How Do I Determine Right And Wrong?

February 20, 2022

David Sorn

We’re covering the top 5 common answers and comparing them to the Bible’s answer to this huge question of life.

How Do I Determine Right And Wrong?

February 20, 2022

David Sorn

We’re covering the top 5 common answers and comparing them to the Bible’s answer to this huge question of life.


(Start with Life’s Biggest Questions Series Slide)

Good morning. My name is David Sorn. I’m the Lead Pastor here at Renovation Church.

We are continuing this week in our “Life’s Biggest Questions” series where we are talking about the 5 biggest, most foundational questions in all of life.

This week, our question is: “How do I determine right and wrong?”

(Title Slide: “how do I determine right and wrong?”)

This question is HUGE.

When societies get this question wrong, wars can happen, genocides have happened.

Entire societies have crumbled from answering this question incorrectly.

And this question is also paramount to our own personal lives as we grapple with what to do in our relationships, how to treat our friends, how to act at work.

It’s massively big and it’s one we deal with every day.

And it’s debated almost incessantly on Social Media, on TV, and all over the world.

And yet, if you look closely, most of the debates are only about the issues themselves.

They’re more about WHAT is right and wrong, not “HOW do I determine what is right and wrong?”

Few people dig deep enough to get to this more important question.

Think about moral issues like sex, greed, abuse, everybody draws a line of right and wrong somewhere…

…but the vast majority of people can’t tell you HOW they determined to draw the line in that spot.

We’re going to talk through this today, but first let’s start with the Christian and Biblical answer to this big question of life.


Christians believe that morality (morality is your set of standards for what’s right and wrong)…we believe that morality can’t be left up to just personal preference.

And for us, we believe that right and wrong are found in God’s unchanging Word in the Bible.

And these aren’t just arbitrary rules that God demands of us, the morality that God gives us is a reflection of His character…his holiness, justice, kindness, grace, etc.

And we trust these morals as a guide for our lives.

Or, as Psalm 19:7-8 says:

(Psalm 19:7-8) – NIV

7 The law of the Lord is perfect,
refreshing the soul.
The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy,
making wise the simple.
8 The precepts of the Lord are right,
giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are radiant,
giving light to the eyes.

The Apostle Paul tells us that:

(2 Timothy 3:16) – NIV

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,

That is, it tells us what is right…and wrong.

And I want you to know that this view is not as simplistic as its opponents make it out to be.

I’ve read the critiques of Biblical ethics, and they almost all say, “Christians think they just need to obey God’s rules so they don’t incur punishment in hell, and that’s not a good basis for determining right or wrong.”

Which, that isn’t at all what the Bible teaches…at all.

The Bible doesn’t say we live for God so we can earn our way out of hell.

No, the opposite.

It says that Jesus took the punishment we deserved on the cross, and therefore since He died for us, we want to live for Him.

And we trust in His ways and have found them, as the beginning of Proverbs says, useful….

(Proverbs 1:2-3) - NIV

2 for gaining wisdom and instruction;
for understanding words of insight;
3 for receiving instruction in prudent behavior,
doing what is right and just and fair;

They are our guide because they are from God and flow from his character.


But how does the rest of society answer this question?

And are their answers logical and consistent?

I want to look at the 5 most common ways our culture answers this question about “how to determine right and wrong), and I’m going to show it to you on a graph we made to help explain this.

I encourage you to take notes so you, as 1 peter says, “give a reason for the hope that you have”


Let’s take a look now at the first common answer to this question: LIVE YOUR TRUTH

(Show 1_Moral Philosophies)

This is a really popular Moral Philosophy, even though it’s beginning to fade a bit.

If you asked someone in this camp about sexual ethics, or the legalization of drugs, or pick any moral issue…

They’re likely to respond with, “We’re each free to decide what’s right for our own lives and determine what’s loving and makes us happy.”

They would say, “Just listen to the voice inside you, follow your heart, be true to your authentic self.”

“Live YOUR Truth”

Now, when we plot this Moral Philosophy on our graph for today, you’ll notice that on the x-axis (for “locus of truth), it’s far to the left.

So this particular philosophy is saying that we find the truth about right and wrong internally…inside our hearts…

But notice it’s also plotted really high on the y-axis of “change”

Meaning that this philosophy’s moral code is incredibly fluid.

What’s considered right and wrong is going to change wildly over time…or from even person to person in this case.

Now, while this kind of thinking is an incredibly popular among everyday people in America, I want to let you know that no serious thinker really believes this is a good way to answer this week’s question: “How do I determine right and wrong)

(Title Slide: How do I determine right and wrong?)

