Moralistic Preaching Vs. Preaching Grace Driven Effort

October 10, 2011

Something I am passionate about is preaching.

When I was fifteen or sixteen my youth pastor asked me to speak to the youth group while he was gone on a mission trip, and I think it was then I found a passion and gifting that Christ had given me. 

It was probably not the best seeing as I misused the word debauchery several times as well as preached through the whole book of Galatians in one message.  Luckily God has given me a lot of opportunity and put great people in my life over the ensuing years to get better at preaching and fan that flame.

So back to what I was saying.  I am passionate about preaching.  I can also be very critical of it.  Sometimes over analyzing things preachers are saying.  Even when I prepare my sermon notes I really want everything I say to be Biblically true and sound, so I am careful with the words I speak so that I am not preaching something opposing the Gospel and the Bible. 

What I am most critical of is works based faith preaching or a preaching that promotes moralism in a way.  Basically a preaching that says something like “do this, because it’s the right thing to do.”  So maybe that’s not exactly works based faith, but that becomes the result of preaching moralistically I think.  And obviously it’s not always phrased like my example but honestly sometimes it is.

 The other side is a call to grace driven effort, which is the idea that because we have been accepted by God because of His grace, we are driven to run the race well.  That because of what Christ did we can’t help but be compelled to serve him by following His commands and living by the Spirit.   Which a lot of times is a promotion of those same morals that when preached a different way irk me.

I think it is important to define that line and be wary of it.  It can be a fine line because I think I seem to notice this slant towards moralism in preaching a lot.  (perhaps I am just too critical).  The reason this is an important line to notice is because if we preach moralism we are just preaching what a lot of other religions can agree with and get behind, and we don’t highlight the beauty and supremacy of Christ. 

So I think we can agree that preaching moralism is not a good idea.  Or not based in the Gospel.

My questions to preachers (Bible study leaders, Sunday morning preachers, missionaries, anyone that preaches) are; How do you avoid preaching moralism, and preach a grace driven effort?  How has that affected the people you have preached to?  How should we respond in our hearts when hearing preachers preach something that sounds moralistic, but by believing the best in them, knowing them, and knowing that’s not what they meant? 

My question to anyone that has heard a preacher is this;  What do you hear more of, a preacher preaching grace driven effort, or preaching moralism?  Or do you think the distinction is clear? 

This is a different post than I ususally do, but I am curious and would like to hear many opinons on this matter.  I already know my opinion on this matter, but I want to hear others opinions on this.  So let’s discuss here in this post among each other and see where the conversation leads.

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14 Responses to “Moralistic Preaching Vs. Preaching Grace Driven Effort”

  1. Grandmother (Pat Pickard) said

    Okay, Anthony, I will start the ball rolling.

    (You are a thinker)

    Faith without works is dead. HOWEVER, I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; Yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life that I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me. (Gal. 2:20). Then, the following verse, I have “adjusted” to fit my own “effort” — “I will not frustrate the grace of God.” Do you think this rendition is appropriate wording?

    • anthonygee said

      I am not sure what you are trying to get across. Is that what you are saying is one of your grace driven efforts? Because I think Paul is talking about the context of people altering the Gospel and that he doesn’t want to be apart of that. Thanks for getting the ball rolling!

  2. Ben Adam said

    I’d say, preach through books of the bible. Preach the word. And preach every passage in view of the gospel. That’s where grace driven effort comes from. And then trust the Holy Spirit to speak, you are a fallible source of truth, but the Holy Spirit will bring light to what you have said that is good and true. Someone can hear a completely gospel based message and become legalistic about it, that is between them and God. Commit to the text, commit to the gospel and let God sort out the rest. Love you man

    • anthonygee said

      Very true and good points. Thanks man. Especially liked the stuff about us taking things and making them legalistic whether or not they were presented that way. It’s a very true reality.

  3. Ok, I like all that Ben said! You have to find the balance! God has given us a youth group or church or whatever to shepherd and teach! Grace is the Gospel, everything we say has to have an element of acknowledging God’s grace, Grace covers a multitude of sin. But if a shepherd does not correct his sheep or train them on the dangers of the world around them, they will get eaten by the lions and bears. In the same way if we only teach grace and do not balance with the truth of living right for God then pretty soon the world, friends, enemy will take over and eat them up! There has to be the balance in our preaching of living holy, not that we can be perfect or even great at it, but that is where Gods grace comes in and covers us! I have seen to many people say, I’ve heard all the grace teachings and I’m saved by grace, which is true, but live no different then the world and they justify it with grace. The gift of Jesus which is grace is the only way to heaven, but God also commends us to live with morals to protect us from traps! You can’t let legalism get in there, your right it is a fine line. I call it the Sacred Edge. Living as best you can to be holy as God is holy, but knowing Gods grace lefts us up when we fail and we reach out to out unsaved friends with that grace! Sorry that is a lot, but that is how I feel!

