The Seduction of Moralism

Romans  3:12b, “…there is none that does good, no, not one.”

From the outset of human history according to the scriptures in Genesis 2-3, we learn of the enemy's tactics of seducing Adam and Eve into disobeying God by eating of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Satan persuaded our first parents to believe that they had an adequate capacity in themselves for being good, without the necessity of having God.  He convinced them that they could be righteous, good, moral in their own right -- morally adults without the need of being spiritually alive! In short, that man could be independent -- both cause and effect!"

James Fowler notes: "The "tree of life" represented the choice of man to recognize that goodness exists in God alone, that good was knowable only by listening to God's revelation, and that by choosing to receive and live by God's indwelling provision of His Life, there was divine sufficiency to manifest the character of God's goodness in man's behavior.

"The "tree of the knowledge of good and evil," on the other hand, was a rejection of God's intent. The "father of lies" (John 8:44) wanted to "cover-up" the derivative determination of good and evil. He foisted upon man the delusional idea of self-determined morality, that man could be "like God, knowing good and evil" (Gen. 3:5), establishing and determining good and evil by oneself, independent, from one's own perspective and center of reference.

"That is where morality started, at the fall of man. Thenceforth man was naturally self-deceived as to his ability to be the arbiter and generator of good and evil, thinking that he could establish ethical standards of good and evil, right and wrong, on the basis of human self-evaluation of individual and collective social "good." Natural man has posited the three premises of moralism every since: (1) self-existent good. (2) self-determined good. (3) self-potential of good. The moralities of men, with their relative, self-oriented standards of good and evil, are always contrary to God's intent, always sinful, and always derived from satanic source."

The word translated “good” in our text means moral excellence (in character or demeanor); gentleness, goodness, kindness. This doesn’t mean that being good isn’t good – without question the world would be a much nicer place if everyone was basically good, kind, loving, humble, self-denying, servant-spirited, and nice. But being good isn’t just not being bad. You can do nothing that the world deems morally bad, but still “do nothing” as far as doing what God commands you to do. The question is not am I a good person, but how good do I have to be to enjoy a right relationship with God and live with Him forever when I die? How good is good enough?

When you die and stand before Holy God, the Judge of the Universe, suppose He should ask you, “Why should I let you into My Heaven?”  How would you answer Him?  Would you answer something like this: “I’ve done the best I could do." "I tried to live by the 'golden rule.'” "I think that I have been a relatively good person." "Although there was a period in my life that was bad, however, I turned over a new leaf and I would expect God to overlook the past." "I just don’t think God would punish me forever for what I’ve done or fail to do.”

Surprisingly, a recent survey found that 74% of all Americans believed they were going to Heaven when they died based on their moral record, and the same percentage believed that their neighbors probably wouldn’t make it. What a revelation of the deceitfulness of sin -- having a high opinion of themselves, while seeing all the sins and flaws of their friends and neighbors! 

The average man on the street believes that Christianity is a religion that imposes a particular morality with specific ethical behavior. He has concluded that "a Christian is one who lives by certain rules and regulations imposed upon him by divine or ecclesiastically dictated 'thou shalts' and 'thou shalt nots,' and that behavioral conformity to these moral codes of conduct is what the Christian strives to perform in order to please and/or appease God."

A major television network was filming a documentary on "Christian fundamentalism." They were interviewing a young couple exiting a fundamentalist church. The interviewer asked, "What do Christian fundamentalists believe?" The conservatively dressed respondent replied, "We believe in the Bible. We don't believe in drinking, smoking or dancing. We try to be as good as we can to please God." What a tragic misrepresentation of Christianity. Yet this is the misconception being propagated in the name of "Christianity." Is it any wonder that few are interested?

Dr. Albert Mohler warns of the danger of “moralism”: “Writing about his own childhood in rural Georgia, the novelist Ferrol Sams described the deeply-ingrained tradition of being “raised right.” As he explained, the child who is “raised right” pleases his parents and other adults by adhering to moral conventions and social etiquette. A young person who is “raised right” emerges as an adult who obeys the laws, respects his neighbors, gives at least lip service to religious expectations, and stays away from scandal. The point is clear — this is what parents expect, the culture affirms, and many churches celebrate. But our communities are filled with people who have been “raised right” but are headed for hell.

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.

Hell will be highly populated with those who were “raised right.” The citizens of heaven will be those who, by the sheer grace and mercy of God, are there solely because of the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ. Moralism is not the gospel.”

In a certain town there were two brothers who had gained notoriety as being the meanest, sorriest, most wicked human beings that ever breathed God’s air. When one of the brothers died, the other was determined to give this brother a good funeral. He set out to find a preacher who would call him a saint.  Finally, after offering a huge sum of money, he found a preacher who agreed to call his brother a saint. On the day of the funeral, all the people in town had assembled in disbelief after the word had gotten around as to how the preacher was going to call the deceased man a saint. Standing up over the casket the Pastor said, “Beloved, we are here to pay our respects to the sorriest, meanest, most worthless human being that ever lived. But compared to his brother sitting there on the front pew, he’s a saint!” You see, although sometimes we have to look long and hard, we can always find somebody whose wicked life makes us look like saints in comparison.

Christianity and Christian living, is the life of Jesus Christ lived out through us. Such is antithetical to all morality. To the extent that we accept, advocate or observe morality, and try to live and "be good" based on precepts or principles, rules or regulations, Christian living is excluded, the Christ-life is not being expressed, as they are mutually incompatible and exclusive. This is the point Paul makes to the Galatians: "I died to the Law (to morality), that I might live to God" (Gal. 2:19). "I do not nullify the grace of God; for if righteousness (goodness) comes through the Law (through morality), then Christ died needlessly" (Gal. 2:21). If you revert back to moral supplements, "Christ will be of no benefit to you," have been severed from Christ..., you have fallen from grace" (Gal. 5:2-4), "the stumbling block of the cross has been abolished" (Gal. 5:11). This is no slight matter! The issue at hand is the essence of the gospel!

Beware of the subtle seduction of moralism. Trying to be good and do good and be the best you can is moralism and Christianity is not morality, or life by a list of laws! Christianity is CHRIST!

Good people won’t go to heaven as long they trust in their goodness to get them there. There will be no one in heaven who can boast of their goodness. In heaven the only boasting will be about how Jesus has saved us from our sin.

Can a good person go to heaven? Yes, if they are willing to turn away from their self-perceived goodness and trust Jesus Christ alone for their eternal salvation. As long as you cling to the slightest shred of your goodness, you’ll never see the gates of heaven. Once you let go of the rags of your own righteousness, you can be saved.