The full character of the living God is revealed fully in the gospel. It unreasonable to think that we should teach people first that God is holy and that they need to understand this first before they can understand the gospel. They don’t need to understand that God is triune before they can understand the gospel. They don’t need to understand that God is the source of morals before they can understand the gospel. First, we need the gospel.
The moral imperative is revealed to all men regardless of what they believe:
11 For there is no partiality with God.
12 For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law; and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law;
13 for not the hearers of the Law are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified.
14 For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves,
15 in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness, and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them,
16 on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.
(Romans 2:11-16, NASB).
It is not necessary to tell a moral atheist that his morals come from God, they genuinely don’t get it and it is not germaine to the point. All we need to do is acknowledge the power of the inward moral imperative regardless of its source. I believe that when apologists like William Lane Craig (whom I love and genuinely respect!) argue that God is the source of morals, atheists and agnostics are genuinely confused about the importance of the point. They say, look, I am an atheist, and I have a tremendous sense of morals. They’re right, because the condemnation of the conscience is present in all of us.
Whether a person believes anything or not, they know these things:
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,
19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.
20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.
(Romans 1:18-20, NASB).
When we appeal to the sense of justice and morals and truth that all men possess, and press them home, it leads us straight to the need for grace, to the cross. It does no good to say, we must establish what kind of God we are seeking to reconcile ourselves to. Nobody has anything but a self-serving idolatrous notion of God no matter how hard they try, no matter how holy they may be.
The true God is only revealed at the cross. The cross is where you go to receive an understanding of the true nature of God. The cross tells us that God is utterly holy. The cross tells us that God is gracious. The cross tells us that God takes the initiative and comes to us, that He does not remain distant. The cross tells us that God is the Father and the Son, and yet that the Father is not the Son. The cross tells us that God takes the initiative to save us. The cross tells us that we are worth a very great sacrifice to God, that He is passionate about us. The cross tells us that God chooses the foolish things to shame the wise. The cross tells us that God loves us first, that we don’t earn that love by our merit. The cross tells us that God is just, and at once merciful. The cross tells us that nothing, not even death, is a hopeless situation with God. Every possible secret of God’s identity and nature is ultimately revealed in full at the cross. There is no understanding of the true nature of God apart from the cross. We are not required to understand the nature of God first, in order to be properly reconciled to Him. The reconciliation, the nature of the revelation of the reconciliation, is the nature of God. We must go straight to the cross to get it. If our apologetics leads only to morals but not to the cross, we might as well preach the Flying Spaghetti Monster is Lord, or Frog is Lord. There is no apologetics, no evangelism, no discipleship, no Christian living or sanctification, no maturity, no anointing, apart from the cross. The cross isn’t the last point along a long road of presuppositional necessities, nor is it a long forgotten point of entry from way back when. It is the first and last and only point, the beginning and middle and end. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
Yet in our apologetics, we go to huge lengths to avoid the cross. We are afraid of its foolishness. We press that God is the creator. We press that God is the source of morals. We even press that Christ is risen. However, there really is a hole in our gospel. It isn’t what we do or do not do. We do not preach and teach Christ and Him crucified. We are too busy prattling on about works and behaviors that we think mark transformation and maturity. We avoid the cross, the one shining powerful all-encompassing word which God has spoken to us.
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.”
(Romans 1:16, 17, NASB).
19 For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fulness to dwell in Him,
20 and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.
(Colossians 1:19, 20, NASB).