Saturday, May 30, 2015

The Basis for morality.

The below is an excerpt from my book, 

HOW WELL DO I KNOW GOD? Knowing God: The only Foundation and Fountain of Lasting Fulfillment.”

To see the part of the first section of the book, you can go to:

If you wish to know more about the book email me at 

Now to the excerpt:

d. God loves and values himself: the basis and moral ground for this.

It seems self evident that God loves Himself. But this raises the question of how is it that this act of self-love by God is not selfish? The answer in my opinion gets into the “holy of holies” of the very being of God and why we must not only worship Him, (ascribe worth and value to Him) above all things, but can do nothing else once we fully grasp this. And the more we comprehend this the more we will respond in adoration, awe and love.

First of all it only makes sense that whoever is the greatest, most valuable and most lovely of all beings or things, deserves and elicits the highest affection, admiration and praise of any and all other beings. This certainly makes sense for us but what about God? Wouldn’t this be true also for God Himself? For God to value, love and adore anything above Himself would be morally wrong since He is the highest and most Supreme Being. It would also be hypocritical and insincere for God to value another above Himself since He knows there is no one greater.

On the other hand for us to value ourselves above God is wrong simply because we are not the greatest, most valuable and highest being. He is most valuable, if only because our very existence as well as the rest of creation is dependent on God's existence and sustenance. Simply because God is supreme, God loving and valuing Himself above all others is not only morally right but necessary for everything else to function properly or even exist at all. Therefore God loving Himself is the most loving thing He can do for all the rest of creation.

The great New England theologian, Jonathan Edwards, goes even further to say that God's recognition of His infinite worth as the all Supreme being is not only good but it is also rightfully due Him and therefore the very ground for all morality. To not give proper recognition of His worth is therefore also the basis for all immorality. The following excerpt from Jonathan Edwards’ book, *The End for Which God Created the World, addresses this very point. I have quoted below Edwards’ thoughts regarding this without any comment and repeat the quote again with highlights and comments immediately after.

God’s moral rectitude consists in his valuing the most valuable, namely, himself

That if God himself be, in any respect, properly capable of being his own end in the creation of the world, than it is reasonable to suppose that he had respect to himself, as his last and highest end, in this work; because he is worthy in himself to be so, being infinitely the greatest and best of beings. All things else with regard to worthiness, importance, and excellence, are perfectly as nothing in comparison of him. And therefore, if God has respect to things according to their nature and proportions, he must necessarily have the greatest respect to himself. It would be against the perfection of his nature, his wisdom, holiness, and perfect rectitude, whereby he is disposed to do everything that is fit to be done, to suppose otherwise.

At least, a great part of the moral rectitude of God, whereby he is disposed to every thing that is fit, suitable, and amiable [i.e., pleasant, admirable] in itself, consists in his having the highest regard to that which is in itself highest and best. The moral rectitude of God must consist in a due respect to things that are objects of moral respect; that is, to intelligent beings capable of moral actions and relations. And therefore it must chiefly consist in giving due respect to that Being to whom most is due; for God is infinitely the most worthy of regard. The worthiness of others is as nothing to his; so that to him belongs all possible respect. To him belongs the whole of the respect that any intelligent being is capable of. To him belongs ALL the heart. Therefore, if moral rectitude of heart consist in paying the respect of the heart which is due, or which fitness and suitableness requires, fitness requires infinitely the greatest regard to be paid to God; and the denying of supreme regard here would be a conduct infinitely the most unfit. Hence it will follow, that the moral rectitude of the disposition, inclination, or affection of God CHIEFLY consists in a regard to HIMSELF, infinitely above his regard to all other beings; in other words, his holiness consists in this.”

There is far more that can be said about this excerpt than I have addressed below since I am focusing primarily on the moral aspect addressed in it, so I encourage you to meditate on it long and hard. It is rich with many truths that I will not be commenting on.

God’s moral rectitude consists in his valuing the most valuable, namely, Himself

If what this above section heading says is true, and I believe it is, it stands to reason how much more this would be true of us as well as God. In short, for us to not give proper recognition to God’s value is equally immoral. Though we often think of immoral actions exclusively as those of a sexual nature and though certain instances of sexual behavior is in fact immoral, immorality is far more extensive and in depth than we may normally consider and not determined solely by external behavior. The above and following consideration of immorality explains why certain activities are immoral (sexual or otherwise), i.e. to place such a high regard or value on anything over and above regard for God, no matter in what form the action is manifested, is wrong and in fact a form of idolatry. It just happens that illicit sex throughout history has been one of the more obvious displays of this underlying motivation and disposition. If one values and worships the pleasure of sexual intimacy making it the ultimate pursuit in life over and above intimacy with and pursuit of God then it becomes an act of immorality in the form of idolatry.

(Though this is far less likely within the marriage commitment, we can still pursue sex within marriage for the wrong reasons as well. If we see sex as a gift of God to celebrate the union and fidelity of a committed relationship, it is a reflection of the union within God as well as the union we are to have with God and therefore brings joy to God as well as to us when celebrated in this fashion. The fact is sex is designed to reflect something of the fidelity and intimacy between Christ and his bride, i.e. you and I, the church. That’s why adultery is repulsive to God and why he call’s his children who wander from Him spiritual adulterers).

Stop and consider with me how you or I might be deeply offended for not being given our proper and due respect, appreciation, or recognition for some significant deed we had done. When we are not given our due respect, whether it is by being ignored and not acknowledged for a good deed or maybe by another receiving recognition and credit for our deed, how do we feel? Offended, upset, put off, overlooked, disrespected (dissed) or misused? When this happens we may feel sadness, disappointment, anger, even rage or several other negative emotions. The bottom line is we were not given our due and rightful recognition. As the saying goes, “credit should be given where credit is due.” To say it simply, we were wronged.

So how much more then is God rightfully offended when He is not given His due recognition or respect? If everything is created and sustained solely by God alone, is not all honor and gratitude due Him? Do we live our lives as if this were true? If not, we are not giving God the recognition and gratitude due Him. And if not, we have wronged and offended God.

Now is God offended because He needs our recognition and is more sensitive and more easily hurt than we are when offended? Or is it rather as the sole Creator, Provider and Sustainer of all things, His actions are of infinitely greater significance than ours and to not acknowledge them as such is an infinitely greater offense because it results in infinitely greater harm to us and others, his creatures? The truth is God does not need our thanks or us as I suggested earlier. In reality we are the ones harmed by not giving God His proper respect. Not doing so does not make God any less then he is in any way. He is independent as discussed earlier.

In light of these questions let us go back to Edwards for a closer look, highlighting key words to add to this discussion:

That if God himself be, in any respect, properly capable of being his own end (the reason/goal of all His deeds is to point out His ultimate worth) in the creation of the world, than it is reasonable to suppose that he had respect to himself, as his last and highest end, in this work (i.e. His creation); because he is worthy (most deserving) in himself to be so, being infinitely the greatest and best of beings. All things else (any other created thing or being) with regard to worthiness, importance, and excellence, are perfectly as nothing in comparison of him. And therefore, if God has respect to things according to their nature and proportions, he must necessarily (it is the moral or the right thing to do i.e. to do otherwise would be immoral and also against his very nature as he goes on to say a little later) have the greatest respect to himself. It would be against the perfection of his nature, his wisdom, holiness, and perfect rectitude, whereby he is disposed to do everything that is fit to be done, to suppose otherwise.

