Thursday, September 09, 2004

On Morality vs. Salvation
GEM 04:08:29a.1

Recently, in the Let’s Talk session on Godliness, Morality and Law, Bro Ed Gough made a remark that touched a raw nerve: morality will keep you out of jail, but not out of hell. This has prompted several calls, and much discussion, more or less on: How will God judge sincere and moral Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Sun-worshippers,-- or even “Christians”-- etc.? [That is: Aren’t they “ saved”?]

This question is not a simple one, and a full theological and philosophical answer would need a big book. But, since it goes to the heart of why the gospel of Jesus the Christ of God is good news for the whole world, we need to highlight the key issues and summarise what a responsible, biblical, balanced Christian answer looks like. So, let us now consider:

1. The post-modern context: many people today believe that “the unpardonable sin” is to think or say that sincere people who hold different opinions can be well-intentioned, but sadly wrong. However, just consider the claim: “error exists.” If one tries to reject it, s/he would in effect say: it is an error to think that error exists. That is, “error exists” is undeniably true. So, since error exists, truth obviously exists; even though we may be mistaken about it. Let us therefore seek and serve the truth, wherever it leads. (NB: Jesus warns us that “Light has come . . . but men loved darkness . . . because their deeds are evil . . . But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen that what he has done has been done through God.” [Jn. 3:19 - 21.])

2. The Fact of Diversity: There have always been a great many religious traditions, but these are based on worldviews that are so sharply diverse that they cannot all be correct. For instance, the C1 NT asserts that Jesus, the Incarnate Son of God suffered and died on a cross as Redeemer; the C7 Quran – without historical evidence – (1) baldly asserts that Jesus was not crucified, (2) infers that Christians are idolaters who “promoted” the merely human prophet Jesus and his mother Mary as companion “gods” alongside Allah, and (3) implies that church leaders deliberately corrupted the text and message of the Bible. Zen Buddhism is non-theistic, and aims to give us meditative techniques and disciplines that quieten our inner lives, rather than addressing sin and the consequent conflicts with God and one another as the roots of inner turmoil and outer chaos. Hinduism ranges from polytheistic worship at the folk level to pantheistic, idealistic monism at the philosophical level. Atheists assert that they know enough to know there is no God – even though it is logically impossible for a finite, fallible mind to prove [such] a universal negative claim. All may be wrong, but all cannot be right – the contradictions are far too deep for that.

3. The Myth of the “Moral” Man: Morality deals with the world of creatures who are free to choose and act in light of good and evil, right and wrong. And, conscience within points, like a compass-needle, to our holy, just, loving Creator, who has a public standard of morality for the world: the Man he revealed to all men by raising him from the dead. [Ac 17:16 – 34, cf. Rom 1:16 – 32 & 1 Cor 15:1 – 20.] But, we ALL struggle when it comes to right and wrong – Christian or Atheist, Muslim or Hindu, Buddhist or Jew. So, when we read the Sermon on the Mount [Mt 5 – 7] we find in it not only wonderful inspiration but also, sadly, a stunning indictment of our deceitful, desperately wicked hearts [Jer 17:5 – 18]. In short, there are no truly moral people, just struggling sinners.

4. Light, Darkness and Judgement: In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said: “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is your darkness.” [Matt 6:22 – 23, cf. Eph 4:17 - 19.] In short, we can be deceived: thinking we are “enlightened” but in fact we have only been “en-darkened.” Also, even though God will not punish us for mere ignorance, if he judges us by the light we do have [Rom 2:1 – 16], in fact we too often reject what we know is true and right (but difficult) [2:6 - 11]. For, instead, we willfully cling to what is false and wrong, but enticing [3:9 - 23]. Then, we point an accusing finger at others [2:1 – 3]. So, if God were to judge us by the moral standards we set for other people when we quarrel, our self-serving hypocrisy would shame and silence us!

That is why Paul concludes that there are no truly moral people: “Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin . . . . whatever the [written] law [of God] says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God . . . through the law we become conscious of sin.” [Rom 3:9, 19 – 20.] Thus, we are all guilty as charged, so our only real hope is to throw ourselves at the feet of our Judge and plead for his forgiveness and mercy. For, whatever tradition we have: “Christian,” “Muslim,” “Buddhist,” “Hindu,” “Atheist” etc., if we try to rely on our “morality,” or selfishly reject the truth and the right because we want to cling to darkness, we will simply condemn ourselves. [Jn 3:19 – 21, 1 Jn 1:5 - 10.] So, it is only if we (1) accept whatever degree of true light we have: by nature, reason, tradition, conscience or the Word of God, and then (2) admit our shameful hypocrisy and guilt, (3) crying out for mercy from God; that, (4) we can be saved. Of course, God, our loving Father, delights to give us his mercy!

Finally, we can now also clearly see the saving power and the gracious, loving blessing that are in the gospel: it reveals the True Light of God in His full glory [Heb1:1 – 4],which dispels darkness and deception so that we can accept Jesus, God’s Final Revelation. So, those who call on God through Jesus find deliverance from sin through that One Name under heaven that brings salvation to all who call upon it. [Ac 4:9 – 12, cf. Jn 1:1 – 14, 14:6.] END

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