Very few professors, philosophers, or even atheist authors hold to this view of ethics.

This is rationalization at its finest, but it’s not good philosophy.

You can very quickly break down this belief by saying to a person:

“So if a terrorist wants to blow up a skyscraper, is it morally right because that’s their truth? Because remember, IT IS what feels right to them and what their heart wants.”

“Live your truth” and “just follow your heart” sound right because we’ve been so inundated with that concept, but when you play it out, it’s a completely illogical way of determining right and wrong.


So let’s keep building our graph

Our 2nd Moral Philosophy is Treat Others Like They want to be Treated”

(Show 2_Moral Philosophies)

Again, the idea of “Treat others like they want to be treated,” sounds really good.

Jesus Himself said a similar thing.

But remember, much of the “wrong” Jesus talked about was also about how we sin against God, and that doesn’t even need to involve how we “treat another person”

Moral systems can’t just be about human-to-human interaction if God exists.

But even if a person didn’t think God existed, this moral philosophy still breaks down when you ask hard questions of it

For example, isn’t it possible that an act could be wrong…even if someone wants to be treated that way?

If a homeless person on the streets asks me to buy him boos, should I?

That’s how he wants to be treated.

And again, we’re still stuck with an internal locus of truth.

If we treat others like THEY want to be treated or even like WE think they need to be treated, then morality is still different for every person because we can each determine it.

Is morality really that fluid and changing?


Okay, let me give you the next popular way to answer this question in our culture: The Harm Principle

(Show 3_Moral Philosophies)

“The Harm Principle” answers the question of “How do I determine right and wrong” by saying, “Nothing is wrong, as long as you’re not harming anyone (or as long as doesn’t hurt anyone or take away their freedom and autonomy).

Again, that’s a SUPER popular answer to this question in our culture, right?

Now, to its credit, this is a significantly more robust way of expressing “live your truth,” because it’s at least trying to find a common theme to ground itself in (“do no harm”)

That’s why it’s not as internal on the graph, and it’s also why it’s less fluid, and because it’s less likely to change its stance on right and wrong over time.

HOWEVER, there are still a lot of problems of logic and consistency here.

First of all, what is harm? Who determines what harm is?

Realize that the definition of “harm” is constantly changing

In the 1960’s kindergarteners could ride their bike a half a mile to school every day, and no one would say parents were wrong…and harming their children...they were expected to send their kids that way.

Today, a parent could literally be arrested in some communities for causing harm like that.

Pick any hot-button political issue (abortion, immigration, etc.) and people are going to disagree over if it’s HARM or not.

So “HARM” is not a shared constant that we can all refer to and agree on.

Can you see how these secular theories don’t work?

If on almost every single moral issue, the culture says: “Who are we to define what’s wrong and tell another person how to live?”

If the culture can barely admit that “wrong” even exists, how can it then turn around in the same second and say there is a very defined thing called HARM! Don’t do it!

Harm is impossible to define without an external guide to define it.

And because of that, let me show you how dangerous this Moral Philosophy is…and why it is, in part, responsible for our morals changing at lightning speed in this country.

If your guardrail for morality (which is what this pretends to be) is “as long as a choice doesn’t harm someone’s personal freedom, it’s okay…”

…then what sort of moral defense will you have against polyamorous relationships between 2 men and 1 woman? Or 3 women and 1 man?

Is it hurting anyone?

In his book, “The Rise of the Modern Self,” Carl Trueman explains how “The Harm Principle” can’t even guard against pedophilia

Think about it.

The Harm principle says everything is fine as long as you don’t limit anyone else’s personal freedom and choices.

But we limit kids’ personal freedom all the time

We say, “No, I don’t care that you don’t want to clean your room or mow the lawn. You’re going to do what I say”

And so think about this: What if someone in our current culture says, “We each need to true to our authentic desires and follow our heart”

…AND, if someone’s personal sexual preference happens to be the underaged….

…in our current cultural climate, how can you stop this from happening if our only moral guardrail is “don’t infringe on someone else’s autonomy and freedom”

Because we already infringe on the autonomy and freedom of children every day…saying that they need to serve us and we know what’s best for them.

I want you to see that these moral philosophies are wildly insufficient to create a safe and good moral culture.

And honestly, it’s because people have started to ask good questions like this…that you’ll see that our culture is now trying to move to develop more moral philosophies that point to external guides for morality and that it’s moving away from the idea of “just follow your heart and don’t harm anyone”


But we’re in a really weird and schizophrenic transitionary phase right now in America.

And it’s happening SO fast that I think a lot of people haven’t even noticed it yet.

