Now I agree that Jesus' teachings as described in the Gospels do challenge us with a superior code -- the Sermon on the Mount, the Greatest and the Second Greatest Commandments (Love God, Love your neighbor). But somehow I feel uncomfortable with using these as evangelistic tools -- especially the way they are often presented, as though simply having this code is enough.
How can we argue the superiority of Christianity as a moral system, when those who profess to follow Christ don't seem to be practicing this system?
· Child molesting priests and those who cover up for them.
· Adulterous preachers; greedy preachers.
· Sports stars and politicians who parade around with their thick black Bibles when they are caught in some crime or sexual sin.
Then of course, there are all those surveys and studies which demonstrate that the behavior of Christians in various areas doesn't differ that much from the behavior of other groups studied.
For most of my life as a follower of Christ, I've heard this stuff and sometimes had my face rubbed in it by my unbelieving friends. It's humiliating!
Apparently this sort of disjunction is nothing new. The Old Testament prophets had to deal with it; Jesus had to deal with it; the New Testament writers had to deal with it.
The Apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans gives what seems to be the most scathing attack on those in his day who felt that possessing a moral code made them somehow superior to those who did not possess it.
Please note that Paul is not giving an "anti-Semitic" tirade. Paul himself was a Jew (as was Jesus). He is speaking to the Jew as the one who possesses God's Book (the Law). Perhaps we could grasp his argument better if we'd substitute our own particular denominational label.
"But if you are called a Jew (Christian, Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, ________?) and boast in God ... being confident of yourself that you are a guide to the blind, a light to those in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of infants, having a form of knowledge and of the truth in the Law. You then who teach the other, don't you teach yourself? You who preach not to steal, do you steal? You who say don't commit adultery, do you commit adultery? ... For God's name is slandered among the Gentiles (i.e., unbelievers) because of you ..." (Romans 2:17-24)
A bit before this Paul makes a radical claim.
"For not the hearers of the Law are right before God, but the doers of the Law will be counted right. For whenever the Gentiles who don't have the Law do by nature the things of the Law, these who don't have the Law are a Law to themselves, such ones as show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their consciences testifying together and their reasonings between each other either accusing or defending" (Romans 1:13-15).
Paul appears to be saying some things that contradict the preachers of a superior moral code -- that there are some who don't have a biblical code whose morality is superior to some of those who do!
But Paul's argument in these first chapters of Romans is not about who has the superior moral code or who has the superior moral behavior. His point is that there is no one who measures up whether to a God-given moral code, or even their own conscience, that " ... all sinned and are coming short of God's glory" (3:23) and that we can be "...justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus" (24).
Christianity is not primarily a moral code. It is a religion of rescue for those who can't live up to a moral code. Yes, it has a moral code, but this code is not given in order to impose it on others. It is presented as the way of life for those who find forgiveness for their failures. And there are many who do attempt to live by that code -- and they find forgiveness when they fail.