We are a team of men and women from different walks of life who all share in the ministry of advancing God's Kingdom throughout the state of Utah and beyond. We desire to know our Savior deeply, and be known by Him. We seek truth, and grace its counterpart, and we long to experience the freedom that naturally accompanies those two. This is our journey. Mark 8:36 "For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?"
» Why Moralism is Unhealthy for the Christian Spiritual Life
Every person has blind spots. We all have things that capture our focus almost exclusively in many circumstances. As these interests develop, regardless of subject matter, corresponding blind spots also begin to appear. Take this flippant example into consideration (stick with me here) : I am a big time video game fan. When the immensely popular Halo franchise was first released I became enthralled. Enthralled to the point that each time a new installment of the Halo series was released I dropped all other gaming priorities and focused solely on that new Halo game. As a result I temporarily developed blind spots toward all of my other gaming interests.
As ridiculous as that example was, I wanted to show how easily we can become narrowly focused and neglect other topics as a result. While blind spots in video gaming are not world shattering or life altering by any means, the same propensity for developing such biases exists in every area of our life. The most costly of which is our spiritual formation.
The spiritual bias towards moralism is extremely prominent among American conservative evangelicalism. Please understand, I don't say this to wag a finger or aimlessly identify things to complain about. Yes I am a young pastor, yes I am an idealist, and yes you might even think I have no idea what Im talking about. Honestly I don’t really care. My heart in examining this issue is to exhort the Bride of Christ towards all the beauty that her Bridegroom desires of her. My heart is that we, as His body, grow ever increasingly into the reconciled identity our Head has bestowed upon us. If you aren't down with that, this probably isn't the blog for you to be following.
Moralism is a very real, very serious, issue to be examined within the Body. It alters the central focus of the gospel from the person of Jesus Christ to the importance of our good/moral/holy behavior. Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, explains the danger of moralism beautifully and succinctly in a recent blog post. He also goes on to define moralism simply as “the belief that the Gospel can be reduced to improvements in behavior.” As the Bible clearly and repeatedly affirms, the Gospel, salvation, is in a person and that person is Christ. Christ alone. Not any behavioral modification or merit of our own.
Now before the battle cry against ‘Cheap Grace’ is taken up, understand what I am saying. If our only focus in the Christian experience is personal holiness, we have entirely missed the point. Yes, personal holiness is absolutely important, essential, indispensable, a portion of our walk that our Savior has called us to total obedience in. But ultimately it is just that, a PORTION of our life in Christ. Jesus has called us into a life that is so much more than behavior modification. But if we become exclusively focused on being good, ceasing to do the things that have been identified as sinful, we very quickly develop blind spots to the rest of what we have been called to. When this happens our spiritual formation is at best horribly lopsided, and at worst stagnant and pharisaical. We cannot allow this kind of spiritual lopsidedness to go unnoticed and unchallenged among our Body.
We have been called to a spiritual life that is vibrant and multifaceted, one that emulates the spiritual life of our Savior King. In Christ we see six core areas of His spiritual walk. The Renovaré Institute for Christian Spiritual Formation describes these six areas as spokes on the wheel of the Christian spiritual life.
They are -
Holiness: ‘Having pure thoughts, words, and actions, and overcoming temptation.’
Contemplative: ‘Spending time with God in prayer and meditation.’
Incarnational: ‘Unifying the sacred secular areas of life while showing forth God’s presence.’ Charismatic: ‘Welcoming the Holy Spirit while nurturing and exercising spiritual gifts.’
Social Justice: ‘Helping others that are in need.’
Evangelical: ‘Sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ and reading God’s Word.’
In the life of Jesus, we see the perfect example of a seamlessly balanced spiritual life as He walked equally in each of these core areas. As broken sinful creatures, we cannot do this perfectly. Because of this brokenness we develop our biases and our blind spots. We develop certain areas at the neglect of others and as a result, we develop a lopsided spiritual wheel. Our task is to identify those areas in our spiritual lives that are overemphasized and those that are underdeveloped. Once we do that, should we swing radically on the pendulum and neglect what was once strong and focus purely on areas that need development? Certainly not!!! As Paul would say, ‘By No Means!!!’ We must learn to develop each area of our spiritual life, so that we might walk in all that our Savior has called us to walk in, that our spiritual wheel will begin to roll as Christ modeled and intended instead of bumping awkwardly like a lopsided monstrosity with one long spoke and five other tiny baby spokes.
How the heck do we do that? We are so used to operating with our blind spots!
Committed Christian community is the only way to realistically begin to identify and grow in areas of our spiritual immaturity and weakness. Identifying blind spots is difficult if not impossible for us to do on our own. If we are blind to an area of weakness, how on earth can we see it. We have to be willing to live a life together with the Body of believers, being vulnerable and willing to accept the exhortations that others offer to us when an area of weakness is identified in us. This is hard, scary, painful, terrifying, but absolutely necessary.
We also must be willing to submit our entire self to our Savior, the kind of submission that when He begins His heart surgery on us we humbly respond in obedience. The kind of submission where if He calls us to leave our comfortable surroundings and leave the security of our own personal safety in order to “go and make disciples”, we go. The kind of submission that surrenders the ‘secular’ aspects of our day to day lives like our jobs, relationships, hobbies, and allows our King to make them sacred. The kind of submission that when we are scared to tell others about our Savior, we still tell them anyway because of the incredible gift that we have received. The kind of submission that when Holy Spirit moves in power we don't dismiss the possibility of His existence because it makes us uncomfortable. And the kind of submission that makes time, no matter what, to be in the presence of our King because He is the source of our very existence and our soul longs for nothing above that intimate time with our Lord, the creator of all things.
I want to encourage you all to engage in this ongoing conversation further, whether that is done here or in another context of Christian community. What areas does God desire to develop in your spiritual formation? Are you willing to take the dangerous step of submission and allow Him to do that work in you? What are your thoughts?