Examining the Ethos of Your Life

Christian obedience is typically thought to include two parts: what not to do and what to do, turning away from what is evil and pursuing what is righteous.

I want to suggest that virtue is far more complex.

God is not just concerned with what you should and shouldn’t be doing, but also with how you do and don’t do certain things.  God’s expectations go beyond our thoughts, words, and deeds; He is interested in the very ethos of our life.

What is ethos?

Ethos speaks, not to what we do, but to how we do things; not to our virtue, but to the feel of our virtue; not to mission, but to how mission is pursued; not to our actions, but to our being.

Ethos isn’t measured as much as it is felt.  It isn’t objective as much as it is subjective.

I suppose you could say ethos is a way of being as we enact our Christianity.

And what we need to understand is that ethos is not secondary to Christian ethics.  How you do things is just as important as the things you do.

So what should the ethos of our lives be?  That’s easy.  Love.

Jesus clearly prioritized the ethos of love in His famous plea for His disciples to be known, above all else, as a people of love. (John 13:33-35)

But most compelling of all is 1 Corinthians 13 where Paul plainly says that even our greatest deeds are for naught if they are void of love:

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”

The implications of those words are staggering and deeply convicting.

If you have precise theology and have not love, then you are a bad theologian.

If you boldly stand for justice and have not love, then you are contributing to the injustice of this world.

If you are right and have not love, then you are wrong.

If we were to say no to every single sinful temptation that comes our way and have not love, then we are profoundly sinful.

Here’s the point: ungodly ethos can literally nullify all Godly endeavors.  It’s that important to God.

So how’s your ethos?

When we search our lives for areas that need confession and repentance, the ethos of our lives must be a part of that examination.

What impression do you give off?  What do people feel in your presence?  What do you do to the culture of your family, work, church, etc.?  We must literally examine, not just words and deeds, but the very disposition of our words and deeds.


Perhaps I’m not as far along as I had thought.  Perhaps I have much more to confess (to God and to others) than I realize.  Perhaps Christian virtue isn’t something I can self-manufacture after all.  Perhaps I desperately need Jesus and His perfect love to forgive me from my colossal failures to love.

And perhaps these realizations will humble me, change me, and make me more into a person who loves like I have been loved, a person whose ethos is love.

Rev. Robert Cunningham