While most Christians lament the moral relativity in our Western culture, there is a certain kind of moral relativity which is commonly found in Christian circles. One variation of this is based on Jesus words in Mark 10:18 that “no one is good except God alone”. If you were to ask me if I am a “good person” this is where my mind will immediately go. Of course I’m not good, only God is good. The problem with this thinking is that scripture is much more nuanced in its understanding of people. This morning I was struck by a simple “throwaway” phrase in my bible reading plan. Speaking of Barnabas, Luke writes
… he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.
(Acts 11:24 ESV)
He was a good man? Yes, that is God’s evaluation of Barnabas’ character. So how do we make this work with Jesus’ words in Mark 10? In an ultimate sense, only God is purely good, without any spot of evil. However, in a practical sense, it is possible for a person of exceptional character – marked by fullness of the Holy Spirit and vibrant faith – to be considered “good”.
I passed another example of Christian moral relativity a few days ago in my reading of the gospel of Matthew. In Matthew 5, Jesus teaches that anger and lust are in the same family of sin. This is something which I find is frequently misrepresented by believers. I have often heard people say something like ‘Everybody is guilty of adultery because we all have been guilty of lust.’ This is not what Jesus intends to communicate in these verses. He is teaching that sin is not just a matter of external actions (murder, adultery), but also a matter of the heart. What goes on in the heart is the seed of our external actions, thus anger and lust fall under the judgment of God.
Christian’s who take the word seriously, and who take their own sin seriously are prone perhaps to misunderstand God’s view of their sin – projecting their moral relativity onto God. We will say, that to sin in any way is to be under the judgment of God – that we are all equally bad because we are all sinners. While it is true that we all fall under God’s judgment as lawbreakers, we often leave out the clear teaching that God judges some sins to be worse than others.
Consider Jesus condemnation of the cities in which he did the most miracles:
“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.”
(Matthew 11:21-24 ESV)
According to Jesus, what the people of these cities did was worse and deserving of more severe judgment than even Sodom.
Consider the practical consequences that accompany the misplaced “humility” of moral relativity. If lust is equal to adultery in God’s eyes how could anyone ever be morally qualified as a pastor or elder in the church? Both scripture and common sense lead us to the conclusion that the guy whose eyes linger an extra second on the Victoria’s Secret display in the mall does not have the same moral culpability as the man who is actively committing sexual immorality. If this weren’t the case, everyone in the church would have to be under church discipline all the time!
Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not trying to say that we should make light of thought sins, but we do need to reflect the thoroughly biblical teaching that some sins are worse than others, we are not moral relativists, and good people do exist, though only by the grace of God.