


You could choose your action, but that action then has consequence. If you choose consequence, you've given up the right to make actions that would be contrary to. Conscience or that, that that consequence. As far as a personal illustration, it was my privilege, with my two boys. We started very early doing what we called alone time with dad.


They’re now both grown men. They're two of my best friends along with their wives. And we all came attend the same church. Ironically, we all sit in the same pew, including my teenage grandchildren and the younger ones. And we eat together, we play vacation together. We have a blast. There and God has been gracious to us, but I started with the boys when they were four, taking them out one day a week for breakfast and we called it alone time with Dad.


And in that alone time with dad, we drew on a lot of napkins and we drew on a lot of place mats cuz I think a little bit visually and I think a little bit, spatially. And so Josh, when he, my oldest son, when he became a, a teenager in his sort of a, as he began to go through his teens. I took him out late one night instead of breakfast.


We went out late one night at Cheddar's Coffee Shop on I 20 in Little Road in Arlington, Texas, and he was beginning to drive and he was thinking about dating. And so I did a little drawing on a napkin and I'll show you sort of a, a, a, a diagram of it. And I, I chose, I said, son, I, I wanted to talk about driving with you, and I used this principle.


You can choose your actions or you can choose your consequences, but you can't choose. I said, if you never want to be the cause of a serious injury or a fatality because of the way you drive, if that's the consequence or outcome that you desire, what does this mean on how you'll drive? Well, he's a bright kid.


His mother raised him.


If you drive recklessly, you've given up the right of consequence. If I never want to have that consequence, I have to drive carefully. I said, you're right. And we talked through that because, if you drive a little bit erratically, you don't know how somebody's gonna respond to you. You don't know how, whether there's a police car waiting to give you a ticket.


We, you don't know whether you'll cause an accident or you don't know what'll happen in that accident. But you've given up the right of choice of consequence if you choose to arrive recklessly. And then we started talking about dating. And beyond dating when he would move toward more serious relationships.


But at that time, it was still an important conversation to have with him and a delicate one. And I said to him, if you never want to be the recipient or the transmitter of an std, a sexually transmitted disease, if you'd never want to be the recipient and you never want to be the transmitter of an std, what does that say about your.


And he, again, not ignorant at all, said, I, I can't be with anybody who has, and God's designed how purity and wholeness health and relationship can move into marriage. He wasn't on that occasion and I've not had to have that conversation with him, but, I understand with failure and repentance and forgiveness.


I understand God's recovery plan for that, but I was wanting to talk protectively at that point. Not recovery. We had a wonderful conversation. I I drew it out on a napkin. I still have that Cheddar's napkin. I thought later, Shirley, God has spoken to these issues of choices and consequences because here, excuse me, here's sort of what I laid out on the.


There's actions and there's consequences, and you can choose your actions or you can choose your consequences, but you can't choose both. Now there's some choices that I want to make. There's some choices that I have the privilege of making at that time. What school to attend for him as he was thinking about college.


Ultimately, what person or what person to, to date or later to marry. We get to choose what job we'll take. We get to choose what vehicle we want to buy. You know, lease or whatever, where'd I live, what to eat. We have all of those choices that we want to make and that we get to make. But there's also some choices that I'm faced with that I don't want to make.


I just do not have to make them. We buried five family members, both of our parents and my older brother. I've buried, a set of premature twins in a shoebox for a young couple When I was pastor. I've done a funeral for suicide. I was privileged to serve in that capacity, but that's not something I would ever choose nor want to have to do.


There's things I don't want to do, but I have to do. How to respond to difficult diagnosis, how to face the loss of a family member or a friend. How to, in my role as academic dean and then the faculty member, how to release an employee. Dismiss a faculty member how to respond rightly to offenses or abuse from another person.


There's times I really don't want to but have to live by faith. When everything around me incites, frustrations, fear, and if I'm not careful, anger, there's times I am a little reluctant, but still need to take a stand for God's standards of morality when the majority of the culture disagrees. So we talked about things we get to choose and things we have to choose.


And I said that, along the way comes information and on the other side, influence. There's information in books, there's information that's available. There's people who are also available and those are, can be called influencers. If you're not up on it, there are nano influencers, micro influencers, macro influencers, and mega and celebrity influencers.


And it all depends on how many followers they have. Back at that time, we didn't have the internet, we didn't have this, thank goodness, but my teenage grandchildren were talking about it all the time. With media, there's social media, there's movies, there's books with people, there's peers, there's teachers, there's coaches, parents, family members all have incredible potential.


