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September 10, 2019

Is Moderation the Best Policy for the Christian Life?

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Have you ever heard the phrase “moderation in all things?” I use it all the time without really thinking about it. And so I recently became interested in knowing where it originated.  

quick online search showed the phrase probably originates from the Greek poet Hesiod (750-650 BC) who wrote, “observe due measure; moderation is best in all things.” Later, the Roman dramatist Plautus (205-184 BC) also wrote “moderation in all things is the best policy.”

I worry that many Christians, myself included, have subconsciously taken this to heart and live in agreement with the statement “moderation is best in all things.” We become something different—Christian Hesiodists—letting the idea of staying in the middle become as formational to our identity as our devotion to Christ Himself.

“Moderation in all things” is at best an incomplete picture of the Christian life and at worst a contradiction of how God has called us to live. Let me start by discussing the example Jesus Christ provides for us, and then I’ll finish with a few applications.

Jesus, Our Savior

Did Jesus’s life and teachings demonstrate a devotion to moderation in all things? The answer to that question must be a resounding no. Moderation is the avoiding of either end of the spectrum—both excess and total avoidance of a particular thing.

But He certainly taught some truths that would challenge moderation, right? Jesus showed that moderation was definitely not the best policy when it came to these things:

1.) Sin

He was unwavering in His teaching of avoiding sin. He didn’t say, “Don’t worry about a few bad words to your brother. You’re probably good as long as it doesn’t become a habit.” No, Jesus said:

Whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, “You fool!” will be liable to the hell of fire. (Matthew 5:22)

Jesus did not say, “You’re probably fine if you sin a few times. Just don’t make it a habit!” No, He said:

If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better to lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. (Matthew 5:29)

Jesus did not lessen the cost of sin—and thank the Lord for this! Why do I thank Him for this? Because Jesus was also did not follow “moderation in all things” when it came to His devotion for the Father.

2.) Devotion to the Father

Certainly one of the allures of “moderation in all things” is the implicit promise that you’ll avoid harm. You don’t eat too much so you won’t upset your stomach. You don’t exercise too much so you don’t injure yourself. There is good sense in some moderation.

But Jesus left moderation far behind him in His devotion to the Father’s will. Jesus knew he was about to die. He knew He was about to be falsely condemned, betrayed, flogged, mocked, and crucified. And He knew He was going to be temporarily separated from the Father. Knowing these things, Jesus prayed:

My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.(Matthew 26:42)

Two questions arise from this line: What and How.

1.) What is the Father’s will?

The answer was foretold in many places both in Jesus’s teachings and also all throughout the Old Testament. One such place is from the prophet Isaiah:

My servant [shall] make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. (Isaiah 53:11)

The will of God the Father was that Jesus, God the Son, would take on the sins of His people and make them “to be accounted righteous.” Jesus did not come to counter a wrathful God. No! God Himself came to earth to fulfill the plan He always had.   

2.) How was the Father’s will to come about?

Jesus says “if this cannot pass,” and he mentions something he has to drink in order to fulfill the Father’s will. What is it? Jesus Himself knew exactly and talked about it several times:

“See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.” (Matthew 20:18-19)

So Jesus devoted Himself to the Father—even to the point of His own death. That’s not “moderation in all things!” Jesus went willingly to the cross because the simple truth is this: Moderation does not save anyone. Only the sacrifice of Jesus’s perfect life could atone for sins.

3.) Grace

Some people have the idea that Jesus is frugal with His grace. His sacrifice on the cross paid for some of my sins but not all of them, you might think. Or maybe that God forgives sins completely only after a great deal of work from the sinner.

Sin is evil, and those who recognize themselves as sinners will feel the weight of it. It can be difficult then to believe your guilt is atoned for in a moment’s time. If this is your position, remember Jesus’s teaching on sin.

Jesus taught the dangers and cost of sin perfectly. His statements on sin seem stark and hyperbolic to many. He did not downplay the evil of sin in the slightest. And yet, He says:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:16-17)

Jesus promises salvation for those who believe in Him. Do you see the implication here? While sin is a terrible thing, terrible enough that one sinful thought makes us liable for hell, our God’s mercy and grace is greater.

To say that God gives grace to sinners completely does not in any way detract from the terribleness of sin, but instead highlights the unparalleled, awesome power of our Lord’s sacrifice on the cross.

Reader, Jesus’s grace is sufficient for you (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Sufficient and Abundant

The idea of sufficiency may sound like His grace is just enough, but no more. This isn’t the case either! Jesus tells us how much He gives to those who believe in Him:

“I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10, italics added)

In Christ, there is sufficiency. In Christ, there is abundance. And, as Paul states it:

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us…” (Ephesians 1:7)

There is nothing Christ holds back from you in terms of salvation if you believe. They are riches that have been lavished on us bringing abundant life. That is the beautiful excess of the Christian life!

Three Better Policies

Looking at what Jesus has done, here are three better policies than “moderation in all things” for those who are in Christ:

1.) Kill Sin

Don’t mess around with sin. Avoid it when you see it coming. But more than this, Christ defeated sin on the cross and so we can defeat it in our lives too. Don’t be moderate about sin—kill sin in your life!

2.) Imitate Jesus’s Devotion

Jesus calls us to take up our cross and follow Him. Thanks to our Lord’s sacrifice, we don’t need to atone for own sins. But we offer the life we live to bring honor and glory to our God. Sometimes that means sharing in Christ’s suffering, which means we will share in his comforts as well (2 Corinthians 1:5).

3.) Live Abundantly

When talking about the fruits of the Spirit, Paul says, “against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:23). So, if God has not set up a restriction on how much you should show love, or exercise patience, or be gentle, then why should you put a cap on it?

Live an abundant Spirit-filled life in light of Jesus fulfilling the will of the Father!

Photo Credit: Unsplash

Davis Wetherell

Davis Wetherell (MA in English, Marquette University) is a writer and editor. He recently managed article content for Open the Bible. He has taught college classes on literature, rhetoric, and composition. Davis has a heart for writers and loves to serve them. Check out his blog.
Davis Wetherell (MA in English, Marquette University) is a writer and editor. He recently managed article content for Open the Bible. He has taught college classes on literature, rhetoric, and composition. Davis has a heart for writers and loves to serve them. Check out his blog.