Introduction to Moralistic Deism

Moralistic Deism: a term many of us have never heard before. I first heard this term listening to a sermon by Matt Chandler where he introduced it to explain how many professing Christians may actually not be Christians. He uses the term quite frequently and rightly so. And while many of us maybe haven’t seen this term before, it does accurately describe many of our belief system. While many of us claim to be Christian, we are merely Moralistic Deists. So today I thought I would introduce this term to those who have never seen it before.

So what exactly is Moralistic Deism? Well by taking it apart we see that it is focused on morality, (Moralistic), and also focused on the belief in a God, (Deism). So in it’s most base form, Moralistic Deism is a belief in God and the accompanying good words or good morality that follows such a belief. If you are good and you believe in God, this may be you. Sounds a lot like Christianity right?

And this is the extreme danger found in Moralistic Deism. It sounds so close to Christianity that many fall for the false promises it makes. I mean, when we hear about a cult or some other false belief we can easily brush it aside. But Moralistic Deism’s danger lies in its subtle differences. And that is what I want to warn us all about today. Just because you believe in Jesus and are a good person does not make you a Christian. It does make you a Moralistic Deist, but that is not Biblical nor able to save you from sin. There are three primary ways Christianity and Moralistic Deism differ.

But before we look at those, please don’t assume you are Christian and that this Moralistic Deism is talking about your friends or those other people. Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 13:5 “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” Notice he doesn’t say test your neighbor or the other people at Church but rather “test yourselves.” So as we walk through these three differences, I encourage us all to test yourselves.

The first and primary difference between Christianity and Moralistic Deism is Jesus. Moralistic Deism loves Jesus and wants Him to forgive us, but doesn’t really rely or depend on Him for their lives. Being a Christian is not just about knowing facts. James tells us in James 2:19 “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe- and shudder!” Believing that Jesus actually died and rose again is only half the answer. The problem is that this knowledge is often where Moralistic Deists stop.

The second part of having a knowledge about who Jesus is is applying it to your life. The demons know Jesus is God, but do they want to serve, love, honor, glorify and praise Him? Do they call Him Lord? A number of verses, (Romans 10:9-10, 1 Corinthians 12:3, Philippians 2:11, etc..), emphasize confessing Jesus as “Lord.” I once heard a British Pastor talk about how Americans have really lost this idea of Lord because we don’t have anything like a Lord in our culture.

But basically Lord means ruler or king. So when we follow Jesus we not only know that He died and rose but we also confess that He is Lord of the universe and of our own personal lives. Moralistic Deists treat Jesus like a Genie rather than Lord of their lives. Is Jesus Lord of your life? Do you want Him to be in control and be the reason you live? Or do you just want Him to help you in those areas you can’t seem to help yourself?

This leads to the second difference between Christianity and Moralistic Deism and it’s one that has been a struggle for Christians ever since Jesus left the earth. It is this idea of grace vs. works. Paul spends most of the New Testament preaching against works based salvation, yet we still want to save ourselves. I’ll pick one verse, (there are many), where Paul tries to show grace through faith is what it means to be a Christian, not works based salvation. Galatians 2:16 says, “yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.”

Christians and Moralistic Deists both strive to be good people. Christians are motivated by love and do good in reaction to the good already done them by Jesus. They do good works naturally out of the goodness of their transformed heart, (Luke 6:43-45), and when they make fleshly errors they run TO Jesus in confession and repentance. Moralistic Deists are motivated our of fear and do good to try and earn God’s favor. They claim to have been forgiven by Jesus but seem to neglect Him by trying to earn what HE has already done for them. When Moralistic Deists make fleshly sins they tend to run FROM or hide from Jesus. They feel ashamed and instead of going to Him who alone can forgive and heal they run and try to fix it or deal with the problem themselves.

Do you do good works because you know Jesus and want to bring glory to His name? Or do you want to earn some kind of cosmic reward? When you mess up do you fall on your knees before Jesus and ask Him to restore and heal you? Or do you stay away from Jesus until you can fix yourself and can come back to Him looking good?

The third difference is where we put our focus and hope. Christians are Christ focused while Moralistic Deists tend to be self-focused. Christians realize Jesus is Lord and that He alone can save us from ourselves. Moralistic Deists like Jesus and find Him useful, but ultimately depend on themselves to save.

