Christianity Is Not About Moral Goodness

Our effort at goodness is a weak facade for faith

Trip Kimball
Jul 2 · 5 min read

We Christians — genuine followers of Christ — need to stop moralizing the Christian faith. We need to quit portraying Christianity as a life of moral goodness.

Our effort at goodness is a weak facade for faith. It presents a false face like a veneer—an appearance of goodness as if it was faith. But this misrepresents genuine Christianity.

If you ask most people to describe Christianity, believer and non-believer alike, you’ll get a reply related to some form of moral goodness…

I try to be a good person, who does good things and is kind to others.

But is this what Christianity is all about?

A caricature of Christianity

When we try to establish our own moral goodness, we are doomed to failure. We may look good on the outside to others but inside we remain corrupted by our selfish nature since we are by nature selfish.

This is the essence of self-righteousness—presenting our own goodness as righteousness. The Pharisees—the Jewish elite of Jesus’ time—condemned themselves with their self-righteousness.

Jesus saw through their veneer of religious goodness and saw into their heart. But they couldn’t see past themselves, their form of religion, and their own caricature of moral goodness.

Here is how Jesus described the Pharisees and their self-righteousness—

Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness. (Matt 23:28 NLT)

The whole 23rd chapter of Matthew is an indictment of religious self-righteousness and that’s what happens when we replace genuine faith with the facade of moral goodness. I’ve addressed this before—

I fear we, the church, are moving faster and faster in the direction of becoming modern-day Pharisees — self-righteous, hypocritical, and lacking in mercy, grace, and humility.

The problem of pursuing moral goodness

No matter how hard we try to be good — whatever the description or form it may take— we can’t change our selfish nature from the outside in. It just won’t work.

This is what the apostle Paul spoke of in his epistle to the Galatian believers.

For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. Gal 3:21b NIV

So, what is Christianity?

Over the centuries, Christianity morphed into a religious pursuit of living according to a biblical moral code of goodness.

You might ask—So, what’s wrong with that? The short answer — a lot!

Should we discard any desire for moral goodness? Not at all!

But when we see Christianity as living by a moral code of goodness—rather than a trust relationship with God based on faith—we have it backward.

When we try to live by a code of moral goodness alone, we trap ourselves in a squirrel cage of behavior modification — Don’t do this… do this—an endless cycle of attempting to be good enough to please God.

So, how are we to live?

We are to live by faith—

So it is clear that no one can be made right with God by trying to keep the law. For the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.” (Gal 3:11 NIV [Habakkuk 2:4]

Is that too simplistic?

Yes and no.

Let’s face it, we like a good set of parameters to tell us when we’re doing ok and when we’re not-so-ok. It’s easier that way… sort of. Most everyone feels better about themselves when doing something good.

When we have a certain code to live by things are defined, right and wrong are delineated and there’s no guess-work, or so it seems.

When young children know what’s expected of them—what’s ok and what’s not, what is right or wrong—they are more content and confident. Good behavior needs lines of definition.

But a life of faith—like the patriarch Abraham for example—is not so defined.

Faith—real faith — an implicit trust in God, is messy but necessary to please God. He doesn’t want a religious substitute for a relationship with Him.

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. (Hebrews 11:6 NIV)

A life of faith is not well-defined…it’s messy

The Christian faith as a way of life

At its core, true Christianity is not a life that follows a prescribed moral code. It’s a personal commitment to follow Jesus Christ (Mark 8:34 NIV).

From the Lord’s point of view, it’s always been about a personal relationship.

Of course, Christianity is also not to be a life void of a moral compass. But the issue isn’t about moral goodness. The Christian life is based on a relationship with the Lord.

This becomes easier to see when we look at the people God esteems and focus on what God says in the Scriptures.

Some examples

Here are some examples of people whose faith was based on a relationship with God rather than moral goodness.

Abraham was considered a friend of God (James 2:23; Genesis 15:6) and declared righteous because he believed — he trusted in God.

But he presented his wife Sarah as his sister, not just once but twice, to save his own skin (Gen 12:11–13; 20:1–13). As you can see, Abraham’s ethics were conditional, yet he was the man God trusted with His covenant.

The Lord called King David a man after his own heart (1 Sam 13:14) and chose him to be king of Israel.

As an adulterer and a murderer, David was not an example of moral goodness. His infamous affair with Bathsheba cost her husband Uriah his life (2 Sam 11:1–15). Just one of several examples of moral failure from David’s life.

Abraham was a friend of God and David was a man after God’s own heart but they both had moral failures.

Even the apostle Paul, who wrote most of the epistles in the New Testament, denounced his own goodness (Phil 3:3–7 NLT) —

For I am the least of all the apostles. In fact, I’m not even worthy to be called an apostle after the way I persecuted God’s church. (1 Cor 15:9 NLT)

How can we gain an understanding of true Christianity?

This is a topic I’d like to address in another article, so stay tuned.

Here’s a similar article you might find interesting—

Thanks for reading!


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Trip Kimball

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Blessed with a great wife & family, called & gifted—only because of God's grace— to teach & train leaders, disciple, & write—


Discover the best up and coming writers. You'll say you knew them when.