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.


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?


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


How Do We Live Like the Elder Brother?

In my last post, I made some observations from the parable of the prodigal son. In doing so, I highlighted the Gospel as the third way to live, with the other two ways to live being the way of the Relativist and the way of the Moralist. You can read my post here.

In the parable, the younger brother represents the Relativist, and to him everything is about self. The elder brother represents the Moralist, who lives outwardly for God, but inwardly his heart has not changed. In an effort to help us see how we live like the elder brother, so we can correct our thinking and actions, I want to ask and answer the question: How do we live like the elder brother?

We Act Like The Elder Brother:

When we believe we are saved by our works

  • This manifest itself in the following ways
    • We do this so, so we get salvation type thinking
    • When we do not think of our sin as being offensive to God.
    • When we think we are not that bad saying, “Sure Christ died for me, but I really was not that bad.”
    • Comparing ourselves to others saying “I needed God’s grace, but not as much as this person over here does. Look at their sin and look at mine.”

When we believe our works earn us favor with God

  • This manifest itself in the following ways:
    • We show up to church every time it is open thinking if we miss a service we are not in God’s favor.
    • When we believe we may get in a car wreck, or lose our job, or fail a class, or that one of our kids will not turn out right, if we are not consistent with our quiet times because somehow God will pay us back for not spending time with Him.
    • When we believe God will not use us or bless us if we are not reading His Word or doing Christian type activities often.

When we believe we must pay Christ back for our salvation

  • This manifests itself when we say things like: 
    • Christ died for you, witnessing to others is the least thing you can do for Him.
    • Christ suffered for you, the least you can do is read your Bible and pray to Him everyday.
    • Christ went to the cross for you, the least you can do for Him is go on a missions trip, part with some of your resources in order to help the church, or show up to services on Sunday.

When we believe God owes us for being such a good Christian.

  • This manifest itself when:
    • We do not receive the recognition we thought we should have received at church for helping with a ministry project, serving the church, attending regularly, and we get mad about it.
    • When we get jealous when another person who obviously has not done as much as we have gets recognized or asked to help with another ministry/task even though we said we wanted to serve as the chairman of that committee, teach that class, or serve those people.

The Christian disciplines mentioned throughout this post are good, but they can become corrupted when we believe they: 

  • Earn us salvation
  • Earn us favor with God
  • Become a way to pay Jesus back for what He has done for us
  • When they are done because we want to gain things such as recognition, or opportunity.

Should we stop coming to church, serving the body, doing our quiet time, praying, teaching a class, etc? 

  • No, we should not. The reasons we do them though should change.

The Gospel: A Third Way

The parable of the prodigal son found in Luke 15:11-32 is directed at two types of people. The relativist (younger brother) and the moralist (elder brother).

The Relativist

The Relativist lives how he wants. He does the things he wants to do because he does not believe it is important to follow God’s commands. He does not believe it is necessary to give God His rightful place, which is the Lord of His life. In doing so, he shows he believes he does not need a Savior.

In the parable, the younger brother represents the Relativist. He asks for and receives his inheritance from his father before his father’s death. He turns his inheritance into cash and leaves home to seeks fulfillment and joy in living how he pleases. Even though he thought living his own way would bring him joy, it brought him nothing but despair and enslavement.

The Moralist

While the Relativist does not obey God’s commands, the Moralist strictly seeks to obey God’s commands and please Him. He is at church every time it is open. He reads his Bible everyday, prays, and does a host of other things that look Christian. Even though he does and says all the right things, his heart is not right. He believes his good works earn His salvation and favor with God.

In the parable, the elder brother represents the Moralist. While, he did not ask his father for his inheritance early, turn it into cash, and leave home to seek his own desires, he still seeks to serve himself by staying home and serving his father faithfully.

Even though, his actions looked noble righteous, they did not stem from a righteous heart. He believes he should receive good things for his good works. Notice in the parable the complaint of the elder brother. He believes his father should have given him a young goat to celebrate with his friends because of his dedication in serving him.

Instead of living to glorify God, the Moralist does good, in order to attempt to control God.  Not only does he believe his works earn him salvation and favor with God, but his good works are an attempt to control God.

A Third Way

Jesus tells this parable not only to point out the error of the Pharisees in living like the elder brother, and the enslavement and joylessness that comes from loose living, but also to show us the gospel, which is the third way we can live. In the gospel, we are not accepted based on our works, but by God’s grace, and His grace is not something we can earn. It is something freely given to us.

In the gospel, we do not seek to please ourselves, or we do not obey God, in order to control Him and get our way. Rather we live a righteous life because we have been freed and empowered to do so.

Our belief in Jesus as our Lord and Savior serves to change our hearts, and with it our desires. Not only are we given a new heart and new desires, but we are empowered through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives to live out our righteousness. In other words, we do not perform good works to earn our salvation or favor with God, but we perform good works because we have been freed and empowered to do so.


In this parable, we do not see two ways to live, but rather three. We can live either like the Relativist, the Moralist, or we can rest in the gospel. For it is only in the gospel that we are truly free to worship and serve God, rather than ourselves.