At least, a great part of the moral rectitude of God, whereby he is disposed (properly inclined or drawn) to every thing that is fit, suitable, and amiable [i.e., pleasant, admirable] in itself, consists in his having the highest regard to that which is in itself highest and best. (i.e. Himself) The moral rectitude of God must consist in a due respect to things that are objects of moral respect; that is, to intelligent beings capable of moral actions and relations. (this includes us) And therefore it must chiefly consist in giving due (rightly deserved. Something due is something owed) respect to that Being to whom most is due; for God is infinitely the most worthy of regard. The worthiness of others is as nothing to his; so that to him belongs (it is rightfully His and therefore rightfully due to Him. To not give Him due regard/recognition is wrong and the ground for all immorality) all possible respect. To him belongs the whole of the respect that any intelligent being is capable of. To him belongs ALL the heart. Therefore, if moral rectitude of heart consist in paying the respect of the heart which is due, or which fitness (that which is appropriate and therefore right) and suitableness requires, fitness requires infinitely the greatest regard to be paid to God; and the denying of supreme regard (i.e. not praising God and giving thanks to God for who is and what He has done would be the greatest indication of this denial. See Rom 1) here would be a conduct infinitely the most unfit. (inappropriate and therefore wrong; immoral) Hence it will follow, that the moral rectitude of the disposition, inclination, or affection of God CHIEFLY consists in a regard to HIMSELF, (The most right/righteous, moral and holy thing God can do is to value Himself above everything else and seek to draw others to do the same. In turn this is the most righteous thing we also can do. And when we do we are acting like God. “…be holy as I am holy”) infinitely above his regard to all other beings; in other words, his holiness consists in this.”

In summary according to Edwards holiness for God consists in God’s affection for, regard of, inclination toward, and recognition of His infinite worth above everything else.

Throughout the above quote Edwards uses words such as “due, fit, belongs, requires” etc, all words, which have a moral quality, i.e. that which is right or wrong. What this suggests is the grounds for all right and wrong are rooted in the recognition or lacking recognition of God’s true worth. And, this is not only true for us but for God as well, i.e. not only must we recognize this fact, but God by His own nature and determination must as well. All morality is grounded in the very nature and being of God i.e. his infinite worth/glory.

We may have heard that the definition of holiness or sanctification is to “set apart” or refers to something that is “set apart.” I would suggest the reason for this is because that which is of greatest value is separate from all other things, i.e. the reason it is set apart is precisely because of its great value. It would be like going to an art gallery where all the paintings are available for viewing by the general public except one room that holds the rarest and most valuable paintings and is therefore in a secured area that can only be entered with special clearance. These pieces are distinct and separate from all the others and to be looked upon with distinct and separate regard over and above all the others because of their great value. (Does the “holy of holies” come to mind?) 

In John Piper’s footnotes to the above excerpt he adds these thoughts, “Edwards calls God’s regard to himself his ‘holiness.’ It may be more proper to call it God’s ‘righteousness.’ Thus his ‘holiness’ would be the infinite worth that God has in his own estimation, and  his righteousness would be his valuing and respecting that worth without wavering and upholding it in all that he does.” He goes on to state that in the writings of the apostle Paul, “the righteousness of God must be his unswerving commitment always to preserve the honor of his name and to display his glory.”1

Piper distinguishes between righteousness and holiness in that God’s holiness is the grounds for all righteousness, and righteousness is any and all acts that seek to uphold or display His holiness. Holiness addresses how or who God is, righteous addresses what God does. Piper is saying any act that springs forth from a proper recognition of God’s infinite worth is a righteous act. And therefore any act that does not spring forth from a proper recognition of God’s infinite worth would be an unrighteous act, i.e. an immoral, or wicked act. This certainly broadens the definition of morality compared to how it is often defined today. It also places the focus on holiness where it should be. Not on the outward actions alone but the inward disposition that drives those actions.

When it comes to God, all actions on His part must spring forth from the recognition of His own worth with the end being to show forth his infinite worth (glory) to others. This is the basis of holiness and righteousness. And, out of this He tells us to be holy as He is holy. What God is saying is simply do all things for the glory of God just like I do or be holy like I am holy, i.e. do all things with the goal of showing forth my great worth, a worth which is separate and distinct and above the worth of all other things or persons. In this lies the foundation for all moral behavior according to Edwards. This also puts a whole different light for many on what it means to be holy.

