The Gospel message in the Bible assumes the existence of God. So, is belief in God, in and of itself, meritorious?
Belief in God is basic to Christianity. The Bible never sets out to prove the existence of God — it assumes God’s existence. Yes, the apostle Paul in the book of Romans say that God’s existence can be seen from created things — but in a day and age when people talk and write (quite seriously) about self-organization in the universe, and the development of life from natural processes, this observation seems a bit less obvious than it did at the time it was written. The Christian Gospel of Jesus Christ has a lot of backstory to it. The Old Testament story of Israel is an assumption for the New Testament. The story of Jesus is understood against the backdrop of the previous story of Israel. And, what we have in the Old Testament is the story of Israel’s relationship with God. This growing and changing portrait of God lies behind all that Jesus says about his “heavenly Father.”
So, if belief in God is considered a disputed point, can the Gospel still be heard?
Or, looking at it another way: if faith in Christ is the basis of human salvation from sin and divine judgement (as generally regarded by Christians), and faith in Christ presupposes belief in God, then is belief in God itself meritorious?
Some people already believe that the issue of faith versus unbelief is the existence of God. They seem to think belief in the existence of God, per se, is the essence of Christianity — and that it somehow helps to make one a “good person.” I don’t know how many people really think like that — but it appears that some do. Yet, for Christians, the issue of faith is trust in Christ. We see Christ as being our way to understanding God.
Is belief in [a] God meritorious? I think the answer is No. My reasons follow. (more…)
A quote from a book I read several years ago. This is from Michael J. Gorman, professor of Biblical Studies and Theology at St. Mary’s Seminary & University in Baltimore, Maryland.
Here Dr. Gorman stresses the transformational character of justification by faith.
“For Paul, I would contend, justification means the establishment or restoration of right covenant relations, both ‘vertical’ or theological (toward God) and also, inseparably, ‘horizontal’ or social (toward others) — what Paul most frequently calls ‘pistis’ and ‘agape‘ — with the certain hope of ultimate vindication and glory, all understood in the light of, and experienced through, Christ and the Spirit.
“Or, as I have said more succinctly elsewhere:
Justification for Paul may be defined as follows: the establishment or restoration of right covenantal relations — fidelity to God and love for neighbor — with the certain hope of acquittal/vindication on the day of judgement.
“This is life indeed, both present and future, the goal of every Jew, the essential substance of the covenant, and the purpose of the divine gift of the Law and, for Paul, the purpose of the divine gifts of Christ and of the Spirit.
“The actual language of justification is drawn from four interlocking realms:
- theological, referring to the divine character — God is just;
- covenantal, referring to the moral obligations associated with a communal, covenant relationship with God — God requires justice;
- legal, referring to juridical images of God as judge — God judges and pardons, and
- eschatological, referring to future judgement and salvation — God will judge and grant approval and life (or condemnation and death) on the day of the Lord.
“The just/righteous are those who are, and who will be vindicated as being, in right covenant relationship with the just/righteous God of the covenant as that God’s distinctive people. In Christ, (or, better, in the Messiah), of course, that relationship is open to Jews and Gentiles alike.
“For Paul, then, justification is not merely or even primarily juridical or judicial — the image of the divine judge pronouncing pardon or acquittal. That is part, but only part, of the significance of justification. The judicial image must be understood within a wider covenental, relational, participatory, and transformative framework.”
Dr. Gorman has written several excellent books on the Bible and Biblical theology. Here is the listing at Amazon: Michael J. Gorman.