there have always been extremes and offshoots that represent a danger to those who adhere to them. Moralism and the prosperity gospel are two of those. As Christians, we are entrusted with the responsibility to embrace and embody a moral code rooted in our faith. The Bible serves as the cornerstone of our beliefs and provides guidance for how we should navigate life as followers of Christ. It should shape and inform our moral compass. Nonetheless, there are instances when people misconstrue adherence to a moral code, leading to the emergence of moralism. I want to help you understand what moralism is and then show you why moralism is just as dangerous as the prosperity gospel.
What is moralism?
Moralism, in a Christian sense, is following morals without a focus on faith or your personal relationship with Jesus. It describes individuals who adhere to a personal moral code that serves as the basis for their view of their own righteousness. Moralism arises when the practice of living by a moral code takes on a distorted significance. It occurs when the emphasis on moral conduct becomes rigid, legalistic, or judgmental. At its core, moralism deviates from the essence of true morality. It often neglects the principles of grace, love, and compassion that should be integral to anyone who is a true follower of Christ.
How is moralism viewed in Christian circles?
Within Christian circles, there is a wide range of views on moralism. For many who adhere to this, they may place significant emphasis on following biblical teachings and moral precepts. They often do this with a focus on personal piety and individual moral responsibility. This can appear as strong opinions on sexual ethics, marriage, abortion, and traditional family values. You may see the emphasis on moral behavior as a positive commitment to living out one’s faith. You might even wonder what is wrong with it. One problem with moralism is it can cause those who practice it to become legalistic and judgmental. You often find in these people that grace and mercy become strangely absent.
The other challenge is some may prioritize external conformity to moral standards over a genuine transformation of the heart. People like this end up being more like the Pharisees, and Jesus didn’t have a lot of kind words to say to the Pharisees.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.” – Matthew 23:25-26
Those who practice moralism may be just like these Pharisees. They clean the outside of the cup without cleaning their heart first.
Moralism can create an overemphasis on the external.
We can compare moralism to how the Israelites reacted when they first saw Saul and wanted to make him king. Saul was tall and handsome, and he looked the part of what they wanted in a king. The problem was he did not have the character to match. God would later say that man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart (1 Sam. 16:7). The problem with moralism is simple. Regardless of how “moral” you are, it can never transform your heart. You falsely believe that just because you do good things, you are on good terms with God. It is like the story of the Pharisee in Luke.
“To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’” – Luke 18:9-12
The Pharisees emphasized all the good and moral things he was doing, yet later, Jesus said he did not go home justified. For many, the adherence to a moral code causes them to miss their own sinfulness and need for a savior. How many times have you heard someone say I am a good person? I don’t lie, cheat, or rob anyone, and I try to live a good life. They may not realize it, but this is moralism. People like this often miss their need for salvation.
Moralism is just as dangerous as the prosperity gospel.
Now that you understand moralism better let me show you how it can be just as dangerous as the prosperity gospel. If you need a refresher, here are some key tenets of the prosperity gospel.
- Your material blessings are a sign of God’s favor in your life. If you have financial abundance, physical health, and many possessions, this is evidence of God’s blessings in your life.
- Your faith is the catalyst that brings the reality of prosperity into your life. Your faith manifests blessings, and when you speak with unwavering faith, it will bring whatever you say into reality.
- Your seed (offering) is what releases God’s return of blessing in your life. Your giving is a setup for God to return to you more than what you have sown.
- Your positive thoughts produce positive outcomes. If you reject negative thoughts, speak positively, and envision your desired prosperous outcome, it will happen.
So, how is moralism just as dangerous as the prosperity gospel? The biggest issue is both ways of living are centered on one person…you. In moralism, your code of living is the center of your self-righteousness. In the prosperity gospel, your faith in your thoughts and actions is the sole reason God blesses you. The underlying implication is if you are not blessed, then there is something wrong with you.
Moralism overlooks the simple reality that regardless of how good you think you are, you still fall short of God’s standards. Good behavior does not win God’s favor, and material wealth does not mean God is pleased with you. Both moralism and the prosperity gospel are deceptive because it makes you believe you have a level of standing before God that you really don’t. Good deeds and money cannot save you. Your heart must be regenerated in Christ. Whether you do a million good deeds or have millions in the bank, you will still not be able to stand before Jesus based on that. Just think about the Pharisee in the story. Despite everything he did, he was still not justified before the Lord.
While it remains crucial to uphold moral values and pursue righteousness, you must make sure your motivation is coming from the right place. Your love for God and an authentic desire to honor him and serve others should guide your moral convictions. We don’t live right to win his favor. We live right because he has given us his favor. Cultivating a mindset like this keeps you humble and helps you avoid becoming self-righteous. This can help you as you seek to live out your morality while remaining filled with the love of Jesus and a heart that is willing to show grace to others.