An Atheist’s Objection

In the recent debate on ABC’s Nightline, one of Brian Sapient’s objections was this: Christians seem to be able to do whatever kind of evil they want, ask for forgiveness, and know that God will forgive them.  Sapient isn’t the first one to find injustice in this misconception; it even has a name: antinomianism.

But is someone who claims to be a Christian but doesn’t have the lifestyle to match truly a Christian? The Bible has a great deal to say about this.

First, God hates sin. The Bible compares those who practice sin to:

  • Prostitutes (Ezekiel 16:25)
  • Open graves (Romans 3:13)
  • Filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6)
  • A dog returning to his vomit (2 Peter 2:22)
  • A pig wallowing in the mire (2 Peter 2:22)

And, 1 John 3:8–9 says, “He who does what is sinful is of the devil… No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God.”

Jesus said, “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me.”

If someone claims to believe that Jesus was brutally tortured so that his or her sins would be forgiven, yet is disobedient to Jesus’ commands, he or she can hardly claim to love Him.

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11 Responses to An Atheist’s Objection

  1. Kullervo says:

    So, then there are no Christians according to your logic… because everybody sins.

  2. billphillips says:

    Kullervo,

    I agree with you that everyone sins. The above verse (1 John 3:8-9) uses the phrases “continue to sin,” and “go on sinning.” What I was talking about in my post are those people who continue to sin with little regard for righteousness, and are not truly committed to following God and His ways.

    Repenting and putting one’s faith in Jesus does not make one perfect. Rather, it is both an intentional repentance on the person’s part (being sorry enough to change their ways) and an acknowlegment that God will help him or her pursue righteousness as a lifestyle.

    For example, if someone who steals regularly becomes born again, he or she will stop stealing. No doubt this person may slip up from time to time in moments of weakness and temptation. But this person will not sin merely because he thinks “It’s no big deal” and “God will forgive me no matter what.” He knows that Jesus paid a high price for his forgiveness. He knows that to truly love God is to obey Him. And he knows his sin is deeply offensive to God. He will confess it, receive forgiveness, and again live, with God’s help, in the way of righteousness.

    According to the Bible, we can choose to be slaves to sin or slaves to righteousness: “Count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:12).

    Hope this makes sense.

    Thanks,
    Bill

  3. Kullervo says:

    Not really. I don’t see the difference.

    Unless the difference is that the pre-saved kleptomaniac is happy to keep sinning, and the post-saved kleptomaniac wishes he didn’t sin (even though he does). Because they both steal, right? And I’m pretty sure you would agree that God isn’t impressed by “stealing a little less.”

    In any case, they both sin, but the one who is born again feels bad about it.

    What about someone who isn’t born again, but still feels bad when he does things that are considered sins? What’s then the difference between him before and after?

  4. billphillips says:

    Kullervo,

    These verses are saying that if you regularly do something you know is wrong, you’re not a Christian. What the whole book of 1 John does is give Christians a test to see if they really are in the faith. These verses in particular are saying that Christians who live a lifestyle of sin almost certainly aren’t really saved. They’re hypocrites. Christians can slip into a sin, but they don’t dive into sin and wallow.

    A Christian will slip into sin in a weak moment, and later hate it and commit to not doing it again. On the other hand there are those who claim to be a Christian, know it’s wrong to have sex before marriage, but go on living with their boyfriend/girlfriend. The Bible offers them no assurance of their salvation.

    Everyone (Christians and non-Christians) should feel guilty when they do something wrong, because God has given them a conscience. We all know having sex outside marriage is wrong, but some people have learned to ignore their conscience.

    God gave us a conscience to bring us to Him. Every religion I know of exists for the purpose of trying to help people assuage their conscience or gain forgiveness. Catholics say you can alleviate your guilt by getting baptized and going to the priest to confess, etc. They think if they do enough religious things and good deeds, they’ll make up for their sins. As you’ve heard me say so many times before: This doesn’t work in a court of law, why would it work with God?

    Isn’t that evidence for the Bible? If a man is going to make up a religion, he’ll say good deeds should be rewarded and bad deeds should be punished, which turns out to be true of every religion on Earth. Christianity is the only one that says that you’ve only done bad things your whole life, but you can go to heaven anyway.

