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From Moralism to Evangelism

When people hear the story of my family and how God has rescued us from the American Dream into a sacrificial calling of discipleship, after spending almost 6 years in my neighborhood doing nothing for our neighbors besides condemning them, they often ask “Why?” What was it that caused me to change from a self-centered life to one that seeks to show off who Jesus is and what he has done?

This question has to be asked. Not only asked but answered. If we just give the “how tos” of discipleship, we’ll only help foster moralists who can follow the new “rules of discipleship.” If we express an understanding of why we’re called to discipleship, then we’ll move the discussion away from moralism and dispel the myth that the church is only an institution, another corporation in need of investors. By boldly offering our reasons for following Christ on mission, we can inspire movement, multiplication, and joy – a genuine dialogue with the Holy Spirit.

Basically, we need to ask, “Why does the gospel change us from inward love of self to outward love of God and neighbor?”

Kill Moralism Or It Will Kill You

When I moved to my neighborhood almost 9 years ago now, I was involved with a local church and became a champion of moralism. I seriously won the gold medal of moralism. I could have easily battled the best of them and come out on top as I built up my Ebeneezer of pride, thumbing my nose at those who weren’t as holy as I.

Then I woke up one morning at around 3am and asked myself, “If I died tonight, would I go to heaven?”

I thought through my works of righteousness and knew that all my best works on this earth were simply fodder for sermon illustrations. All my righteousness pointed to how great I was and how lacking the hearers were. Basically, my works were to create disciples of Seth who would be ready and willing to follow me and parrot my every word. Realizing this early that morning, I was no longer sure if I would go to heaven. In fact, the more I thought about heaven, the more I was sure I wasn’t going. All my best works were muddied with self.

Then I read a verse that made me angry with God. I mean not so angry that I’d swear because my holy tongue would never utter such disgrace. Anyways, here was God’s word to me that morning:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. – Matthew 11:28

I had to laugh. For me, being a Christian was anything but easy. It was a burden. My life was so heavy, so difficult. Maybe Jesus died for my sins, but it was my job to “get to it” so I could be sanctified. Whether it was praying more, reading my bible more, using people as a checklist/project to feel better about myself, or serving the church more… whatever these things were, they weren’t easy or light.

I took holiness to mean that it was us versus them.  Saints versus Sinners. God’s people versus the World.  Me versus Them.

The only reason I interacted with neighbors was to knock on their door, give them a bible, tell them they were going to hell, and be glad I did my work. I was sure they’d never repent because the road is narrow. I was the only one on it. Lonely. Hurting. Weary. Heavy-laden.

Be Rescued, Rest, & Then Work

My good friends weren’t taking super-holy lifestyle to kindly. Praise God for them. They asked me to listen to some preachers they knew were godly and gospel centered.

Then, one of them asked me: How do you know you are saved and one of God’s children?

I responded: By testing my works

He asked: How is that going? Do you ever pass that test?

I somberly answered: I’ve never passed that test

He then showed me this from Calvin:

If we have been chosen in him, we shall not find assurance of our election in ourselves; and not even in God the Father, if we conceive him as severed from his Son. Christ, then, is the mirror wherein we must, and without self-deception may, contemplate our own election. For since it is into his body that the Father has destined those to be engrafted whom he has willed from eternity to be his own, that he may hold as sons all whom he acknowledges to be among his members, we have a sufficiently clear and firm testimony that we have been inscribed in the book of life (cf. Rev. 21:27) if we are in communion with Christ – John Calvin – Inst. III.xxiv.5

My friend asked me: What if your works weren’t the barometer of assurance of salvation but the works of Jesus were?

I exclaimed: That would change everything!

What ended up happening throughout this conversation and throughout my journey out of legalism is the word of God became powerful to my heart.

Jesus says in Matthew that those who hear his words and put them into practice are wise, and those who listen to his words and do not put them into practice are fools. That passage rings true in every aspect of missional living.

I thought back to the words of Jesus when he said that his yoke was easy and his burden was light. Either Jesus was a liar or I wasn’t understanding the gospel and didn’t understand that it was actually good news.

If I lived in light Jesus as the mirror of my election, then the gospel would be very good news. The yoke of missional living would be easy and the burden would be light. God rescues moralists. So rest… then work with his power.

Old Hearts Die Hard

God took me and my family out of that church and landed us with Soma Communities. This was like being taken out of slavery into not only freedom but a palace. It wasn’t the old church’s fault, it was completely my heart’s fault for desiring self more than God.

