Moralizing Scripture…the Rush to Application and Misappropriating the Text

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When you teach the Bible there should be a desire to find the application to our everyday lives. The quickest path to finding application is to moralize scripture. Moralizing scripture is finding good moral lessons in the verses we are readying and using the scriptures to teach people who to behave better. That is not always the point but we can easily make it the point in our effort to find the application.

For example, in Luke 9:23-26 Jesus said,

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. 25 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? 26 Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.”

If you read that out of context and make application you will probably conclude that in order to follow Jesus you need to put others first. You need to stop trying so hard to get your way. We must be less selfish. That’s all good and living out these verses would definitely produce those kinds of actions and attitudes but in context there is so much more Jesus is teaching them and us than that.

In Luke 9:21-22 Jesus predicts his death. He does that again in Luke 9:44-45. In Luke 9:51 he “resolutely sets his face toward Jerusalem” knowing that he is going there to die (as he just predicted twice). Jesus knows what the disciples are going to experience and he knows the mission he is going to leave them with. If they are going to follow Jesus into Jerusalem and into what we see in the book of Acts (Luke’s second volume) they first have to die to self. They have to crucify their life so that Christ can live through them. If you don’t first crucify yourself and your sovereignty you won’t endure beatings and imprisonments like we see them enduring in Acts. God calls his followers to do things that can only be done if we first die to ourselves. Jesus calls to crosses, not crowns. If the church wants to truly make an impact on the world we do that by following Jesus and we follow Jesus by first dying to self. This is about so much more than being a nice person. This is readying God’s people for the mission he has called us to that will ultimately cost us everything.

So let us be careful when we moralize scripture and rush to application that we don’t, in the process, undermine the text and the power of God to do greater things than make us nicer people.

6 Responses

  1. Matt, this was a very good post. It makes a point which is often forgotten, that we need to read a Scripture in its context. We read what the text says BEFORE and AFTER our selected verse(s) , as you have done. Too often, we break out a concordance and look at similar verses in other books of the Bible, then we have a set of verses, taken out of their context, which seem similar. This is called stringing pearls, and creates teachings which are alien to the original texts of the Bible. Thanks for pointing this out.

    1. Thanks Gary! Context is so important. I have been spending more time teaching people to dig into the Bible as I teach scripture rather than solely teach what it means and what we do with it.

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