Digging Deeper: Learning More About Divine Wrath—Four Helpful Insights

 Contending for the Recognition of Absolutes, Part 15

God’s wrath in the Bible is never the capricious, self-indulgent, irritable, morally ignoble thing that human anger so often is. It is, instead, a right and necessary reaction to objective moral evil.
J. I. Packer

It is amazing that we hesitate to talk about the wrath of God, for fear of making sinners feel fearful. The fear they feel this side of the grave will be nothing compared to the fear they feel when they stand before Almighty God.
Ray Comfort

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.
—The Apostle Paul to the Colossian Christians in Colossians 3:5-6 (NIV)—

You can access summaries of all the articles in this series here.

Last week we highlighted Romans 1:18, which tells us “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (see the larger context of this verse here). The Greek word translated wrath reflects not only God’s judgment and punishment for wrongdoing, but also the divine anger on from which the judgment and punishment arise. This term is of special interest to us because of the implications it has, especially for those “who suppress the truth by their wickedness.”

We should be aware that this word can refer to human ire, as it does in several places, including Ephesians 4:31 and Colossians 3:8. In both these verses it is translated anger. Here we will examine four Bible passages that use the term to refer to divine indignation and offer insights about each one. Even though our study will be far from exhaustive, looking at the “big picture” of God’s wrath will give us a helpful glimpse of His wrath to come. Moreover, we also will gain a sense of urgency about where all people, including you and me, stand before the Lord. In places where the word translated wrath in Romans 1:18 appears, we will show the English word representing it in bold text.

Passage # 1: Matthew 3:7-8

Matthew 3:7-8 says this about John the Baptist,

7 But when he saw man of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance.”

Clearly John was referring to divine wrath that would be exercised at a later time. Matthew 3:1-12 provides the larger context for these verses.

Insight # 1: Repentance is essential to avoiding God’s wrath. Be forewarned, however! One cannot merely “go through the motions” of repentance and expect God to overlook his or her sin; a person must turn from sin to God and “bear fruits worthy of repentance” (Matt. 3:8).

Passage # 2: John 3:36

In John 3:36 we again see the words of John the Baptist. He declared,

St. John the Baptist Preaching, by Mattia Preti

“He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”

The context for this statement is John 3:25-36.

Insight # 2: If an individual isn’t actively trusting in Jesus for salvation and eternal life, that person does not possess it at all (see 1 John 5:11-12); rather, he or she is the object of God’s wrath, even now. God’s mercy often mitigates His wrath in the present (see Lam. 3:22), but divine wrath still is a reality, and it will not be restrained forever. Only one way of escape exists. When a person relies on Christ for salvation, he or she is permanently shielded from God’s wrath, because Christ bore God’s fury and punishment for sin for that individual (see Rom. 5:9; 1 Thess. 1:10; 5:9).

Taken together, Matthew 3:7-8 and John 3:36 show the connections between sincere repentance, active faith in Christ for salvation, possession of eternal life, and a life transformed by Jesus Christ (see 2 Cor. 5:17).

Passage # 3: Revelation 6:15-17

In Revelation 6:15-17, the apostle John wrote,

15 And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, 16 and said to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! 17 For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?”

The larger context for these verses is Revelation 6:12-17.

Pastor Jerry Cosper writes,

The Day of the Lord [uppercase letters] is a period of time in which God will deal with wicked men directly and dramatically in judgment. Today a man may be a blasphemer of God, an atheist, can denounce God and teach bad doctrine. And it seems like God does nothing about it.

But the day designated in Scripture as “the day of the Lord” [lowercase letters] is coming when God will punish human sin, and He will deal in wrath and in judgment with a Christ-rejecting world. One thing we are sure of, that God in His own way will bring every soul into judgment.

Now remember this is a picture of what will be happening right before the Day of the Lord comes. It hasn’t come yet. This is just the breaking of the seals of God’s Book of Destiny. The worst judgments are yet to come.

Insight # 3: While the Book of Revelation calls us to engage in in-depth study, many of its teachings are crystal clear at the outset. We readily see in this passage that the wrath of God is unspeakably terrible for those who experience it. Remember that among those who will experience God’s wrath, and even are experiencing it already, are those who, through their sinful actions, deny the realities arising from God and His rule. Recall Romans 1:18: “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.”

