Exchanging the Gospel of Grace For the Gospel of Morality

1 Jul

Today we end our look at the creed of Moralistic, Therapeutic Deism (MTD) with point 5, which states, “Good people go to heaven when they die.” 

The Gospel of Moralism

This final point leads us to the crescendo of the MTD creed, which is the Gospel of Morality.  What does that mean?  To figure this out, we need to go back to MTD’s belief about God’s purpose for man.  Point 2 sums up this purpose, stating, “God wants all people to be good, nice and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and other world religions.”  So we see that, according to the MTD creed, man’s purpose is to be good, nice and fair.  Couple this with today’s point (No. 5) and we get the Gospel of Morality: If people are good, fair and nice, they will go to heaven when they die.

The appeal of this belief, for non-Christians and many professing Christians, is that on the surface it avoids exclusivist claims and seems to present an attainable goal for reaching heaven.  Anyone, anywhere, at any time in history could, can or will have the chance to fulfill his or her “God-given purpose” to be a good person.  Not only that, but this understanding of how one reaches heaven does not push people too hard to accomplish anything or lead them to live a life of passion for their beliefs.  In addition to these ideas, such a belief in how people get to heaven allows us to give others the benefit of the doubt, regardless of whether or not they went to church, prayed or studied a holy book.  As long as a person seems like they were genuinely good and nice, they get a ticket to eternal life in heaven.

The Lie of the Gospel of Morality

Yet, for all of its seeming appeal, the Gospel of Morality is a ugly lie for Christians to believe and a misleading path for non-Christians to follow in their hopes of attaining any kind of heaven.  While a Morality-centered gospel seems to present an attainable goal for reaching heaven, it actually presents an ambiguous and, in the end, unattainable end.  How good is good enough? Where has God revealed the criteria on His grade sheet for human goodness and fairness?  How much do bad thoughts, actions and words set a person back? With all these questions swirling around, who can be sure they are good enough to get into heaven, and what kind of a picture does this paint of God? He seems to be an aloof professors who has asked of His students the impossible and has forgotten to give them the rubric.  So while it may be easy to think that such a gospel presents us with leeway for people and assurance based on their good deeds, it actually leads to doubt and uneasiness about one’s eternal destiny.  And, at the end of the day, the Gospel of Morality that seems to cross all religions and bring them together in the most inclusive way actually fails to do so because it fails to take into account the fact that almost all religions put forth exclusivist claims right alongside their commands for moral living.

The Gospel of Grace

And this leads us to the Bible and the Gospel of Grace which it presents.  Flying in the face of the so-called “gospel” of morality, the Gospel of grace points to the cross of Christ and says that He has accomplished salvation for you, and an eternity in heaven with God, by enduring the painful punishment for your sins (wrongdoings, rebellion against God and rejection of God’s purpose for your life) on the tree.  And we receive such forgiveness, reconciliation with God and acceptance by God through faith in Jesus’ work on the cross.  Romans 3:22-25 puts it well: “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, who God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.”

And did you catch that word that appeared almost dead in the center of that passage?  The word was gift.  Unlike the gospel of morality, there is nothing we can to earn our way into a relationship with God and to heaven; our invitation to eternal life and satisfaction in Christ comes a gift of God’s grace to us that we receive by God-enabled faith (which is, ironically, another gift of God).  We see this clearly stated in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”  The Gospel of Grace is the total opposite of the gospel of morality.

Many will put forth the idea that such a view of how one gets to heaven is narrow-minded and exclusive.  To which I say, “Yes, it is.” Heaven will only be for those who have put their faith in Jesus Christ.  For all others, who have rejected God’s gift to us, a terrible Hell awaits. That is exclusive; it splits people into two groups.  But the fact is the wonderful news, the historical truth claim upon which salvation and eternal life is staked, is made available to all.  It is not given only to one ethnic group, or to one country in the world, or to one language group, but rather, through Jesus Christ, all the world is given an invitation to trust in His redeeming work and live a life to the glory of God out of thanksgiving for the eternal joy and life that they have received.

I want to end this post with a quotation from Philip Ryken’s commentary on Galatians.  It beautifully explains the Gospel of Grace and the beauty of the God behind it:

“The crucifixion and the resurrection, the cross and the empty tomb–these are the simple facts of the gospel.  The good news is
that
 Jesus Christ, whom God raised from the dead, gave for our sins to rescue us from this present evil age, according to
the will
 of God our Father.  

These facts do not contain a single word about anything we do.  They simply document what God has done in human history through Jesus Christ.  The gospel is not about what we do for God; it is about what God has done for us.  God the Father is the one who came up with the gospel plan.  God the Son is the one who made the willing sacrifice, in keeping with the Father’s will. God the Father is the one who raised Jesus from the dead.  Together the Father and the Son accomplished our salvation through the cross; together they announce it to the world through the teaching of the apostles; and together they apply it to our heart through the Holy Spirit….All the glory goes to God, what comes to us is only grace…”   

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