Does an Unbeliever Need to Know God to be Morally Good?

May 23, 2017 | Apologetics, Article, Ethics

Note: This post makes mention of Ravi Zacharias. It is with a heavy heart that I must acknowledge a tragic independent report concerning evidence of sexual abuse and predatory behavior on the part of Ravi Zacharias. This man was a huge inspiration to me, as is evident from reading my blog, and the news was more than heart shattering. Some ministries leaders have come to the conclusion that removing articles about and references to Ravi is the right move; I have come to a different conclusion, and here is why:

  1. Though I cannot begin go to imagine the grief or pain of those Ravi hurt and the emotional toll of his behavior, it is also the case that to discredit a piece of information due to the character of the source of such behavior is to commit the genetic fallacy. If I quote or mention Ravi, it is because I believe those items to contain truth value on their own merit.
  2. To go back and change previously written information without a careful disclaimer is, I believe, a form of revisionist history. If a disclaimer must be offered anyway, I believe there is value in keeping the material accessible. So while I know it is a difficult ask to say, “Just trust the ideas and disregard his personal character,” I must ask that of you as a careful thinker.
  3. I have seen a lot of comparisons by Christians to not removing Ravi’s work because biblical characters like King David and others had fallen into terrible sin, and they have obviously been given to us as a gift to learn from (Romans 15:4). Why “cancel” Ravi if we’re not “cancelling” the Bible? It does seem to me, though, that there are two problems with this line of thinking: (1) These books are inspired by God and thus we can trust his revelation to us. They were examples given for a purpose. (2) These characters also seemed to show true biblical repentance of their wicked actions. Ravi remained unrepentant until his dying day. Therefore, I do not think these are 1-and-1 comparisons. This behavior reflects SERIOUS error and dangerous behavior on the part of Ravi and, to an unknown degree, RZIM as a whole, and that must not be taken lightly or swept under the rug.

I do not expect you to agree completely with this decision. I do ask that you respect the thought, prayer, and seeking of counsel in which I engaged regarding it.

As we have discussed before, the idea of objective morality is one of the strongest cases for the God of the Bible and is almost always a huge stumbling block for the unbeliever. By that, I mean that many who claim they have objections of an intellectual nature to Christianity, in reality, have moral objections–they don’t want there to be a God. Coincidentally, this is one reason why Truth has become relative as well. Just in case the truth ends up pointing to Christianity, they can now say “Shew, good thing truth is relative!” This is the reason that society today is drowning in a bowl of cultural gobbledygook. It seems like before we can even have an intelligent conversation we have to spend 30 minutes up front to define terms! Nevertheless, we face real issues in our culture today that we must address head on if we are going to be a witness for Christ, and one of those tough issues is calling people out on their sin and their moral ignorance. One objection (and probably the most common) sounds something like this: “I don’t need God to be morally good and know right from wrong!” And, they are half right. They don’t need to know God to be morally good–but there would be no “good” without Him. Let’s investigate.

What is “Good” Anyway?

  “Goodness” is an attribute of God (Psalm 31:19), and one that is not communicable, in other words, we do not share this attribute with God. In relative terms, our society has defined good (loosely) as “Whatever brings the most happiness to the most amount of people.” In other words, societies themselves determine what is best. We know that this is an unacceptable definition (otherwise Nazi Germany would have been relatively good), but nonetheless, it is the one we encounter. We, as Christians, have God in place as our ultimate standard of goodness. As His purposes are accomplished in Heaven and on Earth, so His goodness follows. When God makes a judgment, it is good. When God creates, it is good. When God causes things to happen, those things are good according to His will and way. Now this provides an interesting conundrum (seemingIy) for the believer and unbeliever alike. We all notice that evil is in the world, and yet, we Christians maintain that there is an all-good, all-loving God watching over things. The unbeliever has a heyday with this! It seems that if we look at the world and take what we see at face value, an all-loving creator would not allow children to starve, cancer to spread, and murder and killing to continue. These things do happen, so “therefore, there is no God.” But, wait a minute. This is where defining terms comes into play. Before we can talk about what kind of God would allow such things, we must understand what the God of the Bible is ACTUALLY like! It is a mischaracterization of God to assume that He would not allow, say, bad things to happen to good people. In fact, He confirms that no matter WHAT the scenario, He is working all things together for good to them that love Him (Romans 8:28). It is also false to assume that God causes these things to happen. Man brought this upon himself, and we are still facing the consequences today. We live in a broken world, but this broken world has no adverse reflection on the character of God (and it most certainly does not disprove His existence). Rather, I think the very existence of evil proves the existence of a standard of moral goodness, who I and my fellow Christians would call, God.

