Who really has the moral high ground?
Do Christians have the moral high-ground over all other people? The simple answer to that question is: No. Nobody has the moral high-ground except God. The only thing which justifies a Christian is the righteousness of Christ Jesus.
What then? Are we better than they? Not at all. For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin. As it is written: “There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one.”
But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
Romans 3:9-12 & 3:21-26 (NKJV)
But while Christians start out as sinners, and often the worst of the worst, once they believe in Jesus and turn away from sin, they are cleansed by His blood and in-dwelt by the Holy Spirit (God dwelling with them), and sin loses its appeal. So they cease doing those things which they did before and harming either themselves or others with their actions.
It may happen from time to time that sin occurs, but the Christian spots it straight away, recognises it for what it is, and seeks forgiveness and guidance from God. They are determined to do better in the future and learn from their mistakes.
This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.
1st John 1:5-10 (NKJV)
The Christian walk should forever be a humbling experience because the benchmark is never other people… it is always God.
To claim moral superiority is not something we can achieve, even after many years, nor should it be the aim. Looking down on others from a lofty height is not a loving thing to do because it seeks to elevate the self towards a status which is reserved for God alone and use the failings of others as a mechanism to get there.
So how do you weed out this human inclination and identify whether you’re seeking God’s glory or your own?
I have three basic signs to watch out for:
When someone implies through their behaviour and words that they believe they have more authority than other people by virtue of how “nice” and morally superior they are, that’s pure pride in action. Christians are supposed to continually point towards God as the authority on morality and kindness, then behave as though they strive towards that goal daily.
For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence. But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption— that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.”
1st Corinthians 1:26-31 (NKJV)
By contrast, the morally superior “nice” person implies: “I’m a nicer person that you are [by virtue of XYZ which is irrelevant to the discussion], so your opinion about [inset topic here] is invalid and MY opinion is the only correct one so nobody can disagree with me.” They claim their own mightiness, their own wisdom, their own righteousness. They don’t need God to help them be better people because they’ve already got it locked down.
From that position they seek to tell you how to be more like them.
In the above example, the morally superior “nice” person obtains the moral authoritarian high ground by virtue of some overt signifier such as an ethical diet. Observing a particular diet is superficial obedience to God and does not really say anything about the state of their heart or mind when it comes to loving others. Performative piety will focus on the external because they don’t want to reflect on their inner state, which is possibly in need of a lot of work.
Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.
1st Timothy 4:1-5 (NKJV)
Abstaining from something which has nothing to do with salvation (such as meat) is a practice which wanders into the territory of justification through works rather than salvation through faith. Self-flagellation via vows of poverty or permanent celibacy or sobriety are not requirements for the followers of Christ. For some people, they cannot drink alcohol without it being a problem so they have to leave it alone, but mandating this rule for all Christians is not biblical.
For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ But wisdom is justified by her children.”
Matthew 11:18-19 (NKJV)
Maintaining a balanced approach to alcohol is a sign of maturity and a fruit of the Spirit is self-control. Being a good steward of the money and resources you have and using them for the glory of God is one of the fruits of wisdom and the beginning of wisdom is fear of the Lord. Thanking God for the food you can put on your table is a sign of gratitude for the provision of God in the little things.
As for celibacy, there is a big difference between denying any possibility of marriage, and remaining celibate until you are married. Sleeping around, or having an ambiguous or non-committal relationship is harmful to yourself and other people, which is what makes it a sin. There’s a huge difference between not sinning and attempting to do “works” to obtain justification.
Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.
1 John 2:3-6 (NKJV)
We are definitely not given permission to sin. Christians are supposed to know better and do better, but we’re also not supposed to be boasting about how great we are for not being a scumbag anymore. That’s not praiseworthy, that’s supposed to be the bare minimum.
But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
Ephesians 2:4-10 (NKJV)
So we walk in God’s good works, not our own good works, and the saving grace of Jesus Christ is what gives us the ability to do so. The Holy Spirit changes us and guides our behaviour so that we can continue to make better choices.
Controlling through Generosity
This last sign of religious hypocrisy serves two purposes: firstly it enables the doer of good deeds to be seen as someone who does good deeds, and secondly it enables them to control others by determining what they are given and how they can use it. The wellbeing of the other person is not what they have foremost in their minds, even though they might claim its all about that.
Take the example of a boyfriend buying a gym membership for his girlfriend so he can control her body, or a mother who insists on paying for her daughter’s wedding so she can control the décor and clothing. Both might be very generous, but also very self-serving.
“Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.”
Matthew 6:1-4 (NKJV)
Truly self-less deeds are not necessarily visible and the person who gives to others takes into account what the other person wants and needs rather than what they would like them to do with the gift, or the social currency obtained by being seen to do something altruistic.
Manifesting love and care towards others through respectful relationships is not “works” because it is the bare minimum for decent behaviour. Not lying to someone, or cheating on them, or stealing from them, or talking crap behind their back, or refraining from choking them out doesn’t earn you a sticker. It just means you haven’t sinned.
If someone thinks they should be praised or that you owe them someone just because they decided not to a piece of trash towards you, that’s a red flag.
Human beings, including Christians, don’t live on lofty mountain peaks of virtue, but we’re also not supposed to be wallowing in the sewer system of exploitative and shallow relationships. Humans should be living in the valleys, communing around the village green, next to a flowing source of living water which flows down from the mountains where God lives. Christians should be evidence that forgiveness and redemption are real, and also that it is possible to stop being a jerk.
Bible quotes: The Holy Bible, New King James Version, Copyright © 1982 Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved.