There are two frauds that haunt the church: pietism and moralism.
(Disclaimer: A note on my use of the word “pietism”. We use that word to describe a very important and I think godly reform movement. That’s NOT what I’m talking about here, but the form of the word in this little vocabulary is too clear to pass up. You’ll see.)
Piety is devotion, what we love. Every Christian ought to be pious and have piety. Jesus ought to be center of Christian devotion.
Morality is behavior, what we do. Every Christian ought to be obedient to Christ. Morality is about doing good.
Pietism (as I am defining it here) is living by the implicit belief that says “If I am devoted to ________, then God is obliged do _________ for me.”
Moralism is living by the implicit belief that says “If I am behave in such and such a way, then God is obliged to do __________ for me.”
Both pietism and moralism are false religions and are not true. We regularly find ourselves believing in them even though every village atheist has demonstrated the lies that they are. We see people devoted to God suffer all the time, just like everyone else. We see people obedient to God suffer all the time, just like everyone else. Jesus himself who was perfect in devotion and obedience was thoroughly abused and mistreated and was wrongfully executed at a young age.
These beliefs haunt the church and their filters infiltrate and subvert nearly every sermon, message or interpretation of the Bible. They are so pervasive I find myself constantly having to consciously having to examine my own thought to see how they are operating in my heart.
The Gospel is of course a different thing entirely. The Gospel is pure freedom both on God’s part and our own. The Gospel is God’s costly but non-obliged rescue of us. True piety is our free and unconditional love of God. Morality is our free and unconditional obedience to God. There is no contract, only free covenant. In God’s freedom he loves and rescues us from ourselves, the devil and the age of decay. In this new freedom we freely express gratitude for that gift through devotion and obedience.
Pietism and Moralism yield anxiety, anger, threat, self-righteousness, smugness, pettiness, and ultimately bondage and frustration.
Gospel yields rest, strength, freedom, mutuality, love, joy, peace and a future that is open and expanding beyond any expectation we can generate.
The two churchy rivals of moralism and pietism are always with us and we must continue to take conscious steps to distinguish gospel from them.