An example of this is in prayer. A Christian prays “your kingdom come your will be done” and “not as I will but as You will.” (Matthew 6:10 and 26:39). The heart of a Christian’s prayer is centered on God and His glory. Yes we still ask for “our daily bread” and other needs, but our ultimate focus is on His will. A Moralistic Deist tends to pray only for needs that they can’t do themselves. Miracles, healings or anything else they can’t fix themselves. But if they know the answer or how to solve the problem they rarely go to God, (Numbers 14:39-45).

Do you pray and rely on Jesus to save and forgive? Or are you self-focused and pray only for that which you cannot do for yourself? Do you see your life as a means to bring glory and honor to God? Or do you see your life as a means to bring glory and honor to yourself?

I pray that each of us would examine ourselves this week. I pray we would ask these questions and seek to find whether or not we can truly call ourselves Christians. Many use the word but some use it wrongly. May we not be those who thought we were Christians yet our Lord says He never knew us, (Matthew 25: 31-46). May we not just be Moralistic Deists who do good and believe in Jesus but rather be Christians who do good because they know Jesus is the universe’s and their personal Lord and Savior. May Jesus be our all-in-all and the reason we breathe.

Being All You Can Be is Not All its Cracked Up to Be

So the last few weeks I have been writing a lot about things we can practically do in order to serve and honor God in our daily lives. And while this is good and necessary, I want to caution us that this is not the point of this blog. In fact, this is not the point of our lives. Living your life in such a way as to honor Christ is important, but if you make it your focus you start to do for duty sake rather than love.

Now I want to make a quick point here. For Christians, trying to be more like Christ is good. It’s called sanctification. Once you have a relationship with Christ you now go through the process of becoming more like him. But if you do not know Christ, this idea of self-improvement is actually sin because you are trying to do so without Jesus. Without Jesus as your foundation, it just won’t work.

I remember when I was growing up there was an advertisement for the army that said “Be all you can be.” Sounds great right? On my own I am decent, but what if I fully unleashed my potential as a human? Wouldn’t that be a great benefit to myself, those around me and my society? We love the idea of becoming a better or more useful person. No one goes to college in order to find a worse job. No one gets married to make their life more lonely or boring. Almost everything we do is done in order to add positively to our lives.

And that’s where the danger lies. Especially when talking about our Christian faith and our walk with God. Learning how to live a more moral life is only good and useful if it is built on a foundation. You could read the Bible, go to Church and even use this blog as a way to make yourself a better person. But all of that would be self-focused and not the point. So what is the point?

The point is that you can’t be all you can be. You can’t improve yourself to the level that you are able to unlock all your hidden potential. There is no secret enlightenment. There is no higher level. There is no finally arriving at my best self now. As much as you improve and better yourself you will still fall short. You will still make mistakes and slip up. It’s called sin, and no matter how hard we study or try, we can’t outrun it. Yes you may become slightly better in some areas, (that’s called maturity), but you will continue to see your actions, thoughts and words all stained with sin.

Look at Paul, a man far better than you or I could ever be:

“For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” -Romans 7:15-24

So as long as you try to work hard and will your way over sin you’ll continue to miss the point. YOU CAN’T DO IT. That is not something our modern ears like to hear. But it’s true. There is absolutely nothing YOU can do to overcome, cancel out or move beyond sin. But that is exactly where the beauty lies. You don’t have to.

The truth of Christianity is that you can’t, but Jesus did. While most of us these days can admit that no one is perfect, few have an answer for how to solve this sin problem. The main difference between Christians and non-Christians is that we have stopped trying to do it ourselves and rather have asked Jesus to do it for us. “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9).

And that’s what the Bible is for. That’s what Church is for. That’s what this blog is for. Not a better you today, but a new you. A completely new person whose identity is found in Christ. Paul teaches us in Romans 6 that our old self was buried and our new self was raised to walk with God. We weren’t meant to grit our teeth and bear it to overcome sin. We were meant to trust in Christ who was and is able to overcome.

So stop reading your Bible, going to Church and reading this blog if you are just trying to be a better person. If you want to hear nice things about how to be a better person watch Oprah or Dr. Phil. But if you want life transformation, come to Jesus. Learn how to have a real, loving relationship with God. The point is not duty and self-improvement. Rather, it is humility and realizing I can’t do it alone. God is looking for relationship, not religion.

