This is an excerpt from a sermon from John MacArthur, the whole sermon can be found here.
Cultural morality; CM, we’ll call it.
1. Cultural morality, first of all — and I’m going to give you some of these dangers, so just kind of write them down as we go — is not our commission. It’s not our commission. We just read 2nd Corinthians 5:17 to 20, which is our commission. We could add Matthew 28:19 and 20 or any of the other passages on the great commission: Go into all the world and preach the gospel. It’s not our commission. So right at the outset, we are doing something that we have not been mandated by God to do. This then becomes a diversionary activity. And who is it that wants to get us off track?
2. Secondly: It wastes immense amounts of precious resources, time, money, human energy. It wastes it. It doesn’t matter whether you go to hell as a prostitute or a policeman. It only matters that you go to hell. All this effort to clean up America. Can the “leopard change his spots”? Can the “Ethiopian change his skin”? So says the prophet. Are you able to become something other than you are? It’s just a waste of resources. Ephesians 5:16 says: “Make the most of your time, because the days are evil. And understand what the will of the Lord is” and don’t be foolish. And I’ll tell you: I know what the will of the Lord is, ’cause it’s laid out. It’s to preach the message of reconciliation. It’s to preach the gospel. That’s the will of the Lord. And to do something else is to be “foolish,” to waste time. I’m not interested in making this country moral. I’m interested in bringing people to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, so that He can recreate them so they will become moral.
3. Thirdly: This effort at cultural morality sets up inevitable failure. It sets up inevitable failure, because you can’t do it. No one can be truly righteous and moral before God, apart from the transformation of his soul by the Holy Spirit through the gospel. The heart of man is “deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.” And if you don’t change the heart, all you do is redirect the sin. If some sins become illegal, then people will do other sins, or they’ll do the ones they want to do in secret. Efforts at cultural morality are programmed for failure.
4. Fourthly: Cultural morality fails to understand the nature of the kingdom of God. It fails to understand the nature of the kingdom of God. Listen to what Jesus said, John 18:36: “My kingdom is not of this world.” There’s no connection. “If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting.” That’s interesting to me. If My kingdom was a part of this world, we’d be engaged in a battle here to prevent you from taking Me captive. Jesus says, “My servants would be fighting,” and I might not be delivered up to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not of this realm. To spend all your time and energy and effort fighting for some element of human society — this is the point — fails to understand the nature of the kingdom. The kingdom is the realm of salvation where God rules over and blesses those who are in Christ. Do you want to bring blessing to this nation? Then preach the gospel. Because there is no connection between a national entity and the kingdom of God. Jesus said it as clearly as He could: “My kingdom is not of this world.” They’re two completely separate realities. Why is it that somehow we’ve gotten this idea that we have to posture America politically for the advancement of the kingdom of God? They have absolutely no connection. I’ve heard people say if America keeps going the way it’s going — if sin is more and more acceptable in our society, if it gets more and more corrupt — it’s going to cripple the impact of the gospel; it’s going to cause evangelism to be hard to do, if not illegal. We have to fight for all these freedoms in order to have them to preach the gospel. There is nothing that can be done, has been done, would be done on the face of the earth by men, politically or socially, that has any impact whatsoever on the purposes of God in redemption.
5. Fifthly: This effort puts the responsibility on man rather than God; well-intentioned people trying to do the impossible. I’m a pretty realistic person, and I don’t mind tackling a hard task if I can do it. But I really don’t want to spend my life trying to do what I know I can’t do, and what I know I can’t do by my own ingenuity. I do not, in myself, folks, with my persuasive powers of speech, with my intensity, with my self-discipline or my work ethic, I do not have the ability or the capability to make people moral. I can’t make this country moral. It’s just a battle I can’t win. Because those who are “accustomed to doing evil,” Jeremiah 13:23 says, can’t do good.
6. Number six: This effort at cultural morality creates morality without theology. I don’t like anything without theology. I want theology in everything. I don’t like anything without theology, because I cannot understand anything apart from God’s revelation of it. My understanding of the world is completely subject to what scripture says. But in this cultural morality, this sort of growing religious right effort, there is a severe ignorance of theology, some ignorance of God, ignorance of His word, of His holy law. So that they’re trying to accomplish something that doesn’t have the theological underpinnings. It’s just a matter of money, persuasive speech, media events, pressure groups, forcing people to do things. That is — that is not how you get it done. There is such a severe ignorance of God’s truth, such a severe ignorance of God’s word.
