The Moral Charade
It is the ambition of some to be recognized as “a godly man” or “a godly woman.” Faith in the achievement of moral excellence for one’s self only causes the godly moralist to call men to virtue. He imagines he is a moral leader among immoral men.
Moralistic preachers have a high view of man (especially themselves!), which means they have a distorted view of God. They see and acknowledge human potential. They encourage others to take pride in who they are and what they do. Often, there is a longing for “the good ole days.” Somehow culture, society, and the nation were all morally better back then. A student of history knows better; therefore, “glory days” is a strange phenomenon.
The Bible corrects our fleshly penchant for moralism. It does this by exposing its reader to the standard of God’s Law (Ex 20; Dt 5). Confronted with non-compliance (Rom 3:23; 1 Jn 3:4), the student of the Law is either defeated or reasserts her efforts to try harder. It is far better to concede defeat, than to double one’s efforts to become more obedient to God, or resolve to become a better citizen.
Sinful flesh hates defeat. The fear of being recognized as a failure compels most people back onto the treadmill of endless attempts “to be a better me.” In this, the pursuit of moral excellence is therapeutic. Putting on the show of being a godly man or woman makes religious people feel better about themselves.
What is actually happening is a swelling up of pride. Men think more highly of themselves than they ought (Rom 12:3), especially if their endeavor for virtue finds a bit of success. They put confidence in the flesh (Phil 3:3). Man looks at the outward appearance (1 Sam 16:7), and if the religionist is a good projector of moral virtue, then public recognition comes from others.
Politicians are very good at this moral grand-standing. They pretend they care about all that is good, right, and just. Meanwhile, many of them are lining their pockets, as a result of the power afforded them by their positions.
Preachers are also notorious for putting on their Sunday best and espousing moral living. They write books about the disciplines that made them moral giants. Christians separate themselves from their money to buy the next copy of “7 Habits of Highly Moral Christians.”
Our challenge is to expose the immorality of pushing morality (Eph 5:11). First, morality is not evil in itself. Immorality is evil. Therefore, it is confusing when one comes along and condemns the promotion of moralism. The problem is that virtues are not the way of salvation.
People love moral religion. They do not question promulgation of moral virtues. It might surprise you to know that the devil loves morality and religion, as much as he loves immorality and atheism. The devil cheers on the libertine and also celebrates the conservative legalist.
Calling on culture, society, or a nation to stiffen up and become virtuous (again) is a false gospel. This is why there is little or no resistance. A case example is Oswald Chambers’ “character counts” teaching that was fully stripped of Christ and ripped from its roots in Christian teaching. It has been employed by secular education, as a teaching and learning emphasis.
No one objects to the character traits of honesty, courage, or trustworthiness, but few ask, “Do totally depraved sinners have the power to change themselves into virtuous people?” Most educators, politicians, and preachers give affirmation. Nike chimes in with a signature “Just Do It.” When a woman’s razor manufacturer cheers, “Awaken the goddess in you,” we are tipped off to the source of power, for bolstering self-image and esteem. To Adam and Eve, this sounded like, “You, too, shall be as gods (Gen 3:5).”
Christian promotion of Christ as “the answer” is the real therapy for our moral deficiencies. The grace of God transforms the immoral wretch, by imputing Christ’s righteousness into the regenerated soul. In the school attended by the adopted children of God (Rom 8:15, 23), the Holy Spirit and the Word of truth powerfully change the mind, the heart, and the will of the converted sinner (Jn 17:17). She has been made new (2 Cor 5:17).
Tell the natural man “Be ye virtuous!” and he may or may not try to do so. Regardless, you are setting him up for failure. He will not achieve virtue because his nature is sin (Eph 2:3), and all his practices are sinful (Gen 6:5; Rom 3:23; 5:12). He is a sinner, who is always sinning. He is not moral, nor ethical, except to put on a show, in order to get ahead in the world. Or, he may do so in fear of the consequences of the Law. Whatever his motive, he falls short whether he attempts morality or not.
Christian, you must not participate in this moral charade. You must preach Christ and Him crucified (1 Cor 1:23; 2:2), as the only hope (1 Tim 1:1). Everyone must be dissuaded from trusting in their own imaginary goodness (Rom 3:10–12). Their “good works” must be exposed as vanity. The pride of man must be brought low by the preacher of God’s grace in Christ. People need to hear of the excellencies of the perfect God/man (1 Pet 2:9), not the virtues of self-attained moral excellence.
When Christ is apprehended, He has already begun the good work of manifesting the virtues of godliness and holiness, in the new creature with a new character. In this, all glory will be ascribed to God, for His will and work of producing a character that counts…its virtuous blessings, produced by God’s grace alone.
Spokane Valley, Washington
August 15, 2022