Monday, March 8, 2010

The "M" Word

One of the things I love most in life is watching my kids grow, learn, and develop. With each passing day it seems I learn more about them (as well as from them), have more fun with them, and relate better to them. One of the things that's so interesting to me is how much they like doing things for Mommy and Daddy. What an example it is to me because, too often, I don’t like doing things for anyone but myself. But my kids will do whatever we ask them. Cooper, can you go get Daddy's phone? Isabella, can you sit with Ruby? Brynn, can you get a couple of diapers? And without hesitation, they're off running to accomplish the task at hand. They've even fought and screamed at each other over who gets to help Mommy and Daddy. Now, please don't think me na├»ve. I know this isn't going to last but it's remarkable to me nonetheless, not that they do, but that they love to do. They get excited and do things for us with so much energy.

Recently at a pastors’ conference, John Piper shared a type of biographical sketch and spoke on the life of C.S. Lewis, and the impact Lewis has had on his life. He quoted C.S. Lewis throughout his message but one particular quote caught my attention in light of what the Lord has been showing me through my children. Lewis, in talking about the Puritans, and William Tyndale in particular, had this to say about works in light of the gospel: "In reality Tyndale is trying to express an obstinate fact which meets us long before we venture into the realm of theology; the fact that morality or duty (what he calls ‘the Law’) never yet made a man happy in himself or dear to others. It is shocking, but it is undeniable. We do not wish either to be, or to live among, people who are clean or honest or kind as a matter of duty: we want to be, and associate with, people who like being clean and honest and kind. The mere suspicion that what seemed an act of spontaneous friendliness or generosity was really done as a duty subtly poisons it. In philosophical language, the ethical category is self-destructive; morality is healthy only when it is trying to abolish itself. In theological language, no man can be saved by works. The whole purpose of the “Gospel,” for Tyndale, is to deliver us from morality. Thus, paradoxically, the “Puritan” of modern imagination—the cold, gloomy heart, doing as duty what happier and richer souls do without thinking of it—is precisely the enemy which historical Protestantism arose and smote."

Those are serious, and very appropriate, words for us. Moralism thinks in terms of doing external duties. It oppresses a person with pressures from the outside. It takes one's heart, and for that matter, Christ, completely out of any equation. Moralism is me-centered. Moralism believes God’s love for me rises and falls based on how obedient I am. And I'm afraid something happens to us when, after we cry out to Jesus as Savior and Lord, we steadily decline into a "works"-centered, a "me"-centered, religion. Sure, it starts with the gospel, we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, but we talk and act as if we are sustained by the antithesis of the gospel – namely, our morals.

Paul writes – (Galatians 1.6-7) I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. The Galatians were struggling with loyalty and observance to the law over and above their love and devotion to Christ. They were still living in the leg irons of duty instead of in the freedom of God's grace, provided through Jesus Christ. They were trying to change their external actions without concerning their heart with Jesus Christ and living their lives compelled by the love, grace, and person of God. This leads Paul to say, in effect, just a few verses (v.10) later – Am I living for other people or am living for God – because it can't be both. That's what resting on your morals, instead of in the arms of Jesus Christ, does to you – it clouds your view of Christ with the muck of doing out of duty for others to see.

It has to be one or the other – moralism vs. Jesus Christ. You cannot claim both and it cannot be both, because Christianity is never, ever, ever about moralism.

So, I ask you – On whom, or what, are you depending for God's love?

*Quote from C.S. Lewis, English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, p.187