Wednesday, January 30, 2013

My Inner Moralist

I've had a long relationship with moralism - one which I have been actively trying to sever. Unfortunately, my inner moralist has the knack of raising her ugly head periodically or worse, camouflaging herself under the guise of wanting to do things right. There's nothing inherently wrong with wanting to do a good job. Who wouldn't want their surgeon to perform the operation correctly or have their pilot land the plane without mishap? We should strive for excellence for the glory of God, but this desire ceases to be good when right behavior, understanding, attitude, feelings, and [add your favorites here] determine acceptance and favor with God.

Now consider the promises of God. I've realized a good deal of my problems with worry stem from not knowing the exceeding great and precious promises found in Scripture.These gifts from God in Christ not only give comfort and hope but also reveal His character. What a wonderful thing to study, meditate upon, and believe! Let's start taking God at His word! Amen?

But ... what if I don't appropriate them correctly? What if I am presuming upon God? The last thing I want to do is be like the prosperity preachers who think God is obligated to give me whatever I want just because I say the right words. And this is where my inner moralist disguises herself. To avoid a name-it-and-claim-it misuse of God's promises, I can swing to the other extreme, thinking my understanding needs to be absolutely correct or else I could be guilty of presumption. On the surface, it sounds noble and pious, but access to God's promises becomes dependent upon my doing something right. I need to earn what He intended as a gift. I'm robbed of receiving with joy and, in turn, worry about not performing up to par. At its heart, moralism is destructive because it's a thief of the gospel2. Sneaky, isn't it?

But these very promises provide the power and freedom to shut the door in this robber's face and turn the lock.
But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. Titus 3:4-7
So, Inner Moralist, listen up, and I will repeat this if necessary. The way to heaven isn't a ladder of duties but a golden chain of free grace3.  The promises of God aren't mine because of the accuracy of my understanding or the state of my Christian walk.  They are freely dispensed from Mercy's hand and no other. God has committed Himself to be my God and placed me in Christ where all His promises find their yes and amen. 4 Did I do anything to deserve it? No. Can I jeopardize God's covenant with me because of this sin? No, because the gospel is for recovering moralists too. What is left then? Repent, believe, and receive His promises by faith with thanksgiving.
No unworthiness, therefore, should hinder us from believing or receiving the promises of God, since they are freely given to those who do not deserve them. We have the promise of John 6:37 that the Lord will receive us as we are - base, sinful, poor, and of no account - and will not cast us away. Our unworthiness, then, rather than disqualifying us, actually qualifies us, for God has made His promises not to those who deserve grace but to those who need it. (Matt. 11:28). 5
1. 2 Peter 1:4
2. The Centrality of the Gospel - Tim Keller
3. William Spurstowe quoted in  Living by God's Promises, Joel R. Beeke and James A. LaBelle, Reformation Heritage Books, 2010, pg. 41.
4. Ibid. 16.
5. Ibid. 42. (emphasis mine)

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