The moral message of the New Testament begins with the "Good News" of reconciliation between God and Man. As children of God, we are members of His Kingdom. However, sin separates us from God. God calls on us to recognize our condition before God and turn from our sins. Redemption requires faith that God is faithful to honor his promise of redemption through grace and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. To live as children of God, we must follow the example set by Christ's ministry and obey the laws established by Moses and fulfilled by Christ's command to love God whole-heartedly and our neighbors as though they were us. As disciples of Christ, we are sent into the world to spread the Good News and to teach others to live as God commands. We are also to establish a community of believers apart from worldly influences. The building block for this community, the family, is consecrated through the sacrament of marriage. Although Christ's message is one of reconciliation, redemption, and hope, there is also a knowledge of God's justice. Those who hear and obey the moral message of the New Testament reap its benefits. Those who fail to do so reap the consequences of that failure.
For the Christian Ethicist, the study of ethics begins with the moral message of the New Testament. Ethical systems develop methods for determining human values, and the Christian carries into the study of ethics a set of values derived from the teachings of Jesus Christ, the Gospel as revealed in the New Testament, and traditions handed down through the Church. Jesus Christ's teaching revolutionized the moral thinking of His day. In his teaching, he summarized all of the Jewish law in a single sentence. He introduced the notion of a compassionate God who not only desires worship, but who also wants his followers to love even their enemies. The New Testament addresses all areas of human concern, from mankind's place in the universe to how we treat others. Church tradition offers special insights derived from two thousand years of seeking the will of God. Starting from this basis, the Christian has a strong foundation for moral reflection. This reflection leads to interpretations that are at once similar to and different from those arrived at by secular ethicists. An understanding of the moral message of the New Testament is essential to understanding this system of values .
Central to Christ's teaching was the Gospel of the Kingdom of God-- "the joy of Creation" (John Paul II, 20). The "good news" is joyous because Jesus taught that a just and holy kingdom was to be established under God's rule. It would have the benefit of a just and true King, one who is truly concerned with the welfare of His subjects. The idea of a compassionate God who was interested in his people was introduced during the days of the Old Testament. The New Testament differs from the old in that God takes a more direct role in human affairs through the Son. In this new Kingdom, oppression would be unheard of, crimes unthinkable, all human sickness but a fleeting memory. This kingdom would be spiritual rather than physical and would be made up of people filled with God's righteousness. It would be a system of government under the power and compassion of God, one in which God's compassion can redeem people from sin's suffering (Hellwig 62). As in the Old Testament, God is concerned with more than toting individual moral balance sheets (Isaiah 58). He also desires a just society implemented through His Kingdom. His is a Kingdom of liberation rather than oppression.
We see evidence of the healing and liberating nature of the Gospel in accounts of Christ's ministry. For instance, "Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the Gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people" (Mat 4:23). He traveled around the country saying, "Take my yoke upon you " and "my yoke is easy, and my burden is light (Mat 11:29, 30). This must have made a strong contrast with the rule of the Romans. Whereas the Roman Empire existed to further the interests of rich Romans, "The Kingdom of God . . . has to do with the fulfillment of our humanity." Therefore, "salvation is humanization, and humanization occurs through authentic liberation" (McBrien 505). He goes on to point out that Jesus preached a kingdom which was imminent and which required repentance and faith (McBrien 420).
God calls us to sonship and membership in his kingdom. However, the very nature of the Kingdom requires its members to leave behind all that would come between ourselves and God, between ourselves and others. To belong to God's kingdom, we must set aside our vices and hates and our propensity to judge others. Jesus said, "Judge not, that ye be not judged" (Mat 7:1). Nor are we to be blinded to God's presence in others by considerations of race or ethnicity. We are to "put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith (Acts 15:9). We are to have our relationship to God. as our prime concern and a willingness to grow in God as our atitude of spirit The words of Christ show the importance the penitent heart holds for him-- " I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just (Luke 15:7). But human virtues are not sufficient for entry into God's kingdom or for the quality of relationships that set it apart from earthly kingdoms. Human efforts at doing good are also insufficient. Saint Paul tells us that, "a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ " (Galatians 2:16). We are to look to God for help in striving beyond our limitations.
Through faith we believe in Christ's commandments and call to repentance. Through faith we strive toward the good that God holds out for us (John Paul II 192). To believe in His kingdom, we must trust God. We must trust and rely upon God to supply us with the grace to live lives that are full of love for Him and for our neighbors. Such faith comes to us as a benefit of divine grace. We can count on God to reveal himself. "The vision of God 'face to face' allows enjoyment of the absolute fullness of truth (John Paul II 71). Then again, we must prepare to receive this grace by recognizing our lack and turning to God for help in removing our faults. Jesus talks about the rigorous self honesty conversion requires in the parable of the two men who went up to pray. The one who was justified prayed, "God be merciful to me, a sinner" (Luke 18:13) Repentance is necessary to faith because one must break from sin to experience a personal relationship with Christ (McBrien 35).