According to this definition we are holy when we value God’s worth as it truly is and therefore all efforts to uphold and display his worth are righteous acts. The more we conduct ourselves in this way the more righteous we become. With this understanding, what makes something righteous has more to do with the motive behind the action than with the action itself. It stands to reason then that the opposite would also be true. To not value God’s worth would be unholy, and to not uphold that worth or display it by our actions would be unrighteous (wicked) acts. The more we do not do things in this way the more unrighteous we are. Or, to say it another way, to disregard or ignore the value of God and not seek to show it forth in our attitude/disposition is the basis for all immoral behavior.

This is exactly why God says we are to be thankful for all things. It is the primary disposition that springs from the core recognition that God is the Sovereign Sustainer and provider of all things. He is the all worthy, almighty God and everything we are and have comes from Him and we should thank Him accordingly. Immorality is not merely murder, or an illicit or deviant sexual act or other such external actions only. It goes far deeper than this. Even our legal system historically recognized that motive is key, and that a life taken in self defense verses premeditated murder is totally different. The end result may be the same to the victim, but since the motive is totally different, the degree of morality or immorality of the action (and it's punishment) is as well.

If we stop and think about this and peel back the layers, we will realize that all actions that spring forth from a disregard for God’s true worth are indeed immoral. Often we only consider something immoral or unrighteous simply at the external level when in fact all immoral acts have their root in an inadequate recognition of God’s worth. I will go so far as to say that the impression we are often given (usually by the organized church and religion) that an immoral act is primarily of an external nature such as murder or sex is nothing more than a diversionary tactic by the enemy to keep us from seeing that immorality is rooted in something far deeper, far more basic, more encompassing, more significant, more extensive and foundational than we ever usually consider.

There is a great advantage for us in having a clear understanding on this. To hold the typical external and shallow view of immorality allows us to go about life with little or no recognition of God’s great worth while at the same time conducting ourselves in a way society, especially the religious community (but certainly not God) applauds as moral. As a result we may go about thinking we are quite “good” or “righteous” because we don’t lie, commit murder, adultery or theft when the bible instead calls anything that is not done for the glorify of God, out of a desire to show forth His infinite worth, is wickedness.

The bible characterizes evil when it says,

My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of livings waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold not water” (Jer. 2:13)

What Jeremiah was saying is Israel had gone after things other than God to sustain them, to quench their spiritual, emotional and physical thirst and needs. In effect saying there is something other than God that we value and seek after more than God. This action, forsaking God and seeking things other than God to sustain them, springs from an inadequate and therefore wrong view of God’s worth.

Society, even more so the church itself, are so obsessed with external expressions of “sin” that they completely miss what determines that which makes something “wicked” or “sinful.” Because of this they will say obvious things such as murder or rape is wrong while they may believe prayer is right and always good. Or worse yet, congratulate themselves for avoiding such “unrighteous” behavior. But didn’t Christ warn us not to pray like the Pharisees prayed? Why would He say such a thing? To those with a shallow understanding of sin this makes no sense. That is because they either get hung up or justify an act strictly by the external action. But we get a further hint of what the Bible means by sin in Proverbs when it says “the plowing of the wicked is sinful.” We might wonder how the simple act of plowing can be sinful. But our very wondering only confirms how little we understand the true nature of sin. It is sinful because it is an action done solely for the benefit of the one plowing and not in order to bring honor and glory to God who enables us to plow. How do we know this? This is an underlying theme of scripture for one and the passage says it is the wicked that is doing the plowing.

