The Trouble with Personal Morality

check-listFirst Post:  The Dilemma of Imposed Morality
Second Post:  Guilt and Imposed Morality

I didn’t originally plan a series over this, but it seems that’s what I’ve turned it into.  In the first post we covered the problems created when an imposed morality results in conformity (based on guilt) to that morality.  Despite how moral someone may act, they are no more or less righteous than the person who doesn’t conform.  In fact, they may be worse off as they may believe themselves to be “OK” when they are, in fact, not.

We also talked about the appropriate guilt (godly sorrow) that is created when we are confronted with the truth of God’s law.  This guilt results in repentance (II Corinthians 7).  The major difference between the two is that guilt based on how we’ve made someone else feel generally leads to conformity while guilt based on God’s word has the power to generate true repentance (Ephesians 5:26)

Imposed morality can create the wrong response if it isn’t handled correctly.  We should desire a true and genuine transformation of character and not simply conformation of actions.  Some level of imposed morality is necessary to “protect sinners from one another” as I mentioned in another post.  However, genuine transformation of character (sanctification) results in a personal morality.  That is, the transformation we seek generates a morality from within and not conformity to an imposed morality from without.

The trouble here comes when we begin to consider this personal morality as the process by which we are sanctified rather than the result of sanctification.  In Galatians 3, the Apostle Paul harshly condemns the church in Galatia for presuming that their works will make them spiritual.  He says it is as foolish as the notion that our works save us in the first place.  In Philippians 1:6, Paul again confirms that it is God’s work within us that is perfecting us, not our own works of morality.

So then, the trouble with personal morality is not personal morality itself, but rather in how we view our personal morality.  Thinking that our own morality, our own goodness, contributes to our righteousness is incorrect.  The truth is the exact opposite, our morality and goodness are the outgrowth of, not the precipitate for our righteousness.  The origin and source of our sanctification, the active agent in our sanctification, is the Holy Spirit of God (II Corinthians 3:18).

Far from being an esoteric doctrine, our beliefs in regards to sanctification have a radical impact on our lives.  When we falsely believe that our personal morality (or lack thereof) directly impacts our personal relationship with God, we can easily move to living in fear (I Timothy 1:7).  God wants our obedience to Him to be based on the love of Christ, not on fear (or coercion or conformity).  We should not obey God out of a fear that we will “fall out of fellowship with Him” because our relationship with God is not based on our personal morality.

Further, when we succumb to the idea that our personality morality contributes to our righteousness we can also fall prey to inappropriate spiritual comparisons.  This is the problem the church at Corinth faced.  The Apostle confronted head on this spiritual hierarchy the Corinthians had created, based on which spiritual leader’s teaching they followed.  He concluded that, because of the truth of the gospel, that we are all called as sinful, fallen humans, we had no reason to boast in ourselves, or rank ourselves based on what teachings we followed (I Corinthians 1:29-31).

Because our personal morality, as the outgrowth of God’s work of sanctification in us, we should seek to align our personal morality with God’s law.  The purpose of our sanctification is to fully conform us to the image of Jesus (Romans 8:29), and Jesus was the embodiment and perfect fulfillment of God’s law in a human (Matthew 5:17).  This means that our cooperation with God in His work of sanctification in us actually conforms our personal morality to align with God’s law.  So far from our work to earn righteousness, personal morality is actually the end result of God’s work of sanctification in our lives.



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