Tag Archives: Sanctification

William Lane Craig makes sense of the doctrine of substitutionary atonement

Probably one of the most common questions that you hear from people who don’t fully understand Christianity is this question: “why did Jesus have to die?”. The answer that most Christians seem to hold to is that 1) humans are rebelling against God, 2) Humans deserve punishment for their rebellion, 3) Humans cannot escape the punishment for their rebellion on their own, 4) Jesus was punished in the place of the rebellious humans, 5) Those who accept this sacrifice are forgiven for their rebelling.

Some people think that humans are not really rebellious at all, but it’s actually easy to see. You can see it just by looking at how people spend their time. Some of us have no time for God at all, and instead try to fill our lives with material possessions and experiences in order to have happy feelings. Some of us embrace just the parts of God that make us feel happy, like church and singing and feelings of comfort, while avoiding the hard parts of that vertical relationship; reading, thinking and disagreeing with people who don’t believe the truth about God. And so on.

This condition of being in rebellion is universal, and all of us are guilty of breaking the law at some point. All of us deserve to be separated from God’s goodness and love. Even if we wanted to stop rebelling, we would not be able to make up for the times where we do rebel by being good at other times, any more than we could get out of a speeding ticket by appealing to the times when we drove at the speed limit, (something that I never do, in any case).

This is not to say that all sinners are punished equally – the degree of punishment is proportional to the sins a person commits. However, the standard is perfection. And worse than that, the most important moral obligation is a vertical moral obligation. You can’t satisfy the demands of the moral law just by making your neighbor happy, while treating God like a pariah. The first commandment is to love God, the second is to love your neighbor. Even loving your neighbor requires you to tell your neighbor the truth – not just to make them feel good. The vertical relationship is more important than the horizontal one, and we’ve all screwed up the vertical relationship. We all don’t want God to be there, telling us what’s best for us, interfering with our fun. We’re obstinate tin soldiers, as C.S. Lewis says. We don’t want to relate to a loving God if it means having to care what he thinks about anything.

So how do we get out of this mess that we are all in?

This article from Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason may help you to make sense of it – without any churchy jibber-jabber.


Christians often say, “if you believe in Jesus you go to Heaven; if you don’t believe in Jesus you go to Hell”. Is that true? Well, it is true, but it doesn’t communicate a sense of the true circumstance. It’s not coherent to most people because it just seems bizarre why what one person thought about some guy who died 2000 years ago has anything to do with their eternal destiny. Whether they believe in him or not seems irrelevant to anything that might happen after we die. So we have often not been careful to communicate the sense of things.

We need to be clear so that someone rejects the real message and not some incoherent mess that some Christian has handed him that they can’t make sense of. So, I don’t say, “if you believe in Jesus you go to Heaven, and if you don’t believe you go to Hell,” because this is misleading. I’d rather try to explain it more accurately.

Many of you are familiar with the conversation I had with a fellow at Barnes and Noble in which he asked me a question. I was giving a talk there as part of the book on relativism that Dr. Frank Beckwith and I co-authored, Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air. Since I was talking about it in the bookstore, he came up afterwards and started asking questions about Jesus. Instead of unloading this slogan on him, I asked him this question. Do you think that people who commit moral crimes ought to be punished? He said, “Yes.” I said, “Good, so do I.” Second question, “Have you ever committed any moral crimes?” Pause. Then he said, “Yes, I guess I have.” You know what I said to him? “So have I.”

This just took 30 seconds, right? Then I reflected back to him, “Look where we’ve come so far. We both believe that people who commit moral crimes ought to be punished. And we both believe we’ve committed moral crimes. You know what I call that? Bad news.” And it is bad news.

Most people are concerned with doing what is right. That was one of the first things he told me. “I’m Jewish. I believe in morality. I believe in God. Why do I have to believe in your Jesus?” Here is a man who has some level of commitment to the moral life. The problem is, he knows that that commitment does not guarantee that he is going to live a fully moral life and he’s aware of his own moral crimes. And so am I. Now what? That is the issue? We are guilty. That is the bad news.

This is why it is so important to get the bad news before the good news. The bad news gives meaning to the good news. I was able to talk about the fact that now we both admit we have a problem, but that there is a solution that God has ordained. Since He is the one who is offended, He is the one who can call the shots on how to fix the problem. The answer is through His Son Jesus, who provides mercy because he took the rap for our crimes. We got off. He went to jail. A modern metaphor to put it in perspective.

