11/12/16 Rob about 23
Unbelief is becoming more socially acceptable than Christian faith in many circles within American society, so it is no surprise that many who used to identify as nominally Christian are now choosing to call themselves atheists. Maybe that’s for the best, as double-minded false converts will no longer fill our churches and make them seem so hypocritical! Nonetheless, we want to be prepared to gives a reason for the hope we have as Christians, so this is part of a short series on how we might answer some of the questions atheists have.
A lengthy sidewalk conversation with Rob, a music major aspiring to be a high school band teacher, showed him to claim atheism with many of the usual questions and criticisms of Christianity. But my response to one question of his in particular really caused him to reconsider his preconceptions, and possibly to walk away from our conversation with a new perspective of Christians. His preconception of Christianity is that a person can indulge in sin all their life, have a deathbed conversion, and go to heaven nonetheless. Or one could sin all they want as a Christian, knowing Jesus saves them in the end. He wanted nothing to do with such an irresponsible avoidance of the consequences for our actions.
I couldn’t deny that deathbed conversions do occur, and that Jesus’ sacrifice is more than enough to atone for the sins of the most notorious sinner. The repentant thief on the cross next to Jesus is an example. He didn’t plan ahead for that moment. He responded when Jesus invited him. A person doesn’t plan to be “born again”. One can’t set an alarm on their smartphone to wake up to faith later in life. Now is the day of salvation. To decide to say “yes” in the future is to say “no” today. And the more we say no to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, the more callous our heart becomes. It is even more impossible to be saved at the end than it is at the start. But with God all things are possible, and we can’t be like the older brother of the prodigal son, who hated that his father would “kill the fatted calf” when his younger brother finally came home.
So what about those who claim to be Christians now, but continue to pursue sin? I told Rob that true faith in Jesus comes with a sense of awe and wonder that we could be forgiven at all. It comes with repentance and an ongoing desire to flee from sin rather than pursue it. Jesus put it simply. “By their fruit you will know them”. Repentance is the way to Jesus. Those who claim Christ without an ongoing pattern of repentance are false converts.
And we have many false coverts in America, where for generations there has been social pressure to claim to be a Christian even if one has never been born again. Most atheists know one or more people who don’t practice what they claim to believe, giving them a powerful excuse for unbelief. On the other hand, knowing a faithful follower of Jesus can be a powerful reason to believe.
So will we be an excuse for the unbelief of atheists, or a reason for them to believe? Possibly the most hypocritical thing we can do as Christians is to know our Savior and what He has saved us from and refuse to share Him with others. We may differ on how that is to be done, but surely we agree it must be done and we will do what we can do to be ready and to reach out to share our belief. That means much more than just being a “nice person”, because many of those nice people all around us have already turned to atheism. Ask them, if you care enough to be so bold and to take the time to isten. Let’s give them a reason to believe by caring enough to share Whom we believe in, the reason for the hope we that we have.