Before Walter White ever lost his moral compass in Breaking Bad, there was 7th Heaven, a family-friendly drama that aired on the WB from 1996-2007, about 10 years too long some would say. Eric Camden is the friendly minister of Glenoaks Community Church, a protestant congregation whose denominational ties remain frustratingly vague and unclear.
And the show was about his family, Annie, his wife, and their 7 children, Matt, Mary (played by Jessica Biel), Lucy, Simon, Ruthie & then those blessed little accident twins, Sam and David. Apparently Lucy got the shaft on being biblically named. Maybe it was because she looked 60 from birth.
And each show was like a moral lesson, usually ending with some vague inspirational thoughts from Pastor Camden’s sermon that week encouraging us to be good, or kind, or self-controlled, etc. Like when Ruthie got addicted to gum. Remember that episode? She needed to show more self-control with her Juicy Fruit. There's a whole lot about being good, but not so much as a whisper about Jesus.
This is why Satan loves 7th Heaven much more than Breaking Bad: it lies. Walker Percy once said that "Bad books lie, and they lie most of all about the human condition." So does bad TV. It deals with the world not as it really is, and with people not as they really are.
In the case of 7th Heaven, it tells people to be good instead of wrestling with their badness, their need for good news. This is what we call moralism. And the Apostle Paul said if you could be good enough to be worthy of God's love then Jesus totally died in vain. Christianity is always good news before it's good advice.
Donald Gray Barnhouse was once asked what he thought it would look like if Satan were to ever take complete control of a city. He pastored and loved the city of Philadelphia for many years. And his answer may surprise you:
“All of the bars would be closed, pornography banished, and pristine streets would be filled with tidy pedestrians who smiled at each other. There would be no swearing. The children would say, "Yes, sir" and "No, ma'am," and churches would be full every Sunday...where Christ is not preached.”
In other words, it would look like 7th Heaven. Nice, clean, moral, and totally Christ-less.
Think about those who plotted and worked for the death of Jesus. They read their Bible and prayed. A lot. They never missed church. They didn't cuss. They were virgins. They didn't get drunk. They took theology seriously. They took worship seriously. They took holiness seriously. They were moral. Yet they couldn't stand Jesus. Why? Jesus said that though they honored God with their lips, their hearts were far from Him. In other words, they did all the right things for all the wrong reasons.
What about us? It raises some tough questions:
- Are we more about being good, or believing the Good News about Jesus (which leads us to real goodness)?
- Are we pursuing lust-free (or insert your struggle of choice) lives because we deeply love Jesus, or because we want to tell others that we’re lust-free?
- Do we think Jesus loves us because we’ve never gotten drunk, smoked weed, cheated on a test, or "given it up"?
- Do we think God loves us because we’re good, or do we know that He will make us good because He loves us?
A few years ago I came across these videos that were parodies of how we often think about Jesus. In one video Jesus goes around, disciple by disciple, telling them about how their specific sins have upset him. He ends by saying to them, "You are all evil. There is no hope.” It's hilarious and worth watching.
And it's exactly what we tell people when all we tell them is to be good. C.S. Lewis once said that we never really know how bad we are until we try really, really hard to be good. Only then do we come face to face with the bad news: that we are worse than we think.
But the gospel tells a different story. That Jesus, the only truly good person, came for the bad. That he gave himself not for those who have it all together, but for those who know they don't. That he loves not Mr. and Mrs. Perfect, but messes. Not Eric Camdens but Walter Whites.
So woe to us if we are all law and no gospel, if we are all demands and no comforts, all good advice but no good news. Satan rejoices wherever goodness is preached minus the Good News of Jesus Christ. For as Charles Spurgeon liked to remind his congregation, “Morality may keep you out of jail, but it takes the blood of Jesus Christ to keep you out of hell."