Now I’ve noticed that on some atheist blogs, they don’t like the idea that someone else can take our punishment for us to exonerate us for crimes that we’ve committed. So I’ll quote from this post by the great William Lane Craig, to respond to that objection.


The central problem of the Penal Theory is, as you point out, understanding how punishing a person other than the perpetrator of the wrong can meet the demands of justice. Indeed, we might even say that it would be wrong to punish some innocent person for the crimes I commit!

It seems to me, however, that in other aspects of human life we do recognize this practice. I remember once sharing the Gospel with a businessman. When I explained that Christ had died to pay the penalty for our sins, he responded, “Oh, yes, that’s imputation.” I was stunned, as I never expected this theological concept to be familiar to this non-Christian businessman. When I asked him how he came to be familiar with this idea, he replied, “Oh, we use imputation all the time in the insurance business.” He explained to me that certain sorts of insurance policy are written so that, for example, if someone else drives my car and gets in an accident, the responsibility is imputed to me rather than to the driver. Even though the driver behaved recklessly, I am the one held liable; it is just as if I had done it.

Now this is parallel to substitutionary atonement. Normally I would be liable for the misdeeds I have done. But through my faith in Christ, I am, as it were, covered by his divine insurance policy, whereby he assumes the liability for my actions. My sin is imputed to him, and he pays its penalty. The demands of justice are fulfilled, just as they are in mundane affairs in which someone pays the penalty for something imputed to him. This is as literal a transaction as those that transpire regularly in the insurance industry.

It might be a good idea to also read this post on CARM, which explains the Bible verses that have led generations of Christians to believe in the doctrine of substitutionary atonement. This isn’t something that the church tells you, it’s something that comes straight out of the Bible, when you just read it alone, by yourself.


Jesus did what we could not.  He took our place and bore our sins in his body on the cross (1 Pet. 2:24) and made propitiation for our sins.

  • Rom. 3:25, “whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith.  This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed.”
  • 1 John 2:2, “and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.”
  • 1 John 4:10, “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”

The word propitiation “properly signifies the removal of wrath by the offering of a gift.” Propitiation properly deals with the wrath of God. The wrath of God is due to the legal requirements of punishing the sinner.  Remember, the sinner is someone who has broken the law of God; hence, the legality of punishment, and since Jesus is our propitiation and turns away the lawful wrath of God, we have further evidence that Christ’s sacrifice was to avert God’s righteous wrath against us, the sinners. Since the law of God must be met and cannot be ignored, it is proper that the law be fulfilled.  Jesus is the one who fulfilled the law and never sinned (1 Pet. 2:22).  But, he bore our sins in his body on the cross (1 Pet. 2:24) and became sin on our behalf (2 Cor. 5:21) thereby suffering the penalty of sin, which is death.

I think that the way that a person becomes a Christian is by recognizing that they really are a rebel against God, and that their own made-up standard of what they ought to be doing is insignificant, arbitrary and self-serving. The way forward lies in acknowledging that we need to have a fresh start with God – we need forgiveness. If we are going to start to do what we ought to do, then we need a change from the inside out. And there is only one person who has ever solved that problem – Jesus. He paid the price, and offers us a fresh start. That’s what Christians mean when they talk about “being saved”. They mean that Jesus solved the problem of the rift between God and man that is caused by man’s rebellion. Appropriating his sacrifice on the cross requires a genuine belief that Jesus is who he said he was, and did what he said he did. It’s easy to recognize people who genuinely trust in Jesus, because genuine trust causes the person to re-orient and re-prioritize their lives in light of that sacrifice. That’s what people mean when they talk about being “a follower of Jesus”.

Related posts

Why does God allow Christians to suffer?

From Stan at Birds of the Air blog.


The oh-so-common question hangs out there all the time: “Why do bad things happen to good people?” My canned answer is, I believe, true — “They don’t. There are no good people.” — but I have to admit that it’s unsatisfying. I mean, aren’t Christians “justified” — declared righteous? Sure, Jesus said, “No one is good except God alone” but it’s also true that “For our sake He made Him to be sin Who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21). “Okay … sure … we are not good, but we are declared good, so, Stan, how about a genuine answer?” Can we actually provide an answer to the question? I think so.