    So, Kullervo, I urge you to take some time to think about your sins. You’ve broken God’s law. Justice must be served. I urge you to take the Ten Commandments, go through each one, and think about how rebellious you’ve been toward God. Then, if and when you can’t take it anymore, think about what Jesus did on your behalf. He was beaten with a whip that had shards of metal and glass. Many men didn’t even survive this portion of crucifixion, because their organs would fall out of the holes in their back. Then, he was nailed through his hands and feet to a beam where he hung for several hours. It pleased God to do this to Jesus, because He is angry at sin. Jesus was being tortured for my sins, and God was angry at him because of my sins.

    You never know when your last day is. Please think about these things, and then if your heart is broken over how wicked you’ve been, and what God has done to save you, you should repent and put your faith in Jesus.

    Thanks,
    Bill

  5. Kullervo says:

    Man, way to evade the thread of the discussion and become a broken record, Bill. I’ve heard the spiel about “you’ve broken the ten commandments and deserve punishment” line from you over and over again. I think you just copy and paste it. Bill, you can quit repeating that mantra to me because it’s not going to work. Ever. It is junk theology, and I utterly reject it.

    Of course, you can keep repeating it to me, but I pretty much just glaze over it now, because you’ve already repeated it ad nauseum. If it was going to work on me, it would have worked a long time ago. I guess if you need to keep saying it so you can check off the box, you can keep saying it, but seriously, it’s not going to work. I’m not saying I’m not going to come to christ. I’m just saying that your broken record evangelizing is never going to bring me there. In fact, your approach actually makes me less interested in Christianity, and I’m a guy who is struggling to find faith.

    Now, that being said, can we get back to the discussion? I stilll think your line drawn between the born again’s sin and the un-born-again’s sin is semantic wriggling. Tjhe Christian knows better than to sin, too, but he does it anyway. Where’s the line? What’s the difference? Where do you draw the line between the born again who only “slips up” every now and then and the not-really-born-again who sins? It’s easy to compare the extremes of each side of the spectrum, but what about the gray areas in the middle?

    What about the born again who “slips up” just a little more? Or a little more than that? If you suggest that there’s a real difference, then there should be a dividing line, and I don;t see it. Both the born again anf the not born again know better than to sin, and both do it anyway. The difference between them is only a matter of degree.

  6. billphillips says:

    Kullervo,

    There is no dividing line in the Bible. I wish there was. It would be nice to say that anyone who lies more than once a week (or whatever number) can’t be a Christian. I think the real test is not how much a person sins, but whether they’re growing in holiness (i.e. direction, not location). Not how many times someone lies, but do they lie less than they did a year ago?

    Also, a question that people can only answer for themselves is whether they’re sorry for their sin because it offends God, or because it might cost them a relationship or their job or whatever. King David committed adultery with Bathsheba, and had her husband killed. When he came to repentance he said that he had sinned against God and God alone (Psalm 51:4).

    I’m honestly curious why you would consider becoming a Christian? If you go to heaven, you’re going to spend eternity praising the God of the Bible.

  7. Kullervo says:

    Now there’s an honest and straightforward answer that I can respect, Bill. Thanks. I think the mental component (i.e. Godly sorrow) is an important distinction, and indeed one that can only be made between the person and God. The King David example is very relevant.

    As far as why I would consider becoming a Christian- there’s no way I could summarize it to you in a few sentences. In just four months of thinking about God, religion, and often Christ, I’ve generated something like 150 posts on it, trying to figure out what I think and what I believe- as well as what I want to believe.

    Despite a temporary dip into unbelief (or maybe just serious doubt?), I feel like i’m coming to a place where i can believe, and where I even want to believe.

    Anyway, the long answer is here, more or less: http://byzantium.wordpress.com/about-whats-going-on/

    And in the end, you might think that I decide to be a Christian for the wrong reasons, and that’s your prerogative, because really it’s between me and God. And there’s always the possibility that in coming to Christ for the wrong reasons I may ultimately wind up with the right reasons, no?

  8. billphillips says:

    Kullervo,

    When you become born again/Christian it’s not you choosing Christianity; it’s God saving you. You don’t become a Christian by praying a prayer or accepting Jesus. When God saves you, He makes you a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17) and you will be a slave to God (Romans 6:22). Becoming a Christian is a supernatural experience, leading to a radical change in your life.

