Church Education Trust

Christian Belief

ST008/5 Individual Ethics.


"Ourselves", The Ethics of the Individual. 

The ethics of the individual deal with our duty towards ourselves within the orbit of our own conduct in so far as it has reference to ourselves as individual moral agents. We are social creatures and it is therefore impossible to cut ourselves off completely from social implications even in this section.

We are, however, thinking particularly of our attitude to ourselves. We can think of this attitude along two lines:-

  1. Ourselves in our living, i.e. ourselves and providence, persecution and temptation;
  2. Ourselves in our being, i.e. the government of the body, soul and the spirit.

Before embarking on the subject in this way it will be helpful to consider the words of Christ which would seem to form the basic principle of individual ethics. The words in question are, "If any man come unto and hate not his father and mother and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple." (Luke 14:26-27).

This is not regeneration; this goes beyond; regeneration is but the beginning. This is the way of life. Christ is speaking to disciples, learners and this is the basic principle for living the Christian life. It is the way of self-renunciation as against self-expression and self-assertion.

The final words are "his own life also". It is sadly possible; to renounce everything except ourselves and our right to ourselves (to use Oswald Chambers' expression), as many a monk and nun has found.

(A.) Ourselves in Our Living.

Ourselves and Providence. Providence is that which comes to us without our asking and which is beyond our control. The New Testament has a number of admonitions to give in such circumstances, We are to be "patient in tribulation" (Rom.12:12), to "rejoice in the Lord alway" (Phil,4:4) "pray without ceasing, in everything; give thanks" (1 Thess.5:17,18).

It seems that the scriptural pattern is to recognize no second causes and to refer everything, back to God. We are to seek to discover what is God's will in our circumstances and to accept it gladly. On the other hand we are to refuse that which we know is not His perfect will.

But whether we accept or refuse, all is to be taken with an attitude of thanksgiving and a spirit which eagerly seeks to discover what God wants to teach us in it all. A married couple on their honeymoon received a telegram to the effect that all their possessions had been destroyed in a fire. The man said to his wife "Never mind, dear, we still have each other", And we could have added "and God".

a.Ourselves and Persecution. 

Persecution is that which comes to us as a result of our testimony to the work of Christ and His Cross in our lives, and also as a result of our opposition to godlessness and evil. It is the offence of the cross, the offence that comes through being one with a crucified Saviour.

It is possible to bring persecution on ourselves through foolish, rather self-assertive, tactless testimony and rebuke. This must be guarded against. Our Lord says that when we are persecuted for righteousness sake, we are to rejoice and be exceeding glad (Matt.5:10-12). Acts tells us that the early disciples did just this.

b.Ourselves and Temptation.

Temptation is inevitable in a sinful world. It can come in various ways and from various sources. It can come from sin within us or from sin without, appealing to something wrong or weak within. It can also come through our natural appetites or as a result of infirmity. Likewise it can come from the world or from Satan, and he often works through oppression and where possible, depression.

The means for overcoming temptation are the blood of the Lamb (for cleansing and protection) the word of testimony (i.e. the declaration and affirmation of our faith in Christ's power and Lordship) discipline and resistance. (See Rev.12:11; 1 Cor.9:26,27; James.4:7; 1 Peter 5:9).

(B) Ourselves in Our Being.

This section is divided into three not because of any necessary belief in human nature being trichotomous in its constitution, but because it is a simple classification to enable us to consider the control and direction of the bodily side of our nature, the emotional and intellectual side and the spiritual side.

a.The body.

The body is to be the temple of the Holy Spirit. (1 Cor.6:19). While it can be a nuisance, it is important and needs to be kept in place (1 Cor.9:26,27). It is the only vehicle through which we can express ourselves and our work. It can have a great effect on the spiritual side of our lives and especially on the emotional side.

The nature of our bodily life can also have a great influence on the people we are seeking to reach with the Gospel, and to whom we are recommending Christ. There are four simple rules concerning the body.

  1. Keep it fit, while not pandering to it, treat it properly; give it a reasonable amount of fresh air, exercise, relaxation and sleep; eat sensibly and, when possible, avoid food which you know is bad for you. Fasting is for the invigoration and health of the body, and to clear the mind for prayer; and not for purely ascetic reasons.
  2. Keep it clean - "cleanliness is next to godliness" is not far from the truth; keep every part of it clean. The following is from a Christian Youth Digest:
    "Pray every night and shave every morning.
    Keep your conscience clean, also your linen.
    Let your light shine, and shine your shoes.
    Press your advantages, your opportunities, and your trousers.
    Brush the cobwebs from your brain and the dandruff from your collar."
    Clothe it properly - clothing does count; do not follow all the fashions; discover what is decent, suitable and discreet for yourself and keep to it within reason whatever fashions do; endeavour to dress so that others will feel you are dressed neatly and well and yet hardly know what you are wearing.
  3. Keep it controlled - the experience of the new birth and entire sanctification do not compel our appetites and habits to be what they should be; the life has to be disciplined and habits have to be forced; control, direction and discipline produce the best in every realm of nature; the body is a good servant but a tyrannical master.
  4. The Mind and the Soul. These two cover emotional and intellectual sides of our nature. We all tend to be lop-sided in one way or another and our intellectual and emotional powers need development to prevent their running along one particular groove.

We are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. In these realms also there must be Direction - "Set your affections on things that are above" (Col.3:1); they must be trained in the right direction.


Our thinking must be disciplined; "whatsoever things are true, etc., think on these things" (Phil,4:8); our thought life largely governs the remainder of our being; what we think, we are and will do.


When speaking of conscience, it was suggested that this needs educating; also we need an increasing knowledge of the law and ways of God and of the nature and working of things around us; all this comes by learning. "Give attention to reading" the mind needs to be cultivated and not allowed to atrophy or get into ruts.

d.The Spirit.

The spiritual side of our beings has its own reaction in communion with God and also it has its reaction to the world. The fundamentals of our spiritual reaction both to God and the world can be found in the Beatitudes.

These include self-renunciation, feeling for others, meekness, righteousness, mercy, purity of heart, the being peacemakers and rejoicing in persecution. The spiritual is the most important part of our being and needs to be cared for and developed.

In his second epistle Peter speaks twice of the importance of growth and of adding to our spiritual life (chap.1:3-8 & 3:18). For this growth worship, study, the means of grace and witness are essential. They are the food, air and exercise of the soul.

There are undoubtedly problems in the ethics of our personal life. Because of our sinful past there are often scars and faults which would not have been there otherwise. Likewise we do not really know ourselves and only the Holy Spirit can give us a true understanding of our condition and need.

Around us there are evil powers and forces pressing in upon us the whole time and we are very much on probation still. The secret of all is that the spring of our ethical action be right, i.e. that we have faith,hope and love and that we are seeking to live our lives aright because we have our eyes on the Supreme Good and because we have real love for the Lord Jesus Christ.

Life is not a bed of roses and is not meant to be, but if we have a new source of life in our love for Jesus Christ, then even discipline can be enjoyable and there can be a thrill even in duty. The athlete training for the Olympics, the oarsman training for the Boat Race, does not find his training and discipline irksome.

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