First, I need to be careful here. God has specific reasons for specific things and I would not want to try to delve into His specific ideas because, well, He hasn’t seen fit to share them with me. So I won’t be doing specifics. On the other hand, the Bible is not mute on the subject. So let’s go with what we can know. We know, for instance, that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love Him. It naturally follows, then, that “bad things” are not, in the final analysis, bad. So remember that what we’re talking about is the unpleasant, the uncomfortable, the painful — suffering — but not bad. Still, what’s good about suffering? Well, here’s a list of things I found in my Bible. You check yours and see if you have any of these, too.

He has a list of six possible reasons, and here is my favorite:

3. Your individual troubles provide a platform from which you can comfort others. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, Who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort, too” (2 Cor 1:3-5).

This is a big one for me, because I am such a good risk calculator and non-conformist that I avoid a lot of suffering simply by not doing anything dumb just because other people are doing stupid things. But once in a while, the opportunity comes along to suffer for righteousness sake. Then you have to take that opportunity to serve and the benefit you get is that your heart softens to others who are hurting, but who are accountable and repentant. What good is it to make good decisions if you don’t then turn to others who want to follow Jesus and help them?

The best reason why God allows suffering, I think, is so that we can follow Christ by imitating him in self-sacrificial love. It is hard to love someone self-sacrificially, especially when they neither recognize nor approve of the sacrifice that is being made to love them, but they just treat it as an entitlement, or worse – as a unnecessary brake on their selfish pursuit of pleasure.

I was once chatting with the brilliant and complicated ECM about whether I would allow myself to be eaten by ferocious lions for my faith, and I told him that although I would hope to be faithful, that physical courage was not one of my strengths, and I would probably cave. I just don’t like violence or the sight of blood. I didn’t grow up that way. But I did say this. I don’t get the opportunity to die for my faith every day. But every day I have the opportunity to die a little to myself by saying no to the temptation to just dump my faith and do whatever I want to be happy.

There is no shortage of time and money for me to pursue pleasure. And sometimes, I look around at what has happened to me (chastity, loneliness), and I wonder where God is. Doesn’t he know that I want to be husband and father? Why did he create me in this miserable time of feminism, socialism, and statism? There is a temptation to want to forget the obligations of that vertical relationship and just make myself happy here and now. But I think that part of the Christian life is being the friend of Jesus even when things look bleak.

And things will never be perfect. There is no way to go back in time and fix the troubles that I have had struggling to be faithful in a world that doesn’t want authentic Christianity. There were no Christians to comfort me and encourage me when I was younger, and there still aren’t many who help now. Those days are gone forever. And the only thing left for me now is to stand up again, spit out blood and teeth, pick up my sword and shield, and get back on my horse. And that is going to happen every day until I die.

That is what it means to be a Christian. You won’t get your way. You wont’ be happy. You won’t be like everyone else. You are always going to be different. Life is not going to be perfect. People are not going to like you for being a Christian. Especially not in the church! But when you suffer all of this, you will know what it feels like to follow and imitate Jesus, and that makes the friendship closer.

I think it’s important to be smart about faith. When I entered my relationship with Jesus, I knew that there would be challenges. I resolved to avoid sin as much as I could, to avoid peer pressure, to work hard, to save money, and to study apologetics. Obviously, no one is perfect. But I wanted to be ready for everything that life might throw at me. I expect to be challenged. I expected to suffer. I have prepared by becoming stronger and stronger. There will be no retreat. No surrender. I will go down with this ship. Faith is a very meticulous thing. You plan it out, and you plan on what you need to do to keep the faith. You don’t wait for the last minute and then hope to succeed by magic. Dig your trenches. Erect your fortifications. Protect your supply lines. Prepare your reserves for a counter-attack.

1 Peter 3:14-17:

14But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.”

15But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,

16keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

17It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.

Here’s my best post on the problem of evil, if you want more.

And my best post on why self-denial as part of a friendship with Jesus is the condition for going to Heaven.

Mary explains how sinful humans can be rightly related to a holy God

I recently wrote a post about the Bible’s teaching on why having correct beliefs about who Jesus was and what he did in history is necessary in order to be considered righteous by the God of the universe.

Mary wrote a comment in response that I am reproducing below.

Take it away, Mary.



Really good post, WK! This is an important question. And to be a good friend you need to answer it for your friend – gently, but clearly and honestly – because truth is more important to your friend’s wellbeing than their comfort. You’ve done this very ably here.

