Pastor Steve recently posted an article in which he highlighted some timely warnings from D.A. Carson against confusing the effects of the gospel with the gospel itself. (Click here to read that post, entitled “The Gospel is Not . . .”). Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote on a similar theme a few weeks ago. He deals explicitly with the issue of moralism, and contrasts it with the gospel message. Here is an excerpt from Dr. Mohler’s article:
Just as parents rightly teach their children to obey moral instruction, the church also bears responsibility to teach its own the moral commands of God and to bear witness to the larger society of what God has declared to be right and good for His human creatures.
But these impulses, right and necessary as they are, are not the Gospel. Indeed, one of the most insidious false gospels is a moralism that promises the favor of God and the satisfaction of God’s righteousness to sinners if they will only behave and commit themselves to moral improvement.
The moralist impulse in the church reduces the Bible to a codebook for human behavior and substitutes moral instruction for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Far too many evangelical pulpits are given over to moralistic messages rather than the preaching of the Gospel.
The corrective to moralism comes directly from the Apostle Paul when he insists that “a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus.” Salvation comes to those who are “justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.” [Gal. 2:16]
We sin against Christ and we misrepresent the Gospel when we suggest to sinners that what God demands of them is moral improvement in accordance with the Law. Moralism makes sense to sinners, for it is but an expansion of what we have been taught from our earliest days. But moralism is not the Gospel, and it will not save. The only gospel that saves is the Gospel of Christ. As Paul reminded the Galatians, “But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.” [Gal. 4:4-5]
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.
(Click here to read Dr. Mohler’s entire article).
We must always be careful to stay true to the gospel. There are so many subtle (and insidious!) ways to lose sight of it, and to exchange it for something else. Perhaps now would be a good time for us to prayerfully meditate on a passage like Ephesians 2:1-10 or Colossians 2:13-14 or Titus 3:4-7 and again preach the gospel to ourselves.