I recently reflected on this question, as I posed it to someone a long time ago and it just came up again, “Non-believers can make righteous and moral decisions, but what is their motivation or spiritual gain? And to whom do they credit morality? Vice versa, what is the Christian’s take in response?”
As a follower and child of the God that created me, I take it as the Bible reveals it: God is the ultimate Creator and the source of all ethics and morality. As Christians, our morality and ethical decisions are made to glorify God as our Creator. We make moral and ethical decisions based on the fact that we recognize who God is and that He is the only example of perfect ethics and morals. We have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, who helps us interpret the morals and ethics of a perfect God to translate them into our imperfect lives. John 14:16-17 says, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” and 1 Corinthians 2:13 says, “And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.” We have the indwelling of the Spirit so that we may make moral and ethical decisions that follow the Word of God. Otherwise, our moral decisions are made without direction or use. There is no ultimate use for morality without God. He cannot be glorified by godless morality because His Spirit is not present in such morality. Yes, non-believers and their religious views may be able to make positive contributions to society here on earth, but the morals and ethics of Christians are what make incredible impacts on society, beyond the physical humanity we see here on earth. Every bit of “good” morality that we perceive outside of God is just a trickle down from what He made perfect in the beginning. For example, if I bought a new car and I wrecked it that very same day, would any repair or replacement of parts be as fitting or ideal as the original workmanship? Could any human make the replacement better than the original, or would I merely be accepting the substitute as adequate? When it gets down to it, we just accept the alternative as the new ideal because we can’t get back to the original perfection we once knew. But, mankind is not a creature of parts and machinery in operation. Our Creator is not an imperfect mechanic who attempts to fix the mess we created as best as He can. Instead, He offered the beautiful alternative of getting back to the original plan. Echoes of that plan are the good we see in the world around us.
The brokenness of our choice to sin is what we see in the evil that exists as well. Mankind’s morality, that repaired car that is acceptable in comparison to the original, is what we see apart from God. It echoes memories and tales of what glory came before, but it will never be quite as good. So, in order to get back to the original, one must look to the Creator that made it all good in the beginning. We must seek Him to know Him–Know Him to see His heart and all that is truly good.
Christian morality goes beyond good decision making or good intentions and reflects a much greater motivation and reason for morality. Our God is great, and He is worthy to be glorified in every nook of our lives. Even in the lost or burdened bits of our past, God’s perfection has an imprint that marks His glory. His morality is what betters our lives, His love for humanity covers our dark and dingy pasts. Our morals aside from Him have no radiance, no matter how majestic or upright they seem to us. But in Him, our lives reflect His majesty. For us, to live is Christ and to die is gain. To live is Christ–in His glory, His grace, His forgiveness, and His love. His forgiveness is the ultimate gain, His delight in our obedience–these are the motivations behind Christian morality. We were made in His image, making it possible for us to understand that our morality is far from His perfect ways. Thus, we credit Him with the glory that is due, and we follow in the grace that was so preciously gifted. We credit our morality to His perfection, and our motivation to His forgiveness. Our brokenness can be made whole, because in Him, we do have perfection. It is not from ourselves, but it is in His re-crafting of our hearts into His that makes us see what is good, noble, and true. I am a human, daily in need of His perfection in my life — remaking me, molding me, and crafting me into a daughter of the King. And that, my dear friends, is the ultimate motivation–His touch in our hearts, His mending of our eternity, is the greatest gain.