What Evangelicals Can Learn From Mormons: Morality

Practicing Mormons, at least on the surface, are some of the most moral people I know.  Evangelicals cannot out-perform practicing LDS members in their religious duties, nor be more ascetic in their spiritual disciplines, and Mormons are by nature teetotalers in all forms of social bad habits.  In fact, Salt Lake City is one of the healthiest cities in America having some of the lowest rates of cancer and obesity in the nation because of its above average, active, moral majority.  For many Evangelicals, Mormons are the paradigm of what it means to be following the laws and commandments of God; living in a city that is in some ways a moral city on a hill compared to many others in America.

But moralism is a Gospel killer; and it is an equal opportunity killer for both Mormons and Evangelicals alike.  In fact, when I am asked what is the biggest problem in Christianity I quickly point towards moralism.  Christian moralism manifests itself as a driving desire to live perfect lives in accordance with God’s law and commandments as found in the Bible in the hopes of appearing faithful and righteous before God and man, somehow achieving eternity all the while hiding a heart that is far from Christ.  It is a consuming drive to get the external “religious” markers correct for all the world to see.  It is profitable rule keeping.  In actuality moralism is the trading of the Christian birthright of Grace for the flesh pot human achievement.  Moralism is false Gospel and will leave its adherents empty as they depend more and more on their own achievements in self-control as opposed to a growing dependence on Christ. 

As Christians many of our perceived failures in the Gospel can be traced to a Moralistic view of how the Gospel works.  If you have ever wondered why the strong Christian couple you know is now getting a divorce and it causes you to see the Gospel as powerless to hold them together, you are thinking in a moralistic way.  Moralism doesn’t leave any room for our continued sin nature in this life.  If doesn’t leave any room for confession of sin and reconciliation in grace.  If you have ever beat yourself silly when you have sinned again the same sin that you have struggled with for twenty years and wonder how you could still be a Christian and sin like that, then your are thinking in a moralistic way about the Gospel.  Your salvation is not dependent on how “good” you can be.  It is dependent on the Grace afforded us in Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, and this a daily dependence.  This is the whole point of the Gospel. Why do we ever think it is anything else?  You are a sinner and unable to present yourself acceptable to God.  The only answer is taking on Christ’s righteousness in faith, and this to be perfected in his return.  Until then we are left to daily depend on Him and slowly weed out the age-old rebellion in our heart.

Consider Isaiah’s words in Isaiah 29:13”…this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men.” David’s words in Psalm 51:16-17 speak next, saying of the Lord, “For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.  The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”  Both of these verses point to a problem with our heart; moralism is a heart problem.  Many of us do “things” for God that he asks of us in an effort to appear worthy of his blessings, like the little kid who slavishly cleans his room just so he can play outside with no thought of actually pleasing his mom. But God sees right through our sacrifice of deeds and rule following; they do not and cannot ever please Him.

He desires a broken and contrite heart.  In fact this is what Moses is preaching about in Deuteronomy.  He wants the Israelites, after seeing God’s faithfulness to them for no other reason than he chose them (Deuteronomy 7:6-11), to take God’s law down into their soul and follow Him with their whole heart.  In Deuteronomy 6:5-9 and again in Deuteronomy 11:18-21 Moses urges the people in light of God’s faithfulness to make the Law of God their guide in everything they do; and this by laying the Law upon their heart and soul.  Old Testament Israel was never meant to follow God through empty rule keeping, it was always meant to keep the Law of God in a response of love from the heart.  In Deuteronomy 10:16 Moses tells people in the strongest language possible to “circumcise therefore the foreskin of you heart, and be no longer stubborn!”  This circumcision of the heart is a response to God’s faithfulness to them in Deuteronomy 10:15 and also motivated by a view of God’s greatness in Deuteronomy 10:17-22.  We need to do the same; circumcise your heart.  Follow God’s law from a loving heart because you understand what He did for you in Christ and because you have begun to grasp His shear immensity as the only God in control of everything.

1 John 5:2-3 says that “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been borne of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him.  By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.  For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.  And his commandments are not burdensome.”  Now this verse has been used in perverse ways, it has been read, particularly verse 3, as a mother scolding her son to obey and to obey with a smile, because that shows true love for God.  That type of reading is moralistic to the core.  John wrote 1 John to assure believers of their salvation in the face of the false teaching that was breeding doubt in the lives of believers.  1 John 5:3 seeks to assure first century believers of their salvation because they are already following God’s commandments without them being a burden.  Their obedience is a response in love towards God, understanding the magnitude of what He has done in their life through the Gospel.

As Evangelicals let us strive to live in the Gospel of grace afforded us in Christ.  We must stop trying to appear righteous before men and God thinking we have fooled both with our good deeds.  This does not mean that we should not strive to battle our sin, but this must be done from a posture of Grace.  The Gospel of Christ calls us to confesses sin, forgive quickly, and bet it all on the work of Christ on the cross.  Christ is our righteousness, He is our praise, and He is our reward .  I hope Mormons and Evangelicals find Him alike.

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