How Can We Know that Jesus is Our Objective Moral Standard? A Response to Richard Carrier

“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.” ~ Romans 13:8

In the United States Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson stated: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

In other words, Thomas Jefferson famously acknowledged that we have objective moral standards and duties to which we all aspire and about which we all consider self-evident. By recognizing and adhering to our basic human rights of equality and liberty, we can achieve happiness. These values are coupled with others I also consider axiomatic: love, truth, forbearance, justice and mercy. These standards are considered objective in that they do not vary as a function of our opinions of them. As an example, truth does not vary by my opinion of it. It stands alone.

No person has ever achieved perfection in all of these values, yet we know the perfect and objective forms of each transcend generations and cultures. We know innately what we ought to do and understand universally these prescriptive normative ethical values. Accordingly, the source of these values must transcend generations and cultures. The only source that transcends generations and cultures is our moral lawgiver, God, and we have an exemplar of perfection in all of these values with His earthly manifestation in Jesus Christ.

I recently was asked a question in a discussion with Richard Carrier on how I can know that Jesus Christ is our objective moral standard. I consider Him to be our moral exemplar and through His example, we can better understand how we are expected to live our lives. The intention of the following blog is to present an answer to his question by identifying the ways He perfectly exemplified each of the aforementioned values.

Love

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” ~ 1 Corinthians 13:4-8

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” ~ Mark 12:29-31

“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  ~ John 15:12-13

Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, we have been freed from the binds of our sins and offered an eternity in paradise with Him. He exhibited the greatest form of love on earth.

Truth

Truth can be defined as that which conforms to reality as perceived by God. The reality is that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.

 “Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

“Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”

“Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

“You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

“What is truth?” retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him.” John 18:33-38

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” John 14:6

Forbearance

Forbearance is tolerance, self-control and restraint.  Jesus exhibited perfect forbearance when he was tempted by the devil after fasting for forty days in a moment in which He would have been at His weakest physically.

“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple.  “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” – Matthew 4:1-11

Equality

Equality refers to the state of being equal in status, rights, and opportunities. Despite the second class status of women during Jesus’ day, Jesus gave women the distinct privilege of being the first to learn of His arrival (Luke 1:26-38) into the world and of discovering His empty tomb (Matthew 28:1-9; Mark 16: 1-8; Luke 24: 1-12; John 20: 11-18). Through these actions, Jesus exalted women, giving them first class status when others treated them as property and discounted their testimonies.

Liberty

Liberty refers to freedom. The ultimate form of freedom is when one acquires full knowledge of the way, the truth and the life.

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” – John 8:32

Justice and Mercy

Justice refers to fairness and equity, while mercy refers to forgiveness. The perfectly just judge cannot both punish sins, which equate to death, and forgive sins to grant eternal life. As sinners, we do not deserve eternal life. Yet our Father, in His perfect and complete love for us, granted us that which we do not deserve through the ultimate sacrifice from His Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus willingly bore the brunt of our sins through His death on the cross and resurrection. Like the Passover lamb, which is always free from blemish, the sacrifice for our sins had to come from one who had not sinned. Only one who manifested as a human and who is free from sin could break the binds of sin and death for humanity.

One might protest that since God made the rules, He could have made the rules differently. Instead of blood, which represents life, God could have chosen to sacrifice an inanimate object, like a chair. Instead of the sacrifice of His own Son, God could have chosen to sacrifice an animal, like a deer. Yet neither an inanimate object nor an animal (or another human, for that matter) would equitably pay the price for the sins of humanity. The price is too great. Furthermore, a sinner cannot pay the price for sin.

Ransom theorists suggest that God had to sacrifice His Son to pay the price to Satan, yet such a theory gives Satan undeserved power and an elevation to a higher status than he deserves. Furthermore, had Satan known that God would resurrect Jesus from the dead to free us from the bondage of our sins, he would not have stepped into Judas to betray Jesus. Satan’s goal is not to decrease the numbers of those in his captivity, but to increase his power and numbers.

To whom did God make the payment then? God made the payment to His children in both this realm and the next. God paid His children by upholding the coherence, consistency and perfection of His moral laws that guide us. The answer to the question of why God sacrificed God is because He is perfect justice, mercy, and love. The Christian Lord is the only higher power who has reconciled the “dilemma” of perfect justice and perfect mercy. Justice was not compromised by His mercy.

“Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).

Conclusion

In conclusion, if someone asks how we can know that Jesus is our objective moral standard against which we can judge the practices of humanity, our example is to point at the way He exhibited moral perfection in love, forbearance, equality, justice and mercy – and through His truth, we are set free. Our innate moral compasses give us the answers.

Thank you for your time.

“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.” ~ Romans 13:8

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