Is Christian Morality Behind the Times?

In Luke’s gospel, we discovered that the goal of discipleship is repentance and that God calls His people into humility. Because Christ calls us into repentance, there are many people who simply won’t become genuine Christ followers. I hear things like, “I would have to give up too much to follow Christ,” “Religious rules are too strict,” and even, “the Church is behind the times morally.”

I want to examine the Scriptures to see whether or not these are valid excuses that anyone could have for not following Christ. This will have very particular implications as we think about the way we do discipleship. It will also have some pretty severe implications regarding our existence as the church on this earth.

Acts 2:42-47 HCSB

Then fear came over everyone, and many wonders and signs were being performed through the apostles. Now all the believers were together and held all things in common. They sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as anyone had a need. Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple complex, and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with a joyful and humble attitude, praising God and having favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to them those who were being saved.

The kingdom of God

In this passage of Scripture, we see an outpouring of what God has done. This is the fruit of a people that is repentant, regenerated by Christ, and renewed by the Holy Spirit. I recently listened to a sermon in which the guy who pastors the biggest church in Oklahoma essentially stated that we must produce good worship to God. This is wrongheaded. Worship is the outpouring of what God does in our lives for His glory and our good. It would be far too easy, though, for anyone to take this passage of Scripture and claim, “This is what we must force ourselves to do if we want to see people added to our numbers daily!” While it may be true, it is not something we simply will for ourselves, for we are unable to worship God (Joshua 24:19). This guards us against, like so many others in our day, preaching a works-based righteousness or a prosperity gospel. This idea is going to play a great role in the way that we view moral issues on this earth. Nevertheless, this is the way that the kingdom of God manifests on this current earth. Everyone’s needs are met because people, by God’s grace, are generous in both their sharing and giving. They meet together, in some way, daily and fellowshipped together with a joyful and humble attitude. They praise God and do not seek to make enemies of people; they are friendly even to the sinners outside the church walls. Every day, the Lord didn’t necessarily add to a local church’s numbers but did add to those who were being saved and brought into His kingdom. All of this is the work of God. God is producing this result and those who are truly a part of God’s kingdom on this current earth will have these characteristics. Indeed, that is what these become, character qualities rather than forced moral attributes.

When it comes to discipleship, then, there is no “how-to.” Instead, we teach about what God is doing. We cannot teach people how to break their chains or how to be an overcomer. We can’t teach people how they can have their best life now. We can’t teach people how they can gain God’s favor by staying away from sin, not if we desire to do genuine and godly evangelism. God brings about in His people a desire to teach about what He is doing by grace. He is bringing life abundant. He is concerning our hearts with the needs of others. He is building His kingdom. He is bringing His people into joyful and humble fellowship!

How does God grant people entry into His kingdom? We observe the context that Scripture provides in chapter two. The Holy Spirit came to the Jews and Peter delivers His famous sermon at Pentecost. In verses 37-41, Peter called all those who heard to repentance while clarifying, the promise is for “as many as the Lord our God will call.” It is God who builds His kingdom. He brings us to repentance by grace and through faith that we might be brought into that kingdom. This means that everyone has sinned against God and no person has lived up to God’s eternal moral standard.

God doesn’t grant favor based on human works or morality.

The kingdom of people

The kingdom of God sounds pretty good as in is manifested on this earth. In fact, it sounds way more desirable than what we experience on this earth (even in many organizations that refer to themselves as churches). It is ironic that everything people want in society is available in the genuine local church. People just stay away because their personal moral code doesn’t agree with God’s. This is nonsensical, though, because we have already learned that God doesn’t depend on our moral practice or work. We assume that the church is the same regarding works-based righteousness as the world. If we don’t believe the world to practice works-based righteousness, we just need to open our eyes. If we say that we don’t agree that homosexuality is morally acceptable, we are ostracized at the least and completely reprimanded by the LGBTQ community. If we say that we think it is morally correct that the right to bear arms not be infringed, we are condemned and accused of not loving our children. This is the very definition of works-based righteousness. If we want to succeed we must step in line and follow suit. That is a prosperity gospel. The message of Christ is more beneficial and more desirable: Even if you disagree with God you are invited; even if you haven’t lived up to God’s standard you have the opportunity to be accepted by Him and by the genuine community of faith.

