On Moralism

Christians who are taught to act morally primarily to escape punishment or to win self-respect and salvation are learning to be moral to serve themselves.

They are not loving God for Himself.

They are not obeying him simply because of his greatness and because he has done so much for them in Christ. Rather, they are using God to get the things they want.

Question for Reflection

  1. What is your motivation for obedience?

Resources

Timothy Keller, Center Church, 67.

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7 Characteristics & Beliefs of Moralists

Moralism

In Matthew 12:1-21, the Pharisees interaction with Jesus over Sabbath regulations show their moralistic tendencies. Based on their interaction, here are 7 characteristics & beliefs of Moralists.

7 Characteristics & Beliefs of Moralists

(1) Moralists believe they can work their way to God (2; 7).

(2) Moralists believe they are free, but are really in bondage (2; 9-14).

(3) Moralists miss out on the teachings of Jesus and true salvation/rest (11:28-30; 12:18-21).

(4) Moralists are merciless (9-14; 20).

(5) Moralists are selfish (9-14).

(6) Moralists perform because they are forced (2).

(7) Moralists are strongly resistant to change (14).

Question for Reflection

  1. Are you a Moralist?

Resource

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Post adapted from my most recent sermon: Rest Not Works

There are No Self-Made Men in God’s Kingdom

Men at Work

Sam Walton – the founder of Wal-Mart – is a self made man.

He grew up during the Great Depression. His family was poor like most others. He had to pay his own way through College by working as a lifeguard. After college, he worked two jobs before serving in WWII.

Not until after the war did he catch a break. Using the money he saved, along with a loan from his father-in-law, he bought into a franchise, before opening his own store – Walton’s Five & Dime – and eventually Wal-Mart. His success as the owner of Wal-Mart earned him the title of America’s richest man.

We love stories like Walton’s. It motivates and inspires us. It drives us. That’s because it tells us if we work hard enough, we can become whatever we want. It’s the American Dream.

When it comes to our job, that way of thinking is fine, but we must set that aside when we turn to our relationship with God. Hard work doesn’t earn us success and acceptance with God. If we think that way, we are in trouble because there are no self-made men in God’s kingdom.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:8-10).

Resources

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Post adapted from my most recent sermon: Rest Not Works

Faith + Nothing = Salvation

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 [1].

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.

Conclusion

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

  1. Do you see yourself obeying God’s Word in order to earn something from Him?
  2. After reading Romans 6, do you think you abuse God’s grace?
  3. How does the gospel radically change your idea of salvation?
  4. Why do you would obey God’s Word?

Resources

[1] Thoughts on Moralism, Relativism, and the Gospel taken from The Centrality of the Gospel by Tim Keller

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We Can’t Refine Ourselves

The gospel tells us that we can’t refine ourselves, because we are inherently sinful. But knowing that does not keep people from trying. One way they try to do this is by adding to the gospel message, thinking that their additions make them more holy and more acceptable to God. However, this is simple not true.

Justification by Faith Alone

Throughout biblical history, many groups have sought to impose laws along with the gospel as a means for salvation. The Judaizers, in Galatia, are one example. They believed the Gentiles must first become Jewish proselytes and submit to the Mosaic law along with believing in Jesus as their Savior in order to be saved (Gal. 1:7; 4:17, 21; 5:2-12; 6:12-13). But this is not the Bible’s message of salvation.

In his letter to the Galatians, Paul disagrees with the Judaizers’ when he says,

a person is not justified by works of the law, but through faith in Jesus Christ…because by works of the law no one will be justified.” (Gal. 1:16)

Paul makes it clear that we are not justified by the works of the law but by grace. This is a theme he will re-enforce time and again throughout the letter.

Christ of No Advantage

Paul tells the Galatians that the Judaizers who add to the gospel message by requiring the Gentiles to be circumcised are creating another gospel. One that does not save. He tells us that

those who “accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage” to them (Gal. 5:2).

In other words, when one adds to the gospel, they are no longer justified by Christ’s work on the cross, but by their own works.

Obligated to Keep the Whole Law

In the case of the Judaizers, who are saying gospel + works = salvation, do more than just add a few works to an already free gospel. They are obligating themselves to keep the whole law since their gospel is not the gospel of Christ. In other words, by eradicating the true and free gospel of Jesus Christ they are placing themselves under the stipulations of the law, which must be kept perfectly in order to provide them with salvation.

Conclusion

What we find then is that we cannot reconcile ourselves to God (Gal. 2:16; 5:3-5). For if we try to add to the gospel, then we make Christ of no advantage to us, and we force ourselves to keep the law perfectly, which we cannot do. The true gospel tells us that we can only be justified by faith alone (Gal. 3:10-14). So then, we can’t refine ourselves. We can only be refined and reconciled to God through the gospel.

Questions for Reflection

  1. Are there things that you add to the gospel message, requiring people in your church to do before they are saved?
  2. How does the gospel free us from having to do works in order to be reconciled to God?

Resource

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Respectable Sins: 4 Manifestations of Pride | Part 2

In my last post in this series, I discussed the pride of moral self-righteousness. Today, I continue my discussion by focusing on the pride of correct doctrine.

The Pride of Correct Doctrine

This sin manifests itself when we think our belief system is superior to others. It often occurs in those who are theologically minded, or even in someone who believes doctrinal distinctions are erroneous or unnecessary. Personally, being theologically minded and having attended seminary, I struggle most with this form of pride.

What does Scripture have to say?

Scripture is not silent when it comes to the pride of correct doctrine. In 1 Corinthians 8:1 Paul addresses this form of pride, when he writes,

 “Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up.

In this verse, Paul does not disagree with their knowledge. He too believes that idols are nothing and that eating meat offered to idols is permissible. What he disagrees with is the pride associated with their knowledge.

Apparently, some in the church in Corinth had become puffed up because they thought themselves doctrinally superior to the other church members, since they realized food offered to idols was not wrong to eat.

Paul tells them that their knowledge is not to puff them up, but it is to cause them to act in love. Knowing that others will stumble when they eat meat offered to idols, should result in them limiting their eating of it to certain times and places; times and places when and where their weaker brothers are absent. In doing so, they would be acting out of love and not pride.

However, if they chose to partake when their weaker brother was present, they would not only cause them to stumble, but they would be acting out of pride. Since they would be touting their knowledge of correct doctrine.

How do we guard against this form of pride?

First, by treating others with respect. Realizing that many godly men and capable scholars hold differing beliefs than we do for good reasons. We should not down them, as if they are stupid, ignorant, or less intelligent. Rather, we should disagree with the system to which they hold, while still respecting them and their abilities.

Second, by being humble about our beliefs. So what if we have it right? Being doctrinally correct does not make us better than someone else.

Looking Forward

In my next installment in this series, I will focus on the pride of achievements. Until then, reflect on this post through the questions below.

Questions for Reflection

  1. Are you susceptible to this form of pride?
  2. What belief systems might we believe are better than others?
  3. Has God convicted you of this sin in the past? If so, how did you deal with it?
  4. How might it affect our church if we rid the pride of correct doctrine from our church?

Resource

Post Adapted from Respectable Sins by Jerry Bridges, 89-100