Finally, I feel like many of you may wish to believe this, but something is keeping you from the joy of knowing Christ. Usually it is one of two things: either some sin you love too much, or an idol you have made to take the place of God. I just want to ask you, is that sin or that idol really fulfilling? Are you really find a deep, lasting joy in it? These could be family, job, money, sex, pleasure, comfort or even TV. Whatever your sin or idol is, I want you to take a closer look at it and examine if it is really as good as it seems.

So may we stop trying to improve ourselves without first having the love of Christ. May we see that Jesus did what we can not possibly do. May we stop trying to be all we can be, and realize we can’t but He did. May we humbly come to Jesus and become a new creation. May we lay down any sin or idol that may try to take Christ’s place in our lives. And ultimately, may we count it all as loss compared to the surpassing joy found in knowing Christ Jesus our Lord, (Philippians 3:8).

The Performance Trap

Did you have a good day? Are you brimming because you were such a great person today? Did you please God with your life today? Or was today not so good? Did you do some things or say some things you know you shouldn’t have? Are you worried God saw you today and maybe doesn’t love you as much as he did before?

I don’t know about all of you, but I often find myself playing this stupid and very dangerous game. I like to call it, The Performance Trap. Here’s how it works. Each morning I wake up and set out to honor God in word, action and thought. At the end of the day, I look back and judge my day. If I was good: helped others, committed no major sins, read my Bible, prayed and maybe shared my faith, then I deem it a good day and go happily to sleep. However, if it was a bad day where I was selfish, thought, said or did something I know is wrong, didn’t study or pray as much as I should, then I find myself in anguish as I pray and ask God for forgiveness.
我对你们不是很了解,但是我发现我经常做这些愚蠢的事情。我喜欢称之为 the performence trap . 我解释一下。每个早上我想过来,用言语,行动和思想去敬拜赞美神。一天结束之后,我回头看看并评价这一天。 如果那天我做得很好,帮助别人,没有犯罪,看圣经,祷告或者分享信仰,我会认为那是很美好的一天,然后美美的睡去。如果那天我做得不好,我自私,思想,说或者做了不好的事情,没有读经祷告,当我祷告祈求原谅的时候我会觉得很郁闷。

The problem is that this is not a Biblical approach to life. Yet, I would argue many of us live this way all the time. I would even go so far as to say some of us may not even really be Christians if we have allowed this way of thinking to take over our theology. It’s called Moralism (not Mormonism, but equally as dangerous!) It’s this pervasive thought that if we are good, God will love us, and if we are bad, God will not. So, we all try to be good little boys and girls in order to earn our Father’s favor. The scary thing is that this way of thinking is extremely common in the Church today! And you can find it in the Bible, but only when Jesus is speaking against it. (See Luke 5:31-32 and Matthew 21:28-32 to see Jesus’ thoughts on moralism).

The problem with moralism is that it will naturally produce one of two results:
1. You become arrogant, self-righteous or prideful because you were able to be a good person, (usually based on our own standard of what is good, even if we think it is a Biblical standard it is most likely YOUR Biblical standard not God’s).
2. You become depressed, shameful and guilt-ridden because you always fail and fall short of the moral mark.
1. 你会变得很自大,自以为是或者骄傲因为你可以成为好人
2. 你会变得很沮丧,丢脸和内疚因为你经常失败(成为一个好人)或者缺乏道德的记号(意思是说好事做得少)。

Ephesians 2:8-9 makes it very clear that Christians are saved by faith and not by works. Now I do believe that when we sin the Holy Spirit convicts us of that sin so we can repent and be forgiven, (John 16:8-11). But I feel like today, we condone certain sins while carrying others with us longer than we should. For example, if I felt a little jealous or judgmental today I pay no attention to that sin. However, if I stole, lied or said something in anger then I feel the weight of that sin even after I have repented.
以弗所书2:8-9 说基督徒已被拯救因为信仰而不是因为所做的。我相信当我们犯罪的时候圣灵告诉我们那是罪我们可以忏悔可以被原谅(约翰16:8-11)但是我感觉今天我们只是忏悔特定的罪。比如,如果我感觉到自己妒忌或者论断,我对此不会在意。然后如果我偷东西,撒谎或者很愤怒的说一些事,即使自己忏悔之后还是感觉到罪。

This principle also holds true in overcoming sins. You are not your own savior. You are not the one who overcomes your sins and gets the glory. Rather, it is the Holy Spirit working in you to help and allow you to overcome these sins. If we think the Christian life is just about will-power and hard work, then we are no different than any other world religion, (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

