The Evidence of Our Faith

We have stated many times that because we are finite we cannot have definitive proof for events that occur away from our space and time.  That includes the death and resurrection of Jesus so are we Christians totally devoid of any evidence for our faith?

“The evidence [the apostles] offered was neither signed statements of neutral observers nor closely reasoned philosophic argument:  it was the evidence of lives changed utterly by contact with the risen Christ.  And today if anything will shake and persuade the mocker, perhaps it will not be our arguments:  it will be the degree of our own conviction.  And that depends always upon the reality of our personal commitment to the risen Lord.” [1]

Before his conversion, Lee Strobel, the author of several books on Christian apologetics, had not spent much time investigating Christianity because it seemed to him that God was just a product of wishful thinking.  He thought, from his cursory look, that Jesus was just another man and saw no reason to look further.  It was only when his wife became a Christian and he saw her transformed life that he began to investigate. [2]

Stewart quotes Nietzsche as saying:  “These Christians must show me they are redeemed before I will believe in their Redeemer. [3]  Until we include in our doctrine of salvation that it is necessary to change of our soul so it becomes like God and turn that doctrine into reality, we will not be able to show people like Nietzsche that we are redeemed.  And as a result we make it difficult for them to believe in our Redeemer.

A transformed life is the best evidence we have for our faith.  Why do we ignore it in our doctrine?  Why do we fail to implement it in our lives?

“. . .let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16 ESV).

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[1]  James S. Stewart, A Faith to Proclaim, Vancouver, British Columbia:  Regent College Publishing, 1953, 116.

[2]   Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ, Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan Publishing House, 1998, pp. 13-14.

[3]   Stewart, p. 45.

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The Resurrection of Jesus Christ

Readers of this blog or of my book will have noticed that I question why the resurrection of Jesus does not get more attention in our theology.  For much of Christianity, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is an “epilogue to the Gospel, an addendum to the scheme of salvation.  . .” [1]  That is except for Easter Sunday when it receives attention for just one day.  Why?  The Bible teaches that Christ’s resurrection is necessary for our salvation (Romans10:5-11, 1 Peter 3:21-22) but we seem to have delegated it to a minor event.

Others have asked this question as well.  James Fowler back in 2001 issued a call for a resurrection theology but I have not seen an answer to his call.  H. A Williams wrote True Resurrection in which he states that for most of us, Christ’s resurrection is meaningless because it does not have an impact on our lives. [2]  James S. Stewart asks similar questions.  He states the apostolic teaching of the resurrection is that it demonstrates that a power exists and is in action that is stronger than the evil that crucified Jesus. [3]   What the Christian community has failed to understand is that the power of the resurrection is available to us and as a result we have failed to use that power.  Stewart asks:  “Why is there such a difference between the promise and the actuality as we know it in our lives and see it in the church and in the world around?” [4]

Part of the answer is that we have reduced Christianity to a belief system.  All we need to do to be saved is to believe in Jesus and his death for our sins.  But is that what the Bible teaches?  Stewart maintains that Christianity is “a decisive relationship to a living Person”  [5], the resurrected Jesus.  What Christianity needs is to recover that decisive relationship and we recover it by meditation on the Gospel and by following the teachings of Jesus. [6]  We recover it by living the new life God has planned for us.

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[1]   James S. Stewart, A Faith to Proclaim, Vancouver, British Columbia:  Regent College Publishing, 1953. p.105.

[2]   H. A. Williams, True Resurrection, Springfield, IL:  Templegate Publishers, 1972, pp. 3-5.

[3]   Stewart, p. 122.

[4]   Stewart, pp. 137-138.

[5]   Stewart, p. 146.

[6]   Stewart, pp. 159-160.

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Once We Are Saved

Christian doctrine states that we must believe in Jesus and his death for our sins to be saved.  This is the only requirement we must meet to spend eternity with God. The problem with this doctrine is, as some theologians admit, it is possible for “a person to receive Jesus as Savior without in any way embracing him as Lord.  Neither repentance or submission to Christ’s Lordship is a necessary element of saving faith” [1]  Is it true that “For a one-time admission of weakness and failure [we get] eternal peace with God.” [2]

So what else is there for us to do once we believe?  Can we just go on living our lives as we did before we were saved?  Or maybe we will latch onto what is called the prosperity gospel.  God does want to give us good things (Matthew 7:11) but is that God’s primary goal for our lives once we are saved?

As this blog has adequately demonstrated, the Bible teaches, and our doctrine of salvation should teach, that what God wants from us the most is to become like him.  Believing in Christ and his death for our sins is a great first step but God wants more than that first step.  Maybe we should heed the words of Jesus when he says “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  (Matthew 7:21-22 ESV)  And doing God’s will is more than a one-time profession of faith.

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[1]   R. C. Sproul, Faith Alone, Grand Rapids, MI:  Baker Books, 1995, pp. 168-169.

[2]   Chris Stamper, “Authors by the Dozen”, World, Vol. 17, No. 23, p. 53.

