Sunday, January 29, 2012

True Faith

In this essay I will discuss a question that I believe is as practical as it is theological. I have chosen to follow up my biblical exploration of the so-called « Doctrines of Grace » (referred to collectively as Calvinism) with a discussion which may seem so basic that it does not warrant half the space I have given it. After all, people disagree over predestination, worship style, and when Jesus will come back (eschatology), but why devote the time and effort to try and explain something that Christians all agree on? The reason is that I believe today's working definition of 'faith' is not an accurate or biblical picture of the act through and by which Christians are made right before God (Eph. 2: 8, Rom. 5:1). My objective is not to distance myself from an orthodox Christianity view understanding of faith; quite to contrary. I wish to be as unoriginal as I can be and to focus on what the Bible has to say in the matter. My aim is twofold: first, I want to challenge believes to accept a robust and unapologetic stance on faith and the Gospel, as it is revealed to us in Scripture; and second, I want to challenge any skeptics who reject Christianity on the basis of history or rationality, or who simply see it as one of many equally valid 'perspectives'. I hope that in considering the evidence, whichever group you fall into, you may find yourself moving closer to a biblical understanding of faith.

A Faith of the Gaps
What is the problem? My first concern in this paper is to establish that the current root assumptions about 'faith' that are accepted in our day are in deep conflict with the Bible's use of the term. It is important to recognize from the start that the word “faith” can be used to simply mean “a religious system of belief” (Mirriam-Webster). Thus, there are many different “faiths” in the world: Islamic, Hindu, Christian, etc. This is a wholy different usage of the word and it is not the one we will be discussing in this paper. What we will focus on instead is the notion of faith as “firm belief in something for which there is no proof” (Mirriam-Webster). This definition of faith, I will argue, is simply assumed, by both Christians and non-christians today. Though the applications differ, these bitter streams flow from a common spring. Let's illustrate this problem with three embodiments of the contemporary understanding of faith.

The first understanding of faith that we will consider is that of the secular non-Christian. He believes that faith is a subjective experience or exercise of the mind that chooses to believe something that is either impossible, improbable, or at the very least doubtful. Not that he would necessarily say that this is a bad thing (assuming he is not a skeptic); it may be a very noble thing. Yet, he would insist, it must be seen for what it is: a totally subjective and fact-overlooking propensity of the human mind. Additionally, since it is subjective to the individual, then each person's faith is an individual choice and thus cannot claim a monopoly on truth. So, your faith is just as legitimate as the next person's.

The second view is that of the Christian liberal. Her perspective is very similar to the one outlined above, though she does believe in the validity of her own religious beliefs, at least functionally – for her. She would likely admit that everyone has their own perspective and that she just has hers. She might also allow for the possibility of learning from other faith perspectives, in the name of Christian love. Inwardly, she doubts the parts of the Bible that seem to defy our modern understanding of science. The creation account, the miracles of Jesus, and even His resurrection have merely symbolic value for her. She figures that this is really the point of the Bible anyway. In the end, it does not bother her too much to suppose that a lot of the things recorded in the Bible never took place, because that is the essence of faith as she has come to understand it.

The third view is more commonly held by the 'fundamentalist' Christian. He sees faith as the tool Christians use to believe things that science, history, and philosophy would teach him are wrong unlikely, or just ridiculous. He certainly believes that his faith is true and that God and His Word have the final say. However, in the deep recesses of his mind, he fears that if he listens to what the secular scientists, historians, and philosophers are saying, he may be convinced by them and lose his faith. He does not want to be like those who start down the road of secular study and wind up as agnostics or atheists. Therefore, he cuts himself off as much as he can from that world. He only watches Fox News, only reads books from the Christian book store, and discourages other Christians from seeking a secular liberal education – especially if this involves the study of philosophy! He is suspicious of theology, because this seems to him an attempt to use reason, instead of the Bible, to understand and know God (a topic for another paper). Ideal faith, as he sees it, is to stop asking so many questions and just believe.

Though this last perspective may seem to differ strongly from the other two, we must recognize some important common ground – our last friend, like the others, believes that his faith is something that is by definition separate from the categories of reason and evidence. Though he maintains that what he believes is really true, he sees the mind as too frail or flawed an instrument to be trusted with understanding, explaining, or defending the truths of God – except when it involves the use of fact-dodging tactics, like those employed by conspiracy theorists and holocaust deniers. Thus, his faith, like our other two friends', is not rational or warranted by proof, but is just another personal conviction that remains highly subjective, in-spite of his claims to the contrary.

At this point you may be wondering if I am trying to pick a fight. I am not, so I need to be quite clear that these three caricatures are indeed that – caricatures. They are not meant maliciously nor as exact embodiments of any particular person I know, so I pray that I am not needlessly offending anyone. My goal in presenting you with these three characters is not to pick on a few people whose views bug me, but to provide three common outworkings of a shared contemporary definition of faith. They do not perfectly represent everyone in each camp, but they provide a vivid and realistic picture from which we can begin to work backward toward a better definition of faith. They help frame the discussion and give a face to the different positions. In fact, I feel a great deal of sympathy for each group. Nevertheless, I must address the flaw of their shared (mis)understanding of the relationship between faith and truth.

A Leap into the Void
Before we consider what the Bible has to say about faith, I would like to give a brief illustration that may ring true with the experience of at least some Christian undergraduate students or career workers that remember those years of dept and ideals. I recognize from the start that not all who read this section (esp. non-Christians) will be able to identify with the protagonist's experience or the decision he faces, but I have chosen to include it because it illustrates where I was on faith a few years ago, and because it places this topic within a practical real-life situation. I hope that the personal nature of this account will help to shed light on the struggle of the mind to understand faith. I hope it will also lay the groundwork for seeing the intrinsically objective nature of Christian faith.

Imagine this scenario:
You are a twenty-something Christian undergrad. You're new at this secular university and though you have always confessed Christ as your Savior, you are just now running up against new ideas that challenge the Bible and what it says. You've just finished another class with that world religions professor who seems to have designated you the classroom punching bag for, as he elegantly puts it, “taking the Bible literally.” Feeling as stupid as you must have sounded in class today, you bumble down to the campus cafe. On your way, you are cornered by an over-zealous philosophy minor whom you have been trying to share the Gospel with. She gets straight to the point and tells you that you seem like a smart person, but she can't see how you could believe a book that is as archaic and filled with contradictions as the Bible. All at once, shame, self-doubt, and a severe lack of caffeine combine in a most unhealthy way and in your mind a switch is suddenly flipped. You feel like you have found it: the answer to all of their criticisms and to your own doubts. Finally! After a pause you reply: “The Bible is not about science, history, and facts; it teaches you how to have faith. I have faith in Jesus Christ, and like, so what if there are contradictions in the gospels? I mean, does it really matter if Judas hanged himself, or if the genealogies in Matthew are right? I don't think that is the point at all. The Bible's all about how you can know and believe in Jesus, 'cause when you do you will see your life change so that you can live like Jesus did!”.

Now, what has our friend just done? It may seem to you that he has answered well. After all, his reply does not focus on the tough turn-off questions of inerrancy and historicity (stumbling blocks?). It seems to get straight to the 'important stuff' – the need to place your faith in Jesus Christ... Or does it? The student's reply certainly seems to break down walls of division. I mean, couldn't we lead more people to faith if we allowed the Bible to be wrong on its historical accounts while insisting on the underlying “spiritual message”? Wouldn't that make the Gospel more acceptable and accessible for the postmodern educated masses? Yet, the tragic irony is that these 'dividing walls' that our friend is tearing down are the very ones which support and hold up the entire structure of Christian faith. If these walls fall then so does the building. Furthermore, our friend is already operating with the premises of a dead faith. In order to ask such questions he must start with unbiblical assumptions about the nature of faith and the Gospel itself – namely, that both can remain 'true' and legitimate inspite of history and fact (ie. inspite of reality). This weakened reinterpretation of faith undermines the truthfulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and further debunks all resulting faith, since it's object is shown to be grounded in fiction.

I do not mean this to ridicule those who have found themselves in this tough place. Having struggled to hold onto my faith through three and a half years at a very liberal Christian institution, I know the humiliation, doubt, and exasperation of not knowing how to respond to people who seem much smarter and better informed than me. The temptation is very strong to compromise on a definition of faith that is easier to swallow both for oneself and one's hearers. Shame is not my aim here, unless it leads to repentance. I am looking for truth and if you are someone who seeks that then I would urge you to consider what the Bible says about faith.

Faith and Fact
At this point I expect a few retorts. “What about doubting-Thomas? He doubted and Jesus scolded him for not believing. He said we should believe without seeing! Where is the place of mystery? What do you do with Paul's words about the Gospel being “foolishness” to the world? Doesn't even Scripture demand a sort of 'blind faith'? Now, I could frame this paper as a point-for-point reply to each of these questions, but I have a feeling that even this would not satisfy a skeptic, because rebuttals primarily play defense and rarely move the ball forward. What I have decided to do instead, therefore, is to frame my argument around a few key biblical passages, which deal explicitly with faith and its object – the person and work of Jesus Christ. I will do my best to answer questions along the way, but I believe that this kind of presentation will bend both me and you, the reader, back to the text of Scripture, which should have the ultimate authority in framing our discussion.

One of the key principles of biblical interpretation and literary analysis more generally is that of using explicit teachings on a subject to inform the more implicit conclusions which we might draw from less clear parts of the text. When applied to the Bible, this rule of interpreting is referred to as “the analogy of faith” and it is the first rule of biblical interpretation or hermeneutics (Sproul 46). What this means in practice is that we do not create an entire theology of faith out of verses like John 20:29 and 1 Cor. 1:18, without first carefully studying passages that deal more explicitly with the nature of faith. Afterward, we may certainly return to these verses with new insight into their meaning, having replaced cultural assumptions with the terms, definitions, and context that the Bible itself supplies. In other words, we must let Scripture interpret Scripture and then submit ourselves to what it teaches. (Sproul 46 - 48)

Faith is one of those words that appears so many times in the Bible that it can be difficult to pinpoint its most significant usages. However, many uses of the word, especially in Paul's letters assume that faith plays an important role in the salvation of all Christians. One of the clearest explanations of this is found in the third chapter of the book of Romans:

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

(Romans 3:21-26 ESV)

The first thing we see here is that God's righteousness – his sinless perfection and worthiness – has been made known (“manifested”) through Jesus Christ, which was prophesied hundreds as well as thousands of years earlier in the Old Testament (“the Law and the Prophets”). This righteousness doesn't come by “the law” that God established in the Old Testament (v. 21) but “through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (v. 22). The problem is our sinfulness. We are all sinners (unrighteous) and each one of us falls short of the standard of righteousness that God requires (v. 23). However, God did not leave us to our own devises; for all those who place their faith in Jesus are, through God's gifted grace, put in right standing before God and declared 'not guilty' (“justified”). Those who have faith, therefore, are redeemed from sin and death by the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ, in their place for their sins (v. 25a). By providing Jesus as a substitute in our place – to pay our debt – God both satisfied His righteous wrath by punishing sin (“that he might be just...”) and provided the payment, at His own expense (“...and the justifier...”). This undeserved righteousness is received, again, through “faith in Jesus” (emphasis mine). This is the Good News or Gospel that Christians are called to boldly declare to the world as we await the return of our Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 1:8, Eph. 6:19-20, 1 Cor. 11:26).

I would love to spend more time on the wonderful doctrine of justification, which is a key focus of this passage, but for the sake of staying on track and to avoid adding more length to this paper, I will focus on Paul's key assumption about faith: namely, that it's object is objectively, historically, and unquestionably true. Paul states that God's righteousness does not come through the Law of the Old Covenant but “through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (v. 22). Faith here is not grounded in esoteric, religious imagery but in the physical death, burial, and resurrection of a real human being (also fully God) who truly lived, truly died, and truly rose to life again. Furthermore, Paul does not separate the historical facts about the man Jesus Christ from the theological implications of His work. In fact, Paul presents Jesus' work of justification and redemption as completely dependent on and inseparable from historical fact. Jesus Christ bled and died in around 33 A.D., so that God's justice and grace might meet and open savlation to all who believe. True faith, therefore rests on the truthfulness of the the following statement: “...that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures...” (1 Cor. 15:3-4 ESV).

