One thing that I have noticed as I compiled the results of the survey is that none of these non-Christians understood what Christianity is about, and none of them have tried to find out, and none of them wanted to find out. All but one refused to follow Jesus even if it became clear to them beyond a shadow of a doubt that Christianity were true. And he initially answered as the others did.
Somehow, people have gotten into their heads the idea that religions are all the same, and that the purpose of religion is to make people “good”, (or worse, “happy”). And when they say “good”, they mean being nice to others. Surprise! The purpose of Christianity is NOT to make you be nice to others nor to make you happy. In fact, no amount of being nice is going to please God, unless something even more important is secured first.
The purpose of Christianity is three-fold. You must expend time, effort and wealth:
- KNOWING GOD’S CHARACTER AS HE REALLY IS.
- KNOWING WHAT GOD HAS DONE IN HISTORY.
- RESPONDING TO AND PURSUING GOD, AS HE REVEALS HIMSELF TO YOU.
You don’t decide what your purpose is, God does. God was there before the universe and his character was set before you were even born. He created you and designed you for a purpose.
I wanted to highlight a story in Daniel 3 in order to show what it is that atheists choose not to do, which God considers moral. An atheist cannot stand for God in public, and remain faithful and loyal to him in the midst of suffering and persecution. And Christians are required do this. This is following the example of the Old Testament prophets, as well as Jesus himself.
It should be no comfort to atheists that they stick to their chosen diet, or stop at stop signs, practice yoga and recycle. God is not the least bit interested in your compliance with your own arbitrary personal preferences, nor the arbitrary standard of your culture in the time and place you live in. That’s not morality! That’s just giving yourself happy feelings by effortlessly complying with made-up standards.
One way of loving God, (which is the most important commandment), is by keeping faith with God publicly, even when things don’t go your way. Atheists can’t do that. It just isn’t rational for people who will be alive for 75 years and then gone, to deny themselves for any higher purpose, especially when it involves suffering. And when being good isn’t rational, people don’t do it, especially when it’s hard to do.
That is why it is impossible to please God unless you first believe certain things that are only possible if God exists. For example, you need an objective moral standard, free will, someone to whom duty is owed, moral accountability, moral significance, etc.
And to illustrate what counts with God, let’s take a look at this sermon on Daniel 3 that I found that tells the story of Daniel and his 3 friends.
The Scripture is here. You’ll need to read this if you don’t know the story.
And the sermon excerpt is here:
Now, before we set up Nebuchadnezzar as the worst guy ever, we don’t have to go back very far to see similar things that have happened in our own day and age. Every totalitarian the regime in the 20th century had statues erected in honor of their own tyrant. Whether it was statues of Lenin in the Soviet Union, statues of Mao in China, or statues of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, people had to pay homage to these statues is they wanted to advance in society, and in some cases, simply to stay alive. Usually one was allowed to keep believing in whatever ‘god’ they wanted as long as it was subordinate to the empire. Allegiance to the state was more important than allegiance to any god.
Our society is certainly different in that we don’t have a dictator, and nobody, at least not yet, is threatening to shoot us or toss us into a fiery furnace. But in some ways our society is actually worse, mostly because its pressure is very subtle and sometimes we don’t even realize it’s going on. Our culture places the same type of pressure on each one of us to put God in second place. We find ourselves constantly pressed to keep our beliefs private and secondary. We can believe whatever we want as long as we don’t ever talk about it.
…Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego… had failed to bow down and worship the statue, thereby disrespecting not only the statue but the king as well.
They were accused of ingratitude, verse 12, “There are certain Jews whom you have appointed,” and impiety,” they do not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” But the fundamental element of both these charges was their offense against Nebuchadnezzar himself. But that’s not how Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego saw it.
They were simply trying to be obedient to the commandment, Exodus 20:45a, “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God …”
It’s worth noting that there were only three men in the whole crowd who refused to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s statue…. this highlights the fact that sometimes standing up for God can be a lonely activity. And it doesn’t matter if you’re standing on the national stage or you’re simply visiting with all your unbelieving relatives who think you’re some sort of moronic freak. There are times in life when doing what’s right means you can’t hide in the crowd.
…I’ve come to see this same battle being fought daily in my heart over much lesser issues. Am I going to declare the Lord to be my primary allegiance, come what may, or will I bow to the multitude of idols that the world presents? Unless you’re an actor, our idols aren’t usually golden statues. Our idols are the various pleasures, desires, and attitudes that the culture tells me I need to have in order to live a fulfilled and worthwhile life.
For some, their golden image is the respect and admiration and acceptance of others. For a lot the young adults here, high school and college, there’s the pressure to be part of the “in crowd,” even though the cost of admission to this club is that we shouldn’t show respect to our parents, or talk about God, or keep ourselves pure until marriage. This image of acceptance says, “Bow to me or I’ll throw you into the fiery furnace of the mockery and ridicule of your peers.’
Notice how this example of obedience and endurance parallels the life of Jesus, as well, which provides the model for Christians who are called upon to do the same – and this is central to Christianity. Where is this on atheism? Clearly, atheists cannot meet this standard. It is irrational, on atheism, to perform acts of self-sacrifice like this in obedience to an objective moral law, and to the moral lawgiver.
So, what is important to Christians is not what is important to atheists, obviously. Our primary goal is not our feelings and well-being, or being “nice” to others or being liked by others. That is irrelevant. What is considered normal in Christianity is put yourself second, and to put God first, under fire. That is loving God. The most important commandment.
Greg Koukl put it nicely in one of his lectures in the Q&A session when he said “With respect to God’s purposes in the world, your happiness is expendable”. That is the normal Christian life. And it isn’t for everyone.