Monday, April 17, 2006

The Early Church (3)

This is part 3 of 4 of chapter 6 of my book, Biblical Glasses.

Unbelievers often cite the following twelve issues as general objections to religion, specific questions regarding Christianity, and problems of clarification with the Gospel:

1) Denying the existence of God
2) Denying the occurrence of actual miracles
3) Claiming religion as a psychological crutch
4) Denying the reliability of the Bible
5) Blaming God for suffering and evil in the world
6) Denying Jesus as the only way to God
7) Pointing out those who have never heard the Gospel
8) Pointing out hypocrites in the Church
9) Demanding that good works are a method of salvation
10) Claiming that Christianity is too simple
11) Questioning the meaning of believe
12) Questioning the assurance of salvation Christianity offers

These twelve issues are worthy concerns, and like doubted truths, they can be left alone, never to be understood, or studied to be comprehended. Briefly looking at each objection, we can see that these issues do not need to be avoided.

First, the existence of God can certainly not be disproved; we have looked in depth at the impossibilities of our existence apart from a Creator God.

Second, after a better understanding of creation, as examined in chapter two, miracles become a non-issue if we believe the universe had a Creator. Creation is, from the human point of view, perhaps the greatest miracle ever!

Third, regarding the psychological side of religion, there are certainly no true believers who would agree with Jesse Ventura’s recent statement; he said, “Organized religion is a sham and a crutch for weak-minded people who need strength in numbers.” Anyone possessing God’s Holy Spirit, along with billions of non-Christians, would admit to a spiritual side of life.

Fourth, we looked at the reliability of the Bible in chapter one.

Fifth, suffering and evil are heart-breaking issues. We all have trouble seeing how a perfect God could allow bad things to happen. What we often forget or do not realize is that we brought it on ourselves. No one is without sin, and the consequences of sin are terrible. We can have peace hoping that God will one day wipe out all evil and suffering. The Bible says: “God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain” (Revelation 21:4-5).

Sixth, regarding the often-thought-of-as-arrogant idea that Jesus is the only way to God, we must examine the words of Jesus Himself; He said: “I am the Way and Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). The apostle Peter said, “Salvation is found in no else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). The apostle John wrote, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him” (John 3:36). He also wrote, “He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:12). If a so-called Christian supports any other religion as an equal path to God, then he or she is calling Jesus a liar and is either not a true Christian or does not really understand Christianity.

Regarding the seventh issue, I have been asked several times, “What about the little children in Africa who have never heard of Jesus? How can they be condemned to hell by God, Who never gave them a chance?” The answer is not often enjoyed, but here it is: God has written His law on the hearts of all His chosen people (see Romans 2:15). Jesus mentioned that those who do not know about Him will be judged less harshly than those who knew about and rejected Him. God is sovereign and can do as He pleases. Remember none of us deserve eternal life; we are all sinners worthy of death. It is only by God’s amazing grace that any of us are saved, so we must share the Gospel with all the nations. It is the hope of the Christian that, God willing, the children in Africa will come to know the Lord through missionary work in obedience to the Great Commission. Hank Hanegraaff resolves this concern with the following:

If Jesus is the only way to God, what happens to those who’ve never heard the Gospel, but follow their own religions? Can they be saved?

‘Isn’t it unfair for God to send people to hell even if they’ve never heard about Him or His Son, Jesus Christ?’ Whether it’s asked with the utmost sincerity or used as a convenient excuse to reject God, we must realize that Christianity’s truthfulness depends not on how this question is answered, but upon the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:13-19).

While the Bible affirms that Christ is the only Savior (Acts 4:12), it also states that God is truly just (Genesis 18:25; Job 34:12; Acts 17:31) and He loves us with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3; John 3:16; 2 Peter 3:9). He continues to demonstrate this by making Himself known through His handiwork in creation (Romans 1:19-20), but He also inscribes His knowledge on the very tablets of our hearts, or conscience (Romans 2:14-15). Because no one has been kept in the dark about God, we’re all accountable to Him (Luke 12:47-48).

In spite of this, man has answered God’s love with rebellion, repeatedly rejecting what God has revealed (Romans 3:10-18). All of us deserve to be sentenced to hell. But despite our depravity, God has mercifully chosen to provide a way to save us.

Although God is sovereign and He can deal with individuals in extraordinary ways, He tells us in the Bible that there’s no other way to reach Him except through His one provision—the Lord Jesus Christ (John 14:6). From this, we can only conclude that those who have never heard of Christ are indeed lost. They’re lost as a result of their own actions, and not because of God.
People don’t end up in hell because of what they haven’t heard; they get there because of their failure to act responsibly on what God has already revealed to them—whether through creation in Romans 1, through their conscience in Romans 2, or through the light of Christ in Romans 3. Let us, therefore, labor all the more to bring God’s message to a world in desperate need of salvation (Romans 1:16, 10:13-15). And remember that if those who’ve never heard the Gospel are indeed going to go to heaven, why should we even be involved in foreign missions? Let’s just keep everyone in the dark. In fact if you really draw this argument out to its logical conclusion, Jesus Christ did not come to seek and save those who are lost, He would have come to seek and lose those who are saved. He would then not be the great Saviour [sic] of the world; He would
become its great destroyer.
I will come back to the eighth issue (hypocrites) in a moment.

Regarding the ninth issue, we have already seen why good works are insufficient. They do not make us perfect; we are perfected only by Jesus Christ, by grace through faith in Him.

Concerning the tenth issue, Christianity certainly can be a simple faith, but there are plenty of complex issues for which we do not have time. Christianity can be simple enough for a child (see Matthew 18) or so difficult that a group of Bible scholars could spend their lifetimes discussing certain issues and never come to a consensus (see Job).

Regarding issue eleven, we have also already looked at the meaning of believe. It drives a person to action, obedience to God’s Word.

Twelfth and finally, assurance is simple. 1 John 5:12-13 says: “He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know [emphasis added] that you have eternal life.” We can be sure of the Christian faith!

The concern regarding hypocrites within the Church is possibly the biggest issue keeping people from the Christian faith. Non-believers see so-called believers acting every way but pious. It is unfortunate, because born again Christians should be so immensely appreciative and grateful of the work Jesus did for us that we devote nothing less than the rest of our lives to obeying His commands and following His guidance—living for Him.

Paul wrote, “Those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him Who died for them and was raised again” (2 Corinthians 5:15). Paul also wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). Unfortunately, despite being sincere Christians, all believers are all still sinners and will not be completely perfected until after death. We get a really good picture of this by continuing to look at the history of the early Church.

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