Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths. (Psalm 25:4)
What a wonderful path in that pastoral scene! It’s a delightful walk, and it would be obvious if we started to wonder off the path into the brambles.
Not so obvious was when my wife and I were hiking with another couple through the woods in Harriman Park in New York State and got seriously off course. We had no idea that we were taking the wrong path when we came to the fork. By the time we came to a clearing which overlooked the New York Thruway, we realized we were miles from where we were supposed to be. Eventually, though, we got back —- without a searching party having to be sent out.
Today we’ll talk about a trap for our Christian walk that is similar — where you think you are on the right path—you are not deliberately disobeying —- but you have made a wrong turn.
Today’s menace is called moralism. It’s the idea that the Bible is mainly a list of moral principles and rules that it depends on our own best efforts to follow. When these efforts appear to be going well, we start to think that this shows how wise and good we are being, instead of how amazingly sustaining and empowering the Lord is!
We subtly give ourselves the credit for how well we are doing—we are such experts at doing the right thing! And a feeling starts to sneak in that we are just a little special, being a little superior to those who are not doing quite as well as we are.
Moralism also has the opposite danger: when we realize we are not so good at following the principles and rules after all; and we know darn well that we are falling far short — then, instead of feeling superior, we start to feel like a piece of filth.
True wisdom, empowered by the Lord, enables us to keep clear of the twin pitfalls of moralism. This wisdom knows to focus on the Lord and who the Lord is before we try to follow his paths.
Our Lord: Awesome, majestic, holy, just, loving, powerful. Totally worthy of our worship! If we have an encounter with almighty God — and with his son Jesus— and with his Spirit which he has sent to live in us—then we know that we are empowered to live wisely before him.
What loving compassion our almighty Lord has, who knows how often we mess up by wandering off his path. He offers us repentance — we can turn away from being too arrogant or from being too beat up.
Any time I wander into in the brambles, I just need reminding of this truth:
I can’t even begin to live out the principles in the Bible, without first having a persistent prayerful personal encounter with the Lord that calls on his power.