Contending for the Recognition of Absolutes, Part 13

God Reveals Truth About Himself: Eleven Things You Need to Know

God cloaks himself in invisibility and leaves the world to guess, hope, and kill over his identity and existence? This is love?
—author C. J. Anderson in No Kingdom Come— 

He said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”
—Jesus in Luke 16:31, explaining that people who refuse to heed what the Scriptures teach about how to avoid eternal torment also will refuse to believe a person who has returned from the dead—

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.
—The Lord in Jeremiah 19:13

There is a God.
Rush Limbaugh, in his “35 Undeniable Truths of Life”

View summaries of all the articles in this series here.

We come in our series on absolute truth to consider truths God has revealed about Himself to humanity. Note carefully that these are objective truths, realities that are in place and operative for all people, everywhere, at all times, and in all circumstances—regardless of any and all human opinions or sentiments to the contrary. We call them objective truths because they have truth as their object. Thus, these realities exist outside human opinion or influence.


Truth about God is not subjective, but objective—outside of personal opinions and perspectives. It applies to all people, everywhere, at all times, and in all circumstances.


In what we now know as Psalm 19, David wrote,

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.
It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
It rises at one end of the heavens
and makes its circuit to the other;
nothing is deprived of its warmth (Psalm 19:1-6).

The apostle Paul affirmed David’s testimony in Romans 1, and he issued a warning. We must heed what nature tells us. Here’s what Paul said.

18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse (Rom. 1:18-20)

Let’s carefully note several things from these verses.

First, those who deny or suppress the truth about God face His judgment (see v. 18).

Second, people suppress the truth about God “by their wickedness” (see v. 18; also see John 3:16-21). It follows, then, that God is perfect and holy. The prophet Isaiah declared that “the eyes of the arrogant [will be] humbled,” and “the LORD Almighty will be exalted by his justice, and the holy God will be proved holy by his righteous acts” (Isa. 5:15-16).

Third, the truth about God is plain to all, even to those who refuse to believe it, and even if they claim evidence for God’s existence is lacking (see Rom. 1:19). Just how plain is God’s revelation? Another New Testament verse containing the word translated plain will help us understand.

In Acts 4, the Jewish authorities were angry with Peter and John for having healed a man in Jesus’ name and then proclaiming Jesus as the only way to salvation (see Acts 3). Conferring together, the Jews said, “What should we do with these men? For an obvious sign, evident to all who live in Jerusalem, has been done through them, and we cannot deny it” (Acts 4:16, HCSB, emphasis added). In this verse, the Greek word translated obvious is gnostos, which means “well known” or “notable.” It is the adjective form of the word ginosko, which means “to know.” Against this backdrop, the word translated plain in Romans 1:19 also appears. It is translated as evident in Acts 4:16. Just how evident was the miracle? So evident and obvious that the Jews were forced to admit, “We cannot deny it.”

Unlike the Jewish authorities in Acts 4, [many and perhaps most] Americans today are denying the undeniable.

Fourth, it is God who has made truth about Himself plain (see v. 19).

Fifth, God has revealed Himself through His creation (see v. 20). Accidents may happen, but no accident or random force ever could produce the ordered world in which we live. As human beings, we also are a part of God’s created order, and amazing miracles, at that! (Also go here.)

Sixth, Paul states that God’s “invisible qualities,” specifically His “eternal power and divine nature,” have been made evident in and through creation (see v. 20).

Seventh, God’s revealed truth is understood (see v. 20). The word translated understood means “perceived with the mind.” Having seen God’s revelation, people “get it.” They might not realize they’ve “gotten it,” but they have anyway.

We should stop here and point out that this seventh principle underscores the objective nature of the truth the Supreme Being has unveiled about Himself. Note carefully:

  • The truth about God is outside humanity and human influence. No person or group “creates” it; it simply is. We know it and understand it because God has revealed it to us, but it exists independent of us.
  • People understand the truth and either accept it or reject it. Their opinions to the contrary do not change it or alter it in any way.
  • Subjective responses to God’s revealed truth do, however, make all the difference in the world in people’s lives. Here’s why. A response to God’s revealed truth, whether negative or positive, influences God’s posture toward an individual. We readily should understand this, because we see this in human relationships all the time. God made the first move by creating us, but we sinned against Him. God acted again and again with overtures toward us, ultimately sending His Son to die for us (more on this in a moment). God loves all people, and nothing anyone can do will keep Him from loving them. Even so, when an individual rejects the innate understanding God has given him or her about Himself, He will respect that choice, even though He wanted it to be different. When is a rejection final? We cannot fully know. This is why Scripture repeatedly warns people not to put off accepting God’s revealed truth about Himself and the salvation He offers.

Eighth, because of the God-given understanding they possess, “people are without excuse” before the Lord (v. 20). They cannot say God didn’t reveal Himself in clear, discernible ways—because He has done just that!

