Monday, June 24, 2013

Man: God's Moral Agent


When Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them. Romans 2:14-15


At the time of Moses God gave the Hebrews a set of instructions called God’s Law. Ordinarily, God’s Law refers to the Ten Commandments or Decalogue. This is the Moral Law. However, from the time of Moses to the time of Christ the body of God’s Law also included civil or judicial and ceremonial applications.

Ceremonial Law

Ceremonial Law included the sacrificial system which revolved around the Tabernacle and then the Temple. This was fulfilled when that which it typified appeared. Jesus Christ is THE Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The Ceremonial Law, therefore, was the Gospel or the Good News in picture form, and as such, was displayed to the Hebrews throughout Old Testament times. It is no longer needed now that that which it depicted has come. The Ceremonial Law’s connection to the Moral Law was that it illustrated what needed to be done to atone for sin, i.e., for the individual’s (and the nation’s) breaking of the Moral Law in thought, word and deed.

Judicial or Civil Law

Judicial or Civil Law was simply the application of the Moral Law on a national level, covering such things as how, when and where God was to be worshiped and how the Hebrews were to interact with each other. The Judicial or Civil Law was no longer needed when the nation of Israel was dissolved after Christ’s death and resurrection, but more particularly when the Temple, as predicted by Jesus, was destroyed. The Hebrews were commanded to take the Gospel into all the world.

Soon Gentiles began to be engrafted into the same vine as believing Hebrews as the Gospel began to spread throughout the world beginning from Jerusalem. Thus Israel was no longer a nation with national borders but became that ever-expanding spiritual entity called the Church. The Church is the outward and albeit imperfect expression on earth of the Kingdom of Heaven. However, whether Jew or Gentile, both are one under the headship of Christ Jesus. That which remains of ancient Israel’s Judicial or Civil Law is its general equity or principles.

The Moral Law

The Moral Law is that which is summarised in the Ten Commandments and is summarised again in the command to love God and your neighbour as yourself. The Moral Law is an outward expression of the character of the triune God. The Father loves the Son and the Spirit. The Son loves the Father and the Spirit. The Spirit loves the Father and the Son. Each Person in the Godhead loves God. Thus God from all eternity loves God and His neighbour as Himself.

The Image of God

Only Man is made in the image and likeness of God. Thus Man has been designed and engineered by God to love God and his neighbour as himself. It is when the individual fails to do this that the individual experiences pangs of conscience. The Apostle Paul under inspiration of the Holy Spirit says, “When Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves” Romans 2:14. In other words, God’s Law previously had been given only to the Hebrews. However, even though the Gentiles do not have God’s Law they are still able by nature, i.e., naturally, to do things taught in God’s Law – things like looking after the elderly, the sick and the infirm. They may honour parents and condemn adultery, stealing and lying. Thus, they that do not have the (written) Law, as Paul goes on to say, “show the work of the law written in their hearts.” Therefore, God’s Moral Law, (which reveals God’s character), is written on the heart of every human being.

The Conscience

The Apostle goes on to say how the Moral Law operates in the heart of the individual, i.e., “their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them.” Our conscience judges our thoughts, words, and actions. If we do not meet the moral standard, our conscience accuses us. Thus our conscience is like a little policeman we carry around in our head, who either accuses or excuses us when we involve ourselves in moral decisions and actions.


In summary, the Moral Law given by God through Moses to the ancient Hebrews on tablets of stone is the same Moral Law that is written on the heart of every human being. Our conscience accuses us, not because there is something wrong with God’s Law, rather because there is something wrong with each one of us. The Apostle says that, “we suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” Romans 1:18b. This is to say that because we are fallen we try to keep an internal lid on what may be known of God, (i.e., His character as expressed in His Moral Law as it written in our hearts and witnessed to by the external Ten Commandments).

The Two Ways God Reveals Himself

There are two ways in which God reveals Himself to fallen humanity. The first is twofold: The things He has made and our conscience. And the second is the Scriptures. However, since we are fallen creatures the former cannot properly be understood without the latter. Thus, the Ten Commandments, which are written on stone, confirm that which is written on the heart. In other words, the subjective can be confirmed only by the objective. However, in order to effectively silence an accusing conscience one first has to be reconciled to the Author of the Moral Law!

Military Context

For decades and perhaps centuries those involved in military conflict have encountered people displaying what used to be known as “Shell Shock”, then “Battle Fatigue” and now “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder” (PTSD). PTSD has been defined as, “A fear – victim reaction to a perceived life threat. It has clinical symptoms of flashbacks, nightmares, hyper-vigilance, dissociation.” Then, in America in December 2009, a slightly different (but perhaps related) disorder began to be discussed. It was referred to by psychologist as “Moral Injury.” It has been stated that, “Moral Injury is an inner conflict based on moral self assessment of having inflicted or failed to prevent significant harm. Its symptoms are excessive guilt, loss of meaning, anger and shame.”

“As ‘moral injury’ is more an existential and spiritual crisis than a psychological dysfunction, psychologists have pointed out the limited therapeutic impact that standard cognitive interventions can offer.  The suggestion that effective assistance for moral injury involves some sort of confession and forgiveness within a moral framework has moved the discussion into territory usually covered by chaplains.  The implicit faith-based and moral set of assumptions which under-gird pastoral transactions in chaplaincy are precisely what appears to be needed in repairing moral injury.”[1]


Like all moral dilemmas “Moral Injury” is a problem of the conscience. Oswald Chambers got it right when he said, “Conscience is the internal perception of God’s Moral Law.” Therefore anyone with a conscience is aware of God’s Law. The Apostle Paul says, “The Law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith” Galatians 3:24. Thus, the accusing conscience, by revealing God’s Moral Law on our heart, demonstrates to the individual their need for Christ, the Saviour of sinners. Therefore, the inner conflict of conscience can be remedied by Jesus Christ revealed only in the Gospel.