Cultural relativism is the view that moral or ethical systems, which vary from culture to culture, are all equally valid and no one system is universally “right” or “wrong.” This view is in direct opposition to the biblical worldview, which teaches objective and universal moral truths that come from God. The Bible makes it clear that there are absolute moral standards that apply to all people, in all cultures, for all time. Let’s take a closer look at what the Bible says about cultural relativism.
All People Are Accountable to God’s Moral Standards
The Bible teaches that God is the Creator of the universe and the ultimate Lawgiver who has authority over all people (Genesis 1:1, Exodus 20:1-21). He has established moral absolutes that flow out of His holy and righteous character. Although cultures and customs differ, God’s moral law remains the same. In Romans 2:12-15, the apostle Paul writes that all people have the requirements of God’s law written on their hearts. Everyone has a conscience that bears witness to God’s moral law. This means that no matter what culture someone is from, they are accountable to the same God-given moral law.
The Bible makes it clear that moral truth is grounded in the eternal, unchanging nature of God Himself (Malachi 3:6, Hebrews 13:8). His moral standards do not shift or evolve over time. He requires the same morality from all people, regardless of cultural background or time period in history. For example, acts such as murder, theft, and sexual immorality are condemned in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17) and throughout Scripture as morally wrong for all cultures and ages.
Cultural Practices Are Measured Against God’s Standards
Because God’s moral law transcends all human cultures, the Bible provides a framework for evaluating cultural practices. Customs and behaviors that conflict with biblical principles are considered immoral and sinful, even if they are widely accepted or permissible in a given culture. Other practices that are in accordance with God’s moral law are pleasing to Him, even if they go against what is culturally acceptable.
For example, the ancient Canaanite culture was pervaded by idolatry, child sacrifice, and temple prostitution (Deuteronomy 12:29-32), but the Bible clearly condemns these practices as evil. Similarly, although the Roman culture of New Testament times permitted practices like slavery, infanticide, and marital unfaithfulness, the biblical writers instructed Christians to reject these prevailing cultural norms in favor of God’s standards (Ephesians 5:3-5, 1 Thessalonians 4:3-7).
Scripture serves as our measuring stick for evaluating right and wrong amid varying cultural perspectives. The moral absolutes it presents supersede human cultural practices. This allows Christians to discern which aspects of culture to affirm or reject based on God’s truth.
Christians Are Called to Live According to God’s Truth
The Bible makes it clear that Christians are to live according to God’s truth, even when it contradicts cultural values around them. Romans 12:2 instructs believers not to be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of their minds according to God’s will. His will is expressed in His Word and represents an unchanging moral standard.
Followers of Christ have a responsibility to honor God above their culture and submit all of life to His lordship (1 Corinthians 10:31, Colossians 3:17). This means rejecting any cultural ideas or behaviors that are contrary to biblical teaching and adhering to biblical moral standards first and foremost. Christians are called to honor and obey God even when it costs them social acceptance or brings persecution (Luke 6:22-23). They live as citizens of God’s kingdom, following His ways rather than those of the world (Philippians 3:20).
The Bible exhorts Christians not to adopt the sinful patterns of the world, such as sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires (Colossians 3:5-7). Instead, Scripture calls them to pursue holiness and righteousness by emulating the character of Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit (1 Peter 1:14-16). Their primary identity comes from being children of God, which supersedes any cultural label.
Christian Values Promote Human Flourishing
Living according to God’s design as revealed in the Bible leads to human flourishing, while violating His moral law is detrimental. Scripture shows how obediently following God’s Word results in blessings, meaning, and abundance of life (Psalm 1, John 10:10). His standards are given for our good to promote love for others, faithfulness, justice, compassion, and other virtues that reflect His wise and loving character (Micah 6:8, Matthew 22:37-40).
Conversely, the Bible presents many examples of the destruction that comes from violating God’s standards. Stories like the flood in Noah’s time (Genesis 6-9), the immorality and idolatry of Israel (Jeremiah 3, Ezekiel 6), and the sexual immorality of Sodom (Genesis 19) all illustrate how rebelling against God’s moral law brings ruin, calamity, and suffering.
Because the Creator knows how human beings thrive best, obedience to His design leads to healthy, just, and compassionate cultural practices. Following God’s truth promotes values like respect for life, care for weak and vulnerable, equality, honesty, generosity, and integrity. The Bible offers timeless moral guidance for building cultures that enable human flourishing.
Christians Must Balance Conviction with Compassion
As Christians engage cultures that depart from biblical morality, they must balance strong conviction for God’s truth with Christlike compassion. Following Jesus’ example, believers should stand firmly for biblical principles while also extending mercy, patience and love for those still lost in sin (John 8:3-11). Their motivation should be a desire to see people reconciled to God and conformed to His likeness.
When addressing opposing worldviews, Christians must speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), gently instructing those who contradict God’s Word (2 Timothy 2:24-26). Their conversations should be full of grace and seasoned with salt (Colossians 4:6). Believers must avoid a harsh, condemning posture, instead exemplifying humility, kindness and concern for the wellbeing of others as they engage moral differences (Matthew 7:1-5).
Standing for truth inevitably involves tensions and disagreements. But Christians can model godly ways of navigating conflict and show compassion even in the midst of principled stands. By living out the gospel, they can spur necessary cultural reform while also introducing people to the transforming love of Christ.
Christ Transforms Cultures and Worldviews
Only by personally receiving salvation through Jesus Christ can individuals experience heart transformation that then bears fruit in cultural renewal and change. Through the gospel, Christ reshapes societies and cultures from the inside out as individual lives are renewed, sins are forsaken, and the fruit of the Spirit blooms (Galatians 5:22-23). These redeemed individuals become salt and light that permeates and improves cultures to align more closely with God’s truth and righteousness (Matthew 5:13-16).
The early church saw this very pattern as the gospel exploded across the pagan Roman Empire. Believers infused cultural institutions with biblical values of justice, human dignity, compassion, generosity, and more. Over time, distinctly Christian principles took root and reformed societies where the gospel spread. The same transformative power is at work today among cultures where Christ’s Lordship is embraced.
Only the message of salvation and new life in Christ holds power to thoroughly convert individuals and societies from unbiblical worldviews to alignment with God’s truth. As believers faithfully bear witness to the gospel, the Holy Spirit moves mightily to reshape cultures according to God’s design for human flourishing under His loving Lordship.
Cultural relativism insists that all cultural norms and values deserve equal validity, with no universal standard of right and wrong. But Scripture makes it clear that God’s unchanging moral law transcends all human cultures. His righteous standards not only address individual behaviors and attitudes but also provide an ethical framework for evaluating entire cultural systems and practices. The Bible calls Christians to submit all of life to God’s truth as revealed in His Word, even when it contrasts with their surrounding culture. They must balance strong conviction with Christlike compassion as they engage opposing worldviews. Ultimately, only personal transformation through receiving Jesus Christ holds power to thoroughly convert cultures to alignment with God’s ways.