Christianity is Not Morality
Morals are acceptable behaviors based on the mores of a social grouping. Jesus did not come to give us a standardized moral code to which all should conform, but to give us His life whereby the divine character might be expressed through our behavior. Therefore we know that Christianity is Not Morality.
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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.” The tragic part of this misconception is that the Christian religion has “faked” the world into believing that such is the essence of Christianity.
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?
The French social analyst, Jacques Ellul noted this misrepresentation:
“In the eyes of most of our contemporaries, Christianity is a morality first of all. And have not many epochs of Christian history been characterized by the church’s insistence upon actions and conduct?”1
“We have to recognize that Christians themselves have done all they can to create this confusion. God’s revelation has nothing whatever to do with morality.” 2
C.S. Lewis similarly explained,
“I think all Christians would agree with me if I said that though Christianity seems at first to be all about morality, all about duties and rules and guilt and virtue, yet it leads you on, out of all that, into something beyond…” 3
It is the objective of this dissertation to explain what there is about Christianity that is “beyond” all morality.
The English word “ethic” is etymologically derived from the Greek word ethos which became the root of the Latin word ethics. In the koine Greek usage of the first century, the word ethos referred to social custom or habit. Contemporary English usage of “ethic” is essentially synonymous with “morality,” referring to the determination of what is good or right and the social approval or disapproval of such activities.
Since the Greek word ethos, the root of “ethic,” is used on three occasions within the New Testament we will first consider those usages:
(1) Acts 16:21. Paul and Silas are in Philippi. Paul has cast demons out of a young girl who was being used by some men for a fortunetelling venture. The men complain to the magistrates saying, “These men (Paul and Silas)…are proclaiming customs which it is not lawful to accept or observe, being Romans.” It is a false accusation that they bring, for Paul was not teaching ethics or morals or customs contrary to Roman law. He was simply proclaiming Jesus Christ.
(2) Acts 26:3. Paul is on trial before King Agrippa at Caesarea. In his defense, Paul says, “You (King Agrippa) are an expert in all customs and questions among the Jews…” King Agrippa was indeed supposed to be knowledgeable of the customs and ethics of the Jewish religion. Paul knew that he was not violating God’s revelation to the Jews, and was, therefore, being falsely accused.
(3) I Corinthians 15:33. In the midst of his discussion on the resurrection from the dead, Paul quotes a Greek dramatist, Menander, who had written the motto: “Bad company corrupts good morals.” Paul’s usage of the quotation is to make the point that sinful behavior will affect what happens in our resurrection from the dead.
So the three usages of ethos in the New Testament are made by (1) pandering pimps exploiting a young girl and making a false accusation against Paul. (2) the apostle Paul in a correct observation about the Jewish religion. (3) a pagan playwright as an observation about social associations. Not one of these indicates that Christianity has anything to do with morality or ethics.
One other reference in the New Testament where some English translations use the word “moral” should be noted. In II Peter 1:5 the NASB translates, “…in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence knowledge;…” A single Greek word is used for the phrase “moral excellence.” The Greek word is Arete, having to do with virtuous or honorable behavioral expression. The meaning might be an admonition to allow for a consistent behavioral outworking of our faith, but the verse does not advocate morality or ethics as the words are defined and used in the English language today.
“Morality” and “ethics” have to do with human definition and evaluation of human activities, and whether such activities are socially acceptable or unacceptable, approved or unapproved, as right or wrong, good or bad, relative to the intentions and desires of the prevailing human powers and authorities. Although the standard of “moral” determination and “ethical” evaluation may be said to be of God, it is never really any higher than man and his individual or collective attempts to control human behavior.
Christianity asserts that God alone is autonomous, independent, and self-existent. Everything and everyone else is dependent and derivative.
When one posits an autonomous standard of “good” or a separate law of “right” behavior, which is objective to, other than, and outside of God, then such an ideological entity becomes a replacement for God. Such a mental formulation becomes the foundation of social morality as the individuals within that social unit bow down in customary conformity to the ideological idol.
Morality always begins with the premise of autonomy and independent existence. The morality thesis seems to divide into at least three premises:
(1) “Good” exists in itself.
(2) “Good” is knowable in itself.
(3) “Good” is do-able by oneself.
These three premises are antithetical to Christian monotheistic understanding and the gospel of grace. Christianity denies (1) the independent, autonomous self-existent “good;” (2) the self-determined, self-defined, self-discernment of “good” by an alleged independent-self of autonomous man; (3) the self-actuating ability of this alleged independent-self, autonomous man, to generate his own “good” behavior.
There is no “natural goodness” which becomes the basis of a “natural morality” within a “natural theology.” “There is none good, no not one” (Rom. 3:12). “No one is good, except God alone” (Luke 18:19). When mankind thinks that he can know “good” and define “good” from his own perspective alone, he ends up calling “evil good, and good evil” (Isa. 5:20), and Isaiah pronounces a woe upon those who are thus “wise in their own eyes, and clever in their own sight.” (Isa. 5:21).
The so-called “good” intentions of prevailing moralizers allegedly acting for the “good” of the whole, their moralities and ethics are always based on their fallen and self-serving motivations. They “bind up” others in the tyranny of legalistic performances, encouraging them to strive and struggle to perform goodness, right living, morality, modesty, etc. Such is the bondage of religion and morality.
The Christian gospel, contrary to such religion and morality, asserts these three monotheistic premises:
(1) “Good” exists only in God.
(2) “Good” is knowable only as God reveals Himself.
(3) “Good” is do-able only as the character of God is activated and expressed in human behavior by the grace of God.
To expand on these premises and document their Biblical basis:
(1) “God is good” is an assertion made throughout the Scriptures. “No one is good except God alone” (Mark 10:18; Luke 18:19). “There is One who is good” (Matt. 19:17). There is no legitimate, genuine, absolute “good” which has any objective, independent, autonomous existence, apart from God. “Good” exists exclusively in the essence of the autonomous God. “Good” can only be defined by the character of God’s goodness.
(2) God has revealed Himself and has thus revealed His character of goodness. “He has told you, O man, what is good” (Micah 6:8). God’s telling man what is good is not to be construed merely as a verbalization of a revealed standard of good behavior. God has revealed His goodness in the ultimate revelation of Himself in His Son, Jesus Christ, and that not to be understood as merely historical or theological. We can only really know what good is by knowing God through Jesus Christ. But, again, knowing God and His goodness is not just cerebral, theoretical or academic; such must be living and personal. The revealing of God’s goodness and the knowing of God’s goodness are not statically contained in an event (incarnation) or an experience (conversion). The knowing of God’s goodness is not to be solidified, objectified, codified in law-form (Law) or a static written record (Bible), nor formulated and systematized in a static belief-system which becomes “dead letter” (II Cor. 3:6,7; Rom. 2:29). The revealing and the knowing of God’s goodness is by an ever-dynamic personal revelation of God as to how He desires to express His goodness in us uniquely and novelly; a new, fresh, spontaneous, and living expression of His goodness which can never be contained or explained. God’s goodness is knowable only as He reveals Himself.
(3) God’s goodness is do-able, expressable in human behavior, only as the character of God is dynamically generated and actuated by God’s grace. Only God can actively express His goodness. It is not a commodity to be distributed. It is not a moral pattern to be imitated. God’s goodness can be expressed within His creation in human behavior, only by His own energizing, empowering, and enabling, i.e. His grace. The active expression of all genuine goodness in our behavior is always derived from God. “The one who does good is of God” (III John 11); “of God” is translated from the Greek phrase ek theos, referring to the source, origin or derivation from God. In other words, “the one who manifests goodness derives what he does out of God.” The expression of goodness in human behavior is always contingent upon God’s generating expression of His own character (grace), and the derivative receptivity of God’s activity by man (faith). “Good” is do-able only as the character of God is activated in human behavior by the grace of God.
Returning now to further document the first premise that “God is good,” and that God is the basis of defining all goodness. Alongside the premise that “God is good” one might adduce other premises that assert that something else is “good,” whether a person, an object, an idea, or an activity. Examples: “Joe is good.” “The Bible is good.” “Christian belief is good.” “Bible reading is good.” Can all of these statements be true? Yes. Are they equivalent premises? No. Can anything or anyone else be said to be “good” in the same sense that God is good? No! We must not make ourself, another person, an object, an idea, or an activity equivalent to God.
To apply mathematical logic to these premises, let “God is good” be represented by the equation x=good. Anything or anyone else might be represented by y=good. If so, then y=x, anything else thus represented is equivalent to God; y=God. Never! The two premises cannot be maintained as equal premises. To do so is either to deify the person or thing or to relativize and reduce God to simply an expedient abstraction.
When we state that “God is good,” the verb “is” is used in an essential and constitutional sense, but cannot be so used in the other statements. What (Who) God is, only God is! If God is the essence of goodness, then nothing or no one else can be the essence of goodness. This might be referred to as the “non-transferability of God’s attributes.” Something or someone else cannot be said to be inherently and essentially what only God exclusively is. We must not attribute an attribute of God to ourselves, another person, an object, an idea, or an activity, for in so doing we deify such and make it an idol.
The Christian assertion that “God is good” is made in reference to His other revealed attributes which may be used adverbially to explain His goodness. God is essentially, inherently, intrinsically, constitutionally, absolutely, perfectly, ultimately, singularly, autonomously, independently, exclusively, supremely, sovereignly, totally, wholly, uniquely, personally, eternally, really good. Thus we clarify and qualify what we mean when we say “God is good.” The verb “is” is employed as the third person singular of “to be.” God is the being, the essence of all goodness; the reality, the nature of all goodness. God constitutes and comprises goodness. God establishes goodness. These are underlying meanings of our Christian assertion that “God is good.”
The verb “to be” has other meanings in the English language, which if thus interpreted in the statement “God is good” would lead to moral and ethical standards contrary to Christian understanding. When we say that “God is good,” we do not mean that God belongs to a class of “goodness” or that God conforms to a “standard of goodness.” Nor do we mean that God symbolizes “goodness” or is to be classified, categorized or characterized within a category of “goodness.”
What do we mean by the term “good” which forms the object of the statement “God is good”? We can only define and describe “good” by the character of God if He is the source and essence of all good. Thus we employed adverbs to describe good which were but other features of God’s character. God’s goodness can only be described by His Godliness! The being of God defines good!
There are other definitions and connotations of “good” in the English language, all of which have a relative evaluation in relation to something else other than God. When we assert that “God is good,” we do not mean merely that God is relatively, beneficially, advantageously, profitably, attractively, effectively, suitably, properly, favorably, pleasingly, respectably, honorably, commendably, wholesomely, acceptably, satisfactorily, morally, ethically good. It is not that “God is good” because He conforms to a moral standard because He provides what is beneficial because He has utilitarian advantage because He serves a purpose. If “God is good” because He serves a purpose, then the purpose is higher than God. If “God is good” because He conforms to a moral standard, then the standard is higher than God. God’s goodness is thus relative to something else and not absolute in Himself. This would posit an object, idea, or activity outside of God, objective to God, and by definition superior to God, by which “goodness” is established and determined. It is an idolatrous attribution of an attribute of God to something other than God.
Another subtle mistake is to say that “God is good” because He does good. Divine activity then becomes the objective basis of determining God’s character. God’s goodness would then be based on His performance. The Psalmist writes, “Thou art good and doest good” (Ps. 119:68). Notice that the statement is not “thou doest good and therefore art good.”
God does what He does because He is who He is! His doing springs from His being. His conduct flows out of His character, and He always acts “in character.” Christian theology must commence with who God is, not with what God does; not His plan, His purposes, His decrees, His sovereignty, His actions. It is a subtle form of idolatry to allow the conduct of God to supplant and supersede the character of God; the performance of God to be the basis of the Person of God. So much of Western theology has done just that, basing their theology on the purpose and activity of God rather than on the character of God. It is because “God is good” that “God does good.” He brings forth His expression out of His good character. It can even be said that He does what He does ek theos, out of His own character. He thus activates His own character to be manifested in human behavior. He does what He does because He is who He is! All good done is done by the God who is good.
When any genuine “goodness” is expressed in the behavior of man, it is the activity of God expressing His character of goodness by His grace. Morality, on the other hand, is based on the thesis of man’s self-generated activity conforming to some independent “standard of goodness,” which may be identified in some way with God’s activity or with social benefit.
When an allegedly independent, autonomous, self-existent ideal of “good” behavioral activity is substituted for God, who alone is independent, autonomous, self-existent “Good,” then the ideal has become an idol. The establishment of a “standard of good” behavioral activities apart from who God is in His character and what God does by His grace, is the establishment of a false substitute for God, i.e. an idol. Any determinative “standard of good” apart from, objective to, or outside of the inherent Being and character of God and the grace activity of God, is necessarily idolatrous!