In the decision making. And so my question to him is, what information will you get and what kind of counsel will you receive and where would you go to help get questions answered for making wise decisions, where do you go from here? Well, the ultimate choice and consequence that we talked about was eternal.


And he had come to know Christ. He had expressed his faith in Christ. That wasn't a question, but the ultimate decision is an ultimate consequence, as you all know. But there's also along the side of that, there's a every day we have choices. Do I respond in faith, in obedience and wisdom and righteousness?


Do I respond in unbelief, just not believing God, the ultimate question that began at all in the garden, did God really say, has God. That's the beginning of every decline, disobedience, foolishness, unrighteousness. So I wanna take you to a passage of scripture if you have your Bibles turned with me to Deuteronomy chapter 30.


I went home and I said, God has to have given us some plans about this, and my napkin looks so good. I was sort of proud of it, not egotistically, but I thought, man, this, this really worked. It was one of those conversations that really worked, and most of it was because of how my son was respond. So I went home and I actually got outta concordance and I said, what are all the places it says “choose,” “choice,” et cetera, et cetera.


And I landed, I landed in Deuteronomy, and it's been a favorite passage for a long time. Deuteronomy, if you follow the scholarship really replicates from God's perspective, the basic outline of an ancient scissor and vassal treaty where a big king makes a contract with a little. And if the little people are loyal to the Big King, the big king provides these kinds of protections and blessings and things.


And, there's been some in incredible work that's done going all the way back, almost 75 years ago. To people who have worked on this topic. Kenneth Kitchens and Meredith Klein and George Menden Hall from a more evangelical perspective. Cleon Rogers, Dr. Eugene Merrill, Michael Garanti, and some others more.


And, what we find is in that in that basic outline of the book of Deuteronomy, would you like those curtains?


I sort of like 'em, so we'll do it again.


Things you do in the hotel room when you're trying to get ready. All right. But what you'll see, What you'll see, you, you have a preamble. And again, the parallels are phenomenal and God, like using koine Greek for New Testament times used illustrations from the culture and frameworks from the culture to communicate his will and ways to his people.


And he did that through this covenant structure where you have a preamble and a covenant mediator, then you have a historical prolog. How has this king worked with this people in times past? How, how did we get to this point in. And then the stipulations of Covenant Life in chapter five through 26, and then the sanction section of Covenant ratification in 27 through 30.


And then who, if I could say it in Arizona terms, in a state in which I grew up, who's gonna run the truck stop in tuba City when I'm gone, who's gonna take over when the one who's in charge dies? And you have that whole ceremony with Moses to Joshua outlined in the last.


But it's in that section, the, the fourth section where we have the sanctions of covenant ratification, where you have a ratification ceremony beginning in chapter 27, the Blessings and the Cursings, and that's what's been called in theology, though it's probably not a good name because of the, it's not really historical.


The Palestinian Covenant, the Land Covenant, I would call it a renewal in 29 to 30. In that section, you have a summons to the covenant to rehearse what God has. The revelation of who God is. You have a reminder of why obedience is so important. Then you have the subjects of the covenant, the covenant, and the oath with a new generation and deutero.


Deuteronomy means the second law. God needed to re repeat the law for a new generation there in Moab on the banks of the Jordan prior to the entry with Joshua. So it's a whole new generation that needs to know what, what has God promised and what will God. So you, you have this covenant and oath and a confirmation of a new identity with these people.


And then there's a rehearsal of the severity of the covenant, a warning against idolatry of the danger of presumption. Examples of what will happen if they don't obey, if they're, if they use treachery to respond to God's covenant love. And then he reminds them of the security of that covenant and the nature of God's revel.


The need that when they are disciplined and if they're taken and when they're taken, he actually anticipates them, blowing it, going outta the land. What will it take for them to come back in the land and live in security? And then he finishes that section with the sanctity of the covenant and he actually talks about the the real possibility, which I love, of what happens when you do obey.


And then you have the practicality of what does it really mean if you choose to comply. It's in that little tiny section at the end of chapter 30 that we draw our attention to that final paragraph of this section of covenant ratification. I know it's Israel. I know it's an Old Testament passage, but hang on.


I'm not ignorant for the progress of Revelation. We'll get the New Testament. He says in Deuteronomy chapter 30, beginning in verse 15, he says, see, I have set before you today life and prosperity, and. And adversity in that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in his ways, to keep his commandments and his statutes and his judgements that you may live and multiply, and that the Lord, your God may bless you in the land where you are entering to possess it.


Then he says, but contrast if your heart turns away and you will not obey and you're drawn away. You're suckered away to worship other gods and serve them. I declared to you today that you will surely perish. You'll not prolong your days in the land where you're crossing the Jordan to enter and to possess it.


