This is a statement that I hear repeated among atheists. They say, “we can be good/moral without God“. My response to this is, “according to whose goodness or moral standards?” It all depends on your point of reference. If you compare your goodness and moral standards to Stalin or Hitler, then well, I guess you could say that you are “good and moral”. One the other hand, what if you compare your “goodness” to God’s or your “morals” to God’s? Can you do a lot of bad things but as long as you are not as bad as Hitler or Stalin, does that mean that you are “moral” or “good”? When you start shifting the goal posts, it is quite easy to kick a field goal. When you compare yourself to God’s standards as set out in His Word, you will discover very quickly that even if you want to be good and moral without God, it is entirely impossible. How do we know this? I am glad that you asked. We need to turn to the Apostle Paul in his epistle to the Roman Church. He explains why it is impossible to be good and moral according to God’s standards without God. Our text will be Romans 7.
I. The Law of God set the standards that God requires of us. Paul understood this because he was a student of the Law, even before being born again. He had to memorize the first 5 books of the Bible by heart. He was very familiar with the teachings of the Torah. He knew what God required from man. This is what Paul writes about the Law.
7 What shall we say then ? Is the Law sin ? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law ; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “YOU SHALL NOT COVET.” (Romans 7)
The Law teaches us what sin is and what sin is not. Sin means missing God’s mark. We have to know what the mark is in order to know that we have missed it. Paul uses one specific example, the example of coveting. It is natural for us to want what others have. We think that it is normal until God reveals, through the Law, that we are not to covet. So, in order to be “good” and “moral” we have to know what it means to be good and moral according to God’s standards. He has given us His Law so that we can see the “goalpost”, the mark, the aim. So, first and foremost, it is impossible to be good and moral without God because without God we do not know what good and moral mean.
II. My sin nature uses the Law of God against me. Knowing what is good and moral is not enough. You have to live out what is good and moral. The good news is, it is possible to live good and moral but it is impossible for mankind because of our sin nature. The Law is good. It shows us what is right and what is wrong but it cannot cause us to DO what is right. Sin steps in and goes to work once we gain the knowledge of what is right and wrong.
8 But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind ; for apart from the Law sin is dead. 9 I was once alive apart from the Law ; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died ; 10 and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me; 11 for sin, taking an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. 12 So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. 13 Therefore did that which is good become a cause of death for me? May it never be! Rather it was sin, in order that it might be shown to be sin by effecting my death through that which is good, so that through the commandment sin would become utterly sinful. (Romans 7)
The Law says, “thinking about pink elephants is bad” so sin steps in and says, “now, try not to think about pink elephants”. Like it or not, want to or not, sin entices you by what the Law says is wrong. How many times have you ever said, “well, I am never going to do . . . again” and then not a day later, sin is saying, “oh, but . . . is so much fun. You will enjoy it so much. Just do it this one more time”. And then you find yourself doing exactly what you did not want to do? Knowing what is right and wrong but not depending on the power of God, leaves you a victim to sin. Sin will use the Law to entice you and lead you to sin, like leading a cow by the nose. So, atheists may know what is right and wrong but they are powerless to do what God wants from them without God because they are slaves to their sin nature. Once again, it is impossible to be “good and moral” without God. When you try to live up to God’s high standards without God’s help you end up saying as Paul did.
18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh ; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. 19 For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.
23 but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members.
24 Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death ? (Romans 7)
1) I want to do what is good and moral but I cannot.
2) I am a slave to the sin that dwells within me.
3) Who will set me free (I am in a bad predicament, as bad as death)?
The answer is found in the next verse and the next chapter explains how to live a good and moral life according to God’s standards.
III. The solution is the power of the Holy Spirit in me after accepting Jesus Christ (God’s provision for my moral failure).
25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord ! (Romans 7)
It is only with God that we can be set free from our slavery to sin and be in a state to live good and moral lives according to God’s standards. Romans 8 explains how we can do it minute by minute, day by day.
So, as you can see, it is impossible to be good and moral without God. The atheists are dead wrong. Please do not be deceived by them. They may live “good and moral” lives when compared to Hitler but when compared to God’s standard, they, like all people who are not followers of Jesus Christ, fall well short. Please do not be deceived. I have to ask, do you know God’s standards? Do you try to live by them in your own power? Do you realize that it is absolutely impossible? Are you still a slave to sin or have you been set free by Jesus Christ? What do you need to do with what you have learned? May God help us depend upon Him to live according to His standards.