There’s something I’ve got to get off my chest. If this turns into a rant, please forgive me, but I’ve run across this basic argument so many times lately, that I’ve just got to respond.
The argument goes like this:
Atheists believe there is no God. From the atheist’s perspective, there are no eternal consequences to your actions, either positive or negative. When you die, you rot. End of story.
Christians believe that there is a God, one who will hold everyone eternally accountable for their actions in this life. Their belief in God motivates them to be more kind and giving to their fellow humans and provides them with hope.
If the atheists are wrong, they will one day face eternal consequences for the wrong things they have done.
If the Christians are wrong, they lose nothing because they have lived lives filled with hope and been better people all around because of their belief in God.
On the face of it, this argument sounds really convincing. The Christians have nothing to lose and everything to gain from adhering to the theistic position, even if they turn out to be wrong. The atheists have nothing to gain from their lack of belief, but if they are wrong there will be hell to pay, literally.
There’s just one massive problem with this tidy little argument: it’s unscriptural.
The apostle Paul says in I Corinthians 15:19 that “If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.” Why? Because faith in Christ is not about making your life better, or making you a nicer person; it’s about truth, plain and simple.
Jesus said that, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:24-25)
The fact is, Christ never said people could try Christianity risk free. To become His disciple is to risk everything, to surrender complete control of your life to Him. To willingly die for Him. That’s what it means to take up your cross–to prepare to be executed as He Himself was executed.
Are the eternal rewards sufficient to offset the temporal losses He asks us to suffer? Abosolutely!
In fact, Christ also says that there are rewards even in this life, “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel’s sake, but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life.” (Mark 10:29-30)
Yes, Jesus tells us, following Me will be worth the price, but don’t forget that along with the benefits, there will be persecutions. Expect it!
So if we state that the atheist has got nothing to lose and everything to gain by becoming a Christian, we aren’t being true to the whole gospel. We are only telling one side of the story. Instead of urging the non-believer to truly count the cost, which is considerable, we are peddling fire insurance.
Likewise, if you yourself claim to be a follower of Jesus, but your Christianity is doing nothing to inconvenience you in the present, maybe you aren’t really following Him at all.
On the other side of the grave, I’m guessing that the people who will be most surprised that they were wrong may not be the atheists, but the ones who had claimed to be Christians, but had never truly counted the cost of being Jesus’ disciples, had never really taken up their crosses to follow Him.
Cleverly devised arguments may sound really good, but make no mistake, my friends; nobody can try Christianity risk free. It simply doesn’t work that way. Not for atheists, and not for us, either.
I’ve also never understood how one is supposed to try a belief. It’s not at all clear that what you believe is a choice.
I agree, and it seems really simplistic to recommend that people pretend to believe something they don’t. People who embrace faith must be firmly convinced in their own minds, or they won’t have the dedication necessary to go the distance.