A few things I’d like to add:

Firstly, the questioner is coming with the assumption that there actually are such things as truly good people. This is a common assumption. The problem with it is that it makes light of the depravity of man and undervalues the holiness of God. We need to understand how perfect and pure God is. We need to understand how sinful and impure we are. The Bible tells us that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. This is confirmed for each of us by experience. Not only that, but our good works are as filthy rags to God. That sounds harsh, but we need to understand to what extent even our best actions are marred by depravity, by selfish motives. We have fallen not just a little bit short of God’s standard, but a lot. There is a vast chasm between us and God. The only thing we are deserving of is God’s judgment, God’s wrath. This is true of EVERYONE.

So the real question is really this: why does God let ANYONE into Heaven at all, rather than sending all of us to Hell? If it’s not because of our good works, then what is it?

The answer is that we go to Heaven because of Jesus’ good works. He is the only Person throughout the whole of history to live perfectly, to meet God’s standard. Because God loves these depraved, rebellious creatures that we are, Jesus comes to Earth, lives the perfect life which we don’t and then (astoundingly!) He takes the punishment which we deserve and gives us His righteousness. This is a magnificent gift with no equal. The Bible tells us that the wages of sin is death (so we’re in a bad way because all we’ve earned is death), BUT the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ (so God has offered us something we totally don’t deserve). Like any other gift it is offered but has to be accepted for it to be owned by the recipient. This is what is meant by “believing” – it is taking up that gift and placing one’s trust in Jesus’ work and not in our own work. It’s not about mere intellectual belief (although that is necessary), but about a relational belief. It’s about saying, “Jesus, I reject my own ability to be good enough and instead I accept Your gift of being good enough in my place. I place my trust in You. You have bought me with your own life and I belong to You”.

Does this mean that good works are unimportant? No. Here’s what is possibly one of the most well-known 2 verses in the Bible, Ephesians 2:8-9: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.” So it’s clear that salvation is by grace (God’s unmerited favour), NOT by works. But here’s the next verse, Ephesians 2:10: “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” So our new selves are GOD’S work, not ours, but the purpose for which He has recreated us is to do good works. Good works are not what saves us (only Jesus is truly good), but good works are the purpose for which God saves us. What are those good works? 1) Love God and 2) Love your neighbour. (WK referenced this in his post.) Loving God is something we can only do if we acknowledge God’s existence and once we are redeemed by God (i.e. have accepted the gift) and have His Holy Spirit in us, changing our desires and motivations. Loving our neighbour is also something we can do only to a limited extent before we are redeemed. This is because we need to have Christ-centred motives in our intentions towards that person in order to truly love them as we should. We can only have Christ-centred motives once we have been saved by Christ.

So what does this mean when we hear good, solid advice from respectable, decent non-christians. Firstly, we acknowledge that non-christians can indeed be correct about the right behaviour. What they can’t be correct about are the central correct motivations for that behaviour. They can’t be Christ-centred in their motivations. And there are also necessarily aspects of behaviour which are fundamentally affected by being Christ-centred.

Let’s take the example of marriage, seeing as that was raised. A non-christian can give good advice on marriage and how to build a better marriage. They can teach love, respect, fidelity, unselfishness, responsibility, etc. These are all good things. However, they won’t teach a Christ-centred marriage. They won’t teach that marriage is meant to be a picture of Christ’s relationship with the Church. They won’t teach how the husband is supposed to model Christ in serving his wife as her leader. They won’t teach how the wife is supposed to model the Church as it should be in submitting to her husband’s leadership. The won’t teach how marriage is a picture of the Gospel, of God’s unconditional love for us and our response to Him. This means that even though non-christians may give excellent advice, their advice is inherently lacking because it is not Christ-centred.

Is being a good person enough to get you into Heaven?

Note to my readers from other religions: Please try to be tolerant of my disagreement with you on religious pluralism. I am not saying that you are bad people. I am not saying that I am going to treat you badly because we disagree. You are just as valuable a person whether we agree on religion or not. I think that I am serving you, though, by urging you to consider whether you have focused on truth in your search for God. Is truth your number one concern? Anyway, please forgive me if you are offended. I mean well.

