“For the first time, a majority of Americans — 56 percent — say it is possible to be a good person without a religious belief.” The finding comes from two new polls conducted by the Pew Research Center, involving nearly 5,000 Americans.*
“’God is not a prerequisite for good values and morality,’ Greg Smith, Pew’s associate director of research, said in a post about the findings. Even white evangelicals, who traditionally believe a relationship with God is crucial to morality, have budged. In 2011, one quarter of them (26 percent) said it was possible to be good without God, while now almost a third (32 percent) say so. To be sure, most white evangelicals still say belief in God is necessary for morality,’ Smith writes. ‘But the share who say belief in God is a necessary underpinning of being moral has declined from 72 percent to 65 percent in just six years.’”*
Is it possible to be good without God? It’s a question worth contemplating — because one’s conclusion to this question has eternal consequences . . .
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WHAT DO THE POLLS REALLY TELL US?
I think the polls remind us that it’s far too easy to confuse the word “good” with the word “polite.” If these words meant the same thing, there would be no problem with the results of the polls — because it’s entirely possible to be polite toward people without God. Saying otherwise would be untrue. Many non-religious people are more polite than many religious people, because being merely religious can lead anyone to become nothing more than rigid, cold and legalistic.
If I’m honest, some of the most uptight, self-righteous, insensitive people I’ve met came from within the four walls of a church. Haven’t you met your fair share of folks who looked more like they were sucking on lemons than sitting at the feet of Jesus? (Keep in mind that their conduct is no excuse for any of us to turn from Christ. Someone else’s lifestyle is not a safety net for our own spiritual responsibility to follow God.) And, to be fair, some of the nicest, warmest, most wonderful people I’ve met became so because of God’s transforming work courtesy of Jesus.
It’s vital to recognize that “good” and “polite” are not the same thing — and herein lies the underlying problem with the attitudes expressed in the polls. The poll-takers essentiallly mistake manners for morality. Though related, they are vastly different. The polls demonstrate that we are now confusing, en masse, being polite with being holy. If manners were all God wanted, we have a huge problem with the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
Let’s think about this for a moment, because there’s a great deal hanging in the balance of our beliefs.
WHY THE CROSS?
Romans 3:20 (NIV) says, “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin” (Bold italics mine, for emphasis). The real issue is whether or not we can become righteous before God, because righteousness is God’s definition of “good.” In the eternal scheme of things, God’s opinion is the only one that truly matters. If following the Old Testament law cannot make anyone “good” in the eyes of God, then what makes us think we can create our own standard of “good” that God will embrace? (See Galatians 2:16, too).
To be righteous is to be holy, and holiness, not mere manners, is what God requires. With this in mind, how are you doing? Can you be righteous and holy apart from God? If we could be holy and righteous in our own strength, through our own effort, then the cross is the most confusing event in all of history — courtesy of God himself. God would have sent his Son for a need that doesn’t, after all, exist. But the need does exist because the Bible says, “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
The fly in the ointment of people thinking we can be “good” without God is the cross of Jesus Christ. The cross is the definitive statement of good and evil, and that God requires perfection, not manners. If we believe we can be good without God, then the cross means nothing. The cross is nonsense if we believe we can be good without God. Why the passion of the Christ if it’s possible for each of us to be good apart from him?
The Bible says, “without holiness, no one will see the LORD” (Hebrews 12:14). It does not say “without manners, no one will see the LORD.” A person can be “good,” as far as comparing one person to another — but God does not compare us or judge us in comparison to each other. He judges us in comparison to his standard of perfection, righteousness and holiness. God compares us to his one of a kind, unique Son, Jesus. Holiness is only made possible through the substitute sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross — for you.
The evidence of personally accepting the sacrifice of Christ is a life that no longer goes on, business as usual. Do you forgive people? Do you reconcile with people or hold grudges? Are you bitter or are you becoming more like Christ in character? These are the questions that reveal whether or not you really accepted Christ and are continuing in him.
THE DEEP QUESTION
The polls reflect a deeper belief system becoming more and more popular in the twenty-first century. It is that people think it’s possible to live life without belief in a God who defines good and evil on his terms, not ours. The real question is whether or not people believe life can be lived without absolute truth that comes from someone other than mere mortals.
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