George Washington claimed (PDF) that “religion and morality” are each “indispensable supports” of democracy. John Adams was certain that our Constitution was “made only for a moral and religious people” and is “wholly inadequate to the government of any other” (my emphasis).
According to 65 percent of US adults, these Founding Fathers were wrong.
In a recent Pew Research Center report, two-thirds of American respondents claimed that “it’s not necessary to believe in God to be moral.” They can make this claim because our secularized culture has convinced them that morality is personal and subjective. Like the archer who fires an arrow and then paints the target around the place it lands, we get to choose what is moral for us and need no help from God in achieving it.
However, the mass shooting in Texas, the deadliest Russian attack on Ukraine in months, the first US mass evacuation effort from Sudan, and widespread discouragement about the future are windows into how well our subjective morality is working for us. And what do we do when your definition of morality and mine directly contradict each other? When you think abortion on demand is a moral “reproductive right” and I think it is the immoral killing of an unborn child? When you think marriage has no gender and I think it should be reserved for one man and one woman?
This debate is not only foundational to the future of our democracy—it is especially urgent for the souls of evangelicals like me.
My Apple Watch is incompetent
I walked on my treadmill last Friday morning for my usual three miles, setting the pace at 4.2 mph, which equates to 14.17 minutes per mile. My Apple Watch disagreed, however, claiming that I finished my first mile in 13.58. It tracked my second mile at 13.57. I then increased my speed to a 4.3 mph pace, which equates to 13.57 minutes per mile. My Apple Watch, however, reported that I finished that mile in 15.27.
My point is not that my Apple Watch cannot track my walking pace competently, though that is consistently true. My point is that I want to believe that the fastest time is accurate and the slowest time is a technological aberration.
It was the same when I played golf and tennis: I believed that my best shots were “normal” and my other shots were anomalies or bad luck. This is an example of the “slothful induction fallacy,” which occurs when “sufficient logical evidence strongly indicates a particular conclusion is true, but someone fails to acknowledge it, instead attributing the outcome to coincidence or something unrelated entirely.”
My purpose is not to complain about my Apple Watch or to claim unwarranted athletic prowess. Rather, it is to note that what I did on the treadmill, I am constantly tempted to do with my soul. My sins are aberrations, “deviations from the mean” as it were, while my virtuous acts reveal my true character.
If only that were true.
How Satan uses our morality against us
According to Scripture, “secret” sins do not exist: “God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:14). The psalmist said of God, “You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence” (Psalm 90:8).
Dwight Moody was right: Character is what you are in the dark.
This fact is especially relevant for evangelical Christians in the context of sexual morality. Many of us have incurred the wrath of our fallen culture by standing publicly for biblical marriage and sexuality. However, Paul warns us: “In passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things” (Romans 2:1).
For example, when evangelicals condemn homosexual sexual sin but commit heterosexual sexual sin, we sin just like those whose sin we oppose. Our sin may not be as public—a same-sex married couple is obviously living unbiblically, while a heterosexual married couple may or may not be sinning sexually—but it is no less real.
Nonetheless, Satan uses our biblical stance against us by tempting us to believe we are justified in our sins since we condemn the sins of others. He also wants us to think that our sins are less damaging if they are less public. But, as always, Satan is “a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).
Private pornography, for example, is addictive and destroys mental health and dating and marriage relationships. Sex before marriage weakens the marriage; sex outside of marriage can obviously destroy marriage.
Satan also ensures that our “private” sins inevitably become public and then uses them to disparage our Father and our faith. Paul warned his Jewish Christian readers that because of their sins, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you” (Romans 2:24). In a recent survey, “the hypocrisy of religious people” was the top reason people of no faith gave for doubting Christian beliefs.
“The utter joy of being forgiven”
Tomorrow we’ll identify three practical ways to respond biblically and redemptively. For today, let’s decide that we want to. Let’s decide that we want to be as holy as God can make us. Then, let’s admit to God our need for his transforming power.
Br. Geoffrey Tristam of the Society of St. John the Evangelist in Boston writes: “Until we acknowledge our need for God, we will never experience the utter joy of being forgiven, healed, restored, and empowered. Once we have experienced that grace, there’s no going back to a life where we trust in our own power and strength. Once we have known God’s hands upholding us and strengthening us, nothing else will do.”
Will you experience the “utter joy” of God’s sanctifying grace today?