The humanistic premise of an allegedly independent-self, autonomous man, constructing an allegedly independent, autonomous “standard of good,” and then conforming to such by his allegedly independent, autonomous, self-generated, self-activated behavioral activity; that is the foundation on which morality is built. It could not be more antithetical or opposite to Christianity!
Human behavioral activities are not good or evil in themselves (such would be to posit the first premise of moralism) and are not generated by ourselves (such would posit the third premise of moralism). An activity is not inherently good, for only God is inherently good. Human activity is merely “expression.” It is not creative generation out of man. We are not gods! We are derivative creatures. Man is not a self-generating actuator of his own activities nor of the character of either good or evil expressed within those activities.
The words “act,” “action,” and “activity” in the English language are etymologically derived from the Latin words actus, “doing,” and actum, “thing done.” Human activity is always enacted by an actuator. A spiritual personage is the agent of activation, causing and moving a particular character to be activated and expressed in our behavior. Our behavior and the character expressed therein is always enacted (in-acted), caused to be activated within. It is not self-generated, auto-creative, activated by the self-effort of human effort. There is always a derivative contingency to human behavior. All that we do is contingent on the spiritual action of a spiritual being allowed by our decision-making to act out in our behavior. The spiritual being who empowers, enables, energizes, and enacts our behavioral expression always conveys his particular character in the activity; character of either good or evil, out of either God or satan. The character that is being expressed in any human activity must be traced back to its spiritually empowering actuator. Human behavior always expresses the character of the energizing spirit who is the actuator of that expression being enacted in human behavior. For example, Jesus observed the religious and moral external activities of the Pharisees and concluded that there was a spiritual empowering actuator behind what they did: “You are of your father, the devil…” (John 8:44).
Mankind always has a derived spiritual condition, based on the spiritual indwelling of a spiritual being, and a derived behavior expression, manifesting the character of the spiritual being who is energizing (energeo, to work in) and enacting (en-actus, to do in) the human activity.
Whenever we might refer to a man being good, it is never in the same sense that “God is good.” Man is not essentially good, constitutionally good, inherently good or intrinsically good. Man is not by nature good; neither does he establish goodness; nor is he self-generatively good. A man’s goodness is relative to his/her deriving the expression of God’s character of goodness in his/her spiritual condition and in his/her behavioral expression.
Consistent reasoning must apply this to the opposite expression also, in the realm of theodicy. God is good. The Evil One is evil. Man is evil, not in the same sense that the Evil one is evil. Man is not essentially evil, constitutionally evil, inherently evil, intrinsically evil. Man is not by nature evil; does not establish evil, is not definitively evil, is not self-generatively evil. Man is not a devil. A man is evil only relative to his/her deriving the expression of the character of the Evil One in his/her spiritual condition and behavioral expression.
The point being made is that there is a derivative determination of good and evil from the nature and character of God and Satan, respectively. There is no autonomous good or evil (first premise of moralism). There is no self-determined awareness of good or evil (second premise of moralism). There is no humanly generated good or evil (third premise of moralism).
The historical origins of this derivative character expression in man must be traced back to the Biblical account in Genesis two and three. It is there that we discover the first fallacious attempts of man to determine good and evil autonomously, apart from their consubstantiality in God or satan.
The “tree of life” represented the choice of man to recognize that goodness exists in God alone (first theistic premise), that good was knowable only by listening to God’s revelation (second theistic premise), and that by volitional receptivity to God’s indwelling provision of His Life there was divine sufficiency to manifest the character of God’s goodness in man’s behavior (third theistic premise). Thus man was free to function as God intended by the expression of the character of the Creator within the behavior of the creature; free to be and do what God intended to be and do in man.
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.
“Satan persuaded man…that he had an adequate capacity in himself for being good, without the necessity of having God; that he could be righteous in his own right, morally adult without the need of being spiritually alive! In short, that man could be independent — both cause and effect!” 5
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 relativized, self-oriented standards of good and evil, are always contrary to God’s intent, always sinful, and always derived from satanic sources.
(1) Morality is a joke. It is a bad joke that is not even funny because it is tragic. For the dedicated religionist, morality is no joking matter. It is the basis of his/her religion. But for the Christian, morality is a joke.
It was C.S. Lewis who first expressed this thought.
“I think all Christians would agree with me if I said that though Christianity seems at first to be all about morality, all about duties and rules and guilt and virtue, yet it leads you on, out of all that, into something beyond. One has a glimpse of a country where they do not talk of these things, except perhaps as a joke. Everyone there is filled full with what we should call goodness as a mirror is filled with light. But they do not call it goodness. They do not call it anything. They are not thinking of it. They are too busy looking at the source from which it comes.” 6
Has anyone ever become “good” or “righteous” on the basis of morally proper behavior? Impossible! Absurd! That is what makes morality such a laughable matter: its utter absurdity and impossibility (the basis of many a joke.) Morality is Satan’s big laugh on mankind.
(2) Morality is a result of the fall of man into sin. As noted, the deceptive temptation of the Tempter in the garden of Eden was to suggest that man could develop a self-determined knowledge of good and evil. That was the first temptation to develop morality, to establish an independent, self-oriented standard of good and evil. Rejecting the derived goodness of God, man opted for the lie. Natural men, religious men, have been developing moralities ever since, trying to regulate man’s behavior.
(3) Morality is a lie. It is based on the lie of independent-self, autonomous man. The true condition of man is that of derivative contingency upon spiritual being for both spiritual condition and behavioral expression.
(4) Morality is sinful. If sin is defined as anything not derived from God, then morality is sinful because it advocates the autonomy of goodness and fails to understand the spiritual derivativeness of all human behavior. “Whatever is not of faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23), and morality is not based on the derived receptivity of faith. Therefore it is sinful.
(5) Morality is humanistic. Humanism is based on the thesis of the autonomous self-potential of mankind, the suggestion of which was first introduced in the garden. Morality is humanistic because “goodness” is alleged to be knowable by oneself (second premise of moralism) and do-able by oneself (third premise of moralism). The self-potential of self-generated, self-activated behavioral activity is at the root of all morality.
(6) Morality is psychological manipulation. Behavioristic psychology attempts to manipulate human behavior in “behavior modification,” failing to understand the spiritual source of all behavior. The social moralists employ such behavioristic psychological manipulation to keep their particular “society” in check and functioning in accordance with their self-oriented objectives.
