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Episode 10 - Practicing Ethics


Date: July 4, 2018
Run Time: 12:01
Host: Dr. Gregory R. Perry
Guest: Dr. John M. Frame
From the Series: Practicing Theology in the Christian Life

Program Notes

Where do we find the strength and help to do God's will? Dr. John Frame discusses the important role a community of Spirit-filled, Spirit-gifted believers has in helping us grow in righteousness. In this episode, we also touch on:

  • Theology and ethics
  • The power of God’s presence in our lives
  • Health care and how we can develop a set of ethical criteria for distributing and paying for it

Dr. John Frame is Professor of Systematic Theology and Philosophy Emeritus at Reformed Theological Seminary. He was a founding faculty member at Westminster Seminary California, where he taught for more than 20 years, and is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). Dr. Frame is a prolific writer, having authored numerous books and articles and contributed to several theological reference volumes. Most notably, his book, The Doctrine of God, won the 2003 Gold Medallion Award from the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association, and his A History of Western Philosophy and Theology won a 2017 Christian Book Award. Dr. Frame is the Host of Third Mill’s series, Making Biblical Decisions.

Podcast Transcript

EPISODE 10: Practicing Ethics
Guest: Dr. John Frame

4 the World is a production of Third Millennium Ministries where we believe every Christian deserves a well-trained pastor. To study Scripture deeply or to learn more about how you can partner with us to provide Biblical Education. For the World. For Free. download our App to your phone or visit our online classroom at Thirdmill.org. And now, your host 4 the World, Dr. Greg Perry.


Last week we started a conversation with Dr. John Frame, the host for our series Making Biblical Decisions. And today we're going to be talking about Christian ethics. Dr. Frame, thank you for joining us, and welcome back to 4 the World.

Dr. Frame: Good to be with you, Greg.

Last time we talked a good bit about what theology is and you had defined theology as applying Scripture, or the Word of God, by human persons to all areas of life. That sounds a lot like ethics to me. How do you distinguish between theology and ethics? How do you relate the two to each other?

Dr. Frame: Well, I don't make very much of a distinction between the two. If you have this practical definition of theology that I suggested last time, the theology of the application of the Word of God by persons to all areas of life, that could be a definition of ethics. But when I teach ethics courses, I usually take this kind of approach: Ethics is theology viewed as a means of determining what persons, acts and attitudes are pleasing to God, what persons, acts and attitudes receive God's blessing.

Most of us understand in terms of ethics that God has the right, or the authority, to require his people to display a particular character. It says in both the Old and the New Testament, "Be holy, for I am holy." But are we alone in our own strength to do what he requires? Where do we find the strength and the help to do God's will once we know what it is?

Dr. Frame: Well, of course we're not able to do good by ourselves. The Bible tells us that Adam fell into sin, and that when Adam sinned the whole human race fell with him so that today our hearts are very much inclined toward disobeying God, very much inclined toward sin. And so, there needs to be a remedy for that, and that's what the biblical teaching about salvation through Jesus Christ is about. Scripture says that Jesus died for our sins, and it's the Holy Spirit of God who comes and applies the work of Christ — there's that word "application" again — applies the word of Christ to our hearts, changes us so that we're born again, so that we have a desire to do good rather than to sin against God. So, we call that grace because it's very much a gift, something we can't work up in ourselves. We can't simply choose to do good and go out and do it. We need to have the grace of God within us motivating us to turn away from sin and to turn toward him.


You talk, Dr. Frame, also not just about God's control over history and how he, you know, places us in an environment. I think of Acts 17 about, you know, that "In him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28). You talked about God's authority in terms of how he speaks to us in ways that we can understand what he's saying, and therefore responsible to his commands. But you talk also about God's presence.

