Posted in Apologetics

Verification Needed: The Question of Certainty

My Niche…

Like most people I have my particular areas of interest (my little niches), but I try to stretch myself beyond my passions from time-to-time. If you will, I try to be a connoisseur of various subjects. One area that tends to hold my attention is Christian apologetics. There is a plethora of subdivisions under the heading “Christian Apologetics.” Some examples would be Classical/Thomist Apologetics, Evidential Apologetics, Historical Apologetics, and my personal favorite Van Tilian Presuppositional-Reformed Apologetics.

One area of disagreement that I have with those forms of Christian apologetics that use a methodology not founded on biblical presuppositions is that they differ very little from the skeptic. How so? They share a false sense of neutrality when looking at facts and evidences. That is to say, there is a pretended form of neutrality that says we can look objectively at “A,” and “B,” and “C” in order to come to a correct conclusion. Tied with this, both the skeptic and the non-Reformed, non-Presuppositional Apologist deny that a person can really be certain about anything.

Lite Listening…

Historical Apologetics is one such field. It focuses on the authenticity and reliability of the biblical text (Holy Bible/Holy Scripture). The problem with “historicity” is the inability to verify every fact recorded as a definite fact recorded. As I was striking some items off of my wife’s “Honey Do List” I had YouTube on playing in the background. I had stumbled upon an interview with Laura Robinson, a PhD candidate at Duke who was identified in the heading as a New Testament scholar.[1] She was offering a critique of historical apologetics and used Lee Strobel’s book The Case For Christ as an example of an error not to mimic.

In the book Strobel uses his former experience as an atheist that was eventually converted to the Christian faith as a platform. He lays out the work as an investigative reporter interviewing various expert witnesses to come a conclusion. The person interviewing Robinson admitted that he’d not read the book, but was somewhat troubled by the problems she’d highlighted in Strobel’s writing. She used this as a stepping stone of sorts to show the limitations of the historical apologetic approach.

The Subject of Certainty

What caught my attention in the dialogue with her interviewer was her comments regarding the level of certainty we have in investigating historical events. She was concerned that many of the historical events recorded in the Bible sometimes become a stumbling block of sorts to individuals that learn that the percentage of certainty from a historical standpoint is only about 30-60% certainty (perhaps in some cases 80-90%). Which she notes is troubling to some, evidenced by their leaving their profession of faith.

Limitations of historical analysis…

The problem when looking at historical documents she noted was that we are unable to get the source of the information. We cannot meet the eyewitnesses. We weren’t there, and so we cannot verify with absolute certainty the claims of Scripture on every given point.[2]

And so, for her the method that she identifies as the best method is not in trying to reconstruct historical occurrences in the past recorded for us in (or even outside of) Scripture, but in recognizing the Living Savior—Jesus.

Tickling our hearts…

I will admit that on the surface such statements seem profound. The truth of Christ Jesus resonates in us. We know Him, we cannot deny Him, and so this type of declaration is often met with an “amen” from many professing believers. Robinson goes on to say in her interview that she does not need historical evidences that her husband is real. She doesn’t look at his birth certificate to know he’s her husband, she says. This analogy of sorts is then applied to the Christian’s knowledge of the Living Savior. He, being the premiere revelation of God, knowing the resurrected Jesus and His followers (He lives through us) is all the certainty that Christians need. In fact, she seems to lean in the direction that this is really the only certainty that we will get.

Trouble stirs beneath the Surface…

So, if I understand the argument presented (and its not the first time I’ve heard it offered up as a silver bullet of sorts) we cannot be certain about the biblical text, but we can be certain about the risen, crucified Jesus. We don’t need to overly stress the reconstruction of various historical details recorded for us in the Bible, but we ought to put overarching stress on Jesus as our personal savior. This is popular in “red-letter” Christian camps. It may in fact be the reason that men like Andy Stanley don’t want to worry about the Old Testament, prefer to focus on the New Testament writings, and lean heavily on just one aspect of the Christian faith—the Resurrection—in their witness to others.

Analogous Thinking

As human beings we think analogously. This is why we preachers (**not limited to preachers) like to use illustrations when we communicate. Sometimes an analogy helps illustrate a truth that we might be slow in getting. Knowing this I don’t want to be overly harsh in my treatment of Robinson’s analogy of her husband and his birth certificate. But I do want to probe the analogy a bit.

