Morality – “1. The quality of being in accord with standards of right or good conduct
2. A system of ideas of right and wrong conduct”
Ends – “Something toward which one strives”
Means – “A method to attain an end”
(American Heritage Dictionary)
Ubiquitous Che asked the following question in response to my last post:
Is living a moral life a means to an end, or is it an end in itself?
If living a moral life is a means to an end, what is the end?
If living a moral life is an end in itself, what’s so special about it?
… I’m genuinely curious to know your answer whichever two of the above three questions are relevant to your worldview.
This question is important because it hits the crux of what makes Christianity unique. Let me deal with the possibilities of morality being an ends and morality being a means, and then I will give my answer in regards to the Christian worldview.
For most religious worldviews, living a moral life is a means – it is the method used to attain salvation. A code of right and wrong, often including mandatory religious observances, must be kept. If it is kept perfectly enough as determined by the particular system, the devotee may attain the system’s view of paradise, be it a literal place, a state of mind, or even the cessation of consciousness itself.
It should be noted that this category includes not only the religiously devout, but also those everyday nominals who view themselves as generally “good people” and whose view of God fosters the belief that this will get them to heaven. Again in this case morality is a means – being a “good person” gets one into heaven.
On the opposite end of the spectrum we find the humanistic worldviews, which view morality as an end in itself. Adherents of this perspective often view the goal of their lives as doing good things. There is no eternal purpose in all this, no end to attain or ultimate reward to reap. Even for the one who does seek recognition, I will categorize them here because of a lack of eternal end. Morality is the goal because they believe this life is all there is and it should be lived the best we can.
Now to the question at hand. I am answering in regards to Christian morality because this is the worldview which I defend as the only fully coherent and consistent one. I am referring to a biblically Christian morality – one that adheres to the Bible. I am not talking about people who merely call themselves Christians but fail to live within the moral framework of their profession.
Biblically speaking, morality is not an end in itself. It is true that there would be nothing special about the Christian religion if this were the case.
Neither is Christian morality strictly a means, a way to get to something eternal, in the classic sense.
Now let me qualify those statements lest I confuse some and be met with cries of “heretic” from others.
What do I mean when I say morality is not a means? If we view salvation as the goal of religion, biblically speaking doing good things doesn’t save anyone. The heart of the Gospel message is that all people are born sinful and thus unable to attain salvation by their own means. Anyone less than perfect may not enter God’s presence, which is the essence of eternal salvation in heaven. Because of this, God made a way for mean to be “born again,” spiritually remade as God originally intended, through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. The Bible says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). In biblical Christianity salvation is not attained by means of good morality, but is received by faith.
So what part does morality play in the Christian life? After all, Christians are constantly condemning immoral behavior and crying out on behalf of God’s moral law.
Biblically Christian faith has its outworking, its outward manifestation, in good deeds. The sinful nature everyone is born with is put to death in Christ and a new man is made. The result is someone eager to live a good moral life, not because it will save them from hell and get them into heaven, but because of the love of God that they now possess as a result of the supernatural act of the salvation of their soul. One who has received Christ as Lord desires to serve him with their life. Good morality and good deeds result.
We may end up with a couple different types of people: those who have some sort of morality without having put their faith in Christ; and those who profess Christ but whose lives contradict their profession. For the one who claims their know Christ but does not live a moral life, you can be sure they do not really know him at all, for the Bible says the Christian will produce good “fruit” in keeping with repentance. For the one who has morality without Christ, their morality as an ends still has no significance, and as a means produces no salvation.
To answer the question briefly, Christian morality is neither an end or a means. The end is salvation. The means is Jesus Christ. Morality flows from the faith that flows from the heart of the one who has receives the means so that they may attain the end.