Whenever I encounter atheists and agnostics, a particular sentiment tends to come up in conversation. It goes something like this:
The Bible, especially what Jesus taught, is basically a list of rules for how to be good–help the poor and treat others with respect. It’s entirely possible to do that without faith. You can give to the needy and be a respectable person without becoming a Christian. I mean, if you need faith to keep from murdering your neighbor or beating your child, that doesn’t say much about you, does it?
And you know what? They’re right.
Anyone can help the poor without ever uttering a prayer or setting foot in church. Anyone can be a law-abiding citizen without ever cracking open the King James. That’s because following Jesus isn’t about being ‘good’. It’s about being redeemed.
See, simply being good doesn’t save me from my sins. It doesn’t challenge me to reject complacency toward this corrupt world and its systems. It doesn’t continually drive me to grow in love, mercy, humility and self-control. It doesn’t free me from the bondage of selfish ambition, hate and addiction. It doesn’t bring me hope and healing. It doesn’t promise me an eternity in the presence of divine love. At most, being good by the world’s standards offers me self-assurance that I’m looked upon favorably by others. Being redeemed offers me so much more.
Here’s the various meanings of the word ‘redeem’ in the dictionary:
1. to buy back : repurchase.
2. to get or win back.
3. to free from what distresses or harms; to free from captivity.
4 . to extricate from or help to overcome something detrimental.
5. to release from blame or debt : clear.
6. to free from the consequences of sin.
7. to change for the better : reform.
8. to repair, restore.
9. to remove the obligation of by payment; to exchange for something of value.
10. to make good.
This is what Christ has done for me. He repurchased my life from the one who owned it: Satan. He freed me from destructive habits and my desire to engage in them. He rendered the consequences of my sinful actions null and void. He repaired my damaged mind, body and emotions. He changed me for the better. By his power, he makes me good!
The worldly concept of good is no good at all. Here’s what the Bible says about being good:
A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.”
“All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said.
When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Luke 18:18-22)
Jesus was out healing the sick, raising the dead, casting out demons, educating women and feeding the hungry. Yet, he rejected being called good by the world’s standards. Then there’s this:
All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us and have given us over to our sins. (Isaiah 64:6-7)
In other words, the whole concept of doing or being good apart from God and His redemption is completely and totally empty! There is no genuine good apart from God.
I didn’t choose to follow Christ because I fear I’ll otherwise swing at a rude customer service representative or shoot up a Justin Bieber concert. I chose to follow Christ because I recognized my need for redemption–and he was the only one offering it.