Moralizing: How to Destroy Scripture and Cultivate Pride

I really appreciated this clip from Mark Driscoll’s sermon, The Birth of John the Baptizer, and felt it would be valuable to share today:

What could tend to happen when we do character studies of the Bible is we pick someone in the Bible and we look at their life and we say, “Okay, what are the good things they did? What are the bad things they did? Okay, I don’t want to do the bad things, I want to do the good things,” and the result is something called moralizing.

Moralizing absolutely destroys Scripture. You don’t even need to be a Christian to moralize Scripture. You can have any religion, ideology, philosophy or theology, and moralize Scripture.

It’s one of the great errors of Bible teachers and that is, “Don’t do the bad things, do the good things, now go.” The way that John was able to become the greatest man who ever lived was not by moralizing, but by the Holy Spirit. You see that? As we study John from here and you look at this man’s amazing life, and the legacy that he has, and the fruit of his ministry, it’s not, “Well, I need to do what John did.” No, you need to be filled by the Holy Spirit like John was.

You need to be empowered and transformed by the Holy Spirit like John was.

Through faith in Jesus, the Holy Spirit takes up residence in you so that you can live a life under the control and power of the Holy Spirit like John did. Otherwise, it’s just nothing but a list of dos and don’ts. If you think you did well, you’re proud, and if not, you’re despairing. On neither account does moralizing lead to humble joy.

John was filled with the Holy Spirit, that’s how he did it.

There is no secret.

God’s power is made perfect in our weakness.

God’s power enables us to be who we cannot be and do what we cannot do because it’s God power.

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  • Keystone

    Driscoll has cutting insight here. It is as if I observed a new layer of snow in my yard in the morning. This would be astounding in August; but bland in January (yes, we had new snow… be expected by the feet at this time of year, not inches).

    Why is it okay for Christ to moralize all over the Gospels?
    The Prodigal Son? The Rich Man? Dozens of parables? Hello Mark???

    And “God’s power is made perfect in our weakness” is right out of the mouth of St. Paul (2 Corinthians 12:9). In Bible teaching here, Driscoll moralized the man who wanted a thorn removed from his flesh, but the deed was declined.
    So why cut off the true quote, which brings the Holy Spirit into the mix?

    “And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness ” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. ”

    Imagine the point being made with grace involved as sufficient, boasting of weaknesses and why, and adding the power of Christ dwell within.
    ALL of that is missed in Driscoll’s Bible study lesson here, with a truncated quote.

    I have never heard a sermon or Bible study that failed to moralize Joseph.
    Same for David; adulterer, murderer and collector of ten thousand foreskins, abysmal father, and on and on. But then the flip side is always included on David; forgiveness (Psalm 51), from Jesse to Jesus he is in the line; humility in the face of Saul’s oppression; Goliath recognized as spoofing the Almighty and earning a stones throw to his forehead forever.

    But the Baptist kicked in the stomach while still inside Elizabeth’s womb, as Mary approach with cousin, Jesus in her womb.
    No one moralizes this story to say to pregnant women that when your baby kicks from within, the Holy Spirit is letting him/her recognise Christ.

    But here is Driscoll on summation of John:
    “John was filled with the Holy Spirit, that’s how he did it.”
    That is obvious.
    What the listeners to Bible teachers want to know is…… how do we go from our unfilled state, to filled with the Spirit state?

    I have often moralized when speaking the words of the prophet, Micah (6:8) saying:
    ” He has showed you, O man, what is good.
    And what does the LORD require of you?
    To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God.”

    Parable of the Rich man? Moralizing.
    Pharaoh versus Moses? Moralizing.
    Esther? Rahab? All the babes of the Bible? Moralizing.

    You only get demoralized when you fail to see the stories are all told to reveal God is with us, for us, in us, always. And often, that is revealed by reading the good and bad in Biblical characters. They are near to God; yet they act just like us. Hint: we can be near to God too despite our abysmal character flaws.

    Joseph’s forgiveness of his brother’s evilness toward him was so complete that he allowed them to call for daddy, Jacob WITHOUT revealing what they had done to him. They never had to say “dad, that bloody colored coat we gave you had the blood of an animal we put on it to ditch your favored kid”.
    Jacob was told another story to get him to Egypt, and save face for the brother’s of deception.

    As the Prodigal was lost, then found, so too with Joseph, rather than him saying “fess up to dad and tell him how rotten you guys treated me”.
    Jacob never knew that part; Joseph never required the disclosure.

    Knowing our own nature, our own reaction to such a deed against us, it is easy to see God is in the mix with Joseph….for we are unlikely to react as he did. We would relish the slow twisting in the wind of our early tormentors.

    The chief error of Bible teachers is lack of training in nearly every church. That makes for an interpretation by the teacher that evolves from THEIR experiences in life, not God’s truth. It soon becomes the blind leading the blind.

    In fairness to Driscoll, my lack of hearing makes me not play the loop above; I did not see or hear it.
    But just this week, a woman asked me about attending a Bible study done all in ASL signing. She was a go between for the teacher and myself.
    Her email revealed that the teacher does not want me in her class as I am not fluent in ASL yet (my deafness is recent; I’m learning).
    The teacher advised she can’t stop her lesson to explain to me what is going on in the story.

