Christianity is Not Moral

Jacques Ellul, the French author and philosopher, made the assertion: “Christianity is not moral, it is spiritual.” Given the dominant emphasis on morality by Christians, this is perhaps a surprising, if not shocking, statement. However, I believe that he is on to something.

It’s important to understand what is not being said. Ellul is not saying that Christianity is amoral or immoral. Certainly, there is a morality that is a part of the discussion. In fact, there is a morality that is designed to flow from the Christian life. However, Ellul was trying to make an important distinction. The essence of Christianity is not trying to follow a moral code or attain a standard of morality. The essence of Christianity is spiritual. It’s about the heart. It’s a relationship between our spirit and the spirit of God.

Jesus spoke to this reality on several occasions. For example, in Matthew 22, He answered a question about the greatest commandment by saying, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” In Matthew 7, He said, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” When He said, “this is the Law and Prophets” and “on these commandments depend all the Law and Prophets”, He was saying that a life walking with Him is relational. It is spiritual. All morality flows from a loving connection with God and others.

There is a part of us that might easily agree with such a distinction. However, in western culture, we are shaped by a way of thinking that drives an opposing stake into our hearts everyday. We live in an information age where data and “to do” lists run the day. The water in which we swim is a world where we instinctively want to codify everything into equations and formulas with predictable outcomes. The result is that we want information. We want to know what to do.

In a faith system where its not fundamentally about what we do, but the essence of our hearts, this is like trying to walk up the down escalator. It’s swimming against the current.

Oswald Chambers challenges “Have you been asking God what He is going to do? He will never tell you! God does not tell you what He is going to do; He reveals to you who He is.” Why? Because Christianity is not moral, it is spiritual.

So, how do we live in a way we are not shaped by the desire for information and formulas but by the Spirit of God? It’s not so easy but we have to step out of the water. We have to step away and find quiet and solitude where we can listen to the voice of God instead of the voice of our culture. Until we do, we will, perhaps with great intentions, try to force Christianity into the mold of this world rather than allowing a vital connection with God shape and transform us.

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~ by Ted Wueste on June 19, 2012.

4 Responses to “Christianity is Not Moral”

  1. I had a professor once suggest that Christians start discussing ethics instead of morals. His reasoning was that morals are often seen as have-tos, as gatekeepers that can earn us or lose us salvation. Ethics, in his opinion, are frameworks for operating in life. The Golden Rule, for example, would be an ethic, not a moral. It doesn’t address what should occur in a specific situation but instead provides an overarching life philosophy. I like his view.

    • I like that … very helpful distinction, especially as we understand that ethic as being connected to intimacy with the Trinity.

  2. While I appreciate and agree with the assertion that Christianity is primarily relational, I’m not a big fan of binary statements like this one. Christianity IS moral, our morality simply flows from our relationship with God. For us, morality is not foundational, but the statement above implies that there isn’t a moral aspect to our faith, which is misleading. Christianity is both, but primarily relational.

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