The kingdom of people is full of pride. everyone assumes that he or she is the standard for morality. God’s kingdom is humble fellowship, where each one understands that God is the standard and all have sinned, needing repentance. The kingdom of people is one of self-righteousness, where each one must earn his or her way by being good enough. The kingdom of God is one of imputed righteousness, where those who are brought in by God are given the very righteousness of Christ which frees them from sin. The kingdom of people is one of postmodern morality, where each sets his own standard and expects that it is the rule. The kingdom of God is one of absolute morality, but where God’s favor is not earned by adherence to that morality. If you say that something is morally right based on your own standards, then you cannot say that I am wrong according to my standards. If I say that you are wrong, I make an absolute moral statement that applies to more people than only me. Only one of us can be correct. How do we figure it out? The only way is for us to appeal to a higher moral authority than the human heart. So, it becomes nonsensical to appeal to popular morality or majority moral opinion in our time. Moral judgment is not something that people can be behind the times on because it doesn’t make sense to base morality on human emotion or the ebb and flow of history. If there is a moral authority to which we must appeal, it must be either timeless or eternal. This means simply that correct moral standards cannot change with time. People change their opinions either for better or for worse. So, I find that the kingdom of people is divided because it has chosen not to appeal to a moral authority that is higher than the human heart.

The kingdom of people is so fickle. We witnessed the outpouring of such a kingdom in the most recent academy awards. What we saw were hypocritical rants, particularly about the political issues of our nation. We see the kingdom of people operating organizations that refer to themselves as churches. We observe the kingdom of people even in many of our discipling relationships because we have made discipleship an organizational program rather than daily walking with others. That is why we see churches that look opposite of what Scripture describes in this passage. It is why we have almost entirely missed what is so desirable in Christ on this current earth: life abundant. Most people do not have repentant hearts even though they have sinned against the God of the universe, and this grieves my spirit.

All have sinned against God and are in need of repentance.

The promise of life

What the gospel gives us, then, is not what receive from the world or even from many organizational churches. The gospel offers life and there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ, no matter their moral blunders. Anytime we see a moral requirement in Scripture, it speaks to the character that God produces in His people, and yes I can prove that even from the Old Testament. In numbers 14:24, all of Israel was unable to follow God. Because God gave Caleb a different spirit, he was able to follow God and obey Him. When Moses gave the Law, it was to stand as a witness against the people (Exodus 19, Deuteronomy 32). Paul wrote that the Law was given to increase the trespass against God (Romans 5:20). What grace is this that I would sin, in my self-righteousness earning condemnation; and still have God, by whose character the very moral fabric of existence is defined, offer me life abundant while conforming me to the image of Christ- making correct moral action an outpouring of what God is doing. God is so good, and He is always good to sinners like me.

Genuine discipleship offers life in spite of human sin by God’s grace.

I do want to take a few moments and use the homosexuality debate as an example to illustrate God’s grace and, perhaps, the downfall of established human religion. To accomplish this, we will turn to Romans 1, where the matter is dealt with explicitly:

“Therefore God delivered them over in the cravings of their hearts to sexual impurity, so that their bodies were degraded among themselves. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served something created instead of the Creator, who is praised forever. Amen.

This is why God delivered them over to degrading passions. For even their females exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. The males in the same way also left natural relations with females and were inflamed in their lust for one another. Males committed shameless acts with males and received in their own persons the appropriate penalty of their error.

And because they did not think it worthwhile to acknowledge God, God delivered them over to a worthless mind to do what is morally wrong. They are filled with all unrighteousness, evil, greed, and wickedness. They are full of envy, murder, quarrels, deceit, and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, arrogant, proud, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, and unmerciful. Although they know full well God’s just sentence — that those who practice such things deserve to die — they not only do them, but even applaud others who practice them” (Romans 1:24-32).