(7) Morality is offensive to God. God hates morality! It is contrary to His intent for mankind. Isaiah graphically states that “all our righteous deeds are as a filthy rag” (Isaiah 64:6). All our moral actions by which we try to be good or righteous, when presented before God are as offensive as presenting Him with a menstrual cloth, a “dirty Kotex!” (This is the literal meaning of the Hebrew words.) Lest you be offended at such graphic analogy, just be aware that God is even more offended at our periodic discharges of morality, presentations which are the discharge of death with no life. The picture is no prettier when Paul describes his religious and moral efforts as but “rubbish” or “dung” (KJV) in Philippians 3:8. Morality is offensive to God.
(8) Morality is “another gospel.” When Paul wrote to the Galatians warning them of the religionists who were trying to add moralistic requirements to the simple gospel of grace in Jesus Christ, he indicated that they were bringing “another gospel” which was “no gospel” at all since it was devoid of any “good news.” History is replete with moral supplements becoming part and parcel of so-called “Christian religion.” Whenever morality is introduced it supplants the singular sufficiency of Jesus Christ and constitutes “another gospel.”
(9) Morality is “salvation by works.” Morality posits activity that is supposedly derived from oneself, and is, therefore “salvation by works.” Paul wrote to the Ephesians explaining, “For by grace are you saved through faith, that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2:8,9). Salvation is always enacted by the dynamic of God’s saving work in the provision of His grace. The commencement of that salvation is in conversion, but the continuing dynamic of the “saving life” of Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:10) makes us safe from satanic misuse, abuse, and dysfunction in order to restore us to the functional use God intended by His grace activity in the Christian.
(10) Morality is legalism. Morality sets up a “standard” of behavior, a codification of acceptable conduct. These rules and regulations of right and wrong form an independent, external law, to which all subjects are expected to conform. Striving to conform to the law is thus the moralistic objective of “obedience.” Moralistic, legalistic “obedience to the law” is far removed from the “obedience of faith” (Rom. 1:5) that listens under God’s Spirit and is obedient to Life.
(11) Morality is deadly. There is certainly no vibrancy and vitality of divine life in the legalism of morality. Paul writes in II Cor. 3:6, “the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” The “letter of the law” on which morality rests is deadly! It kills all expression of God’s life in man, as man works himself to death!
(12) Morality is devastating and destructive. Incapable of ever measuring up to the moral requirements, man is increasingly frustrated, unhappy and grieved. James S. Stewart, the Scottish preacher, writes,
“The evangel of an ethical example is a devastating thing. It makes religion the most grievous of burdens. Perhaps this is the reason why, even among professing Christians, there are so many strained faces and weary hearts and captive, unreleased spirits.” 7
The morality which is inherent in religion is a most maddening experience; it drives a person “mad.”
(13) Morality is bondage. Morality binds a person, making them slaves to law, convention, and social approval. To the Galatians, Paul explained, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free;…do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1). Morality destroys the freedom to be and do whatever God wants to be and do in us. The rigid chains of moral inflexibility allow for no novelty, newness, no spontaneity of fresh expression of the Spirit.
(14) Morality is Pharisaical. The Pharisees engaged in their perpetual pretense of piety. Though their moralistic attempts are often called “self-righteousness,” in reality they had a pseudo-righteousness, no righteousness at all, just sin! Jesus detested, opposed and exposed the Pharisaical morality. Frank Lake recognized the Pharisaism of morality:
“Ethical behavior by itself can too easily entrench a man in self-righteousness. He has joined the Pharisee, praying with himself to a god who is not the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, ‘I thank thee that I am not as other men are.’ …No mortal man can win by self-effort what in the nature of things must always be a gift.” 8
(15) Morality is fraudulent. It can never deliver what it promises. It does not achieve the results it is designed to achieve. Paul explains in Colossians 2:23 that morality is of “no value against fleshly indulgence.” Those patterned propensities of selfishness and sinfulness in the desires of our soul will never be dealt with, or overcome by, moral suppressionism or by moral striving to overcome.
(16) Morality is a contrived substitute for Christian living. As a posturing pretext of living a “good Christian life,” morality plays the part of an impostor. Jacques Ellul notes that
“morality is the means whereby the Christian dodges death in Christ and fashions a living way of his own. It is the worst of all illusions.” 9
Instead of disallowing our selfish expressions by allowing the life of Jesus Christ to be lived out through us, morality masquerades self-oriented conformity as “spiritual behavior.” Hypocrisy!
(17) Morality is idolatry. Ian Thomas writes of
“seeking to be godly by submitting yourself to external rules and regulations, and by conformity to behavior patterns imposed upon you by the particular Christian society which you have chose, and in which you hope to be found ‘acceptable.’ You will in this way perpetuate the pagan habit of practicing religion in the energy of the ‘flesh,’ and in the very pursuit of righteousness commit idolatry in honoring ‘Christianity’ more than Christ.” 10
Morality reduces God to a “thing,” a moral ideal, an ethical standard, a religious expectation of conformity, and a behavioral formula. The idea becomes an ideological idol constructed and carved in the human mind. The religious moralist then submits to the moral ideal, rather than to God.
(18) Morality is satanic. Despite the fact that many religious people equate morality with godliness, it is really the deceptive and diabolic tactic of the deceiver. The devil, the “father of lies” (John 8:44) and all falsehood, has substituted a fallacious system of behavioral guidelines as the basis of “goodness.” The “god of this world” (II Cor. 4:4) has blinded the minds of men to keep them from seeing that anything not derived from God is evil and sinful. In the name of “religion,” morality is established which calls the selfishly motivated efforts of man “good” and “righteous,” when they are but evil derived from the Evil One.
(19) Morality is a religious inevitability. Wherever you find religion you will find morality? They are always “coupled” together. Why? Because religion is a man-made, satan-inspired, social organization that requires morality standards to give it external form, to give it raison d’etre, to cement loyalty and conformity, and to keep the guilt payments coming in. As people perceive their inability to please and appease God by their inadequate moral behavior, they seek to buy off their sin in “indulgences.”
(20) Morality is a worldly necessity. In the society of the “world,” that is of fallen mankind, morality is necessitated to keep the chaos of selfishness and sinfulness “in check,” if even temporarily. Again Jacques Ellul writes that morality
“is part of the condition of the fall. Now endowed with the power to define good and evil, to elaborate it, to know it and to pretend to obey it, man can no longer renounce this power that he has purchased so dearly. He cannot live without morality.” 11
The worldliness of human society, fallen man in this fallen world, necessitates morality. Morality is of the order of worldliness!