Tentatively Scrutinizing the Claim…

Robinson claims she is absolutely certain that he is her husband because she is able to come into personal contact with him. Okay, that is true in so far as it goes, as long as her husband is not a doppelganger. But in order to marry him he needed to verify who he is to the proper authorities. How does he do this without the proper papers? Moreover, before he became her husband, he had to introduce himself to her (and she to him). There was a point in their past when the two did not know each other. Suppose he lied about his identity; how would she know if not for those documents that she so blithely dismisses in an effort to diminish the importance of the biblical record. (Perhaps “diminish” is too harsh of a word, maybe “skate” is a better one? You know, like skating around the issue, in preference for another.)

All Share a Personal Status…

There is no question that Jesus is personal to us. Either we see Him in a good light or one where we view Him with disdain, but in either case Jesus is personal to all people. All people have a relationship with Jesus, but not all who have a relationship with Him are on good terms. But how do we know who Jesus is?

We Need Something to Verify (give Certainty) to the Identity of Jesus

This is something that I encounter more often than you would think. A form of reasoning about Christ as Lord and Savior that is very inconsistent with reality. Unfortunately, there are Christians blissfully ignorant of the fact that you cannot know Jesus the person, unless you know Jesus in Scripture.

Are we to believe that we cannot be certain what the Bible says about this or that historic event, but we can be certain of the historic Jesus because He is personally alive today at the Father’s right hand? That I may have uncertainty with who and what is revealed to me in Scripture because I cannot verify it, but I can have absolute certainty with Him who I cannot observe with any of my five senses?

“But you have all these other Christians that may be used as verification for the living Jesus,” the observation comes. How can this help me in verifying who Jesus really is apart from Scripture? How am I able to recognize what Christianity (those that bear the name of Jesus) is without first referring to the standards provided in God’s Word? It is not possible.

But what about…

Now I know that Jesus told Thomas the following truth:

“Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed” (John 20.29b).[3]

And yet we are told that those things which are written down for us—the very historic events that skeptics and nominal Christians wring their hands and scratch their heads over:

“Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (1Cor 10.11)

Things that cannot be verified by human means (historicity) with absolute certainty, and yet these things (such as the crossing of the Red Sea, the eating of manna, water coming from a rock struck by the staff of Moses, and the golden calf incident, being killed by fiery serpents; see 1Cor 10.1-10) are given for our benefit.

In what way? That we may know with certainty that these events did occur and God did judge between the faithful and unfaithful, blessing the obedient and cursing the disobedient. These things the Israelites were commanded to teach their children as a witness to them for their good. Did they have a way to verify them other than by God’s Word being shared through the mouth of His servants? No.

The Old Standard Stands…

The standard that Jesus gives is merely a repeating of the standard of old:

“If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets [idiom for God’s Word], they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16.31).

I realize the weight of those words might not have the impact I’m looking for. You may be unfamiliar with why this truth is important, let alone applicable. Some may try to dismiss it altogether saying, “that’s just a parabolic teaching.”

Who were Moses and the Prophets? They were God’s mouthpieces. They said what God told them to say. They confronted the people with what had been recorded as things God said and did. Starting with Moses we find that he is called to represent God—to testify on His behalf—to Pharaoh, the Egyptian people, and the Israelites (Exod 3.9-11). In response Moses says to the Lord God:

“Behold, I am going to the sons of Israel, and I will say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you.’ Now they may say to me, ‘What is His name?’ What shall I say to them?” (Exod 3.13)

God answers Moses with the following statement:

“I AM WHO I AM’; and He said, ‘Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you” (Exod 3.14).

“What sort of certainty Moses are you providing for us? You say that God sent you. That He is the God of our fathers—Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—but how can we be certain?” Supposing that this is what Moses was anticipating would happen when he showed up back in Egypt forty years after he’d left. The answer is the same here, as it is in Jesus’ teaching about the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16. Either you will take God at His Word, what He has spoken, or you will not.

Point being you cannot know for certain God exists if you fail to take Him at His Word. You cannot know for certain who the living Jesus is, without the documents that identify Him to you. While I agree with Robinson that historical apologetics is limited in its ability to provide absolute certainty of all elements of the Christian faith, I disagree that the way we come to certainty is bypassing or passing over the historical elements of the Bible in light of a mystical experience with Jesus.

