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"The Church has been trying to preach morality and ethics without the Gospel as a basis; it has been preaching morality without godliness; and it simply does not work" (Martin Lloyd Jones, Preaching and Preachers, 2011).
Recently, I heard several adolescents share their story of conversion to faith in Christ, what many people call "personal testimonies."

The recurring synopsis I heard was this: "I grew up in a Christian home, so I don't have any radical story of coming out of rebellion or anything like that.  I grew up going to church and I accepted Jesus into my heart when I was a kid.  Still, I don't have this Christianity thing figured out.  I just don't see how God could love me.  I keep sinning and I keep struggling with doubt."  Then in closing, essentially, "But, hopefully Jesus will let me into heaven; even though I'm not perfect, I'm trying hard to do what pleases Him."

My initial reactions to hearing student after student talk about their conversion in this manner left me feeling sorry for them and angry at... - well, something.

The truth of the matter is that I gave a similar story of my conversion when I was their age, which was over twelve years ago.  Thankfully, God instructed me according to my conversion since then, teaching me that my testimony is not a story of "my faith journey," but one of His story and my growth in understanding the faith.  I hope and pray that we will begin to hear Biblically-informed, Christ-exalting, joyful testimonies of the grace of God in the years to come!

In order for this to happen, though, something has to go: moralism.

Moralism is the term given to the idea that man can earn God's favor by doing enough good things.  I don't know any current, Christian pastors or theologians who teach this explicitly; it is easy to see the error in such explicit instruction.  However, moralism has been and (apparently) still is taught today by way of implication.  It is implied through the teaching of the Bible that we must be good in order for God to love us and for Christ to want us.

This is how moralism shows itself in the typical Christian church: "Today, kids, we're going to learn about Daniel and the lions' den."  By the time the lesson is over, this is what the teacher has enforced to his children: "So, kids, we need to be like Daniel.  We need to pray even if it's against the law; we need to be faithful to God because He is always faithful to us.  Also, we need to trust God in all of life's circumstances."

Do you see what was implicitly done in this lesson?

The child leaves with a list of rules to follow: pray always; be faithful to God; trust God always.  Now, what happens when the child fails at this?  Undoubtedly, he will fail at keeping even this small list of rules.  The child will feel like a failure, undeserving of God's meritorious favor and even His grace.  The child has no hope.  This, of course, is not the Good News of God.

In short, the child leaves the lesson with this unrealistic, impossible, and incorrect understanding: "Be like Daniel."  This, of course, misses the entire scope of the entire Bible: the Bible is a book primarily about God, not people.

Now, how could this same Bible story be taught more honestly and accurately?  Perhaps in a manner like this: "Here is what we can learn about God through this story, kids.  First of all, God is in control always.  Second of all, even though we cannot earn God's favor - just like Daniel - we have hope in the One who did meet all of God's expectations and lived a life of perfect favor in God's sight.  The One who did this and gives us hope is Christ Jesus."

In essence, the child leaves the lesson this time with an entirely different focus, which is not on themselves and their strivings, but on the finished work of Christ.  The child, in short, is left with this realistic, supernatural, and correct understanding: "Trust in Christ."  This is, of course, the only hope man has - even a man like Daniel.

All in all, I pray and hope that we - parents, teachers, pastors - would teach our youth - in our families, youth groups, Sunday school classes - what it means to be converted; namely, what happens at repentance and belief in the Gospel.  Chiefly, it is the Lord Jesus who receives the glory for the salvation of any dead sinner since it is His work alone that justifies the sinner!  Let us understand that our testimony is not anything more or less than the proclaiming of God's work through Christ in a sinner's life.  To God be the glory!  Let our stories ring loud with the honor and worth and praise of Christ's work in our lives!

(For more on this topic, click this link to be directed to an article by Dr. Albert Mohler, entitled "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.")

"But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.  For He Himself is our peace, who has made [both Jew and Gentile] one and has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that He might create in Himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.  And He came and preached peace to you who were far off [that is, Gentiles, those who did not have the law] and peace to those who were near [that is, Jews, those who had the law].  For through Him [and not law-keeping] we both have access in one Spirit to the Father" (Ephesians 2:13-18).