Morals and rules are not popular at all today. What could be more passé and old fashioned than telling people there is a right way to live and a wrong way to live? People do not want to be told what to do. We would rather determine what is best for ourselves than to be held to some universal standard. This is at the heart of our culture’s relativism and ultimately its decay—we are allergic to claims of universal morality.
I expect this line of thinking from those who are outside of the church; it is after all, the dominant belief in our world. Its popularity is driven by the fact that our hearts are sinful and it is appealing for us to set ourselves up as mini-gods who determine what is right. None of this is surprising, but what is surprising is how so many in the church, even the conservative and reformed church, who also want to throw out morality. It has become hip and trendy to rip into teaching morality within the church.
I often come across arguments the reason why so many youth leave the church, and why so many adults don’t like the church, is because it is just a bunch of rules. Some within the church respond by deemphasizing the teaching of rules and morality. We shouldn’t teach morality, rather we should focus on grace and on Jesus. I have nothing against grace or Jesus, obviously, yet can we really understand these important things without a proper understanding and emphasis on morality?
Below are three responses to the argument the church should minimize its teaching of rules or morality and should instead focus on grace and Jesus.
- Why do we even need grace? I love grace. Without grace I am totally lost. The grace of God is central to the Christian faith, but what is grace and why is it needed? Grace is the free gift of God to rule-breakers stuck in immorality and sin. Without knowing the rules of God’s moral code, we cannot know our need for God’s grace. The Law of God is a grace he has given to us to show us our sinfulness and our need for a Jesus Christ. Moreover, the grace God gives to his people is not just a grace for the future; it also changes their hearts so that they live holy, moral lives right now. The fact our culture doesn't like morality and doesn't see the need for it, means we must teach it if they are to understand their need for grace.
- Why did Jesus need to die? It is no shock that Christ is central to Christianity. But why did he come? Why did he need to die? When Adam and Eve chose to sin, to break God’s rules, death was introduced into this world. The wages of sin is death. Christ came to die for our sins to pay the wages we owe. Without knowing about the universal morality of the Creator God, there is no need for the sacrificial death of Christ. You simply cannot rightly understand the gospel without knowing something of the moral perfection of God and our rebellion against it.
- Jesus taught rules, commands, and morals as central to being one of his followers. One only has to read any of the gospels to see Jesus taught a lot about what is right and what is wrong. He taught of our need to love others and God, our need to forgive others, our need to holy. He made moral statements like this, “If you love me you will keep my commands” (John 14.15). Obeying Christ’s commands, his morality, is what we are called to do. You cannot love him without obeying his rules. Teaching obedience to the commands of Christ is also commanded to the Church by Christ in Matthew 28.18-20, “And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Jesus has commanded us specifically to teach others to obey everything he has commanded. This is a command to teach his rules and the moral code he taught. In order for the church to be faithful, it must teach these things.
Generations often overreact and overcorrect from the generation before. While many in the past focused in too much on morality to the exclusion of Christ, many in my generation want to focus on Christ to the exclusion of his moral teaching. It is best to avoid both of these errors.
The world does not like much hearing about rules, but is that surprising? Instead shaping our message according to what the world wants to hear, we should listen to the command of Christ to teach people to obey everything he has commanded. To some this will appear to be nothing more than death, and to others it will bring life (2 Cor. 2.15-16). The outcome is not ours to determine, rather we are called to be faithful to our mission. Our message, rather than conforming to the culture, is to challenge the culture by calling it to repentance and faith in Christ.
God has a moral code which reflects his perfect righteousness revealed chiefly in the person, work, and teachings of Jesus Christ. All will be held account to that standard. While the church must never only teach rules and morals, it certainly must not teach less than that. The message of the church is about the grace Christ bought for his people. This impacts every facet of life, especially how we are to live. It is precisely because we have a real moral need, that Jesus is so great. He met that need which we could never meet, and when we come to him he transforms us so that we can start to grow in obeying him.
When we preach grace, the gospel, and Jesus morality is essential to being faithful to what God has entrusted us with. Yes the church must teach morality, but it must so in light of Jesus Christ.