But the truth is Christianity is different. So how can we Christians get out of The Performance Trap and back to the Gospel? Well first you need to get yourself going the right direction. The Performance Trap is very me focused while the Gospel is very Jesus focused. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “He became sin who knew no sin so that we might become the righteousness of God.” We did not work hard to become the righteousness of God. We must remember and focus on Jesus as the initiator and us as the responders.
事实上基督信仰是不一样的。对于基督徒来说我们应该怎么样从这个游戏中出来回归福音呢?首先,我们需要朝正确的方向前进。Performance Trap是很自我,但是福音是很以基督为中心。格林多后书5:21“神使那无罪的,替我们成为罪,好叫我们在他里面成为神的义”我们没能做到努力成为神的义人。我们必须要记住和专注与耶稣,耶稣是领导人,我们是追随人。

Second, we need to remember that even our best days are like garbage to God, (Isaiah 64:6), and that even our worst, most sinful days are not beyond His forgiveness, (Romans 8:37-39). This should encourage and free us to live for Him. Now this doesn’t mean we can sin all we want, (Read Romans 6 and James 1-2 to see that striving to be like Jesus is a natural result of being a Christian, but not a prerequisite), but it does mean we don’t have to live in fear, guilt or shame that God may decide to take our forgiveness away.
第二,我们需要记住我们最好的日子来神看来都是一文不值的。(以赛亚书64:6) 甚至我们最糟糕的,最邪恶的也被天父原谅(罗马书8:37-39)这是多么鼓励我们为祂而活。但是这并不是说我们可以犯罪(罗马书6和雅各书1-2 来看努力做到越来越像耶稣是基督徒的很自然的结果,不是首要条件)那意味我们不用活在恐慌,内疚或者羞耻当中,担忧神不会原谅我们。

I believe that if we do not constantly remind ourselves of the two things mentioned above, we will find ourselves stuck in The Performance Trap and possibly moving towards the false Gospel of Moralism. I do challenge you all to live moral lives, but do so out of gratitude and service to God, not obligation and fear. Live for Jesus and realize that when you do fall, He will catch you. Stop changing the Gospel to fit your set of moral standards so you can think of yourself as a good person. Rather, change your standards to the Gospel and see just how far you fall short. And then remember that Jesus has already paid the price for your inability to live up to God’s moral standard. May we all stop judging each day based on what we did but rather focus on what Jesus has already done for us.
我相信如果我们不告诫自己以上提到的这两件事,我们会发现我们自己陷入performance trap当中,也很有可以走进道德主义的福音当中。我告诫你们要过圣洁的生活,带着感恩的心服侍神,而不是责任性的,恐惧性的面对神。为耶稣而活,会发现当你摔倒的时候,祂会帮助你。 停止改变福音来符合你设置的道德标准。改变你的道德观到福音上。记住也是已经为你的无能买单,来彰显神的道德观。 希望我们都能停止论断,而是专注与耶稣为我们做了什么。

Jesus is the savior of Asia, not Confucius

I have heard some people who believe that Jesus is associated with American culture and morality while Confucius is associated with Chinese culture and morality. As much as I wish American culture and morality followed Jesus, it sadly does not. Both American and Chinese cultures are based on the desires of sinful men. This is why Jesus of the Bible is my God, not America or the Constitution. My goal today is not to look at cultures because I believe that culture is mans attempt to offer what only God’s Kingdom can. While culture does offer us many great traditions and teachings, it is no replacement for knowing Jesus and His Heavenly Kingdom. While all cultures will pass away, God’s Word and Kingdom will not, (Luke 21:33). I will always be a Christian before I am an American.

I do want to talk about Confucius though because he has had a large influence on many people in China. Now I do not claim to know everything about Confucius or his teachings, but I have read a few books, (one of which written by a Chinese scholar), and done some other online study of this teacher of morality. While I believe Confucius did have many good moral teachings to share, (like being content, rejecting materialism and serving society), I also believe that much of what Confucius said is anti-Biblical and thus sinful and wrong. I want to look at the person and teaching of Confucius and compare it with the person and teaching of Jesus Christ to show that not only were their teachings different but they themselves are quite different.

First, Confucius’ main focus was built on ethical and moral teaching in order to better oneself and society. He advocates a type of humanistic morality in order to do this. Things like hard work and living a righteous life are taught with great importance in Confucius’ teaching. While these things are good and evident in a Christians life, they are not the ultimate goal of our existence. Herein lies the first problem I have with Confucius. His whole system is built on works righteousness. It is the idea of “If I work hard and am moral or good, I will have a happy life and go to heaven.”

The Bible, on the other hand, teaches us that we are all sinners and that even the good things we do are like “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6) and that “None is righteousness, no, not one” (Romans 3:10). It is like even on our best days God looks at us and says its not good enough. Jesus teaches us that it is not what we do that makes us “good” but rather what Jesus has already done for us. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is a gift of God, not a result of works so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9). While Confucius teaches that we must do good things in order to be happy or good, the Bible teaches us that we already have joy and are made good because of Jesus’ sacrifice. The good works Christians do are not to gain happiness, but because we are already joyful and want to show gratitude to our Lord Jesus Christ and follow his example.

This idea of works righteousness is an obvious creation of man. Think about it. If I were going to create a religion or philosophy that I wanted people to follow this is what I would say. We all love when the moral person triumphs and has happiness. The reason people follow Confucius’ teachings is not because Confucius has any sort of authority, but because people like what he said. We are often most willing to follow teachings that most closely agree with what we already believe or what we want to believe.

Jesus, however, says things that didn’t really encourage people to follow Him. “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:37-39). This does not sound like some seeker friendly, man-made belief system. Instead it sounds like complete submission to God.

Secondly, Confucius’ teachings focus greatly on this idea of self-cultivation. I know this is one of Confucius’ main teachings because when I ask people why they want to learn the Bible, I often hear the answer of self-improvement. Confucius said things like the friends we choose, the jobs we take and the study we do should all be seen with the idea of self-cultivation. While much of this sounds good on the surface, if you dig deeper you find a strong sense of selfishness under it all. Confucius’ main idea’s were built around finding happiness for oneself and possibly for others. But even providing happiness for others was still a tool for our own happiness.

Jesus, however, teaches the idea of sacrifice for others. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13). Paul also says in Philippians 2:3, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” The Bible continually tells us that our lives should have the following priority: First God, second others, (including strangers and enemies!), and then last ourselves. While Confucius encourages us to put society before ourselves, Jesus takes it even further and asks us to be willing to lay everything down first to God and second to other people. Jesus talked about loving God and loving others, but not so much about loving ourselves or self-cultivation.

Finally, while some still debate this today, it does not seem that Confucius was proposing any kind of religion or God. Confucius only claimed to be a good moral teacher, and seemed to leave the question of heaven and God open to interpretation. This is in stark contrast to Jesus. I hear so many people tell me that Jesus was a great moral teacher, (like Confucius), but he was not God’s Son. If that is your belief than I can tell you have never opened a Bible in your life. Also, think about the amount of followers Jesus has today. Usually, people want to follow a great warrior or leader. Jesus was a homeless man who was murdered as a criminal. I don’t see any other philosophy’s or religious beliefs that have decided to put their hope and trust in a man who had no home and was killed as a criminal. While Confucius never claimed any authority of deity, Jesus did over and over again.

One example is in John 8:58 where Jesus says, “Truly, truly I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” This is significant for two reasons. First, Abraham had been dead for hundreds of years. For Jesus to say that he was before Abraham was quite an extraordinary claim. This would be like me saying “Before America was a country, I existed.” Now if you heard me say that, would you think I was a great moral teacher or a lunatic? The second is that Jesus uses the words “I am.” To us these words means very little today, but to Jews they represent God. In Exodus 3:14 God tells Moses to tell the people that God’s name for Himself is “I am.” That is why in John 8:59 the Jewish people wanted to kill Jesus. People don’t want to kill a good moral teacher, but people do what to kill a man who claims to be God.

This is why I love this quote from C.S. Lewis from his great work “Mere Christianity”:

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

So that is ultimately the question. What will you do with Jesus? Please stop trying to tell me Jesus is some Western version of Confucius. Rather you have a choice. Call him crazy, call him the devil, or fall down and worship Him as God. So may we all stop trying to seek humanism and moralism as our meaning in life. May we see that our life is not found in self-cultivation or good morality, but rather is found in the sinless perfection of Jesus alone. May we all stop trying to find happiness in what we do and rather find joy in what Jesus has already done for us.