Dennis Prager is probably my favorite talk show host, along with Hugh Hewitt. Recently he wrote a fine article defending traditional marriage, which caused someone I know and like very much to ask me how Christian doctrine could forbid such a good, effective man from going to Heaven when he dies? Isn’t God mostly concerned with having his human creatures do “good” things? Isn’t that the point of religion – to make us all be nice to one another so that an ordered civilization marches in safety and happiness? Well, what’s the answer?

(The friend I am talking about is a Catholic-raised non-Christian, by the way)

So I talked to him about it, and recommended that he read a short article.

Here’s the article that I recommended, from Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason.(H/T Apologetics Junkie)

He answers the question “Am I going to Hell if I don’t believe in Jesus?”.


Sometimes we have to reframe a critic’s question in order to give an accurate answer.  The questions, Am I going to Hell if I don’t believe in Jesus?, is an example.  As it is asked, it makes it sounds as though Jesus were the problem, not the answer.  As though failing a theology quiz sends us to Hell.  Instead, we need to reframe the question to answer accurately and show that sin is the problem, and Jesus is the only way because He alone has solved that problem. Sinners don’t go to Hell for failing petty theology quizzes.

While giving a talk at a local Barnes & Noble, someone asked why it was necessary for him to believe in Jesus.  He was Jewish, believed in God, and was living a moral life.  Those were the important things, it seemed—how you lived, not what you believed.

To him the Christian message depicted a narrow-minded God pitching people into Hell because of an arcane detail of Christian theology.  How should I answer?

Remember that the first responsibility of an ambassador is knowledge—an accurately informed message.  What is our message?

One way to say it is, “If you don’t believe in Jesus, you’ll go to Hell.  If you do believe, you’ll go to Heaven.”

That’s certainly true, as far as it goes.  The problem is it’s not clear.  Since it doesn’t give an accurate sense of why Jesus is necessary, it makes God sound petty.

So how do we fix this?  Here’s how I responded to my Jewish questioner.  I asked him two simple questions.

Read the rest of the article.

Christians all need to understand how to explain why sincere beliefs and good works are not enough to satisfy God’s moral demands on us. My friend thinks that if a person is a “good” person, then he should go to Heaven. But God is not the flapping Tooth Fairy. God is more concerned that we understand the truth about his existence and character – that is the whole point of sending Jesus to die as an atonement for our rebellion. The problem isn’t that we lie, cheat and steal. The problem is that we want to get our own happiness apart from God, without wanting to know him as he is, and without having to care about his goals and his character in the relationship.

Here’s what God wants us to know about ourselves:

  • we have to realize that what we really are is rebels against God
  • rebels don’t want God to be there
  • rebels don’t want God to have any goals or character different from their goals and character
  • rebels don’t want God to place any demands on them
  • rebels don’t want to have any awareness that God is real or that he is morally perfect
  • rebels want to be liked as they are now – they don’t want to change as part of a relationship
  • rebels want to conceive of their own way to happiness, and to use other people and God for their own ends
  • rebels don’t want there to be a mind-independent objective reality, they want to invent their own reality that allows them to be praised and celebrated for doing whatever makes them happy at every point along their lives
  • rebels would rather die that put their pursuit of happiness second
  • rebels have no interest in rules, judgments, accountability or punishments

Here’s what God wants for us to be saved from our rebelling:

  • we have to know his real character so we have a genuine relationship with him
  • the best way to know his character is by taking time to study what Jesus did in history
  • what the incarnation tells us is that God is willing to humiliate himself by taking on a human nature
  • what the crucifixion tells us is that God is willing to die in our place even though we’re rebelling against him (Jesus is Savior)
  • part of being saved is to trust God by allowing his character to transform our desires and actions (Jesus is Lord)
  • as we grow in letting the character of Jesus inform our actions, we build a set of experiences that are like Jesus’ experiences – i.e. – we obey God rather than men, and we suffer for our obedience – just like Jesus

Jesus came to give his life as a ransom for our rebellion against God, and the most important thing we have to do in this life is to come to terms with who he was and what he did. Your own good deeds don’t justify you before God, because he isn’t interested in what you can do unless you are first interested in knowing who he is. A Christian’s good deeds are the result of identifying Jesus as Savior and Lord, and then following him by making decisions in your own life that respect his character. God doesn’t need you to solve all the world’s problems – he could do that himself. It’s not what you do, it’s who you know and trust that counts. The good deeds are just your way of trying to be like him and trying to feel the same thing he felt when he gave his life for you. You have a friend and you want to be like him in order to know what he feels so you have sympathy with him.