    Also, Christianity is based on the Bible. It tells us about God, who wiped out entire nations, and is going to judge the entire Earth. You’ve read the verses about hell being a place of eternal torture. Either God wrote that book (using men) or He didn’t. It seems like you accept the verses you like, and you reject the verses you don’t like. If you do that, aren’t you making an idol in your mind that makes you comfortable? Aren’t you just making up your own religion?

    If God created the universe, wouldn’t it be possible for Him to get us a book that is trustworthy? If the Bible is from God shouldn’t you change your way of thinking to match it, rather than edit/reinterpret the Bible to fit your way of thinking?

    Thanks,
    Bill

  9. Kullervo says:

    And this is where our discussion falls apart again. Perhaps I simply have not become a bon again Christian? Perhaps your interpretation of the Bible is flawed? If becoming a Christian is a supernatural experience that comes entirely from God, then why have I not yet become a Christian? This is sounding pretty Calvinist, Bill, and basically, I reject Calvinism (regardless of “what the Bible says”). And it doesn;t matter anyway, because if Calvinism is true then I was already predestined to reject God anyway.

    I think you’re presenting me with a bunch of flawed logic, Bill. The Bible never claims to be infallible, so if the Bible is the source of doctrine and authority, where do you get off claiming that the Bible is perfect?

    Sure, it may be possible that God could create a perfect book, but that doesn’t mean he did. I might even think that God would create such a book, but that doesn’t mean he did, either. At best, it’s me inventing motives for God which means it would indeed be me inventing a God that doesn;t necessarily exist.

    If I pick and choose verses from the Bible, I’m not making an idol, because I don’t worship the Bible.

    Honestly, Bill, I think that the best way to approach the Bible is to look at it as the writings of people who were trying to understand contact with something so much bigger than them. They put it into words as best as they could, but like everything else it is so full of their limitations and their cultural understandings. I think the Bible is important, even reliable, but I don’t think it’s perfect, and I don’t think it’s infallible. It certainly isn’t the words stright from god’s mouth dictated to man, and it never claims to be such.

    In fact, “the Bible” never claims anything. Paul claimed things, Matthew claimed things (and told us things that Jesus claimed). Isaiah claimed things. The Bible is just a collection.

    None of that is as important as this, Bill: do you want me to come to Christ or not? If you present me with a black and white “my way or the highway,” not only are you putting yourself in God’s shoes inappropriately, but my answer is “the highway.” If you’re willing to accept me as a believer despite my unconventional views, then maybe we can talk. You’re not the one that ultimately decides my fate anyway.

    I’ll rephrase that again: if you are right, and the only way to be a Christian is the way that you say, then I choose to not be a Christian. Your arguments do not convince me; they drive me away. Is that what you want?

  10. billphillips says:

    Kullervo,

    I sincerely desire for you to get saved. I can’t convince you of anything. All I can do with anyone is quote the Bible, and hope the Holy Spirit convinces. I’m glad you’re pondering these things. Also, I’d prefer for everyone’s sake that you were an atheist rather than a false convert (i.e. a hypocrite, which is something I know you detest as much as me).

    So, if you become a Christian, I think a question you could ask yourself would be: If someone held a gun to your head, and told you to deny Christ or lose your life, what would you do?

    I think we can probably disagree on hell and the Bible, and both still be Christians. But, there is no doubt that what is required to become a Christian is death to yourself, and faith in Jesus. Dying to yourself is a big deal, and you should make sure that’s really what you want to do. Check out Luke 14:25-33 if you get a chance.

    Thanks,
    Bill

  11. Kullervo says:

    Now you’ve hit on soemthing that I think is close to the vein. I agree with you at least on a personal level. Though I refrain from speaking to anyone else, I know that I am reluctant to commit to belief, and at the same time, I don;t think there is much value in partial commitment. If I’m going to commit, I’m going to do it fully.

    Of course, that’s easier said than done (for me), and it’s a particular idea i’ve been struggling with as I try to come to some kind of terms with belief in God and the Christian faith. I’ve posted a couple of times recently on my own blog.

    http://byzantium.wordpress.com/2007/05/23/spiritually-crippled/

    http://byzantium.wordpress.com/2007/05/22/why-i-dont-want-to-believe-spiritual-claustrophobia/

    I know I’ve got some things to work through.

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