Saving faith vs moralistic therapeutic deism

by Mike Ratliff

24 Τότε ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν τοῖς μαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ· εἴ τις θέλει ὀπίσω μου ἐλθεῖν, ἀπαρνησάσθω ἑαυτὸν καὶ ἀράτω τὸν σταυρὸν αὐτοῦ καὶ ἀκολουθείτω μοι. 25 ὃς γὰρ ἐὰν θέλῃ τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ σῶσαι ἀπολέσει αὐτήν· ὃς δʼ ἂν ἀπολέσῃ τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ ἕνεκεν ἐμοῦ εὑρήσει αὐτήν. (Matthew 16:24-25 NA28)

24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If someone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me, 25 for whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of me will find it.” (Matthew 16:24-25 translated from the NA28 Greek text)

The Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is a message given to be passed on as “Good News” of the completed work of Christ on behalf of those he came to save. The message is about his incarnation, his perfect life, his death on the cross, his three days and nights in the tomb, and his resurrection. All of these things were attested to by witnesses. The resurrection is the proof that our Lord is God and that the work of the Atonement is complete.  Those who hear the Gospel, believe it, receive it by grace through faith and repent as they turn to Christ as Lord and Saviour. As is made clear in Ephesians 2:1-10, there is no one is able to do this on their own, God must intervene making then alive in Christ who were once dead in their sins so they could believe and be saved. 

Growing up in Southern Baptist Churches in the 1950’s and 1960’s in Oklahoma, I saw a lot of people walk those aisles during those endless altar calls at the end of each sermon. I also saw many of those same people, some of them my classmates at school, who were completely unchanged just a few days or weeks later. In those Sunday School classes and later Youth Groups during that period, the emphasis was highly moralistic. I’m not saying we didn’t hear the Gospel because we did, but it was always presented in such a way that there was something we had to do about it. As I witnessed a religious system that seemed to be all about moralism, I rebelled. As soon as I was old enough and left home, I severed all my ties with that “moralistic therapeutic deism” that had begun to creep into the SBC during that period. The odd thing was, in all those years of Sunday School and Church, I really learned a great deal about the Bible STORIES, but I most certainly did not know Jesus. I knew what was right from what was wrong. That came from knowing the Law so well from all those years in that type of church system.

What was wrong? My teachers at church meant well. However, they had taken the Gospel and turned it into a works-righteousness based religious system even though they would never have admitted to having done that. They could not conceive of simply preaching the Gospel as the completed work of Christ after presenting the Law that no one is worthy before God. They would get that Law part right, but when it came to the Gospel part and talk about death of Christ on the Cross then it would change into me having to complete the transaction and that Jesus was calling me, hoping that I would come, but only I could finish it. I remember hearing an entire sermon on the two words “Believe on” as when Paul told the Philippian Jailor to “Believe on” the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved… It was all about completing that transaction.

35 Jesus said to them, “ I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst. 36 But I said to you that you have seen Me, and yet do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. 39 This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.”
41 Therefore the Jews were grumbling about Him, because He said, “I am the bread that came down out of heaven.” 42 They were saying, “ Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does He now say, ‘ I have come down out of heaven’?” 43 Jesus answered and said to them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. 44 No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. (John 6:35-44 NASB)

Who does the work of drawing his people to belief? It is God himself. All those who are drawn believe, all who believe are kept, and all of them will be raised up on the last day. Here is another one.

11 So putting out to sea from Troas, we ran a straight course to Samothrace, and on the day following to Neapolis; 12 and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia, a Roman colony; and we were staying in this city for some days. 13 And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to a riverside, where we were supposing that there would be a place of prayer; and we sat down and began speaking to the women who had assembled.
14 A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul. 15 And when she and her household had been baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us. (Acts 16:11-15 NASB)

Who opened Lydia’s heart? Did she do it or did the Lord? Now, let us look at the passage I placed at top of this post. What is the nature of this saving faith that all whom God saves have? Is it self-focused? Is it focused on the world and its ways? What does Jesus say? No, it is self-denying faith that is focused on following Jesus. We see this as evidence of genuine saving faith all through the New Testament and it becomes more and more prevalent as believers are correctly shepherded or led after they believe. I’d like to look at one more passage that was part of my daily Bible reading today.

1 Let love of the brethren continue. 2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it. 3 Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill- treated, since you yourselves also are in the body. 4 Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge. 5 Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, “ I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you,” 6 so that we confidently say,
“ The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid.
What will man do to me?”
7 Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. 9 Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, through which those who were so occupied were not benefited. 10 We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. 11 For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy place by the high priest as an offering for sin, are burned outside the camp. 12 Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. 13 So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach. 14 For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come. (Hebrews 13:1-14 NASB)

This is all good, but lets focus on vv 12-13. Jesus bore our sins outside the camp. He bore our reproach for us. He became sin on our behalf paying the debt that we could not pay. Now, let us take up our own crosses and follow him outside the camp to bear the reproach he endured. What this means is that this world is not our home. True saving faith is self-renouncing faith that is willing to lose whatever this world has to offer if that means we bear the same reproach as Christ.

All of us undoubtedly have loved ones who are outside of the Family of God. They are not in Christ. They are in their sins and, even though that is an empty, worthless lifestyle, they see no value in what we have in Christ. The only way that they will ever believe is if our Lord opens their heart to believe, just as he did with Lydia and just as he did with you and me. Therefore, we must always be ready to give them the Gospel, to give an account of the hope that is within us. God’s will be done.

Soli Deo Gloria!

3 thoughts on “Saving faith vs moralistic therapeutic deism

  1. I also was in the SBC and responded to the altar call when I was 12. It took many years for me to realize that it was God who drew me. It was such a blessing to realize that it was a gift from God, and not something I had done. Reading your post, as well as Listening to Pirate Christian radio has been a tremendous education. John MacArthur’s site has also been a great help. God bless all of you.

    Like

  2. Mike, I was really blessedly this post today just because of the things that are going on in my life right now. Oh sooooo true – that only God prepares the hearts and opens the hearts. Learned an important lesson today that He truly protects His sheep. He is AWESOME!!!!

    Like

Comments are closed.