There was one gentleman who’s involved in this being interviewed, and asked some very penetrating questions. He replied well, I’m not a theologian, so I don’t know about that. Well, he ought to be enough of a theologian to know about it. I’m very concerned about efforts at morality that are not undergirded with theology, because they don’t have the right motive. You hear people say all the time well, we’ve got to protect our children. Well, that’s a reasonable thing. That is not the highest motive for what we do. My goal in proclaiming the truth is not to protect my children. That’s my responsibility before God. I’ll do that. I’m not trying to create a national environment that’s going to somehow incubate my kids. It sounds good. But my motive is the glory of God and the honor of God. And sometimes, I am so consumed with the honor of God that I feel very comfortable praying like David did: Kill all the bad people. God, kill them all because they’re dishonoring Your name, and they’re wicked and they’re our enemies, and for Your own glory. It’s like the people in the 6th chapter of Revelation under the altar: “How long, O Lord,” how long are you going to let this go on before you bring a stop to it and be glorified? If you don’t know theology, you really run amok. This is a movement that could use some pretty serious injections of sound theology.
7. Number seven: It fails to understand, this movement in cultural morality, fails to understand that salt and light as indicated in Matthew 5: We are the “salt of the earth, the light of the world.”
That salt and light are not moral influence, but gospel witness and the power of holy living. They always say well, we have to be salt and light, we have to be salt and light, have to be salt and light. Well, the imagery of Jesus in the sermon on the mount with regard to salt and light is the image of the shining forth of truth. That’s the light. And the preservative of godly living. We are light when we proclaim the light, and manifest our good works. That’s what He says. And glorify our Father who is in heaven. And we are salt when we are a preservative, because of the virtue and the godliness of our lives.
Well, number eight, and I’m just kind of giving you just a quick look at these.
8. Number eight: Cultural morality is dangerous because it has no New Testament model to follow except the Pharisees. So if you’re going to try to find a New Testament pattern for this effort, you’re going to end up with the Pharisees. They were the moral ones. And you know what Jesus said about them? Matthew 23:15: He said when you are through making somebody a convert to your morality, you have made him “twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.” Wow. Wow. So if you’re looking for a New Testament model for cultural morality, you’re going to end up with Pharisees. They were legalistic. I don’t know about you; I don’t think I would be rejoicing to live in a Pharisaic-dominated society; dominated by the mandates of self-righteous, cruel, merciless legalists, who laid heavy burdens on people, right, and gave them no help to bear them, Jesus said. Jesus said to them one day as they picked up stones to stone an adulterous woman: Whoever is “without sin… throw the first stone.” And stones started dropping. I don’t know that I’d want to live in that kind of environment. There is no New Testament model for political action. Jesus didn’t try to overthrow slavery; neither did Paul; neither did any of the Old Testament. Both Jesus and Paul, however, did say if you’re a slave, be a good one, be a faithful one, be an honest one. Serve your master well; make wise investments; do it under the Lord, and God will reward you. And if you’re in a harsh, difficult situation, you’ll know His grace.
9. Number nine: This cultural morality — and this is a very important one — creates unholy unions in which the unbelieving and enemies of the gospel are welcomed.
You can find a lot of non-Christians to agree that we ought to have a more moral country, right? You could get the Muslims in on that one. You could certainly get the Mormons in; there’s a lot of that. Get the Roman Catholics involved; you can get Jewish people involved, those who are Orthodox, committed to the Old Testament. So now what you’ve got, you’ve got an alliance like ECT, Evangelicals and Catholics Together, for the purpose of creating cultural morality. You create these unholy unions. You do exactly what 2nd Corinthians 6 says not to do: “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers, for what fellowship” has light with darkness; what agreement has Christ with Satan? “Come out from among them and be separated.” But what happens? You’re trying to achieve something through the legal system or through the court system or through lobbying or through media intimidation. And in order to get your power up to a level where you can make a dent in the society, you embrace people who agree on the issue. You get with other people who are anti-abortion, anti-homosexual, anti-euthanasia, who are against pornography. And you get all together and you’re going to accomplish this with these co-belligerents. And something immediately happens, and that is this: The gospel is eclipsed. Because if you proclaim the gospel in that environment, you’d blow up your organization you spent so much time and money to bring together. The gospel then would become destructive.
10. So, that leads to number ten. This effort at cultural morality leads to acceptance of inclusivism. And what I mean by that is it starts to stretch the boundaries of the kingdom of God to embrace these people who are not in Christ. And we’ve been through that, haven’t we, over the last couple of years? You have people saying oh, you know, I — certainly there’s going to be well-intentioned Jews in heaven, and there are going to be people in the Catholic church in heaven, and there are going to be Mormons in heaven. There are going to be some — there’s some people — and I’ve read you quotes from everybody, Billy Graham down through the ranks who, you know, are saying sure, there are people who are going to experience the wider mercy. This is part of — this is part of why I wrote the little book “Why One Way?” It is so important. But if you’ve spent all your time working on this cultural morality, and you’ve dumped all your money in, and you’ve pulled all these people together to get the money and the power to pull off your enterprise, you can’t introduce the gospel, because the gospel will undo everything you’ve done. As soon as you say to those people by the way, you’re on your way to hell — by the way, we really need your money and we want your energy and we want your power and your political clout and we want this and we want that — but we also want you to know that you’re not in the kingdom of God. As soon as you say that, you’ve just blown your organization up. So, you don’t say that. And eventually, what you do is you just get this inclusive idea. And that fits wonderfully well with post modernism, which says there’s no such thing as absolute truth anyway. And if there is absolute truth, we can’t know it. So your truth is your truth; my truth is my truth; create these moral alliances in which you embrace people who don’t believe the gospel. And Paul says if you meet anybody who gives you any other gospel than the gospel that I gave you, “let him be cursed.” And he said it twice in Galatians 1. You can’t do that in that environment. You’ve got to walk a fine line or you’ll blow up your whole organization. You can’t preach the gospel. The gospel gets eclipsed.
Well, there’s a few more things to think about. I have time for a couple more.
11. Number 11: This effort at cultural morality becomes selective as to the sins it attacks. It becomes very selective as to the sins it attacks. I don’t notice that they’re really hard against pride, do you? I haven’t seen a great effort in the religious right against materialism. I haven’t seen a great effort even against divorce. In fact, they rarely say anything about adultery. They’re really against homosexuality; that’s so bizarre and abnormal. They’re really against pedophilia; that’s sick and abnormal. They’re against killing babies; that’s safe. Who can imagine doing that? They’re against filth and pornography. And there’s a certain satisfaction in their morality about that. But there are a lot of other things they don’t talk about. At one point in America, the greatest advocate for the religious right, the national spokesman, well-known politician was, while he was developing the contract on America, involved with a woman who wasn’t his wife. It’s a selective thing. And let me put it down where it really needs to be. It doesn’t deal with the worst sin in the world, the worst sin in the world. You say do you know what the worst sin in the world is? Of course, so do you. You know what the worst sin in the world is. You don’t think you do? Yes, you do. What’s the greatest commandment? What is the greatest commandment? “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind” and strength. Therefore, what’s the greatest sin? Break that commandment. How’re you doing? You’ve committed the greatest sin. You want to talk about morality? Let’s talk about that. You want to talk about sin? Let’s not pick out five that we can easily assault because, you know, we don’t do those five. Let’s talk about the fact that you have broken the greatest commandment; therefore, you’ve committed the greatest sin that any human being can commit, and it is the sin that sends you to eternal hell. You have failed to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind” and strength.
And as R. C. Sproul one time said, and you know you haven’t kept that commandment at any time in your life for five seconds. You can’t keep that commandment. It’s impossible. So let’s talk about that. If you want to go after America’s immorality, then let’s indict the whole nation for not loving God. That is not only the first and great commandment, that is the sum of the commandments. And the second commandment is to: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” And you can’t keep that one for five seconds. So if we’re going to get moral, then let’s go where we need to go, because that, wrote the apostle Paul, is “the sum,” and Jesus as well, “The sum of all the law.” Why do we have to pick these selective ones? If we’re going to call America to morality, then let’s indict them where they need to be indicted, and let’s indict our own hearts where we need to be indicted, and say we’ve broken the first and great commandment, and we’ve broken the second one, and we do it all the time. And therefore, we are all condemned to hell, in desperate need of grace and forgiveness and salvation. That’s the message.
