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Why Aren’t Christians Better People?

C. Michael Patton began a series on questions he hopes no one will ask, which relates to my own series on DaGoodS’s questions that Christians hope no one will ask.  I examined a few of his questions in brief already, and I had intended to continue examining them as he posted more.  In the interest of time, I wanted to just write a small snippet on each and combine several in a single post.

That didn’t happen with the question of why Christians aren’t better people.

This question has been asked in many different ways by critics of Christianity, such as this so-called disproof of God’s existence on God is ImaginaryThis so-called disproof, similarly, asks the same question.

Bible verses are usually quoted by skeptics to indicate that true Christians are free from sin.  The most notable of these verses is 1 John 3:4-10:

Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.

The skeptics are actually right.  The love of God doesn’t abide in anyone who continues to sin.  Christians keep sinning, so what gives?

There is an argument worth noting as an aside.  Statistics show that atheists are virtually nonexistent in prisons, while Christians make up the highest percentage of inmates.  Critics of Christianity use this to suggest that Christians behave badly with alarming regularity; however, atheists are well-behaved and seldom do anything that merits a stay in prison.  With some authority, apologist J.P. Holding dispels the myth:

I’ll correct that as one who formerly worked in my state’s prison system as a librarian: Most inmates who sign on to “Christian” are not. Prison inmates profess faiths for many reasons other than true belief: It permits special visits. It often allows certain privileges, including breaks from normal work schedules, or the ability to “stand out” in a crowd of people who dress and live the same every day. When filling out forms, most don’t know they can leave the question of religion blank. And perhaps the most important: The religious buildings have AIR CONDITIONING. Actually, most “theist” inmates are for all intents and purposes deists in orientation. (source)

Okay, so criminal behavior being committed more often by Christians is bunk.  But it is undeniable that Christians continue to sin, despite the apostle John’s forceful words: “No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.  No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God” (1 Jn 3:6, 9).

The apostle Paul talks candidly in Romans 7 about how we Christians, even though we live in the Spirit, still submit to the desires of the flesh.  In another letter, he explained that he too still struggled with sin (2 Cor 12:1-10).  But Paul has stated that nothing is going to keep us from the love of God that is ours, obtained through Christ–not even sin (Rom 8:38-39). And the same apostle who wrote that those who keep sinning don’t have the love of God in them also wrote that God faithfully forgives all who turn to him in heartfelt repentance (1 Jn 1:9; echoing sentiments found in the OT, such as Ex 34:6-7; Deut 7:9-11; Ps 86:15).  Jesus, after all, told us to forgive our wayward brother seven times seventy times (Mt 18:21-22).  Will not God do the same for his children?

Why will nothing keep us from God?  Why is God always faithful to forgive those who turn to him in repentance, even the repeat offenders?  The same answer that Paul received from God in response to his own sin applies to us: Grace.  God will extend his grace to the sincere sinner who repents of his misdeeds.  So the issue, as usual, isn’t as simple as the critics want us to believe.

But the question still remains: Why do Christians behave badly?  I think it has to do with the fact that we are still material creatures with a sinful flesh.  The needs of the flesh are far more immediate than the needs of the spirit.  It is much easier and takes far less discipline to feed the flesh than the spirit.  Which means, as G.K. Chesterton once said, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting.  It has been found difficult and not tried.”

Even though we understand (on some level) that spiritual needs are “higher,” and more profitable to pursue, we still submit to the “lower” needs of the flesh because it instantly gratifies us.  Which is why C.S. Lewis once said, “Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.”  The spiritual battle is real.

But Christians don’t always win, and when we fail, a critic is usually there to point and laugh.  They cite the passage in 1 John, saying that a true Christian would never fall in the first place. If he does, then he doesn’t have God.  Since there are so many Christians who fall, then God must not exist, since God doesn’t seem to confer any sort of advantage upon those who call on him.

Remember another quote by C.S. Lewis: “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.”  It’s not a failing of God that a Christian falls.  It is failure of the Christian to keep his eye on the prize, striving to obtain heavenly things.  Elsewhere, the apostle Paul tells us just that; to avoid earthly, material vices and to strive for spiritual virtues (Phil 3:12-21).  Losing the spiritual battle is often simply forgetting to focus on higher and more profitable virtues, and instead surrendering to lower vices.

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About Cory Tucholski

I'm a born-again Christian, amateur apologist and philosopher, father of 3. Want to know more? Check the "About" page!

Posted on February 22, 2011, in Apologetics, God, Morality, Sin, Theology and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. That counterargument by JP Holding does not sustain, because it is an anecdote arguing against a survey.

    A counterargument that does succeed involves showing that the comparison made in the original argument is invalid. Usually(not always), the original argument goes something like: “in the population, non-religious are 10%(source). In prison, atheists are 0.23%(source). Atheists are more moral than theists.”

    However, ‘non-religious’ includes the following survey responses: ‘atheist’ ‘agnostic’ ‘no religion’ “answer left blank” ‘none’. ‘atheist’ includes the following survey responses: ‘atheist’.

    So, the comparison is invalid, so the original argument is not sound.

    also, I remember reading that in Ireland, ‘none’s’ are overrepresented in prison.

    It would be a very strong argument for christianity if it caused or correlated with a healthy wealthy, fair and prosperous society.

    however, currently, religiosity correlates with poverty and social inequality.

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