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Moralism

Introduction: We had Vacation Bible School at my house this year.  27 kids and 15 adults descended upon my house for five days this past week.  And we had a blast.  I think I’m still cleaning red Jello off of my patio.  At VBS, We learned that even when we’re afraid, even when we’re different, even when we’re lonely, and even when we do wrong, Jesus loves us.  And the interesting thing is that the way the content portrayed these truths was by calling it “weird.”  The theme of VBS this year was WEIRD ANIMALS, where Jesus’love is one-of-a-kind.  Supposedly, we were supposed to see how even though these strange animals like the star-nosed mole, and the frilled lizard, and the leafy sea dragon are different and well, weird, they are unique and God made them that way.  But the overarching premise was that Jesus’love for us is weird, it’s unique, its one of a kind. 

 

But what really is unique about Christianity? Isn’t it just another religion like the thousands of others out there?  Doesn’t it have its problems and issues and scandals?  What’s so different about Jesus than Muhammed or Buddha?  What sets it apart? The Sunday School answer is that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, but there are examples of sacrifice in other religion as well.  So what is unique? What is weird?  To get at the heart of it, we need to understand that there are really only two types of spirituality in this world. All religions fall under one of these two categories. The first one is humans trying to reach God, peace, or spiritual wholeness through their own efforts. They do good deeds, they pray a certain number of times a day or certain types of prayers, they give to charity, they convert other people to following their path, they avoid doing and thinking “bad stuff’and concentrate on “good”stuff, whatever that might be.  Islam teaches the Five Pillars you must do to be a true Muslim. Buddhism teaches that you must follow the Four Noble Truths in order to reach Enlightenment.  While Hindus teach an ascetic lifestyle, or one of intentional hardship, Feng Shui teaches aesthetic living which is one of hyper-spiritualized intentional comfort.  Ninety-nine percent of all religions teach some kind of method of things you have to do in order break the cycle of what is wrong with this world and with humanity.   The other type of spirituality, which really only Christianity falls under is that God, or the divine, reaches down to a human level to reveal that He is the one who has already given us everything we will ever need.  Freely and completely.   And we look at that, and naturally we go yeah right…what’s the catch? 

 

There’s a hidden camera reality TV show that my wife and I like watching called What Would You Do, and on one of the episodes they decided to offer people free money.  They set up a booth in downtown Boston with a sign that “Free Money.”  It was amazing to see how many people looked at the sign and just walked by! The people that did walk up were like what do I have to do? Nothing? Really?  What in the world? But there is none. That’s what’s one-of-a-kind about Jesus love.  Through what Jesus did by dying on the cross and rising from the dead in our place, we receive Salvation as free gift if we just trust in that truth.  That’s it. That’s the essence of Christianity.  We are loved by God only by grace alone, through faith in him alone - only because of what Jesus did. Nothing else. The only thing we have to do is believe.

 

The apostle Paul wrote to a group of new Christians in the book of Galatians who were struggling with this very concept.  They were formerly Jews, believing that they to maintain the love of God by following God’s law.  But Paul makes it completely clear to them.

 

Galatians 2:16For we know that a person is not justified (meaning declared “good enoughin the eyes of God) by works of the law (meaning by following God’s will and commands perfectly) but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

 

It’s almost like he said the same thing twice just so that we’re absolutely sure.  We have a perfect relationship with God that is based on nothing but what Christ has done for us.  And God wants us to be secure in that faith each and everyday, no matter how good or bad we feel we’re doing in terms of morality. 

 

Last week, we started this teaching series called “Christian”Rules Every Christian Should Break as Often as Possible, because the reality is that some of the tendencies of those other (point to the board) spiritualities tend to make their way into Christianity and can begin to undermine that free gift of Jesus.  Satan has a way of tempting us to distrust Jesus’simple but profound Words and then makes us shift the focus back our own ability to reach God or please him on our own.  The “Christian”Rule we learned we should never follow last week is that you can find God in your heart, or in your emotions to tell you if God is really with you and on your side.  There are some Christian teachers who mean well, but will tell you that if you just pray hard enough or worship hard enough or believe hard enough you will experience Jesus’love.  But Jesus tells us to trust His words, and no matter how we feel about him or about our faith, the promises of Jesus hold true regardless.  That he will never leave us or forsake us, even when we can’t “feel”him. 

 

Today, we’re talking about the rule of moralism, or belief that you can please God by being a good, moral person.  On the one hand, it sounds good because who doesn’t want to be moral? Morals are good. Morality is how we keep order and structure and safety as a part of our lives and our society.  Obeying the law is a good thing.  Being kind to one another is a good thing.  Drinking delicious local craft beer is a good thing.  Fizzy yellow water is evil.  Right? God created morality.  He delivered the Ten Commandments through Moses over 4000 years ago and they are still just as valid and helpful today.  Dont murder or steal or slander or covet. But moralism is different from morality.  Moralism is a religion unto itself, a religion on which all those other religions are founded.  It’s our natural human understanding that nothing is free.  And so instead of relying solely on the work of Jesus on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins, Satan tries to slip in a little moralism and put the focus back on us, which inevitably either leads to pride or despair. .

