You Don't Want That: A Moral Life

I have these memories of my mother asking me, "What do you want for Christmas, Joey?" And, like most kids who are asked such a question I was ready with my answer(s). This was before the internet and Amazon "wish lists," but I cataloged commercials in my brain and ranked the toys I wanted from must-have or I'll die, down to must-have or I'll almost die. Sometimes I would say, "I want a [random toy from 1981]!" to which my mom would reply matter-of-factly, "Oh, you don't want that." I remember thinking to myself, "You just asked me what I wanted. I told you what I want, and then you tell me I don't really want that thing?!"

Of course, what I didn't understand then is that my mother had knowledge I did not have. She knew that some toys I desired were junk and would leave me frustrated and disatisfied. What she was saying to me was, "You want what is being promised, but that thing cannot give you what it offers."

This is a lesson I think we all need to continue to learn.

You Don't Want That: A Moral Life

I hope you will refuse to settle for a moral life. The temptation is great, and you will find it appealing, but if you choose a moral life for yourself you will ultimately experience an aimless wandering that bears no fruit.

You want what is being promised, but that thing cannot give you what it offersWhy would I object to a moral life? It's not like a moral life is an ugly thing. And I understand the appeal. It's all about doing the right thing. We should do the right thing. In fact, doing the right thing has become such a rarity that it grabs our attention when people at least attempt it. What's not to like about it? A moral life is one of obedience to the law; of discipline and consistency. Who could object to doing well, or being good? Well, these are not bad things, but on their own they will disappoint because we were not created by God (and recreated through the gospel) to be merely moral, but godly. You don't want a moral life. You want a godly life.

This is one of my great hopes for my family and church; that we would not pursue morality, but godliness-- and there is a real difference between the two. The difference has to do with purpose and power.

The purpose or goal of the moral life is generally limited to a good performance. This doesn't make it insincere. It just means that its purpose is no greater than the commands it follows. A godly life, however, has a purpose that goes beyond the imperative to the God who has commanded us. The purpose of a godly life is to reflect the beauty of our Maker and Redeemer through a life lived according to his will and ways. Think of it this way, the moral life is lived for the command, a godly life is lived for the Commander. And the difference between a moral and a godly life is not only the purpose that guides it, but also the power that drives it.

The moral life generally finds its power in the will. Success is found in our ability to make hard (but good) choices and carrying out hard (but good) work.  The godly life, too, involves such work, but the power to pull it off is not found in our own strength, but in a strength God provides by the gospel. As Paul wrote in Phil. 2:12, 13, "Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure."

Joel Beeke explains John Calvin's view of "piety" in a way that summarizes much of what I'm pointing to.

The goal of piety, as well as the entire Christian life, is the glory of God -- glory that shines in God's attributes, in the structure of the world, and the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Glorifying God supersedes personal salvation for every truly pious person. Calvin writes thus to Cardinal Sadolet: "It is not very sound theology to confine a man's thought so much to himself, and not to set before him, as the prime motive for his existence, zeal to illustrate the glory of God... I am persuaded that there is no man imbued with true piety who will not consider as insipid that long and labored exhortation to zeal for heavenly life, a zeal which keeps a man entirely devoted to himself and does not, even by one expression, arouse him to sanctify the name of God."

That God may be glorified in us, the goal of piety, is the purpose of our creation. It thus becomes the yearning of the regenerate to live out the purpose of their original creation. The pious man, according to Calvin, confesses, "We are God's: let us therefore live for him and die for him. We are God's: let his wisdom and will therefore rule all our actions. We are God's: let all the parts of our life accordingly strive toward him as our only lawful goal."

God redeems, adopts, and sanctifies His people that His glory would shine in them and deliver them from impious self-seeking. The pious man's deepest concern therefore is God Himself and the things of God - God's Word, God's authority, God's gospel, God's truth. He yearns to know more of God and to commune more with Him. Joel Beeke, Puritan Reformed Spirituality

You don't want a moral life. A moral life is rooted in law, powered by will, and focused on self. You want a godly life. A life rooted in gospel, powered by sanctifying grace, and focused on God.