There is a concept in Psychology called Moral Licensing.
And I think believers need to pay attention to it.
Moral Licensing is explained as a mental glitch. Apparently, doing something that helps to strengthen our positive self-image also makes us less worried about the consequences of immoral behaviour, and therefore more likely to make immoral choices.
Or as Psychologist Anna Merritt and colleagues have explained,
“Past good deeds can liberate individuals to engage in behaviors that are immoral, unethical, or otherwise problematic, behaviors that they would otherwise avoid for fear of feeling or appearing immoral.”
Maybe that’s why Sunday evening is the time of the week where more people in America watch porn. The fact is that 50% of Christian men and 20% of Christian women are addicted to pornography (and the most popular time of the week for viewing porn is after church on Sundays).
It is common to read books of the great men and woman of the Christian faith and discover their multiple failings. They served Jesus. They preached the gospel. They helped others.
Yet they also had affairs. They cheated with their finances. They were bound by addictions.
Now, before you go ahead and judge them (which is very easy to do) look inward towards your heart and be honest about your struggles (which is harder to do).
We are all equally sinful.
We all fall into the trap of: I was being “so good” yesterday that I feel justified in being a “little bit bad” today. And because of that internal transaction, lives have been destroyed.
Whether we say this or not, our fallen nature has wired our brains to lean in this direction.
Moral licensing is why we drink a diet coke while eating a burger with bacon and cheese.
Moral licensing is why we procrastinate hard after a productive work day.
Moral licensing is why we argue with our spouses after cooking a nice meal for them.
I first heard of this concept in the genius Malcolm Gladwell podcast, Revisionist History.
He was analyzing and discussing the temptation to be racist and misogynist after demonstrating through certain actions that you were not racist or misogynist.
Now, the point of this article is not to stop doing good things because good things lead us to bad things. No my friend, the point is to be aware that doing good things lies to us about how good we actually are.
It’s was the great deception of the religious leaders during the time of Jesus. The Pharisees knew the Scriptures so well (which is good) that they assumed to be superior to everyone else (which is bad).
Being religious lied to them about being righteous.
And so it is today.
No matter how many good works, deeds or actions we engage in, we are still in need of a Savior.
We are all equally needy.
As Pastor Patrick Lafferty wrote, “The more we view moral behavior in terms of what is meritorious, the more we may convince ourselves of “cashing in” some of our credits for less reputable behavior. Whereas the more we see our moral lives as in view of an abidingly loving Father, the more we find morality’s impetus in love, thereby refusing even to entertain the quid pro quo form of moral licensing.”
I know that there are schemes in your life that need correction. Thoughts and conduct are that opposite to your Christlike nature. Negative patterns that lead you to negative behavior.
As I wrote in From Full Time To Full Time Misery, “A lot of us need saving from ourselves. Our systems of sin and addiction have controlled our private lives. Our desire to be loved by others has made us unlovely to the ones who matter most. Our ambition for significance has blinded us from what is actually significant. And sometimes, the price of restoration and reconciliation is called ‘Swallowing your pride’ and ‘Admitting you are wrong.'”
This was true for me.
Maybe it’s true for you.
And awareness is the key.
Next time you are faced with temptation, the wrong question to ask is “Do I deserve this?”
Best to remember the words of Jesus in Luke 17:
“Suppose one of you has a servant who comes in from plowing the field or tending the sheep. Would you take his coat, set the table, and say, ‘Sit down and eat’? Wouldn’t you be more likely to say, ‘Prepare dinner; change your clothes and wait table for me until I’ve finished my coffee; then go to the kitchen and have your supper’?
Does the servant get special thanks for doing what’s expected of him? It’s the same with you. When you’ve done everything expected of you, be matter-of-fact and say, ‘The work is done. What we were told to do, we did.’”
Now remember, God is not looking for perfection… He’s looking for opportunities to love us, help us and make our journey wonderful.
Over to you.
“Change is not found in defending our righteousness, but in admitting our weakness and crying for help.”
– Paul Tripp author of A Quest For More: Living For Something Bigger Than You.
* Discover the perfect Father and enjoy the life he has for you: