The 'Why Bother Living a Moral Life" Argument


This is one particular argument (see thread title) against universalism that I think is absurd. It rests on (2) assumptions that I believe to be faulty:

  1. By living a moral life, we somehow sharpen our eschatological resume in an effort to “become more worthy” of being saved by God. As if God would look at our righteousness (which is like filthy rags to Him) and somehow deem that our excellent ante-mortem conduct made us “salvifically eligible”

  2. That living a moral life would somehow be undesirable if we didn’t have the threat of damnation hanging over head. It seems to me the height of immorality to only behave morally to escape punishment, when in reality if there were no eternal consequences that the true selfish character of that individual would be exposed. The implication is that the only reason one avoids sin is because they view everything through the reward/punishment paradigm.

What do you think? Are there other reasons that the “moral life” argument doesn’t work?


Yep, it’s absurd. My ‘fundamentalist’ neighbor said “Well, if there’s no eternal hell then let’s go rape, murder and rob Doris (our friend down the street). Why not, if there’s no eternal hell?” :open_mouth: :open_mouth: :open_mouth: :open_mouth: :open_mouth: :open_mouth: :open_mouth:

I’ll be keeping a closer eye on him from now on :wink:


Wow, I hope he was using rhetoric to make his point. If he truly feels that if he was assured there was no eternal hell, that he would be inclined to do those things because it “didn’t matter”, then that is one morally bankrupt individual.


This point is something Mr. Pratt and I have been touching on in the freedom thread.

[Edited to add: this thread is now found [url=]here, with the new title “Freedom and Annihilationism”.]

It seems that two major issues on this is that even Christians seem to not recognize that sin will not benefit them and sin is unethical.

I’ve come across this same type of reaction that FB did and I found pondered it for some time. It became clear to me that many believe in God because they have to. It seems to me that people are irrational in that we seem to think sin is fun or sin is tasty. Thus we respond to our flesh and even defend it. If God does not torment eternally, then perhaps I should feed my flesh…

As if sin is not that bad???

I’m scratching my head wondering where their coming from.



Well, for one thing, the kind of ‘universalism’ being aimed against by such retorts (which I expect are entirely rhetorical, though not very well thought out rhetoric) is a kind that has no place for the wrath of God. Which isn’t orthodox/evangelical universalism at all.

I do find it very difficult sometimes to get opponents to even admit that I affirm the wrath of God and stress that salvation must be from sin. They imagine that I am one of those unorthodox universalists who want to license whatever it is they happen to want to be doing without penalty so long as it feels pleasant to them and isn’t obviously hurting anyone else. I can’t say those opponents are wrong to protest against that kind of universalism, but it’s frustrating sometimes when they insist on lumping me in with that kind.

There is no salvation from sin without the grace of God, and that has to be ontologically primary (by which I mean that if God doesn’t intend and act to save someone from sin, that person is not going to be saved from sin, period.) But there is also no salvation from sin without repentance by the person. Those who love and practice their lying, sorcery, murdering, adultery and any other item on the various injunctive lists (and keep in mind that God considers things like murder and adultery to cover a much broader scope than we might be comfortable imagining!), will not be entering the kingdom. God and the saints will always be encouraging repentance from sin, but God has no problem making it hot (so to speak) for people until they repent.

Also, though, I agree with the concerns by people who face this kind of opposition: there is no other righteousness but God’s righteousness (as St. John says in his first epistle), and God is not going to let us off with being anything less than righteous. But we shouldn’t be trying to be righteous simply to escape punishment; that’s what wicked and lazy slaves do! Not members of the family. I suspect that unorthodox notions of ‘imputed righteousness’ also lurk in the background behind this stance: i.e., the notion that God will simply pretend we are righteous and so treat us as though we are righteous, without actually leading us to be righteous.


I don’t think I’ve seen this used as an argument against universalism, but I see it used a lot as an argument against justification by faith alone. The rebuttal is obvious: “Shall we sin that grace may abound? (etc)”


The question is what now? As a universelist do we now sin by not entering into the Father’s purpose and destiny for our lives. That is Paul’s sin of faith. It is one thing to know the redeeming work of the Cross. It is another to Know the Father as Jesus knew Him. That is the invitation that the Holy Spirit offers us. Will we remain sitting under the tree of knowledge of good and evil or will we turn and see for the first time the real Tree of Life and eat.