I have a confession to make. A while back, I realized I have a problem. I have a struggle with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Deep down, I haven’t really wanted forgiveness of my sins. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I have asked for forgiveness again and again and again, that is, if simply saying those words counts. But I realized that while saying those words, I had not really been asking for what God really offered. Please, let me explain.
Doy Moyer got me thinking
Last week, Doy Moyer, had an outstanding post about a couple of new campaigns by atheists to evangelize their anti-God faith. He pointed out how contradictory and illogical this is because they want to talk about being good, but they have no standard for goodness. Who gets to decide what is good? Them? Me? I’m guessing they wouldn’t want me to be the standard of goodness.
This post got me thinking. There is an even more fundamental problem with this philosophy coming from atheists. Please understand, I too believe we should be good for goodness’ sake. I hunger and thirst for righteousness and do not simply want to be good so God won’t slap my hand or so I can get a reward in the end. I want to be good because I want to be good. Frankly, I’m glad to hear atheists do also.
Atheists’ have the same problem Christians do
The big problem is atheists face the same downfall I do. We have botched it and continue to botch it. I’m guessing every atheist, though he hates to hear his feelings so accurately expressed in the Bible, knows the exact feeling Paul expressed in Romans 7:15-24:
“…I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
“So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am? Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (ESV).
Of course, I recognize atheists don’t believe in “the law of God” and therefore don’t have an objective standard of goodness. However, I’m sure each one has a personal standard of goodness. Whatever the standard, atheists who actually want to be good hit the same wall Christians hit. They want to be good. They have decided to be good. They long to be good. But they keep doing what they hate. Perhaps they decided they would quit coveting as Paul had decided. But they just keep going back to it. Perhaps they said they would stop their angry outbursts, but they just keep blowing up. Perhaps they said they would quit being arrogant, but their pride keeps rearing its ugly head.
Like Christians, they want to be good and they want to do it because being good is the right thing to do. Like Christians, they just can’t pull it off. They keep falling short at being completely good. Thus, they fuss at themselves and may even despair.
The Christians’ answer and the atheists despair
When Paul uttered his despairing cry, “Wretched man that I am? Who will deliver me from this body of death?” He had an answer: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
The sad part for the atheists who finally have the courageous honesty to admit they just can’t reach their goodness goal is they have no answer to this dilemma. “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” All that comes back is eery silence. Or perhaps they say, “Me. I’ll do it.” But wait, didn’t you get you in this mess your in? What makes you think it will be any different tomorrow? Go ahead, keep relying on your own reserves of strength. Keep researching your own weakness and pain. When you finally get to the point of despair and the pain is finally too great, then perhaps you can turn to Paul’s answer. Once you finally run out of faith in yourself, maybe, just maybe you can start having some faith in God because if you will surrender to Him, He will deliver you. As you grow in Him, you will become good for goodness’ sake. It will take time. It is about progress, not perfection. But in God, there is hope and He is waiting for you, giving you time to realize He is where your hope for being good for goodness’ sake really is.
So, for my part, I hope atheists keep pressing their “good for goodness’ sake” campaign. Sooner or later that will drive them to despair. Then because they have increased their desire and hunger for goodness, some of them will begin to realize they can only accomplish their goal if they surrender themselves to God.
Christians need to learn this too
Of course and sadly, there are many Christians that need to learn this lesson as well. If we are seeking goodness as a means to merely avoid hell or be rewarded with heaven, we will likely fall short. That leads to a legalistic approach of trying to figure how much is enough and what are the rules to help earn your way to the reward. That simply won’t cut it. Instead, if you want to be good because you hunger and thirst for righteousness, you will learn you can’t make it unless you just surrender to God. Then you will be seeking God’s way, not to earn your way out of hell or into heaven, but rather to simply be like God recognizing God’s way works.