Knowledge of God's requirements for entry into the Kingdom, the standard against me must measure our behavior, is found in the law as revealed in the commandments and in the teachings of Christ (McBrien 203, 378). A legalistic knowledge and adherence to the letter of the law is nearly a starting point in Christian morality. We must go beyond the letter of the law and understand the Spirit of the law (Mat 19:21). This means a good deal more than keeping the ten commandments. It also means developing an attitude of brotherhood toward others, even when they are opposed to our notions of how to live. God empowers us to forgive the faults of others and the injuries they do to us, and to demonstrate God's love in our responses to them. St. Paul writes, "For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death" (Romans 8:2 ). We are not called to a wanton disregard for a moral sense by this freedom. Rather we are freed to live and promote virtue while demonstrating to others how to live.
Mostly, we are freed to overlook the faults of others. We are instead called upon to examine our own lives for faults and go to God with theses faults. He is quick to forgive and sends us help in overcoming them. Under Christ, the law becomes an invitation "to live beyond fear, beyond selfish disregard for others, beyond greed and lust for personal power" (Hellwig 89). Jesus claimed to be "the way, the truth and the life" and that he was the sole route to salvation (John 14:6). He is the embodiment of God's will on earth and our example for living a Godly life. His life of good works, forgiveness of his enemies, and death for our sakes present the ideal toward which His believers should strive. This is more than a call to philosophical contemplation; it is a call to vigorous action. It is not a call to isolation from the world; it is a call to engagement with it. We are called upon as living witnesses of God's love for us, and of our love for others. The dual commandment of loving God and loving our neighbors is the starting point for the Christian moralist. In the light of this commandment, one must examine Christ's teachings and actions. The ultimate act of love is his sacrifice on the cross. "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13).
In other words, "the crucified Christ is the proof of God's solidarity with man" (John Paul II 63). But we are not to throw away our lives. Instead we are to "present [our] bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God . . ." (Romans12:1). We are called to an abundance of life. We are called to call others to this abundance. We are called upon to share materially and spiritually. The law of the Old Testament had become an impossible burden. But God is not so unreasonable as to call us to do the impossible, or to suffer needlessly. We are called upon to appreciate the abundance he gives us and to show that appreciation by spreading the Good News. To this end, Christ sent his early followers into the world. Ultimately, the church was to spread the Gospel throughout the world. It is a message that cannot be contained or overlooked. It is a message the Church never tires of proclaiming (John Paul II 111).
As life oriented as the Gospel is, it must be concerned with families. The family is an essential part of the Kingdom of God, the building block for constructing a community. Pope Leo XIII said that "marriage has God for its author" and that "the family is the primary and essential cell of society" (Werth 4, 118). It is in the home that we first learn about life and about God. We learn not only theory, but more importantly, we learn by the example our parents set for us. Although it is primarily the union of two people bound by love and mutual respect, it is the means for perpetuating life and passing on knowledge. The responsibilities of marriage are great. In Credo; A Practical Guide to the Catholic Faith, Harrison discusses the obligations of marriage. Just as each partner in the marriage is to be subordinate to the needs of the other, they are to set aside their desires and respond to a sense of duty to God and the community. But marriage is also a blessing and a means of drawing closer to God. It is a "gift from God" and when a couple marries, it is as if they were "following . . . above all the voice of God" (John Paul II 122).
Jesus "becomes the standard by which the world will, in a sense, judge itself" (McBrien 378). The benefits to establishing a society based on Christian principles are overwhelming. St. Paul make this clear when he writes, "Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows" (Hebrews 1:9) The Kingdom requires the full participation of all members of society. Ledger-book law-keeping is the route to damnation rather than salvation. One must have brotherly love to attain true righteousness. Jesus told us how to recognise wrong and behavior-- "In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother" (1 John 3:10 ). If we are to be sons of God, then all mankind are to be aour brothers. Fundamental to this is forgiveness of others. Believers must be able to see God in their fellow man, and to treat others as they would treat Jesus or themselves. He spoke of a day of judgment in which rewards and punishments would be meted out. On the final day God will regard us in the light of our treatment of our fellow man (Mat 25:31-46).
To review, the moral message of the New Testament guides the moral values of the Christian. This is a positive message of a call to action rather than a simple list of "do"s and "don't"s. It is the "Good News" of a God that covenants with mankind and is concerned with our well being. It is a revolutionary call to faith and living that forbids a sense of superiority in its followers. This covenant involves joining and building the Kingdom of God- a kingdom of love, compassion, fellowship and justice.. It is thus a call to leave behind anything that makes us less human. It is a call to establish justice and to advance the common good. It is a call to turn from loss, privation and selfishness and toward abundant life.
1. Harrison, Martin OP. Credo; A Practical Guide to the Catholic Faith. Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1954.
2. Hellwig, Monika K. Understanding Catholicism. New York: Paulist Press, 1981.
3. The Holy Bible. King James Version.
4. John Paul II, Pope. Crossing the Threshold of Hope. New York: Knopf, 1994. Editor Vittorio Messori. Translated by Jenny McPhee and Martha McPhee.
5. McBrien, Richard P. Catholicism vol I. Minneapolis, MN: Winston Press, 1980.
6. Werth, Alvin OFM, A M Cap, and Clement S Muskowich, Ph D. Papal Pronouncements on Marriage and the Family- From Leo XIII to Pious XII. Milwaukee: Bruce Publishing, 1955.