Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Morality, moralism, and missing the mark

I tire of those who think theology, especially their theology, or their preferred theology, trumps Sacred Scripture. Any "theology" that is clearly at odds with Sacred Scripture is not a theology.

Take this, for example: "For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries" (Heb. 10:26-27- ESV). The words "sinning" and "sins" in these verses are translations the Greek word hamartia, which means "to miss the mark." After coming to faith in Christ, we can't go on missing the mark!

Yes, this verse has a context, as does every other verse in the Bible. The specific sin being referred to by the sacred author, who is a Jewish Christian writing to other Jewish Christians, is that of apostasy, specifically turning from Christ back to observing the Law as a means of salvation. In other words, not just missing the mark, but aiming at another target and still hoping to score a bullseye!

Can't this be applied to other situations and circumstances as well, to us today? If not, then what use is Scripture, why read it, let alone study it? If it only applies directly to those to whom it was originally addressed, then what makes Scripture different from other writings, in what way are they "God-breathed," as we read in 2 Timothy 3:16?

A blow-up from Luco Signorelli's fresco, Deeds of the Antichrist, ca. 1501

How we live and why we live the way we do matters. Why is that so difficult for so many to grasp? Why do people imagine that a "gospel" that seeks to reduce the significance of our lives, to rob us of our humanity, holds any appeal? Without presuming to know who, or how many, might ultimately be saved or condemned (only God knows), I have to ask, Why does the temptation to the heresy of universalism remain so prevalent? What, or who, will move us from being fleshly people to spiritual people, or does it even matter whether we continue living fleshly lives after we have come to faith in Christ? Is sanctification a myth, or, is what Chesterton asserted in What's Wrong with the World accurate, "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried?" Have we completely lost sight of the old and honorable seeking to cooperate with what God, by means of His grace, is doing by our lives?

Beyond that, is every moral exhortation an exercise in being "moralistic?" If so, then we find moralism in Scripture, even falling from the lips of Jesus Himself. Can it be that there should be no shoulds, no "thou shalts" and no "thou shan'ts?" Of course, our reason for obeying is a response of faith, one that flows forth out of love and gratitude.

How about the good old Catholic both/and? What we do matters and why we do what we do matters. Is it possible to live this way, in the manner of a Christian, which, among other things, means to live humbly acknowledging our sins and failings and experiencing God's goodness and mercy while trying to act justly and mercifully towards others, not as a way to gain God's favor, or earn our salvation, but in gratitude for what God has done, and keeps doing for us in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit?

The fearful prospect of judgment disappears through repentance. Repentance, derived as it is from the Greek word metanoia, works brilliantly in this context, as it means to turn around.

1 comment:

  1. I wonder if this post was inspired by an eccentric sermon interpreting the Gospel reading from last Sunday? We definitely had one of those. First we heard the (frankly scary) words of Jesus where he says that the door is narrow... next thing you know, a sermon strongly suggesting universalism!

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