 

It usually sounds a little something like this: Jesus died for you, but now you’ve got to live a live that is worthy of that sacrifice.  Jesus got you to the door, but now you have to prove that you can live out your faith. If you’re not serious about getting right with God by living the right life, then how do you know he’s really got your back on this whole forgiveness thing. —And so you begin to feel pressured to try please God by fixing your life here so he’ll be happy with you.

 

Maybe you’ve wondered about this before.  Maybe you’ve thought, “I know Jesus died for me and he loves me, but after all I’ve done this past week, or month, or this morning, after all the negative and mean things I’ve said, all the impure things I’ve thought, all the relationships I’ve messed up, all the worry I’ve had for no good reason, God must really be disappointed with me.  Maybe he’s going to hide himself from me for a while until I clean my life up, until I get my habits under control, until I get rid of all this sin.  Moralism, while it promises that you can make God love you more by doing more good things, actually stabs you in the back, because you can never do enough or believe enough or avoid sin enough in this life for the perfect standard of God, and more often than not, you fall completely flat on your face. Guilt then becomes something that the moralist lives with daily. 

 

But moralism has an answer for Guilt too, and it usually sounds like this - “Of course you cant be good all the time.  God would never expect you to suffer like that.  Its only a little white lie. Its not adultery if you love her. Do what is in you, What matters is that you try.  And when you fail - blame someone or something else!”Moralism tells us to minimize our own brokenness and sin as though we can actually control it and blaming circumstances and other people for our problems.  I used to play a lot of golf when I was younger, but I ran out of two things that golf requires - time and money.  But from my days as a golfer I remember something interesting. Golfers are interesting people.  When a dude shanks a shot he doesnt blame himself.  What does he blame? He blames the club!  “Told you I need a new driver.”  No maybe youre just bad.  How come guys in 1885 could hit 10 under par with nothing but a rock tied to a wooden stick.  The problem isnt with the club. The problem is with you.  The moralist is like a golfer. They try to deal with sin by blaming everything and anything else for their problems.

 

But when you sin its not because of your circumstances, its because of your heart. And Moralism, because it focuses on your actions can never fix your heart. The reality is that every single person that has ever lived has inherited a disease of the heart called sin that makes us at odds with the heart of God, and there is nothing that we can do to change that, no good deed to outweigh the bad, no amount of effort to change our lives and make them better will make God love us more than he already does.  There is nothing that we can do, no sin that we could avoid, no good deed that we might try, no amount of effort to change our lives for Jesus can ever bring us closer to God.  Itsnot like God is looking down day by day at our actions and saying, man youre looking holy today! Did you do something different? You didnt swear at all today, did you? A+ Never happens. You can go Amish, and build barns all day long.  You can wear floor length skirts everyday, Ive tried. You can throw away all your technology and ride carriages, but at the end of the day, Jedediah will find a way to sin.  Were all sinners and will continue to be until the day that we die, but anyone who is covered by the sacrifice of Jesus through trust in Him in him alone is unconditionally loved by God their at their best and at their worst. 

 

Most parents today love conditionally.  What I mean by that is while most of us believe we are loving our children unconditionally, we have a tendency to show extra affection and love when our children do something right, and we tend to portray disapproval and withdraw when they do something wrong. Without a solid understanding that the relationship is secure and love is unconditional, even when the child does wrong, studies have shown that older children and even adults end up resenting their parents and struggling with constant internal pressure and even guilt and shame.  In the future when Annaliese tells me she wants to cover her body in tattoos, I hope and pray that I respond with patience and understanding while reinforcing that I love her regardless, but you’re still not getting a tattoo.  On the flipside, I also don’t want her to get A’s in school only because she feels I will only truly love her if she does.  I would much rather her get B’s and C’s and know that I love her and our relationship is secure than for her to stress about getting A’s and fear that she’s not pleasing me.

 

And that’s how God feels about us.  He loves us unconditionally.  He doesn’t need us to prove our obedience and faithfulness to Him.  And that simple truth is incredibly hard to believe, but incredibly freeing when we do.  We don’t have to wonder how God feels about us because of what we do or don’t do. As children of our heavenly father, we have to realize that God doesn’t need us to do anything FOR Him to love us.

 

So if we’re not doing our good deeds FOR God, who are we doing them for? As followers of Jesus and those who delight in the law of God, we don’t live moral lives for God, we happily do it to love our neighbor.  Jesus doesn’t need our good works, but those that God has placed in our lives do.

 

Paul puts it this way later in his letter to the Galatians in chapter 5:

Galatians 5:1, 13-14For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery (in other words, Jesus set you free from the slavery to the law, don’t trade it for another slavery of indulgence in things that are bad for you and contrary to the law)….For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.  For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

 

It was so cool to see so many people at my house this week give of their time and energy to serve and love these little ones.  There were probably a lot of other fun things they could have done with their mornings that didn’t include chasing kids and wiping noses.  And I don’t think a single one of them was doing it to try to get brownie points with God. They did it because they know that God loves them and so they wanted to love others and share with them the truth that Jesus’love is one of a kind.

 

May we always be reminded of that simple truth, even when we do wrong: Jesus loves us.  Amen?

 

*Series based on the book Broken: 7 ''Christian'' Rules That Every Christian Ought to Break as Often as Possible by Jonathan Fisk

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