In my sermon Sunday morning, I began to unpack the dangers of legalism – sometimes known as moralism. I want to revisit that subject today, as you and I have before us a wonderful opportunity to rediscover grace. Thank you for bearing with me in love. (More on that this Sunday morning.)
Why is this subject of grace so important? For one main reason. I’ll let the Apostle Paul describe the peril of getting this wrong (Galatians 1:6-8): I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.
That’s it. It’s a matter of life or death. Grace is life. Non-grace is death. This is no trivial theological debate, friends.
So let me give you my bottom line: the most dangerous enemy faced by this or any other church is a wrong understanding of how a sinful person is justified (saved) in the eyes of a holy God.
The gospel – the true gospel – is all about what Christ has done for us. How He came, and lived, and suffered, and died, and rose again for us! How He loved us before the foundation of the world. How He purchased us by the shedding of His blood on a cruel cross. How He perseveres in and through us. That’s it. The gospel is all about the work of CHRIST.
Moralism – or legalism – comes along and subtly destroys Christ’s gospel. Instead of being “good news,” what was once the gospel becomes the hopelessness of what I must do for God. Please let that sink in. This is a much bigger threat to the church than the evils of popular culture. When compared from the perspective of eternity, the danger levels are not even close. Please let that sink in.
It’s hard to believe that anyone would ever choose a performance standard for righteousness over the matchless grace of Jesus Christ, but that’s what people do all the time. Particularly religious people. Particularly people “raised in church.” Please let that sink in.
What happens to a person who buys into the lie of moralism? That person begins to believe that their identity and self-worth come from how good they are. Deadly. Deadly. Deadly. Instead of believing the life-giving gospel of Christ, that person hops up onto a gerbil wheel of works righteousness that never stops spinning. Deadly. Deadly. Deadly.
Do churches come right out and say that they’re teaching this lie? No. But they teach it all the time. For the most part, they don’t even realize that they’re not teaching Christ’s gospel.
What I will attempt to do in this blog post is to offer you some diagnostic statements. If these fit you, I urge you to turn away from this “different” gospel and to run instead to the merits of Christ. As always, His arms are open wide.
- Being a Christian means living a moral life.
- The reason I need the Bible is because I need good advice on how to live.
- The main problem in our country is the liberals.
- The reason Jesus came to earth was to show us how to live.
- If everybody lived by my rules, the world would be a better place.
- If and when I sin, I hope that God will forgive me.
- We grow in spiritual maturity by getting better at living the Christian life.
- The main problem in our country is the conservatives.
- The church should preach strong sermons on sin so that people will straighten up.
- I’m so glad that I was raised right, and that I was smart enough to choose Jesus.
- If I lack humility, I know several ways in which I can work on that.
- After I do (or think) something terrible, I withdraw from God until I feel worthy again.
You can see from my list that any of us can fall into any of these traps fairly easily. Because we’re part of a community of faith, we’re a breeding ground for Pharisaism and self-justification and self-righteousness. But I hope that you will also see that – held up to the light of Scripture – each one of these statements is grossly at odds with the life-giving gospel of Christ.
“I once was lost, but now I’m found; was blind, but now I see.”
Choosing grace instead, with you,