What a passage. You can choose your actions, or you can choose your consequences. You can't choose both. Listen to the alternating pattern. It's fabulous. The consequence, life, prosperity, death, adversity. He asked you to go to the end of the line and say, where will this end? And think about that and make that choice the right choice.


When you do, if that's the consequence that you choose, then your actions are automatic. Your actions are confined to his precepts, walking his ways. Keep his commandments, the statutes and the judgements. Those three words are found so often together to talk about the full orb life as a covenant community.


And then he goes back to consequence if you wanna live and multiply and blessing and possessing, but however, covenant disloyalty will result in the exact opposite of those wonderful blessings that Yahweh wants to be stole upon his people choices. If you turn your heart. If you will not obey, if you are drawn away to worship and serve other gods, if you make those choices, then the consequences you will perish.


You'll not prolong your days in the land. I love it, the land of blessing. Now I want to draw your attention to verses 19 and 20 to see the importance of every decision that we make. But did you catch what he was doing? He was saying. I, I want you to choose the consequence. I'll tell you what actions will get you there, but I want you to make a choice.


If you decide that this will be the way you finish. If this is the way you want things to turn out, if you want to do it my way, you don't have the option of saying, I might or might not do it your way, because you can only choose one, and that'll govern the.


Dr. Demi was in a, we were in a panel discussion on ethics yesterday in the ABF sections here at the church, and I loved what he said. Every day is an ethics day, and ironically, three times in this passage, he talks about the urgency of that. Today. Today, today. That gets repeated in the New Testament as you know that there's no better day than today to make the right decisions, whether it's for.


To become a believer or whether it's the obedience of today that God would like. But look at verses 19 and 20. He said, I, I, I want to call heaven and earth. He says, I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I've set before you notice what he says, that I've set before you life and death.


The blessing and the curse. He repeats that. So I love this. So choose what? Say it. So choose life. Choose life. Are you listening to the music of life or are you listening to the music of death? Are you watching the programs that speak to life or are you watching the programs that take you to death?


Are you thinking the thoughts? Of the spirit that are life and peace, or you're thinking the thoughts of the flesh, which is death.


Paul said, walk by the spirit and you'll not fulfill the desires of the flesh for the flesh sets. It's a desire against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh. These two are in opposition to one another. Now watch this, he says so that you can't do what you want to do. He's writing to Galatian. And telling them they can't do what they want to do.


Why? Because our default is always to the flesh. You say, well, I'm not sure that's mine. When somebody cuts you off on the freeway, it scares you and you have those emotions of fight, flight, or fright. I dare say your first emotion is not, oh, may the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord cause his face to shine upon you and give you peace.


And I dare say that's not your thought to a person sitting on the other side of the politics. My son's a coach. Even though it's a Christian school, I pray against the other team. My thoughts are not, I hope they win. I'm selfish. I want my son's team to win. And I've thought through two Christian schools playing each other.


Which one does God like? And I try not to think. Any thoughts after that?


Would you catch by loving, he says. The importance of this that I've set before you, life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live and your descendants by loving the Lord your God, by obeying his voice, by holding fast to him. For this is your life and length of your days that you may live in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, to give them, excuse me, I I know very well.


That the blessings and the disciplines for a New Testament believer are different than for the nation of Israel. But I want you to notice a couple of things in these last couple verses. Number one, as we make decisions that have ethical implications, obviously every decision does. Every decision is a cosmic decision.


Every decision is a cosmic. What do I mean by that? He says, I call heaven and earth to witness against you Today. I don't like the word against, but heaven and earth are called as God's witnesses. You see it in Deuteronomy 4 26 in eight 19 and here listen to it from four twenty six. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that you will surely perish quickly from the land where you're going over to the Jordan to possess it.


You will not live long in it, but will be utterly destroy. And God did it at a micro level during the period. The judges, he does it at the macro level with Israel and Judah, but one of the standard divisions in that su and Vassel treaty format. At this point in the structure, it contained the invocation of the god's of the Lord and vassal, the serin and the vasal.


As divine witnesses in their polytheistic, pagan things, they would call on the names of those gods to be witnesses to the covenant. Well, God calls his creation and I think heaven and earth as we see it parallel another passage. It's simply a, a euphemism for God himself and best. Basically God says I and everything I've made stand as a witness to what I'm telling you is.


You can take it to the bank.


Number two, every decision is critical. Every decision is not only cosmic, it's seen by God, it's witnessed by the universe. God knows Jesus in that introductory section, but right just before ni, Nicodemus and John chapter one, and. And the end of two, right before three, there were Jews who believed in him while he, they were beholding the signs which he was doing.


