Exposing Idols: Morality

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This is Part V of a series on common idols to complement the "Who Do You Think You Are?" campaign at Living Stones Churches. Other idols discussed: comfort, power, money, and reason.

Let’s do a taste test, except with words.  Read this story:

A homosexual man wakes up in the morning after his third sexual encounter of the week with as many partners.  He kisses his acquaintance goodbye, and they never see each other again.

Do you consider this immoral?  Why?

Some don’t. Actually, many see Christian outcry against this behavior as immoral, because it limits the freedom of another human being.

So the moral of this story is that people will disagree about the morals of the story (yes, that does make sense).  Our morality is a dangerous weapon when pointed at others.  What is the term for this behavior?

Judgmentalism.

"Judgmentalism" is used both inside and outside of the church, but is applied so liberally that it has lost its meaning - so let’s dissect it.  Here are two commonly cited “anti-judgmental” passages:

1) Judge Not... Improperly: Matthew 7:1-6

This one is a classic because it has the sound bite “Judge not, lest ye be judged.”  But is this passage saying “don’t make judgments about others?”  No.  In fact, this would be impossible.  We have to make judgments all the time:

“There is graffiti on that brick wall.  There are bars on those windows.  This car only has two tires left.  That crack dealer just pointed me out to his buddies.  Therefore, this street is dangerous.”

This passage is instead referring to harsh verdicts among Christians.  This means assuming the worst without all the facts (“I saw her with that guy last night, therefore they are sleeping together.”).  It is bringing to attention a minor infraction committed by another Christian while ignoring the glaring deficiencies in ourselves.  In a sense, Jesus is warning against hypocrisy.  Determining fault must begin with ourselves because other people wear our sins so well.

But in the same book, Jesus tells his disciples to point out faults in Christians (Matt. 18:15). And look at 3 John 9:

“I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority.”

If John said this now he would be labeled judgmental.  How can he judge Diotrephes' heart like this?

We are supposed to judge those in the church.  The Holy Spirit convicts (or, convinces) us of our sin (John 16:8), and he often uses other people to do this.  But why are you pointing out another's sin? To make yourself feel better? Or, to correct them in love?  The motivation for pointing out faults in other Christians is so that they will be freed from it through repentance.

The key is that right and wrong are not determined by our tastes, but by God.  He has revealed his moral standards (or, "righteous requirements") to us in the Bible, which brings us to our next passage:

2) Grey Areas Are Not in Your Jurisdiction: Romans 14:4

Here, Paul asks the rhetorical “Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another?”  But again, the context is crucial.

Paul is urging the Roman church not to quarrel over opinions (Rom. 14:1), specifically over diet and the celebration of holy days (Rom. 14:2, 5).  It seems that Jewish Christians were still holding to certain Jewish practices (traditionalists) while Gentiles were not (progressives).

Why is arguing over external practices dangerous?  It leads to disunity, isolation, and even enmity over things that God has not made clear:

“That pastor is wearing skinny jeans on stage.  He must hate God and himself.”

or

“The Living Stones elders drink Scotch?  Does Satan pour it for them?”

Arguing over secondary doctrines or cultural issues (dress, diet, etc.) leads to mutual disdain between the traditionalist and the progressive, which does not promote unity.  (P.S. God likes unity (Eph. 4:3-4)).  We must approach ambiguous passages with caution.

What Judgmentalism Is - and Isn't

So let’s define terms based on what we’ve learned from these passages:

1) A judgment is simply the formation of an opinion after considering the evidence.  This is acceptable and necessary, even if it is negative:

“She is waddling like a toddler, hugging everyone in the vicinity, slurring her words, and thinks Two and a Half Men is funny.  She is clearly drunk.  That is a sin.”

2) Being judgmental is the negative attitude about the conduct of others.  This goes a step further and turns a negative judgment of someone into an internal disgust.  The sins of others begin to look worse than ours:

“How can she live with herself? She is an embarrassment.”

3) Judgmentalism, then, is the turning this negative attitude into a full blown self-inflating religion.  It’s not simply determining the actions of others to be wrong, it’s asserting yourself as superior to other people.

“I’m glad I have more self-control than she does.  I’m a better person.”

This is the level where the worship of morality occurs, and this is what brings us back to our original point: condemning non-Christians by our moral standards.

As Christians, God has given us commands for proper conduct that we are to happily obey as a response to the gracious gift he has given us in Jesus.  For this reason, Paul warns not to “judge” those outside the church (1 Cor. 5:12-13).  We cannot hold non-Christians to our standards.  The law is written on our hearts (Rom. 2:15).  Everyone knows God's standards, even if this knowledge is suppressed.

God's commandments remind us how much we need that grace when we break them (Rom. 7:7). So judgmentalism turns morality (i.e. God’s commandments), which is good, into a false god.  It causes us to look at Jesus as a guide, not a savior.  As Tim Keller says, “The best way to avoid Jesus is to avoid sin.”  Morality falsely promises us freedom from sin without Jesus.

The Effects of Moral Idolatry

Moral idolatry is self exaltation and self worship. You may look good on the outside, but on the inside you become cruel, egotistical, bigoted, impatient, and hateful, constantly comparing yourself to other people.  If trouble comes, you get angry because you think you deserve better.

Do anxiety, insecurity, irritability, defensiveness, and criticism of others (particularly those outside the church) characterize you?  You might be worshipping the idol of morality.

This form of idolatry is horribly enslaving.  Moralists are held to obedience at gunpoint - and they're holding the gun.  When you worship morality, perfection is your standard (James 2:10).  Good luck meeting it.

Who is guiding your life?  Morality, or Jesus?  This is a legitimate question you have to ask.  If Jesus is guiding your life, you will consider yourself to be a worse sinner than anyone else because you will be shown the depths of your depravity.  You will be able to have compassion rather than criticism.

The Moral Idolater

So this sin is the plague of people who live like Ned Flanders? Nay. The judgmental sword cuts both ways.  Every Christian can fall victim to it:

“I just asked for prayer that the VD test comes back negative... she hasn’t missed church since the Bush Administration and doesn't need to rely on God like I do.  That Pharisee legalist!”

The delicious irony: those who accuse others of being judgmental are often just as judgmental as the accused.  They just have different standards.

If being obedient was easy then everyone would be.  Just because someone looks like they’re going through the motions doesn’t mean they are working to earn their salvation.  The joyful yet sporadic Christian can take a lesson from the stable, hand to the plow faith soldier.  Whimsy is not a gift of the Spirit.  Self-control is.  Self-control is hard.

The Final Judgment

Ultimately, God levies the final judgment (Heb. 9:27; Rom. 2:5; Acts 17:31), and He delegates His authority as Judge to his Son (John 5:22, 27; 2 Cor. 5:10; 2 Tim. 4:1).  On this day, all of our sins will be set out on the table and evaluated.  But for those who hold to Jesus for salvation, they will be considered forgiven sins.  And the one with the right to be condescending to us will actually exalt us because of our identity in Christ.

So if you read this blog and feel guilty because you are worshipping morality through judgmentalism - do not vow to get better, to be less judgmental, or to study the issue further.  Drop on your knees and thank God he has saved you despite you thinking too highly of yourself.