(21) Morality is relative. Human, social, worldly and religious morality is never properly related to the absoluteness of God’s character of goodness, and to the absolutely only expression of God’s goodness by derivation from God by God’s grace. Morality is relative to the intents and desires of the prevailing authorities in the particular society over which they have manipulative control (ex. governmental, ecclesiastical, etc.) Morality is relative to the majority of the individuals in that society willing to accept the moral standards, either under threat of punishment or by democratic consensus of what is “good” and/or “evil” with an individual accountability to the so-called “good” of the whole. Morality is relative to the limitations of fallen man in keeping such moral conditions, due to the patterned selfishness and sinfulness of the “flesh.”
(22) Morality is antithetical to Christianity. Morality always attempts to establish “goodness” apart from its derivation out of God alone, and its availability to man by the indwelling of Jesus Christ alone. Morality denies the derived existence of good in the character of God. Morality denies the derived knowledge of good by the revelation of God. Morality denies the derived expression of good by the grace of God. Morality precludes the primary assertion of the Christian gospel, that the availability for the expression of God’s goodness in man is only by the presence and empowering of the Spirit of Christ in man, received by faith in regeneration and sanctification.
Morality never affects Christian behavior. Once again Ellul remarks that
“Morality…necessarily collides with God’s decision brought to pass in Jesus Christ, which locates the life and truth of man out beyond anything that man can formulate, know and live.” 12
Christianity is “antimorality.” 13
“differs from ordinary ideas of ‘morality’ and ‘being good.’ …the whole of Christianity is ‘putting on Christ.’ Christianity offers nothing else.” 14
Then elsewhere he writes,
“…the Christian is in a different position from other people who are trying to be good. …the Christian thinks that any good he does comes from the Christ-life inside him.” 15
Having previously noted that “God is good,” and that this statement is semantically and philosophically different than any other statement that refers to goodness, the distinctive of Christianity begins with the fact that Jesus Christ is God and therefore Jesus Christ is good. Jesus as God is the essence of goodness, by nature good, absolutely good, independently good, the source of all good in the Christian.
The monotheistic premises noted previously were (1) Good exists only in God. (2) Good is knowable only as God reveals His character. (3) Good is do-able only as the character of God is expressed by the grace of God. In the Christian assertion that Jesus Christ is God, the premises concerning goodness are defined even more distinctively. Every Christian has “in Jesus Christ” (1) the presence of the good within him/her by the indwelling presence of Jesus Christ. (2) the on-going revelation of the good by the active enlightenment of the Spirit of Christ. (3) the capability of expressing God’s character of goodness by the energizing, enabling, and empowering of the Spirit of Christ. The Christian has received the presence of God, the life of Jesus Christ, within his/her spirit at regeneration, constituting the restoration of God’s intent for His human creation. Any connection of God’s goodness to man’s spiritual condition or behavioral expression is only by the spiritual reception of the life of Jesus Christ by faith. Jesus said, “No man cometh unto the Father, but by Me” (John 14:6). We might adapt that to read, “No man cometh unto Goodness, but by Me.”
Some clarifications need to be made at the outset as we consider how God’s goodness is connected to the Christian:
When we become Christians and receive the Good-One, the God-One, Jesus Christ, into our spirit, this is not to imply that we become good, and now are good, for we have already asserted that only “God is good.” Scripture does indicate that the Roman Christians were “full of goodness” (Rom. 15:14); that Christians are “made perfect” (Heb. 12:23); and that we “become the righteousness of God in Him” (II Cor. 5:21). But to indicate that we are made, that we become, that we are good, perfect, righteous, holy etc. must be done within the context of the presence of God in Christ. When reference is made to becoming good, being made good, righteous or holy, this is never to say that we are good inherently, intrinsically, independently, autonomously, or eternally. We have received the Good-One, the God-One, Jesus, into the core of our being, into our spirit. We are thus identified with the Good-One, and in terms of our spiritual identity we might be known as “good ones,” “God-ones,” “godly,” “righteous ones,” “justified,” “holy ones,” “saints,” “sanctified,” “Christ-ones,” “Christians.” Such designations are only and always based on the indwelling presence of Jesus Christ, never on any alleged reality that has become intrinsic within and unto ourselves. “The container never becomes the contents.” To quote Jacques Ellul again,
“The entire Bible constantly iterates that nothing has changed intrinsically or ontologically in this person who has been enlightened by the revelation. He is saved. He is justified. He is sanctified, but he is still himself.” 16
In other words, the Christian is still a derivative man, deriving both spiritual condition and behavioral expression from the spiritual source of Jesus Christ. We must avoid all forms of perfectionism that might imply that we are perfect, good, holy or righteousness essentially, constitutionally, and inherently.
Whereas the first clarification has to do with a denial of lapsing back into the first premise of moralism, the second clarification concerns itself with a denial of lapsing into the second and third premises of moralism.
When we become Christians and receive the Good-One, the God-One, Jesus Christ, into our spirit, this is not to imply that we have now been invested with the inherent ability to know what is good, or the inherent capability to do the good. Ellul explains that the Christian does not have
“any intrinsic capacity to do by himself the good which God has set forth. There is no permanent transformation of his being which would consist in this ability to perform the will of God by Himself.”17
This is precisely where so much of the teaching of the Christian religion has jumped track into the second and third premises of moralism. For centuries the gospel has been typically presented as the Good-One, the God-One, Jesus Christ being incarnated as a man, and living out the good-life perfectly, “without sin” (Heb. 4:15; II Cor. 5:21). Accurate history. Accurate theology. What usually happens then is that the historic “presentation” of perfect goodness in human behavior in the life of Jesus Christ on earth is made to be the “standard” to which those who assent to, or receive, Jesus Christ are expected to look to in order to know good (second premise) and conform to in order to do good (third premise). Such is the tragic “sell-out” of the Christian gospel “down the river” into mere morality! The Christian religion has taught The Imitation of Christ (Thomas A’Kempis) by walking In His Steps (Charles Sheldon) in order to be Like Christ (Andrew Murray).
