Here’s a dark side of why it’s important to make the truth real.
So what happens when you’re just heard to preach simple moralism: ‘Be a good husband, love your children, pay your taxes, be generous, help the poor’? First (most obvious), the non-believer doesn’t hear the gospel of grace; second, those who respond and heed the preacher’s words may appear more honest, generous and kind; but they’re doing it for the wrong reasons. What do I mean?
There is a distinction Keller makes (citing Jonathan Edwards) between Common Virtue and True Virtue. Common Virtue, Edwards believes is one way God restrains evil in the world. God uses our sinful motivations to live moral lives as a way of restraining evil itself.
But what is the main reason we are dishonest? Why do we lie? Almost always-it is out of fear or pride. So in Common Virtue, you have not done anything to root out the fundamental causes of evil. In ‘common honesty’ you have restrained the heart, but not changed the heart. You are doing an ingenious form of judo on yourself (Judo depends on using the enemy’s forward motion against him). You have ‘jury-rigged’ your heart so that the basic causes of dishonesty are being used to make yourself honest.
But this is quite a fragile condition. At some point you will find that honesty is not practical nor humiliating and so you will not do it. Then you will be shocked. You will say, ‘I was not raised to do such a thing!’ But the reason you did, was that all your life, through the sermons and moral training you had, you were nurturing the roots of sin within your moral life. This is true whether you grow up in a liberal-moral environment or a conservative-moral environment. The roots of evil are alive and well and protected underneath your moral-behavior progress. And some day they erupt and show themselves and we are shocked.
You see this all the time, when otherwise decent people are suddenly exposed in a scandal, shocking even by their own standards.