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Repentance

This past Sunday our pastor mentioned 2 Peter 3:9-10 in his sermon and that prompted me to ask a question.

In 2 Peter 3 the apostle talks about why Christ has delayed his second coming.  The reason is:  “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9-10 ESV)  Peter says God is delaying Christ’s return because he wants everyone to repent.

Now, of what do we repent?  Do we repent of our beliefs?  Generally not.  Our beliefs are our concept of how the world is constructed.  If we discover those beliefs are in error, we change them.  We might regret our former ignorance but we generally do not repent of our ignorance.

Nowhere in the Bible that I recall does God condemn us for our beliefs.  If you know of a passage, please let me know.  In fact, Paul in Romans 3:20 and 5:13 says where there is no law there is no sin because we become knowledgeable of sin through the law.  In John 15:22-24 Jesus says if he had not spoken to the people of his time about sin, they would not be guilty of sin but because he make them aware of sin, they have no excuse for their sins.  God will not hold us accountable for what we do not know.  He made us finite and will not require us to do what we cannot do.

That of which we do repent is our actions.  Everyone has a concept of what is right and what is wrong (John 16:7-8).  When we go against what we know to be right, we recognize it is our responsibility to acknowledge our error and makes the necessary changes.

The Bible teaches God will hold us accountable for our actions.  In Matthew 25:31-46 Jesus talks about the nations gathered before him for judgment.  And how will we be judged?  It is whether we gave the hungry food to eat, the thirsty something to drink, those needing a place to stay a room in our houses, clothing to those who needed it, and visited the sick and incarcerated.  All are actions.

The apostle Peter tells us what God wants from us is repentance.  To repent is, as Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary states, “to feel such sorrow for sin or fault as to be disposed to change one’s life for the better”.  What God wants from us is more than a change in our belief; it is a change in our actions, in our life.

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Theological Proof

K. Chesterson has stated: “original sin . . .is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proven”. [1]  Now I do not know what all Chesterson includes in his doctrine of original sin but most doctrinal statements at which I have looked focus solely on our rebellion against God and our sinful nature.  However, there is another aspect of our existence that was impacted by original sin which, for some reason, does not merit much theological discussion.  This additional aspect is the fact that we are finite.  No one doubts this doctrine.  Even Chesterson alludes to this doctrine when he emphasizes the need for mystery to aid our understanding.  “. . . man can understand everything by the help of what he does not understand”. [2]  To recognize that mystery exists for us is to recognize that we do not know everything.  There would be no mystery if we were not finite.

However, being finite poses problems for our theology.  Our theology states that we must believe in Jesus and his death and resurrection for our sins in order to be saved.  If we are finite, how can we have certainty that Jesus did die and was raised again for our sins?  Maybe that is why there is not much theological discussion on this aspect of the human condition.

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[1]   G. K. Chesterson, Orthodoxy, Kindle edition, p. 7.

[2]   Ibid., p. 20.

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The Case for Christ

A few years ago, a former boss of mine, Cedric, gave me Lee Strobel’s book The Case for Christ. [1] I read it and thought it presented the claims for the validity of Christianity very well.  A movie was recently released about the book and it gave information about Mr. Strobel’s conversion to Christianity that is not included in the book (either that or I have forgotten about it in the intervening years).  One such bit of information was a conversation Mr. Strobel had with an atheist friend of his.  His friend, Ray, stated:

At some point, young man, you’re going to have to plant your flag on a mountain of uncertainty where not every question is answered.  The human mind will never get to the bottom of every mystery in the cosmos.  Believing in God, not believing in God, either way still takes a leap of faith. [2]

The human condition, the way God made us, means that we are finite.  Being finite means our ability to know what is true is limited.  Ray is right.  Every one of our questions about life and the universe will not be answered and that includes our questions about the validity of Christianity.  So why would God make believing in Jesus a condition for our salvation when that is something we cannot know for certain?

All the Christian theologians and philosophers know the above facts.  A few will state such in the books they write. [3]  So why is not the Christian community discussing this issue in order to resolve it?

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[1]   Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ, Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan Publishing House, 1998.

[2]   Adam R. Holz as quoted in Plugged In Magazine, Tulsa Beacon, April 13, 2017, p. 1B.

[3]   William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, Wheaton, IL:  Crossway, 2008, p. 55.

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Does God Mean What He Says?

Does God always mean what he says?  When Jesus said:  “. . .but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:15 ESV), did Jesus really mean it? [1]  A plain reading of the text would lead us to the conclusion that we will not gain admittance into heaven if we fail to forgive others their trespasses against us.   It would also mean God requires certain actions of us and not just a belief in Jesus and his death for our sins in order to be saved.

