By Y Bonesteele
In 2019, Pew Research surveyed 38,426 people from 34 countries to find out if they believed if it is necessary to believe in God in order to be moral and have good values. Globally, 45% say such a belief is a requirement to truly be a good person.
Between countries, there was a diverse range of answers. In North America, the U.S. (44%) was more likely than Canada (26%) to say belief in God is necessary in order to be moral and have good values.
In the European Union, Greece had the highest percentage (53%) of agreement, whereas Sweden had the least (9%).Globally, 45% of people say it is necessary to believe in God in order to be moral and have good values, according to Pew Research. Click To Tweet
In Asia, Indonesia (96%) and the Philippines (96%) had high agreement percentages, while South Korea (45%) and Japan (39%) had average percentages of agreement.
In the Middle East and North Africa, many countries had a high majority of agreement, including Kenya (95%), Nigeria (93%), South Africa (84%), Tunisia (84%), and Turkey (75%).
Although this research is fascinating, we must stop and ask ourselves what this means and what it doesn’t mean for us as Christians..
The Tensioned Value of Morality
Simply looking at the question asked, we can say that those who believe in a type of god believe that belief helps them to live morally according to their own religious system. The difficulty arises when we encounter those that challenge our preconceptions.
What happens when a Christian who believes you must believe in God to be a good person makes friends with morally upright non-Christians? They often find themselves doubting their faith. These people are really nice—the most generous, kind, and thoughtful people I’ve ever met. They’re so moral yet they don’t believe in God or Jesus, while I know Christians in my life who are mean and stingy. What are they to make of their faith now?
Philosophers, humanists, philanthropists exist in our world, striving to make the world a better place, looking for ways to explain and encourage morality. Some may believe in God and some may not. There are numerous theological and apologetic explanations for “being good without God.” But as we look at religions in our world, what makes Christianity unique revolves around three little words: “It is finished.”
It’s Not About Striving
Other religions in the world, including atheism which in itself is a religion (a belief system or worldview), consist of striving constantly in life. A striving that keeps us anxious and discouraged because perfection is unattainable. All the main world religions from Hinduism to Buddhism, New Age to Islam, are all striving towards being better.What makes Christianity unique revolves around three little words: “It is finished.” — Y Bonesteele Click To Tweet
Christianity, however, is not about striving for the unattainable. On the contrary, it’s about a relationship with someone who already stood in the gap for you. About a God who says “come to Me and I will give you rest.” Transformation and sanctification are part of growing into Christlikeness, but there is not a goal we on our own strength are trying to attain. Accepting the work of Jesus Christ on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins and to rescue us from eternal death and condemnation relieves the stress of trying to do more or trying to be more.
Christ is Sufficient
At least, in theory, this is what we believe as Christians, but many times we live thinking we need to do more for God or be more for God. The enemy taunts us and haunts us and tells us “There is more to do; there is more to be; or else you are not sufficient!” But Christ says, “It is finished” and “My grace is sufficient.” I’ve done the work that needs to be done. Just know me and love me.If we are only focused on moral behavior, we have lost the good news of the gospel. There is a danger that we may be not making disciples, but merely moral beings. — Y Bonesteele Click To Tweet
In our world, morality is important. Being good and kind and generous are all valuable characteristics. But as leaders and pastors, if we are only focused on moral behavior, we have lost the good news of the gospel. If we stress a type of moralistic behavioral therapy above a relationship with the triune God, we are putting more pressure on our people than necessary. Yes, we need volunteers and lay leaders and transformed lives, but hopefully that is a result of a real encounter with the living Jesus, not because it is deemed necessary to be Christian.
It’s definitely difficult at times to hold the balance of stressing applications in our teaching that deal with behavior over being. But if we are to be true to Christ’s words and distinct from other world religions, Christ-centered teaching must also include Christ-centered applications for life. If not, there is a danger that we may be not making disciples, but merely making moral beings.
In the end, our belief in the Christian God makes us more like Christ, not just more moral. And we are more like Christ because we believe in His saving work, death, and resurrection that draws us to Him, knowing full well that our strivings towards morality will never be sufficient this side of heaven. Christ knows that as well and loves us still, because His work truly is finished, for our good and for His glory.
Y is an editorial coordinator at Lifeway Christian Resources. She has her M.Div. from Talbot School of Theology with an emphasis in Evangelism and Discipleship.