Why Doesn’t God Erase All Doubts About His Existence and About What He Is Like?

Sometimes people ask, “If God really is real, why doesn’t He simply reveal Himself in ways that make His existence undeniable and undebatable? Why doesn’t He just prove Himself beyond all doubt?” Some, like author C. J. Anderson, whom we cited at the top, apparently already have concluded God has hidden Himself. But has He?

Let’s respond to this objection with three points, all of which are interrelated. These will be the ninth, tenth, and eleventh items on our longer list.

First on our short list and ninth on our long one, if God were to disclose Himself in a way that would “blow us away,” His disclosure really would blow us away!


If God were to disclose Himself in a way that would “blow us away,” we truly would be blown away!


One day God will reveal Himself in this way, but because of His mercy, He hasn’t yet. Here’s the catch. With proof beyond a shadow of a doubt that God is real, we no longer would be able to choose to love Him. Why? We cannot be free to choose to love God unless we’re also free to reject Him and His overtures of love to us. Consider this insightful parable by Søren Kierkegaard.

Suppose there was a king who loved a humble maiden. The king was like no other king. Every statesman trembled before his power. No one dared breathe a word against him, for he had the strength to crush all opponents. And yet this mighty king was melted by love for a humble maiden. How could he declare his love for her?  In an odd sort of way, his kingliness tied his hands. If he brought her to the palace and crowned her head with jewels and clothed her body in royal robes, she would surely not resist—no one dared resist him.  But would she love him?

She would say she loved him, of course, but would she truly? If he rode to her forest cottage in his royal carriage…that too would overwhelm her. He did not want a cringing subject. He wanted a lover, an equal…For it is only in love that the unequal can be made equal.

God wants us to have fellowship with Him. No human being ever can be totally equal to Him, but we must have a way of approaching Him. God provided that way in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ. To the degree that He could, without ceasing to be God, Jesus became our equal!

Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God Himself. God speaks through nature and His Word, the Bible, but He came to us personally in Jesus. Jesus was God from eternity past, but He lowered Himself to became a human being. He lived a perfect life and then died a terrible death on a cross to pay the penalty for human sin.

When we seriously consider the harsh realities involved in Jesus’ death on our behalf, can we really maintain a straight face and claim God has not revealed Himself sufficiently? While we haven’t received proof beyond all doubt that God is real, we do have proof beyond all reasonable doubt. As Christian businessman and layman Robert Laidlaw declared, “Christ has done all. I say it reverently; He can do no more. He has borne the penalty of your sin also; He has been raised by the power of God the Father, and now He presents Himself to you. Will you accept Him as Savior and crown Him as your Lord?”

This is Christ’s invitation to you and to everyone else. Unwilling to strong-arm His way into any person’s life, Jesus offers Himself to all. The Holy Spirit applies Jesus’ life-giving, stain-cleansing blood to the accounts of all who welcome Him into their hearts and lives. Accordingly, we can respond to Jesus’ invitation to us by repenting of our sins and trusting Him to give us eternal life as He promised.


Christ has done all. I say it reverently; He can do no more. 
—Robert Laidlaw—


There is a second reason God doesn’t yet disclose Himself in totally irrefutable ways. Because it especially puts the onus on us, this tenth truth should make us quake in our boots. Jesus indicated during His ministry that God reveals Himself increasingly to those who respond with open hearts to the revelations He’s already provided. On the other hand, if a person already has his or her mind made up, that individual cannot blame God for not revealing more. People like this may be brilliant by human standards, but they lack true understanding. They are “always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 1:7).

Third (and eleventh on our longer list), God doesn’t want mechanical allegiance, but real love. We should be quick to understand this, because we desire the same in our own relationships. It’s appropriate, therefore, that the inspired writer of Hebrews declared, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Heb. 11:6). If you’re not put in a position to trust God, you won’t. Moreover, you cannot have a meaningful relationship with anyone you do not trust!


You cannot have a meaningful relationship with someone you don’t trust!


Take some time this week and reflect on these eleven absolute truths about God’s revelation of Himself to humanity (a PDF is available here). Next week we’ll return to Romans 1 and make additional observations.

Paul was just getting started.

Part 14 is available here.

top image: Jesus Stilling the Tempest by James Tissot (see Matthew 8:23-27, Mark 4:35-41, and Luke 8:22-25.)

image credit: photo of candy cane rose—Susie Clay

 

Copyright © 2017 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

 

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture passages are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

The passage designated HCSB was taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®,  Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Holman CSB®, and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.

Contending for the Recognition of Absolutes, Part 12

Why Jesus Is the Only Way to God, and Why Truth Claims to the Contrary Are False

We are living in a post truth era, where people are searching for solid ground, they’re looking for something to say this is true, I can rely on this. Christianity claims to be true. It says it’s not wishful thinking or make-believe or legends or mythology, but it’s based on actual historical evidence. And I think these days young people especially are looking for something solid like that to put their trust in.
Lee Strobel, in an interview about the film The Case for Christ, which tells the story of Strobel’s journey from atheism to Christianity—

View summaries of all the articles in this series here.

This week I want briefly to drive a home a key point in last week’s post by providing answers to two common objections to God’s plan of salvation.

Is Jesus Really the Only Way to God?

First, many people seem to be offended when Christians say Jesus is the only way to God—yet they are only relating what Jesus Himself declared. “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” He said. “No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).

Why should this challenge our sensibilities? God, after all, is God. He has a right to establish how people should approach Him and what will be required of them to enter His home. One former pastor offers this insightful account.

While I once was witnessing to a young couple, the husband said he believed there were many ways to be saved. I asked, “If I came to your house at night, put a ladder up to a second-floor window and climbed in, what you would do?” After the man told me he would shoot me, I asked, “You mean you require someone to enter your house only in the way you prescribe, but you believe you can decide how you are going to get into God’s kingdom?”

He responded, “I guess that doesn’t make sense, does it?” I left hoping my challenge eventually would come to represent a true turning point in this man’s perspective on Jesus.1

Rather than asking how God could exclude those who wish to approach Him in ways other than through His Son, we need to appreciate the cost He paid to provide the one way He provided. God’s perfect character requires Him to judge sin—even those actions we might deem the smallest and least significant violations of His law.

Is God Being Fair?

In a letter to his employees explaining why he believed in the God of the Bible Robert Laidlaw (1885-1971) declared,

A young man once asked me, “Do you think it is fair of God to set the standard of holiness so high that we cannot reach it, and then judge us for falling short?”

This is the second objection we need to consider. Laidlaw continued,

I replied, “God has not set an arbitrary standard of holiness as an official sets an arbitrary standard of height for his bodyguards. In such a case, a man may have all the other qualifications, but if he is an inch too short he is disqualified.

God has not really set a standard at all: He is the standard. He is absolute holiness, and to preserve His own character He must remain absolutely holy in all of His dealings with man, maintaining that standard irrespective of the tremendous implications which it may hold for both Him and us” [emphases added].


God has not really set a standard at all: He is the standard. He is absolute holiness, and to preserve His own character He must remain absolutely holy in all His dealings with man, maintaining that standard irrespective of the tremendous implications which it may hold for both Him and us.
—Robert Laidlaw—


So the question isn’t really one of fairness, but divine holiness. God cannot violate His own character.

God Demonstrates His Love Through His Son

The good news for us is that God also is loving, and His love compelled Him to make it possible for Him to offer us forgiveness. The only way He could do that was to send His Son, Jesus Christ, down to earth to fulfill the law by living a perfect life, and then to die a substitutionary death for sinful humanity. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead affirms God’s acceptance and approval of His Son’s sacrifice.

Respecting the choices of all, however, God will not credit Jesus’ death to the account of anyone who doesn’t express a desire to have it applied to him or her personally. The lost son in Jesus’ parable in Luke 15:11-32 learned the hard way that absolute personal autonomy is a myth, but he still had to choose to return home with an attitude of sorrow and repentance. We must seek God in the same way. We can be certain that just as the father in Jesus’ illustration rejoiced, God also rejoices whenever anyone approaches Him with humility and repentance. You can learn more about God’s plan of salvation here.

The Bottom Line

Jesus was cruelly flogged and then crucified. He died the most horrible of deaths. It is inconceivable that God would allow His only Son to endure such torment to secure salvation and then shun Him by allowing people to come to Him through other means! This never will happen.


Having allowed His Son to secure salvation by dying the most horrible of deaths, God never would shun Him by permitting people to come to Him through other means. 


This is why Jesus is the only way to God. This is why we cannot approach Him any other way. And unfair? How can we accuse God of unfairly upholding His absolute standard of perfection when He met it Himself through His Son, who sacrificed His life for our eternal benefit?

And oh, there’s one more thing. Having hit an absolutely insurmountable wall and then then observed that God has opened a door for us, even as He has consistently upheld His standard of absolute perfection, we are compelled to reject all truth claims—including relativism—that compete with the Christian faith.  It simply can’t be otherwise.

Reality and integrity demand it.

Part 13 is available here.

 

Copyright © 2017 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

top imageThe Parable of the Prodigal Son by Guercino (1591-1666)

Note:

1Jerry Price, “Jesus the One and Only,” in Life Words Personal Study Guide, Fall, 2010, (Nashville: LifeWay Christian Resources, 2010), 66.

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture has been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Eyewitness Testimony and the Resurrection of Jesus

In his first letter to the Corinthian Christians, the apostle Paul began his powerful discussion of the resurrection of Christ in what we now know as 1 Corinthians 15 by reaffirming

the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, 2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. 6 After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. 7 After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. 8 Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.

