The Dangers of Moralism and Being A Good Person

By Amber

I came across a “quote” (okay, a paragraph-and-a-half) that has been stuck in my mind ever since. Let me share first:

“[Human] obedience or outward goodness is achievable by every person, saved or unsaved, because of God’s common grace. In some ways, society is certainly better off if people observe social, civic, and religious laws, if people try to be good to each other. It is more advantageous to live in a land of peace and freedom than of strife and slavery. Respect, courtesy, and civil obedience are blessings from the Lord, who bestows his blessings on the just and the unjust.

But if our human obedience or morality isn’t motivated by gratitude for God’s grace, it is very dangerous. If not rooted in gratitude for God’s love for us in Christ, morality is deadlier to the soul than immorality. Why? Remember that Jesus said it is those who are lost, who know they need a physician, that he came to save (Lk 19:10). Those who excel at the sort of obedience listed above may not see their need for a Savior; their hearts may be hardened and unfazed by God’s grace. Remember that it was the woman who knew that she had been forgiven for much who loved much (Lk 7:47). Forgiveness for deep offenses breeds deep love. Forgiveness for perceived and reasonable slights breeds apathetic disdain. A society riddled with immorality will not be a pleasant place to live, but a society riddled with self-congratulatory morality will be satanic and resistant to grace. It will be nice and tidy and loveless and oh, so dead. And it will be only a breath away from murder. Remember that it was the religious leaders, not the prostitutes, who called for the execution of Christ.” – Jessica Thompson, Give Them Grace

When I think about concepts that are the most difficult to teach today, I would say this is high on the list, and also an integral part of the gospel. We all want to believe in the good in everyone and no one wants to admit they are bad or in need of Savior (which is a phrase thrown around so often that I sadly think neither believers nor unbelievers completely grasp the gravity of it most of the time).

Since posting my perspective on the Facebook same-sex hype, I’ve given a lot of thought to what exactly unbelievers need to hear, homosexual or not. I expressed some of my feelings in the comment section:

“I was thinking about this today and if everyone already knows all the verses condemning homosexuality, what can we say?

I think a better way to go about talking to anyone about coming to Christ is to paint a clearer picture of the gospel. Christ changes hearts, not an arbitrary verse outside of the understanding of His significance. We all have to deny ourselves when we put on Christ, and some deal with heartbreaking circumstances because of that decision. The beauty of the gospel, and the uniqueness of it is that it takes our focus off of this life. Being a Christian isn’t about finding things or people on earth to make you happy, it’s about finding happiness in God and being fulfilled in Him and His promises so much that you surrender to Him, forsaking all of your attachments to this world – whether it’s marriage or children or materialism or success or family or the praise of men or even just safety and health-the gospel is something that millions have run to their torturous death for.

The truths that would make anyone willingly do that are radical truths that need to be spoken- and it’s so much more than “this is an abomination to God.” We need to tell the story of Christ and the grace of God before we can hope for any Biblical teaching on homosexuality to have an influence.”

So, I thought about writing an article based on that, about things I wish I could tell unbelievers. But I got stuck on this point, this point that we need God, we need Christ, we are simply not good by ourselves. Who wants to accept that message? Who doesn’t yearn for understanding or the benefit-of-the-doubt when we fail? Who enjoys hearing that we’re in the wrong?

And has this stumbling block been made worse because of our accomplishment of becoming simply “moralistic” and our success of instilling pride and self-reliance in our children? Is the solemn truth that the road to hell is paved with good intentions present in this situation? In our quest to better ourselves, our society and our world, we have slipped further from God, blinded ourselves to our desperate need for His grace and have painted an illusion of confidence in our abilities to get by on our own.

Am I pointing the finger at the unbeliever who has tried to find goodness apart from God alone? No, sadly I believe moralism has disguised itself and crept unnoticed into the hearts of believers as well. Sincere Christians can easily be misguided into relying on rules and obedience until months and years pass and they forget humility, they forget how it feels to be desperate at the feet of Christ. When we become Christians, God’s grace motivates us to grow in His image and to please Him through obedience to His will. Unfortunately, this can lead to amnesia and even Christians who never “grew up in the church” can begin to feel comfortable in their own goodness and success at following the rules (while becoming blind to the sneakier sins that continue to corrode their hearts). Am I making assumptions about Christians? No, I’m just describing what I’ve experienced in my own faith.

As someone who came from a history of even rebellion by worldly standards: drugs, alcohol, promiscuity, uncontrolled anger and emotions, disregard for education, for family, rehab, I knew I needed Christ, and I was humiliated by His forgiveness. But the years passed, my conduct changed and I failed to keep that humility in check.

We are all in danger of not understanding our need for Christ: unbelievers because they believe and are saturated in the social practice of cultivating self-reliance, self-esteem, goodness and moralism without God, and believers because there is a fine line between embracing God’s grace,striving to do His will…and focusing on the rules and forgetting your need for His grace, i.e. moralism without God.

Only when someone is able to put off their pride and their self, will the message of the gospel be of any affect. Only those who have tasted the vanity of life and our pursuits in it and the impossibility of doing it on their own will be able to cling to the cross, even unto death like millions of believers in Christian history.

Without this acceptance, nothing I say about the sacrifice of Christ, the unrelenting grace of God and the hope of heaven will have any significance. Without this acceptance, we won’t see the need for grace. We will feel good, apart from Him.

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” – Jeremiah 17:9

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” – Ephesians 2:1- 3

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” – Romans 3:23

“They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.” – Ephesians 4:19

“For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.” – Romans 7:18

“For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.” – Titus 3:3

Such condemning words that secretly resonate as truth within us. How difficult it is to not fight them….but is that the end of the story? It would be, without Christ. This is such a condensed and partial version of the story. This is me skimming the surface showing others that we ourselves are skimming the surface of pseudo-goodness and trying to present the gospel in small enough paragraphs to hold your attention. It cannot be exhaustive, blogging never can be ;)

Instead of reacting in the human way we are all familiar with, God looked at our sinful desires and actions, our hate for one another and Him, our slavery to passions and fleshly desires, and our pride in ourselves despite these truths, and He gave more of Himself. He chose to give us love and grace and a way out, a way to Him…knowing that the majority would spit in His face instead.

Is that how we are inclined to react to injustice? No.

Because we simply are not naturally good apart from God.

There is only One who is good, and He has made a way for you – even knowing your transgressions before you’ve admitted them, He is longing for you to return, not standing behind you, fuming.

“Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” – Mark 16:16

“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.” – Ephesians 2:8, 9

“And he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” – 2 Corinthians 5:15-19

“For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.” – 1 Timothy 4:10

“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” – 1 John 1:8-10

“Who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began” – 2 Timothy 1:9

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” – John 5:24

Condemnation is not the end of the story, not the point of the Bible, not the purpose of Christ.

“The irony of gospel-based sanctification is that those who end up obeying more are those who increasingly realize that their standing with God is not based on their obedience but on Christ’s.” – Tullian Tchividjian

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Related Post: We Are Not ‘Good’


2 thoughts on “The Dangers of Moralism and Being A Good Person

  1. Thanks for the encouraging article. You mentioned that both believers and unbelievers have a misguided view on what it means to be saved. Oftentimes I find that the analogy people use about salvation is Jesus threw out the lifesaver while we were drowning. However, according to the gospel, we already drowned and were dead on the ocean floor. Then Jesus rescued us, brought us back to life, and gave us His spirit so that we would obey Him. Keep preaching the Word and thanks again for writing on this subject.


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