Moralism and Christianity are mortal enemies. Moralism and Christianity serve different masters.
It’s been said that the great between the salad and garbage is timing. Salad is salad for a time, but eventually it wilts. The difference between moralism and Christianity is much greater. Moralism, doing right for whatever reason, is never Christianity. Moralism is always garbage.
The rich young ruler came to Jesus asking what he could do to inherit eternal life. Jesus said “But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.” He said to Him, “Which ones?” (Matt. 19:16-18), and so Jesus listed the second table of the law, the last six commandments except the 10th: You shall not covet. But still the rich young ruler couldn’t see it.
“All these things I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions” (Matt. 19:20-22).
He had kept the law mostly—to all outward appearances. But when given the chance to follow the Son of God, he couldn’t walk away from his stuff, revealing a much different reason than God for keeping the commandments in the first place.
God isn’t pleased with good deeds as a means of personal enrichment, pride, allegiance to a another god, or as an expression of highest loyalty to kin or country. This is why Jesus said tax collectors and prostitutes are closer to heaven than middle class Pharisees. They at least knew they were estranged from God.
Our task is not just to repent, but to repent of our selfish and sinful motivations. God calls us to know Him and love, to follow Him and nothing else. He desires mercy, and not sacrifice.