But it says this, but Jesus did not believe to them because he knew what was in their hearts. And you've got the classic example right then of who Nicodemus, who was a Jew that knew that Jesus had come from God. Nobody could do the things that he was doing except God be with him. He knew all the right things about God and what God could do with people.


He just didn't have an adequate. Yes, because Jesus knew his heart and that's why he moved in on him. Unless you get born again, you can't see the kingdom. Unless you're born by the spirit, you won't get there. And so, God knows every decision and every decision is a critical decision because he says, I've set before you life and death in the near term, physically in the far term, eternally, the blessing and the curse.


Well repeated here in summary, Deuteronomy 11, 26 and 27 records that instruction in more detail that says, once they get into the land, they were to recite the whole list of the blessings and the cursings at Mount Eal and at Mount Garine. It was so important for them to understand what would happen if we obeyed, what would happen if we disobey, what would be the consequences for those kinds of actions, and the reminder of the covenant relationship included the reminder of the stipulations.


And the sanctions that came with it. But thirdly, not only is every decision cosmic, every decision is critical to mine, the spirit, his life to mine, the flesh, his death. That's pretty critical. Every decision is also consequential. It's consequential. Why So choose life. He comes back. So choose life that you and your descendants may live.


May live, is concluding challenges to make. The right choice is to focus on that ultimate consequence. It matters to you the one who's listening. It matters to those who would follow after you. Your life is at stake. Your legacy is at stake and choices. Are there to assure that consequence and there's not options to them.


We give up the right to argue about it. We give up the right to redefine what God said. We, we don't get to adjust God. We have to trust God. We don't get to adjust his word. We have to trust his word, and as the Bible says, all of his words are true. If that's not true in any one of those passages, then none of it is.


It falls or stands as a testimony to itself. Every passage of scripture, PaaS in Greek, every single passage is the result of the spirit of God. God. Nu is from the spirit. Puma tosses a suffix. That means the result of, I know it's translated breath or inspir. That's because in English, expired is sort of a bad word, but God breathing out is often we've done it more literally.


But I think in, in light of the parallel between two Peter one and two Timothy three, no scripture came of any private origination nor personal interpretation. But men of God spoke as they were moved along, buoyed along by the Holy Spirit. And these are men who spoke from God, carried along by the spirit.


So I take it that every passage of scripture is the result of the spirit of God, and that's why every passage is profitable in one proportion or another to doctrine, reprove, correction, or instruction that the man of God, the child of God, the servant of God, might be equipped, thoroughly equipped to do most good works.


That's not in your Bible. What's the last phrase? Say? Do you believe in the sufficiency of the scripture for the totality of your ministry? How about the, for the totality of your life? God's given us all things Peter says, for life and godliness. We're not waiting on him for something new. We've already got everything we need for life and for godliness.


It's our life and it's our legacy and the choices that we make. What assures that? Loving the Lord our. Loving love is placed first in Deuteronomy six, five in the great Israeli shaah hero, Israel, the Lord our God. The Lord is one, and you shall love the Lord your God. That precedes all of the teaching.


Ironically, it also ends all of the teaching according to Paul's summary of what Jesus said. If all the Old Testament hangs on the law on two commandments: loving God and loving others, Paul says in one Timothy one, Five. The, the goal of our instruction is not instruction. The goal of every sermon you give, every lesson you teach is not the lesson.


It's not the instruction. The ultimate goal, the tell us of your teaching, the tell us of your preaching is love. Is love, love for God with an unsegmented heart, a love for others in a unselfish manifest. But it's a qualified love quo goes up. Paul goes on to say from a pure heart KA card, a catheterized heart, spiritually speaking, a good conscience holding all things together in your heart, in your mind, and say it's good.


It's an undivided life and it's an uncritical, literally. Ah, hypocrite, uncritical faith. It's a love that's been trans. By the power of God's word and God's spirit, and the goal of all of our teaching is that kind of a transformed love, obeying his voice, holding fast to him. Michael Grisanti in his expo's Bible commentary.


Commentary on this. List out these covenantal terms that you find so many times in Deuteronomy. Here. Love, serve, walk, ober, observe, revere. Hold fast, keep carefully, observe. Do what is right. Listen. Why he gives us the rationale for New American standards. Says it or, But the Hebrew, followed by the esv, csv, et cetera, says, “and He is your life.”


God is the secret to your life. He is your life. And in essence, the length of your days portion is with the Lord. Our decisions should be linked to our relationship with. He's our life. He holds the keys to our future. He's the key to life as God intended it to be lived. He goes on to say for their, that audience in that time that you may live in the land, which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to give them in the land occurs nine different times in the, in the, in the land as a promise of the covenant.


