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Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Moral Superiority

We've all seen it, that ol' "I'm better than you" attitude. Unless you're the one exhibiting it, no one likes it. You know what I'm talking about. It's the body builder who looks down his nose at the "normals", the vegan who disdains the barbaric carnivorous humans, the "church lady" who physically avoids the "leperous" low-lives, the country club member who hurries by the homeless. So it is not a surprise when Christians come across as morally superior and are not appreciated for it. Nor should we be.

Religion in general is most often about morality. Be good and get to heaven. Of course, "good" varies from religion to religion. In one it is "honor your ancestors and don't hurt any living things" and in another it is "kill the infidels!" Clearly not the same definition. But the concept is the same. So it is no surprise that Christianity -- which is, despite what you may have heard, definitely a religion -- might be perceived as another moral code. Of course, what sets Christianity apart from all other religions is not as much its definition of "good" as its claim that we are not saved by doing good, but by faith in Christ. And yet, even among Christians, there is the continuing sense that Christianity is about being good. And when I am and you're not, I am clearly morally superior.

So where did I go wrong? I've already said no one likes the self-proclaimed superior, including the morally superior. And yet it appears that I just made a good case for it. Why not?

Well, of course, the problem is the premise. Christianity is not about being moral. Christianity is about being dead in sin and becoming alive in Christ. Death to life is not the same as "be good". And the morality so often associated with Christianity is not the aim; it is the result. It is the grateful response of the dead-to-life person. And it is the product of God working in the believer (Phil 2:13). So we're not trying to be good to earn favor, and any good that we achieve is not even our achievement.

How is it, then, that Christians are so often viewed as seeing themselves as morally superior? The perception is that we look down our noses at those homosexuals and the Democrats and all. Oh, we are so much better than they are. Where does that come from? Well, first it comes from either misguided Christians or deluded "Christians" who miss the point and thought it was about being good. They feel it is their task to make everyone good. At least, as good as they are. Sometimes their favorite moral work is done in areas at which they fail but don't admit it. That is, in some cases the "moral superiority" protest is accurate.

In others, however, it isn't so accurate. It might be because of a misunderstanding. If I say, for instance, that activity X is a sin, some may conclude I'm simply being morally superior while the truth may be that I'm not. Recognizing that activity X is a sin doesn't mean that I don't struggle with it, you see. Because, at the core, we're all morally inferior. We're all short of what God requires. Not one of us is "good enough". I suspect, then, that the "morally superior" moniker will get assigned to us when we fail to admit that the problem is not their sin, but also our own.

It has been said that Christianity is a crutch. This, of course, is nonsense. We need far more than a crutch. In fact, there is no medical-assist metaphor to parallel it. "You were dead in your trespasses and sins ... But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus." (Eph 2:1, 4-6) This leaves no room for moral superiority. Now, when we point out that sin is sin (because God says so, sure, but mostly because we suffer from it ourselves), we might be accused of being morally superior. Let it be a false accusation. Let us embrace other sinners with love, instead, offering the same resurrection power that we have experienced and they desperately need. If you do experience that sense of moral superiority, repent! Paul said, "It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all." (1 Tim 1:15) I can echo that sentiment.


Bob said...

How many times does the accusation come for those with a guilty conscience?
Don't tell me that being drunk is a problem, do you think your better than i am?
i agree that Jesus did not come to make bad men into good men, but rather He came to make dead men into living men. yea....

Stan said...

It is so true that the accusation comes so often from people suffering from the same problem ... a self-accusation that spills over into your lap.