I am an undergrad at [unidentified prestigious American university] who has been having a discussion with some friends about the following question:  Why is it so much better to be a Christian than a virtuous person in the world? Why is it better to acknowledge God and live an exemplary life rather than just attempting to live an exemplary life?  I have heard a lot of easy answers from Christians along the following lines:

1. Everyone has sinned and therefore is separated from God and needs redemption, no matter how “small” their sin is
2. Life without God is terribly empty because everyone has a deep seated desire for a relationship with God, so this life is horrible in comparison with life with God
3. Non-Christians are incapable of being virtuous (only through the power of the Holy Spirit are we able to overcome evil in our lives).

I find a few disconnects– Non-Christians who try to live honest-upright lives are certainly able to be about as 1)”good” 2) happy day to day and 3) virtuous as Christians. I think our ideas about God punishing non-believers and blessing Christians in this life can verge on Job’s friends’ sort of misconception. The Bible is definitely clear that verbal acknowledgement of God and sacrifices are not worth much in God’s eyes compared to being moral.

The arguments about eternal life are the most convincing. But these answers bring up another question which is, what is God really about? Morality, or acknowledgment of himself? I believe that these go hand in hand. But it seems that acknowledging God’s law through baptism and faith in Jesus (a big step) are the key to being righteous in God’s eyes, and biblically, all one’s efforts to be moral aren’t worth anything in the world without first doing this, which seems a little contrary to common good. The answers I listed above are satisfying for me, but not for my friends who see church or acknowledging God as another barrier or burden on top of trying to be moral. Just wondering what your thoughts are.


You ask some very reasonable and logical questions.  Coming from an [unidentified university] student, I suppose that should not be surprising!

I think we need to start with the nature of God, then move on to the nature of human beings.  God is Creator. God is a very powerful and very intelligent Creator.  God is holy.  He is without flaw or imperfection.  God is just.  He will call into account what we have done in this life, whether good or evil.  God is love.  God is relational by his nature.  This explains why we exist.  We were created in God’s image.  The reason we exist is so that God could know us, that we could know God and that we could know one another.  This is the “goal” of God–that we live in a righteous relationship with him and with one another.

Anything that destroys this relationship is the big problem for human beings.  That is why sin is such a big issue–because God is just, holy and relational.  Because of his love, God gave us freedom of will.  He does not force us to love him.  However, if we rebel against him and if we choose not to submit to him, then we will come under judgment.  Our freedom is about love, but this freedom comes with responsibility, as it should.

This description of God is the source of my answer to the quandaries you list.  The “good” person who does not know God is not really good.  We may try to be good, but we are all rebellious and we all have lost our intimate relationship with God.  Therefore, our relationships with one another are truly messed up as well.  The supposed “virtuous” person is an enigma.  There are people who behave more ethically and who make greater efforts to live moral lives.  But this does not solve the problem.  Being in the top 20% does not solve the problem of sin.  The supposedly “good” person may not agree with this, but according to the Bible they are wrong.  Emotionally, I want to agree with such a person, but the facts of the Bible show them to be wrong.  The miracles of Jesus, the perfect life Jesus lived, his resurrection, his fulfillment of prophecy tells me that I must listen to what Jesus said, not my own inner logic, which is actually a lot more messed up than I think anyway.

Is this hard to explain to your intellectual “good” people?  I understand this, but some of their assumptions may need to be questioned.  What is their worldview? Are they atheist?  Is that consistent with reality?  Are they Buddhist?  Is the  Buddhist worldview consistent with reality.  Does this person’s worldview answer the important questions of value, purpose, ultimate destiny, the nature of evil in a way which is coherent and consistent with reality?  What is the alternative?  A purposeless, meaningless, “good” life, after which we are dead like Rover, dead all over?  If this were true, OK, but it is not true.  So, we need to discuss alternative views and the evidence supporting them.

This is a big and even somewhat messy discussion, but all of these are part of my answer to your difficult questions.

What is God really all about, morality or acknowledgement of himself.  Definitely none of the above.  God is all about relationship and righteousness (not the same as morality).  He is all about a life lived as it should be, which includes social justice and intimacy.

Can an agnostic person be  1)”good” 2) happy day to day and 3) virtuous as Christians?  In some ways I will buy this premise. Some atheists can sustain a fairly ethical life–as ethical as many Christians, but if we look more deeply we will see something much different.  I have known a lot of these “good” people and have found them to be what I was before conversion–a deeply troubled person, addicted to certain kinds of insidious sins.  Was I happy?  Yes and no.  I had a lot of fun and even some fairly shallow kinds of fulfillment, but outside of a relationship with God I could not fulfill what I was created to do, so this fulfillment was much more shallow than I thought.  If we do not become what we were created to be, we will not be ultimately happy or fulfilled.  It is like the toys in Toy Story.  They were made to entertain and make children happy.  If they could not do that, they were always missing something essential to true fulfillment and happy.   Sorry for the silly analogy.

I could say more, but I hope this will get you started.  Feel free to send follow-up question.

John Oakes

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