Living the Gospel: The two thieves of the Gospel (part 2)

Part 1 of this topic can be found here

  1. The moralism-religion thief. How does moralism/religion steal joy and power? Moralism is the view that you are acceptable (to God, the world, others, yourself) through your attainments. (Moralists do not have to be religious, but often are.) When they are, their religion if pretty conservative and filled with rules. Sometimes moralists have views of God as very holy and just [and sovereign]. This view will lead either to a) self-hatred (because you can’t live up to the standards), or b) selfinflation (because you think you have lived up to the standards). It is ironic to realize that inferiority and superiority complexes have the very same root. Whether the moralist ends up smug and superior or crushed and guilty just depends on how high the standards are and on a person’s natural advantages (such as family, intelligence, looks, willpower). Moralistic people can be deeply religious–but there is no transforming joy or power.
  2. The relativism-irreligion thief. How does relativism steal joy and power? Relativists are usually irreligious, or else prefer what is called “liberal” religion. On the surface, they are more happy and tolerant than moralist/religious people. Though they may be highly idealistic in some areas (such as politics), they believe that everyone needs to determine what is right and wrong for them. They are not convinced that God is just and must punish sinners. Their beliefs in God will tend to see Him as loving or as an impersonal force. They may talk a great deal about God’s love, but since they do not think of themselves as sinners, God’s love for us costs him nothing. If God accepts us, it is because he is so welcoming, or because we are not so bad.

The concept of God’s love in the gospel is far more rich and deep and electrifying than either of these approaches recognize. What do both religious and irreligious people have in common? They seem so different, but from the viewpoint of the gospel, they are really the same.
They are both ways to avoid Jesus as Savior and keep control of their lives. Irreligious people seek to be their own saviors and lords through irreligion, “worldly” pride. (“No one tells me how to live or what to do, so I determine what is right and wrong for me!”) But moral and religious people seek to be their own saviors and lords through religion, “religious” pride. (“I am more moral and spiritual than other people, so God owes me to listen to my prayers and take me to heaven. God cannot let just anything happen to me–he owes me a happy life. I’ve earned it!”) The irreligious person rejects Jesus entirely, but the religious person only uses Jesus as an example and helper and teacher–but not as a Savior. (Flannery O’Connor wrote that religious people think “that the way to avoid Jesus was to avoid sin…”) These are two different ways to do the same thing–control our own lives. (Note: Ironically, Moralists, despite all the
emphasis on traditional standards, are in the end self-centered and individualistic, because they have set themselves up as their own Savior. Relativists, despite all their emphasis on freedom and acceptance, are in the end moralistic because they still have to attain and live up to (their own) standards or become desperate. And often, they take great pride in their own open-mindedness and judge others who are not.)

• They are both based on distorted views of the real God. The irreligious person loses sight of the law and holiness of God and the religious person loses sight of the love and grace of God, in the end they both lose the gospel entirely. For the gospel is that on the cross Jesus fulfilled the law of God out of love for us. Without a full understanding of the work of Christ, the reality of God’s holiness will make his grace unreal, or the reality of his love will make his holiness unreal. Only the gospel–that we are so sinful that we need to be saved utterly by grace—allows a person to see God as he really is. The gospel shows us a God far more holy than the legalist can bear (he had to die because we could not satisfy his holy demands) and yet far more merciful than a humanist can conceive (he had to die because he loved us).

• They both deny our sin–so lose the joy and power of grace. It is obvious that relativistic, irreligious people deny the depth of sin, and therefore the message “God loves you” has no power for them. But though religious persons may be extremely penitent and sorry for their sins, they see sins as simply the failure to live up to standards by which they are saving themselves. They do not see sin as the deeper self-righteousness and self-centeredness through which they are trying to live lives independent of God. So when they go to Jesus for forgiveness, they only as a way to “cover over the gaps” in their project of self-salvation. And when people say, “I know God is forgiving, but I cannot forgive myself”, they mean that they reject God’s grace and insist that they be worthy of his favorSo even religious people with “low self-esteem” are really in their funk because they will not see the depth of sin. They see it only as rules breaking, not as rebellion and self-salvation.

JS, the above words are from Tim Kellers document “Centrality of the Gospel”


One thought on “Living the Gospel: The two thieves of the Gospel (part 2)

  1. bshelley

    Well thought out and stated. Another problem is somewhere between with people who are saved by grace, but are not sure that they are. To them, the Good News is not really that good since the threat of lost salvation saps the joy from their walk. No wonder people don’t tell others about Jesus and His salvation. They are not convinced it works. Keep up the good words. Bryan

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