This is the response that we should and do expect from someone resisting attending Church. “Why do I need to go to Church? I’m a good person.” This is probably the most honest question of all of these questions, because it comes from the heart of an unredeemed man. This is the basic struggle we all have, Christians or not, but it is its most bare when asked by a non-believer. For Christians, the question takes on different forms, like, “I like my own interpretation of God and my own beliefs and my relationship with God.” But it’s the same question. It is the question of rebellion and submission. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” (Pro 14:12; 16:25 ESV, also Romans 3:9-18)
When Cain and Abel presented their offerings to God in Genesis 4, Abel brought a lamb, freshly killed, to be burned upon the altar. Cain brought the produce of his fields. God accepted Abel’s offering, but not Cain’s. Many scholars have weighed in on the story, saying that Abel’s sacrifice was offering the life of the lamb in place of himself, a pre-Mosaic understanding that only blood is an acceptable offering for atonement for one’s own sins. These same scholars then turn to Cain’s sacrifice saying that because it was not blood, it was not acceptable. While certainly possible, I think it goes deeper than this.
In every other religion in the world, aside from Christianity, a man was earn his salvation, doing more good than bad, tipping the scales in his favor. Somehow, every man’s heart knows that if there is to be an afterlife, he must account for his actions today. Therefore, every man who does more good than bad, or even those who are saintly in this life have certainly “earned” their way to heaven and earned God’s favor by doing such good. This is the essence of Cain’s sacrifice and all human religions. We have just enough truth in us to know that there is an accounting that must take place. Like Cain, We invest in ourselves, in our work, producing the very best crops, the best life we can, and at the end present the very best of our own efforts to the Lord to gain His favor. Yet God isn’t impressed.
Rather what impresses God is the understanding that we are insufficient to save ourselves. We cannot, in whatever fashion we create, invent or perform anything that will gain His favor. God made the universe. We cannot top that. What God sees is the submitted heart. He sees the sacrifice of Abel, the “I can’t do this on my own” of his offering. God isn’t looking for pride, but brokenness.
In Steven Spielberg’s movie “Ready Player One” this is illustrated beautifully. In the challenge of the movie’s premise, everyone must run a course with the very best car they can afford and win the race. Time after time, defeat after defeat, no one can win the race. It is unwinnable. It is finally discovered by the hero that the only way to win the race is to run backwards. Instead of racing forwards with all the other players and going as fast as you can, you put your car in reverse, and suddenly you are the winner, because it is the way the game Designer built it to win. In the movie, it is the only way to win the race, by not racing.
Like those characters, everybody is trying to win by putting their own best efforts into it. They are piling up their good works and trying to impress God. In truth, the only way to gain His favor is by admitting you have no good works, and you depend on Him for salvation. He has freely provided this in the Person of His Son Jesus Christ. The only way to win is to lose.
Again, prayer is an appropriate response. The Spirit of God convicts a man of his pride and sinfulness (John 16:8-11) and we must pray for that, for their defenses to be softened by prayer. He will not care who died for him. All he wants is his freedom to sin. If you have answered the objections above, then you can lovingly confront him with the gospel and God’s Word. An ongoing, loving relationship will bring the rebellious to the foot of the Cross. A caring relationship with you will establish a caring relationship with your church, because a Christian without a Church is like a sailor without a ship.