It would be an easy mistake to think that the devil wants us all to become ethical relativists. But this is like thinking that the kidnapper wants the child to have some candy. It is like thinking the homeowner wants to the mouse to have a bit of cheese, and so he put some out on a little wooden platform.
The devil actually wants us to indulge ourselves in the delusion that “it’s all relative” because he then wants to accuse us. He is a guilt farmer, and the seed is sin. Relativism is just a doctrine calculated to get fools to throw their seed everywhere.
But God is not mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Those accusations will come back; they always come. Sow a little pleasure in bed, and reap the bloodguilt of abortion. Sow the petty indulgence of a harsh and critical spirit, and reap the harvest of a fragmented marriage and family. Sow a little envy, and reap a life of ungrateful misery. Sow a little and reap a lot.
In a time when the gospel was more widely known, people who had sinned against the law would seek out forgiveness and salvation. But now, clutching to their ludicrous relativism, they still dismiss the idea of “sin” as a subjective delusion. But at the same time they have to deal with the objective nature of their internal chaos, and so they look up the number of a good therapist. But who can forgive sins but God alone?
But here is the next trap. Conservatives see everything falling apart, and they see the lunacy of this relativism, and so they try to lead the way “back to standards.” Now there are two ways to do this, one light and one dark. There are two ways of embracing objective standards again — one from God and one from the devil. But too often unthinking conservatives opt for the latter, and just become the devil’s hit men.
Begin with the understanding that ethical relativism really is infantile. Postmodern relativism is nothing but high octane treacle. Nihilism is sophomoric. God’s standards, based on God’s character, are imbedded in the world, and are utterly inescapable. In this sense, standards are not something we can return to because they are actually something we can never leave.
But precisely because they are woven throughout the created order as a manifestation of God’s character, they are necessarily woven in side by side with manifestations of God’s kindness, mercy, love, forgiveness, and tender care. The one who comes to God must believe that He is the living God, and that He is good (Heb. 11:6).
Detaching God’s holiness from God’s tendermercies is the devil’s trick; it is the devil’s lie. And believing the lie is believing that lie unto condemnation. If you insist on believing that He is a hard master, reaping where He did not sow, then you will be condemned out of your own mouth as a wicked and lazy servant (Matt. 25:24-28).
So the way of “returning to standards” that is diabolical is the way of discovering that standards are rigid, unyielding, hard, objective, and that they make a dandy club to use on others. The one who is dealing with his guilt (or whatever he calls it) is one who already has a fragmented view of God. The Christians who deal with him ought not to share that fragmented view. When they do, they are playing the part of conservative accusers, conservative devils.
Now God can use them, just as He uses the actual devil, but it is still not a place you want to be. When the law comes to a man, it needs to be brought by someone who knows that holy law as part of the fabric of the way things are, and who pleads with the sinner to turn back to God because His mercies endure forever, and that also is part of the fabric of the way things are. Everything ties together in Christ, and apart from Him nothing whatever makes any sense.
I said that these things are woven into the created order. Not only so, but it is a very tight weave. We persuade men because we know the fear of the Lord (2 Cor. 5:11). We make the appeal because the love of Christ constrains us (2 Cor. 5:14). We don’t look at anybody the same way anymore. God reconciled us to Himself, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18). God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself — that was the word of reconciliation we have been given (2 Cor. 5:19). What was that word? That in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself by not counting their trespasses against them (2 Cor. 5:19). That phrase not counting their trespasses against them is kind of remarkable if you think about it. God has done something that enables Him to not care about our sins, to not care what the accuser says.
What it means, in short, that in the death of Christ, God has impaled the devil. When the people were afflicted by fiery serpents, Moses lifted up an image of a serpent in brass. Their affliction, their accuser, was lifted up and they were healed when they stared at it, when they saw that judgment on a pole. Just as Moses lifted up that impaled serpent in the wilderness, so also Jesus was lifted up on the cross so that whoever believes in Him should not perish (John 3:14-15). This means that the words of the next verse, the most famous verse in the Bible, are governed by what leads up to them. Believing on Jesus to everlasting life means looking at Jesus, with the eyes of faith, as an impaled serpent.
We can do this because God made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf (2 Cor. 5:21). We are reconciled, and have been given the words of reconciliation. The words of reconciliation are that the world has already been reconciled, and all charges have been dropped. Therefore, we plead with men, on this basis, be reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:20).
It was the strangest trial I ever heard of. A guilty man was dragged into court, as furtive and ashamed as a man could possibly be, and it all ended with the prosecutor being dragged out of the courtroom and summarily hanged. And after that the judge came back from the dead.