In the past presidential primary, one candidate stated that since God gives us unconditional love, he would also give unconditional love to everyone involved in alternative sexual orientations. [2]  Like parents, God loves his children unconditionally but also like parents, God has standards to which he wants us to adhere.  The good news of Christianity is that “God so loved the world” (John 3:16) but a part of the Christianity that we tend to ignore or minimize is that we must become like God if we want to spend eternity with him.  As we have mentioned in this blog many times, there are over 70 verses in the New Testament which require us to do something other than just believe in Jesus and his death for our sins in order to be saved.  Does God mean what he says in all these passages?

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[1]   Andrée Seu Peterson, “Forgive those debtors”, World Magazine, October 15, 2016, p. 63.

[2]   Janie B. Cheaney, “Aimless affection”, World Magazine, September 19, 2015, p. 20.

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Normal Meaning

A Christian scientist with the Institute for Creation Research has stated in an interview with World Magazine his rules for interpreting the Bible which was taught to him at Moody Bible Institute.

“Give words their normal meaning in their normal context.” If you allow a religious authority to tell you that Scripture is mystical, hard to understand, with elusive meanings, then you need a special class of people to inform you of what Scripture says, and you are in bondage to those people. [1]

So when Peter says “that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right” (Acts 10:34-35) do we accept the normal meaning of this passage or do we qualify it with the additional statement that we must also believe in Jesus and his death for our sins in order for God to accept us?

So when Paul, in talking to the Galatians about what the relationship between Christians should be, states:  “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.  The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.”  (Galatians 6:7-8), do we accept the normal meaning of this passage or do we qualify it with the additional statement that we must also believe in Jesus and his death for our sins in order to gain eternal life?

So when James says:  “You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone” (James 2:24), do we, like Martin Luther, call James an epistle of straw or do we accept it as the word of God and believe what it tells us?

In regards to the doctrine of salvation, we Christians we need to decide whether we will ignore the 70 passages in the New Testament that teach salvation is through means other than belief in Jesus and his death for our sin or whether we will accept the normal meaning within its normal context of those 70 passages.

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[1]   Marvin Olasky, “The impossible improbable”, World Magazine, March 4, 2017, p. 24.

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Batavia’s Graveyard

I recently read book that has disturbed me more than any book I had recently read.  It is about Jeronimus Cornelisz who sailed on the ship Batavia which was in engaged in the spice trade in the 17th century.  The ship ran aground north of Australia and the crew and passengers where marooned on three small islands.  Jeronimus and several who aligned with him took charge of one island and began a reign of terror, killing 115 fellow shipmates with whom they had shared a voyage of several months.  What is shocking is that they killed others for no reason that we can comprehend—out of boredom, for sport, or just because they did not like someone [1]

What is even more shocking was that Jeronimus claimed to be a Christian.  He did subscribe to antinomian philosophy which holds “that moral law is not binding on an individual who exists in a state of perfection”.  Jeronimus considered himself existing in a state of grace so that each action was directly inspired by God which means that no action he took could be thought as evil. [2]  And evidently that included murder.  It is incredible the lengths to which we humans will go to in order to justify what we do.

I wonder if this event would have turned out differently if salvation was understood to be the change of our soul so it becomes like God.  Christians recoil at the idea that we can earn our salvation and that is the correct view.  But to assert that salvation does not require any action on our part is also in error.

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?   If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food,  and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?  So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.  (James 2:14-17 ESV)

If Jeronimus understood his salvation depended upon him loving God and his neighbor as himself, would he have committed these atrocities?

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[1]   Mike Dash, Batavia’s Graveyard, New York:  Crown Publishers, 2002, Kindle Edition, p. 222.

[2]   Ibid., pp. 46-47.

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Orthodoxy

Orthodox is defined as “pertaining to, or conforming to the approved form of any doctrine”.  The approved form of the Christian doctrine of salvation is that we are saved only through belief in Jesus and his death for our sins.  But what if there are questions about this orthodox belief?  Is there room in our Christian faith to question the first principles?  Consider the following contradictions within this doctrine.

  • If God is a God of love and justice, how can he condemn people to hell who have not heard of Jesus, who have a distorted view of Jesus, or whose culture and/or religion tell them Jesus is irrelevant (not everyone has the time and resources to question the culture and religion in which they were raised)..
  • Everyone agrees that God made us finite. Being finite means our ability to know what is true is limited.  Human existence is like living in a fog.  The things that are near can be easily seen but things at a distance are obscured in the mists.  So how can God require us to believe in the extraordinary events of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection which occurred over 2,000 years ago?  How can God require us to do something he made us incapable of doing?
  • There are well over 70 passages in the New Testament that teach salvation is through belief in God, or through our conduct, pattern of behavior, motivation, use of abilities, and repentance (see the page titled “What the Bible Says about Salvation” for a complete list). If salvation is only through belief in Jesus, why did God place these verses in the Bible?  Is God trying to confuse us?

Am I the only one who sees a problem when a major doctrine of Christianity has substantial contradictions within it?  In my conversations with other Christians, they recognize these problems but seem to have no interest in discussing a solution.  Why?  I have a very hard time believing that God would place such contradictions within a doctrine that is essential to our eternal fate.  There must be a solution.

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