The Unbelievers’ Unlivable Worldview

  At this point, things get extremely complicated for the person who rejects the God of the Bible. They are found to be living in complete abandon–a life of contradiction. They live in a world that so desperately depends on God and yet, fail to acknowledge Him as Creator and Savior. To answer the question posed in the headline, yes–unbelievers can be morally good! Everyone has the ability to be morally good. Don’t misunderstand me. The Bible tells us there is “none righteous, no not one.” But righteous here is in the sight of God. Moral goodness in the sight of men is most definitely attainable by the unbeliever or anyone else. In fact, is it this very fact that makes it so hard for the unbeliever to accept that they are a sinner! As you witness to individuals, you may find folks who volunteer at the soup kitchen, donate to the poor, go on philanthropic trips to third-world countries–you will more than likely encounter a few who, in the eyes of men, are more morally good than you! “Who are you,” they will ask, “to tell me that I am the one who needs God!” The only way around this–and fortunately, the Biblical way–is to politely show them that without God, they would not even make able to make sense of good vs. “not good.” In a world where God did not exist to put the ultimate standard of good into place, they would have no concept of right and wrong.

Witnessing to a “Good Person”

  You must make sure to bring to light that the gospel is not about making people be “good.” Furthermore, if YOU think that the point of the gospel is to become a better person, you need to perk up your ears. Razi Zacharias said it best: “Jesus did not come to make bad people good–He came to make dead people live.” The Moral Argument is a strong one for the Christian, but you mustn’t stop there. Remember, this person doesn’t need a new attitude, nor do they need to turn over a new leaf. They need a new life and a new heart! ONLY Christ can give them what they need, so don’t neglect to give them the gospel! It would be a tragic ending for the person to whom you are witnessing to leave the conversation thinking they are still good and justified in the sight of God. You don’t have to be mean about this. You were in the same boat before you knew Christ! Of course, the gospel will naturally be a bit offensive to them. But this is a great opportunity to be a good old-fashioned witness, and tell this person what Christ has done for you! Perhaps you have common ground with them. Not every person who comes to faith is saved out of a drunkard’s home or out of a life of drug addiction. I wasn’t! I was brought up in a Christian home and a Bible preaching Baptist church, but without Christ, I would be on my way to hell on a first-class church pew! Again, you must not get sucked into the thinking that moral goodness has anything in the world to do with justification in the sight of God. Yes, God will work in your life and work on your heart once you become His child (a process called Sanctification), as He prepares you for an eternity spent with Him. But it doesn’t start with behavior modification–it starts with bowing and confessing Christ as Savior. [clickandtweet handle=”” hashtag=”” related=”” layout=”” position=””]You will never be richer than the moment you declare yourself bankrupt before God.[/clickandtweet]   You may not see this person drop their self-righteousness where they stand and come to faith. But Lord willing, you will have planted a seed in their heart that God can use to bring them to a knowledge of Himself. For that, all of heaven will rejoice! — Questions? Feel free to comment below and start the discussion, or click the blue button on the right (desktop only) to ask a question with a voicemail. We will do our best to answer in an upcoming post. Thanks!

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