I have a friend who is the most vociferous, aggressive, and hostile atheist you could ever imagine. He’s the only person I’ve ever had to block on social media due to his offensive, crass, and angry speech. I struggled with how to navigate conversations with him on the occasions I saw him face to face. Then, just a few days ago, I received this text from him:
Jonathan, I have come to realize certain mistakes and bad behavior about myself and wish to make amends. I honestly just have come to realize that faith is a great thing for billions of people. And in these crazy times, it is the Christians who have it all right. They are the ones showing true love. And I have personally attacked you for your faith. And it now sickens me. I was wrong and see that now so clearly…. I think God has been compelling me to reach out to you and let you know I may have been saved. All this stuff is so foreign to me, having grown up in a sea of atheists. But I now know they are missing something.
My atheist friend realized something dramatic: The good life is the life with God. The question is, how does the Christian live that life? The answer isn’t complicated; it’s just difficult. We follow the instructions laid out in the Bible. Simply, we read the Bible and do what it says. You see, people who don’t know God don’t follow him. They don’t want to. They’re following their own passions and desires (Rom. 1:24–26). This is how my friend lived, and he realized it left him empty. He realized there was more.
According to the true story of reality found in the Bible, Christians are God’s handiwork, created to do good works (Eph. 2:10). What are those good works? They’re described in God’s instructions. For example, God tells us to avoid certain behaviors like “sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these” (Gal. 5:19–20).
This might sound like God is just trying to rain on your parade or prevent you from having fun. He’s not. He knows these behaviors will hurt us and others. God’s commands—his instructions—are for our good and for the good of others. The things he tells you not to do are bad for you, and he knows it.
There are positive instructions too—things God tells us to do because they benefit us and others. For example, we’re to care for the widow and orphan (Jas. 1:27), help the poor (Pr. 14:31), and be compassionate, kind, humble, gentle, patient, and forgiving (Col. 3:12–13).
There are three important principles to remember when talking about obeying God’s instructions. First, above all other instructions is the command to love—love God and love others (Matt. 22:36–39)—and the purpose of every command is to teach us how to love (Matt. 22:40). Keep in mind, God-defined love—real love—often looks different from the world’s love, which isn’t love at all.
Second, because God loves you, he wants you to flourish. The way to flourish is to abide in Christ and follow his instructions (John 15:4–11). To flourish is to do the will of God, not man. When we follow God’s commands (his instructions), our lives are always better. Notice I’m not saying life is easier when you abide in God. Often, it’s not. It’s always better, though, because it’s the life we were created to live. And we know the trials of life will eventually pass. They pale in comparison to the glory that awaits us (2 Cor. 4:17; Rom. 8:18).
Third, always remember you’re not just following rules to follow rules, and you’re not following rules to be saved. You follow the rules because you are saved. You are now a child of God. Having been purchased out of slavery to sin, you are now free to pursue holiness (Rom. 6). Your affections are now bent towards God. Keep in mind, God also helps you not to fall into the traps of sin by giving you the Holy Spirit to guide and protect you and help you live for him (Rom. 8:9–30).
How we live matters. Not only do we have a deeper, more meaningful, more fruitful life when we follow the instructions, but people see it and want what we have. I bet you’re aware of one famous instruction having to do with apologetics: “Always [be] ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet. 3:15). What you might not be aware of is the context. The need to defend the faith comes as the watching community sees Christians living lives consistent with the instructions of their Maker even when they suffer persecution for it. They see that the good life, even in the face of suffering, is the life with God. This is exactly what my angry, atheist friend saw, and it changed his life.