One thing that drives me crazy are sermons that contain a whole bunch of ‘do’ statements without grounding the imperatives in the ‘done’ of the Gospel.
This article from Michael Kruger on just how closely any mention of moral imperative in Christian teaching and preaching should be accompanied by Gospel presentation tweaks a few of my concerns.
I would certainly agree that any moral imperative must always be rooted in the gospel message of grace and forgiveness in Christ. But, does this mean that it must always be stated immediately in the very next sentence? Does it always mean that it must be stated expressly every time you give a moral imperative?
I would argue that the gospel is the foundation for moral imperatives, the context for moral imperatives, and the backdrop for moral imperatives. But, we must be careful about insisting that there is a magical formula for how that must be expressed in any given proclamation of Christian teaching. Indeed, I think a number of biblical examples bear this out:
1. The book of James. When one reads the book of James it is clear that it is a letter of morals. We are called to not show partiality (2:1), to help the poor among us (2:15-16), to watch our tongues (3:1-12), to stop our coveting (4:1-2), to be patient and long suffering (5:7-8), to pray faithfully (5:16), and much more. Moreover, this letter does not explicitly mention the atonement, the cross, salvation by grace alone, or any core aspects of the “gospel” message. Is James therefore moralism? Not at all. You have to take James in context of the entire New Testament and the fact that the core aspects of the gospel message are explained elsewhere. No doubt James wrote already assuming that his audience understood the basic truths of the gospel.
2. The Sermon on the Mount. Although it is obvious to anyone who reads it, it is often overlooked that Jesus’ most famous sermon is composed of almost all moral imperatives. Jesus covers an impressive list of moral topics: anger, lust, divorce, oaths, fasting, worry, and more. Indeed, Jesus even warns his listeners that God’s judgment will fall on those who righteousness does not surpass that of the Pharisees (5:20), and for those who fail to keep his word (7:21-26). And, once again, there is no express mention of atonement, the cross, justification, etc. Does this make his sermon moralism? No, once again, the sermon has to be taken in the larger context of Jesus’ teachings, and the teachings of the NT as a whole.
3. The book of Proverbs. Once again, here is an entire book that is fulfilled with moral wisdom on how one should live their life. It tells us how to act, think, feel, on a variety of critical issues. And, there is no express discussion of atonement, justification, salvation by grace, etc. Does this make Proverbs moralism? Not at all. These exhortations, once again, need to be understood within the larger context of the Bible’s teachings.
These are just three quick examples designed to make a very simple point: sometimes it is ok to take large blocks of teaching and focus on Christian morals. One should not have to stop every five minutes to give a “gospel presentation” out of fear of being accused of moralism. The key issue is whether there is a larger context around those moral teachings that adequately provide a gospel foundation for obedience.
Read the whole post here.