Thursday, August 29, 2013

Saved through faith alone- or, it's better to be right than good

The question has been asked, "Why are Christians so into opposing abortion and gay rights? What about helping the poor- you know, something Jesus ACTUALLY TALKED ABOUT?"

And, long long ago, when I first heard that accusation, I thought, "Well, the problem with abortion and gay rights is some people actually think those things are okay. I mean, everyone agrees we should help the poor, so no need to talk about that." (Uggh, I'm glad I don't believe that anymore. Also, a good response to this line of reasoning can be found here.)

But I think this is indicative of a larger issue within evangelical Christianity. We're saved through faith, not works. And that means it's better to be right than good.

Let me explain this one step at a time.

First, what is the message of Christianity? I grew up hearing evangelists ask, "If you died tonight, would you go to heaven or hell?" Yep, that's what's important. Heaven or hell? We need to tell everyone how to get to heaven.

And, according to said evangelists, a lot of people may think they get to heaven by "being a good person", by "doing good deeds" or something like that. But no no, good deeds can never earn God's favor. Instead, you have to believe the right facts about Jesus. Believe that he is God's Son, believe that he died and rose again, believe that he is the only way. Yep. Saved through faith, not works.

That's it. That's all Christianity is. (And no, I DON'T actually think 'that's all Christianity is.' But that idea seems pretty common in evangelical Christianity.)

So it used to be, whenever I heard someone mention "being a good person", I was highly suspicious. Doesn't the bible say there are no good people, that we are all sinners? If we start talking about "being a good person", someone might think that's what gets them into heaven! Oh no! We can't explicitly teach that you should try to be a good person, you should do good deeds- no, that's dangerous teaching, because someone might think that's how you get into heaven. We can't risk that.

Instead, evangelical Christians use terms like "love your neighbor" and "serve." Can't use the word "good." But even so, it's kind of an extra thing that's tacked on to the end. First, you are saved through faith. Okay, that's done. Now you are so grateful and so inspired by Jesus that you want to go out and serve others and show them God's love! Yay! It's a result of being saved. But oh goodness, we must be super-careful to never ever imply that being saved/being a Christian and doing good are connected in any way other than that.

You don't have to do good, as a Christian. But like, you will. Naturally. Because of the Holy Spirit.


Except that in the past, I've been really busy, and I made time for evangelism- for discussing the facts about Jesus- but not for things like volunteering, helping others, getting educated about the world's needs. Because it's better to be right than good, ya know. Because the most important thing is getting into heaven, and in order for that to happen, people have to believe the correct information about God. That's what I need to focus on. And unfortunately, I don't have time to do good deeds too.

But someone may ask, doesn't this seem wrong? How could God punish someone for legitimately believing something that turned out to not be true? How could God punish people who tried their best to live right and believe the truth, but came to the wrong conclusions about said truth?

And the answer is that, oh, secretly, everyone knows Christianity is true. They just deny it because they want to sin. They don't want to obey God. But I don't believe that any more. I've been in a few too many arguments where I tried to convince someone, "No, you really do know God exists! Deep down, you know I'm right!" (And when you're trying to argue that, you need to just stop. Seriously. Just stop.)

And the other possible answer is that everyone deserves to go to hell anyway, so isn't it so nice of God to at least let some people in to heaven? Don't argue about the requirements, just be grateful he's at least letting some people in. Yeah, I don't buy that either, not if "hell" is the notion of hell in popular culture. I can't accept the idea that God's definition of "justice" is something so totally different from mine. That God's definition of "justice" is TORTURE FOR EVERYONE!- something that I, as a human being with a God-given conscience, totally oppose.

Umm, right.

Not pictured: justice. Image source.

So that right there is the biggest problem I see in evangelical Christianity: It's better to be right than good. Doing good deeds? Who cares- surely not God! Nah, what really matters is identifying God by the correct name and correct religion, and being clear on what specifically he has done and how he decides who goes to heaven.

That's why we're arrogant. Because we're right about the most important thing ever, an eternal life-or-death question, and everyone else needs to accept the information we have, if they know what's good for them.

Lord have mercy.


  1. You remind me of Siddhartha. He looked at all of the gods and traditions of the Hindu religion and said, hey! these can't possibly all be true. So he set about taking the components of the faith which suited his sensibilities, and built a new religion from the ground up according to what he felt it should be. Isn't that what you are doing here? You aren't taking Christianity according to the revealed word as interpreted by any particular church scholarship. Your conscience tells you that God should possess certain aspects, so you are fashioning this image of what you want Him to be, according to your values. Isn't that like breaking the second commandment or something? (love me as I am, not an image that you create of me)

    It reminds me of Jesus. Isn't that what he did with the chasing the moneychangers out of the temple and the healing on the sabbath?

  2. I disagree. God actually said in the Bible that He possesses certain attributes. And then some of the ways Christians (and yes, some church scholarship) interpret the Scriptures negate those aspects-- and rather than saying, "Hmm, maybe we're understanding this wrong," they then say, "But this is what the text says, so you'd better get in line, no matter what!" Perfectnumber has stopped doing that. If some doctrine of a church contradicts what God says God is like, then maybe it's the church doctrine that's messed up.