The victim of child abuse probably wishes that Christians didn’t brag that they “aren’t perfect, just forgiven.” He or she wishes they would have been perfect at not doing that sin that hurt them so much. And the same with those who have been lied to, stolen from, cheated on, or raised in a broken home. Don’t Christians have to be good at all?!
But the Bible doesn’t teach that Christians “aren’t perfect, just forgiven.” In fact, Jesus said, “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect,” and the apostle Peter wrote, “like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior.” Some Christians are saying that these kinds of commands and teachings from Jesus and His apostles were just to give us something to aim for, but that we were never expected to actually do it. But Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”1 And the apostle John wrote, “The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”2
And what about all of the laws to do with morality given to us in the Old Testament? Wouldn’t the world be a lot better place if those who claim to love God would just keep those commands? But some Christians are saying that God never expected us to keep the Law and that it was just given to us to teach us that we can’t keep it and so that we would see our need to be forgiven. What kind of being would God have to be to give us a law that we are not capable of keeping, and then condemn us to hell for not keeping it? He would have to be very cruel. Again, the scriptures tell it differently, “This commandment which I command you today [the Ten Commandments] is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach…but the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it.”3
So the Bible teaches that we can be obedient, are expected to be obedient, and that if we are not, we do not know God, nor do we love Him. Then why do so many Christians believe otherwise? Well, just like everyone else, they don’t like to feel guilty when they sin, so they start inventing complex “Christian doctrines” to explain away the way they behave (see sidebar for some examples).
How Can We Be Good?
Understand the Law
Human beings are moral beings with free wills, as opposed to being amoral beings like the inanimate parts of the creation, for instance, that have no capacity to choose between right and wrong. As moral beings, we cannot be governed by the laws of cause and effect (laws of force, like gravity) and still remain free. If God wants us to remain free, He can only govern us with influence, not force. This isn’t imposing a limitation on God’s powers; it is simply stating that logically we cannot be free and forced at the same time, not because it is too hard for God to do, but because it is an absurdity. The Bible never claims that God’s powers extend to the absurd.
God’s commands are not an arbitrary set of rules. They are suited to our natures. They describe how we must behave to maintain loving relationships with God and each other.
Out of His love for us, God also gives us consequences, rewards or punishment, for keeping or breaking the Law, to help influence us to keep it. If we repented and started obeying God, He would like to forgive us the penalty we deserve, but if He did He would be encouraging sin by removing the influence He provided for us to obey. And besides, once we have made our choice to spend our lives gratifying our own desires at the expense of everyone else, why would we change?
Understand the Atonement
So then, the Law is holy, righteous, and good.4 But if we continue to break the Law, we show that the Law is insufficient to turn our hearts from selfish to loving. We need something else. The Bible teaches that God accomplished this by sacrificing His Son for us.5 If we understand what great love was expressed by Jesus’ willing sacrifice for us, and we trust in God’s love, we will walk in obedience and stop hurting God and each other.6 The Bible called Jesus “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”7 In other words, unlike the sacrificial lambs of the old covenant that could only partially influence people to turn from their sins, Jesus’ sacrifice is sufficient to motivate us to stop sinning entirely8.
Some imagine that when we get to Heaven, God will magically change our hearts so that we start loving and stop sinning, even though we were unwilling throughout our entire lives. They imagine that He will change our natures, by force. But then He wouldn’t be governing us by influence anymore, our free wills would be gone, and we wouldn’t really be loving Him. The Bible says that if we sin, God is willing, even eager, to forgive us. But the Bible teaches that what He wants most is to change our hearts and for us to start loving and obeying by trusting in the love of God expressed in Jesus’ sacrifice for us.9 So, “go and sin no more.”10
101 Timothy 6:13-14; John 5:14; 2 Peter 3:14;
1 Corinthians 15:34; 1 Thessalonians 5:22-23;
2 Corinthians 7:1; 2 Timothy 2:19-22; 2 Corinthians 2:9;
1 Thessalonians 3:11-14; Philippians 2:15; and many more.