Moral Restraint

June 13, 2014

Moral Restraint

What does it take to stop crime?  What makes people commit violent acts?  Why do people do things that hurt themselves, their families and others?  I invite you to think with me in search of answers to these questions.

Some people say that people are basically good.  They say people commit crimes because of poverty or racism.  History clearly bears out   the fact that people aren’t basically good.  If it were true, we wouldn’t need all the laws we have.  The Bible tells us that human beings have a sin nature.  In Psalm51:5 David said “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.”  In Romans 3:10-12 the Apostle Paul said “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:   There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.   They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.”

Farmers put up fences to keep their animals within limits.  The fence serves as a restraint for them.  Some cows are “fence jumpers.”  When they do that more than once they are in danger of going to market and from there to the slaughter house. A fence is insufficient for human beings.  Prisons are surrounded by high walls with guard towers on every corner.

The honest truth is that we need moral restraints.  There are two approaches to moral restraint.  One is by means of laws that we have already looked at.   Laws   tell us what we can and can’t do.  Are laws all we need to keep people within limits? Maybe for most people they are sufficient, but there are always those who disobey them.   Laws aren’t a restraint unless they are accompanied by a specific punishment for those who don’t obey them.   If they are caught and punished, does that convince them that they will never commit that crime again?  Some learn their lesson, but there are still those who go back to the evil way.

The second approach to moral restraint is by means of promoting virtue.  Virtue is moral excellency.  The virtuous person has a code of conduct that governs his choices.  We sometimes say “He has character.”  He is restrained from doing evil, not by laws that threaten to punish him, but because his conscience tells him it is wrong.  It is not that he can’t do wrong; it’s that he doesn’t want to.

God wants to do a transforming work in people.  It is included in what is called “conversion.”  It is part of being a child of God.  When we put our faith and trust in Christ for salvation we become a child of God.  As we read and study the Bible we learn more about virtue, and about how it is to be a part of our Christian walk.

Parents don’t want to have children that embarrass them by their behavior.  God doesn’t either.  Genuine conversion begins with repentance.  The sinner comes to God and asks his forgiveness for the wicked things he has done in the past.  If he is truly repentant, he won’t go on doing those things.  There will be a change in his life style.  God facilitates him by means of the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.  Ephesians 4:22-24 talks about putting off the old man and putting on the new man.  II Peter 1:4 says “  Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.”

A dramatic transformation takes place in those who are genuinely converted to Christianity.  This change doesn’t happen overnight.  A genuine Christian loves God and wants to please him.  He is governed by the new commandment found in Mark 12:29-30.  “And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord:    And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.”

There is probably no man who is so corrupt that it would be impossible to find some measure of virtue in him. The worth of a man depends on the measure of virtue he has.     The more virtue a man has, the less likely he will be to commit acts of violence.  He has more to contribute to his family and those around him.  He will never reach perfection, but as long as he remains in the right relationship with God He will keep adding virtue to his life.

We don’t advocate doing away with moral laws.  They will always be needed. Let’s go back to the first question in this article.  “What does it take to stop crime?”  The positive approach is to increase virtue in our life and in that of those around us.  The person who has moral character, or virtue, is restrained by his conscience, but in reality, he is free.  He doesn’t do wrong, because he doesn’t want to.  John 8:32,36 says “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.  If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.”

You and I need moral restraint.  The best restraint is that which comes by virtue of being a child of God.  If you aren’t one of God’s children, you can become one by coming to God as a repentant sinner, asking him to forgive you, and make you one of his children.

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