What’s the Worst that Could Happen?

Perhaps you read last week’s blog “Don’t Get Confused” and thought, “Come on Andrew, you’re worrying about something so miniscule that it doesn’t even need to be addressed. Relax!”

The Bible teaches that we are saved by grace[1] for good works (obedience to Jesus).[2] Last week I posted a blog that warned against confusing the by and the for of salvation. But what is really the worst thing that could happen if you confuse the by and the for of salvation?

One horrible thing that can happen if you confuse the by and the for is what we like to call “moralism.” By switching the by and the for you will fall into the trap of believing that you are saved by good works, for grace.

The Moralism Trap: Saved by good works, for grace.

If you fall into moralism you will believe that you are saved by virtue of the things good things you do. Your morals, your character, your ability to “be a good person” will be the foundation that your salvation rests upon. The issue with this is that you will quickly become either disillusioned and robbed of your hope, or you will become compartmentalized with a growing chasm between who you really are in your sin and the false image that you have created for all the world to see. You would be right to be disillusioned if you are ascribing to moralism, because your ability to save yourself is a complete illusion. There is no hope there. Compartmentalization is your only viable option. The problem with that option is that you become all the more aware (internally) of your lack of salvation, and the lie you are living. Over time it almost feels like you are becoming less human, because who you appear to be, the moralistic mask you wear, is in such conflict with the real you.

Where does grace come in to this equation?

Remember, in this false scenario you believe you are saved by good works and for grace. So in those moments of disillusionment, hopelessness, compartmentalization, depression, and imitation you run to grace. This doesn’t sound like a bad option on the surface, but the problem here is that your understanding of grace is surface-level. It’s what Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace” in The Cost of Discipleship:

Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system. It means forgiveness of sins proclaimed as a general truth…In such a Church the world finds a cheap covering for its sins; no contrition is required, still less any real desire to be delivered from sin. Cheap grace therefore amounts to a denial of the living Word of God, in fact, a denial of the Incarnation of the Word of God.

Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner.  Grace alone does everything, they say, and so everything can remain as it was before…Well, then, let the Christian live like the rest of the world, let him model himself on the world’s standards in every sphere of life, and not presumptuously aspire to live a different life under grace from his old life under sin…

That is what we mean by cheap grace, the grace which amounts to the justification of sin without the justification of the repentant sinner who departs from sin and from whom sin departs.  Cheap grace is not the kind of forgiveness of sin which frees us from the toils of sin.  Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves.

Moralism is a sick trap that we fall into when we confuse the by and the for of our salvation. Moralism isn’t just an unpleasant way to live. It’s also a false gospel. It convinces us that we are saved by virtue of the good things we do, when in reality we are still lost in our sin.

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
Titus 3:4-7


[1] Ephesians 2:8-9

[2] Ephesians 2:10, 1 Peter 1:2

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About Pastor Andrew

Follower of Jesus, Husband to Carissa, Daddy to four daughters, Lead Pastor at LifePoint Church in Vancouver, WA.
This entry was posted in 1 Peter, 2theSource, Discipleship, Gospel and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to What’s the Worst that Could Happen?

  1. Jeannette says:

    Oh, I almost missed this fine post! Glad I scrolled back and found it. I did so because you mentioned 3 previous posts on the topic, and I had only read two. I hope these foundational clarifications are really sparking good conversation in your fellowship.

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