(Note to my friend: that is why sometimes it is good to love a person just because she needs love, and not because she is guaranteed to love you back – even if I get hurt loving her, I have the experience of loving her well, just like Jesus loves her well)

The main point is that knowing Jesus as the revelation of God’s character, and then following Jesus, is more important than doing “good things”.

The first commandment, according to Jesus, is found in Matthew 22:34-38:

34Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together.

35One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question:

36“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’

38This is the first and greatest commandment.

The second commandment which comes after that one has to do with loving your neighbor. But the second one is not the greatest commandment. You can’t love God unless you know God. That it, unless you make knowing about his existence and character a priority in your life to the point where you find out the truth about his existence and character. And not as your own opinion, or as the opinion of the people around you, or as the faith-tradition you were raised in. No. You have to value God enough to respond to his overtures to you. You have to know him in truth, not as a quick checkbox that you check off for an hour on Sundays to make your life “easier” because you are happier and the people around you like you. You have to respond to God like a Christian in an Iranian jail cell – out of allegiance based on gratitude and recognition. You have to know him before you can act to love him – who he is and what he’s done.

The way that Protestants like me draw the line is as follows – justification (how your rebellion is canceled) is God’s job. He draws you to him while you are still in rebellion, but you have a choice to resist him or not. If you resist his unilateral action to save you, then you are responsible for rejecting him. Sanctification (about doing good works) is not about canceling your rebellion, it’s about the later step of re-prioritizing your life, so that you make decisions that reflect the character of Jesus, so that you become more like him. Even your desires change as the relationship progresses. It is something you work at – you study and experience, study and experience. The whole point of studying apologetics is to build yourself into a love machine that fears nothing and holds up under fire, because you know the truth and the truth makes you free to do what you ought to do regardless of the consequences (e.g. – failure to be recognized and requited by someone you loved well).

The most important relationship is not the horizontal relationship with your neighbor, it’s the vertical relationship with God himself. And when you know God as he really revealed himself in history, then your desires – and consequently your actions – will change naturally. When you know God as a person, you freely make all kinds of sacrifices for him. You put yourself second because you want to work on the relationship. You start to believe that your own happiness isn’t as as important as working on the relationship. It’s like building a house. You don’t notice the sacrifices.

Sometimes, I think that the whole point of Christianity and that vertical relationship is so that we know God better. We sympathize more with him than we do with ourselves, because of how unfairly people treat him, how good and loving he is, and how right his goals are. It’s not that he needs help, because he’s God – he’s sovereign. But the relationship gets to the point where it becomes reasonable for you to put yourself second with God, and to let his goals become your goals – you want the relationship with a loving God more than you want to be happy. You get tired of ignoring the person who loves you most – you start to wonder what it would be like to actually respond to him. For Christians, the demands of this other being eventually seem to be not so terrible after all – and we try to put aside our own desires and to give him gifts and respect instead of worrying so much about being happy all the time.

It’s not irrational to be kind to the person who loves you the most – who sacrificed the most for you.

I happen to know Dennis Prager a little from his show, and his basic view of religion is that you can believe anything you want about God as long as you do good works. Many people in other world religions seem to judge religions based on the fruit they produce – not by testing truth claims using logic and evidence. (That goes for Michael Medved as well) And my point is that Prager’s view is the results of a decision that Prager has made about what religion is about – that the truth is not the criterion by which to judge religions. In another show, he was explaining how people should choose a religion, and his first rule was that you should consider the religion of your parents and family. Why does he say that? Because religion is not about truth for Prager, it’s about community and good works.

Dennis Prager is a far, far better man than I am. He has done enormous amounts more good than I ever will. But on that Day, he’s going to have to answer for his sins. But I have an Advocate who will answer for mine. And I am not indifferent to that Advocate – I am not indifferent to what he has done for me. He is not a stranger to me. He is not a get-out-of-jail free card that you just use and throw away once it’s used. I play for his team every day. I know him well. His existence and character are things I know through study, not things I have faith in, through uninformed credulity. I wear his colors the same in public and in private. And I know what it means to not be liked by people for being different than they are. I know what it is like to be hurt and alone, and to obey anyway.

Related posts

Here is a series of posts I did on why people go to Hell.