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Can an atheist act in moral and ethical ways? Certainly, he can. All humans still retain the image of God upon them, even after the fall of Adam and Eve into sin. The image of God was effaced at th...
Of course an atheist can be a good moral person! Anyone can act and behave in ways we call moral or good, it's common sense. God lets the rain fall on the good and the wicked. We see this everyday of our lives. The problem however is two fold. An atheist (being created in the image of God) is absolutely capable of being a better person than anyone who puts on a religious title or claims a particular faith. Leaving aside they have no hope and no salvation -- they don't have a basis for claiming "morality" even exists within their worldview. They have no foundation in which to make claims upon that behavior. In other words they can't claim anything moral or evil -- for without God there is no such thing as right and wrong, good or evil, they have only personal opinion. Their reasoning would make no more sense than setting up courts of law in the animal kingdom for violations among the beasts towards one another. The atheist who claims a morality is simply holding one foot in mid-air by rejecting God -- while holding his other foot in mid-air by stealing God's law of morality and calling it his own. Now if one holds both their feet in mid-air they will soon come to find that it is God's laws of physics that will prevail for the atheist is unable to hover above the ground simply because he believes it so. Secondly, it is often said by atheists and agnostics and the weak in faith that "I don't have to go to church in order to be moral." Of course you don't! Church, while a place of instruction and learning is primarily a place of "worship" and fellowship. Church is about obedience to God and worship of Him as Lord of your life.
Morals aren't necessarily Christian. Christianity is not about morals, it is about accepting Jesus the CHRIST and following in His footsteps. So my answer is yes, an atheist can be a good moral person, but good morals aren't the reason we are Christians.
Except for those pertaining about God, an atheist can do moral acts. He can even follow the commandments from the 4th through the 10th. The difference between an atheist and a Christian is the "works" of an atheist originated from him/her; from "flesh-and-blood". On the other hand, the works of a Christian emanates from the Spirit of God, given by grace and through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Whatever "works" any Christian does that come from his own "flesh-and-blood" are not legitimate nor acknowledged at the highest level that God requires. Notice the principle that it is God, not anyone else, who decides and chooses what is best and acceptable to Him: Heb.10:1-6 "For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered? Because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins. But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins. Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me: In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure." (Remember, all "temple sacrifices", were not actually "acceptable" to God because he requires a "living sacrifice"(Jesus). See also Rom. 12:1) Gen. 4:3-5 "And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the LORD. And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the LORD had respect (or regard) unto Abel and to his offering: But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect." (God chooses what he wanted and prefers a lamb, firstborn.) Similarly, what God wants and requires are "works" of man that emanates, not from man and on his own, but from the Spirit of God in us and given to us as a gift, by grace. The "fruits of the Spirit" (Gal.5:22-23) have to manifest in us. In fact, this Spirit of God is so precious for us to receive, that it took the faith (of) Jesus (in) the Father that what was promised to Jesus, if he divest his powers as Logos/YHVH ELOHIM/Creator and dies as a man, would be fulfilled at his resurrection (Jn.16:7; 14:16,25,26). It took the "faith and works" (of) Jesus, his death as a man and his resurrection as a living "spirit-being", that we received this "gift of Holy Spirit". The preceding is a very important principle not yet emphasized this way by traditional Christianity.
Of course the atheist can be a good, moral person even without being a believer. The definitive biblical text on this is Ro 2:14, 15. Here Paul says, 14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.) The New Covenant (Jer 31:31-35) says, “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.” The key here is God's law written on their hearts. By making this statement Paul says that these unbelievers, who have never been told God's law, are already under the New Covenant. It is the same situation Peter faced in Acts 10. The standard Jewish belief back then, and the standard Christian belief today are not all that different. First, God sent Peter a vision showing him that God had declared Gentiles to be ritually clean, and Peter, the Judaizers and the Jews were never to declare them unclean. This was a difficult lesson for Peter but was necessary for him to even agree to go to Cornelius' home. It was not enough to get him over the next obstacle in his thinking. Even knowing God intended the message to be preached to these people Peter (like all other Jewish Christians -- the religions had not yet separated as God intended) still believed that God would not allow these people to be baptized. It was only after God put the Holy Spirit on them in a manner that could not be missed. Peter decided no one could possibly deny them the waters of baptism. Yet, once word of his actions reached Jerusalem, many did. This incident set the pattern that we are to follow, a pattern set forth in the law in the law of the New Moon and in the law of the ripened barley. Neither of these are found in the scriptural canon, but the procedures were well known in other writings. Both of these events required an observation of something before a declaration could be made. On the last day of the first month a visit to a barley field near the priests' city of Jericho was required. If the barley was in ear the following day would be the first day of the first month; if the barley was not yet in ear there would be no ripe barley on the day of the wave sheaf offering (the day after the Sabbath of the Feast of Unleavened Bread), so that offering could not be made. In that instance, a 13th month in the old year was declared, but if the barley was in ear the following day would begin the New Year. In the case of the New Moon (month) the first crescent of the New Moon had to be observed after the sun had set. If it appeared as expected the new month was declared. If it was not yet visible because the moon passed the sun too late in the day or because the skies were not clear the new month could not be declared until the following night. (It takes at least 2 hours after the moon passes in front of the sun for it to be visible to the naked eye.) These two laws teach the principle of observation that is necessary to the believer. We witness what God has already done in someone's life, not cause it to happen by the rituals we perform. Paul observed what God and done and declared those gentiles to be under the New Covenant even as unbelievers.
The short answer is yes. The counter question is asked by Paul in 1 Cor. 13. What would be gained by it if I don't have Jesus (love)? God's Word plainly states in Romans 3:23, "For all have sinned (even the atheist trying his level best to live a moral life), and come short of the glory of God (the image to which we were originally created)." Now since all people on this earth have sinned according to God's Word there can be only one of two outcomes. Once again God's Word states in Romans 6:23, "For wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." Scenario 1 - You are judged by God, found guilty as per Romans 3:23 and subsequently condemned to eternal death Scenario 2 - You are judged, found guilty as per Romans 3:23 and you choose to acknowledge and accept the eternal atonement sacrifice of "Jesus Christ our Lord" as the wage for all your sin and become an heir to the Kingdom of God and eternal life. Human morality really has nothing to do with it. 2 Corinthians 11:14-15 "And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his (Satan's) ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness, whose end shall be according to their works." In the moment we perceive our own morality as good, we place ourselves above God, the only judge of good and evil, and attempt to take from God the Divine right to judge. This is the very same reason for which Satan were banished from heaven in the first place and the same snare he (Satan) set for Adam and Even back in the garden of Eden. 2Ti 3:1-5 "This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, high minded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God, having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof, from such turn away". In the last part of that scripture we are warned that even though people may seem to live a good moral life, if they do not accept the atonement sacrifice of Jesus Christ, we should turn away from such people.
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