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Kids are smart. They’ll figure out a loophole in anything.


I used to get this question (or some variation of it) all the time during my seven years as a youth pastor: If Jesus atoned for our sins, why should we try to be good?

You see, kids are smart. They’ll figure out a loophole in anything, be it a silly youth group game or, you know, their eternal salvation. With some regularity, my students would ask: “If the gospel is true, and Jesus died for my sins, then why do I still have to live a certain way? I’m already forgiven. I’m already saved. And God’s not going to take that away. So what’s the point? Why do I have to live the way he wants?”

To which I would respond, “Because, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer said in his masterful book Discipleship, when you accept Christ’s atonement but then live however you want, it cheapens Christ’s blood and sacrifice. So be good, lest you make Christ’s sacrifice less costly than it actually is.”

Okay. I never actually said that. I wanted to sometimes, but I never did. Here’s what I would say instead:

“Imagine someone gave you an expensive gift. Maybe a family member or friend gave you a Playstation 5 or an Xbox Series X for your birthday. That’d be a costly gift, right?”

“Yes,” my students would say, especially the gamers, who at this point would start visibly salivating.

“Well, how do you think they’d feel if you just shrugged your shoulders, muttered, ‘This is OK,’ and then tossed it against the wall? Do you think they’d feel as if you appreciated it?”


“What do you think they’d appreciate instead?”

“Me saying, ‘Thank you,’” they’d say.

“Right,” I’d say. “Same goes for God. You see, he’s given us a costly gift too. It’s the gift of our salvation. And that gift came at great cost to him. It cost him his Son’s life, in fact. So, just like with someone else who gives us a gift, we need to say ‘thank you.’ And part of how we say ‘thank you’ to God is by living the way God asks. That demonstrates our gratitude to him. It doesn’t earn our salvation. But it does thank him for it.”

That explanation reflects the Heidelberg Catechism’s three-part structure of guilt, grace, and gratitude. As the catechism teaches, our sin leads to guilt, our guilt leads to God’s grace, and that grace leads to our gratitude to God, which includes living the way God asks us to.

There are other ways to answer this question too. For instance: Christians should live good lives because our actions are an important part of our witness to nonbelievers. Good living is also the result of the ongoing, indwelling, sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, and we shouldn’t quench it (1 Thess. 5:19). Finally, living well helps us embody the proverbial “not yet” of the new creation in the here and now, giving us a foretaste of the life God will enable us to live in the life to come.

But my answer was the one I most often give: Our good living is one of the ways we say “thank you” to God for all God has done for us. And, having received that gift, I humbly think “thank you” is something we should say a lot, both with our words and our actions.

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