Greg Epstein, the Humanist chaplain at Harvard University, wrote a book called Good Without God, What a Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe to state what nonreligious people believe. One does not have to believe in God or any gods to be a good person. Many believe that they do not need to believe in or fear a God to be good. Epstein does not believe that the alternative to religion is to live some type of debauched, degenerate lifestyle. He believes that atheists, agnostics, and nonreligious people have as much reason to live a decent lifestyle as anyone else. Certainly we all would agree that morals benefit the society we live in even if we do not all agree where those morals come from or why people choose to follow them
So can religious and non-religious people live together in harmony? Can people truly be good without God? The answer is yes. People can be good for many reasons. Not everyone is evil. None of us is as evil as we could be. And none of us is as good as we could be. We can live in harmony by trying harder to be more understanding, a little more tolerant.
That may make societal living easier for us, but another question arises. Can one be good enough to get into heaven?
A highly religious Jewish leader named Nicodemus came to Jesus one night for a private dialog. The Bible describes him as a member of the Jewish ruling council, a person of influence. He wanted to know more about Christ and so he began to compliment Christ on his accomplishments (John 3:1-2).
Jesus stopped him in his tracks and got to the most significant part of his flattery. Jesus told him how he could enter the kingdom of heaven. It is interesting what Jesus did not say to Nicodemus.
He did not say, “Nicodemus, you were born into the right nation and the right religion, therefore you are a part of the kingdom of God already.” He was Jewish, in Israel and a religious leader. That should have been good enough, but it was not.
Jesus did not say, “Nicodemus, you must be good enough to enter the kingdom of God.” He did not give him a list of behaviors he needed to cut out of his lifestyle. He did not tell him to “turn over a new leaf,” reform himself, or clean up his act. That was not good enough.
Jesus did not say, “Nicodemus, you must try harder.” He did not encourage him to spend more time at the synagogue. He did not say that he needed to spend more time reading his scrolls. He did not tell him to perform more rituals.
Jesus did not say, “Nicodemus, you must change religions.” He did not tell a Jewish leader that he had to become a Christian. No one knew that term in Jesus’ day. Christ’s followers were not called “Christians” until after the Ascension of Christ. He never knew that term and certainly did not use it. He did not tell him to be baptized, join a church, or associate with a denomination.
Jesus did say, “Nicodemus, you must be born again.” Nicodemus even recognized that as something he could not do. He asked how a person could enter the womb to be “born again.” This is something that the Holy Spirit accomplishes, not the individual. It is not something one can do through right living or religious behavior. Entering the kingdom of God is not earned by being good enough, moral enough, religious enough or philosophical enough.
Jesus’ earliest proclamation of the kingdom of God was, “Repent and believe the gospel.” He said nothing here about church affiliation or religious practices. He merely said that people should turn to God in repentance and faith. The Holy Spirit brings about the new birth. Apart from the regeneration by the Holy Spirit no one can enter or even see the kingdom of God (John 3:3-5).
If you believe you have been born again, when and how did that take place? Can the people around you tell that you have been born again? It does not mean that you will be perfect, but your life will be different. You should have the desire for God’s Word as a baby craves milk (1 Peter 2:2). You may be good enough to live a moral life without God, but you will not be able to enter his kingdom unless you have been born again.