Nine different times in Deuteronomy, just by itself. I think what he's saying is you can trust God to keep what he's. Whether to Israel or to the church, we can keep what God has said and we can keep it sacred because God chooses to keep what he has said sacred.


The blessings of the dis disciplines are different, but listen to what Paul says in Romans 15, four. He says it this way, for everything that was written in the. Was written to teach us so that through, I love this endurance taught in the scriptures and the encouragement they provide. Stay with it. It's worth it.


Endurance. Encourage. As a result of that, we have hope. In one Corinthians 10 11, he says, these things happen to them as example. Were written down as warnings for us on whom the accumulation of the ages has come. A close with a very special section of John 15 that has become very precious to me at the end of John 15, one to 11, where he is talking about abiding in Christ.


He says this and, and watch the movement. There's a, an ebb and flow in this relationship just as the father loved Christ. He says, just because the Father as loved father has loved me. I've loved you abide in my. Live there. This is a father through Christ experience that you and I get to have of abiding in the love of God, our experience of his love, our loving response to him.


We love him because he first loved us, but then watch the flow backwards and he says, if you keep my commandments, you'll abide in my love. Watch this just as I have kept my father's commandments. And abide in his love. You and I get to partake of a unity of the father and the son that John loves to illustrate in multiple passages in that that gospel and that unity is one of the greatest testimonies to the world that God has sent his son.


And that's why a conference like this becomes so much fun.


If you're wondering. Sort of walking away from a passage like this, a decision that you need to make. Can you check these boxes? The truth box, has God spoken into this issue either directly or indirectly? There's commands, there's principles, there's precepts. There's also great wisdom in the scriptures.


The love box does my decision, demonstrate both a love for God as well as that love for my neighbor. A prayer box, have I seriously taken this to the Lord in an honest pursuit? Do I really care that he listens and am I willing to listen to him? The obedience box, I think that what governs our unusual decisions is that we're living in a pattern of conformity to God's precepts on a regular basis.


It's, it's not a future shock that, oh, I'll do it God's way. This is the way God has been leading. This is the way God has been working. This is in keeping with God his ways, his works obedience box. Is there a wisdom box? I can check. I've sought the, sought out good and godly counselors. Those two are not always the same.


I know a lot of good godly people that aren't necessarily good counselors, and I know some good counselors because of the model of Proverbs that didn't necessarily come from believers. God spoken to us in his world and his well, as in His word, and especially in his son, but there's wisdom to be had from the way God has worked in the world.


Over time. Have I sought out good in godly counselors? The testimony box, will this action enhance or will it undermine my witness of Christ? And finally, how about the legacy box?


Will those who follow after me as Steve Green sings, find us faithful? Will they look through what we've left? Will they have watched our lives in the decisions that we make? Well, we have. We lived up to our own council with our kids. Can I look across the table and say, son, please follow me as I follow Christ.


And I want you to know it works to follow God. Son, don't ever forget, he as an all wise, all loving God who knows the in from the beginning, knows the best way he wants us to live. These are just some background into the foreground. All of these, so much more competent ethicists this week are gonna. It's not my field.


I'm in awe. I've been reading in my hotel room some of their books. I'm glad to be here. I hope you are too. Let's pray. Father in heaven, thank you for this passage tucked into this great book. It reinforces that thought that it really does matter what we choose because of where it leads. Thank you that we can trust in you with all of our hearts and not lean on our own understanding, but in all of our ways, acknowledge you and you can set out the paths that are the right way to go.


You lead us in paths of righteousness for your namesake, and may that be our prayer as well. We asking Jesus name. Amen.

Topics: Christian Ethics, Ethics in Christian Ministry

Mark Bailey

Written by Mark Bailey

Dr. Mark L. Bailey began his time with Dallas Theological Seminary in 1985 as a professor in the Bible Exposition department. In 1997, he was appointed as vice president for Academic Affairs and Academic Dean. In 1999, he was appointed to the role of Provost. In March 2001, Dr. Bailey was named as the Seminary’s fifth president in its 96-year history. After nineteen years as president, he transitioned to the role of chancellor in July 2020. For over 40 years, his career passions have been theological education and pastoral ministry. He pastored in various churches in Arizona and Texas and has also led numerous tours to Israel and the Middle East. His board service includes Bible Study Fellowship, International Alliance for Christian Education, Walk Thru the Bible Ministries, and Word of Life. Dr. Bailey and his wife, Barby, have been married over 48 years. They have two married sons and six grandchildren.

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