The gospel presents a radically different idea of salvation than most people believe, even among those who call themselves Christians. Salvation is either thought of something you earn, or as a belief only. These two forms of salvation are called Moralism and Relativism.
Depending on where you life, Moralism or Relativism may be more or less popular. To generalize, Moralism is often popular in the red states, while Relativism is more popular in the blue states. On the surface, Moralism appears more dangerous because there is a perceived goodness in the individual that provides them with salvation, while it is often clear the Relativist is living in sin. In reality, they are both just as dangerous and need to be corrected by the gospel.
What is Relativism and Moralism? How does the gospel correct them both? Let’s start with the former of the two questions.
Relativism and Moralism
Relativism stresses grace without truth. God accepts us all, sin has no bearing on us, and we have to decide what is true for us. While the Moralist creates additional laws, the Relativist cast off law completely, thinking they can do whatever they like because they have been extended God’s grace.
In doing so, they create a god of their own making. A god they only have to believe in, not one who is the Lord of their life. The reason they do this is to appease their conscience and their fleshly desires at the same time. Belief in God provides their conscience with comfort, while a license to sin provides for their flesh. The gospel, however, tells us we can’t have our cake and eat it too.
Moralism stresses truth without grace. Salvation is obtained by obedience only. Grace is thrown out for proper behavior and additional self-imposed laws, which are believed to help them earn God’s grace.
The Moralist, just like the Relativist, creates a god of their own making, even though their god is completely different. Instead of allowing them to live how they want, the god of the Moralist only accepts them based on their works. Legalism then dominates Moralistic societies.
The Gospel: A Third and Better Way
In contrast to both Moralism and Relativism, lies the gospel, which is not a set of rules. Rather, it is an understanding that believing in Christ’s sacrifice is sufficient for salvation.
How the Gospel Differs from Both Moralism and Relativism
The gospel differs from Moralism in that it does not require someone to earn their salvation. Rather than earning their salvation, they are saved through Christ’s sacrifice alone, which means they are then freed to live out their righteousness. In other words, their righteous actions become a product of their salvation, not a way to earn or keep their salvation .
The gospel differs from Relativism in that it does not give one a license to sin. Paul makes this explicit in Romans 6 when he says,
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (Rom. 6:1-4)
God’s grace is not to be abused. Rather, His grace frees us to walk in newness of life. It frees us from the grip of sin. It allows us for the first time in our life to live according to God’s commandments.
Relativism and Moralism show us that man has a tendency to distort the Bible’s teaching in an effort to save himself independent of God. The biblical model of salvation, however, leaves no room for either Relativism or Moralism. The Bible heralds the message of justification by faith alone apart from any works of the Law. A message that is radically different than the world’s, but one that is radically freeing. Through the gospel alone we are free to live out our righteousness without seeking to earn our salvation, as well as we are freed from the grip of sin to live in accordance with God’s commandments. Therefore, the Bible’s message of salvation is: Faith + Nothing = Salvation.
Questions for Reflection
- Do you see yourself obeying God’s Word in order to earn something from Him?
- After reading Romans 6, do you think you abuse God’s grace?
- How does the gospel radically change your idea of salvation?
- Why do you would obey God’s Word?
 Thoughts on Moralism, Relativism, and the Gospel taken from The Centrality of the Gospel by Tim Keller