The Biblical Testimony is necessary for Certainty on Both Counts

For only those who “…receive the kingdom of God like a child…” will enter in (Luke 18.17). Thus, Jesus’ prayer for His people is that they would be set-apart by the truth, which is the Word of God (John 17.17) in order to know truth from error. How can you worship Christ, how can you be for certain who He is, if you do not first see or hear Him as declared in Scripture (cf. Rom 10.13-17)? How are we to know who the Christ is, if we first do not “examine everything carefully” (1Thess 5.21), and second, do not test the spirit of every teaching (1John 4.1)?

In short, we better know who it is we Love as God in the flesh, lest we love one who is not God. We need to check the Lord and Savior’s “birth certificate” (identification papers) we claim lest we passionately serve one who is not:

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord…And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; Depart from me, you who practices lawlessness” (Matt 7.21-22a, 23).

While this particular concept (certainty vs. uncertainty) is often proliferated and is not unique among various biblical scholars, Christian philosophers and apologists, it is nonetheless false. If you cannot be certain of what the biblical record provides, then to be consistent you cannot be certain of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Nor is it right to assume that you can logically separate the Living Christ from His Living Word. The Christ of Scripture is one and the same as the Christ who is Lord and Savior. We must have an objective standard to appeal to, unless we desire to hold our subjective opinion up as the true litmus test.

 


ENDNOTES:

[1] Laura Robinson, “Laura Robinson: A New Testament Scholar Critiques Apologetics,” interviewed by Haden Clark, Help Me Believe, https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=hpdUsUpEoR8

[2] It should be noted that she does divide into two categories (1) historical evidence from those that would fall under the category of (2) miracles, signs, etc. as these would be only “spiritually” understood and accepted (ref to 1Cor 2.14). This is a helpful admission, but I would argue that you cannot truly separate category (1) apart from category (2) for even those elements of Scripture that we define as historical narratives, events, need to be spiritually discerned. For apart from this they are just foolish stumbling blocks to the unbelieving (1Cor 1.18, 23). Meaning that the teachings of Scripture (both categories) are only accepted as absolute facts pertinent to the historic record and not wild-eyed embellishments by religious zealots, by the household of faith. Regardless of the literary style (e.g., signs vs. genealogies), only those who have the Spirit will truly respect them as genuine truth: see 1Cor 2.)

[3] All Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the New American Standard Bible 95’ (NASB).

Posted in doubts

That Shadowy Idol called Doubt

Would you agree that to doubt is human? Doubting is a naturalistic response that is purely of human origin. Do you find anything about those statements troubling? Is there any error that has slipped in?

Let’s look at some instances:

“I doubt I will be able to win this foot race,” or “I have sincere doubts that I will be able to learn this language in one year,” or “I struggle with doubts over being able to finish this book and get it published,” or “I doubt my kids are telling me the truth about what temptations they face in their day-to-day lives,” etc., etc., etc.

What is being doubted in these types of situations? Human ability. We are finite creatures, which means we have natural limitations. Is it therefore wrong to have doubts in that sense? No, I don’t think so. I think those sorts of doubts are realistic, natural, and at times helpful.[i]

So, humanly speaking doubting is natural to us. At times, we ought to doubt our abilities. We shouldn’t think too highly of ourselves. Being a narcissist rarely helps anybody (if you can think of an example where it does, I would be eager to hear it).

A Troubling Trend…

Having said that, now I will tell you what troubles me. I hear it an awful lot by professing Christians, as it is lauded as a good thing: Doubting God and His Word. The reason it troubles me when Christians seemingly brag about their doubts regarding their “faith,” is because the Bible calls such behavior sin. To doubt God. To fail to take Him at His word is not something that the Bible praises, but rather condemns.

This is not to say that Christians don’t have doubts about such things. In fact, we have examples recorded in Scripture where true believers are shown expressing doubt in God and His word. And when such instances are shown, we see God coming right alongside of His frail little creatures helping them along.

Here are a couple examples:

1Kings 19:1-4

  • “Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah saying, ‘So may the gods do to me and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.’ Then he was afraid, and he arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there. But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under the broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, ‘It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers” (ESV (throughout); italics added).