    • anthonygee said

      Excellant. I like what you post and your concerns. I will reply to this when i have more time to. Thanks for reading and responding.

    • anthonygee said

      Ok so I have a bit more time to reply now.

      I totally agree that Jesus wants us to live a life and holy and uncorrupt from the world. And that we as preachers need to encourage our people to live that way.

      If we do it without the idea of Jesus wanting us to live this way, or that this is part of God’s heart, and we just preach a message that says don’t lie because it’s not good then I think we are missing some things.

      So I myself have to be sure to highlight the idea of living by the Spirit because I think we can’t live morally on our own anyways. Which I think lifts up God and the Gospel with the result of living the way God wants us to.

      Or maybe there is a component of being able to make the right choices on our own after God has transformed us.

  4. Andrew said

    I understand moralistic preaching to be preaching where the message is (explicitly or implicitly), “Be good and God will accept and bless you.” Of course we can never be good enough to earn God’s acceptance or blessings. Those come only because we are covered with the righteousness of Christ.

    At best, moralistic preaching tends to produce Christians who are self-righteous, smug, legalistic, and prone to become angry at God when life doesn’t go their way. At its worst, moralistic preaching can give false assurance to well-behaved people who are on their way to hell. Al Mohler wrote “moralsim produces sinners who are (potentially) better behaved. The Gospel of Christ transforms sinners into the adopted sons and daughters of God.”

    Moralism lurks in all our hearts, it is easy to slip into, and congregations want to hear it so it’s not surprising that preachers preach it. It can come in the form of fire and brimstone “Do good or else” or more practical messages that give you seven steps to a better life. To avoid moralistic preaching we need to make sure Christ is the hero of every sermon. When we preach the commands of Scripture we must show how Christ forgives our failures to keep the commands, how Christ has ultimately fulfilled the commands in our place, and how He now empowers us live out the commands in His grace.

    When you hear a moralistic sermon I would advise that you let it drive you to Christ (even if the speaker didn’t do a great job driving you there). Realize that you can’t be good enough on your own, that’s why you need a Savior – so run to Him.

    Here are a couple of links I found helpful:

    http://wscal.edu/resource-center/resource/what-is-moralistic-preaching

    http://www.joethorn.net/2011/07/14/killing-moralism/

    • anthonygee said

      How you defined moralistic preaching is really good.

      Be good and God will accept and Bless you.

      This is what the majority of people in America believe. Because a lot of people believe in a God, and a heaven, and they believe that if they did their best they’ll be accepted into Heaven and all that.

      But it doesn’t work that way at all.

      And so I think the reason I am so passionately against moralistic preaching, or anything that even remotely resembles it is because (like you said) it’s what the people want to hear, and very similar to what the a lot of people without trust in Christ believe.

      Good links too.

  5. anthonygee said

    I don’t know how many people are still following this conversation. But I found a really good quote in a book I just started reading called Why Johnny Can’t Preach. It’s pretty amazing and short if you want a good book about how to preach better.

    T. David Goddon says on the topic of moralistic preaching;

    “I believe that as people’s confidence in Christ grows, they do, ordinarily and inevitably, bear fruit that accords with faith. Thus, there is no need for some trade-off here, or some alleged dichotomy suggesting that we need to preach morality if we are to have morality. No; preach Christ and you will have morality. Fill the sails of your hearers’ souls with the wind of confidence in the Redeemer, and they will trust in him as their Sanctifier, and long to see his fruit in their lives.”

    Pretty good. And more eloquently describes what I believe.

    • Grandmother (Pat Pickard) said

      It’s good to hear someone speaking of SANCTIFICATION. It’s been pushed back in the corner for too long. Old-time Holiness people used to call it “the second work of grace.” I’m not sure that it’s the “second work,” but it definitely is a work of grace.

  6. Shaun Grindle said

    I was going to say…preach every passage through Jesus, that is every passage of Scripture should in some way relate to what Jesus taught and did and said. Ben already said that and stole what I was going to say though….so I wont say it all. But that’s cause I discipled him.

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