My friend Marci Preheim is here this week, hanging out with me. So instead of a devotional, I thought it would be appropriate to share an excerpt from her book, Little Saviors: How Moralism Kills Intimacy and the Gospel of Grace.
From Chapter 8: Moralism and the False Religion of “Cleaning Yourself Up”
See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence. — Colossians 2:8, 23
My aunt and uncle are avid historians. They love to investigate their ancestry, visit graveyards, and review church records. On one such adventure, they found some old church meeting minutes from the late 1800’s.
As they poured over the details of the document, they found some items on the agenda that caught their eye. The church was to decide if hooks and eyes were appropriate for women to wear to church. It had already been decided that buttons were too flashy and were therefore banished. Women who wore buttons would be guilty of drawing undue attention to themselves.
Now the only question was how to fasten clothing in a biblical way. In this case, Peter’s imperative against flaunting wealth and external beauty had been reduced down to a man-made list of do’s and don’ts [1 Peter 3:3]. Peter’s point in this passage is clear. Pride and self-centeredness cannot be managed with nitpicky lists. Real beauty comes from a heart of faith. And yet this passage, perhaps above all others, is used as a launching pad for all kinds of man-made rules about clothing.
We may laugh at the silliness of talking about buttons and hooks. But modern Christianity also reduce New Testament imperatives down to silly rules. Man-made rules usually originate with good intentions. They are meant to “help” people obey God. Instead, they become little saviors for those who fearfully check items off the list to please people. The hope is that if they keep the rules well enough, they will earn for themselves respect from others. This is not a new problem. Isaiah 29:13 says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.”
God’s law requires perfection. The more you understand God’s law as the unattainable, perfect standard that it is, the more you will rest in the good news that Jesus obeyed it perfectly in your place. But if you believe you have to obey laws to gain His favor in daily life? Well, that will just make you tired and discouraged. The Law is, after all, the ministry of death [2 Corinthians 3].
I have heard so many clean-up-your-act sermons in my life that those words — clean up your act — automatically pound like a drumbeat in my heart when I fail. When I am able to pull myself up by my bootstraps, or clean up my act, an act is all I have accomplished — an act that I cannot maintain for very long.
So many times I have longed for the fresh start I believed the gospel would deliver. The problem with a fresh start mentality is that I could have a million fresh starts and I would still screw up. Thank God, the gospel is not about fresh starts so I can do better the next time. It is about a sacrificial lamb who gave Himself for me because I can’t do better — no matter how many fresh starts I am given.
You can find the rest of her book on Amazon here: Little Saviors
Follow her on Twitter: @marcipreheim
Check out her website: MarciPreheim.com