In fact, when MOST Americans try to answer questions about morality, you’ll get a hodgepodge of reasoning from all over this graph…

So, for example, if you ask a random secular American (secular means non-religious)…if you ask them a question about sexuality.

And you say, “Is gay marriage okay? What about the gender? Can people change their gender?”

You’re likely to get a response that is based in one of those 1st 3 Moral Philosophies.

“People can (and should) live their own truth. Live out your authentic self.”

They’re determining truth, internally

But watch this: If you throw out a different moral issue, and you say: “What if someone likes to sexually harass women? What if someone believes in and gets joy out of writing racial slurs on the bathroom wall at your work or school?”

For these issues, the secular culture at-large doesn’t respond with “That person is just following the desires of their heart.”

No, people will respond with a fierce moralism.

They’ll say, “NO! That’s wrong!”

What I just showed you is that the culture doesn’t have a consistent system of morality.

They instead pull from completely contradictory theories to support different moral practices.


And the culture now wants to make stronger statements about right & wrong for some issues, so it’s found that it needs to start referring to external sources, not just internal ones.

So let’s take a look at the next popular moral philosophy: Human Flourishing

(Show 4_Moral Philosophies)

Those in this camp are saying that we should determine right and wrong by discerning if our actions lead to Human Flourishing

And so they say we should always ask, “Does this law, does this training, does this way of treating people lead to human flourishing (to humans having a good and happy life)”

And notice our locus of truth is becoming less internal now

People here are going to want to point to data, studies, science, sociology to prove, EXTERNALLY what leads to human flourishing and happiness…and is therefore RIGHT.

And how is our culture trying to strive for human flourishing today?

One of the most prominent ways is through its attempts to establish justice and fight for human rights.

But think about this: Secular and evolutionary theory doesn’t give rights or value to humans…or say they are worthy of justice and equal treatment.

We must strive to have CONSISTENT worldviews.

Go back to Week 1 of the series: If one believes that humans are just an accident from random amino acids bumping into each other…then how could humans possibly have value or the right to flourish?

Those concepts come out of Christianity, not evolutionary theory.

Ethicist Richard Taylor puts it this way, “A hawk that seizes a fish from the sea kills it, but does not murder it; and another hawk that seizes that fish from the talons of the first hawk, takes it, but does not steal it---for none of these things is forbidden.

If a great white shark can forcibly copulate with a female, do we say that is wrong?

We don’t stop it.

So if humans are just the same evolutionary byproducts of an accident, then why are any of those things wrong for humans?

What gives humans value?

So much so that there is a right and wrong way to treat us?

You can’t answer that question (not consistently, not logically) without God.

Let me warn you: When a culture tries and fight for justice and human flourishing, but completely removes the reason (God!) for why people have value and rights in the first place, you’re more likely to end up with Hitler than with a “just society”

Right? Because remember the Nazi’s we’re enacting their VISION of human flourishing

They weren’t killing for sport.

They were exterminating Jews and attempting to take over Europe because that was their vision of how to make the world right…and they thought what they were doing was morally RIGHT!

And so the Moral Philosophy of “Human flourishing” cannot answer today’s question for how to determine right and wrong because like the 3 other answers that came before it, it’s not a fixed morality…

Its definition can be redefined by anyone.


Okay, let’s look at the last common secular answer to this question: Majority Rules.

(Show 5_Moral Philosophies)

This particular philosophy is very different from our first one.

It’s not very interested in your personal opinion, but wants to tell you about a right and wrong from external sources…

And it’s a fast-growing moral philosophy in our country.

And in some ways, we shouldn’t be surprised that the era of “be true to yourself” and “live your truth” is going to be a SHORT chapter in American history

As some of our best thinkers have pointed out: Leaders in power can’t move people in the one direction they want when everyone believes their own truth.

If that’s the case, you have 300 million people going in 300 million different ways.

And so, in a lot of ways, it’s no surprise that secular society is trying once again to unite people around a common set of moral ideas.

If you stop and think about it, this last philosophy here…it doesn’t fit for 2015, but it feels a lot like 2022

If there’s any news story out there about race, diversity, sexuality, pick any hot topic, corporations feel like they need to make a moral (a MORAL) statement on what is right and wrong.

Schools put out statements.

Employees go to updated trainings on how to now act and treat each other.

There is a code that we must abide by if we “want to do what’s right”

People are afraid to even voice their moral opinions on things as the majority now sets the rules.

And what is THIS?!?

This is NOT the “you do you and follow your heart” of 2005

Certainly there are still pieces of that out there, right?

But this is really different.

Secular society is now claiming a CLEAR right and wrong, but the only thing it’s grounded in seems to be what the majority thinks at this moment in time. .