12. Well, number 12: This — cultural morality fails to understand the true nature of spiritual warfare. It fails to understand the true nature of spiritual warfare. They talk about this as spiritual warfare; this is spiritual warfare. It’s not spiritual warfare. It’s not spiritual warfare to get engaged in human efforts politically to change laws. What is spiritual warfare? 2nd Corinthians 10: Spiritual warfare is smashing down all human ideologies with “the truth” of God. That’s spiritual warfare. And bringing captives out and bringing them into obedience to Christ, submission to the truth of God, to the word of God. The real spiritual war is simply this: You have a whole world of people who think wrong. Their thinking is damning. They think wrong about themselves; they think wrong about God; they think wrong about Christ, if they think about Him at all. They need to think differently. They need to know the truth. They need to know the gospel. They need to know the truth about themselves, the truth about God, the truth about Christ, the truth about His work, the truth about salvation, grace, forgiveness. They need to know that truth. And it’s when you bring that truth to the person and you engage in the war with their mind so that you can bring the truth to bear upon wrong thinking, that’s the real spiritual war. It’s an ideological battle. But the real war is bringing the truth of Christ to those in error.
So what is the church to be doing? To be preaching the glorious, extensive, complete and full message of redemption in Jesus Christ, and to take that great message to these people who are fortified in these ideological fortresses, in which literally they’re going to die, unless somebody smashes the walls of those lying fortifications with the truth. That’s the real spiritual war. It’s not a political one. It’s for the minds and eternal souls of people, and it’s about the truth; delivering them from error to truth.
This is important, 13: I don’t think I have too many sermons with this many points.
13. This cultural morality thing is dangerous because it makes those we are commanded to lovingly reach with the gospel into the enemy, rather than the mission field. Have you noticed that? The unbelievers, the immoral people — the pornographers and the homosexuals and the abortionists and whoever else — become vilified and hated. They become the enemies. They aren’t the enemy, folks. They’re the mission field. They’re the mission field. I think again about Jonah. The Ninevites were wretched people; I mean they were really wretched. They were pagans. They slaughtered their enemies, and they piled their skulls in pyramids. They damned up rivers with dead bodies. They would cover pillars in buildings with the flayed skin of a conquered ruler. That’s ugly stuff; wicked, haters of God, enemies of Israel. God tells Jonah: Jonah, go preach to them. Says, ha, no chance. And he heads 2,000 miles in the opposite direction. That is a repulsive thought. Preach forgiveness to a Ninevite? Eventually, after being swallowed and vomited — frankly, any fish would have vomited up a bitter prophet like Jonah — he went to Nineveh and he preached; 600,000 people probably, and the whole place repented. And then he was really mad. He was. He was miserable. He was so mad he wanted to die. That’s the severe danger in moralism. He was — he was sort of a racist, Jonah was. He was a legalist. He didn’t want any of these wretched, wicked Gentiles that he had grown to hate horning in on forgiveness. I always want to make sure that the sinners in my world know that I love them enough to offer them forgiveness. I don’t ever want them to think that I hate them. There is a holy hatred of sin and the sinner. But Jesus could even weep over them. And so must we.
Well, a couple more.
14. Number 14: Cultural morality brings persecution and hatred of Christians for the wrong reasons. Boy, could I talk about that a long time. Of course, I could talk about almost anything a long time. But in particular, this. You know, Christians are getting vilified today in the media. They are getting persecuted for the wrong reasons; not because we’re preaching the gospel. I remember one time when Georgi Vins was in this pulpit. This was in the days when Russia was still closed to Christianity, and Georgi Vins was one of the leaders in the underground church in Russia, and he was out. And he came here to our church, and he came here and he spoke, and his daughter was his interpreter. And I asked him the question. And I said, Georgi, I said, are you persecuted in Russia? Are you persecuted by the Communist regime? And he was saying how they were persecuted and imprisoned, killed, and telling the whole story. And I said, you know, do you ever — do you ever protest this kind of treatment? Do you do anything to bring this to the attention of the people? Do you use any means that typically in America we use to raise the consciousness of people of these injustices, et cetera? And I’ll never forget what he said to me. He said, you know, he said, we have determined as a church that if we are ever to suffer, it will be always and only because we have proclaimed the gospel of Jesus Christ. And that’s right. 1st Peter 4:14 says: “If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed.” People who call themselves Christians today are getting vilified by the world for their political positions, and for their animosity and hostility toward the people who are the people we’re supposed to reach.
