“But I Wanted to Do the Right Thing!”

3. Situational Application

Having the right motivation and standard is not enough. These should be properly applied in different situations. Very simply, people with good motivations can misapply God’s law. How so? During World War II, there were Christians who believed that a person should never “lie.” One day, the Germans came to their house and asked if they were hiding out any Jews. The Christians thought, “I cannot tell a lie. The Bible says lying is wrong. We must tell the Germans that we are hiding out Jews in our basement.” So the Christians told the Germans. The Nazis went into the house, captured the Jews, marched them out front, and killed everyone of them in the presence of their betrayers.

These Christians had good motivations. They wanted to help the Jews. They wanted to please God. They had double-good motivations! What went wrong? They misapplied the law.

Ironically, the Bible has a similar situation. When the Jews pre- pared to attack Jericho, spies were sent in ahead (Josh. 2:1). A prostitute named Rahab hid them out. When the soldiers of Jericho asked if she had seen any of the Jewish spies, she lied to them (Josh. 2:6). Moreover, James calls attention to the lie, stating it was an act of justification. He says, “And in the same way was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works, when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?” (James 2:25). Commentators have gone out of their way to twist the plain sense of these Scriptures. Only a few in recent years have allowed the Bible to speak for itself.[1] Rahab was justified for lying to the enemy! How? The answer concerns the Biblical concept of truth. Truth does not simply mean faithfulness to the “facts.” This is the Greek view. Biblical truth is faithfulness to the covenant, meaning faithfulness to God and His people.[2]

More to the point, certain situations affect the application of the Law of God. In Joshua, the nation was at war. There was a place to lie to the enemy and not violate the truth. During WWII, there was a similar situation, a situation that affected the use of the Bible. The Bible did not change, only the situation. Is this the same as “situational ethics”? No. Situational ethics says that the situation totally determines truth, so truth changes from situation to situation. Biblical ethics says the truth always remains the same: the Word of God. Only the application of the truth changes.

The situational side of Biblical ethics is important. As we saw above, it can mean a matter of life or death. It is not enough to have the right motives and just keep the commandments. They have to be kept in the right way.

Thus, the ethical cause/effect principle is not some mechanical obedience to the Bible. Biblical ethics consists of faithfulness in varying circumstances from a heart of faith. Given this understanding, the man of God should see the cause/effect relationship between faithfulness and what happens.


[1] R. J. Rushdoony, Institutes of Biblical Law (Nutley, New Jersey: Craig Press, 1973), pp. 542-49. See also in the same volume, Gary North, “In Defense of Biblical Bribery,” pp. 838-39.

[2] B. Holwerda, Jozua en Richteren (Kampen, 1971), p. 13. Referred to in Don Sinnema, Reclaiming the Land (Toronto, Canada: Joy in Learning Curriculum Development and Training Centre, 1977), p. 19.

That You May Prosper, by Ray R. Sutton

Let the pastor preach on and on about “Romans 13!” and “Obeying the Authorities. OBEY!”

YOU obey the real authority – God – and ignore the ‘authority’ of the wicked, whenever the situation permits.

Also, ignore the bleating moralizers, in love with abstract perfection and who view human life, injustice, and suffering with a dismissive contempt.

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