Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Grace-Driven Effort vs. Human Moralism

I've been reading the book The Explicit Gospel by Matt Chandler. In Chapter 11, Moralism and the Cross, Chandler gives us some distinctions that I have found very helpful. Churches today are plagued by a religious belief called moralistic, therapeutic deism. This phrase was coined by Christian Smith in a book entitled, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers. The term basically means that God wants us to be good and happy and he basically stays out of our business unless we need his help in being good or in making us happy.

Preaching and teaching in the church that pushes moralistic teaching without the underpinnings of the Gospel is dangerous because it separates moral living from the power and motivation of the Gospel. Chandler writes, “By taking the cross out of the functional equation, moral therapeutic deism promotes the wrong-headed idea that God probably needs our help in the work of justification and most certainly needs us to carry the weight of our sanctification, as well. The result is innumerable Christians suffering under the burden of the law's curse because they have not been led to see that gospel-centered living is the only way to delight in the law.” (Page 209)

In the Christian life, we don't just stand still hoping for growth. On the other hand, we don't pursue growth through human effort either. Somehow we need grace-driven effort. Chandler asks this question, “What is grace-driven effort, and how is it different from the motivations offered by moralism?” He identifies five characteristics of grace-driven effort that revolve around Christ's saving performance for us rather than around religious performance. I found these five points very helpful in distinguishing the efforts we make as a result of grace and those which come from our own human effort. My intention is to summarize them here. I would highly recommend your reading Chandler's book in its entirety. His discussion of the five grace-driven characteristics begins on page 210.

1. The Weapons of Grace. Chandler writes, “When you're walking in moralistic deism, trying to earn God's favor, and your access to God is built around how well you're behaving, then you are motivated to obey by the hope of acceptance through your behavior.” The results of this kind of thinking makes you believe that your cancer is a result of not having had long enough devotions, for example.

Chandler divides this up into what he calls weapons of grace:
a. The blood of Christ. The blood of Christ has washed away all of our sins. Our acceptance is based on Jesus' blood and not our performance.
b. The Word of God. You need to use the Word of God to combat the condemnation the devil will throw at you.
c. The promise of the new covenant. Under the new covenant we have been perfected and sanctified “once for all” (Hebrews 10:10.

2. Attack the root of the sin. Moralism works on the outward expression of sin, whereas when grace is at work, it attacks sin at the heart, at the level of motivations and affections.

3. Fear of God. “Grace-driven effort fights for a reason that goes beyond a clear conscience and an emotional peace.” People “are not broken up because they have sinned against a holy God. They are broken up because their sin is costing them something.” (Page 215)

4. Dead to Sin “Grace-driven effort doesn't just forsake sin but is absolutely dead to it.” (page 216) Becoming dead to sin results from spending more time gazing at the Savior. The more we see Jesus Christ in the pages of Scripture, the less powerful sin will be in our lives.

5. Gospel Violence “Grace-driven effort is violent. It is aggressive. The person who understands the gospel understands that, as a new creation, his spiritual nature is in opposition to sin now, and he seeks not just to weaken sin in his life, but to outright destroy it.”

These five concepts that distinguish grace-driven effort from plain old human will-power will help us grow in grace in a way that frees us from the bondage and guilt we so often feel when we don't measure up. God has forgiven us. There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. Under that umbrella of no condemnation, we can “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12-13)

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