I’m going to start this off by noting that this post will be more for Christian edification. It’s an in-house discussion, and not intended as an apologetic against atheists (although adequately alliterated!). As such, I ask our atheist readers to respect that.
The sermon at church this morning got me thinking about something. And I should note that the pastor didn’t actually address any of this in great detail (he only mentioned it in passing, as his sermon was on a different topic); but I think good sermons are the kind that get you thinking about further implications.
In any case, to set up the matter, we were dealing with the idea of what the Christian response to God’s mercy should be. In short, let us start with the following truths (which for purposes of my post are given and not up for debate here).
1. Christ bore all the sins of those whom He saved when He died on the cross.
2. No one who is saved will ever lose his salvation (because that would make God unjust, given 1).
Now given these two premises, a common objection is: What motivation does any Christian have for doing good then? After all, if we are saved and cannot lose our salvation, and if our sins are punished in Christ, then why not sin freely?
These questions are often used to attack Calvinism. Unfortunately for the non-Calvinist, to ask these questions assumes another Calvinistic principal: total depravity. See, I find it very interesting that everyone knows at an instinctive level that in the absence of rules men are as evil as they possibly can be. After all, that is the gist of the objection above: if Christ paid it all and we are free to sin, then there is no reason for us not to sin.
But what kind of person would live with the attitude, There is no reason for me to do good, therefore I shall do evil? The answer: a depraved person. To put forth this objection is to admit the depravity of mankind, which would (in the absence of God’s restraining grace) result in the worst possible world that one can imagine.
Now the typical response to this objection (and indeed, the response my pastor took) is usually along the lines of saying: “God is our Father. And if we love our Father, we wouldn’t want to do anything that would upset Him.”
While this is true, I think that understanding the implications of depravity that underline the objection in the first place provides us with a stronger response. The response to the objection ought to be: What kind of person would WANT to do evil simply because he can do it? If you are the kind of person who would actually want this, how could you possibly believe you are redeemed by Christ?
And this gets to the heart of the matter. If we are regenerated by God, then He is making us into new people. Granted, the process is long and not instantaneous. However, He does remove our heart of stone and gives us a heart of flesh. He does free us from the bondage of our depravity (and if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed).
In other words, if you are told that Christ has taken all your transgressions upon Himself and that you can have full assurance of salvation, your first thought should never be, Good, now I can sin as much as I want, because that is the thought of the unregenerate. If you are thinking this way, it’s a good indication that you are not saved at all.
In the end, while it remains true that we ought to obey God because we love Him and we want to please Him, our obedience to God ought to also become something that transcends such a calculating process. Sin should become unthinkable to the point that you no longer want it at all.
This is the essence of Luther’s famous quip: “Love God. Do what you want.” Because if you love God, what you want to do is to obey Him. In other words, for the actual Christian the objection to Reformed doctrine is a moot point. Sure, we can sin and do the most vile things ever contemplated knowing that Christ has us covered; but our heart’s desire will be to flee evil and cling to what is righteous.
In the end, this is the essence of sanctification. When we are fully sanctified, sin will be impossible—not because we lack the “hardware” needed to commit sin, but because the “software” of our nature will be such that we will only desire righteousness all the time.
And if you’re currently contemplating whether you are saved or not, use this as a test: Does your heart resonate with the idea that forgiveness is a license to sin more, or do you long for the day when sin becomes unthinkable?