    I have not replied yet to the woman attempting to aid me.
    But the teacher seems to feel that the show is centered on her, not the receiver of the message (like a lot of pastors).
    She lacks empathy.
    She fails to understand I can learn more ASL and quickly, by silently sitting there and watching.
    Last, no one has asked that she make a special stop at my chair for explaining the message.

    Her true message…..YOU are NOT welcome…..was already received.
    And when I am fluent in ASL, I will teach, rather than attend that particular woman’s class. Her message on God is already tainted in her behavior to fellow man.

    Tell Mark it snowed again last night. And, it is January…..not August.
    And sometimes a January snow, even in its blandness and expectedness, can have a moral, and each snowflake is a softness of God’s abundance all around us. And too many flakes make an avalanche. Yikes! :)

    • Aaron Armstrong

      Keystone, I wonder if Mark’s point isn’t that addressing the moral of a biblical story or character study without looking at what Scripture says about what’s required to actually be able to live in response to the moral?

      “Don’t do bad things, do good things instead,” will only get you so far because it’s based on living out of your own power, rather than pointing people to the power of God (which you allude to in your comment).

      But we also have to be careful that we’re not moralizing a story in which the moral isn’t the point, as is the case in the parable of the prodigal son. That story, while being about the two sons, one who publicly shames his father, wishes hiim dead and then blows his inheritance on reckless living, and the other who is self-righteous and proud, points to a much larger truth: The sinner and the religious person both need to be restored to the Father who pursues them both.

      Did that make sense? Or are we essentially trying to make the same point?

      I’m sorry to read about your experience with the ASL teacher. That’s really disappointing that the teacher would come across that callously. I would hope it was, perhaps, a bad day, but…

      Anyway, I hope all will be well as you seek to resolve the situation.

  • Jeff Goins

    Amen. Great blog. Well said.

  • Keystone

    I’d like to come back to this after surgery and a family funeral allow time to reflect. Thanks Aaron.
    My younger brother and wife have an anniversary today.
    She will die of cancer this week per doctors.
    She is way too young; he is way too fragile.
    Prayers gratefully accepted for my brother, Joe.

    • Aaron Armstrong

      Definitely – I’ll be praying for your brother and your sister-in-law.

  • Aggie11

    I have recetly discovered Mark Driscoll and love his raw undilute way of preaching. I listened to this podcast and was left confused on the point of John was filled with the spirit. After reading this blog I finally understand what I think Mark left out.
    I understand that by moralizing scripture and creating a pros and cons list we focus soley on the pros and try to live out our life and check off how many of those we accomplished throughout the day. When we mess up, its a huge blow and we feel like failures.
    I agree that John was filled with the spirit but i don’t think Mark addressed how we can attain that same filled state. After reading what keystone quoted in Micah 6:8 I understand more clearly how. Its easy to create a list of right and wrong and try to live the right, but what’s difficult is realizing that you can only live the right by the power of the Holy Spirit. I think this key concept was missed not only by Mark but by many churches today.
    Thanks so much for your keen insight and for helping a college student out of a bind!!

  • Keystone

    Dear Aggie11,
    Though youthful as a college student, you possess the wisdom of the aged. This is no accident.
    Our LIVING God speaks to you and you listen. He has proclaimed “Seek, and Ye shall find”, a truncated version of Matthew 7:7 anew. It is richer in fullness:
    “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you”
    ~~~Matt 7:7

    This post/comments have been silent long enough (9 months) to create a human being…… and yet, the loving Lord has used it to draw Aggie11 from the darkness of confusion and into the light of Truth even now.
    As the “light writer”, Max Lucado would say; “No Wonder We Call Him The Saviour”.
    (That book was an early work of Lucado, worth the read, and he has gone downhill since, with Jesus-lite in his latter books…..a digression there, sorry).

    I was surprised to see my name come up in my Reader this day, from your comment on the words of Micah 6:8, penned long ago, but a simply summation of what the Lord requires of you, eh?

    It is at the college level, Aggie11, where one can THINK without family repercussion, or penalty, and explore Truth for real, for the first time. It is not drilled in by a parent or pastor, but made evident by the Lord to all people in all times. What Driscoll could not do for you (and his followers are just like you loving his rawness, and often left confused on our Lord anyway) the Holy Spirit DID do for you Aggie11.

    Truth has come to you through the words of the prophet. Your steps were ordained to read what HE knew you needed to know….and where. In retrospect, those words were penned last January for YOU.

    I love this line you wrote:
    “I agree that John was filled with the spirit but i don’t think Mark addressed how we can attain that same filled state.”

    In one sentence, you made a Reader’s Digest form of my entire comment, and captured what even Aaron missed in my comment. No one addresses the “HOW”!
    Driscoll presents as much danger as delight to his myriad followers, but what I love about him
    (though I dispute him often) is his ability to magnetize the youth in a way that churchianity is failing to do at all.

