This may sound bizarre, but it’s true: the Devil rejoices more than many Christians on Sunday mornings. Don’t get me wrong, the Devil is not a Christian. But he loves what most preachers do in the pulpits around the world.
If you have grown up in church or been around church-going Christians, you know that the focus is, first and foremost, the Christian and not The Christ.
You are familiar with statements like “What makes you a Christian?”, “Christians don’t do that”, “What have you done about it as a Christian?”, and there is one more that I dread: “Do God’s work, and he will do yours!” What all these statements have in common it is that they put the saved, not the Saviour at the centre of the Christian faith.
This ‘spiritual narcissism’ has its advocates behind pulpits. It’s preached Sunday after Sunday. Year in, year out. But this is just the surface stuff.
The real problem runs deeper: Moralism.
The mother of the Christian scourge is moralism in the pulpit. Sermons about behaviour and behaviour adjustment are way too common. The accuser has fooled us into thinking that if we come on Sunday morning and sit in our hardwood pews, lend our ears to a preacher and have him feed us on a moral to-do list, maybe we will change.
Maybe oh maybe we will do something about our condition.
Our culture loves obsessing over good behaviour and uprightness. I have met people who have convinced themselves that their calling is to tell people how to dress, places they should avoid and Television channels they should delete from their subscription plan.
The Church has way too many moral police officers and cultural warriors than it does broken preachers.
But moralism is deceptive. It’s not what it claims to be. Immorality is not the root cause of the human problem. It’s just a consequence. We can’t just be treating symptoms. Even in the practice of medicine, they treat the cause and not the symptom.
Why then do the Good News specialists obsess with eliminating symptoms and not deal with the real cause?
Paul in Romans chapter one, from verse twenty-six, helps us capture what is wrong with us:
For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.
And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, Without understanding, covenant breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful:
Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them (Romans 1:26-31, KJV).
If you looked carefully, you would notice that all the matters Paul touches on here are moral in nature: malice, backbiting, pride, deceit, fornication, boasting, disobedience, homosexuality among others. But to him, they are not the root.
He opens verse twenty-six with these words: “For this cause…” Which cause? What is the root of all that wickedness? Why did God give them over to this immorality? What is that thing which bred all this immorality?
Paul tells us in verse twenty-one: “when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” This is the problem. “…they glorified him not as God…” This is unbelief. Unbelief is the mother of all sins, and it originated with the Devil in Genesis chapter three. This is what Paul is talking about here. The failure to see God as God but instead see ourselves as god is the root of all wickedness. It is also the fountain spring of immorality.
There are two major problems with a moralism that I can think of. One, it can never save us. In the 26 years, I have been alive, I have never heard of anyone who was saved from God’s wrath by behaving nice. Never! Paul tells us clearly where our salvation comes from in Ephesians chapter two, verse eight and nine: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast.” It is God, by His gift of grace, which we receive through faith that we are saved. In fact attaining salvation by trying to be good is to deny Jesus Himself by giving mental assent to the idea that you can save yourself by your works (good behaviour). In the verse above, Paul says, “and that not of yourselves…not of works…”
The other problem with moralism is that it casts the stage lights on the saved instead of on the Saviour; on our work for God instead of on God’s work for us.
Moralism hands us the tools so that we can improve ourselves. The cross of Christ is then transformed into a ladder to climb to God with our own sweat tears and blood or a pair of crutches so that we will not need the Saviour-carpenter who does it all for us.
Moralist preachers work on the assumption that if we can put our act together, then God will accept us. This is not the gospel; it’s karma at its best. And Devil knows that it doesn’t work.
Now, tell me why the Devil will not party hard on the Sabbath knowing that the preacher is playing a ‘fool’s game’ on himself and his congregation?
The now-dead German preacher Walter Luthi once wrote: “Humanity cannot be helped by humanity; our wretched condition cannot be approached from this side, far less from below; help can reach us only from above.” And he was right. Only God, not good behaviour, can get us out of this.
The Church is not called to reform our immoral culture but to announce One who came to buy us out of the slavery of moralism so that we will once again be called sons and daughters of God.
The preacher is called by God to know nothing “…save Jesus Christ, and him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2).” This was Paul’s foundation. He knew that the ‘do more’, ‘try harder’ sermons don’t work. Only Jesus and Him crucified works.
The Devil is greatly troubled when one sermon about a God who imputes His righteousness to unworthy sinners and sufferers is preached than ten thousand lectures on morality and dress code.
Because the Gospel of grace in Jesus Christ alone “…is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth…” (Romans 1:16)
The solution to our wretchedness, therefore, is not that ‘three-pointer sermon’ on morality but Jesus Christ who died for our immorality. That alone, the Devil cannot handle.
“so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel other than the one you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!” –Galatians 1:9 (NIV)