- Samuel was a mighty prophet of God. His sons were a mess.
- David was a man after God’s own heart. His children were a disaster.
- Harvard, Yale, and Princeton were founded on the gospel. Now they lead the opposition.
I’ve witnessed dozens of families (churches, ministries, and prayer groups) who began with a furious fire of love for God whose next generation couldn’t blow a smoke ring.
Our children lose fire because of our mother-of-all-assumptions; we assume the gospel. This is how the gospel is lost:
- The gospel is Accepted —>
- The gospel is Assumed —>
- The gospel is Confused —>
- The gospel is Lost (Mack Stiles, Marks of the Messenger)
The author continues, “For any generation to lose the gospel is tragic. But the generation that assumes the gospel … is most responsible for the loss of the gospel.
That generation is us. We are most responsible. Who has bewitched us?
We’re converted by one message and we teach another
It’s virtually 100% predictable that we are converted by one message and then preach another. We are converted by the unbelievable hope of God’s love for the undeserving, but we lecture on behavior. We all do. Including you and me.
A friend of mine lived wildly until the age of thirty. He slept with scores of women, drank an ocean of beer, and was a self-admitted, abusive jerk. In a desperate time of brokenness, he heard the hope of the gospel and talked with Jesus. He became a pastor.
He was converted by grace yet his sermons nagged and scolded:
- You should never tell coarse jokes or cuss.
- You should be generous, and that includes making sure you tip 20%.
- You should always bring your Bible to church
Day after day, week after week, he proclaimed the Nike gospel, “Just do it!” We do too.
The damnable presumption of assumption
One day I asked him why his messages concentrated on behavior and not the gospel. He replied, “My congregation knows the gospel. Now they just have to know what to do.” He assumed the gospel and then wondered why his shrinking congregation was joyless.
His own moral life was empowered by a gospel-fueled heart, but he rebuked and lectured on resulting behavior. In his personal life, he remembered, “What DID Jesus do?” yet he publicly harangued and scolded WWJD, “What WOULD Jesus do?”
Martin Luther wrote in his Commentary on Galatians,
“Continually listen to the gospel that teaches not what I ought to do (for that is the job of the law), but what Jesus Christ has done for me.
This is the gospel. It is the primary article of all Christian truth. It is most necessary that we should know this article well, teach it to others, and beat it into our heads continually” (slightly edited).
The gospel is God’s love first, our behavior second. Moralism simply teaches behavior. The Gospel is God’s initiation first, then our response. The heresy of the Pharisee is our initiation first, then God’s response.
We need to beat the gospel into our heads continually. Or we’ll assume it, confuse it, and lose it. And so will our kids.
What fuels our lives?
Will-power fuels moralism; the gospel fuels godliness. “What we do” is Pharisaism; “What God did” is gospel. Will-power hardens us: “I straightened out my life, why can’t you?” The gospel softens us: “God loved me though I didn’t deserve it, how can I look down on any one else?”
Besides, who gets the glory when our morality increases, us or God?
The gospel is always about God’s actions. Even the Ten Commandments begin, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Ex. 20:2). Only after God’s action does it command, “Have no gods beside me” (vs. 3).
Jesus says of the prostitute, “She loves much because she was forgiven much” (Luke 7:47), and the Apostle John says, “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). But we forget God’s action and moralize, “Don’t worship idols and love your neighbor.”
Our kids reject Christianity because they can’t distinguish it from mere morality.
How does a constant gospel reminder change us?
Time and time again, scripture (Jesus) says: Unless you know the why, you’ll never be able to do the what. Unless we have his power, we’ll never obey his commands.
What will make us tell the truth when a lie will get us out of trouble? There are only two options. We harden ourselves with, “Grit your teeth in times of temptation.”
Or the gospel softens us with, “God promised to be faithful even when we are unfaithful, and he kept his word though it meant derision, rejection, thorns, and the cross.”
Which god will we worship, the god of self-powered moralism, or the Lord of all grace?
To read more about grace and moralism ,see my new book, Is Sunday School Destroying Our Kids. Chapters include:
- Why Do Our Children Leave the Church?
- Graceless Goodness: The Problem with Moralism
- The False Gospel of “Just Do It”
- The Temptations of Christian Publishing
- The Ugliness of Religious Righteousness
- The Insidious Danger of “I’d Never Do That”
- We Read the Bible the Wrong Way