Why Does Our Behaviour Often Contradict Our Morals?

Why Does Our Behaviour Often Contradict Our Morals?

Why Does Our Behaviour Often Contradict Our Morals?
John Brown of Wamphray (1610-1679) was the Church of Scotland minister of Wamphray near Dumfries. One of the great theological writers in the later period of the Second Reformation, he wrote a large number of books and also pastored the Scots Church at Rotterdam.
6 Dec, 2019

70% UK adults think that it’s important for people to have a moral framework in their lives according to a recent BBC survey. Yet only 29% say “I must live by my values all the time”. Why is that? If my values are only defined by me then they are just personal preference. If morality is not objective, we are not accountable to anyone else when we break our own moral code. The same survey revealed that people’s behaviour often contradicts their supposedly strong morals. Half of those who believed it was never acceptable for them to lie admitted they did. Almost half who believed it was never acceptable for them to take illegal drugs had done this. In the midst of such moral confusion we need an objective God-given standard of right and wrong and analysis of the human heart.

Clearly, this is what we need. Despite the contradictions we have noted, 50% of those responding to the survey believed most people are essentially good, with just 4% disagreeing. In the book of Romans the apostle Paul makes unmistakably clear the sinfulness of the human heart. This is why we sin with our fingers in our ears against an accusing conscience. We need a new heart.

In Romans 7 Paul goes on, however, to show how remaining sin still affects those who have been regenerated. It does this to the extent that they even do that which they hate and condemn (Romans 7:15-16,19). They are not immune from a contradiction between the mind, will and the actions either. This is due to the influence of remaining sin within the heart of the believer. Yet it is a different contradiction to what we see in the life and heart of those who have not been regenerated. There is a renewed part within believers that delights in God’s law as holy, just and good. John Brown of Wamphray explains the nature of this contradiction in the heart of believers.

1. A DIFFERENT CONTRADICTION

Those who are strangers to their own hearts and not acquainted with examining themselves usually have too good thoughts of themselves. Serious and sincere consideration of our own hearts will, however, brings us to a right view of our natural corruption. The unregenerate may gain some distant view of their natural corruption but only grace will give a thorough, clear, heart-affecting and soul-humbling sight of it. Paul does this when he says no good thing dwells in his flesh (his remaining sin).

The ungodly may have some willingness to do that which is morally good. Yet they are altogether averse from any spiritual good or even doing moral good in a spiritual way. This is unique to the child of God, only a good tree brings forth good fruit. The love and desire to what is spiritually good is not counterfeit simply because they cannot accomplish their intentions. They may be a will to do that which is good without being able to carry it out.

Although unregenerate people have enough natural conscience within to oppose them when their lusts are carrying them away headlong, they do not have a renewed spirit in their minds resisting. They may have some shadowy knowledge of the principles of righteousness through what it written on their hearts by nature (Romans 2:15). There may also be many within the visible church who are utter strangers to the work of grace who may still have much knowledge of the law of God. Neither have any heart delight in the holy law of God not welcome it heartily as good when it speaks against their corruptions. This is unique to those regenerated that they “consent unto the law that it is good”. It is not a forced necessity but flows from the heart complying with the things commanded or forbidden by the law.  

2. A CONSTANT CONTRADICTION

Since these principles of grace and sin are contrary to each other in their very natures and can never agree, they aim to clash with one another in every action that the poor believer endeavours. What the one wants to do the other will not have done (Galatians 5:17).

Although grace and corruption are irreconcilable enemies and grace constantly seeks to eat away corruption it will still be present in the best to keep them exercised. Sin does not however, reign in them tyrannising and oppressing them as a constant presence but is like a traveller coming and going.

3. A HUMBLING CONTRADICTION

It is evidence of grace within the soul that we get a right view of the corruption within us. This will keep the soul humble and diligent in seeking to exercise and grow in grace. Grace is a heart-humbling thing: the more the soul has of it, the more they are willing to acknowledge their own shame.

4. A MOTIVATING CONTRADICTION

Believers have no cause to be secure but should rather be on their guard because even at their best times when they seek to good “evil is present” with them. It is useful and necessary to consider frequently this conflict in those who are regenerate. We ought to consider how often the worst side prevails over the better in particular skirmishes. This will keep our spirits humble and drive us nearer to Christ to get more grace to subdue and battle with our corruption. It makes us long for the day when we will be beyond its reach. We should also be thankful for any little victory obtained and take it as a foretaste of the ultimate full and final victory.

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