Moralizing the Gospel and Self Idolatry (Part 2)

                Recently, we discussed moralizing the gospel and if the Church is an “I’m-Better-Than-You” Club.  Moralizing can be either atheistic or theistic.  Atheistic moralizing believes that a moral life can be obtained without God, the Bible or Christ.  Theistic moralizing is when one believes in the gospel, yet reduces the gospel to set of Biblical principles, a list of compulsory rules or shallow commands stripped of the framework of the gospel.  If one obeys, he or she is in.  If not, he or she is out.  While faithful obedience is necessary (Heb. 11:6), such a view of the gospel is reductionist, leans toward legalism, and makes the focus of Christianity the individual who receives God’s grace and less about Christ, the great giver of grace.

                As Christians, we must be conscious that we can live moral lives where moral living is primarily about us, rather than about him who is in us.  Colossians 1:19 says that in Christ the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.  Ephesians 3:16-19states “that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being,  so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith--that you, being rooted and grounded in love,  may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”  Carefully observe that the fullness of God is in Christ.  The Spirit is granted to us to strengthen and power our inner being.  Christ dwells in our hearts through faith.  These principles are the basis for understanding life’s greatest virtue-love (1 Cor. 13:13).  When Christ dwells in us we begin comprehend the magnitude of Christ’s love, a love that is self-sacrificial and God focused.

                Tim Keller writes, “There are, in the end, only two ways to read the Bible:  It is basically about me or basically about Jesus? In other words, it is basically about what I must do or basically about what he has done?” (Emphasis his 60).   He continues

“If on any level I believe that through moral efforts—living a chaste life, surrendering my will to him, helping the poor, converting others to faith—I can secure God’s favor for my prayers or earn his blessing, then my motivation for doing all these things is some mixture of fear and pride.  The fear is the desire to avoid punishment and get some defense and leverage over God and others.  The pride is the sense that, because I am so decent and accomplished, I am not ‘like other people’ (Luke 18:11) but a cut above.  In the final analysis all the good I am doing I am doing for myself. My deeds of service to God and to my neighbor are ways of using God and my neighbor to build up my self-image, to secure respect and admiration from others, and to give leverage over God so that he owes me something.  Ironically and tragically, all my goodness is for me, so I am nurturing sinful self-centeredness, the ultimate idolatry, in the very midst of my efforts to lead a moral and good life.” (Keller 60-61).

Christian moral living can become a life of self-idolatry or self-righteousness.  In this life when we accomplish our goals, our standards, our aspirations, and our dreams we have in our own skewed view saved ourselves all the while forgetting that we have fallen at our own feet to worship.  But, Christianity is not about saving ourselves.  Rather we are to empty ourselves for Jesus emptied himself taking on himself the form of a slave (Phil. 2:7).

                How important is righteous living? It is a must (Heb. 11:6)!  By grace we are saved through a living active faith (Eph. 2:8).  But, let us never think that right living is the primary way we are saved.  God’s justice and holiness look all across the spectrum of our lives and while every righteous deed honors the Lord, our holy and perfect God could not save us by us.  Thank God for Christ!  Worship the risen Savior and fall at his feet!

                Paul said “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  . . . and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith-- that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Phil. 3:11).

Keller, Tim.  Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism.  Penguin, 2016.