Let’s see how the bible defines wickedness to get a better understanding. We get a clue in Genesis where the LORD states why He was planning on destroying mankind by a flood when he says,

The LORD saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.” Genesis 6:5

This passage gives us a clue that sin is far more than a simple external behavior; but is in fact also a matter of the heart; and from the Old Testament no less. The external act is simply the outward manifestation of a corrupt heart. Christ confirmed this when he criticized the self-righteous behavior of the religious of his day in the beatitudes. He pointed out that it is not just the action that is wrong but the heart motive that produces the action that is the real concern when he said “you say if a man does… but I say if a man in his heart does…” Matt 5:21-28

Is that your understanding of wickedness? Would you ever say there is a time when praying is wicked? The bible certainly does. This is not what many within the church would consider as wickedness and the core problem but Christ did.

This deeper understanding of morality is encouraging and discouraging at the same time. It encourages us who have been freed from the condemnation of sin through Christ, and have our hearts awakened by His Spirit who indwells us, because God by His Spirit has opened our eyes to see God's true worth and awoke a love for God we did not have before. We now have some awareness of the infinite worth and beauty of Almighty God. As a result we have a hunger for Him. The more clearly we see Him in all His beauty the more we long for Him. Now our focus is to feed, nurture and strengthen that hunger and develop an even clearer and fuller view of God. As we get this clearer view of Him, our desire for him grows and our pursuit of him increases. This produces an outward change in behavior. The point is our focus shouldn’t be on the wrong actions we are so inclined to commit (though we must see them clearly in order to know what to forsake) but on finding and increasing our vision of the awesome wonder and beauty of God demonstrated to us in His infinite mercy and grace. As we see Him more and more clearly the more in love with Him we grow.

On the other hand, for the unbeliever this understanding of morality is discouraging because he is able without God’s help to carry out certain actions that are considered moral by society or even the church at large. In short we may say and do all the “right” things, such as being a hard worker, giving to others, treating ones neighbor with kindness, or being faithful to one’s spouse etc. All good things in themselves, but now that we understand the importance of intent we must ask from where do these actions spring? Are they carried out to bring honor and recognition to one’s self or to God? If these actions do not spring forth from a heart of true worship of God, they are worthless in God’s eyes and are as “filthy rags” to Him i.e. they will not be credited to us as righteousness or rewarded. In the unbelievers unregenerate state he seeks to impress God or others by his “good works” but this is not the same as desiring God or desiring to truly honor Him out of worship and gratitude by our actions. In truth, the things of God are foolishness to the unbeliever. Therefore, he must humble himself and turn in conscious dependence on God for His mercy and grace instead of thinking he can somehow impress God through dependence on his “righteous” deeds. He must instead call out to God for mercy to turn his heart toward God. May God’s grace enable us to do so if we have not.

This understanding helps us to answer the question many ask. Why do bad things happen to good people? This is actually the wrong question. With the above understanding we may need to redefine what is good as well as what a good person is. A truly good or holy person is one who does all things for the glory of God, as they ought to and not for their own glory.

In conclusion, what does all this have to do with God’s loving himself and the moral ground for this? The fact that God is a triune being makes God valuing Himself above all others even more awe inspiring and hallowed and settles many things. Let us briefly review this and we will elaborate on this point more as we continue on in the following sections.

God loves His Son above all else and the Son loves his Father above all else. In essence they recognize the great worth of the other and value each other above all others. To say it another way, they hold each other in highest esteem. We get glimpses of this throughout the New Testament and particularly the gospels. John 17 for example. Because they are separate and distinct persons their love is a real and true love. It is a love that is other-focused yet because they are both persons of the Godhead this addresses God's self-sufficiency at the same time. So there is a sense in which God is truly totally giving and other-oriented on the one hand because of the distinctness of the persons of the Trinity and yet totally self contained and independent at the same time because He is ONE God, not three.

Oh the mystery and wonder of God! May He help us to grasp the height, depth and width of His being and therefore the greatness of His love. Not only is this a wonderful mystery it is also vital to understanding God truly and clearly and in turn our selves as well.

Additional book excerpts: 

*This excerpt by Edwards is also reprinted in John Piper’s book, God’s Passion for His Glory. You can download a pdf of the book for free at 

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Grace to you
Jim Deal