Thursday, September 03, 2009

Moralism and being "raised right"

Al Mohler's recent blog post looks at the controversy that Paul addresses in the book of Galatians. The Galatian church was believing a false gospel. They thought that circumcision and other such outward behavior was really the point, what set them right with God.

Having grown up in the South, a particular section of Mohler's post resonated with me. He mentions how 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."
This is by no means an indictment on my parents or any other set of parents necessarily. It is the sin nature in parent and child that makes us hard-wired to believe that following rules makes us righteous. And living in the South, with a "church on every corner", makes it very easy to continue to believe right behavior equals right standing with God.

Over the last few months, God has pointed out some major ways that I have embraced behaviorism without even knowing it. I am thankful that He is continuing the work that He promised to complete in me, by stripping me of all my self-made righteousness, and causing me to cling only to the righteousness of Christ.

Mohler's conclusion sums it up well:
"We are justified by faith alone, saved by grace alone, and redeemed from our sin by Christ alone. Moralism produces sinners who are (potentially) better behaved. The Gospel of Christ transforms sinners into the adopted sons and daughters of God.

The Church must never evade, accommodate, revise, or hide the law of God. Indeed, it is the Law that shows us our sin and makes clear our inadequacy and our total lack of righteousness. The Law cannot impart life but, as Paul insists, it 'has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.' [Gal. 3:24]

The deadly danger of moralism has been a constant temptation to the church and an ever-convenient substitute for the Gospel. Clearly, millions of our neighbors believe that moralism is our message. Nothing less than the boldest preaching of the Gospel will suffice to correct this impression and to lead sinners to salvation in Christ.

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."


  1. I think this culture of being "raised right" is more prevalent in the South, where the Bible belt heavily resides, but I also think it's part of the American way. From kindergarten we are raised to believe that we can be anything we want, even President of the U.S. - if we just work hard. Or even more than being whatever you want, you can accumulate whatever you want through hard work. it's all about earning- earning money, earning fame, earning awards, earning titles, etc. Earning it through our own personal strength and work.

    I remember growing up and always making good grades and staying out of trouble and my parents would praise me and tell me what a "good girl" I was and how much they loved me and I was so good in school and stuff like that. Well in my little 12 year old mind I started blurring those lines together and equating their love for me based on my performance. Of course that was definitely not true and it took me not doing the "right thing" to see that they still loved and accepted me no matter what. The same has been true for my relationship w/God. I had to go off on my own and be broken to realize how His love for me is not dependent on my acts or choices. And although I regret some of the choices and sin I've had, I can't totally regret it, b/c through my sin, God showed me his incredible, all encompassing love - one that if I were always doing the "right thing" I might not have exprienced.

    It's a tough situation. You want to raise your kids to do right, b/c it is the right thing, but you also want to balance that out w/the concept of unconditional love and that they are accepted whether they do the right thing or not. Personally I think one way of achieving that is to share our sin and mistakes and struggles w/each other. Doing so sheds the idea of "perfection" and immediately puts us all on the same level as sinners who desperately need the same forgiveness. I just think of my mom who has shared some of her mistakes w/me, but who is so FREE and JOYFUL b/c of the love and forgiveness of Christ. If I never saw her mess up and accept grace, then I might think perfection was needed to earn the love of God. Does that make sense?

    Anyways- those are my thoughts! :) thanks for sharing this David!

  2. Renee
    That does make sense. Thanks for sharing.

  3. I agree with Renee.

    I am not a parent, but it's really interesting watching other people with their kids.

    A few years ago, the son of some close friends of ours, Chris, was really shy. Especially with girls. Dennis, my husband, for about five years always tried to "encourage" him to go after that job interview or talk to a girl. He was brilliant, but a little clueless and even got fired from a menial job which took away what little self confidence he had.

    During his senior year in college, his mom and I would have "What about Chris?" talks, and she just shared that all she could do was pray. She couldn't motivate or teach him anything more than she already had. She was spent and a little worried.

    After Chris graduated with honors from computer science, he didn't pursue a lot of job openings, but a job pretty much fell into his lap. Since then, he makes more money than anyone I know. He got married a few months ago to a pretty and godly (and genius)gal that he slowly courted long distance with amazing sensitivity. And she pretty much fell right into his lap,too--they were introduced by mutual close friends.

    As for me, I knew Chris was full of surprises (I babysat him since he was four). Six years ago, I watched him lead an evangelistic bible study with international students, he was "pinch hitting" for someone else on a spring break trip and blew everyone away with his ability and willingness to share the gospel. No one knew that he was as mature as he was spiritually, and that he could answer questions from nonbelievers so thoroughly and clearly. He doesn't show off or get much attention, but he memorized a lot of scripture and had lead bible studies for years with high school students.

    This is a young man that a lot of people worried about being a loser. But I've never heard him ever criticize someone or be unkind towards anyone in his family. And I enjoy meeting with him and his wife, they remind me that God is gracious towards the humble.

  4. Anonymous11:15 AM

    i am becoming increasingly distressed by your lack of posts. what am i to do with my free time?