I am thankful to Joe Thorn for concisely clarifying an issue that I believe confounds many well intentioned Christians. The problem addressed is the confusion of moralism with the gospel. In many case moralism is an attempt to take seriously both God and the Christian faith. Nevertheless, moralism is off track.
In a post titled Killing Moralism, Thorn observes:
Many Christians have grown up in the church on moralistic preaching; that is, preaching that calls for obedience without connecting the commands of God to the cross of Christ.
Thorn goes on to suggest:
This disconnect is dangerous, potentially leading hearers into either self-loathing or self-righteousness. Moralistic preaching is often the ground in which the devil sows the seeds of legalism.
The more I study the more I am amazed by how cohesive the Scriptures are – both Old Testament and New Testament. Christ is central to both, as together they unfold God’s awesome plan and work of redemption.
But Thorn is right, too much of what we hear from our pulpits fails to make the connection. And sadly that has all too often been true of the pulpits I have stood in through the years. Oh, the Word was proclaimed. The teaching was faithful. Often rich truth was expressed: doctrinal, devotional, and dutiful. But too often the cross – which is the crux of the whole Bible – was not clearly tied in.
In recent years I have labored to remedy that. But it is still a work in progress.
In his post Thorn suggests three observations we should look for to draw more deeply from the Scriptures for our preaching, teaching, and personal formation:
- See the God of the Command
- See the Grace Behind the Command
- See the Gospel Above the Command.
To practice this observation Thorn wisely instructs us to remind ourselves of three truths:
- Jesus atoned for our failure in this command. (Colossians 1.3; Colossians 2.13, 14; Ephesians 2.16; Romans 5.9)
- Jesus fulfilled this command for us. (1 Corinthians 1.30-31; Romans 5.19; Philippians 3.9)
- Jesus empowers us to live out this command. (Philippians 2.12-13; Ephesians 6.10-20; 1 Peter 4.11)
The more we embrace these principles the better we will become in “preaching the gospel to ourselves”. And living in light of the gospel is the key to escaping well intentioned but ultimately vapid moralism.