Paul’s explanation of Christian behavior is that of “the manifestation of the life of Jesus in our mortal bodies” (II Cor. 4:10,11); not by any human imitation of Christ’s behavioral goodness. Christian living is not “monkey see, monkey do,” the parroting or apeing of reproduced external behavior. The distinctive of Christian behavior is that the life of Jesus Christ is lived out in our behavior, the character of God’s goodness manifested in our behavior. “It is no longer I who lives, but Christ lives in me, and the life that I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Gal. 2:20). The expression of behavioral goodness is not by any capability or effort from within man. Jesus said: “Apart from Me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Apart from Jesus, you can do nothing that manifests the character of God. Apart from Jesus, you can do nothing good. Apart from Jesus, you can do nothing that glorifies God. Apart from Jesus, you can do nothing that qualifies as Christian behavior.
Thus we proceed to further amplify that Jesus Christ is the sole source of all good behavior in the Christian. Jesus is the sole source of the knowledge of good behavior. Jesus is the sole source of the enacting of good behavior, being the expression of God’s character of goodness.
Goodness is known and activated only by God’s grace. Grace is “God’s activity consistent with His character.”
The only way we can know the goodness of God, in the awareness of His attributes and character, in who God is, and in the knowledge of how God in Christ wishes to express His goodness in our behavior, is that by His grace God reveals Himself and His intent to us. It is one thing to know that God is good intellectually, even based on Biblical information and history, but it is another thing to know that God is good personally and experientially and how He desires to express that goodness through man. We know the intent of God in expressing His goodness through us only by the grace of God whereby the Spirit of Christ continues to reveal, to enlighten, and to illumine our spiritual understanding. We “listen under” His instruction in the “obedience of faith” in order to know how, when, where, and to whom He wishes to manifest His goodness through us. This gracious personal revelation of His goodness in and through us as Christian is ever-new, novel, unique, fresh, and spontaneous. It cannot be explained in ecclesiastical rules and regulations. It cannot be contained in codifications of conduct. It cannot be retained and restrained in repetitive rituals. It cannot be objectified into Biblical blueprints. It cannot be made static. God’s expressions of goodness cannot be put in a box! God will reveal (Phil. 3:15) His goodness so that we might know His goodness and how it is that He desires to express His goodness in our behavior by His grace.
Likewise, the distinctive of the Christian gospel for the doing of goodness, the manifestation of goodness, is only and always the activity of God by the indwelling presence of the Spirit of Christ. “God is at work in you both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). God is energizing both the motivation and the out-working of our behavior in accord with His good character and for His good pleasure, unto His glory. God in Christ will do what He desires and He will do so by the dynamic of His own self-generated expression of goodness. III John 11 reads, “The one doing good is of God.” As previously noted, “of God” is ek theos in Greek, meaning “out of God.” Any time we manifest genuine goodness it is derived out of the character of God expressed and enacted by the power and grace of God.
Whenever we come across the New Testament admonitions exhorting us to “know good” and to “do good,” we must always remember that the dynamic for doing so is in God, in Christ.
Romans 16:19 – “I want you to be wise in what is good.” How? By allowing God to continue to reveal His goodness.
Gal. 6:9,10 – “let us not lose heart in doing good…let us do good to all men.” How? By the dynamic of God’s doing of His goodness in and through us.
I Thess. 5:21 – “hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.” What is good? That which expresses God’s character of goodness. How are we going to hold fast to that and abstain from every form of evil? Three verses later in I Thess 5:24 we read, “Faithful is He who calls you, He also will bring it to pass.”
II Thess. 3:13 – “do not grow weary of doing good.” What is to weary us if we recognize that it is not our struggling and striving to perform goodness? It is possible to grow weary of the fact that so few seem to recognize and appreciate that it is God’s goodness expressed in our behavior.
As Christians, we are to continue to be available and receptive in faith to the expression of God’s goodness in our behavior. “He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6). The “good work” that God intends will not be perfected by our conforming to a “standard of goodness,” nor by our generating, manufacturing, mustering up good behavior (were we able to do so), but only by the dynamic of divine grace, and our receptivity of that activity in faith.
Jesus allows us the freedom to express His goodness in our behavior. Such expression is not forced upon the Christian. As Christians, we still have freedom of choice. We are still choosing creatures. Even though Eph. 2:10 states that “we are created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them,” this does not necessarily imply that all our behavioral expressions are pre-determined in a rigid, closed-system, thus denying freedom of choice.
In Jesus Christ, we have freedom unto the intended function of our humanity. We are free to be and do all that God wants to be and do in us. The intention of the Creator God was to dwell within and activate His character of goodness through the creature man. By the fall of mankind into sin and their spiritual enslavement to the Evil One (II Tim. 2:26) they became “slaves of sin” and to the expression of his character of evil. In Jesus Christ, we are restored to God’s intent by God’s indwelling and God’s dynamic activity in us. Free to be a man as God intended man to be, by the presence and power of Jesus Christ in us. Freedom is the most important concept of Christianity. Jesus said, “You shall know the Truth, and the Truth shall set you free” (John 8:32), and then, “If therefore the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:36). Paul explained, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free…do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1); “You were called to freedom, brethren” (Gal. 5:13). “Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (II Cor. 3:17). We are free to be good as God intended man to be. Free to love God and allow His goodness to be expressed through us for others. What freedom! Augustine explained that we can “love God and do what we want.”
The religionist only understands freedom as freedom from something rather than freedom to God’s intent. He seems only to conceive of freedom in the context of law, rather than freedom of function. So there is nothing that frightens the religionist or moralist more than freedom from the legal standards of good behavior that have been posited in place of God. They reason, “If a man is free from the law, free from moral codes, free from the religious manipulation thereof, there is no telling what man might do. It would be chaos!” It is thereby revealed that they have not taken God into account; they only understand “goodness” in the idolatrous context of conformity to behavioral law codes.
When the apostle Paul shared the gospel of grace, the freedom that we have in Jesus Christ, the religious critics, the Judaizers, indicated that he was advocating antinomianism, that he was teaching “against the law,” that he was encouraging lawlessness, licentiousness, libertinism. Paul wrote in Rom. 6:15, “Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? May it never be!” (cf. Rom. 3:5,8; 6:1). Freedom to sin is a total misunderstanding of grace and freedom.
Freedom in Christ is indeed on the far side of moralistic legalism. From the confined and false perspective of legalism, such freedom will appear to be lawlessness, violations of regulatory behavioral law and moral standards of goodness. But the Law of God has as its primary function the revelation of the character of God, and grace is the divine dynamic to express that character of God freely in the Christian.
