It made headlines that the majority of Americans believe that a person can be moral without God (Pew Research Centre, October 16, 2017). According to the survey, ‘most U.S. adults now say it is not necessary to believe in God to be moral and have good values (56%), up from about half (49%) who expressed this view in 2011.’
Religious ‘nones’ believe it is not necessary to acknowledge God for morality. ‘Surveys have long shown that religious “nones” – those who describe themselves religiously as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” – are more likely than those who identify with a religion to say that belief in God is not a prerequisite for good values and morality.’
We accept the findings of the survey. However, the question is, what does the survey prove, and what does it mean for the Church in general? There are a few questions:
1. Does ‘morality without God’ increase morality in a country?
Does the belief that you can be moral without God mean that pornography will die; that violence, crime, child and sexual abuse will decrease? It should if it is true. The future will tell.
2. What is morality?
The definition of morality according to the British English dictionary is, ‘principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good or bad behavior. A particular system of values and principles of conduct. Goodness or rightness.’
- The general public uses the word, ‘morality’ according to that definition, but we need to distinguish between ‘morality’ according to the world and ‘morality’ according to God.
- The Bible refers to ‘morality’ as ‘holiness.’ Holiness is a prerequisite for eternal life with God, because that is the way people will live in God’s future Kingdom. Holiness is possible for a child of God, because Jesus died for our sins and made us holy in principle. 1 That means we can be filled with the Holy Spirit. He is the One who then works from inside us to help us to increasingly turn away from wrong behavior to the lifestyle God desires in His Kingdom.
3. Is ‘morality’ a substitute for ‘holiness?’
Being ‘moral’ will not persuade God to accept people into His kingdom as His children. It is a crude misunderstanding of the Gospel.
- The Ten Commandments illustrate God’s position beautifully. The first 3 command us to love God. It is the foundation that will cause us to obey Him and do the next 7 commandments. Without love for the Lord, there is no reason to obey His rules that are indispensable for His future Kingdom. Jesus said in John 14:15, ‘If you love me, you will obey what I command.’
- So we need to distinguish between morality (good living without God) and holiness (the way the people who love God will live in His kingdom), ‘…Since we have these promises [that God will be our Father], dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.’ 2
4. What other differences between morality and holiness?
As we said, the Ten Commandments give us an idea of what is basically an acceptable lifestyle to God.
- Some of them like, honor your father and mother, don’t murder, don’t steal, manifest very visibly. Yet others concern your thought life, like don’t covet your neighbor’s wife or possessions? Nobody sees your thoughts, but out of them come evil desires. 3
- In addition few people know what you do behind closed doors. That is why it is important to distinguish between morality and holiness. The claim we make is that it is generally impossible to live a completely upright life without an inner restraint, the Holy Spirit.
- If it was possible, God would not have insisted on holiness. Then living a moral life would have been enough. But, as we know, many ‘moral’ upright people do funny things in their minds and behind closed doors.
The essence of ‘true’ morality is, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all of your soul, and with all of your mind… Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 4 This includes the soul, mind, heart and effort. Yet we can only do it with Jesus’ ongoing Blood of forgiveness for our lapses and the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit.
- Hebrews 10:10
- 2 Corinthians 7:1
- Matthew 15:18-20
- Matthew 22:37-39