This intentional link between objective, historical, verifiable fact (more on this later) and faith is nowhere more evident than in the fifteenth chapter of Paul's first epistle to the Corinthians. I have included the first portion of this chapter below:

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.
Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.
Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf? Why are we in danger every hour? I protest, brothers, by my pride in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die every day! What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.” Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame.”

(1 Cor. 15:1-34 ESV)

What does this passage say about the relationship between faith and fact? In verse 1, Paul reminds us of the Gospel he preaches. In verse 2 he gives a short preview to the issue he is about to confront the Corinthians with (“... unless you believed in vain”). Paul expands on this strange statement starting in verse 12. Here he introduces his objection: “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?”(1 Cor. 15:12). In the next verses, Paul describes the danger that the Corinthians face in buying into the idea that there is no resurrection. “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (v. 13, 14 emphasis mine). This is essential! Paul is making the case that unless there is a real, physical resurrection of the dead – unless Christ really rose – the Corinthians' faith (again their faith!) is in vain. They might as well throw in their towels and call it a day.

Moving along, Paul draws out the implications of a gospel and faith divorced from the facts: “We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised” (v. 15). Here another problem arises: if there is no objective and physical resurrection then Christians are liars, misrepresenting God and deceiving others. It is not noble to propagate ideas that are false, especially when the implications are of eternal significance! Should the resurrection prove to be only a sort of spiritual metaphor, the implications would be twofold. First, Christian teaching on the Cross would provide merely a temporary and ultimately groundless hope to the weak and gullible. Second, if there is a God and we say that He sent His Son to live and die in our place, when in reality He did no such thing, then we are blaspheming God's Name and drawing people away from any other plan that God might have had for humanity. Continuing with eternal implications, verses 18 to 19 tell us, “Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied”. If Christ didn't rise from the dead then there is no hope for anyone who dies. You will never again see those you loved who said they were going to be with Jesus. There is no happy ending for them. They are in the ground to stay and decay, just like their unrisen 'savior'. And what fools would Christians be! Hoping in a man who called himself “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6, emphasis mine) but who could not even save himself (Matt. 27:42). If this were true, Christians would not deserve admiration but pity. They would be the most pathetic creatures on Earth, because they would have sacrificed their their lives, some in lifelong service and others in martyrdom, for a man who stiffed them on all that he promised! We do not praise victims of a Ponzi scheme for their gullibility; why then would we commend anyone who trusts in a dead savior? That's not noble it's just sad.

But that is not the truth! For the apostle declares in verses 20 and 21: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead” (emphasis mine). Jesus Christ really did rise victorious over sin and death! Peter echoed this same truth in his first sermon, declaring: “God raised him [Jesus] up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it” (Acts 2: 24). What does this change? First, the language of 1 Corinthians 15: 20-21 points to a future hope for all those who have trusted and believed in Jesus. Jesus is referred to here as “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep”. He is the first of the resurrected. Christianity is in no way interested in helping people cope with the realities of suffering and death by finding inner peace or an escape from suffering. One might be able to claim this of Buddhism, Hinduism, the New Age, and other philosophies, but these concerns are alien to those of the Bible. God's Word promises beatings, persecution, suffering, and even death for those who trust and believe in Christ (Mark 10:30; 13:9, 2 Cor. 12:10, 2 Thess. 1:4, 1 Peter 5:10, etc.). Paul actually presents persecution as a privilege in his epistle to the Philippians, saying: “it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake” (Phil. 1:29 emphasis mine). And this is not just a matter of physical suffering. True followers of Christ will experience rejection and hatred as well. Jesus promised his disciples: “ will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Mark 13:13, emphasis mine). So why on Earth would anyone choose Christ, who promises suffering, rejection, and death, when they could just as well have 'inner piece' through a path of far less resistance? The answer lies in the truthfulness of the Christian message. Consider the second half of the verse above: “But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Mark 13:13b, emphasis mine). Other religions may give you a life of relative security and peace. You may even prosper – temporarily. Other paths may make you feel really good about yourself and experience little suffering, or they may help you to train your mind not to feel it as acutely. However, only Christ can truly save you. This is because only the claims of Christianity are true. In fact, many of the more therapeutic religions do not depend so heavily on objective truth in order to 'work'. After all, people could still pursue nirvana through meditation, even if the Buddha had never lived. This is because ultimately Buddhism is dependent more on a philosophy of living (the eightfold path) than on the life and work of Siddhartha Gautama. Likewise, the New Age movement does not depend on any specific historical events for its teaching. The difference with Jesus Christ and His Gospel is that He is not concerned with medicating our minds to cope with the human condition – He came to fix it! Jesus Himself came down in space-time history, lived a perfect life in a frail and real human body, and died to bear the full penalty of our sin (2 Cor 5:21). Thus, Jesus reconciled us to God, making right all that we had broken (2 Cor. 5:19, Eccl. 7:29) and promised eternal life to all who would lay down their lives for Jesus and His Gospel – which is the “good news” of His life, burial, and resurrection. As He says in Mark 8:35: “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it”. So then, Jesus did not come to provide a functional peace of mind. No, He came to give life, eternal life (John 6:40); a fact that will reduce Christianity to irrelevancy unless the event that secured this promise is found to be historically and reliably true. If it is true, then Christians need not seek their best life now, because a better life awaits them. For the Christian, this world is the closest thing to Hell she will ever experience.

What is next implication of a gospel that is not grounded in fact? “If there is no resurrection of the dead “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die”” (v. 32). Paul is essentially saying that if the historical event of Jesus Christ's resurrection did not really happen, in a real and physical way, then we might as well party it up, because today is all we've got. We must understand how sober and rationally consistent Paul is being in his logic. If Christ did not rise and conquer sin and death, then there is absolutely no hope for us beyond this life. All we can hope to do is strive for our best life now. And why not do this at the expense of others, as long as you don't get caught? For what hope is there of justice beyond the grave? Thus, a gospel and faith not grounded in objective truth are powerless to maintain even vague notions of moral order, for they present no attractive alternative to selfishness. Again, if even Jesus couldn't beat death, why would I waste my life loving Christ and people sacrificially? Why shouldn't I sleep around, use people, and do exactly as I please? If Jesus couldn't conquer death, then clearly I won't! So why would I waste my precious time suffering for a dead man and his noble principles, when it will just cause me more suffering than I already experience, plus rejection from friends and strangers? There is simply not much appeal – unless it is true!

