John Cole in an article published in the “Journal of Spiritual Formation and Soul Care” warns Christians about falling into “moral tempation.” He defines moral temptation as “the attempt to deal with our spiritual failure, guilt and shame by means of spiritual efforts, by attempting to perfect one’s self in the power of the self.” Cole maintains that this is a form of moralism that actually protects us from God. I find this insight very intriguing. He refers to Dallas Willard in noting that we are all born legalist. “What a waste of life,” says Willard, “to spend it trying to be good just to keep from seeing the truth of oneself.” We don’t start out being a moralist spiritually. It starts to occur when we don’t believe that God will accept us in a postion of honest vulnerability. We then begin to use spiritual practices to protect us from God
How do we do this? We can use religious practices to first, hide from feelings of failure and guilt by repression of the truth about ourselves. Second, we cover deep feelings of shame over sin by trying to be good. It will become apparent that we are practicing hiding from the truth about ourselves and trying to cover up our feelings of shame, if we feel that we must do better in our spiritual life. This is a sure sign of moralism – we are forgiven but still feel unacceptable. Thus we use religious practice to make ourselves acceptable. It can’t be do. Cole points out that, “using obedience as a means to avoid painful self-awareness in an awful burden to bear.” It is a waste of much spiritual energy.
The remedy for this kind of moral temption, is to pray from our hearts the prayer of the tax collector, who was in church praying with the pharisee, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner” (Luke 18:12). This was honest, sincere praying. A real man praying to the real God. Three realities are found in this heart-felt prayer. First of all, by addressing God in earnestness he was not hiding from God. He was saying, “God, I am being honest and open with you.” Second, the tax man, know he could not achieve an open relationship with God on his own. He was saying, “God only you can save me from myself.” Third, he was honest about who he was. “Lord,” he is saying, “I am sinful. I am not pretending to something else.”
Again, men, none of us start out to become a spiritual moralist. It happens when we are not willing to be honest and vulnerable before the Lord for fear of being exposed and rejection. But the fact is that our heavenly Father knows all of our attempts to hide and cover up. He waits for us to get tired enough of our “spiritual preforming” so that we can open our hearts to his deep love for us not like we should be but as we are. It does not means that we don’t have to change. But real change will not happen till know that we loved in all of our shame and vulnerability. Then we will feel free to stop performing and have the courage to bring our real selves into God’s presence for healing and restoration.