If the Christian is honestly convinced that God is calling him out of the world into a special family; if he is honestly convinced that happiness and complete fulfillment come only through hearing God’s summons, then this conviction will have a drastic effect on the Christian’s conduct.
The ethics of the Christian are those that Jesus taught, and they are summed up in the Sermon on the Mount. These Beatitudes are the ethics of the Christian, just as the 10 Commandments are the ethics of the Jews. The teachings are not ethics that are beyond reach. They are not impracticable, but can be applied to everyday life, and in all situations. Jesus hearers noted that He spoke as one having authority. Never did he indicate that his teaching could be modified in any way. Jesus never said that these were the highest ethics to be attained, but that man could gradually grow to them. Nor did he say that these were to be practiced on Sunday, but could be let go during the week. His judgments and commands were absolute. It was the same when he summoned men for service. Jesus did not ask if men would come with him. He called them and told them to follow. There was even a certain ruthlessness about him, as he summoned his followers to face difficulties and danger and even death. Compromise was impossible. “He that is not with me is against me.,” He said.
So we must admit that Jesus claimed final and absolute authority. There was no tampering with His ethics or with his teachings concerning the Kingdom of God.
Before considering the application of the ethics of Jesus to modern life, it is necessary to remember certain acts.
First, we must remember the difference between a law that is not practiced and a law that is not practicable. For example, we know that the laws of sanitation are universal. Filth breeds disease, but just because sanitation is not practiced in certain areas of the world doesn’t mean that the laws of sanitation aren’t practicable. Also, just because Christian ethics aren’t practiced all over the world doesn’t mean that they aren’t practicable. The same consideration applies the criticism of Christian ethics as being “visionary.” When a system of ideas is described as visionary, the usual implication is that they cannot be put into operation. But what is visionary in one age is not visionary in another.
Another thing to remember about the ethics of Jesus is that they were based on, and assumed the truth of the Hebrew ethics. Jesus said that he came not to destroy the law, but to confirm it. For instance, Jesus gave no teachings about the family. All necessary teachings had been covered in the Law. Christian ethics cannot be considered as something apart from Hebrew ethics, but as something built on the Hebrew ethics. When the student of Christian ethics finds a problem which is not specifically treated within the New Testament, he is not absolved from consideration of the moral issues. Rather, he is obligated to determine and understand the principles behind the Old Testament teaching.