Making the Case
Christianity has an acute interest in history, for the whole of our faith and hope rests on the truthfulness of certain events that actuality took place in space and time. In this section we will address the ways in which Scripture makes the case for Christ, his death, burial, and resurrection. We will see that the more we study the Scriptures the more difficult it will be to accept the current definition of faith, put forward by our culture and bought into by Christians on all sides. So where is the evidence? We find it again in God's Word: the Bible.

One thing we cannot avoid in the New Testament is the central place of eyewitness testimony. We see this repeatedly in the Gospels and the book of Acts, as well as the letters of Paul, Peter, and John. We have only to look back to verses 4 to 8 of 1 Corinthians to see this clearly demonstrated (see above). After outlining the Gospel – the news of Jesus Christ's death, burial, and resurrection – Paul sets forward two authorities: first, the prophetic witness of the Old Testament; second, the testimony of eyewitnesses who saw Jesus risen from death. “In accordance with the Scriptures...” is used to invoke the former, while Paul provides a rather long list of eyewitnesses in defense of the latter. These were mostly still living at the time this was written and would have been able to confirm the fact of Jesus' resurrection, because they actually saw Him alive, after he had been publicly and shamefully executed and buried. The first mentioned is Peter (Cephas), who shortly before Jesus' crucifixion denied Jesus because he didn't have the guts to stand up to a little girl (Matt. 26: 69-70). This same Peter went on not only to confess Christ as risen and reigning, but himself became the leader of the apostles and the church in Jerusalem. Tradition tells us that he was later crucified upside down in Rome for preaching Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection. I think it is reasonable to presume that something happened between Peter's cowering with his tail between his legs instead of standing up for Jesus and his fearless declarations of Christ's resurrection in the face of imprisonment and death.

Moving on, Paul calls on the testimony of all of the disciples of Christ. Some of these men had either been killed and others would soon suffer gruesome executions because they confessed Jesus Christ as their risen Lord. In considering this, we a question emerges: if this were all a lie then why didn't any of these guys call it quits? After all, why be tortured and excruciatingly killed for something you know isn't true? I doubt that any of us have a lie that we are that willing to die for! The very least we can say is that these men were indeed sincere and believed what they were saying. They must have been convinced it was true! After all, what would they gain by suffering and dying for a story about a man who died and rose from the dead – unless it really happened, bringing them greater hope beyond their own deaths?

Next, Paul calls on the eyewitness testimony of more than five hundred people who saw and heard Jesus after he had left the tomb (verse 6). This kind of claim would be preposterous if these eyewitnesses did not exist! Opponents of Christianity and the very people Paul is writing to could simply have asked Paul to produce a few of these eyewitnesses and Paul's argument would collapse like a stack of cards – unless these witnesses were around to testify to their experience of Jesus and to answer questions about Him. What strikes me is that Paul is so nonchalant in the way he sets his evidence forward. He does not claim a few witnesses here and there, which would diminish the burden of proof; but it is as if he defies those who deny Christ's resurrection to speak to one of the more than five hundred people who are going around declaring, “Yes, I saw Him and it's crazy but He is alive!” This kind of appeal would be self-defeating unless these eye-witnesses really existed and were already spreading the news. Paul implies as much in his address before King Agrippa, an non-Jewish official, who was geographically removed from where Christ had lived, preached, and died. Yet, Paul addresses this important man in these words: “For the king knows about these things [Christ's death, burial, and resurrection], and to him I speak boldly. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner” (Acts 26:26, emphasis mine). Paul is not making an unprovable “religious” claim about how we can enter the divine. Rather, he is calling attention to a historical event that was already being talked about all over the Roman empire. Jesus' resurrection was not a piece of esoteric (secret) knowledge that people needed to suspend their reason in order to believe. It was something that so many people had witnessed and given up their lives for that its reality could not plausibly be denied! Again, Paul is confirming news that was already circulating throughout the Roman empire and then explaining its significance.

It borders on academic dishonesty to claim that anyone could make such bold claims and be taken seriously by his hearers – unless the evidence was already speaking for itself. This is probably why the Jewish council, in persecuted the church, did not focus it's attention on denying the resurrection – as you will notice if you read the gospel accounts and the book of Acts. Instead, the authorities' strategy became one of silencing the speakers – a sort of damage control. Denying the resurrection was simply impossible: there were hundreds of eye-witnesses, the news was spreading, and the message was confirmed by signs and miracles (Acts 5:12). The only thing left to do was to shut up and kill as many people as possible to keep the news from spreading any further (Acts 5:17-42, Acts 9). The Gospel itself is literally “news”. News back then, as today, is characterized by the oral or written communication of something that has happened that has some significance to bear on those who receive it. The eye-witnesses proclaimed the message of Christ's death, burial, and resurrection by way of mouth. Some of them, like the Apostle Paul, preserved the News about Jesus Christ in the written witness of Scripture. Thus, the Bible preserves the News for us and all who will hear and believe (John 5:24, Romans 10:17).

Next, Paul speaks of Christ's appearance to James and “all the apostles” (1 Cor. 15:7). This James certainly refers to Jesus' own brother, who became a leader in the early church, and whom the Corinthians would have been familiar with. This again reveals a remarkable aspect of the Gospel, for Paul is calling on a family member of Christ as a witness to Jesus' resurrection and, by that, His divinity! It is unthinkable that anyone would worship their older brother – unless of course they had personally seen Him die, nailed to two pieces of wood, only to see him walking around three days later, his mortal founds still showing. I propose that this might just push you over the edge of your uncertainty (John 7:5) and cause you to worship him.

Lastly, Paul presents himself as a witness to the resurrected Christ. He is to me the most stunning witness, because I cannot think of any less likely candidate to take up the cause of Christ. Paul makes this clear when he confesses his atrocious persecution of Jesus and His people. He insists that he is “the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because [he] persecuted the church of God” (v. 9). Yet, it is precisely the fact that he fought Christ's work so arduously that makes him such a credible witness. We might perhaps believe that a bunch of desperate people, searching for meaning, with nothing to lose, could be duped into worshipping a dead man and claiming that he came back to life. After all, isn't faith just a crutch for the weak? No way! Paul does not fit that mold by any stretch of the imagination! He was a well-educated social elite who enjoyed ever-increasing status, influence, and power. He had unmatched religious zeal, being from the strictest religious order of the pharisees (Phil. 3). He showed his unwavering devotion to Judaism by imprisoning and murdering the followers of Jesus that threatened the established religious order and its traditions (Phil. 3, Acts 9). But Jesus Christ appeared to Him, on his way to arrest more Christians, and told him to stop persecuting and start serving his new Master.

Paul wasn't looking for a 'new spiritual experience' – he was very happy to continue in the “traditions of his fathers”, gaining in influence, prestige, and all the benefits of that life (Gal. 1:14). He had not been questioning the legitimacy of his own religious upbringing. As a pharisee he would have had the Law, the Prophets, and loads of rabinical writings grilled into his mind through tireless meditation and memorization. These would have been his primary frame of reference for seeing the world (Phil. 3:5). He did not come from the sort of pluralistic context that would have predisposed him to doubt the teaching he had received. Neither did he believe that he was lacking in anything before God. For if God's righteousness were based on how well he kept the Old Testament Law, Paul was in a very good place (Phil. 3:6). Hence, he would not have been in any way predisposed to consider a 'new teaching' that would make the Old Covenant obsolete (Heb. 8:13), especially one that advocated something as offensive as the worship of a human being as Eternal God. For any first-century Jew, the thought of worshiping a human being would have been damnable; how much more so for a leading religious conservative!

So, what pushed Paul into faith in Jesus Christ? The book of Acts and Paul himself tell us that it was while he was still “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord” (Acts 9:1) that the risen Jesus literally showed up from heaven, knocked Paul down, struck him blind, and ordered him to go and wait for a Christian to come, heal him, and give him the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:3-18). So, just like that, Paul switched from a comfortable life as a religious/political elite and persecutor of this 'the Way' (as it was called), to the most zealous missionary the church of Jesus Christ has ever seen. In case anyone is tempted to think that Paul was merely seeking a new venue for gaining religious prestige and social advancement, he makes it clear at many points in his letters that he received no such benefits – quite the opposite, in fact (1 Cor. 4:11-13, 2 Cor. 12: 10). Furthermore, his acceptance of imprisonment and his subsequent execution in Rome ought to remove any suspicion of a thirst for power and prestige. If that were his aim, Paul could have much more easily attained his goal through the trajectory he had been following up until the day when he met Jesus on the road to Damascus. In effect, Paul was Christianity's least likely candidate, yet in God's divine plan, He chose Paul as an instrument to spread the Good News about the death, burial, and resurrection of His Son (Acts 9:15). Nothing short of a miracle could have accomplished that!

What do we make of all of this? Can we believe that Jesus literally spoke from heaven and delegated this mission to Paul, or that more than five hundred people literally saw and heard Jesus preach after He rose from the dead, or that the apostles literally saw and touched Jesus mortal wounds, now flaunted as a trophy of His victory over sin and death (John 20)? In sum, can we believe in a literal resurrection? Isn't it easier to just believe that they were all deceived, lying, or just confused?

At this point, I would like to ask a very serious question to any philosophical materialists (atheists) who might be reading this. Are you truly being intellectually honest in automatically rejecting any supernatural explanation for these events? Let's consider the alternatives. The eyewitnesses to Christ's resurrection could all be lying; at which point one might well wonder why they all would have so willingly laid down their lives for what they knew was nothing but a fabrication or a well-rehearsed self-help plan. Alternatively, they might have cooked up a couple magic mushroom omelets and simply “thought they saw” Jesus rise from the dead (as was eloquently suggested to me by an indie rocker in Grand Rapids). This begs the question: how can you get so many people, in different places at different times, to all have an imagined experience so similar in nature that it lead them all to proclaim and die for the same thing – namely, the “Good News” that Jesus Christ died, was buried, and rose again to conquer death and all our sin? When you take away the ultimately unprovable assumption that nothing exists beyond the material realm, the claims of the materialist appear, at the very least, doubtful. The Christian bases her claims on evidence, eye-witness testimony, and history, whereas the philosophical materialist simply rules out the evidence on the assumption that there is no God or spiritual realm. It is my experience that when you present people with the resurrection, that is when you hear some of the most ridiculous rebuttals and fact-dodging answers. This is because people rarely want to honestly consider what the evidence might be pointing to. When it comes to the resurrection, I believe that it is more often the materialist, not the Christian, who is guilty of intellectual dishonesty and blind faith.

Who Stole your Confidence?
In the previous section I have attempted to uncover the foundation of a rational and trustworthy faith, based in the historical event of Jesus' death by crucifixion, burial, and subsequent resurrection. In this section, I will address the problem of Christian cowardice, which leads to a highly flawed understanding of faith. Whereas, the previous paragraphs were aimed at non-Christians who dismiss the rational, evidence-based claims of Christianity, this section will focused primarily on the Christian side of the problem.

I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words”. So Paul defended his proclamation of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection before King Agrippa (Acts 26:25b). But I cannot help but wonder how many Christians today would dare to use the words true and rational in association with their faith. My fear is that it would be precious few. So why this lack of confidence? Why do Christians feel that they must either accept rationality and deny the Bible's claims or else live outside of reason, divorcing themselves from the proper use of their minds? As we outlined earlier, both of these 'Christian' approaches make the grave mistake of assuming that faith is irrational, and thus they inevitably reduce it to a crutch of the mind or a purely subjective spiritual experience. We have already established that the Bible is not interested in speculation and blind hopes, but in an objective and historically-grounded fact. Faith is not faith without the facts. To echo Paul, a groundless faith is a blind, deceptive, blasphemous, and pitiful thing (1 Cor. 15). We are not to aspire to such a faith and we are to pity those who do. But the picture is not yet complete. We must consider a few objections raised mostly by Christians.

Corruption, Witness, and the Holy Spirit
John 20:19-28 is probably the passage most commonly cited in defense of this 'faith that fills the gaps' – what some rightly call 'blind faith'. The account recorded begins after Jesus has risen from His tomb. At this point, His disciples are still in hiding. One Sunday, Jesus appears to ten of the disciples in a locked house. Judas, Jesus' betrayer, has already killed himself and we are told that Thomas is somewhere else. Later on, the ten tell Thomas about Jesus' miraculous postmortem appearance, but he insists on experiencing physical proof of Jesus' resurrection (v. 25). The next Sunday, Jesus appears to the disciples again and this time Thomas is with them. Jesus addresses Thomas directly with these words: “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe” (v. 27). Thomas answers Christ: “My Lord and my God!” (v. 28). Jesus then makes the following remark: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (v. 29).

It is not difficult to see how this text could be twisted to defend blind faith. Jesus' response may seem, at first glance, to condemn anyone who needs to have their questions answered while praising those who 'just believe' – the gullible. But is this what we are meant to glean from reading this? I very much doubt it. The first indication that this is not what Jesus is saying comes from the strong evidence for Jesus' resurrection presented earlier in this chapter. If we read back to the beginning of chapter 20, we will see that Mary Magdalene has already seen and reported to the disciples that Jesus' tomb is empty (v. 2). Peter and John have also seen the empty tomb, and we are told that John himself “believed” (v. 3-9). After these two leave the tomb, Mary Magdalene actually sees Jesus alive (v. 15)! She realizes it is Him and He sends her away with a message for His disciples (v. 17). Verse 18 tells us: “Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.” Matthew and Luke add at least one other female witness and two angels of God to the group of witnesses of Christ's bodily resurrection prior to His appearance to His disciples (Matt. 28:1, Luke 24:1; Matt. 28:5-7, Luke 24:5-6). All of this evidence, coupled with the fact that Jesus repeatedly predicted His own death and resurrection (Matt. 20:17-19, Mark 10: 32-34, Luke 18:31-34, John 3:14, John 12:32, etc.) show that Jesus' words cannot possibly be taken to mean that faith must happen where proof is lacking. Whatever else we might infer, it would be unreasonable to suggest that the apostles, including Thomas, did not have ample evidence to substantiate a credible belief in Jesus' resurrection! His tomb was empty on the day Jesus said He would rise from the dead (Matt. 20:19, Mark 10: 34, John 2:19), they knew the Scriptures that predicted that this would happen (John, 2:17, John 20:9 – implied), and Mary Magdalene had actually seen Him alive and had come back to them with a message from Jesus' own lips (John 20:18). One might indeed wonder what kept them from believing, not the other way around! All of the evidence was pointing to what the Scriptures and Jesus Himself had predicted would happen – namely, that He would die, be buried, and rise again to save those who would have faith in Him and His work. Only hardness of heart can overcome so many signs and proofs. More on this shortly.

With this backdrop, we must still understand the purpose of Jesus' words. Simply ruling out one position does not explain the meaning of Christ's words to Thomas. In order to facilitate our investigation, therefore, let's take a glance at this portion of the text.

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”
Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

(John 20:19-29 ESV)

What could Jesus' last statement mean? Again, remember, both of Christ's appearances happen in the context of overwhelming proof. Yet, strangely, the apostles still show doubt. On both occasions, the disciples are in a room where the doors are locked – presumably for fear of being arrested by the Jewish authorities who had condemned Jesus. It is interesting that even after the ten see Christ and he speaks to them, they again choose to meet in a locked room. In fact, even after Thomas believes and testifies to Jesus' identity, the eleven do not go out immediately and proclaim the Good News. Why not? Now that they know and believe that Jesus rose, what keeps them going out and telling everyone as they will do later on?

Beware! Many (I include myself) may be tempted to think that Christians only need to present the facts and prove to others that the claims of the Bible are accurate and reliable in 'make Christians'. If the facts can be made clear, they imagine, people will naturally see the reasonableness of the Gospel and they will surrender their lives to Christ. The problem with this understanding is twofold: first, the human mind is not neutral but it actively opposes God's reasonable truth; and second, only the work of the Holy Spirit can overcome the resistance of a rebellious mind and heart. Without the Holy Spirit, hardened people have no chance of accepting the Gospel, “true” and “rational” as it indeed is (again Acts 26). It is easy to become forgetful how corrupt pre-regenerate humans are. In Scripture, we are told that a regenerate (born-again) Christian “[has] the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16b). Like the other members of the “new self”, this mind “is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator ” so that it comes closer and closer in line with ultimate reality – the mind of God (Col 3:10, emphasis mine). Conversely, the Bible mocks the “wisdom of the world”, saying that in it “the world did not know God through wisdom” (1 Cor. 1:21). This is not because wisdom and knowledge are contrary to God and His nature, for He made them! No, he is referring to the pseudo-wisdom and false knowledge of the world: “the wisdom of this age” that stands against true wisdom and true knowledge (1 Cor. 3:19). These counterfeits include all wisdom and knowledge that does not acknowledge God and that tries to operate independently of its Creator (Rom. 1: 21). As it stands in the book of Proverbs:

The fear of the LORD is the
beginning of wisdom,
and knowledge of the Holy
One is insight”

(Proverbs 9:10 ESV, emphasis mine)

It was in straying from this solid foundation that people “became futile in their thinking”, as we see so clearly in the philosophies of men like Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault (Rom. 1:21, emphasis mine). The apostle Paul perhaps says it best in the following statement:

And since [mankind] did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.

(Romans 1:28 ESV, emphasis mine)

On the other side, Jesus speaks about a total transformation, in New Birth (John 3:1-15). In this we see a reversal of the curse's effects on the mind, as well as the rest of our being. Through faith in Jesus Christ, the broken mind is set aright – and all of this by the power of the Holy Spirit. In the words of Ezekiel 11:19:

I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. (NIV, emphasis mine)

We clearly see throughout the Gospels (the four accounts of Jesus and his ministry) that the disciples hearts are hardened. This is continually presented as the very reason that they are unable to accept or understand Jesus' words, actions, and identity (Mark 6:52, Mark 4:35-41, John 14:5-11). The same hardheartedness can be found in the pharisees, who do not see Christ as the obvious fulfillment of the Law and Prophets that they knew like the back of their hand (Mark 3:5). It is again the reason that the people of Jesus' own hometown did not believe in Him, despite all the evidence of His divinity (Mark 6:1-6). I hope you spy the common thread: in each of these cases, the hardness of heart happens in-spite of the evidence. Mark records that Jesus was angered and marveled at the resilience of His witnesses' unbelief in the wake of all His miracles, teaching, and fulfilling of prophesy (Mark 3:5, 6:6). The truth is that there is strong evidence to back what the Bible says about Jesus, but no one will accept it unless the Holy Spirit preforms a transformative work in their hearts and in their minds. Faith in Christ requires a miraculous reboot of our whole system. The old corrupted software must be destroyed and replaced with God's original operating system, which includes new inclinations, desires, and thoughts – the ones we were created to run.

You may have noticed, in our passage in John 20, that Jesus seems to give his disciples the Holy Spirit in verse 22. I will not get into the big debate on whether this verse refers to the Spirit being given at that time or if it is simply a declaration of what would take place at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-14). Either way, the apostle John informs us earlier in his book that it was at some point after Jesus was raised from the dead that the disciples “remembered that he had said this, and … believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken” (John 2:22). John's Gospel makes declares that the Holy Spirit – referred to as “the Helper” – is the primary Witness to Christ Jesus, as well as the One who “teache[s]” and “guide[s] [believers] in all the truth” (John 15:25-26;14:26;16:13). Thus, the Holy Spirit plays an indispensable role in leading people to a knowledge of and in growing them in the truth. This task cannot be undertaken by a corrupt and broken mind, it requires divine intervention.

So, if there is sufficient evidence to substantiate credible belief in Jesus' resurrection, and yet we need the Holy Spirit to enlighten our minds and change our hearts, then why does Jesus seem to rebuke Thomas? Is this just a way for Christ to make an example of someone who hardened his heart against the evidence of Jesus' resurrection? No, I think Jesus is accomplishing something more than that. The Lord is not just satisfying the doubts of one man and asking that the rest of humanity to do a better job of believing without needing so much evidence (John 20:29).This cannot be the point, because of the following verses. Here they are:

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

(John 20:30-31 ESV, emphasis mine)

If we interpret verse 29 in light of verse 31 we must see that Jesus did not appear to Thomas just to give him a proverbial slap on the wrist, but so that those who would have to “believe without seeing” would have the witness of someone who had not only seen and heard Jesus, but who had also physically touched the wounds of the risen Christ and acknowledged Him as “Lord” and “God” (v. 28). In fact, Thomas' doubt, physical experience of Christ, and confession serve to bolster the claims of the Gospel, in much the same way as the witnesses of 1 Corinthians 15 (see above). This account has served throughout church history as a rebuttal against the claim that Jesus merely appeared as a ghost or a spiritual projection (ESV Study Notes). Moreover, the context makes it clear that this is intentional. Even if Jesus' words are to be taken as a rebuke, He can in no way be said to be advocating for blind faith, because the passage itself stands as a testimony to the historical claims that Jesus physically died and physically rose, and that He is both Lord and God. The faith Jesus expects here is just as objective as it is presented elsewhere in Scripture.

What do I do with my Hard Heart?
At this point, perhaps you are saying to yourself, “I don't really believe all of this stuff about Jesus, the resurrection, and eternal life, and one excessively long essay is not about to change my mind.” Or perhaps you are a Christian who has continually struggled with doubt and you are wondering how you could ever be as confident about your faith as the Bible seems to require that you be. Whether you struggle with one of these or another aspect of Christian faith, I would like to gently ask you to turn your attention to your own heart.

Let's consider the following passage together:

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, doing abominable iniquity;
there is none who does good.
God looks down from heaven
on the children of man
to see if there are any who understand,
who seek after God.
They have all fallen away;
together they have become corrupt;
there is none who does good,
not even one.

(Psalm 53:1-3 ESV)

The psalmist, King David, is introducing us the readers to the ugly state of our hearts without Jesus. As we saw in Romans 1 and Proverbs 9:10, the root of folly is found in not acknowledging God for who He is (“There is no God”). In life, this leads people to act out of step with God's truth and righteousness (“corrupt, doing abominable iniquity”).

What does the prophet Jeremiah say about this? “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). Unlike its current usage, “the heart” in the Bible symbolizes the deepest part of a person's being, emerging from the depths of the mind and soul, not just the emotions (Mark 7:21-23). The heart is said to be so sick and rebellious (“deceitful”) that it is beyond anyone's ability to understand. Apart from faith in Christ that is granted by God (Eph. 2:8-9) and empowered by the Holy Spirit, there is nothing good, pure, and God-seeking in us. The deepest part of our being is rotten to the core.

What then should we conclude? Unless we first acknowledge the fact that we are foolish, corrupt, and hostile to God, we will never be able to experience the redemptive work of Jesus Christ and the changing power of the Holy Spirit applied to our corrupt and rebellious hearts, minds, and souls. We must see that we were the reason Jesus died on the Cross, that we deserved that punishment. As Paul so aptly declares: “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Tim. 1:15). If I am sick, I ask a doctor to tell me what's wrong. I submit to his diagnosis, because he knows his stuff and I teach kindergarteners. In the same way, God knows us more fully that we can ever hope to know ourselves. Moreover, he has provided the cure for our sickness in His Son Jesus Christ. Doubt creeps in when we trust our kindergarten teacher instincts over the informed diagnosis of our doctor.

Doubt goes deeper than the intellect. Unless we acknowledge God, we will find ourselves guided by the broken rudder of our corrupt human hearts. Believing we are seeking God, we find ourselves simply spinning in circles around ourselves. This is the essence of skepticism. Satan is glad to let us keep seeking alternate perspectives and piecing together our own personal spiritualities, if by this he can keep us from acknowledging God for who He is. As long as we keep ourselves at the center and demand that God prove Himself to us (though He already has), Satan has us just where he wants us – entertaining ideas about God while suppressing the truth about Him (Rom. 1:18). This is the same tactic he used when he tempted our first parents, Adam and Eve. The devil introduced doubt into Eve's mind, asking her, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” (Gen. 3:1b)”. That little virus of doubt, planted in Eve's mind, led to her and her husband both seeking to overthrow God and finding themselves cursed by the One who had done nothing but love them and provide from their needs (Gen. 2, 3). Satan's tactic has not changed. The Bible calls him “the deceiver” , because he loves to turn our minds away from God's Truth, convincing us with soft words that we are smart, capable, and independent people, able of create our own truth and be our own lords (Rev. 12:9). He doesn't care what our functional gods are (beauty, money, sex, friends, success, love), because he holds the chain.

I do not mean to discourage anyone with serious questions. That is why I spent a large part of this paper giving rational defenses of Christ's resurrection. Again, we must acknowledge that the Gospel or Jesus Christ is based in history and is both “true” and “rational” (Acts 26:25), but we must not forget that “the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law” and “indeed it cannot” (Rom. 8:7). Doubt is deeper than our intellect and emotions: it is spiritual. Unless God fixes our minds and hearts, we will not respond with humility to His message of Grace and doubt and self-centeredness will triumph.

But how can we know this God who has revealed Himself? How can we receive the Holy Spirit if we are in rebellion against God? If I'm as sick and evil as the Bible says, how can I be saved from myself? The answer is short but it is profound:

if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Rom. 10: 13b).

Notice the two active verbs that the author sets forward as the condition for being “saved”. The first is confess. We must acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord. This means that you confess Jesus as your master (ie. Lord) and your God (John 20:28). Sin and folly entered into the world when humans refused to acknowledge God for who He is. So, it only follows that He should require a reorientation of our understanding of Him by acknowledging God once again as our Creator and confessing Christ Jesus as the One who bought us back at the price of His own life. This means we can no longer see ourselves as independent, self-reliant people. We must now acknowledge that we belong to Jesus Christ (Romans 6:18). “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price” (1 Cor. 6:19-20). The second verb is believe. We must trust that God physically resurrected His son Jesus, who paid the penalty that you deserved because of you sinned and rebelled against your maker (1 Cor. 5:21). Christ died and rose to save you. Without the resurrection there is no good news and our faith is in vain (1 Cor. 15:17). Confess, therefore, and believe; this is Christian faith.

In summary, Christian faith does not consist in suspending reason or in circumventing your mind, but rather it requires trust in the work of Jesus Christ and submission to His rule over your life. Conversely, hardness of heart is not a result of ignorance but is in fact active resistance to Christ's authority. If Christ is Lord, He can ask whatever He wants of me. In effect, I must acknowledge that Jesus saved me without any work or merit of my own. Even the faith through which I confess and trust in Him is a gift (Eph. 2:8-9). He owes me nothing, but I in turn owe Him everything. This is a scary thought, because it pushes me out of the center. Jesus is no longer my copilot and my homeboy, now He is Lord and Master. He calls the shots, and I must listen and submit to His authority. It is His authority that our human hearts of stone fight like an invading pathogen. Yet, submission is in our nature as creatures (ie. those who have been created). We were not made to rule or live for ourselves.

I believe that if each of us we to search his soul, he would find that even his greatest accomplishments have left him feeling less than fulfilled. King Solomon once wrote that “God set eternity in the hearts of men” (Eccl. 3:11 NIV). We have a deep sense that there is something more, a greater reality or existence, beyond ourselves and beyond this moment. However, we seek to fill this infinite longing with finite things and, predictably, nothing satisfies. No new car, no promotion, no degree, no girlfriend, no husband, no child will ever satisfy that longing. This is because an infinite longing for eternity can only be filled by and infinite, eternal God. Submission is a small price to pay, if indeed through it we discover true freedom (Gal. 5:1).

A Call to Respond
Dear friend, I have done my best to present to you the rational and historical Good News (Gospel) of Jesus Christ. I have sought to unveil the condition of our hearts and minds apart from Christ's saving work, and in the absence of the transformational work of the Holy Spirit. I have tried to make it plain that apart from faith in Christ, we live as rebels, enemies of God, and servants of Satan. If you do not confess Christ as Lord and believe that God raised Him from the dead (Rom. 10:13), you will be rejecting the free gift of God and will thus suffer the eternal punishment that your sin deserves (Matt. 25:31-46). Only God can take out your corrupted heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh that will serve, love, and submit to Him. Only His Son's death for your sin can can cover the guilt of your offense against Him. You were not made to worship your wallet, job security, freedom, popularity, a wonderful family, or a beautiful spouse. You were made to worship God and to enjoy Him forever. He is a good master and He deserves your worship, your love, and your whole life.

Let me concludes with two appeals. To the Christian, I ask that you prayerfully consider whether you need to grow in understanding of and confidence in the Gospel you proclaim. This does not mean that you will never have questions, but these must be asked in the confidence of what is clearly known. Our Gospel is true, it is trustworthy, and you should not apologize for it. To the non-Christian, I ask that you examine the state of your own heart, and that afterward, you turn to confess Jesus as Lord and to believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead to pay the price for all of your sin and rebellion against your Creator. I will close with a summary of the Gospel, which is the Good News of Christianity.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

(Romans 5:6-11 ESV)

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. 2007 ed. Battle Ground: Oxford, 2009.

"Faith." Def. 2b. Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Encyclopedia Britannica. Web. 6 Jan. 2012. <>.

Sproul, R. C. Knowing Scripture. Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity, 1977. Print.

*All Bible references are taken from the ESV translation unless otherwise indicated.

Recommended Reading
These are books that I read before and while writing this paper. Some of my ideas were certainly influenced by these authors and I would like to acknowledge their contributions.

Carson, D. A. Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church: Understanding a Movement and Its Implications. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005. Print.

Driscoll, Mark, and Gerry Breshears. Death by Love: Letters from the Cross. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008. Print.

Stott, John R. W. Basic Christianity. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1958. Print.

More Bible References
If you have more questions about the historicity of the biblical account and Gospel message in particular, please direct yourselves to the following passages in the Bible. I did not take the time to expound these in this paper, but feel free to study them on your own time.

John 1:1-18
John 17:17*
Romans 1:18 - 32
Romans 12:1-2
2 Peter 1*
1 Timothy 1*
Hebrews 11
1 John 1*

May the Lord sanctify you in the Truth, which is His Word (John 17:17).
Sola Deo Gloria.


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