If it Feels Right…

“See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.”
-Colossians 2:8, ESV

This post is the first in a series in which I hope to interact with philosophers, especially modern and postmodern. The first I will pick is John Stuart Mill.

John Stuart Mill had a sad childhood, learning Greek and Latin classics he didn’t understand when he should have been playing outside with friends.  John Stuart Mill was probably not the first Utilitarian, but the first to popularize it. The most destructive aspect of his philosophy is the belief that

Good = Pleasure
Evil    = Pain.

We see how tremendously influential his ideas are with statements like, “If it feels right, it is right.” The problem is, sometimes evil is pleasurable, and sometimes doing the right thing will cause you pain. If you follow Mill’s philosophy, you will do evil things, convinced they are good because they are pleasurable.

Mill’s philosophy has influenced us in more subtle ways. Consider an extreme example first, and then a more subtle. One woman has an abortion and says it was a good experience. Another woman who has never had an abortion says abortion’s bad. Our culture will find the first woman’s testimony to be more credible precisely because we have deeply imbibed Mill’s philosophy. Mill’s philosophy leads us to believe that someone with an existential experience doing evil has a more credible, more legitimate experience. Of course, Jesus, who was sinless (which means He never had an existential experience doing evil) nevertheless speaks with authority on things like lust, anger, and greed in the Sermon on the Mount. If Mill’s philosophy is true, the sinless Christ cannot speak with any authority about evil things like lust, anger, and greed. Now consider a more subtle example. Consider one man who has sex outside of marriage, gets married, remains faithful in marriage, then says his sex outside of marriage was bad. Then consider a second man who has never had sex say sex outside of marriage is bad. Our culture will hold the testimony of the first man to be “more legitimate” because of his existential experience doing evil.

But the truth is, you don’t need to commit murder before you decide whether murder is good or bad. You should know murder is wrong, and then not do it. You can and should learn the difference between good and evil without an existential experience doing evil.

And what if John Stuart Mill’s view of pleasure isn’t pleasurable enough? What if the gospel offers something better? What if joy, pleasure, righteousness, pain, suffering, and glory can be mingled together? They can. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,  looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1, 2, ESV, emphasis mine).”

The Kirk and Gagnon Debate

Professors Kirk and Gagnon debated on the same-sex controversy and whether LGBTs should be allowed maintain their current lifestyle and have church membership.

Professor Kirk made an interesting argument. He claimed that the Holy Spirit is forming his beliefs that LGBTs should be given church membership and be allowed to maintain their current lifestyle, but there is a serious problem with this. Let’s take a look. When the apostles met to understand God’s will for the inclusion of Gentiles into the body of God’s people, they had this to say:

“For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.”
Acts 15:28-29, ESV

When the Gentiles were included in the body of believers, the Holy Spirit directed both 1) their inclusion and 2) that they should abstain from sexual immorality. Here is the problem with Kirk’s position: In order to maintain the position that the Holy Spirit approves of sexual immorality, he has to maintain that God the Holy Spirit is wrong in Acts 15:28-29. Um…not a place I want to go.

The culture is screaming at you right now that you must approve of someone’s sexual immorality to love them. The Pharisees are screaming at you that you must be doctrinally sound to the point of being unkind to LGBTs. The culture and Pharisaism are neither satisfying, only going deeper into truth, love, and obedience, so two truths: love does not rejoice at wrongdoing (1 Corinthians 13:6), and sinners loved to hang out with Jesus (Luke 15:1). They were probably amazed that someone so holy could be so kind. Jesus said of himself, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32). Be patient and kind to whomever you meet. Point them to Jesus’ cleansing work on the cross for sinners and encourage them to repent. That’s being like Jesus.

Lust and sexual immorality do not come from the Holy Spirit of God (Galatians 5:19), which should convict the culture. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control come from the Holy Spirit of God (Galatians 5:22, 23), which should convict Pharisees in the church.

Sexual Immorality and Jesus

In the golden calf incident, we see that sexual immorality and idols go hand-in-hand. But what was particularly dastardly was the Israelites didn’t just worship the golden calf, they called the golden calf their “Lord.” They claimed their false god was the real God so they could indulge in sexual immorality. Wherever you see sexual immorality justified in the name of Jesus, know that is a false Christ.

“For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.”
-Jesus, Matthew 15:19

“For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray.”
-Jesus, Matthew 24:5