Thursday, May 31, 2012

Central Teaching/Moral Improvement

My article from this week's Algona Upper Des Moines on the central thing in Christianity:

Q:  What is the main thing in Christianity—the central idea or goal around which everything else revolves?  What is the place of things like a changed attitude or moral improvement in Christianity?

If a Sunday School teacher were to ask her students to answer this question with a single word, they would most likely give the answer that Sunday School students always give when they don’t know the answer:  “Jesus.”  On this occasion, that answer would be correct.  Now, since every teaching of Christianity either comes from Jesus or points to Jesus, it will be necessary to answer an additional question:  “What did Jesus come to accomplish?” 

The purpose for which Jesus came was to forgive sins, resulting in eternal life for all who would trust in Him.  He accomplished this by living perfectly and dying innocently as our substitute, therefore fulfilling the law of God and suffering the punishment of God in our place.  The consequence of this is that all who rely on Him and His life and death in their place are credited by God with a perfect life and as having the punishment for their sins already served, with the result that at death their souls rest with Christ at death and then they will live forever after the Resurrection on the Last Day.

Because this is thoroughly a gift from God to the Christian, we call this God’s grace, and this grace is distributed to humans through Churches where the message of Jesus is taught and proclaimed from the Bible, and Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are administered as means through which this grace, won by Jesus, is delivered to individual Christians. 

Everything else which follows in Christianity is built upon the foundation of those two truths.  Unless God forgives sins, none of the other blessings found in Christianity are relevant, because if one remains a sinner in God’s eyes (and even one imperfection renders that judgment) everything else, whether good deeds done by the individual or positive attitudes experienced by the individual, are immaterial. 

The place of our moral improvement or positive attitude in Christianity is as a result of having sins forgiven.  God’s forgiving is not merely a step on the way to a greater goal of moral improvement, but instead, moral improvement is an inevitable consequence of one’s sins being forgiven by God.  God does desire us to live morally and be empowered to deal in a healthy way with the challenges of life, but it is not the central thing in Christianity.

Regrettably, dislocating moral improvement in the life of the church occurs all too frequently—either by improperly elevating it to the goal and central aspect of Christianity, or by disregarding it entirely as unimportant, and it is precisely this dislocation that is at the root of many of the disagreements among Christians about moral issues today. 

One camp desires to approve and encourage any act that individuals feel in their hearts is moral, even when there are clear Scriptural prohibitions to the contrary; while another adamantly defends The Bible’s moral commands, but in doing so, at least gives the appearance, if not outright stating, that certain sins are worse than others—a clearly un-Scriptural position.  Both of these equal-but-opposite errors occur because moral improvement has been dislocated in the life and teaching of a Church or its members. 

When Christian morality is held up as a good and important thing; but the grace and forgiveness of God through Christ alone, and the delivery of it to the gathered saints, are retained as the most important goal and central activity of the Church, steady balance is retained and the truth shines forth.  Whenever these priorities become dislocated, the foundation becomes unstable and the truth is obscured.

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