Challenge Response: Salvation by Grace Causes Bad Behavior

Here's my response to this week's challenge:


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This week's objection comes from an atheist who writes this: “Christianity credits what you believe far above what you do. This idea has caused much misery and suffering over the course of the past two millennia. The notion that what you believe can erase your bad deeds is a very attractive idea to someone who wants to take liberties with the lives and property of other people. If you believe that the threat of the death penalty is enough to dissuade people from breaking the law then you must acknowledge that the promise of unconditional forgiveness is enough to entice people to break the law. And this is exactly what happened during the scourges of the Inquisition and other atrocities committed by Christians.”

With regard to this particular challenge, part of what they're saying is true and part of what they’re saying is false. Let me let me first give credit where credit is due. I'm largely in agreement with part of what they're saying. That is, there are some people who claim to be Christians who engage in immoral behavior thinking that God will forgive them no matter what they do. This is wrong, and they're taking advantage of God's grace.

By the way, Paul addresses this kind of behavior in Romans 6 where he says, “Should we go on sinning so that grace may abound?” He says, “May it never be.” We have died to sin. We are no longer slaves to sin. We are slaves to righteousness. So we are not allowed to go on sinning just because there is grace from God and He will forgive us for our sins. Of course he will do that, but we shouldn't presume that and take advantage of that.

To the degree to which this objection addresses and is upset with such behavior, I am in total agreement with that person. There’s also a part of this objection that I think is false. It's the part where they say that Christianity places belief as a much higher priority over what you do. This is mistaken. In fact, I would argue the opposite is true. 

For example, the book of James talks about how faith without works is dead. In other words, if you claim to be a follower of Jesus Christ and then behave like a pagan, then you're a liar, and the truth is not in you. In fact, James goes on to talk about how Abraham and Rahab were credited with righteousness and justified based on what they did because their behavior was consistent with their faith, not the opposite.

I think that part of the mistake of this challenge stems from a misunderstanding of the notion of faith and the idea is that faith is simply just belief. Of course, this is not the biblical characterization of faith. Rather, faith is defined mostly like trust. We put our trust in God. The way my pastor often describes faith is this: It's trusting God enough to do what He says. In other words, faith entails trusting God enough to trust his commands for our life - living like Christ and letting his morals determine how we should live - that is true faith. It's trusting God enough to do what He says and to live in such a way that we bring honor to the name of Christ because we're trying to live like Him.

So this idea that somehow faith is just mere belief, and we can then behave however we want is completely contrary to the biblical characterization of faith. In fact, in order for faith to be genuine, we need to live like Christ. After all, Jesus says, “If you love me, you'll obey my commands” (John 14:15). So Christianity doesn't place belief over actions. Rather, God cares about your behavior. God cares about how we live.

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Alan Shlemon