Paul addresses the severity of human lust and uses unnatural sexual relations of people with the same gender as an example. Here is what we notice as we read this, and I desperately hope that I have not lost those of you who are practicing homosexuals at this point: Homosexuality is an example of a larger problem that Paul is mentioning, the problem of idol worship. His argument is that people have traded the truth of God for a lie and that people have worshipped the creature rather than the creator. Lust is one result of this misplaced worship; as is envy, murder, quarrels, deceit, and malice. In too many churches, I think, the homosexual is condemned because this text condemns the act. People don’t realize that it is an illustration to make real a bigger problem: idolatry. Paul doesn’t stop writing, here, either. The passage continues and we forget to keep reading:

“Therefore, any one of you who judges is without excuse. For when you judge another, you condemn yourself, since you, the judge, do the same things. We know that God’s judgment on those who do such things is based on the truth. Do you really think — anyone of you who judges those who do such things yet do the same — that you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you despise the riches of His kindness, restraint, and patience, not recognizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:1-4).

If I judge (here meant as condemn) someone because of their idolatry, then I condemn myself because I am also an idolater according to Paul, even if my idolatry has manifested differently than that of the homosexual. Not only do I condemn myself, but I have not treasured the riches of God’s kindness, restraint, and patience toward the sinner. God’s desire is that each one comes to repentance and not be condemned. God will judge based on truth, which is wrapped up in His own character. If I condemn, it is not based on the truth of God, but on the self-righteousness of my own sinful heart which brings me into self-condemnation. It is right that we should, by the grace of God alone, reject homosexual action; but we don’t lose sight of the bigger picture, rejecting every form of idolatry while realizing that the gospel is a gospel of grace. God offers abundant life even though I have been an idolater. Without a new spirit, or a regenerate heart, I am unable to worship God, I am unable to obey Him, and I am unable to follow Him. I desperately need God’s grace if I hope to live by faith. Living by faith, then, means that I know I am an idolater but trust in God’s grace and His sanctifying work to make me a part of His glorious and desirable kingdom on this earth and in eternity.

So I also make this realization: homophobia is more sinful than homosexuality. God is concerned with building His kingdom and saving a people for Himself. We tend to get so focused on condemning people that we miss the point entirely. God is faithful to turn hearts to Himself. The result is a rejection of sinfulness and the receiving of a more abundant and contented life, even on this earth.

Do you remember the story of Sodom and Gomorrah? These cities were vile places to be, so vile that they received the wrath of God on this earth because of their sin. In Matthew 11:16-24, Jesus speaks about these two cities:

“To what should I compare this generation? It’s like children sitting in the marketplaces who call out to each other:

We played the flute for you,

but you didn’t dance;

we sang a lament,

but you didn’t mourn!

For John did not come eating or drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon!’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”

Then He proceeded to denounce the towns where most of His miracles were done, because they did not repent: “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented in sackcloth and ashes long ago! But I tell you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will go down to Hades. For if the miracles that were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until today. But I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.”

Jesus stated very perspicuously that the vile people of Sodom would be able to tolerate their eternal judgment more than many of the Jews because the Jews, seeing the Messiah come, did not repent. For us to preach a works-based righteousness, and in so doing condemn others for their idolatry, is worse than this simple idolatry and is its own sort of idolatry. If we are not repentant, we will receive due judgment according to God’s standard and it will be worse for some than others in eternity. If we are repentant, we will have eternal and abundant life. This means that the truly repentant homosexual will have a place with God while the unrepentant religious person will go down to Hades and spend eternity in Hell. We find comfort in this. God does not rely on my moral action to grant His favor. I do not have to condemn others. Instead, I can love them no matter their vice, for I have my vices as well. Let us pray for God’s forgiveness and for His sanctification in our lives that we might be able to worship and follow Him. When, by God’s grace, we have abandoned our idols, we know that it is the outworking of the regenerate heart and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit- not a work of our own because we are unable to worship God in our depravity.

God doesn’t grant favor based on human works or morality.

All have sinned against God and are in need of repentance.

Genuine discipleship offers life in spite of human sin by God’s grace.

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