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The Danger of Moralism

January 19, 2020 Speaker: Dr. Rick Gregory Series:

Topic: Moralism Verse: Luke 11:24–11:28

 “The Danger of Moralism”

Luke 11:24-28

Theme: Moralism can only condemn, but grace saves through faith.

Introduction: In the previous section, Jesus has taught us that the evil that overcomes sinners is only able to be dealt with through His strength and power. Nevertheless, there are those who strive to seek to address their own sin – without the benefit of God’s work through Christ. This is the essence of all religion – the effort to establish one’s own worthiness before deity so that one gains the favor of their god. This was the very perspective of these people to whom Jesus is speaking – cp. Romans 10:3.

In our text today, Jesus warns that the effort to rid oneself of guilt before God by seeking to establish one’s own righteousness through moralism or legalism is a disaster – bringing the inevitable, unavoidable, and necessary condemnation of the sinner. Salvation does not come through the works of the Law – cp. Romans 3:20. Rather, salvation, or the forgiveness of sin, is exclusively given as a gift by God’s grace through the faith of the sinner – Ephesians 2:8. 


I. The Intention of Moralism – 11:24a, 25

A. The Attempt at Morality – v. 24a 

  • As Jesus is continuing to rebuke the religious legalists who had opposed Him by claiming that He was in league with Satan in the casting out of demons, He continues to demonstrate the hopelessness of their spiritual condition.
  • He does so through the use of a parable – a story almost identical to one that He had used several months earlier and recorded in Matthew 12:43-45.
  • The thrust of this story is the point out the hopelessness of those who attempt to gain morality independently of Him – that is, through self-reformation instead of regeneration.
  • In the previous verse, Jesus had stated: “He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me, scatters.”
  • He is now explaining what He means by that – that spiritual pursuits independent of the work of Christ – results in devastation and “scattering.”
  • “When the unclean spirit goes out of a man, it passes through waterless places seeking rest …” – capitalizing on the context of by whose power is a demon cast out.
  • Because of how the rest of the parable unfolds, we know that this is not the work of God, but is rather illustrates the efforts of a moralist who seeks to “clean up” his own life.
  • He reforms his own behavior to thwart the influences of wickedness by removing opportunities to indulge, establishing accountabilities to thwart sin, or simply resolving to fight against temptation.
  • From all external appearances, such a man has “overcome” and is morally “upright.”
  • However, self-reformation or legalistic conformity to some moral code is not the same as the transformation that is necessary to have a relationship with God.
  • Deciding to behave according to a moral code or in pursuit of moral improvement falls short of the obedience to the Gospel, which is not about reformation, but rather regeneration – actually becoming a new creature, not merely an improved one – cp. 2 Corinthians 5:17.
  • Such self-dependency results in nothing “altering” of the condition of the soul – reducing indulgences does not affect the liability for previous indulgences – Jeremiah 13:23.

B. The Absence of Morality – v. 25

  • This newfound “freedom” from oppression through self-reformation is the effort to establish their own righteousness and is merely a “form of godliness” – cp. 2 Timothy 3:5.
  • Thus, moralists or legalists never know the presence of true righteousness that transforms them internally – that is, they know nothing of the power of God’s righteousness sanctifying them – something without which, they will never be permitted to see God – cp. Hebrews 12:14.
  • The term here for “unclean spirit” [ἀκάθαρτος] – literally “without purity” – used often in the context of sexual sins – cp. Ephesians 5:5.
  • As we see in the story, the “unclean spirit” decides to go back to the sinner who was seeking to reform himself only to find that “when it comes, it finds it swept and put in order.”
  • This is a reference to the fact that there was nothing that had replaced the sin – no righteousness was present nor was the Holy Spirit occupying or indwelling the sinner.
  • His efforts of establishing his own righteousness merely lasted for a short stint and did not provide any lasting protection from sin’s power.
  • Should there have been actual regeneration, and the Spirit of God had cleaned up the sinner, there would no longer be any susceptibility to the power of sin, demons, or Satan himself – cp. Romans 8:9-11; 1 John 4:4.


  1. How have your efforts to self-reform assisted you in the development of godliness?
  2. In what way is the absence of sin different from the presence of righteousness? 
  3. In your perspective, how do moralists overcome cycle of regret and failure?

II. The Interference with Moralism – 11:24b-26

A. The Elasticity of Sin – v. 24b

  • Jesus indicates that after an indeterminate period of time, as the “unclean spirit” wandered through “waterless places” – a reference to desolate desert where no one lived, it decides to “return to my house from which I came.”
  • The absence of the demon did not translate into the presence of anything righteous.
  • This is the fatal flaw of moralistic, legalistic efforts at self-reformation – there can be superficial reformation, without authentic transformation into genuine righteousness.
  • In the moralist, sin will always resurge; returning with a vengeance and an intensity that is unthwartable.
  • Such return of sin is comparable to the paddle ball toy where the ball is connected to the paddle by an elastic band; you can hit it as hard as you want, but it will only be gone so long before roaring back with a velocity equal to or greater than the force that started the flight.

B. The Escalation of Sin – v. 26

  • According to Jesus’ diagnosis, the latter state or condition of the sinner is worse than the first – “Then it goes and takes along seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they go in and live there.”
  • The idea that they “live there” [κατοικέω] – to settle down for a prolonged stay, to inhabit as a permanent dwelling.
  • It speaks to the escalation of the struggle with sin …
  1. The sin multiplies – “seven other spirits” -
  2. The sin intensifies - “more evil than itself” - 
  3. The sin will monopolize – “they go in and live there” -
  • The result of all of this is that a moralist will find himself in greater bondage than ever “… and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first.”
  • In such cases, when a person has relied upon himself for righteousness, there is always failure and disillusionment whereby they conclude that “it doesn’t work” – cp. Hebrews 6:4-6; Matthew 23:15.


  1. Provide an example from this past week where sin that you have resolved you would abandon becomes once again active?
  2. How does such recurrence of sin affect your spiritual vitality?
  3. Why do you think that a moralist never sees a reduction in sin but only an increase? 

III. The Indication of Morality – 11:27-28

A. The Assumptions of Righteousness – v. 27

  • As Jesus is speaking the natural assessment of righteousness – human accomplishment was highlighted yet again – “While Jesus was saying these things, one of the women in the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, ‘Blessed is the womb that bore You and the breasts at which You nursed.’”
  • The assumption represented by this is that since Jesus was so righteous and accomplished, His mother must be righteous and accomplished.
  • It represents a “works based,” accomplishment driven assessment of righteousness, flavored by human achievement.
  • In this day, the value of a woman was often determined by the accomplishment of the son – cp. 1 Timothy 2:15.

B. The Acquisition of Righteousness – v. 28

  • Jesus politely responds to the assertion by this woman and confronts her perspective.
  • He says: “On the contrary, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.”
  • They who are “blessed” [μακάριοι] (happy, privileged, or recipients of God’s favor) are the ones who do what God commands them to do – cp. Matthew 3:2; 4:17; Luke 3:3; 5:32.
  • Hence, to “hear the word of God and observe it” begins with the responsibility to repent of sin and look to God for forgiveness – cp. Acts 2:37-38; 16:30-31.


  1. Do you find yourself assuming that moral behavior equals godliness?
  2. What do you think it takes to have actual righteousness?
  3. Name something for which you repented this past week.

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