Faith and the Functional Atheist

Tommy Boland

At first glance, faith in Jesus Christ and the beliefs of the functional atheist seem as far apart as the east is from the west. But upon closer inspection, we see that everyone who professes faith in Christ does, at times, live like a functional atheist. A functional atheist is someone who professes faith in Christ, but behaves as if He doesn’t exist. They don’t say, “There is no God,” but rather they deny the existence of God in their lives by the way they are living at a particular time. The functional atheist has decided to live apart from the revealed truth of Scripture. He professes faith in Christ, but lives life as a practicing atheist. There are countless ways this is fleshed out in the life of a Christian. Let’s take a look at some functional atheists and see if any you recognize any of these folks.

Sunday Only Sam and Sandra –

atheistFocus on God on Sunday but forget about Him Monday through Saturday. On those days, they live like God doesn’t exist. Sunday-only Sam and Sandra confine their focus on God to the time they spend in the church sanctuary.

Home Only Harry and Holly-

Focus on God at home through daily devotions and prayer, but forget about Him as soon as they get out into the world. Home-only Harry and Holly find it easy to practice their faith at home, but not before the watching world of their non-Christian peers.

Painless Providence Only Peter and Pam-

Focus on God when the clouds are fleecy, the sky is blue and the sun is shining. Painless providence-only Peter and Pam keep their focus on God when all is going well . . . but as soon as the storm winds begin to blow, they take their eyes off Jesus and focus on to the storm.

All functional atheists have one thing in common: They believe they were made in the image of God but do everything in their power to return the favor by making God into their image. They refuse to serve the God who is because they prefer to serve the God they want. They believe in God and trust Him . . . just not with the whole of their lives. God is only part of their lives rather than all of their lives. I am the way, the truth, and the life. (John 14:6)

Jesus is not only the way to eternal life; He is, in and of Himself, everyday life. When He gave the promise, “Because I live, you also will live” (John 14:19), He was speaking of a deliverance that transcended the political, social and economical deliverance the people of Israel were looking and hoping for. He offers a life of freedom from the bondage to sin and the self. It is a life of freedom to live according to His will, rather than our will.

The Gospel is the cure for functional atheism. The more we focus on the Gospel, and the better we understand it, the more it will draw us into a life of faithfulness rather than functional atheism. When we catch a glimpse of who Jesus really is and what He really did on our behalf, we begin to focus less on ourselves and more on Him. We begin expanding our relationship to Jesus throughout the week. We begin expanding our relationship to Jesus outside of the home. We begin expanding our relationship to Jesus even when His providences are painful. Wherever this finds you, the power of the Gospel can transform you into the person Jesus is calling you to be. Fear, worry and doubt over an uncertain future are replaced by faithfulness, worship and devotion to Christ. We begin letting go of everything smaller than God, because we realize those things can never do for us what only Jesus can do. The unconditional love and undeserved favor we are given in the Gospel are the motive and motivation to give up our functional atheism for a life built upon and centered in Christ alone. This is the only place where we can live a life that truly matters.

This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

Rev. Tommy Boland is the men’s minister and sports minister at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church. He also teaches adult Sunday school. For more information, including Bible study resource materials, please e-mail [email protected] or visit For more articles by Dr. Tommy Boland, visit


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