Or, the majority with the most influence.

But as C.S. Lewis once pointed out, this is “Chronological Snobbery”

The idea that our understanding of “right & wrong” is superior simply because we are further down on the timeline.

No one who has studied the awful ups and downs of history…the wars, the genocides of history…thinks that history is one long upswing of moral enlightenment and improvement.

And is right and wrong really that fluid?

Think about some of the hot button issues of today…

We literally weren’t even talking about some of them 10 years ago.

And if the majority culture has now contradicted its own views that it held just 10 years ago in 2012, you better believe that in 2032, our culture is absolutely going to roll its eyes in arrogant disdain at the morals of 2022

They’re going to look back at us and say: “You barbarians! What were you thinking?!”

And so this new iteration of Moral Philosophy is quite odd.

It’s nothing like “you decide what’s right for you”

It seems to point to an external source of morality: The latest New York Times bestseller, or what the celebrities are saying, or the latest corporate training on how to act.

But it’s not grounded (or fixed) in anything…and so morality is changing at lightspeed.


And secular culture keeps trotting out new ideas of HOW TO DETERMINE RIGHT AND WRONG, but none of them work.

WE have MILLIONS of Americans who have been left feeling empty by some of those first few Moral Philosophies

And maybe that’s even you.

Maybe you’ve tried to do everything your heart led you to, and it just left you feeling empty.

I want to tell you that Jesus is where you can find true life.

And He will walk alongside you on a path that leads to true joy

Still millions of others are now trying on some of these newer Moral Philosophies.

And many Americans (especially young Americans) are now feeling a different weight that Americans haven’t felt in over 2 generations or so

They’re feeling the weight…of morality.

The culture is now telling them that they aren’t doing enough, or that they said the wrong words, or they appropriated someone’s culture, or that they caused a microaggression.

And just one wrong word can ruin a friendship, the wrong tweet doesn’t get you into college, one bad day gets labeled as toxic in your family.

Not to mention many people today feel a heavy pressure that they not only need to think right with these new morals, but they need to outwardly demonstrate and declare that they are in front of others.

And I speak of this because many Americans today, especially the average young American, is suffering under the weight of a morality they can’t live up to.

It feels like they’re never good enough, and never doing enough.

And it’s so dizzying because it feels like the good you did last year, might not even be considered good next year.

What I want you to see is that the secular answers to ALL of these big Questions of Life so far are wildly inconsistent with each other.

Let me recap the secular answers…3 weeks in: “I am a scientific accident, but I believe the world has meaning, and there is one way to make it right, but I believe I should follow my heart, and yet how are others are living is wrong, but I don’t know what wrong is.”

There’s nothing cohesive about that.

But look at the brilliance and consistency…and the beauty of the Good News of the Bible.

The Bible says that:

God made you.

You have value. You are HIS creation.

And you deserve be treated right and to be cared for because you are God’s.

And God has a standard of right and wrong that’s never changed.

While every other answer to today’s question of determining right and wrong is constantly changing, God’s Word never changes.

Hebrews 13 tells us:

(Hebrews 13:8-9a) – NIV

8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. 9 Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings.

(Show 6_Moral Philosophies)

God’s unchanging truth doesn’t rely on what each of our hearts desire in the moment, nor does it rely on an external truth that changes with the culture.

It’s a transcendent truth…rising above humanity that never changes.

And yet the truth is we’ve all broken it.

We’re guilty of that weight of breaking his moral law…of going against God.

But this is the Good News I long so deeply for you to know and for our culture to know.

See the New American Secular Morality has such a heavy focus on right and wrong, but they have no concept of forgiveness anymore.

In their system, there’s no way to be made right for all of your mistakes…there is only an increasing shame

But the Bible says that you don’t have to suffer under the weight of your mistakes and sin.

Jesus Christ came to earth to die on the cross to carry the weight of your sins.

He took all of your sins on the cross…and he carried it.

And he died, taking the punishment for your sins on the cross.

And it’s your faith in Him, that He died for you, that takes the weight of your sins off of you and onto Him.

And you can be forgiven…granted eternal life in Him…and know His love.

You don’t have to carry that weight around.

Sure, there is still right and wrong..

But now we follow it because He offered His love, not because we’re trying to earn His love.

And if you’re hearing that for the first time today, you can be forgiven right now.

If you want to know more about that, or to make that decision yourself for the first time, I want you to come chat with me after the service, and I’d love to answer your questions or help you get started.

Nothing would mean more to us than that…that’s why we teach.

All right, let me pray.

Copyright: David Sorn
Renovation Church in Blaine, MN

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