Well, two more.
15. This cultural morality reverses the divine order. It reverses the divine order. That is, it makes morality the power for salvation. The idea is if we can get a more moral America, then more people are going to believe the gospel. If we can clean up the country, that will give greater opportunity for the gospel. That’s really a reverse of the divine order. Morality is not the power for salvation. Salvation is the power for morality, right? So if we want to change the nation, what do we need to be working on? The gospel.
And lastly, and I’m not going to develop this at all because I’ve done it in the past.
16. This effort at cultural morality fails to understand the wrath of God. It fails to understand the wrath of God. In Romans 1 it tells us that when God is angry with a nation that has turned against Him: “When they knew God, they glorified Him not as God.” Remember that? When God is angry at a nation that has had the truth and spurned the truth, it says three times: “He gave them up. He gave them up. He gave them up.” That’s a form of God’s judgment. He gave them up to sexual immorality first. He gave them up to homosexuality second. Romans 1: “Then He gave them up to a” twisted, “reprobate,” useless “mind.” We look at our nation. We see sexual immorality rampant. We see homosexuality rampant. And we see the reprobate mind everywhere. This is evidence of the wrath of God. Can I, by my political effort, overturn the wrath of God? I don’t know what God is doing in the world. But I know what my mandate is. My mandate has to do with the gospel and the gospel alone.
Well, in summary, moralism confuses and misses the priority for Christians in the world. It misrepresents the divine message that man, moral or immoral, is damned, and must be saved and can be saved only by believing the gospel. And remember this: It was the highly moral, highly religious Jews, fastidious about righteous standards, who joined with the immoral, idolatrous Romans flaunting their sins. And together, they killed Christ. It is very moral people who are trying to kill us; flying planes into our buildings. Don’t overestimate morality. By the way, the moral and the immoral combined to kill Jesus. And in His dying, He provided the salvation that they both desperately needed.
So to what are we called? Well, Paul said this, Romans 1: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” “I am not ashamed of the gospel.” That’s the “power of God” unto “salvation.”
In conclusion, I say it is admirable to advocate virtue. It is admirable to advocate moral behavior and ethical conduct. It is even admirable to advocate free market economics. I think that’s biblical. It is even advocate to — even good to advocate limited government; strong sentences on criminals. And when all of those things are in place in a nation, life is more comfortable and superficially more enjoyable and easy. But that has nothing to do with salvation. Nothing to do with soul transformation. And, therefore, nothing to do with divine blessing.
One closing passage, Philippians 3, I will leave this indelibly in your mind, Philippians 3. Paul in Verse 4 says: “If anybody has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more.” Do you want to meet a moral man? Do you want to meet a moral man? Here’s a moral man. “I was circumcised the eighth day,” because that’s what the law prescribed. I was “of the nation of Israel,” the chosen people. I was “of the tribe of Benjamin,” a notable and very honored tribe. “A Hebrew of Hebrews.” What does he mean by that? Kosher, towing the mark, following every tradition. And as far as the law, I was “a Pharisee.” Wow! Fastidious. “As to zeal, I was a persecutor of the church.” And then this: “As to the righteousness which is in the law, I was found” — what? “Blameless.” Here’s an ideal citizen. Now, all sounds good. But in Verse 7 he says: “Whatever things were gain to me, I now have counted them as” — what? “… As loss.” Do you know why? Those were damning him. His morality gave him the illusion that things were right with God. And so in Verse 8, he says: “I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish.” The word is “manure.” That’s what morality was, manure, compared “…to Christ.”
And so our calling is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth. And the transforming power of the gospel will make new creatures. And for those new creatures, as we have already experienced: “All things become new.” That’s the way God has designed it to work.
Thanks, Lord, again for the word which speaks to the issues that face all of us. We pray for many dear people, many dear friends, who are feverishly engaged in these kinds of efforts. So much time and energy can be diverted from the most needful things. O God, how we pray that you would raise up a great force of people who would preach relentlessly the gospel of salvation. Then and only then can a people, a nation, be changed. And we pray, O God, that you would keep our focus clear and help us to be those ambassadors with the ministry of reconciliation who proclaim the word of reconciliation, in order that hearing, people will believe; believing, they will become new creatures, in whom all things are new. In Christ’s name, Amen.
Copyright 2002 John MacArthur, All Rights Reserved.