As followers of Jesus we have a better message than “our morals are better.” Unfortunately, that’s often what our neighbors and cultures think our message is all about. Several weeks ago I read an interesting Easter post by Ricky Gervais (the humorous yet irreverent comedian who hosted the Golden Globes) which really made me think about this. His basic premise is that if the 10 Commandments give an overview of what it means to be a good Christian then he passes the test. He states, “I am of course not a good Christian in the sense that I believe that Jesus was half man, half God, but I do believe I am a good Christian compared to a lot of Christians.”
I wonder as I’m seeking to follow Jesus in the midst of a moral revolution if this is the message my nonChristian friends hear: I’m right and you’re wrong… you’re bad and I’m better…if you follow Jesus, he’ll make you a better person just like me.
Let me just say, though, before someone declares me a heretic: morals matter. From scripture we can see that God is holy and cares greatly about integrity, character, honesty, justice, compassion, righteousness, and right vs. wrong. I do think sometimes as Christians, though, we market our “better morals” at the expense of the gospel of Jesus. So, here are a few thoughts I’ve been chewing on:
1) Focusing on our “better” morals makes us the heroes. Unwittingly, we can shine the spotlight on our ourselves as we talk about what we can do and the good we’ve accomplished. We can quickly come across as those who like to sound the trumpet as they give to the needy or pray on the street corners so they may be seen by others (Jesus’ words in Matthew 5). No one likes it when someone rings their own bell anyway. Also, as followers of Jesus we should know by now that we are not the heroes in this story- someone far greater is.
2) I’m not certain that our morals are always better. I have a Muslim friend who is an excellent husband and father. He displays compassion, integrity, and work ethic exceeding that of many Christians I know. I also have homosexual friends who are incredibly benevolent to the poor and disenfranchised. The message of better morals rings hollow in these situations. When we place the focus on others’ sin and shortcomings instead of our own we lose credibility and the privilege to speak into their lives.
3) Letting the pendulum swing to embracing tolerance is not the answer either. UNESCO gives this definition for tolerance: Tolerance is respect, acceptance and appreciation of the rich diversity of our world’s cultures, our forms of expression and ways of being human. Tolerance is harmony in difference. Here’s my Kevinized definition: tolerance says I’m ok, you’re ok, we’re all ok, so let’s just stay that way and enjoy each other. Here’s the BIG PROBLEM: we’re not OK. If we take an honest look at ourselves and the world around us we’d know it and tolerance does nothing substantial to solve the ripple effects of our sinfulness.
4) Grace is a much stronger message than better morals or embracing tolerance. Grace takes the focus off of how good we’re attempting to be and places the focus where it belongs: the goodness of God. Grace also offers a much more radical acceptance than tolerance. Grace says to come as you are, let’s see the real you—the good, the bad and the ugly of who you are—and by the way you get to see the good, bad, and ugly of my life too. I’m messed up, you’re messed up, we’re all messed up, but we don’t stay there—we recognize that because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, God has something better for all of us to pursue…and we are going to pursue this with God together.
Should we care about living lives of character, integrity, morality, and justice in the midst of moral relativism? Yes.
Should we set the pace in the way we sacrificially serve our neighbors and especially the poor and disenfranchised? Yes.
But we must always remember none of this is because of who we are and what we have done but all because of who Jesus is and what He has done. Our good works are merely the overflow of a life being transformed and overflowing with the grace of God.