Moralism vs. The Gospel

December 7, 2019

When it comes to morality, just about every major religion teaches the same thing... be a good person, and if the scales tip in your favor, you'll be granted access to paradise. Every religion, save one, has essentially taught this message. Traditional Christianity flies in the face of all of this. It's offensive, illogical, and in all truthfulness, unfair. I've heard it said: "When we get to heaven, there will be a lot of people there who we didn't expect, and a lot of people not there who we thought would be."

Modern Christianity, as I like to call it, has become progressive, has stripped itself of its offensive nature, and embraced morality as its torch to carry rather than the true gospel. Don't get me wrong, morality is important. We see James speak of how "faith without works is dead", and in 1 John, numerous times morality is brought up. Such as the warning of "No one who abides in Him keeps on sinning" (3:6). This is a natural consequence of accepting the gospel. The Spirit gives us a supernatural rebirth, and a hatred and a change of mind (repentance) towards sin. This isn't to say we no longer sin (far from it), but it is to say we can no longer live in that habitual lifestyle of pleasuring in sin as we once did. It's confusing at times, because some of the worst sins have been committed by God's own people, yet some of most morally upright people we know from history rejected the gospel. But if we are to preach morality, it must be preached through the lens of the gospel, not in place of it.

Some of my favorite books are Paul's letters to the Corinthians. The Corinthians, I tell ya, had a moral compass so messed up, I'm surprised they were able to navigate themselves anywhere but the pits of hell. The city of Corinth was built around 1500 BC, destroyed in 146 BC, and rebuilt around 100 years later by Julius Caesar. It was in the city's second phase that it began to diversify, taking in Romans, Greeks, and Orientals. It was elevated as a Roman Colony, was the home to many different religions, and was the main hub for all things immoral. In fact, the greek word "korinthiazomai" (to act as a Corinthian) became common slang back then for "committing fornication". Women entertainers would moonlight as prostitutes, it was the "Las Vegas" of its day, "what happens in Corinth, stays in Corinth". Yet in this God awful, moral cesspool of a place, Paul was able to plant a church. If it was a moral church you were looking for, then keep looking.

In this church we still find grave immorality, such as a man having sex with his step-mom, and we do see Paul give instructions for corrections. But throughout his entire letters he still addresses them as "those sanctified in Christ Jesus". He still refers to them as believers and as brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul doesn't just reprimand them (as he should), but he reminds them first of Christ crucified. See, without this, their morality, as Isaiah puts it, is like "filthy rags" (literally menstrual rags). Morality makes sense. It's a message that can be taught and understood by all. The Bible even teaches how everyone has the law written on their hearts. Everyone is born with a conscience, so "be a good person and do good things" is a message we can all essentially get behind.

The message of the gospel though? That's a different story. It turns everything on its head, and gives grace to the undeserved, to the wicked, to the prostitute. Unlike the message of morality, it makes absolutely no sense! It only truly starts to makes sense until you accept it by faith. Later on in Paul's first letter to Corinth he states:

The natural person does not accept the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. "For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ"

Paul here is contrasting a man driven by the Spirit, vs a man driven by his mind. The latter is unreceptive and does not only not accept the things of God and the gospel, he doesn't even understand it. They are foolishness to him, a mockery, a joke. Why? Because he is "spiritually discerned." The meaning of "discerned" (the greek "anakrinomai") used in this passage is that of examination or scrutiny. It is mostly used in the context of judicial examination, and is only used by Paul and Luke. Here it is implying a man of having the impatience and unwillingness to seek the truth and the inability to gather the facts on a spiritual plain. It's interesting given the location where his letter was sent. If anyone should have recognized their own depravity and need for a Savior, it would have been those in Corinth. Paul then asks and answers his own question, "For who has understood the mind of the Lord?" The answer? We do! "But we have the mind of Christ". We are not only given the mind of Christ, but are given the righteousness of Christ as well. This is the gospel, and this is the message that is foolishness to the world.

Be a good person yes, but be good for the glory of God, not because you are trying to earn God's favor. That is the difference. To others, motives may not matter, or may not even be obvious, but we know God knows all and searches the heart of man. It's good to preach good works, but in place of the gospel it's sin. What good does it do to feed a man but starve his soul? We see churches go on mission trips to third world countries and do great things, build schools, drill wells, and provide healthcare to those in need, but the message of the gospel is absent. They have full bellies, great! They can now go to hell with a full stomach. Again, don't get me wrong, I think it would be just as foolish to share the gospel and not provide a need that we are well capable of providing, but if you had to give one or the other, give them Jesus! Don't neglect the eternal problem while focusing on the temporal ones. Tell the man who has slept with his step mom that there is forgiveness for his sins. Tell the selfless man that his works won't grant him access to heaven. The gospel of Christ levels the playing field, we are all accepted by grace through faith. The message of moralism has become the "itching ears" of our time. Removed from the gospel, it's heresy, but in harmony with it, it's a sweet biblical truth that brings glory to our King.

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