Become Idolaters by Forgetting the Gospel

We all know people who are not Christians who live good, quiet, and moral lives (according to outward standards of living). Many non-Christians give to charities, help the poor, feed the hungry and clothe the naked. These people really do tangible good. These people are concerned about living a good and moral life for a variety of reasons—good reputations, species preservation, etc. We live in a humanistic age meaning we “live in the midst of people who argue that you can live a good life without being a Christian. They say it is about time people grew up and began to think and to cease to cling to this non-sense about God and an unseen world, and that all this talk of a so-called incarnation and redemption and all the rest of it.”[1]

These people say, “We don’t need it anymore. We are no longer primitive. Christianity was our first attempt at understanding and morality, but not our best attempt. We are now enlightened and educated. It’s time to move on.”

There exist in our families and friends these types of people that live good, decent, generous lives according to outward standards and say—“See, I’m a decent person, yet I’m not a superstitious, brainwashed disciple. I don’t need the crutch of Christianity to live a good and decent life.”

As Christians we can and should acknowledge the reality that non-believers can be compassionate, loving, and generous. These acts are a part of God’s common grace to the world despite the whole world not acknowledging his universal Lordship.

However, there is no basis whatsoever for why moral and good non-believers behave the way they behave. They may appeal to common good or human solidarity, but our trendy culture dictates its definition. I contend that apart from the Infinite we appeal to the finite for truth and that’s a dangerous place to reside.

The very unusual thing to me is while Christians may boisterously shout “AMEN!” to what I just mentioned, we often (most of the time unintentionally) live this way ourselves. We commend ourselves toward good works apart from the gospel of God. We treat the Christian life as if one day we will stand before God hoping our good deeds will outweigh our bad deeds and that we will deserve a spot in eternity. We guilt ourselves toward good works and because of that our good works are no longer produced out of a gratefulness for the gospel but out of religious obligation.

Everything we do as believers should be inside the framework of the gospel. Good works apart from the gospel have no real foundation and are themselves idols leading us away from savoring Christ.

The Apostle Paul in Romans 8:12-17 gives us a great reminder as believers. He states,

So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.  For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs- heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

The Apostle Paul reminds us of several truths in this passage:

  • You are no longer orphans, but adopted sons and daughters of the Most-High King therefore, act like it. Because of the perfect righteousness of the God-man, Jesus Christ you are no longer a hopeless orphan. You have a Father, so cease to behave as if you are an orphan.
  • Good works in the life of a believer are empowered by the Holy Spirit. One of the roles of the Holy Spirit is to produce Christ’s character in believers (Gal. 5:22-23).
  • Those who persevere to the end are the true adopted sons and daughters of God. Let me be clear—our good works do not save us; we are justified by grace alone through faith alone. The Apostle Paul is saying that one of the evidences this side of eternity that we have been changed by the gospel is our repentance. Those who continually repent and believe the gospel are those God has adopted and those God has adopted will never be snatched away (Jn. 10:28-30). Those who do not continually repent and believe the gospel were never saved to begin with (Jas. 2:18-20).

How can we be sure we are commending ourselves to good works within the context of the gospel? Here are a few practical applications that I believe are grounded in God’s Word:

  • Read and study God’s Word – A great place to start is Romans 7 and 8. Paul reminds us of the deceitful heart (Rom. 7), which progresses into a clear reminder (Rom. 8) that we labor in good works as uncondemned men because we are in Christ.
  • Remind yourself of the gospel message daily – A great passage to memorize is 1 Corinthians 15:3-6.[2] A gratefulness for the gospel will always fuel good works with Christ in view as supremely valuable.
  • Become a member of a local church (Heb. 10:25) – You want to be invested in a gospel-centered community of folks who are committed to reminding each other of the truthfulness of the gospel and the deceitfulness of sin (Hebrews 3:12-14).
  • Remember the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20) – Your Christian testimony and character is important in fulfilling the Great Commission. Take your role and calling seriously.
  • To Pastors—preach the gospel from your pulpit every week (Rom. 1:16; 1 Cor. 15:1-4) – When you fail to preach the gospel in your sermons you succeed in promoting behavior modification and this enslaves people (Rom 7:10). Every cult in the world teaches behavior modification. Preach the gospel always (2 Tim. 4:2).

As believers, we have a responsibility to pursue holiness and to flee sin by the power of the Holy Spirit for the glory of God and the sake of the gospel.

[1] Lloyd-Jones, Martyn, D. Spiritual Depression: Its causes and its cures. 1965.
[2] “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.”

Joey Tomlinson lives in Yorktown, VA with his wife, Brayden and their son, Henry Jacob. He has served as a pastor at Coastal Community Church for over 10 years and is pursuing his doctorate in biblical counseling at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He also blogs over at Servants of Grace.