Dr. Frame: I think the lordship of God has three aspects. There are these "three's" again that we keep coming up with. One is control, one is authority, and one is presence. So to say that God is Lord is to say that he controls all of the circumstances of life. To say that he's an authority is to say that he has the right to tell us what to do. And to speak about his presence is to say that he actually comes into history. He actually comes into time to be with us. Scripture speaks of Jesus as "Immanuel … God with us" (Matt 1:23). And Scripture speaks of the Holy Spirit coming to indwell those who trust in Christ. And so the presence of God is this power that God has to regenerate, that brings new birth so that we are inclined to do his will. It's God who makes us holy. Now, under the doctrine of justification, we say that God counts us as holy; God declares us to be holy because of our unity with Jesus Christ. But then God comes into life and actually makes us holy, takes away the sinful patterns of our lives, gives us victory over sin, gives us a desire to serve him and to serve one another.


Now, you wrote in your book on medical ethics. You talk about the Great Commandments, the dignity of the human person as an image bearer, the parable of the good Samaritan as an illustration of love of neighbor, and then that is the way you establish need as the fundamental criteria for the distribution of healthcare. You talk about that, and yet you also acknowledge that rising costs are a big barrier for people accessing healthcare. Who should bear these costs? How is that an ethical issue for the church? Is the church to be involved in that?

Dr. Frame: There are two stages here. There is our basic obligation to take care of one another. Jesus' says love the Lord you God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind, but also love your neighbor as yourself. And so the Good Samaritan is one who saw somebody dying by the side of the road, and he couldn't just pass by the way other people passed by. He had to do what he could do. Now, he didn't have all of the resources in the world, he didn't have modern medicines, he didn't have access to modern healthcare. He used oil that evidently had some therapeutic value in those days. He put the dying person on his animal and took him to an inn where he was able to get care. So the principle is not that we have to do everything that is needed by somebody, but we have to be ready to give what we have. People say, well what is the main criterion for giving assistance to people? The main criterion still has to be need. If somebody is suffering, we have an obligation to relieve that suffering, to help the person in some way. But again, just like the Good Samaritan, we can give only what we have. And so we have to get together and talk with one another. Certainly that takes place in the national political discussion, but it also takes place in the church. The church has the office of the diaconate, which is very much preoccupied with helping the needs of people who are sick and who are poor and who are in danger of some kind. And so we need to have good organization, we need to have discipline, we need to encourage people to give. There are so many issues that come up in that kind of discussion. And I do think that the church ought to have the predominant role here. There are some people who are politically conservative who think that the government should have no role at all, but of course we live in a time where there are people who are really hurting who are not part of the church or are far removed from the church, and we need to have compassion for them as well. So I do think that there ought to be a kind of social safety net. I think that there ought to be some role for government when the family fails and when the church fails. The best way of helping people is to begin as close to the hurting people as we possibly can. And so, of course, the Good Samaritan treated somebody who was right there in his field of vision, right beside him as he was going on a journey. And that's the first level of responsibility. It's better to be as local as we possibly can rather than to trust agencies who are removed at a great distance from the need because they can't always understand what the need really is, and they can't be depended on to bring together just the right resources for a particular issue.

Thank you so much for being with us this week. We look forward to talking with you again next week because you've also written some things about our practices of worship and of witness to the world. And we look forward to talking with you in the next couple of weeks as we continue our series.

Dr. Frame: Thanks Greg.

4 the World is a production of Third Millennium Ministries where we are reimagining biblical education for Christian leaders in a global church. Each week we bring you conversations to cultivate your curiosity about God's word, to inform your intercessions for God's people, and to equip your efforts in God's mission for the world. Our host is Dr. Greg Perry. Our sound engineer and editor is Christopher Russell. Our web designer is Ra McLaughlin. Production assistance is provided by Stephanie Mathis. And I'm your announcer, Cindy Sawyer. Today's podcast was brought to you by the new book Christianity Considered, written by Dr. John Frame available now on Amazon Smile. Please remember to select Third Millennium Ministries as your charitable organization on Amazon Smile. And thank you for subscribing to 4 the World.