The Morality of Self-fulfillment

In case you haven’t noticed, many of our friends, neighbors, family members, and co-workers are beginning to see Christianity as standing in the way of a new moral code: the morality of self-fulfillment.

According to a Barna study from 2015, the new moral code has six guiding principles:


1. To find yourself, look within yourself.

2. People should not criticize someone else’s life choices.

3. To be fulfilled in life, pursue the things you desire most.

4. Enjoying yourself is the highest goal of life.

5. People can believe whatever they want as long as those beliefs don’t affect society.

6. Any kind of sexual expression between two consenting adults is fine. (Barna OmniPoll, August 2015). 

This code of self-fulfillment is everywhere, like the air we breathe. To question it invites criticism. To discourage it evokes animosity. My concern, however, is not that the new moral code is “out there” in our pluralistic culture. I don’t expect non-Christians to act “Christianly.” This is the beauty of responding to our culture with love, not hate; with humility, not pride; and with serving, not being served. People will see there is a better way (Colossians 4:5-6).

My concern is how the morality of self-fulfillment has been so easily embraced by the Church. In the Barna study from 2015, 80-90% of U.S. adults agree with the six guiding principles. But here’s the kicker—60-70% of “practicing Christians” are right there with them.  

Dallas Willard diagnosed this spiritual sickness in 2009 when he wrote,

The worldview answers people now live by are provided by feelings. Desire, not reality 

and not what is good, rules our world. That is even true for the most part within 

religion. Most of what Americans do in their religion now is done at the behest of 

feelings. . . . The quest for pleasure takes over the house of God. What is good or what is 

true is no longer the guide (Knowing Christ Today, 199-200).

If I’m pointing fingers, I start by pointing them at myself. Have I substituted comfortable living for a life changed by the gospel? Have I made my faith me-focused rather than Christ-focused? Am I including in my quest for personal morality a social morality of how I treat the poor, how I care for the downtrodden, how I stand up against injustice?

Although not culturally popular, God’s moral order reverses the new moral code in how life ought to be with Jesus at the center:

1. To find yourself, discover the truth outside yourself, in Jesus.

2. Loving others does not always mean staying silent.

3. Joy is found not in pursuing our own desires but in giving of ourselves to bless others.

4. The highest goal of life is giving glory to God.

5. God gives people the freedom to believe whatever they want, but those beliefs always affect society.

6. God designed boundaries for sex and sexuality in order for humans to flourish.

(Adapted from Kinnaman and Lyons, Good Faith, 60).

May these be the guiding principles of our faith.