In preparation for my sermon this past Sunday, I re-read the opening lines of Michael Horton’s book Christless Christianity. He writes:
What would things look like if Satan really took control of a city? Over half a century ago, Presbyterian minister Donald Grey Barnhouse offered his own scenario in his weekly sermon that was also broadcast nationwide on CBS radio. Barnhouse speculated that if Satan took over Philadelphia (the city where Barnhouse pastored), all of the bars would be closed, pornography banished, and pristine streets would be filled with tidy pedestrians who smiled at each other. There would be no swearing. The children would say, “Yes, sir” and “No ma’am,” and the churches would be full every Sunday…where Christ is not preached.
There is a great difference between moralism and the gospel. Moralism, in fact, inoculates us from the gospel by giving us something of “the real thing” ensuring that we miss out on the true gospel all together. We must remember that Christ came first not to make bad people good but to make dead people live. If we forget that, our Christianity will turn out to be Christless.
In a recent article, Dr. Al Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and host of the Albert Mohler program, rightly identifies the false gospel of moralism. He writes:
In our own context, one of the most seductive false gospels is moralism. This false gospel can take many forms and can emerge from any number of political and cultural impulses. Nevertheless, the basic structure of moralism comes down to this –the belief that the Gospel can be reduced to improvements in behavior.
The seduction of moralism is the essence of its power. We are so easily seduced into believing that we actually can gain all the approval we need by our behavior. Of course, in order to participate in this seduction, we must negotiate a moral code that defines acceptable behavior with innumerable loopholes. Most moralists would not claim to be without sin, but merely beyond scandal. That is considered sufficient.
Moralists can be categorized as both liberal and conservative. In each case, a specific set of moral concerns frames the moral expectation. As a generalization, it is often true that liberals focus on a set of moral expectations related to social ethics while conservatives tend to focus on personal ethics. The essence of moralism is apparent in both — the belief that we can achieve righteousness by means of proper behavior.
Here’s a taste from one of Scotty Smith's (from The Gospel Coalition) prayers:
When I mute my heart to the insult of grace, I deny your cross. When I think, even for one moment, that my obedience merits anything, I deny your cross. When I put others under the microscope and measure of performance-based living, I deny your cross. When I wallow in self-contempt and do more navel-gazing than repenting, I deny your cross. Though I hate the bumper-sticker, when I actually live like you’re my co-pilot, I deny the cross.
*This writing is not original with me, It comes from a dear brother in Christ, Tullian Tchividjian