Friday, June 22, 2007

Reason and Revelation: Ethos (Part 1)

All learning takes place in the context of a person's "ethos". Ethos is a Greek word that can be translated: Starting Point, Disposition, Fundamental Values, or Character. It is the root word from which we get our English word, "ethics." Paul even used this word in his letter to the Corinthians when he reminded them that, "bad company corrupts good morals." (1 Corinthians 15:33) Our ethos encompasses all that we already know, as well as our sence of ehtics, our core values, and our perceptions of right and wrong, truth and falsehood. An ethos is a powerful thing. It grounds us and gives direction to our lives. It is like a steady bow in the hands or an archer. The riser, or handle, of the bow allows the archer to steady and aim the bow, while the arrow rest provides a solid foundation from which to shoot the arrow with great accuracy. Without a steady riser or a sure arrow rest, the arrow will fly unpredictably and almost never hit the target. So is the case with our ethos; it holds us steady and provides aim and sets the course of our life. Without a solid ethos, we are certain to "miss the mark" and to end up where we don't want to go. Consider the following results of trying to live without a solid ethos.

"Keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith." (1 Timothy 1:19) Without a solid ethos, we set ourselves adrift and run the risk of shipwreck and ruin in our lives. We may have noble ideals and aspirations, but we lack the foundation and direction to actually realize those ideals and aspirations.

"For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge." (Romans 10:2) Zeal is of little use unless it is guided and directed by the foundation of a solid ethos. Without the guidance of our ethos we could end up spending our lives on worthless endeavors. Zeal must be channeled and this channeling is provided by our ethos.

"As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming." (Ephesians 4:14) Without the foundation of a solid ethos, we are gullible and suspectable to every new "teaching" and "doctrine" of men. We no longer stand on a sure footing of knowledge, ethics, and faith, rather we are tossed around by every new idea that comes our way.

Power and Benefit

Our ethos not only defines our starting point, but it empowers us and guides us in our growth, development, and enlightenment. Here are some of the benefits and purposes of a sound ethos.

"However not all men have this knowledge; but some, being accustomed to the idol until now, eat food as if it were sacrificed to an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled. But food will not commend us to God; we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat." (1 Corinthians 8:7-8) An incomplete, limited, or inaccurate ethos, especially in relationship to our knowledge of God, can cause us to live in bondage to the elemental principles of this world and hinder us from experiencing the true freedom that is found in Christ Jesus. Paul's more accurate knowledge of God afforded him greater freedom and liberty over those whose knowledge of God was more limited. Paul approached the world from an understanding that there was only one God and that idols were not gods at all. Because of this knowledge he could eat meat offered to idols without offending his ethos. However, not all believers had this same knowledge or approached life from the same ethos. For them, eating food sacrificed to idols was a sin, because it offended their conscience and their sense of right and wrong.

"And have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him -- a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all." (Colossians 3:10-11) We are renewed according to the knowledge of God that we possess. If we chose a godly ethos, then our lives will begin to be renewed according to that ethos. The more we allow God to shape and mold our fundamental beliefs and understandings, the more our ethos is brought into conformity with His will, purpose, and plan, the more we will be transformed into His likeness. Changing a person's ethos will change the person.

"You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus." (2 Timothy 3:14-15) Knowledge cannot save us, but it can give us a context from which to receive the revelation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For example, without a Biblical understanding of sin, righteousness, and forgiveness, it is hard to grasp and receive the revelation of Jesus' substitutionary death on the cross and the forgiveness of our sins. As many cultures are slipping into a "post-Christian" era, more and more people are growing up with little or no understanding of foundational Biblical truths. Often this requires first establishing a Biblical foundation, or ethos, from which a person can then grasp and receive the truth of the gospel.

"In all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excesses of dissipation, and they malign you." (1 Peter 4:4) When a person is born again, there is often a dramatic shift in their ethos. They adopt a new sense of right and wrong, they begin to see obedience as an expression of love for the One who saved them, and often they redirect their lives in new directions that are consistent with their new ethos. For unbelievers who don't share this new ethos, they're often unable to understand the new way of living adopted by the new believer. To them, there is nothing wrong with partying, carousing, and lawless living. They don't understand the new believers new found aversion to their former activities because they no longer share the same ethos. The converse is also true. Older believers can forget what it is like to live as an unbeliever; they see sinners and wonder why they don't want to stop sinning. The reason is, in part, because they don't share the same ethos as the believer. In their ethos, sinning is natural and not seen as sinful, as it would be in a believer's ethos.

"Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love." (2 Peter 1:5-7) Your ethos directly effects your behavior. Peter identifies a progression from knowledge to self-control. As we grow in knowledge of God and of His high calling on our lives, it causes us to exercise self-control in our speech and behavior. It causes us to "walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called." (Ephesians 4:1) Why are some people hard working and others lazy? Often it has to do with the a person's ethos and the work ethic that they have adopted and developed in their lives. Why are some people law abiding and others law breaking? Sometimes it is due to a person's ethos and their sense of right and wrong.

A New Starting Point
"For it is written, 'I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.' Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men." (1 Corinthians 1:19-21, 25)
Man, for all his pursuits of God, has failed to find God on his own. His wisdom, intellect, and knowledge has failed him in his attempts to know God. If we are to know God, then we need a new starting point, a new ethos. We need a new set of beliefs, a new view of right and wrong, and a new knowledge of truth - not just information. Paul challenges us, "Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, he must become foolish, so that he may become wise." (1 Corintheans 3:18) If we are to know God, then we must allow God to remake and reform our ethos. We must realize that we cannot make this journey of knowing God on our own, we will need God's help to both renew our ethos and to give us revelation of Himself. Paul gives us this charge,
"Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect." (Romans 12:1-2)
We need more than education, we need our core ethos renewed. This is a process to which we must both choose and yield to. Nothing short of a renewal of our mind can transform us and bring us into the knowledge of God.

More to come... David Robison

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