Good without God?
"…even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened."
Many are professing quite loudly today that they can be "good without god." And I think that I have a fairly clear understanding of what these people are trying to say. They haven't killed anybody. They work hard. They build community, are compassionate, and give to charity. I suppose that from a perspective in which the God of the Bible is ignored for a few moments, you could easily agree that they are decent people.
The rub comes, though, when you probe more deeply than the superficial. At the heart of the issue is how we define what "good" actually means. Who defines that? And by what authority? The natural man who claims to be "good without God" is saying, in fact, that he wants to improvise what good means and define it on his own terms.
Now, granted, if Jesus Christ did not rise from the dead and all the claims Christianity are irrelevant, then non-believers are free to live however they choose with no consequences. And that is exactly what most want. But that is a point of view that doesn't exactly square with reality or history. At least one atheist, Joel Marks, who writes at the new york times blog, opinionator, seems to have a clear grasp of this truth. If there's no good God we're accountable to, then morality is just a fairy tale and the terms "right" and "wrong" have no meaning.
In the end, man's attempt to redefine good on his own terms has no effect on the definition of good that's been eternally fixed by God. Romans 1:18 powerfully speaks to this, saying that man's very desire to determine for himself what is good is something that God actually mocks, calling it "futile… foolish… and darkened."
Think of it, as harmless as it may seem on the surface, it's really a grave offense for a creature made by God to stroll around on the earth that God made and pretend to himself that there is no God. Such self-centered unbelief actually screams that Jesus, the Apostles and the thousands of martyrs and godly believers through the ages are nothing more than a pack of liars.Romans 1:18 says that the good-without-God kind of people "suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them… For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks."
Saying these things isn't meant as a beat-down on unbelievers so that believers can somehow feel good about themselves. Rather, it's truth offered in kindness to help people see their condition. It comes down to a simple question: Can a person be truly good when they are calling a good God and good people liars? No, a good person trusts God. A good person doesn't reject the testimony of reliable witnesses. A good person honors God and gives thanks to Him (Romans 1:21).
The necessity of giving thanks brings up another type of "good without God" person that exists out there. Romans 1 teaches that not only is the irreligious, outright God-denier in that category, but there is also a religious type of God-denier. Respected Christian thinker, Francis Schaeffer, explains it well in the first chapter of his classic book, True Spirituality.
He wrote that as seemingly small, insignificant and optional as a thankful heart might appear to be at first glance, thankfulness turns out to be the litmus test for whether or not one really believes in God. If you say that God is a personal God and He is your Father, but by your life you do not trust Him, honor Him and give Him thanks, you're really denying what you say you believe. You're trying to be good without God. The path to true goodness starts then with a prayer spoken of in mark 9:24. Christ always answers it: "Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief."
Yes, life is hard. Yes, we live in a sin-cursed and fallen world. Things are not as they should be. Still—and this may be a hard truth to accept—faith coupled with thankfulness in all things is not optional. It's essential. Not giving thanks with a plastic smile, but having genuine thankfulness that shows real trust in God through the hard things.
Without faith, man is out of touch with reality. People can only be good with God in His proper place.
Intersecting Faith & Life:
How firmly do you believe that God alone defines good and evil?
What does your level of thankfulness show about the reality of your faith in God?
If you have an opportunity to talk with someone today who is trying to be good without god, relate to him in a positive way about his desire to be good, and direct him to this deeper line of thinking in Romans 1.
how to know truth and evaluate competing worldviews by Chris Daniel
why i believe in god by Cornelius Van Til