A common evangelical slogan, which I think comes from a Ravi Zacharias sermon is:
Jesus didn’t come to make bad people good, he came to make dead people live.
While I think I agree with the main point of this phrase (Christianity is not mere moralism), methinks that it often ends up being a slogan that actually contradicts the mass of New Testament teaching and ignores common sense definitions of being morally good.
For instance, Dallas Willard defines a good person as:
The morally good person…is a person who is intent upon advancing the various goods of human life with which they are effectively in contact, in a manner that respects their relative degrees of importance and the extent to which the actions of the person in question can actually promote the existence and maintenance of those goods.
A good person then:
- Is intent upon advancing the good of human life such as health, sustainable pleasure, beauty, knowledge both physical and philosophical, romance, family cohesion, showing honor and gratitude to whom it is due, and so on.
- Aligns their intentions to advance those goods with respect to which of those goods are most important and most appropriate in various circumstances.
- And focuses their efforts upon the goods that he or she can actually accomplish (a math genius who is awful at being with people should avoid hospital visits).
Now, look at these New Testament passages about why Jesus came:
Titus 2:11-14 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, (12) training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, (13) waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, (14) who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
Romans 8:3-4 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, (4) in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
1 John 4:9-11 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. (10) In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (11) Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
This is just a smattering of the New Testament witness to Jesus having come to transform our character, but I think the point is well made. I typically do not buy into proof-texting, in the sense that quoting Bible verses with no context does not necessarily prove this or that dogma. But I think that if we wish to utilize slogans that are meant to summarize the Christian approach to life, like the one above, they should have ample support in Scripture.
In the case of this particular slogan, there is a false dichotomy proposed and it confuses people. It would make more sense to say, “Jesus came in order to make bad people good because he came to raise them from death to life with God.” But then the quote doesn’t sound as hip. Also, why not just use this slogan, “Christianity is not mere moralism”?