Is Homosexuality Immoral?
One of the most volatile and important issues facing the Church today is the question of homosexuality as an alternative lifestyle. The Church cannot duck this question.
Christians who reject the legitimacy of the homosexual lifestyle are routinely denounced a homophobic, intolerant, even hateful. There is thus tremendous intimidation concerning this issue. Some churches have even endorsed the homosexual lifestyle and welcome those who practice it to be their ministers.
So who are we to say that these apparently earnest Christians are wrong?
But this question raises an even deeper question, which we’ve got to answer first: do right and wrong really exist? Before you can determine what is right and wrong, you have to know that there really is right and wrong.
Well, what is the basis for saying that right and wrong exist, that there really is a difference between these two? Traditionally, the answer has been that moral values are based in God. God is by His very nature perfectly holy and good. He is just, loving, patient, merciful, generous — all that is good comes from Him and is a reflection of His character. Now God’s perfectly good nature issues forth in commandments to us, which become our moral duties, for example, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and strength,” “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” “You shall not murder, steal, or commit adultery.” These things are right or wrong based on God’s commandments, and God’s commandments are not arbitrary but flow necessarily out of His perfect nature.
This is the Christian understanding of right and wrong. There really is such a being as God, who created the world and made us to know Him. He really has commanded certain things. We really are morally obligated to do certain things (and not to do others). Morality isn’t just in your mind. It’s real. When we fail to keep God’s commandments, we really are morally guilty before Him and need His forgiveness. The problem isn’t just that we feel guilty; we really are guilty, regardless of how we feel. I might not feel guilty because I have an insensitive conscience, one that’s dulled by sin; but if I’ve broken God’s law, I am guilty, regardless of how I feel.
So, for example, if the Nazis had won World War II and succeeded in brainwashing or exterminating everyone who disagreed with them, so that everybody would think the Holocaust had been good, it would still have been wrong, because God says it is wrong, regardless of human opinion. Morality is based in God, and so real right and wrong exist and are unaffected by human opinions.
I’ve emphasised this point because it’s so foreign to what a lot of people in our society think today. Today so many people think of right and wrong, not as matters of fact, but as matters of taste. For example, there isn’t any objective fact that broccoli tastes good. It tastes good to some people, but tastes bad to others. It may taste bad to you, but it tastes good to me! People think it’s the same with moral values. Something may seem wrong to you, but right to me. There isn’t any real right or wrong. It’s just a matter of opinion.
Now if there is no God, then I think these people are absolutely correct. In the absence of God everything becomes relative. Right and wrong become relative to different cultures and societies. Without God who is to say that one culture’s values are better than another’s? Who’s to say who is right and who is wrong?
So if God does not exist, right and wrong do not exist either. Anything goes, including homosexuality. So one of the best ways to defend the legitimacy of the homosexual lifestyle is to become an atheist. But the problem is that many defenders of homosexuality don’t want to become atheists. In particular, they do want to affirm that right and wrong exist. So you hear them making moral judgements all the time, for example: “It is wrong to discriminate against homosexuals.” And these moral judgements aren’t meant to be just relative to a culture or society. They would condemn a society like Nazi Germany which threw homosexuals into concentration camps, along with Jews and other undesirables.
But we’ve seen that these kinds of value judgements cannot be meaningfully made unless God exists. If God does not exist, anything goes, including discrimination and persecution of homosexuals. But it doesn’t stop there: murder, rape, torture, child abuse — none of these things would be wrong, because without God right and wrong do not exist. Everything is permitted.
So if we want to be able to make moral judgements about what’s right or wrong, we’ve got to affirm that God exists. But then the same question we started with — “Who are you to say that homosexuality is wrong?” — can be put back to homosexual activists: “Who are you to say that homosexuality is right?” If God exists, then we cannot ignore what He has to say about the subject. The correct answer to the “Who are you . . ?” question is to say, “Me? I’m nobody! God determines what’s right and wrong, and I’m just interested in learning and obeying what He says.”
So let me recap what we’ve seen so far. The question of the legitimacy of the homosexual lifestyle is a question of what God has to say about it. If there is no God, then there is no right and wrong, and it doesn’t make any difference what lifestyle you choose—the persecutor of homosexuals is morally equivalent to the advocate of homosexuality. But if God does exist, we can no longer go just on the basis of our own opinions. We have to find out what God thinks on the issue.
So how do you find out what God thinks? The Christian says, you look in the Bible. And the Bible tells us that God forbids homosexual acts. Therefore, they are wrong. So basically the reasoning goes like this:
(1) We are all obligated to do God’s will.
(2) God’s will is expressed in the Bible.
(3) The Bible forbids homosexual behavior.
(4) Therefore, homosexual behavior is against God’s will, or is wrong.
Now if someone is going to resist this reasoning, he’s got to deny either that (2) God’s will is expressed in the Bible or else that (3) the Bible forbids homosexual behaviour.
Let’s look at point (3) first: Does the Bible in fact forbid homosexual behaviour? Now notice how I put that question. I did not ask, does the Bible forbid homosexuality, but rather does the Bible forbid homosexual behaviour? This is an important distinction. Being homosexual is a state or an orientation; a person who has a homosexual orientation might not ever express that orientation in actions. By contrast, a person could engage in homosexual acts even if he has a heterosexual orientation. Now what the Bible condemns is homosexual actions or behaviour, not having a homosexual orientation. The idea of a person’s being a homosexual by orientation is a feature of modern psychology and may have been unknown to people in the ancient world. What they were familiar with was homosexual acts, and this is what the Bible forbids.
Now this has enormous implications. For one thing, it means that the whole debate about whether homosexuality is something you were born with or is a result of how you were raised really doesn’t matter in the end. The important thing is not how you got your orientation, but what you do with it. Some defenders of homosexuality are very anxious to prove that your genes, not your upbringing, determine if you’re homosexual because then homosexual behaviour is normal and right. But this conclusion doesn’t follow at all. Just because you’re genetically disposed to some behaviour doesn’t mean that behaviour is morally right.
To give an example: some researchers suspect there may be a gene which predisposes some people to alcoholism. Does that mean that it’s all right for someone with such a predisposition to go ahead and drink to his heart’s content and become an alcoholic? Obviously not! If anything, it ought to alert him to abstain from alcohol so as to prevent this from happening. Now the sober truth of the matter is that we don’t fully understand the roles of heredity and environment in producing homosexuality. But that doesn’t really matter. Even if homosexuality were completely genetic, that fact alone still wouldn’t make it any different than a birth defect, like a cleft palate or epilepsy. That doesn’t mean it’s normal and that we shouldn’t try to correct it.
If any case, whether homosexuality results from genetics or upbringing, people don’t generally choose to be homosexual. Many homosexuals testify how agonising it is to find yourself with these desires and to fight against them, and they’ll tell you they would never choose to be that way. And the Bible doesn’t condemn a person because he has a homosexual orientation. What it condemns is homosexual acts. It is perfectly possible to be a homosexual and be a born-again, Spirit-filled Christian.
Just as an alcoholic who is dry will still stand up at an AA meeting and say, “I am an alcoholic,” so a homosexual who is living straight and keeping himself pure ought to be able to stand up in a prayer meeting and say, “I am a homosexual. But by God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit, I’m living chastely for Christ.” And I hope we’d have the courage and love to welcome him or her as a brother or sister in Christ.
So, once more, the question is: Does the Bible forbid homosexual behaviour? Well, I’ve already said that it does. The Bible is so realistic! You might not expect it to mention a topic like homosexual behaviour, but in fact there are six places in the Bible — three in the Old Testament and three in the New Testament — where this issue is directly addressed; not to mention all the passages dealing with marriage and sexuality which have implications for this issue. In all six of these passages homosexual acts are unequivocally condemned.
In Leviticus 18.22 it says that it is an abomination for a man to lie with another man as with a woman. In Lev. 20.13 the death penalty is prescribed in Israel for such an act, along with adultery, incest, and bestiality. Now sometimes homosexual advocates make light of these prohibitions by comparing them to prohibitions in the Old Testament against having contact with unclean animals like pigs. Just as Christians today don’t obey all of the Old Testament ceremonial laws, so, they say, we don’t have to obey the prohibitions of homosexual actions. But the problem with this argument is that the New Testament reaffirms the validity of the Old Testament prohibitions of homosexual behaviour, as we’ll see below. This shows they were not just part of the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament, which were done away with, but were part of God’s everlasting moral law. Homosexual behaviour is in God’s sight a serious sin. The third place where homosexual acts are mentioned in the Old Testament is the horrifying story in Genesis 19 of the attempted gang rape of Lot’s visitors by the men of Sodom, from which our word sodomy derives. God destroyed the city of Sodom because of their wickedness.
Now if this weren’t enough, the New Testament also forbids homosexual behaviour. In I Cor. 6.9-10 Paul writes, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral,nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the Kingdom of God.” The words in the list translated “men who practice homosexuality” refer in Greek literature to the passive and the active partners in male homosexual intercourse. (As I said, the Bible is very realistic!) The second of these two words is also listed in I Tim. 1.10 along with fornicators, slave traders, liars, and murderers as “contrary to the sound teaching of the Gospel.” The most lengthy treatment of homosexual activity comes in Romans 1.24-28. Here Paul talks about how people have turned away from the Creator God and begun to worship instead false gods of their own making. He says,
Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonouring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
For this reason God gave them up to dishonourable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
Liberal scholars have done acrobatics to try to explain away the clear sense of these verses. Some have said that Paul is only condemning the pagan practice of men’s sexually exploiting young boys. But such an interpretation is obviously wrong, since Paul says in verses 24 and 27 that these homosexual acts by men were committed “with one another” and in verse 26 he speaks of lesbian homosexual acts as well. Other scholars have said Paul is only condemning heterosexuals who engage in homosexual acts, not homosexuals who do. But this interpretation is contrived and anachronistic. We’ve already said that it was only in modern times that the idea of homosexual or heterosexual orientation developed. What Paul is condemning is homosexual acts, regardless of orientation. Given the Old Testament background to this passage as well as what Paul says in I Cor. 6.9-10 and I Tim. 1.10, it is clear that Paul is here forbidding all such acts. He sees this behaviour as the evidence of a corrupted mind which has turned away from God and been abandoned by Him to moral degeneracy.
So the Bible is very forthright and clear when it comes to homosexual behaviour. It is contrary to God’s design and is sin. Even if there weren’t all these explicit passages dealing with homosexual acts, such acts would still be forbidden under the commandment “You shall not commit adultery.” God’s plan for human sexual activity is that it is reserved for marriage: any sexual activity outside of the security of the marriage bond—whether pre-marital sex or extra-marital sex, whether heterosexual or homosexual—is forbidden. Sex is designed by God for marriage.
Someone might say that if God intended sex for marriage, then just let homosexuals marry each other and they would not be committing adultery! But this suggestion completely misunderstands God’s intention for marriage. In the creation story in Genesis, it tells of how God made woman as a suitable mate for man, his perfect, God-given complement. Then it says, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother and shall cleave to his wife and they shall become one flesh.” This is God’s pattern for marriage, and in the New Testament Paul quotes this very passage and then says, “This is a great mystery and I am applying it to Christ and the church” (Eph. 5.32). Paul says that the union between a man and his wife is a living symbol of the unity of Christ with his people, the Church. When we think about this, we can see what a terrible sacrilege, what a mockery of God’s plan, a homosexual union is. It flies in the face of God’s intention for humanity from the moment of creation.
The above also shows how silly it is when some homosexual advocates say, “Jesus never condemned homosexual behaviour, so why should we?” Jesus did not specifically mention lots of things which we know to be wrong, like bestiality or torture, but that doesn’t mean he approved of them. What Jesus does do is quote from Genesis to affirm God’s pattern for marriage as the basis for his own teaching on divorce. In Mark 10.6-8, He says, “From the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and the two shall become one flesh. Consequently, they are no longer two, but one flesh.” For two men to become one flesh in homosexual intercourse would be a violation of God’s created order and intent. He created man and woman to be indissolubly united in marriage, not two men or two women.
To recap, then, the Bible clearly and consistently forbids homosexual activity. So if God’s will is expressed in the Bible, it follows that homosexual behaviour is against God’s will.
But suppose someone denies point (2) that God’s will is expressed in the Bible. Suppose he says that the prohibitions against homosexual behaviour were valid for that time and that culture but are no longer valid today. After all, most of us would probably agree that certain commands in the Bible are relative to the culture. For example, the Bible says that Christian women should not wear jewelry and men should not have long hair. But most of us would say that while these commands do have a timelessly valid core—like, say, the injuction to dress modestly—that core principle may be differently expressed in different cultures. In the same way, some people are saying that the Bible’s prohibitions against homosexual behaviour are no longer valid for our day and age.
But I think this objection represents a serious misunderstanding. There’s no evidence that Paul’s commands concerning homosexual acts are culturally relative. Far from being a reflection of the culture in which he wrote, Paul’s commands are downright counter-cultural! Homosexual activity was as widespread in ancient Greek and Roman society as it is today in western society., and yet Paul stood up against the culture and opposed it. More importantly, we’ve seen that the Bible’s prohibitions against homosexual activity are rooted, not in culture, but in the God-given pattern for marriage established at creation. You can’t deny that the Bible’s forbidding homosexual relations expresses God’s will unless you also reject that marriage itself expresses God’s will.
To sum up, we’ve seen, first, that right and wrong are real because they are based in God. So if we want to find out what is right or wrong, we should look at what God says about it. Second, we saw that the Bible consistently and clearly forbids homosexual acts, just as it does all sexual acts outside marriage. Third, we saw that the Bible’s prohibition of such behaviour can’t be explained away as just the reflection of the time and culture in which it was written because it is grounded in God’s divine plan for man-woman marriage.
Now what practical application does all this have for us as individuals?
First, if you are a homosexual or feel that inclination, keep yourself pure. If you are unmarried, you should practice abstinence from all sexual activity. I know this is difficult, but really what God is asking you to do is pretty much the same thing that he requires of all single people. That means not only keeping your body pure, but especially your mind. Just as heterosexual men should avoid pornography and fantasizing, you, too, need to keep your thought-life clean. Resist the temptation to rationalize sin by saying, “God made me this way.” God has made it very clear that He does not want you to indulge your desires, but to honour Him by keeping your mind and body pure. Finally, seek professional Christian counseling. With time and effort, you can come to enjoy normal, heterosexual relations with your spouse. There is hope.
Second, for those of us who are heterosexual, we need to remember that being homosexual is as such no sin. Most homosexuals did not choose such an orientation and would like to change it if they could. We need to accept and lovingly support brothers and sisters who are struggling with this problem. And in general, we need to extend God’s love to homosexual people. Vulgar words or jokes about homosexuals should never pass the lips of a Christian. If you find yourself feeling glad when some affliction befalls a homosexual person or you find feelings of hatred welling up in your heart toward homosexual people, then you need to reflect long and hard on the words of Jesus recorded in Matthew: “it will be more tolerable on the Day of Judgement for Sodom and Gomorrah than for you” (Mt. 10.15; 11.24).
With thanks to Dr. William Lane Craig. Please click HERE to read his full article on this subject.
What is the Anthropic Principle?
Anthropic means “relating to human beings or their existence.”Principle means “law.” The Anthropic Principle is the Law of Human Existence. It is well known that our existence in this universe depends on numerous cosmological constants and parameters whose numerical values must fall within a very narrow range of values. If even a single variable were off, even slightly, we would not exist. The extreme improbability that so many variables would align so auspiciously in our favour merely by chance has led some scientists and philosophers to propose instead that it was God who providentially engineered the universe to suit our specific needs. This is the Anthropic Principle: that the universe appears to have been fine-tuned for our existence.
Consider protons, for example. Protons are the positively charged subatomic particles which (along with neutrons) form the nucleus of an atom (around which negatively charged electrons orbit). Whether by providence or fortuitous luck (depending on your perspective), protons just happen to be 1,836 times larger than electrons. If they were a little bigger or a little smaller, we would not exist (because atoms could not form the molecules we require). So how did protons end up being 1,836 times larger than electrons? Why not 100 times larger or 100,000 times? Why not smaller? Of all the possible variables, how did protons end up being just the right size? Was it luck or contrivance?
Or how is it that protons carry a positive electrical charge equal to that of the negatively charged electrons? If protons did not balance electrons and vice versa, we would not exist. They are not comparable in size, yet they are perfectly balanced. Did nature just stumble upon such a propitious relationship, or did God ordain it for our sakes?
Here are some examples of how the Anthropic Principle directly affects the livability of our planet:
- The unique properties of water. Every known life form depends on water. Thankfully, unlike every other substance known to man, water’s solid form (ice) is less dense than its liquid form. This causes ice to float. If ice did not float, our planet would experience runaway freezing. Other important properties of water include its solvency, cohesiveness, adhesiveness and other thermal properties.
- Earth’s atmosphere. If there were too much of just one of the many gases which make up our atmosphere, our planet would suffer a runaway greenhouse effect. On the other hand, if there were not enough of these gases, life on this planet would be devastated by cosmic radiation.
- Earth’s magnetic field. If it were much weaker, our planet would be devastated by cosmic radiation. If it were much stronger, we would be devastated by severe electromagnetic storms.
- Earth’s place in the solar system. If we were much further from the sun, our planet’s water would freeze. If we were much closer, it would boil. This is just one of numerous examples of how our privileged place in the solar system allows for life on Earth.
- Our solar system’s place in the galaxy. Once again, there are numerous examples of this. For instance, if our solar system were too close to the center of our galaxy, or to any of the spiral arms at its edge, or any cluster of stars, for that matter, our planet would be devastated by cosmic radiation.
- The colour of our sun. If the sun were much redder, on the one hand, or bluer, on the other, photosynthesis would be impeded. Photosynthesis is a natural biochemical process crucial to life on Earth.
The above list is just a small sample of the many factors which must be just right in order for life to exist on Earth. We are very fortunate to live on a privileged planet in a privileged solar system in a privileged galaxy in a privileged universe.
The question for us now is, with so many universal constants and cosmological parameters defining our universe, and with so many possible variables for each one, how did they all just happen to fall within the extremely narrow range of values required for our existence? The general consensus is that we are either here by fortuitous luck against amazingly huge odds or we’re here by the purposeful design of an intelligent agent.
Some proponents of the here-by-chance perspective have sought to level the odds against fortuitous luck by hypothesizing a scenario whereby our universe is just one among many in what has come to be termed a “multiverse.” This gives nature many more chances to “get it right,” bringing the odds against its success down significantly.
Imagine innumerable lifeless universes in which one or more of the necessary variables fail to fall within the specific range of values required for life. The idea is that nature would eventually get it right, and apparently has done so as evidenced by the fact that we exist (or so the argument goes). We are the lucky ones whose universe stumbled upon the right combination of cosmological values. The Anthropic Principle is often cited as empirical grounds for the otherwise mathematically hypothetical multiverse.
Intelligent Design theorists hail the Anthropic Principle as further evidence in support of their thesis that life was engineered by a transcendent Mastermind. Not only do biological systems bear the hallmarks of design (the information content of DNA, specified complexity, irreducible complexity, etc.), but the universe which supports and provides a context for life appears to have been designed as a means to that end.
“Why does God allow evil?”
When people think about things such as the September 11 terrorist attacks, many ask the age-old question: “Why does God allow evil?” The Bible describes God as holy (Isaiah 6:3), righteous (Psalm 7:11), just (Deuteronomy 32:4), and sovereign (Daniel 4:17-25). These attributes tell us the following about God: (1) God is capable of preventing evil, and (2) God desires to rid the universe of evil. So, if both of these are true, why does God allow evil? If God has the power to prevent evil and desires to prevent evil, why does He still allow evil? Perhaps a practical way to look at this question would be to consider some alternative ways people might have God run the world:
1) God could change everyone’s personality so that they cannot sin. This would also mean that we would not have a free will. We would not be able to choose right or wrong because we would be “programmed” to only do right. Had God chosen to do this, there would be no meaningful relationships between Him and His creation.
Instead, God made Adam and Eve innocent but with the ability to choose good or evil. Because of this, they could respond to His love and trust Him or choose to disobey. They chose to disobey. Because we live in a real world where we can choose our actions but not their consequences, their sin affected those who came after them (us). Similarly, our decisions to sin have an impact on us and those around us and those who will come after us.
2) God could compensate for people’s evil actions through supernatural intervention 100 percent of the time. God would stop a drunk driver from causing an accident. God would stop a lazy builder from doing a sub-standard job on a house that would later cause grief to the homeowners. God would stop a father who is addicted to drugs or alcohol from doing any harm to his wife, children, or extended family. God would stop gunmen from robbing convenience stores. God would stop high school bullies from tormenting the brainy kids. God would stop thieves from shoplifting. And, yes, God would stop terrorists from flying airplanes into buildings.
While this solution sounds attractive, it would lose its attractiveness as soon as God’s intervention infringed on something we wanted to do. We want God to prevent horribly evil actions, but we are willing to let “lesser-evil” actions slide—not realizing that those “lesser-evil” actions are what usually lead to the “greater-evil” actions. Should God only stop actual sexual affairs, or should He also block our access to pornography or end any inappropriate, but not yet sexual, relationships? Should God stop “true” thieves, or should He also stop us from cheating on our taxes? Should God only stop murder, or should He also stop the “lesser-evil” actions done to people that lead them to commit murder? Should God only stop acts of terrorism, or should He also stop the indoctrination that transformed a person into a terrorist?
3) Another choice would be for God to judge and remove those who choose to commit evil acts. The problem with this possibility is that there would be no one left, for God would have to remove us all. We all sin and commit evil acts (Romans 3:23; Ecclesiastes 7:20; 1 John 1:8). While some people are more evil than others, where would God draw the line? Ultimately, all evil causes harm to others.
Instead of these options, God has chosen to create a “real” world in which real choices have real consequences. In this real world of ours, our actions affect others. Because of Adam’s choice to sin, the world now lives under the curse, and we are all born with a sin nature (Romans 5:12). There will one day come a time when God will judge the sin in this world and make all things new, but He is purposely “delaying” in order to allow more time for people to repent so that He will not need to condemn them (2 Peter 3:9). Until then, He IS concerned about evil. When He created the Old Testament laws, the goal was to discourage and punish evil. He judges nations and rulers who disregard justice and pursue evil. Likewise, in the New Testament, God states that it is the government’s responsibility to provide justice in order to protect the innocent from evil (Romans 13). He also promises severe consequences for those who commit evil acts, especially against the “innocent” (Mark 9:36-42).
In summary, we live in a real world where our good and evil actions have direct consequences and indirect consequences upon us and those around us. God’s desire is that for all of our sakes we would obey Him that it might be well with us (Deuteronomy 5:29). Instead, what happens is that we choose our own way, and then we blame God for not doing anything about it. Such is the heart of sinful man. But Jesus came to change men’s hearts through the power of the Holy Spirit, and He does this for those who will turn from evil and call on Him to save them from their sin and its consequences (2 Corinthians 5:17). God does prevent and restrain some acts of evil. This world would be MUCH WORSE were not God restraining evil. At the same time, God has given us the ability to choose good and evil, and when we choose evil, He allows us, and those around us, to suffer the consequences of evil. Rather than blaming God and questioning God on why He does not prevent all evil, we should be about the business of proclaiming the cure for evil and its consequences—Jesus Christ!
“Does God still perform miracles?”
Many people desire God to perform miracles to “prove” Himself to them. “If only God would perform a miracle, sign, or wonder, then I would believe!” The Bible, though, contradicts this idea. When God performed amazing and powerful miracles for the Israelites, did that cause them to obey Him? No, the Israelites constantly disobeyed and rebelled against God even though they saw all the miracles. The same people who saw God part the Red Sea later doubted whether God was able to conquer the inhabitants of the Promised Land. This truth is explained in Luke 16:19-31. In the story, a man in hell asks Abraham to send Lazarus back from the dead to warn his brothers. Abraham informed the man, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31).
Jesus performed countless miracles, yet the vast majority of people did not believe in Him. If God performed miracles today as He did in the past, the result would be the same. People would be amazed and would believe in God for a short time. That faith would be shallow and would disappear the moment something unexpected or frightening occurred. A faith based on miracles is not a mature faith. God performed the greatest miracle of all time in coming to earth as the Man Jesus Christ to die on the cross for our sins (Romans 5:8) so that we could be saved (John 3:16). God does still perform miracles—many of them simply go unnoticed or are denied. However, we do not need more miracles. What we need is to believe in the miracle of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.
The purpose of miracles was to authenticate the performer of the miracles. Acts 2:22 declares, “Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.” The same is said of the apostles, “The things that mark an apostle—signs, wonders and miracles—were done among you with great perseverance” (2 Corinthians 12:12). Speaking of the gospel, Hebrews 2:4 proclaims, “God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to His will.” We now have the truth of Jesus recorded in Scripture. We now have the writings of the apostles recorded in Scripture. Jesus and His apostles, as recorded in Scripture, are the cornerstone and foundation of our faith (Ephesians 2:20). In this sense, miracles are no longer necessary, as the message of Jesus and His apostles has already been attested to and accurately
recorded in the Scriptures. Yes, God still performs miracles. At the same time, we should not necessarily expect miracles to occur today just as they did in Bible times.
Is the Bible historically accurate?
What is Christianity & What Do Christians Believe?
The core beliefs of Christianity are summarised in the Bible, in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, where we’re told that Jesus died for our sins, was buried, was resurrected, and thereby offers salvation to all who will receive Him in faith. Unique among all other faiths, Christianity is more about a relationship than any religious practices. Instead of adhering to a list of “do’s and don’ts,” the goal of a Christian must be to cultivate a close walk with God. That relationship is made possible because of the work of Jesus Christ and the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
Beyond these core beliefs, there are many other items that are, or at least should be, indicative of what Christianity is and what Christianity believes. Christians believe that the Bible is the inspired, “God-breathed” Word of God and that its teaching is the final authority in all matters of faith and practice (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21). Christians believe in one God that exists in three persons — the Father, the Son (Jesus Christ), and the Holy Spirit.
Christians believe that mankind was created specifically to have a relationship with God, but sin separates all men from God (Romans 3:23; 5:12). Christianity teaches that Jesus Christ walked this earth, fully God, and yet fully man (Philippians 2:6-11), and died on the cross. Christians believe that after His death, Christ was buried, He rose again, and now lives at the right hand of the Father, making intercession for the believers forever (Hebrews 7:25). Christianity proclaims that Jesus’ death on the cross was sufficient to completely pay the sin debt owed by all men and this is what restores the broken relationship between God and man (Hebrews 9:11-14; 10:10; Romans 5:8; 6:23).
Christianity teaches that in order to be saved and be granted entrance into heaven after death, one must place one’s faith entirely in the finished work of Christ on the cross. If we believe that Christ died in our place and paid the price of our own sins, and rose again, then we are saved. There is nothing that anyone can do to earn salvation. We cannot be “good enough” to please God on our own, because we are all sinners (Isaiah 53:6; 64:6-7). There is nothing more to be done, because Christ has done all the work! When He was on the cross, Jesus said, “It is finished” (John 19:30), meaning that the work of redemption was completed.
According to Christianity, salvation is freedom from the old sin nature and freedom to pursue a right relationship with God. Where we were once slaves to sin, we are now slaves to Christ (Romans 6:15-22). As long as believers live on this earth in their sinful bodies, they will engage in a constant struggle with sin. However, Christians can have victory in the struggle with sin by studying and applying God’s Word in their lives and being controlled by the Holy Spirit—that is, submitting to the Spirit’s leading in everyday circumstances.
So, while many religious systems require that a person do or not do certain things, Christianity is about believing that Christ died on the cross as payment for our own sins and rose again. Our sin debt is paid and we can have fellowship with God. We can have victory over our sin nature and walk in fellowship and obedience with God. That is true biblical Christianity.
Don’t All Religions Lead to God?
In 21st century Britain, we live in a context of spiritual longing. Many people are searching for something that will satisfy an inner craving for meaning and significance. The artist Damian Hirst, famous for putting dead animals in perspex boxes, recently said this: ‘Why do I feel so important when I’m not? Nothing is important and everything is important. I do not know why I am here but I am glad that I am – I’d rather be here than not. I am going to die and I want to live forever. I can’t escape that fact, and I can’t let go of that desire.’
But somehow this does not always translate into people finding Christ and starting to follow Him. There is a dizzying array of options when it comes to religion and the culture around us says that they are all equally valid. It seems absolutely bizarre to most people that someone would say ‘this one way is the truth and the only truth’.
“The question is actually what is true and real”
In my experience there are usually two motivations in dismissing the idea that Christ is the only way to God and we need to be able to deal with them both. The first objection is that it is arrogant to say that Jesus is the only way. Often at this point the parable of the elephant is used to illustrate how arrogant Christians are. It goes something like this: ‘Imagine an elephant with blind scribes touching different parts of this animal. One scribe is holding onto the tail and saying ‘this is a rope’;
another is holding the front leg of the elephant and saying ‘no, this is not a rope – you are wrong, it is a tree trunk’; another person is holding the trunk of the elephant and saying ‘you are both wrong. This is neither a rope nor a tree trunk – it is a snake!’ The moral of the story is that all of the religions are like those men. They each touch a different part of ‘ultimate reality’ and therefore Christians are arrogant to say that only they have the truth.
Let us take a step back and think about what is being said here. Think about the two main differences between the person telling us the story and the people inside the story. The first difference is that the people touching the elephant are blind and the narrator can see. The second difference is one of perspective – the people inside the story are close up to the elephant but the narrator is standing back and has the full picture. Do you see the breath-taking claim that is being made here? Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, Moses and Muhammad are all blind – but I the narrator can see! They all had a small perspective, but I can see the full picture, that all of those ways actually lead to God.
The question now is ‘who is arrogant?’ It is just as arrogant to say that‘ Buddha, Muhammad and Jesus were wrong in their exclusive claims’ as it is to say ‘Jesus is the only way’. So this usefully moves the debate away from who is arrogant or not, and towards what is actually true and real.
The second motivation or moral force behind this question is exclusion. How can you the Christian exclude all of these religions? Again we need to think carefully about this, because the reality is that whatever position we hold, we exclude some views. Even the person who believes that all ways lead to God – which to be consistent, therefore, must include people such as Idi Amin, Pol Pot, Stalin and Osama bin Laden – by that very position excludes the view that only some ways lead to God or only one way leads to God.
In the same way, the average person in Britain would probably want to exclude extremists like Hitler or Milosovich and therefore would believe that only some ways lead to God – perhaps the five main world religions.
So this position excludes the view that all ways lead to God or that one way leads to God. And the Christian who wants to say ‘I follow Jesus and He said that He was the only way to the Father’ excludes the view that all ways or some ways lead to God. Every view excludes some – so in fact the issue is not who is excluding people but what is actually true and real.
Jesus said: ‘I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except by me.’ There are a number of possibilities here. Perhaps Jesus was a genuinely good person but He was deluded. In other words, He was sincere but wrong – He believed He was God and misled people about this but in reality He was mentally imbalanced. Or perhaps He knew He wasn’t God but still went around telling people He was the only way to God – in which case He was a sinister character. Or … perhaps He was who He said He was.
Is Jesus the only way to GOD?
We now live in a ‘global village’, a multi-faith society where exclusive claims may offend. Many adherents of other faiths are prepared to recognise Jesus as a great teacher, prophet, leader and reformer - even perhaps as one way to God. Are we not then being arrogant, intolerant and narrow-minded by suggesting he is the only way?
First we need to be sure in our own minds that Jesus is the only way. If he isn’t, if our friends’ religions and philosophies are equally valid routes to God, then we should stop pestering them with the gospel and learn to live and let live. However, if he is, then they are on a one-way journey to judgement and we must do whatever we can to introduce them to our Lord. Further to that, if other ways lead to God, we might as well give up being Christians, because there are a lot of other religions that are much easier to follow than Christianity!
Secondly, for our friends’ sakes, we must be able to communicate Christ’s uniqueness. If we fail, they may well be left thinking that he’s just another option out of many possibles and we will have done them a great disservice. Let’s look at some of the ways that this topic comes up in conversation.
Surely all religions are the same underneath?
The world’s religions do have some things in common – they all recognise a spiritual dimension and have broadly similar moral codes. When it comes to the other two monotheistic religions, Judaism and Islam, there are even more similarities. We share common history, prophets, concepts and the Jewish Bible is 75% of the Christian Bible. Indeed, some of these similarities can often be used as bridges for dialogue, as common ground to lead into discussing the unique claims of Christianity.
But we cannot possibly ignore the differences. Often it is only ignorance of the facts that leads our friends to suggest that all religions are the same. For despite the similarities, the differences are huge. It is not just a case of ‘believe in God and be nice to other people – all the rest is mere detail’. It is those very details that make the difference. If you were to examine a counterfeit £20 note, it would look and feel very much like the real thing. You may even need special training to spot the differences. But at the end of the day, the similarities are irrelevant and actually distract us from the real issue at hand; it is those small but real differences that make one worth £20 and the other worth nothing.
There are many distinctives, but it is best to concentrate on those that really make a difference. In particular, Christianity makes three distinct claims with which no other religion agrees:
1) The deity of Christ
We will look more closely at this claim below and give references, but for now let us see where other religions differ. Judaism sees Jesus as an impostor, Islam sees him as merely a human prophet; other religions often see him as a good moral teacher or as one of many incarnations of God (eg Hinduism). Even the sub-Christian cults that may seem very similar on the surface have significant differences; the Jehovah’s Witnesses see Jesus as God’s first creation, a kind of super-angel, totally distinct from the Creator. Even the Mormons believe he is only the physical son of God, who began a man and ascended to deity in much the same way that they believe we ourselves can do.
2) The authority of the Bible
Christians believe that the Hebrew and Greek scriptures (or Old and New Testaments) together constitute the authoritative record of God’s dealing with mankind. Many people are prepared to pick and choose about what they like in the Bible, but few will take the whole thing. Jews accept only the Hebrew scriptures (OT), Muslims claim to accept the ‘Torah, Psalms and Gospel’ but then add that this is in their ‘original’ forms that are actually non-existent. In practice they generally only accept those parts that agree with the Qur’an. The sub-Christian cults tend to accept the Bible as is, but with very strict limits on interpretation – that of their leaders. Jehovah’s Witnesses accept only the often fanciful translations and explanations of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, whilst Mormons accept also the Book of Mormon, Pearl of Great Price and Doctrines and Covenants. For them the Bible is simply one of four and interpretation of it is usually guided by the other three.
The whole Bible was not finally collated together as one book until the early centuries after Jesus, so no biblical verse refers directly to the whole collection. Yet several references in the Bible speak of the authority of its different parts. Space precludes a discussion of the reasons why the Bible is reliable, but a previous article in Nucleus makes excellent reading on the subject.
(3) Salvation by grace through faith in Christ’s work
Islam tells us that mankind is essentially good and that we just need to live a certain way to earn God’s forgiveness. Judaism, since the destruction of the temple in AD 70, has also relied basically on righteous acts. The sub-Christian cults, whilst paying lip-service to salvation through faith in Christ, often end up with more of a gospel of works. Mormonism comes pretty close in this respect to biblical Christianity, but when taken with its other beliefs there is clearly a gulf fixed between the two. The biblical view is that humans are essentially evil and unable to live up to God’s righteous standards. Only the perfect sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf could satisfy his justice and restore the broken relationship between God and man.
These three simple examples show us that all religions are certainly not the same and in fact they are totally incompatible.
All religions contain relative truth
Not satisfied with obvious contradictions between the major teachings of different religions, some will sidestep this with the claim that the differences are not really that important as ‘we are all paths going up the same mountain’. The argument goes that each different religion is climbing a different side and cannot see the others, but once we reach the top all will become clear and we will see that we were all headed for the same place in the end. This is the mistake of relativism. To those lost in its grip, any explanation of essential differences between different religions will cut no ice, as two totally contradictory statements can be seen as both true in their own way.
This way of thinking is nice because it means you never have to disagree with anyone, but of course it is yet another way of covering up the truth. For those in the medical profession to hold this view is really quite strange. Any doctor knows that you either have cancer or you don’t. Few of us would wish to be treated by relativistic doctors – we want someone who will tell it like it is! Relativism simply doesn’t hold water and it is worth pointing out to our friends that it is impossible to live out relativism in our daily lives.
A look at some biblical passages will help. Jesus and the apostles certainly did not hold to relativism – for them Jesus was either Lord of all or not at all. That Jesus is the only way is asserted by Jesus himself: ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’ The apostles also concurred: ‘Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved. Further we are told that whoever does not believe in Christ stands condemned. Whoever acknowledges Christ will be acknowledged by him on the day of judgment, but whoever denies him will be denied. Anyone who is not for Christ is against him.
Jesus never said ‘I am God – worship me!’
This claim is often made by Muslims – and of course it is true – nowhere does Jesus assert his divinity in these exact words. It should also be noted, however, that nowhere does he state the converse: ‘I’m not God – don’t worship me!’ even though this was the response even of an angel when John mistakenly worshipped him.
Yet having said this, the divinity of Jesus is in fact directly stated in at least eight passages of the NT. For example, ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the word was God’ and also, ‘Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!” Further to this, his deity is strongly implied in several other passages.
The fact is that Jesus was far too sophisticated a teacher to wander round shouting ‘I am God!’ This would have got him nowhere and been totally alien to the cultural context of his day. Instead he made his claims in ways that were deeply rooted in the Hebrew Scriptures and therefore unmistakable to his Jewish listeners. For instance, he said and did things that in Scripture only God said and did:
- He called himself ’I Am’; bridegroom; shepherd; the first and the last
- Others called him Lord
- He accepted worship
- He claimed to have created the world
- He said he existed before his birth
- He forgave sins
- He said he would judge the world
Perhaps his most provocative title was his favourite, the ‘Son of Man’, mentioned over 80 times in the Gospels. Far from merely emphasising his humanity, this is an unmistakable reference to Daniel 7:13,14 where we are shown a supernatural figure who is ‘given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshipped him.’ Jesus identified himself as this divine-human Messiah figure and accepted the title
We can tell from the reactions people had to Jesus, that there was no doubt about what he was claiming. They either worshipped him or accused him of blasphemy. He was killed because he claimed to be God.
Given the Bible’s unequivocal claim of Jesus Christ’s divinity we cannot say that he was merely a great moral teacher, since a great moral teacher would not lie about his own identity. There are only four options open to us in considering a man who claims to be God: either he is a liar, a lunatic, a legend or the Lord. Someone who deliberately lied about his identity would be a demonic deceiver and trickster. Someone who falsely believed himself to be God and told others so would be a deluded lunatic. The third option, that he never existed, or that his followers misinterpreted and distorted what he said, has no historical basis. By exclusion, the only reasonable conclusion is that he was who he claimed to be – the Lord. As Christians, we must assert on Jesus’ own authority that he is both God the Son and the only way to God.
Has Science disproved God and religion?
The real assumption in this question is clear: Surely the discoveries of modern science have proved that biblical religion is untenable. Yet, there are fundamental false assumptions built into the question itself. The most obvious of these is the popular belief that the scientific method can actually prove things. As empirical science rests on what philosophers call the inductive method, scientific conclusions never offer certainties, only probabilities.
For example, all the dogs I have encountered have four legs, so I conclude with the generalisation that all dogs have four legs. But my conclusion is not deduced from a universally known truth; it is based on limited exposure to the facts and so is only a statement of probability.
As it happens, there are dogs born with three legs, or injured and left with three. Inductive scientific methods cannot prove with certainty. Furthermore, the past is not directly accessible to us, so all theories concerning origins and earth history are hypotheses, not facts. And predictions about natural processes in the future are based on philosophical assumptions (faith).
Though these things are understood by philosophers of science, the general public is often unaware of the nature of the scientific enterprise. Most people asking this question assume that Christianity is a blind leap in the dark. Christianity, they say, is not concerned with evidence, but is believed in the absence of evidence, or even contrary to the known facts. Faith is not, however, a leap. Rather, it is a foundation. All science is based upon a faith of some kind. For example, we must believe that there is a real world of matter out there that is accessible and correlated to our senses. We must believe that our minds are giving us reliable information about the world. We must believe that language and mathematics, reason and logic can all be applied to the world of our senses.
In fact, the most basic assumption of the sciences is the uniformity of nature – the expectation that the present and future will be like the past. But none of these things are proved by natural science – they are believed on faith. It is because we believe these things that science itself is made a meaningful and intelligible discipline.
Since science is based upon faith assumptions (metaphysical beliefs) that cannot be proved, we need to ask a different question: What kind of faith provides an adequate foundation for science? And, importantly, how does each person’s religious view of the world affect their methods and conclusions in science?
To answer these questions, we must set the presuppositions of these differing faith systems side by side. Every person, scientist or not, necessarily nurtures a religious perspective made up of a number of interconnected beliefs – what we call a worldview. The two worldviews represented in this question are naturalism and Christian theism.
Naturalism holds that matter and energy is all there is. The whole universe is in flux, matter in motion. Everything we observe in the universe created itself from chaos. The universe is the product of chance, not design. Human beings are nothing more than a random collocation of atoms. In contrast, Christian theism holds that the God of the Bible is the creator, sustainer and redeemer of this world. Rather than the void of chance, the mind of the triune God creates, orders and sustains all that is.
So there are two divergent starting points. In the first case, the mind of finite man must be the ultimate criteria for truth, applying abstract laws to the irrational facts all around him. He puts his faith in himself as god, creating a reality for himself. The Christian theist places his faith not in himself, but in the God of creation. So man does not create knowledge or fashion the universe from his own mind, but rather he looks to God as the ultimate source of all knowledge, and reality.
Facts do not speak for themselves
People with each worldview are looking at the same data or evidence. However, the facts do not speak for themselves; they are interpreted according to a worldview. Thus, when the naturalistic thinker looks at the evidence, he interprets everything accordingly. He claims, for example, that he does not see design in the genetic code, just selfish genes and random replication. He claims not to see God revealed in the heavens, he sees cosmic evolution. To him all facts must be naturalistic and evolutionary to be facts at all. The Christian theist, on the other hand, sees all the evidence as pointing to God. Facts are not interpreted by the finite and ever-changing thinking of people, but pre-interpreted by the mind of God and read in the light of God’s revelation in Scripture.
So the idea that science and religion are opposed is a myth. Naturalism as a religion has its science, and the theist has his science. It is one faith or religion that opposes the other, not an objective scientific establishment that opposes religion. The real heart of the issue is this: Which faith makes scientific knowledge possible? If the universe is ultimately chaotic – if all is in flux – then you cannot finally know anything. How can we believe in the uniformity of nature in a chance-driven universe? How can we trust that the chemical accident of our brain is giving us valid knowledge? If all matter is in motion, how can we apply abstract, universal laws of mathematics and logic to reality?
It is the Christian worldview alone that can provide the pre-conditions of intelligible science. It is God who provides the order, structure and regularity that make the cosmos rational. And he has made us in his image, with mind and spirit distinct from matter, capable of exploring and understanding the world. It is the God-given nature of man living in God’s world that makes science possible. Without such a faith there is no science to speak of.
Why does God allow evil to exist?
One of the most haunting questions we face concerns the problem of evil. Why is there evil in the world if there is a God? Why isn’t He doing something about it? Many assume that the existence of evil disproves the existence of God.
Sometimes the problem of evil is put to the Christian in the form of a complex question, “If God is good, then He must not be powerful enough to deal with all the evil and injustice in the world since it is still going on. If He is powerful enough to stop wrongdoing, then He Himself must be an evil God since He’s not doing anything about it even though He has the capability. So which is it? Is He a bad God or a God that’s not all powerful?”
Even the biblical writers complained about pain and evil. “Evils have encompassed me without number” (Psalm 40:12).
“Why is my pain unceasing, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed?” (Jeremiah 15:18).
“The whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now” (Romans 8:22. Thus we readily admit that evil is a problem and we also admit that if God created the world the way it is today, He would not be a God of love, but rather an evil God.
However the Scriptures make it plain that God did not create the world in the state in which it is now, but evil came as a result of the selfishness of man. The Bible says that God is a God of love and He desired to create a person and eventually a race
that would love Him. But genuine love cannot exist unless freely given through free choice to accept God’s love or to reject it. This choice made the possibility of evil become very real. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God, they did not choose something God created, but, by their choice, they brought evil into the world. God is neither evil nor did He create evil. Man brought evil upon himself by selfishly choosing his own way apart from God’s way.
Because of the fall, the world now is abnormal. Things are not in the state that they should be in. Man, as a result of the fall, has been separated from God. Nature is not always kind to man and the animal world can also be his enemy. There is conflict between man and his fellowman. None of these conditions were true before the fall. Any solution that might be given to the problems mankind faces must take into consideration that the world as it stands is not normal.
Although evil is here and it is real, it is also temporary. Evil will eventually be destroyed. This is the hope that the believer has. There is a new world coming in which there will be no more tears and pain because all things will be made new (Revelation 21:5). Paradise lost will be paradise regained. God will right every wrong and put away evil once and for all, in His time.
Christians have a justification for fighting evil, immorality and corruption. The world was not designed with evil in mind and the believer has a real basis for fighting social ills. He is not following the belief that whatever is, is right. The Christian does not condone wrongdoing by claiming that it is God’s world, neither does he assume that everything that happens is agreed to by God. God does not desire evil nor does he ever condone it. He hates evil, and the Christian also is not only to despise evil, he is obligated to do something about it. Even though sin is real, it is not something that the believer accepts as the way things ought to be. By identifying with Jesus, the believer has a duty to call things wrong that are wrong and to speak out when evil is overtaking good. The Christian is not fighting against God, by fighting social problems. Natural disasters, crime, and terrorism should not be the accepted order of things, because they were never meant to be and they will not be in God’s future kingdom.
However, some people are still bothered that God even allows evil in the first place. They question His wisdom in giving man a choice in the matter. Dorothy Sayers put the problem of evil in the proper perspective: “For whatever reason God chose to make man as he is — limited and suffering and subject to sorrows and death — He had the honesty and the courage to take His own medicine. Whatever game he is playing with His creation, He has kept his own rules and played fair.
He can exact nothing from man that He has not exacted from Himself. He has Himself gone through the whole of human experience, from the trivial irritations of family life and the cramping restrictions of hard work and lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, defeat, despair and death. When He was a man, He played the man. He was born in poverty and died in disgrace and thought it well worthwhile” (Dorothy Sayers, Creed or Chaos? p. 4).
The Bible tells us that God’s purposes are sometimes beyond our understanding. “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8, 9, NASB). Paul, in a similar vein, wrote to the church at Rome, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unfathomable His ways” (Romans 11:33).
Although the Bible informs us how and why evil came about, it does not tell us why God allowed it to happen. However, we do know that God is all wise and all knowing and that He has reasons for allowing things to happen that are beyond our comprehension.
Why can’t I just be a good person? Isn’t that enough?
‘People are basically good,’ wrote one poet, ‘it is only their behaviour that lets them down.’
It is amazing to think that some people actually believe they are good enough to get into heaven. Perhaps it is because we read so much bad news in the papers about others that we are quick to conclude that by comparison we are superior, and so deserving of a place in eternity.
It is even more amazing when you then consider that if a Christian were to stand in front of their friends and claim that they knew they were going to go to heaven, they would be regarded as being conceited, boastful and arrogant. How can they think that they are better than everyone else?
The fact that the same person can think themself superior to others, whilst at the same time criticising Christians for arrogance underlines one of the joys of living in a post-modern world. But how do we respond to the question, Why can’t I just be a good person? Isn’t it unfair of God to say that you can’t get into heaven unless you believe in Him, even though you have been a good person? Who does He think he is!
Believing or doing?
Jesus was once asked what we must do in order to please God and so gain entry to heaven: ‘What must we do to do the works God requires?’ (John 6:28). They asked the question in the plural – what works – they wanted a list of good things to do. Jesus replied in the singular, ‘The work of God is this – believe in the one he has sent.’ But what makes belief so special? Surely what we do is far more important than what we believe? How can a good person, who is not a Christian, be denied access on the basis of belief?
The difficulty with the question of why it’s not enough to be a good person lies in the assumption that is made in it, namely that there is such a thing as a good person. Jesus was once asked the question, ‘Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ (Luke 18:18). The assumption is clear: Jesus is a good person, good people go to heaven, so what must I do to also be in the same group? Jesus’ reply is surprising – ‘Why do you call me good?’, he asks. Good question. Why is he good? Jesus goes on to answer his own question – ‘No-one is good but God alone.’ Now, if we accept the common assumption that only the good go to heaven, and God alone is good, who on earth is going? The answer must surely be no-one – except God himself.
The simple truth is that the issue is not about good people not getting into heaven. Alas, the problem is much worse! The question really is who on earth can get in at all? It is not a question of being more good than bad in order to qualify for eternal life. Jesus seems to define goodness in terms of being like God, and on that basis there are no good people anywhere.
The good news
However, the Gospel is good news. The good news is that getting into heaven is first and foremost about forgiveness. Christians can be sure that they are going to heaven, not because they are good, but because they have received forgiveness.
Jesus did not come into the world simply to set a good example, tell us to lead better lives or even to ask us to pray more and read our Bibles regularly. He came into this world primarily in order to make forgiveness for us possible. It is why, when he looked forward to the Cross, he stated that it was for this very reason he had come into this world. The real question as we have said is not about who is good enough to get in. The real question is how God makes it possible for anyone to get in at all. The answer is that we need to be forgiven, and that forgiveness is won for us through the Cross.
There is a second part to the question: Is belief important? Does it really matter? In our world, belief means little more than intellectual acknowledgment of something. However, the verb to believe in the New Testament signifies more than just that. Belief in Christ and faith in Christ mean much more than just thinking that He existed. They mean complete reliance and trust in him. In other words, it is about trusting in and relying on Jesus (His promises, His person, His life, His death and His resurrection). That is what makes salvation possible. Christians are not good people because they live morally superior lives to everyone else. They have been made good by having been forgiven what they have done wrong and by being given a goodness (righteousness, if you prefer) from Christ.
