When discussing Christianity with people who are skeptical of religion, the conversation almost invariably turns to one objection: “I don’t need God to be moral.” Most atheists and skeptics are generally good people—few murder, rape, or perpetrate acts of violence. And they manage to abstain from these obscenely horrible actions without belief in a Creator. Moreover, some atheists and skeptics rally around causes of justice and freedom, advocating for the oppressed and downtrodden. Again, they do so without the prompting of a holy book or divine command.
So, with a resume of morality and a passion for justice, atheists and skeptics combat Christian evangelistic efforts with a familiar refrain: “I don’t need God to be moral.”
However, that argument rests on two faulty premises. First, it assumes the goal of Christianity is morality. Second, it assumes their morality has a plausible explanation outside of a Creator. Neither premise is correct.
The Goal of Christianity Is Restoration, Not Morality
Perhaps atheists and skeptics who wield this argument have misunderstood the Christian teachings they have encountered. Or perhaps “Christian” preachers have poorly communicated the Word of God and elevated a set of legalistic standards as the mark and model of Christianity. In either case, this argument deviates radically from the message of Scripture by assuming the reason we become Christians is to embody a certain standard of morality.
The root of our problems as humans is not necessarily that we exhibit certain negative behaviors; rather, the root of our problems is that we are separated from God. We have chosen to misplace our love—to give our love and worship to things other than the God to whom they are due. We have chosen to worship created things—to seek meaning and purpose in money, sex, family, causes—rather than worshiping our Creator. This misplaced love has led to an upending of the created order, the introduction of pain and death to the world, and an irreparable rift between us and a holy God.
But God, in his great mercy and love, decided to bridge the gap himself. He sent his Son, Jesus, to die on a cross for our salvation and to rise again from the grave to give us eternal life. Christianity is placing our faith in Jesus, realigning our love and worship with their proper object, and experiencing the blessing of salvation and eternal life as the result.
Morality is secondary—a consequence of directing our love to God rather than to the things of the world. We don’t live to follow a list of rules; we live in a restored relationship with our Creator. You don’t need God to be moral, but you need to place your faith in Jesus to experience the restoration we all need.
Your Sense of Morality Requires a Creator
That someone is moral without a belief in God is not proof against God’s existence. Instead, we have to determine why we have a sense of morality at all. What gives us the right to say something is “right” and something else is “wrong”? Why is it wrong for the strong to oppress the weak? Why can’t people take whatever they want and do whatever seems good to them?
Unfortunately for atheists and skeptics, their worldview doesn’t provide adequate answers to these questions. Evolution works on the assumption that the strong oppress the weak—that the fittest survive at the expense of the less well adapted. Even if we argue that societies that work together survive better than those with oppressive, selfish people, that still doesn’t explain why stronger groups should not oppress weaker groups. Our sense of right and wrong, justice and injustice, requires a standard outside of nature because nothing in nature shares our sense of morality.
You don’t need to believe in God to be moral, but you do need God to exist for your morality. We exist in a world that exhibits the negative effects of sin and rebellion against God, and our sense of justice and injustice serves as a beacon within us that highlights the world’s brokenness and God’s righteousness.
We are crying out for restoration. We are calling for things to be set right. But the solution will never be more moral people; we’ll never reach utopia by our own efforts.
We need Jesus.
If you’re a skeptic reading this post, I hope these words encourage you to recognize your presumptions and ask more questions. If you’re a Christian, my hope is that you will know how to answer this common objection to Christianity. Additionally, my hope is that each of us will fall deeper in love with Jesus, praising God for his glorious mercy and grace. Praise God he has decided to bring about the restoration we so desperately seek.