Jesus Christ wants to express His character of goodness in consistent, practical Christian behavior. The message of the Christian gospel is not just ethereal theory about abstract “goodness,” or philosophizing and theologizing about “goodness.” We do not want to be so heavenly-minded that we are of no earthly good. Christian living has to do with practical behavior which consistently expresses the character of God. Christian living has to do with the practicalities of God’s goodness being expressed in all of our interpersonal relationships; husbands and wives, parents and children, employers and employees, friends, acquaintances, and general public.
Paul warns us “do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh” (Gal. 5:13). There have been libertarian advocates who have so reacted to moralism, as to eschew and repudiate all behavioral considerations and preaching. They are willing to tolerate any behavior in the name of “freedom.” We are seeing an epidemic of such tolerance in our society today. It may be a valid backlash against moralism, but it leads to social chaos apart from the recognition of God’s grace-expression of goodness.
Sin is still sin! It is not derived from God. It does not express the character of God. It is instead derived from the devil (I John 3:8) and expresses the character of the Evil One.
Whenever the Christian misrepresents the character of God in his/her behavior by infidelity, dishonesty, greed, strife, jealousy, anger, dissensions, drunkenness, etc. then the intent of God to express His character in that Christian is not taking place. It is a tragic misrepresentation of the life of Jesus Christ.
As we allow the Christ-life to be lived out in our behavior, manifesting God’s goodness by His grace, we conversely disallow the “fleshly indulgences” (Col. 2:23), which religious moralism was impotent to deal with. We disallow fleshliness to be selfishly, sinfully, and satanically expressed in our behavior. Thus it is that we “deny ourselves” (Luke 9:23) and “abstain from every form of evil” (I Thess 5:22). As we allow Christ to manifest His good-life in our behavior, He thus supersedes, overcomes, and disallows the misrepresentative sinful behavior expressions. The positive swallows up the negative.
Jesus Christ wants to express His character of goodness in the social community of the Church. The Church is the “Body of Christ” intended to collectively express the character of Christ. The Church is the “People of God” expressing the character of God’s goodness. Paul writes, “Let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10). There is particular emphasis on God’s goodness being expressed in the context of the Church, for it is there that God wants to demonstrate the interpersonal social community that He intended for man as they allow the Creator to function within His creatures. In the Church, God wants to show that man can dwell together with man in “peace,” when they allow God’s goodness to be expressed one to another. The Church is to be the one place that demonstrates how God’s people can get along with one another in goodness when each person is receptive to God’s love and goodness being expressed to the other, despite the diversity of race, sex, age, nationality, intelligence, personality type, the difference of opinions, etc.
The distinctive of Christianity and Christian behavior is the awareness that all goodness is derived from God in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and that all goodness is behaviorally expressed by the dynamic of God’s grace alone, which is the outworking of Christ’s life. The God who is good is the actuator who activates the expression of His good character and enacts (in-acts) His good character in Christian behavior. God in Christ enables, empowers, energizes, and enacts all good behavior, all Christian behavior.
Behavioral goodness is a fruit of the Spirit of Christ. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness…”(Gal. 5:22,23). “The fruit of the Light consists in all goodness…”(Eph. 5:9). “We walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work…”(Col. 1:10). It is not that we produce or manufacture goodness or perform goodness, but we bear the fruit of goodness derived from the dynamic of God’s divine character. Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
Our focus must be on the divine source of all goodness. Our focus must be on Jesus Christ. “We fix our eyes on Jesus” (Heb. 12:2). Our theology, our lives, must be Christocentric; not morality-centered, not even good-centered, but God-centered, Christ-centered. Returning to the quotation of C.S. Lewis,
“Christianity leads you on, out of morality, into something beyond. One has a glimpse of a country where they do not talk of those things, except perhaps as a joke. Every one there is filled full with what we shall call goodness as a mirror is filled with light. But they do not call it goodness. They do not call it anything. They are not thinking of it. They are too busy looking at the source from which it comes.” 18
The distinctive of Christianity and Christian behavior is that Christians are looking only at the source of all things in Christ and deriving all from Him by the dynamic of His grace.
In the fall of man into sin, Adam rejected that derivative relationship of grace/faith, and chose instead the deceiving lie that he could be “like God,” an independent, autonomous self, and develop for himself a self-determined standard of “good and evil.” Such was the establishment of humanism, morality, and religion. Ever since the Fall man has had to exercise the right he demanded and has had to devise and develop religion in order to fabricate a morality wherewith to stabilize the chaos of his society and try to draw man’s attention away from himself, if even temporarily, for the good of the whole. “Morality is of the order of the fall.” 19
After the Fall, we observe in the historical narratives of the Old Testament that God begins to paint preliminary “pictures” of how He will remedy man’s predicament and restore Himself to man. God picked the Jews to be His “picture” people. He gave them the Law, inclusive of the Ten Commandments, on Mt. Sinai. Judaism was a religion, complete with morality, as all religion is. God established the religion of Judaism to demonstrate the bankruptcy of all religions, and the inability of a man to keep any morality, i.e. to show man that he did not have what it took to be man as God intended.
What about the Old Testament Law? Does it have any reference to Christian behavior? The Law had more than one purpose, and the failure to understand this will lead to many interpretive problems. (1) The essential purpose of the Law was the revelation of the character of God. God is singular, personal, exclusive, worthy of worship. God is faithful, true, needs nothing, etc. (2) The instrumental purpose of the Law was to provide a means with which to reveal the impotence of morality and to evidence the inability of natural, fallen, sinful man to express the character of God, the purpose for which he was created.
After he became a Christian, Paul could still say, “The Law is good, holy, righteous” (Rom. 7:12,13). As we have noted that only “God is good,” it is safe to say that Paul did not mean that the “Law is good” in the same sense that “God is good,” for he would never have idolatrously equated the Law with God. Rather, the Law is beneficially good; the law serves the good purpose of God, primarily to reveal God’s character. Paul makes it very clear elsewhere that the Law does not make anyone good or righteous. “Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law…because they did not pursue it by faith” (Rom. 9:31). “…not knowing about God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God” (Rom. 10:3). “Man is not made righteous by the works of the Law..” (Gal. 2:16). Paul denies that the Law, functionally and religiously employed as a morality, could ever effect God’s intent to express His goodness and righteousness and holiness in man’s behavior. The “letter kills” Paul wrote (II Cor. 3:6). However, the rabbinic moralists of the Jewish religion continued to carefully craft definitions of precise performance for every eventuality in the legalistic minutia of the Talmudic Mishnah. Judeo-Christian religion today still calculates the moralistic regulatory purpose of the Law.