So good people will go to heaven. However, the path to goodness lies not in religious observances, but in the forgiveness of a good God, given to us through the Cross of Christ.
*I recommend ‘The Cross of Christ’ by John Stott as reading on this subject. It is his most important book and one of the seminal works on this issue.
The Bible records that Jesus performed miracles. Aren’t miracles scientifically impossible?
In ‘The Reason for God’ Timothy Keller addresses this question:
‘The miraculous is particularly important for Christian belief. Christians annually celebrate the miracle of the incarnation, the birth of Jesus, each Christmas, and the miracle of the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead each Easter. The New Testament is filled with accounts of miracles that Jesus performed during the course of his ministry. Scientific mistrust of the Bible began with the Enlightenment belief that miracles cannot be reconciled to a modern, rational view of the world.
Armed with this presupposition, scholars turned to the Bible and said, “The Biblical accounts can’t be reliable because they contain descriptions of miracles.” The premise behind such a claim is “Science has proven that there is no such thing as miracles.” But embedded in such a statement is a leap of faith.
It is one thing to say that science is only equipped to test for natural causes and cannot test for any others. It is quite another to insist that science proves that no other causes could possibly exist. When studying a phenomenon the scientist must always assume that there is a natural cause. That is because natural causes are the only kind its methodology can address. It is another thing to insist that science has proven there can’t be any other kind.
There would be no experimental model for testing the statement: No supernatural cause for any natural phenomenon is possible. How can you possibly test and prove that statement? It is therefore a philosophical presupposition and is not a scientific finding. To be sure that miracles cannot occur you would have to be completely sure beyond a doubt that God didn’t exist, and that cannot be proved – it is an article of faith. The existence of God can be neither demonstrably proven nor disproven.’
Let’s be clear; we don’t have to choose between science and belief in Jesus’ miracles. They are clearly beyond the realm of real scientific proof, despite what Dawkins and others may say. Denial of Jesus’ miracles on the grounds of science is a case of some people hiding behind the name of science to promote their own philosophical beliefs.
Did Jesus really rise from the dead?
The followers of Jesus said he had risen from the dead. They reported that he appeared to them during a period of forty days, showing himself to them by many ‘convincing proofs’ (Acts 1:3, some versions say ‘infallible proofs’). Paul the apostle said that Jesus appeared to more than 500 of his followers at one time, the majority of whom were still alive and could confirm what Paul had written (1 Corinthians 15:3–8).
A.M. Ramsey writes: ‘I believe in the Resurrection, partly because a series of facts are unaccountable without it.’ The empty tomb was ‘too notorious to be denied.’ Paul Althaus states that the resurrection ‘could not have been maintained in Jerusalem for a single day, for a single hour, if the emptiness of the tomb had not been established as a fact for all concerned.’
Paul L. Maier concludes: ‘If all the evidence is weighed carefully and fairly, it is indeed justifiable, according to the canons of historical research, to conclude that the tomb in which Jesus was buried was actually empty on the morning of the first Easter. And no shred of evidence has yet been discovered in literary sources, epigraphy, or archaeology that would disprove this statement.’
Then how can we explain the empty tomb? Can it possibly be accounted for by a natural cause?
Based on overwhelming historical evidence, Christians believe that Jesus was bodily resurrected in time and space by the supernatural power of God. The difficulties of belief may be great, but the problems inherent in unbelief present even greater difficulties.
The situation at the tomb after the resurrection is significant. The Roman seal was broken, which meant automatic crucifixion upside down for those who did it. The large stone was moved up and away from not just the entrance, but from the entire massive sepulcher, looking as if it had been picked up and carried away. The guard unit had fled. Justin in his Digest 49.16 lists eighteen offenses for which a guard unit could be put to death. These included falling asleep or leaving one’s position unguarded.
The theories advanced to explain the resurrection from natural causes are weak; they actually help to build confidence in the truth of the resurrection.
The Wrong Tomb
A theory propounded by Kirsopp Lake assumes that the women who reported the body missing had mistakenly gone to the wrong tomb. If so, then the disciples who went to confirm the women’s statement must also have gone to the wrong tomb. We can be certain, however, that the Jewish authorities, who had asked for that Roman guard to be stationed at the tomb to prevent the body from being stolen, wouldn’t have been mistaken about the location. Nor would the Roman guards, for they were there.
If a wrong tomb were involved, the Jewish authorities would have lost no time in producing the body from the proper tomb, thus effectively quenching for all time any rumor of a resurrection.
Popularised by Venturini several centuries ago and often quoted today, the swoon theory says that Jesus didn’t really die; he merely fainted from exhaustion and loss of blood. Everyone thought him dead, but later he was resuscitated and the disciples thought it to be a resurrection.
The skeptic David Friedrich Strauss – himself no believer in the resurrection – gave the deathblow to any thought that Jesus merely revived from a swoon:
‘It is impossible that a being who had stolen half-dead out of the sepulcher, who crept about weak and ill, wanting medical treatment, who required bandaging, strengthening and indulgence, and who still at last yielded to his sufferings, could have given the disciples the impression that he was a Conqueror over death and the grave, the Prince of Life, an impression which lay at the bottom of their future ministry. Such a resuscitation could only have weakened the impression which He had made upon them in life and in death, at the most could only have given it an elegiac voice, but could by no possibility have changed their sorrow into enthusiasm, have elevated their reverence into worship.’
The Body Stolen
Another theory maintains that the body was stolen by the disciples while the guards slept (Matthew 28:1–15). The depression and cowardice of the disciples provide a hard-hitting argument against their suddenly becoming so brave and daring as to face a detachment of soldiers at the tomb and steal the body. They were in no mood to attempt anything like that.
J.N.D. Anderson has been dean of the faculty of law and director of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies at the University of London. Commenting on the proposition that the disciples stole Christ’s body, he says: ‘This would run totally contrary to all we know of them: their ethical teaching, the quality of their lives, their steadfastness in suffering and persecution. Nor would it begin to explain their dramatic transformation from dejected and dispirited escapists into witnesses whom no opposition could muzzle.’
The theory that the Jewish or Roman authorities moved Christ’s body is no more reasonable an explanation for the empty tomb than theft by the disciples. If the authorities had the body in their possession or knew where it was, why didn’t they just produce the body when the disciples began preaching the resurrection in Jerusalem? Why didn’t they recover the corpse, put it on a cart, and wheel it through the center of Jerusalem? Such an action would certainly have destroyed Christianity.
Dr John Warwick Montgomery comments: ‘It passes the bounds of credibility that the early Christians could have manufactured such a tale and then preached it among those who might easily have refuted it simply by producing the body of Jesus.’
Despite many claims to the contrary we can be totally confident in the historical accuracy and fact of the resurrection. The arguments given against it are flimsy and don’t stand up to scrutiny, whereas we have numerous eye-witness accounts recorded at the time which testify to Jesus rising from the dead. If these accounts were untrue then they could and would have been challenged by the people of the day.
Yet, Jesus’ disciples preached it fervently and were even prepared to suffer death rather than deny it. Can anyone imagine that these men, who were previously so afraid for their lives and even deserted Jesus prior to the Crucifixion, would have subsequently been prepared to boldly put their lives on the line for the sake of a lie? They believed in the resurrection because they had seen Jesus and they knew it to be true!