As we moved to another church family and Soma started to speak what it looked like to live on mission, all my wife and I heard was “do this, do that.” We again felt as though moralism was being piled on. We were still hearing what we wanted to hear instead of what was actually being said. Moralism doesn’t die quickly. The gospel must be applied by the Spirit over and over again.

At this point in our journey, we were just sitting back and taking everything in. We were asked to lead in certain ways, but I still didn’t trust the moralist living inside me. I didn’t want to open up the cage to let him out quite yet. He needed to be slaughtered by the sword of the Spirit.

One day, we finally heard what our brothers Jeff Vanderstelt and Caesar Kalinowski were actually saying. Jeff was preaching and he said the following:

When Jesus was at his baptism, the Spirit descended like a dove and God said, “This is my Son with whom I am well pleased.” Do you know that if you trust in the works of Jesus that God says the same thing about you because of his Son?!  God is well pleased with you! Not because of anything you have done or will do but because of Jesus. You can do nothing to gain his acceptance. You can do nothing to please him any more. You can do nothing so that the Father will love you more. Jesus has done everything on your behalf so that you are accepted and loved.

When I heard this, the scales off my moralistic eyes were shattered. I was now starting to understand what God meant when he said his Spirit would replace our hearts of stone with hearts of flesh (Ezekiel 11:19).

It wasn’t just this one time but every week. The good news was being preached to my heart and to my wife’s heart. The gospel wasn’t just a term, but it was now good news. We saw that the gospel wasn’t something that happened 2000 years ago. It is for us today. It gives us hope for tomorrow:

  1. We have been saved from the penalty of sin (justification)
  2. We are being saved from the power of sin (sanctification) and…
  3. We will be saved from the presence of sin.

Our justification (by Christ) leads to our sanctification (by the Spirit). That’s glorification.

It is all by the work of God. It is nothing we do! This is good news. In Christ, the yoke of discipleship is easy. Support by the Spirit, the burden of missional living is light. I could do nothing for the rest of my life, and God would love me the same. This freedom gripped my heart and caused me to finally worship God in Spirit and truth (and stop worshiping myself).

Discipleship Models Collapse Without the Gospel

The “Why?” of changing from internal living to sacrificial living came about because the gospel was finally good news to my heart.  When this happened, my wife and I couldn’t resist… our natural reaction, our natural inclination, our natural conclusion was this: People need to hear and experience this gospel.

We had no idea where to start, so we went to my now close friend, Caesar Kalinowski, and asked him, “We want to make disciples of Jesus, how do we start?”

He said, “Go home and ask the Spirit, ‘What’s Next?’ It’s his mission and it’s by his power, so he’ll let you know.”

The rest is history. (To get a better idea of where I’m coming from, you can read this article: A Story of Gospel Community.)

When we are so gripped by good news, we don’t need an evangelism class, we naturally desire to share it. The reason people don’t want to share the gospel is because it’s not good news to them. It’s not today’s news. It’s like telling folks we landed on the moon, old hat, distant.

But, when you preach, teach, live, and disciple others how the gospel is good news for them today, they become instant evangelists.

Caesar didn’t give me some model to follow, some class to attend, or some pre-written conversation to follow. He, along with my brothers, gave me the gospel. The water that never runs dry. The bread of life. The Alpha and the Omega. When a thirty soul receives water, he’ll go and tell the other thirsty souls where to find life.

Here are some questions to consider asking yourself and of your community:

  • Do you believe you were saved by God’s work and not your own?
  • Do you still believe you have to do more to be saved from God’s wrath and loved as God’s child?
  • Do you work hard at religious activity to be accepted and loved by God?
  • Do you work tirelessly at your job in order to gain significance and security?
  • What happens when you disobey God? Do you live with guilt and shame? Do you beat yourself up endlessly?
  • Or do you go to the cross and receive the grace of the gospel?
  • How’s your “yoke” feeling these days?

May we believe the wisdom of God when he says: My yoke is easy and my burden is light!

Seth McBee is the adopted son of God, husband of one wife, and father of three. He’s a graduate of Seattle Pacific University with a finance degree. By trade Seth is an Investment Portfolio Manager, serving as president of McBee Advisors, Inc as well as a missional community leader, preaching elder with Soma Communities in Renton, Washington, and executive team member of the GCM Collective. Twitter @sdmcbee

To go more in depth into the gospel centered life, read Unbelievable Gospel by Jonathan Dodson. Now available in print.

For more free articles about missional living, read Mission is Where You Live by Jeremy Writebol and Revival: Ways & Means by Tim Keller.