Observations:

Why was Elijah afraid? Why did he say to the Lord, “I am no better than my fathers?” Because he doubted. He who formerly believed that God would send fire down from heaven and would demonstrate His sovereignty over the false gods that Ahab and Jezebel had led the people in worshiping, doubted that the Lord could preserve his life against the might of this evil queen. Thus, he admitted in his prayer that he was worthy of death, since he doubted God as his own fathers (i.e., people) had done.

Judges 4:6-9

  • “[Deborah] sent and summoned Barak the son of Abinoam from Kedesh-naphtali and said to him, ‘Has not the Lord, the God of Israel, commanded you, ‘Go, gather your men at Mount Tabor, taking 10,000 from the people of Naphtali and the people of Zebulun. And I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the river Kishon with his chariots and his troops, and I will give him into your hand’?” Barak said to her, ‘If you will go with me, I will go, but if you will not go with me, I will not go.’ And she said, ‘I will surely go with you. Nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.’ Then Deborah arose and went with Barak to Kedesh.” (Emphasis Mine).

Observations:

Barak had been commanded by the Lord to fight against those who enslaved them— “Jabin king of Canaan” (Judges 4.1). Rather than take God at His word that He would give victory to Barak, he doubted and refused to go to battle without Deborah’s lead. The result was that the honor (i.e., glory) of the battle would go to a woman—a housewife, rather than a soldier.

Nothing to Be Happy about…

Our doubts are not to be praised, exalted, or heralded as a noble thing. When Christians laud their doubts around and congratulate each other for them giving the verbal pat on the back, they commit an egregious error. The Holy Spirit says that “without faith it is impossible to please [God]” (Heb 11.6). Well, to doubt God or to doubt what He teaches us in His word is the exact opposite of faith; of believing in Him. When you doubt the Lord in that capacity you are sinning and it needs to be repented of.

The professing believer “who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (James 1.6b-8; cf. Eph 4.14). Which is the exact opposite of the person who is built upon the Rock of our salvation (Matt 7.24-25). Unlike the doubter that person can expect to receive from the Lord whatever they ask for, whatever they seek for…no door will be closed to them, for such a person will ask in God’s Name—i.e., trusting that He will keep His promises (cf. Matt 7.7-8).[ii]

When we doubt God, we are like those who struggle between two opinions (1Kgs 18.21). And we dare not assume that there is any dignity in that. For “whoever has doubts is condemned…For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Rom 16.23).[iii] Such a person cannot determine the right course of action, for they fail to trust in the One who is able to bring all things about to His Holy purposes. Therefore, as Christians we ought to “hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering [i.e., without doubts] for he who promised is faithful” (Heb 10.23).

That being said…

When we elevate our doubts as something to be congratulated, we have, perhaps unknowingly, erected a cherished idol. As human beings we all face doubts, and we should when they are directed towards our limited abilities. We cannot do anything we please, although arrogant people that we can be have sought to do that very thing in the past (cf. Gen 11.6). A problematic habit that has continued throughout human history.

Let’s not mince words here, that idol—doubt—needs to be smashed and burned. It needs to be repented of. And if not, we will find ourselves choking on it in the end (cf. Exod 32.20).

That being said, because we are sinners by nature (Eph 2.3), we all naturally face doubts…yes even when it comes to God’s Word. Knowing that we ought never doubt our Creator and Savior we beseech His mercy and grace in repentance seeking His strength to overcome them. This occurs the more we realize that it is our dependence on Him, not our independence, that enables this growing faith.

In a nut shell that is the underlying problem with those professed believers who speak of their doubts in flowery tones. They strive for independence, rather than dependence upon the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. May we all learn not to do that. God may meet us in our moments of weakness (our doubting), but let us learn to recognize that they are weaknesses and evidences of a struggling faith…not something to be praised.


ENDNOTES:

[i] A slight caveat: Doubts ought to caution or temper my decisions as a parent. What I want to avoid is being the type of parent that assumes my child is always innocent; they aren’t. Though we may experience such doubts in our personal relationships, they are not always helpful to voice. Being aware of them seems legitimate, but constantly pushing our doubts on those who share our lives with may do more harm than good if not pursued in the correct manner. Just for clarity I will give you a quick example of what I mean.

