Christian Morality is Not a Sliding Scale

Part II of our series on Doing Good

Our last post concluded by noting that what the world calls “neutral,” the Bible calls “evil.”  That’s the first big difference between how the world and God think about Doing Good.

The second way is this: the world typically thinks about doing good in gradations (e.g.. becoming a “better” person).

In Scripture, however, morality is not a sliding scale.

We do good because we are children of God; or we do evil because we are not children of God (or because we have forgotten that we are God’s children). The child of God does not gradually become a “better” person; instead, the child of God partakes more and more fully of God’s goodness and distributes it more fully to others.

“As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. ‘Good teacher,’ he asked, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’

‘Why do you call me good?’ Jesus answered. ‘No one is good—except God alone.'” (Mark 10:17–18)

In the Bible, action always flows from identity; what is inside of us (in our spirits and souls) “leaks out” of our bodies in our basic orientation toward others.

As the apostle Paul describes it:

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:1–10)

There is no praise from God for setting aside his good works and distributing our own, or for mixing the two. As God says through Jeremiah in the passage below, that is foolish: God’s ways are fundamentally different from human ways.

We learn good by seeing how God does good to us.

Unless we have received God’s goodness, we do not know what doing good is, nor do we know how to do it, nor to whom:

“My people are fools; 
   they do not know me. 
They are senseless children; 
   they have no understanding. 
They are skilled in doing evil; 
   they know not how to do good.” (Jeremiah 4:22)

 

God is not asking his children to “do good” generally. He is asking his children to do the good he has prepared for them to do. This includes personally dispensing his kindness to the ungrateful and wicked, and lending—not just our money but also our time and our life—to investments because we are not likely to get paid back. In this way the character of God is mirrored into the world so that the world must accept or reject him:

“And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners,’ expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:34–36)

Each Christian first received God’s goodness as his enemy. There is no other way. When we then do good by sharing God’s goodness to his remaining enemies, we become part of his strategic plan.

The works God has prepared us to do are strategic to his purposes, not our own.

They are not created with our safety or career advancement in mind. They will not protect or preserve our assets or our reputations. They are not designed to make us happy; to make us better people. They are prepared for one purpose: To make God known…especially to his enemies, who have nothing strategic to offer in return.

How does this change your perception of doing good?  To whom is God calling you to mirror his goodness?

About Pastor Foley

The Reverend Dr. Eric Foley is CEO and Co-Founder, with his wife Dr. Hyun Sook Foley, of Voice of the Martyrs Korea, supporting the work of persecuted Christians in North Korea and around the world and spreading their discipleship practices worldwide. He is also the International Ambassador for the International Christian Association, the global fellowship of Voice of the Martyrs sister ministries. Pastor Foley is a much sought after speaker, analyst, and project consultant on the North Korean underground church, North Korean defectors, and underground church discipleship. He and Dr. Foley oversee a far-flung staff across Asia that is working to help North Koreans and Christians everywhere grow to fullness in Christ. He earned the Doctor of Management at Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management in Cleveland, Ohio.
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2 Responses to Christian Morality is Not a Sliding Scale

  1. Lonnie says:

    I’m still struggling to understand how the category of “doing good” does not become a generalized catch-all category. Can’t all the works of mercy be described as “good works” that when done with the wisdom & direction of God, mirror His philanthropy into the world? For example, can’t the work of “sharing bread” be an outworking of God’s strategic work that He has prepared for us beforehand?

    Also, is there a sense in which some (if not all) of the works of piety can also be categorized as “good” that God strategically prepares for us to do so that others can experience His philanthropy?

    • EFoley says:

      Great question, Lonnie, and one I go into depth on in the book. The short answer to your questions is: Yes! On the other hand, I recommend breaking out “Doing Good” as a separate Work of Mercy because of what I call its “full name”: Doing Good To Your Enemies. This is far different than random acts of kindness; instead, it is a systemic attitude and plan of beneficence toward those who seek to do us harm. If we didn’t break this out separately, human nature being what it is, we’d share a lot of bread and open a lot of homes…but not to our enemies.

      Reigning–the final Work of Mercy–is the same way. It could be collapsed into the other Works of Mercy, but the idea that we lead by following Christ in doing the Works of Mercy in a way that others in the family of faith can see and emulate is a point worthy of independent consideration and practice.

      Hope that helps, brother. Good to hear from you.

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