How could Paul promote something so preposterous as the idea that beginning on the Thursday evening of the Passover through Friday evening, Jesus of Nazareth was arrested, tried, beaten, flogged, crucified, and buried—and then arose from the dead on Sunday morning? (See Matt. 26:57,67; 27:1-2,26,59-60; 28:1-10.) We should note carefully that despite the unusual nature of Paul’s claim, his words ring with authenticity, for he cited eyewitness after eyewitness who saw the risen Christ. Of those closest to Jesus, Peter and the apostles saw Him, James did, and Paul himself also saw Him, although later than the others. These words, however, are especially significant: “He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep.” Would Paul have dared write this it weren’t true? Of course not. Paul was essentially saying that most of these people still were living and could verify the truth of his words, so anyone who doubted Christ’s resurrection could simply ask them. Here were eyewitnesses numbering in the hundreds!

With regard to those who had been closest to Jesus, the four Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—give details of numerous eyewitness accounts. In reading the Gospels, however, some questions may arise. Why do these reports contain so many differences? Are they contradictions? Did the Gospel writers disagree on what happened?

For example, in John’s account of the initial discovery of the empty tomb, Mary Magdalene is the only woman mentioned (see John 20:1); Matthew, Mark, and Luke all indicated more women were involved (see Matt. 28:1; Mark 16:1; Luke 23:55–24:1).

Also, John stated that when Mary looked into the tomb, she “saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain” (John 20:12). Luke mentioned two angels in his Gospel as well (see Luke 24:3-8). Matthew and Mark, however, wrote about just one angel (see Matthew 28:2-7; Mark 16:5-7).

Did the Gospel writers contradict one another? Actually, they did not. The various details of the resurrection accounts can be reconciled.

While John wrote only of Mary Magdalene, he did not say she was alone. In fact, in his record of Mary’s words in John 20:2, John actually indicated Mary had company; he wrote that Mary told Peter and John, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him” (emphasis added).

Regarding the number of angels, “Matthew and Mark specify that one angel spoke, but they do not say there was only one angel present or that only one angel spoke. Quite possibly one of the angels served as the spokesman for the two, thus he was emphasized” by the writers of the first two Gospels.1

We notice other differences as well, but these also can be explained. Let’s consider one more example. Matthew was the only Gospel writer who reported that an earthquake occurred and the only one to mention the guards on Easter morning (see Matt. 28:2,4). Apparently he was relating some of the first things that happened that morning, events that took place even before the women arrived (even though he wrote of the women’s making their way to the tomb in verse 1). The fact that the other Gospel writers didn’t mention an earthquake or the guards does not contradict what Matthew said about them.

Had the early followers of Jesus offered accounts with identical details, we would suspect they had gotten together secretly and fabricated the story of Jesus’ resurrection. This obviously did not happen; they could not have made up the testimonies we have in the New Testament—claims that are vividly different, yet that convey the same essential information.

It’s helpful to understand that no writer recorded everything that happened. Upon reflection we also see that no detail in any account conflicts with a detail in another, and the specific elements in all the accounts can be reconciled. Some minor questions may remain, but no troubling ones. As any good lawyer will affirm, this is exactly the kind of testimony we would expect from four eyewitnesses in court—testimonies highlighting a variety of specifics and representing the different perspectives of the witnesses, yet statements with no direct or major contradictions. Speaking in more general terms about the four Gospels, David Limbaugh, himself a lawyer, writes, even though “there are some differences in emphases in the various gospel accounts, what intellectually honest person can read all four books and deny that they put forward a consistent image of Jesus as fully divine and fully human?” 2

Remember, too, that the thrust of each resurrection account offers the same “bottom line”: Jesus’ tomb was empty because He had risen from the dead!

Returning to 1 Corinthians 15, we note that Paul went on to say,

if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is vain and…your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!…But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.…The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law, but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (vv. 14,17,20,56-57).

Paul could have ended his discussion of Christ’s resurrection there, but he did not. He concluded with this encouragement for his readers in every age: “Therefore, my beloved brethren, [because Christ is raised,] be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (v. 58). With these words, the apostle highlighted additional evidence for Christ’s resurrection that should consistently be on display in believers’ lives, visible to modern eyewitnesses everywhere. As Jesus said in John 15:5, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me, you can do nothing.”

Notes

1Josh McDowell and Don Stewart, Answers to Tough Questions Skeptics Ask About the Christian Faith, (San Bernardino, CA: Here’s Life Publishers, 1980), 53.

2David Limbaugh, Jesus on Trial: A Lawyer Affirms the Truth of the Gospel, (Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, 2014), 220.

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture has been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2015 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All Rights Reserved.

photo credit: www.lumoproject.com

Easter weekend, April 3, 2015