Having teenagers in our home, my wife and I realize that there will be some situations where they will experience peer pressure without our watchful eye regarding a variety of issues that they will face. I have logical doubts that they will always make the right decision. Granted our children are well behaved, have good manners, and a good work ethic. But they are still kids, haven’t fully matured, have temptations like the rest of us, have a desire to be liked (for some this is stronger than in others), and so I have my personal reservations.

Do I share every doubt with my children? No (well not all of them). Do those doubts sometimes effect my decision on whether or not they ought to participate in a suggested activity? Yes. Am I, always right? No, thankfully I am not. But my point is that doubting that they will always perform in the way that is right is not wrong; however, sharing those doubts of mine with them is not always helpful. There is a point that they need to learn to be adults, and that requires making some decisions without me hawking over them.

[ii] This does not mean wealth, health or any other personal gain that a person might seek by praying “in the name of Jesus” as if this was some magical formula to give you all you want. God is not a lottery ticket, or a genie in a lamp, or a leprechaun at the end of a rainbow for you to seek the desires of your own heart. The only desires that God will grant are those that are in accordance with His desires and will.

[iii] If this is true when it comes to choices over food, then what do we suppose will be the outcome on weightier matters?

Posted in Ministry

An Early Concern: A Talk in Regards to my Philosophy of Ministry

As a pastor one of my early concerns was for the people under my stead to have a sincere devotion to the Word of God. Depending upon the type of person you are speaking to “sincere devotion” can have differing shades of meaning. For some this means a daily regiment must be in place.

Either it is when you arise early, or during a lunch break, or before you go to bed every night, whenever it might be that you decide is good for you to have some “quiet time” with the Lord. If you are going to be sincere in your devotion to Him and His Word this is what is meant for some. Others will put stress on reading through the whole Bible (Genesis to Revelation) every year as a way of demonstrating sincere devotion to the Lord and His Word. Both concepts have their merits. An individual who takes seriously the study of the Holy Bible will most certainly benefit from a consistent schedule and a thorough reading through the whole volume; beginning to end.

If you prefer either one of those methods, then you are doing well but that is not my meaning of sincere devotion. Thus, it was not the method I taught (and continue to teach) to those under my stead. My philosophy of ministry focuses on two key elements for biblical study: O.I.P. and saturation. I will explain what I mean by those here in a moment, but before I do, I want to address an unfortunate trend that I surveyed early on. That demonstrates a weakness in the way that the Bible is sometimes approached in Christian circles; not necessarily the method. Although, it is true, I have my own preferences.

An Inherent Problem Plaguing Biblical Study…

One of the problems with the ways that people read their Bible that I have noticed over the years is that they give little consideration to the flow of thought from the authors view point, all the while supposing that “this is what the text means to me” is the best approach. Having been raised in church I have seen many mid-week Bible studies. The “this is what the text means to me” or “I feel like the text is saying this” were common prefaces before a person gave the meaning of the text, and when I was young, I assumed that they had the right of it.

As far as I am aware that is not the normal way, we read other writings. For instance, when you open up an obituary you read about the passing of so and so, about how many relatives they’ve left behind, and either when the services will be held or a few “prayers and praises” given by loved ones. You are given statements that are examined and taken at face value. You understand that there is little room for personal interpretation and that the only way to properly understand what is written is how the writer has presented the news to his/her audience.

The same is true of the Sports section, of a national geographic article on zebras, or the upcoming weather report by your favorite meteorologist. While we may see some of the authors personal biases coming through in varying ways, the meat of the material presented is not to be treat like an Etch A Sketch where you can shake your own meanings out of it, filling in the lines that you believe are appropriate.

When an author writes to an audience, he/she has a specific message in mind. The reader is not at liberty to deconstruct and then rework the message to their own liking. Essentially, shaping it in their own image. Unfortunately, this is the approach that I observed many professing Christians do. What I have found (call it antidotal if you like) is that many church-goers do not know how to read their Bible’s in a way that they might most benefit. Where they take God at His Word and allow Him to say what He intends to say, thereby giving Him the glory.

As Greg L. Bahnsen once said “the Bible is not a clay nose that we can shape this way and that in order to make it say what we want it to say.” The first step in being rewarded from sincere devotion to the Word of God is by acknowledging it is God’s Word. A variety of disasters occur when we fail to take this first step of humility; chief among them is blaspheming His Name.

Since becoming a minister of the gospel, I have assumed that the task before me is of the utmost importance. To take this task lightly is a terrifying blunder not only for me personally, but also those who I am teaching and preaching to. I do not want to be a “blind guide” (Matt 15.14; 23.16, 24) and I take seriously the warning that “not many of [us] should become teachers…know[ing] that we who teach will be judged with great strictness” (Jas 3.1). For “to whom much [is] given…much will be required” (Luke 12.48).

Therefore, since I saw an egregious error committed and taught by some in the Church, I wanted to make sure I—to the best of my ability—avoided leading myself and others down the same path.

A Common Objection…

Now, I have encountered the objection by some that they have the Holy Spirit, and since they do “he will teach [them] all things” (John 14.26). Fair enough. It is true that the born-again have the Holy Spirit, lest how could they have possibly been born from above? It is also true that we who have the Spirit have the mind of Christ so “that we might understand the things freely given us by God” (1Cor 2.12) in so doing be able to “discern all things” (1Cor 2.15). However, knowing the context of the passages in question and comparing them with other portions of Scripture is important to “discern” those things that have been freely given. The statement in John’s gospel speaks primarily to the apostles of Christ who would first send forth His message and later write down His words. The argument presented by Paul is focused on those who are teachers and others who have gained maturity in what has been given, so that they are able to discern the true message.

While we have the Holy Spirit, who leads us into the truth, the truth can only be properly understood when we correctly read His Word. Not to mention that Christ Jesus has deemed it necessary to provide His body of believers with teachers, preachers and evangelists to strengthen those who are not gifted in that particular manner “to equip the saints for the work of ministry…until we all attain to the unity of the faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to [maturity]…so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Eph 4.12-14; italics added).

The point being we all need to be taught before we are ready to teach others. To use a Star Wars analogy, it is not the padawans who have the force that teach, but the Jedi Masters who teach the padawans in living and use of the force before they can teach others. If you’re not familiar with Star Wars mythology, or you find the use of such worldly illustrations appalling, then stick with what I said previously: you must first be taught before you can teach.

NOTE TO READER:

Due to the length of the original post I have split it into two segments. Segment “A” is the one you’ve just read. Segment “B” will drop sometime tomorrow. “A” introduces a problem I noticed early on in Christian ministry; “B” will reveal what I did to address that problem as a pastor-teacher.

Forthcoming…O. I. P. and Saturation: A Talk in Regards to my Philosophy of Ministry

Posted in Communication

A Letter to Fellow Believers

We are not our own; therefore, neither is our own reason or will to rule our acts and counsels. We are not our own; therefore, let us not make it our end to seek what may be agreeable to our carnal nature. We are not our own; therefore, as far as possible, let us forget ourselves and the things that are ours. On the other hand, we are God’s; let us, therefore, live and die to him (Rom 14: 8). We are God’s; therefore, let his wisdom and will preside over all our actions. We are God’s; to him, then, as the only legitimate end, let every part of our life be directed.[i]

Dear Christian,

If only we would meditate on these truths today, we would find our lives would be tossed less to and fro upon the waves. Every wind of doctrine which blows in from the worldly coast would be easily buffeted[ii] by our steadfastness to Him and cause much less turmoil in our daily lives.

It is only through an acknowledgement of our indebtedness to the Triune God of Scripture, revealed in the perfect image of the Son—Christ Jesus, that we experience true empowerment by the Holy Spirit’s workings in our inner heart.

John Calvin often gets a bad rap for being a legalist, for teaching doctrines that sensitive Christians should stay away from. However, what I have found is that the majority of those who show great disdain for the man and his teaching which is thoroughly saturated in biblical truth, is that they have not read his works. Or if they have read them they have not spent much time mulling over the truths presented in them to test whether or not they are of God or of man.

I am not claiming that Calvin is God, MAY IT NEVER BE! He is a servant of the Lord, like we who profess Jesus are servants of the Lord. But what he has said bears our attention. Go back and reread his words above. Do they not ring true? Do you not see the legitimacy of his claims? Does your inner heart not say to you—if you truly love God—“yes, he is right.” Can you not throw down your allegiances that are built upon biased opinions and test the spirit of the teaching and see whether or not it has some merit?

When I first began in the ministry, I was warned “you dare not read such things from such men.” Why? Oddly enough, I now wonder if such warnings were given to me out of blatant ignorance or willful blindness?

Calvin bases the statement above on the following truth given to us by the apostle Paul:

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom 12.1-2).

Note, what Calvin has already said from Paul’s words—our lives are NOT our own. Neither were they ours when we were unbelievers (for God created us); neither are they ours as believers (for Christ recreated us). “To live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Php 1.21), but only insofar as we treat our lives as His to be treated and dealt with as He sees fit!

How are we to give true spiritual worship? What does that look like? Is it 45 minutes of singing? Is it mere emotional outbursts, what some call “moving’s of the Spirit?” I dare not say that in Christ we experience no such enjoyment. Our hearts are elated in the Spirit’s presence to be sure, but the point of true worship, of true sacrifice, of true love is through obedience to God’s Word. He has revealed to us what is “holy and acceptable,” what is “good…and perfect.” We do not have to guess, for He has equipped us, if only we would stop turning inward towards ourselves, but outwards to our God.

When we are transformed by His Word, we grow in dependency upon Him, and we refuse the confirmation that this world with all its false lies tries to impose upon us. Light shines brightest, when it encroaches upon the darkness not the other way around. Let us then learn to let the light of Scripture infiltrate our minds, bringing into submission our reason and our will for they were given as gifts not to be used in any fashion that we choose, but in the fashion for which God formed them—to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever.

We, who know the Lord our Savior, have been given the mind of Christ by the Holy Spirit (see 1Cor 2), so that we can discern life truly, but the caveat is this. It is possible only insofar as we are dependent up His Word. When we fail to do this, we sin. Sin is not just an outward act, but an inward motivation to do that which is contrary to our Creator. Sin is found in our thoughts, our words, and in our deeds. Let us learn then to cast such things aside, so that Christ might be glorified, and we be found faithful in our service.

Cordially yours in Christ…


ENDNOTES:

[i] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge, Reprint (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1993), 3.7.1

[ii] That is to say, rather than being struck by the wind we strike it. We withstand it. We reject it. We are an encroaching wall that breaks the wind apart, rather than being broken by it.  That being said if we are found in error, if we have been seduced by that which is false and have fallen headlong into sin (of any sort), then be thankful my dear friend that we have an advocate beside the Father who, if we are faithful in our repentance, is just as faithful in His forgiveness (cf. 1John 1.9).

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Posted in Knowing God

God is NOT like Us

God is not like us. He doesn’t look like us. He doesn’t think like us. He doesn’t feel like us. He doesn’t act like us. He doesn’t speak like us. He doesn’t know like us.

We need to let that fact sink in—The Potter is not like the clay (Isa 29.19). Why? Because it will have a direct impact on what you believe about the Lord, about the Christian faith, and how you reason through the Scriptures effecting the way you live.

The problem arises when we give little thought to who God truly is. When we begin assuming that God is more of “a god,” rather than the Holy One, the Great I AM. Someone that has some power and knowledge, but in the end is not that different from you or I.  The Greeks and Romans had plenty of those sorts of gods. So did the Egyptians and the Canaanites. We could even throw in the Hindus, American Indians, and any other mythology that one might cling to.

I’m not mud slinging here, so please be patient. Many of the Jews in the New Testament were of the same mind. Thus, Jesus rebuked them for setting up idols[i] and supplanting the Word of God with their own “word.” The very same thing the apostle Paul does when he enters Athens.

(Hold on a minute. Before I go further, I need to let you know now where I am going before I get there. My goal is to deal with a misuse of Acts 17:30, but I need to do some contextual work first. This tends to make for longer posts. My wife is always getting on my case for that. So, the only solution I can think of is to break it up a bit. Point being, if it appears that I leave on a bit of a cliff-hanger. You know haven’t finished the job, so to speak. Know that I do plan on wrapping things up in my next post. Okay, let’s continue….)

Acts 17:16-34 Contextually Considered

What is the first thing that you will hear learned Christians say when they read Paul’s interaction with the Aeropagus in Acts 17:16-34? He congratulated them on being “very religious,” he even cited their poets, he did!  I’ve met quite a few that glaze over Acts 17:16,

  • “Now while Paul was waiting for them in Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that he city was full of idols” (italics added).[ii]

Paul got angry at what he saw in Athens. Just as angry as Jesus got with the Jews during His earthly ministry. Well, what got Paul so riled up? The Greeks were worshipping idols—the creative efforts of their own minds—rather than the God who made them. He highlights this in his speech before the intellectual elites:

  • “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you” (Acts 17.22-23; emphasis added).

“Oh, he was so cordial and polite…he was!” “He was?” “Yeah…!” “Yeah?” “Yeah!”

Yes, Paul was cordial to his audience. He graciously said to them “Men of Athens….” He acknowledges who they were. He noted their status before others, but then he said this:

“You fellows are a bit ignorant. You have all these idols, all of these gods you worship and just to make sure you got all your bases checked you even add one to the ‘unknown god.’ Well, what you are ignorant of…what you think you worship, ‘I will proclaim to you.’”

Now you might not catch the weight of those words coming from the apostle’s mouth, so let me help. Who was his audience? They were the learned men of Athens. They were the intellectuals, the sages, the wise men of Greece. They were constantly seeking knowledge, and they assumed that they were the proper arbiters of it. Paul has not only told them they are wrong, but badly informed. They profess to have knowledge, but their knowledge of things is false.

Like the Hebrews in Isaiah’s day, these Greeks assume that the Potter is like the clay. And they’ve displayed this arrogance all throughout their city. Paul does not congratulate them, but rebukes them. Then, he corrects them. God does not “live in temples,” (v. 24) “nor does He need anything from you,” (v. 25) nor is it right “to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image informed by the art and imagination of man” (v. 29).

Essentially, Paul is saying this “Everything that you conceive in your hearts about God is wrong. God is not fashioned by you; He is to be worshiped and revered by you. You ought to have recognized these things, the evidence is all around you. He gives life and breath, and yet you grope around in the dark as if he is far, but He is near!”

And on the heels of this explanation, what does the apostle conclude? What does he say to the Athenians? This…

  • “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent…”(Acts 17.30).

In other words, God allowed this discrepancy on you part, but now the time of ignorance has passed. They are over. Now you are commanded to repent!

Two seemingly innocent assumptions are sometimes smuggled in at this point. What are they?

First, that this “ignorance” is innocent or accidental. It is not, it was purposeful, willful!

Second, that this “command to repent” is an invitation, rather than an edict from God. It is not, it is a binding demand.

If we only look earlier in the text, we see this notion identified in the charge against the apostles/disciples of Christ:

  • “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also…and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another king, Jesus” (Acts 17.6).

Kings demand obedience. A King that calls for repentance is commanding the person(s) in question to lay down their arms in surrender, in submission. Do we dare assume that Paul’s command here is any less than this? He is an ambassador of the One God, the one true King, and the message is you are “commanded to repent!”

Invitation or Demand: Something that Needs Weighed and Considered

Why then do modern Evangelicals prefer to call Acts 17:30 an invitation to accept Christ, rather than a demand to surrender to Him? Because it’s less offensive? Because Jesus is called the Prince of Peace, so the idea must be “peace, peace” when we present the gospel? Because the Lord is identified as the “Lamb of God” do we then assume that means He is meek and gentle?

Is it due to the notion that God is a God of love, or that He’s good, or that He gets no joy over the death of the wicked? Do these concepts, which are certainly true of God—we could turn to the passages where they are drawn from—drive us to a misunderstanding of the true nature of God? Do many, unknowingly perhaps, make the Potter like the clay? In other words, do our convictions (assumptions/biases) we hold to be true of God, mislead us into making God like us? Thinking and acting like a human rather than the Sovereign Creator of all things?

To be continued…

ENDNOTES:

[i] Some might suppose what idols did the Jews have? How about the Temple, the city of Jerusalem, their namesake as a child of Abraham, the Law and the Prophets, circumcision, etc., etc. Idols do not have to be graven images made by human hands; idols are manifested in the heart—from the wellspring of evil. This means that even the gifts that God has given us when viewed disproportionately from their true purpose are turned into, and therefore, abused as idols.  There are several indicators in the Bible that point out this was one of the chief sins of the Hebrew people…but they are not alone.

[ii] All Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the English Standard Version (ESV).

Image by Phaidros Krugmann