Outside of the Hebrew context, the philosophers of the world attempted to develop and dictate moralities for mankind. The oriental philosophers such as Buddha, Lao Tzu, and Confucius, as well as the Greek philosophers such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, engaged in this process. All of them, in their own way, attempted to classify moralistic virtues in self-determined categories of good and evil, failing to understand the divine intent of man’s deriving all character expression from God.
“In the fullness of time, God sent forth His Son” (Gal. 4:4), incarnated as a man in order to take the deadly consequences of mankind upon Himself, and that in order to restore the life of God to man, so that man could function as God intended. The death of Jesus Christ on the cross was the vindication of all goodness and grace over sin and death. The resurrection of Jesus was the manifestation of the availability of all goodness and grace in the dynamic of the life of the risen Lord Jesus. The “good news” of the gospel is that in Jesus Christ we have the restoration of God’s presence and function in man which was lost in the fall. The divine dynamic is restored to man so that all might be derived from God; the Spirit of Christ living and functioning in the Christian.
The grace and freedom made available in Jesus Christ is a radical contradiction to all legalistic morality; to all religions! Most of the New Testament is an exposé of religion; an explanation of the dichotomous difference of Christianity from all religion, especially from the religion of Judaism. Throughout the gospels, Jesus exposes and disposes of the Pharisees. His parables are poignant pictorial parodies of the religious premises and practices of Pharisaical Judaism. The book of Acts is a historical narrative of nascent Christianity breaking free from the religion of Judaism. Paul’s letter to the Romans explains that righteousness is not in religion, but only in Christ. The letter to the Galatians explains the dichotomy of the gospel and religion. The letter to the Hebrews explains that the new covenant in Christ forever obsoletes and abrogates the old covenant of Jewish religion. So with every other book of the New Testament.
The grace of God operative in the Christian, the freedom to be and do all God wants to be and do in us; these are opposed to “law” and “works.” The moralistic regulatory function of the Law is forever dissipated, destroyed, dispensed with, discarded, damned!
Despite this gloriously liberating reality of the Christian gospel, the natural, religious man does not like “grace” and “freedom;” it takes away all his “control.” So even within the context of the first century, the reaction of the religionists, the moralists, is recorded in the New Testament itself. The Judaizers seemed to follow Paul wherever he went, attempting to impose religious morality on the new Christians, attempting to supplement the gospel of grace with external morality strictures. They wanted to keep a legalistic law-based morality; the very thing Jesus had come to put an end to by His grace! Paul would have none of it. He indicated that what they were teaching was “another gospel” which was “not gospel at all.” It was damnable! (Gal. 1:6-10).
Within the second and third centuries A.D. we look back to the writings of the early Church fathers, also called the Apostolic Fathers, the earliest extant writings of Christians after the New Testament writings. We search their writings to determine what perspective they had of the gospel of grace and the freedom of the Christian “in Christ.” Did they retain Paul’s understanding of the dynamic of Christ’s life functioning in the Christian? Regrettably, they did not! Their primary concern seems to have been moralistic conformity, emphasizing external conduct rather than the internal spiritual dynamic of God’s grace. T.F. Torrance reports,
“What occupied the foreground of their (Apostolic fathers) thought was how they were going to walk in the way of this life, and conform to its high standards. So concerned were they about right and wrong behaviour that everywhere they were driven into legalism and formalism. The Christian ethic was codified, and the charismatic life under the constraining love of Christ reduced to rules and precepts. Law and obedience, reward and punishment, these were the themes of their preaching. The centre of gravity was shifted from the mainspring of the Christian life in the person of Christ Himself to the periphery of outward conformity and daily behaviour.” 20
By the second and third centuries, there was developing a “Christian religion” contrary to the Christian gospel. Many of the advocates of early Christian morality systems were labeled as “heretics” their morality emphases were part of serious theological errors that were condemned. They were trying to integrate Greek philosophy and Gnosticism with the gospel. They were advocating moralistic asceticism as the antidote for “fleshly indulgence.” It does not work! (Col. 2:23)
Early in the fourth century, by about 325 A.D., the church became integrated with the state, as Constantine declared Christianity the state religion of the Roman empire. The institutionalizing of the Church required increased moral definition in order to “control” the “society.” Authoritarianism, even totalitarianism, resulted as the hierarchical leaders, later speaking with the alleged infallibility of a papal decree, determined the absolutism of moral formulations. Moral formulations are not absolute. God is absolute! What God is, only God is. We must not attribute an attribute of God to anything else. We must respect the non-transferability of the divine attributes There are no distinct and definable moral absolutes apart from God in Jesus Christ, and deriving the expression of His absolute character.
Down through the centuries that followed, the Christian religion was characterized by ecclesiastical control over morality. As we noted in the beginning, that is how Christian religion, along with all religion, has come to be defined.
The Reformation of the sixteenth century simply re-formed the moralism, along with some theological formulations. The moralizing rigidity of John Calvin, the Swiss reformer, is an example of the failure of the reformers to grasp the dynamic restoration of God’s grace in the living Lord Jesus.
So what has happened down through the centuries as the institutional church related to the world? How did the Christian religion attempt to foist its social moralism upon society around it? Jacques Ellul notes how the church engaged in the
“perversion of making the gospel into law in order to respond to the challenge of successive outbursts of immorality and ethical disorder. Naturally Christians and the church could not fail to react to violence and sexuality and corruption. The mistake was to deal with these on the moral and legal plane instead of following the example of Paul, who always works through the moral question to the spiritual question, gets back to the essence of the revelation in Christ, and from this derives some models of conduct that are consistent with faith and love. The church did not do this. It set itself on the same level as the world and treated moral matters on the moral plane. When a political question is treated merely as a political question, and a social question merely as a social question…the gospel becomes morality with a whitewash of theological terms.” 21
Contemporary issues where this same process continues to happen might include civil rights, abortion, euthanasia, etc.
The present situation in Christian ecclesiasticism is but a perpetuation of the ignorance and defiant independence that fails to differentiate between Christian behavior and morality. There is an almost wholesale failure to recognize the radical newness of new covenant Christianity and the dynamic of the life of Jesus Christ. Instead, religion reverts back to old covenant legalism and moralism. Repeatedly religion wants to construct a so-called “Christian Ethic” on the regulatory concept of the Ten Commandments. What an absurdity! What an abominable misrepresentation of Christianity! What an idolatrous substitution of law and moral code for grace, of formula and technique for freedom, of principles of goodness for God.
Christianity, 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,” …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!
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