Leftover Legalism vs. Love

“What if… just what if people in the world can be brilliant and talented and moral and kind because people honestly have the capacity to be brilliant and talented and moral and kind? What if, whether god(s) made us or not, we’ve advanced enough that even though we have the ability to do horrible things we’ve also managed to create FOR OURSELVES a need and expectation to be good and kind to one another, and to express ourselves in beautiful ways.

“What if we, as a species, honestly have the capacity to find goodness for ourselves? What if we’re growing up?” – Dave Haaz-Baroque

The word religion can trigger resentment because often there is lingering guilt left over even after someone leaves a legalistic system which mangles our understanding of why ‘good’ even matters. The guilt can drive people to be defensive to the attack that “Your atheism means you have no morality… means you are amoral, immoral… for shame!” Such an attack reflects ignorance about ourselves and about God’s love. We all behave amorally/immorally, regardless our relationship with God (or lack thereof). The point is not to be a “moral” person (legalism). The point is love.

I wasn’t particularly motivated to be good after I lost faith (I have since been brought back to faith), but I did and do notice others who have lost faith, or never had faith, saying essentially “We can be good without God.” What exactly does it mean to be “good”? If we create the meaning of “good,” why do we feel obligated to do so if there is no God to judge us? If we grow into it, is it a part of reality that we don’t create? Let’s say that to be good is to love without prerequisite or discrimination. How many people do you know who love like that? If that definition is a creation, what motivates me to follow it, if the poor opinion of others does not motivate me? If that definition is a part of reality we don’t create—then isn’t that part of reality capable of love? Isn’t it God? Can’t His unearnable love motivate mine?

Being neither self-sufficient, nor eternal, we can’t be our own self-sufficient source of eternal moral truth. On our own, apart from God, we adapt love into what it is not (still perhaps calling it love, though it isn’t, or feigning to abandon it altogether, though we cannot… not without that part of ourselves dying). Often, we love from a lack because we are lonely and feel empty, but He loves and helps us to love from abundance because He is completely fulfilled and it is in His nature to pour out unmerited love.

If we think doing good makes us a good, worthy person, we are enslaved and do not understand God’s unmerited love. We cannot buy His love with good works, and works cannot really even be considered ‘good’ if not motivated by unmerited love (of which God is the source).

One criticism of Christianity in general is that there are so many hypocrites who don’t conduct or model their lives according to Christ’s example, either through resembling the world or resembling the legalistic Pharisees. The argument is that Christianity doesn’t work. If it did, every last Christian would be the spitting image of Christ. But only God is ever going to be perfectly good. Christianity is not about being morally superior—it is about an intimate, authentic relationship with our Creator. That we do not become perfect the instant we become a Christian, perfect in the sense of being self-able to overcome every single temptation in a single bound, points to the fact that we are not and never will be self-sufficient and that the point is God’s unmerited love, holding fast to an intimate loving relationship with God from which nothing can separate us – it is He who cleans the slate and is the author and perfector of our faith. C.S. Lewis writes, “If what you want is an argument against Christianity … you can easily find some stupid and unsatisfactory Christian and say … ‘So there’s your boasted new man! Give me the old kind.’ But if once you have begun to see that Christianity is on other grounds probable, you will know in your heart that this is only evading the issue. What can you ever really know of other people’s souls—of their temptations, their opportunities, their struggles? One soul in the whole creation you do know: and it is the only one whose fate is placed in your hands. If there is a God, you are, in a sense, alone with Him,” (18; 168).

We are alone with a God who loves us despite what we do, and will motivate us to love others likewise. The reason I was motivated to write this is because I have heard so many non-Christians say, “I can be good without God.” They are still enslaved to the sort of thinking left over from Pharisaical legalism. The goal, the meaning of life, is not to be a good, worthy person—it is to know love. God’s love is not earned—it is free. A Christian seeks to answer, “Which theory best explains the mark God has already forgiven us for missing?” And we won’t be able to keep that love to ourselves. That is the ‘why’ behind this paper: http://theswordandthesacrificephilosophy.blogspot.com/

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About Maryann

Maryann Spikes is the past President of the Christian Apologetics Alliance. She blogs at Ichthus77, and loves apologetics and philosophy. In particular she loves to study all things Euthyphro Dilemma and Golden Rule. A para-educator (autism) for five years, she holds a Certificate in Christian Apologetics from Biola University, an AA in Humanities via Modesto Junior College, and moonlights as a freelancer. You can follow her on Twitter @Ichthus77, connect with the Ichthus77 community on Facebook, or look her up on Google+.
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