    That said, I want to take you a step further into Our Lord, since His Word seems to have a way of finding you, clarifying Truth to you, and drawing you near to Him. Perhaps this will occur to others in the future, just as for you now,…….long after Aaron and I leave this planet, but God’s Word is here.

    I encourage you to read the first two lines of Romans 12.

    “1) Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.

    2) Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
    ~~~Romans 12: 1-2

    This is a distilled version from God, of what you are to do with your life.
    But it lacks the formula for HOW to do the WHAT….with your life.

    The information from God to you (and all of us) is beautifully prescribed in Philippians 4:8, which happens to be my favorite verse in all the Bible ( a most unusual, but too long a story to tell).

    “Finally, brothers, whatever is true,
    whatever is noble,
    whatever is right,
    whatever is pure,
    whatever is lovely,
    whatever is admirable
    —if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—
    think about such things.”
    ~~~Philippians 4:8

    I encourage you in your youth Aggie11, to take this prescription from Our Living, Loving God, and employ it as a guide in your life. For as you THINK, so you shall be.

    Each day, follow this recipe of thought process, and think of three things, of each of the eight on the list, that apply to you. I will help you begin here now:

    Whatsoever things are TRUE:
    1) God loves Aggie11 deeply…… as no one else can do.
    You come up with two more TRUE that apply to you.

    Whatever is NOBLE:
    1) Though God is outside the boundaries of time, He chooses each time period of life for each of us.
    It is NOBLE, that in all times possible, God has chosen this slice of infinity to place Aggie11 on the planet to continue His plan for all mankind. And, Aggie11 listened!!!

    Those are the first two, and a start on the list above of all eight.
    NOW, think on these things daily, but come up with THREE of each of the eight each day, that apply to your life.
    When you do this faithfully for a month, I assure you that you will Be Transformed By The Renewing Of Your Mind! You will have followed the recipe of “HOW” to become able to do the “WHAT” of Romans 12: 1-2…..
    the prescription of your life work.

    In the process, the Holy Spirit will take you from conforming with the world and transform you so that your life will become a LIVING sacrifice and a spiritual act of worship. It is awesome and I look forward to living long enough to read you write: “I DID IT!”.

    Now, I turn from Aggie11 to thank all who have prayed on my request above.
    My brother married a Cherokee Indian, a delightful woman who eventually left a total love of Nature and transformed into a total love of Jesus Christ. She died —oh so young— and Christ walked her through the Valley of the Shadow of Death within a week of my post above. I assure all who prayed that your prayers were answered as this is what she wanted.

    Seven of my ten siblings went to Israel and Jordan for Feb/Mar this spring and visited the Holy Land in unison. Buy my wife-less brother declined to go, and deals with grief poorly. He has privately announced to his closest sibling his thoughts on suicide. Your prayers are needed for him anew. He is sinking in grief. Christians know what to ask of the Lord; He listens. Please ask.

    Now back to Aggie11 with a modicum of hope just for you ( and future readers whose steps are ordained by God to this post):
    My family will gather this month for the first time since the Holy Land trip. A nephew will marry and has requested specifically my siblings, over his friends his age.
    He met his soon-to-be-bride in the military; both remain in the military now…he in Hawaii and she in Texas.
    The wedding in Pennsylvania will draw siblings from all sectors of the USA.

    The bride, and the groom, have chosen to follow Christ, and believe marriage is the time to unite with anyone, not before,…. ever. This is unusual these days, especially in the military where life may be brief.
    She has served in Iraq and returned, met her future husband in Hawaii, and after the wedding, He goes to Afghanistan.

    When I was in Cana, Galilee, I walked the small street to the church that marks a location, assuming the place of Christ’s first miracle of changing water to wine. The story is told in John 2. The story is also told on the walls in Cana, Galilee, with each verse etched into stone as you walk along the road to church.

    I read the verses all the way to the church, was enchanted inside the church with huge water jugs near the altar, couples renewing vows of marriage, and singles sitting nearby in HOPE.

    The family wedding we are about to attend consists of two youth out of university, and soon, hopefully both out of the military (she is done in December), but BOTH married to Christ long ago.

    I snapped pictures of each verse of the miracle story of Cana, as I walked by.
    Across from the church, I bought souvenier bottles of wine, though I do not drink. It was my intention to provide the bottles of wine from Cana, at the future, some-day weddings of my own daughters….but I suspect a bottle will be given this month to a most appropriate couple…..along with a framed photo of my favorite verse etched in the walls of a Cana Street now…from John 2.

    The Mother of God, Mary, did not mince words or moralize. Mostly, she pondered things in her heart, but a few times, she spoke aloud. She told the jug carriers precisely what all of us need to be told.
    Though I photographed all the verses etched in stone in Cana enroute to the miracle destination, the words from Mary are framed for their richness and truth:

    “Do whatever He tells you”

    There you have it Aggie 11. I tend to add that verse under my own Philippians 4:8 list to renew my mind, under “—–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—–“.

    “Do whatever He tells you.”
    The last I heard, miracles are STILL His specialty.
    May your life be one of those miracles too.

    God be with you,