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What Would Jesus Do? A Guide To Making Ethical Decisions

We all face difficult moral dilemmas in life. What would Jesus do if he were in your shoes? While we can never know for sure, studying Jesus’ teachings and example in the Bible provides guidance. If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Jesus calls us to love others, forgive enemies, care for those in need, be truthful yet merciful, and put God first above all else.

This article will explore in-depth how you can apply Jesus’ model to your own ethical decision making.

Understand Jesus’ Core Ethical Principles

Love God above all else

Jesus taught that the greatest commandment is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). This means making God the top priority in life and seeking to please Him in everything we do.

Loving God leads us to obey His commandments, pursue intimacy with Him through prayer and studying the Bible, and live with an eternal perspective rather than getting caught up in temporal things.

Love your neighbor as yourself

The second greatest commandment according to Jesus is to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). He wants us to treat others the way we want to be treated (Luke 6:31). This ethical principle instructs us to care for the needs of others, showing them grace, forgiveness, compassion, kindness, and selflessness.

It demolishes prejudice and challenges us to love those who are different from us, even our enemies.

Be merciful and forgive others

Jesus emphasized showing mercy and forgiving others who wrong us just as God has forgiven our sins. When asked how many times we should forgive, Jesus said “seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:22), meaning we should always forgive.

He told a parable highlighting the importance of extending mercy, saying the unmerciful servant who refused to forgive a small debt after having a large one forgiven would face punishment (Matthew 18:23-35).

Jesus forgave those who crucified Him (Luke 23:34), providing the ultimate example of merciful forgiveness.

Study How Jesus Handled Ethical Dilemmas

The woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11)

This story demonstrates Jesus’ compassion and grace in the midst of a morally charged situation. The teachers of the law brought a woman caught in adultery before Jesus and challenged him to uphold the Mosaic law by stoning her (John 8:5).

But Jesus turned the challenge back on them saying, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7). Ultimately all her accusers left and Jesus told the woman, “I do not condemn you, go now and leave your life of sin” (John 8:11).

Jesus opted for forgiveness and giving an opportunity for moral transformation rather than condemnation.

Healing on the Sabbath (Luke 13:10-17)

Jesus boldly healed a crippled woman on the Sabbath which stirred up controversy. The synagogue leader expressed indignation stating “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.” (Luke 13:14). But Jesus replied, “You hypocrites!

Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?” (Luke 13:15-16).

For Jesus, showing compassion took priority over strict adherence to religious rules and rituals.

Paying taxes to Caesar (Luke 20:20-26)

When asked about paying taxes to Caesar, Jesus gave a thought provoking response saying “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” (Luke 20:25). Essentially Jesus elevated people’s obligations to God above obligations to human authorities.

At the same time, he acknowledged earthly realities and did not promote outright rebellion against established authority structures. Jesus left room for people to prayerfully wrestle with how to navigate between competing allegiances.

As shown through these examples, Jesus consistently prioritized compassion for people over blind rule following. He challenged the status quo when it conflicted with caring for human needs. These stories give guidance for tackling modern ethical issues – consideration should be given to how showing grace and understanding can uplift human dignity.

Apply Jesus’ Principles to Modern Ethical Issues

Lying versus telling the hurtful truth

Jesus emphasized honesty and integrity, but also compassion. When facing a situation where telling the truth may needlessly hurt someone, we should carefully weigh the ethics. For example, small “white lies” to spare someone’s feelings could be acceptable, but lies that enable serious harm would go against Jesus’ principles.

We should strive for truth while also “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).

Stealing to help someone in need

Jesus told us to love our neighbors and care for those in need. However, he never condoned stealing, even for a good cause. There are many ethical ways we can assist and advocate for the poor without resorting to illegal acts.

For example, donating money or items, volunteering at shelters, supporting policies that reduce poverty, etc. As Martin Luther King Jr. showed during the civil rights movement, nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience can create positive change.

Seeking justice and forgiveness for harms

Jesus taught us to “turn the other cheek” when facing personal offense, but he was vocal about injustice in society. We should advocate for restorative justice practices focused on rehabilitation and healing rather than punishment.

However, forgiveness does not mean allowing harm or abuse to continue. We must speak out against oppression while also showing mercy. Ultimately the goal should be restoring the dignity of all people as beloved children of God.

Cultivate Christlike Virtues

Compassion for others

Jesus was the ultimate model of compassion during His time on earth. He healed the sick, fed the hungry, and welcomed the outcasts of society with open and loving arms (Matthew 14:14). As followers of Christ, we are called to emulate His compassion by caring for those in need around us – the poor, the marginalized, the lonely.

A compassionate spirit sees beyond surface level differences to the inherent worth in every human being, as all are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27).

Some ways we can cultivate Christlike compassion include volunteering at a homeless shelter, befriending a shut-in neighbor, donating to charitable organizations, and simply being aware of people’s needs around us. “A new command I give you: Love one another.

As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34).

Self-sacrifice and servanthood

Jesus perfectly epitomized self-sacrifice and servanthood in the way He gave His life for humankind. As Philippians 2:7 states, “He made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant.” Jesus washed His disciples feet, taking on the role of a house servant (John 13:1-17).

He submitted to an excruciating death on the cross out of obedience to the Father and love for us (Romans 5:8).

As followers of Christ, we are exhorted to adopt Jesus’ servant mindset of putting others before ourselves. We can live this out through kind actions big and small – preparing meals for a sick neighbor, watching a friend’s children so she can have a break, spending time listening to someone who is lonely.

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves” (Philippians 2:3).

Courage and integrity

Jesus demonstrated remarkable courage and integrity throughout His earthly ministry by speaking difficult truths, challenging social norms and unjust practices. He boldly confronted the religious hypocrisy among the Pharisees, turned over the tables in the temple to oppose the commercialization of worship, and willingly went to the the cross rather than compromise His message for an easier path (Matthew 21:12, Matthew 26:39).

As Christ followers, God calls us to a similar brand of courage and integrity fueled by devotion to Him and His values. This may mean speaking up for someone being bullied even when it’s unpopular, blowing the whistle on corruption and injustice despite personal risk, or making morally courageous choices around sexuality, honesty, and ethics that go against the grain of culture.

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go\” (Joshua 1:9).


Making ethical decisions can be challenging, but Jesus’ teachings and example provide a moral compass. By understanding and applying His core principles of love for God and others, studying how He navigated dilemmas, and cultivating Christlike virtues, we gain wisdom for living moral lives that honor God and serve humanity.

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