God’s wrath then will be manifested differently than it is now, but the fact that we’re speaking of divine wrath both then and now should command our attention, instill fear in our hearts, and incite us to concern, prayer, and action.

Note in Revelation 6:16 that this is the “wrath of the Lamb”—the Son of God, Jesus Christ. This is the theme of our next passage.

Passage # 4: Revelation 19:15-16

 Revelation 19:15-16 describes Jesus, God’s Son, as the Supreme Conqueror and Judge:

15 Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. 16 And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written:

KING OF KINGS AND
LORD OF LORDS.”

The larger context for these verses is Revelation 19:11-21.

Insight # 4: Jesus, who is Savior to all who rely on Him for eternal life, will return to earth and act as Supreme Judge over all (see 2 Tim. 4:1-2). He will rule over the nations “with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God” (Rev. 19:15-16). Even though Jesus shields His followers from the Father’s wrath against sin,1 we cannot separate the Son of God from His authority and prerogative to exercise divine wrath (see John 5:26-29).

Landscape with Noah’s Thank Offering by Joseph Anton Koch

Consider the worldwide flood of Noah. The water buoyed the ark, which kept its occupants safe, but at the same time this same water destroyed all who were outside. The apostle Peter alluded to these realities in 1 Peter 3:18-22 and 2 Peter 2:4-10. So also, when divine judgment comes at the end of the age, those who are in Christ will be protected from His wrath, yet everyone outside Him will face “condemnation” (see John 5:29).

Conclusion

Divine wrath is a reality everyone must face, so a person ignores it to his or her own peril. It stands regardless of all human feelings and opinions, and in spite of every claim to the contrary. Come to terms with God’s wrath now, admit you deserve it in its full force, and take advantage of the protection Christ offers in Himself, since He experienced God’s fury fully on the cross on your behalf. If you don’t, then one day and forever you will experience it at a level of unmitigated horror and devastation (see Matt. 25:44-46; Romans 3:23; 6:23; Rev. 25:44-46).


Divine wrath is a reality everyone must face, so a person ignores it to his or her own peril. It stands regardless of all human feelings and opinions, and in spite of every claim to the contrary.


No one can blame God, either. He has done all He can do to shield you from divine punishment, even sacrificing His own Son in the process.

We have seen a snapshot of God’s wrath to come, but what about His wrath that “is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness”? (Rom. 1:18, NIV). We will explore this aspect of absolute truth soon in an upcoming post.


Note:

1In his excellent book, The Story of Reality ([Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017], 117), Gregory Koukl explains,

Jesus came to earth to save sinners. The statement is so common to our ears, it is easy to miss its significance. Save means to “rescue from imminent danger.” Jesus came to rescue us because we were in danger. What was that danger? What was Jesus rescuing us from? Here is the answer. Jesus did not come to rescue us from our ignorance or our poverty or our oppressors or even from ourselves. Jesus came to rescue us from the Father.”

Then, in a footnote appearing on page 190, Koukl adds this for clarification: “Jesus saves us from the Father, but His intention is not at odds with the Father since it was the Father who, out of love, sent Jesus to rescue the world in the first place.”


Copyright © 2017 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All Rights Reserved.

top image: The Preaching of St. John the Baptist by Pieter Bruegel the Elder; photo taken by Yelkrokoyade, 20/07/2013; more info available here

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.

One passage was taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

 

 

God Is Angry, and Here’s Why

Contending for the Recognition of Absolutes, Part 14

It is hard to imagine anything in religion more repugnant to people than the wrath of God, and it is easy to see why.…The notion of a “vengeful” God strikes us as inconsistent with a God of love. This seems right at first, but the complaint is based on a misunderstanding. God’s love is not a thing in itself, so to speak, but is tied, like all of his attributes, to his goodness, the very goodness we are inclined to question when evil runs rampant. “Why doesn’t God do something?” We wonder. Yet we cry foul when we learn God will do something decisive about evil and we are the evildoers.
—Gregory Koukl1

O sinner! Consider the fearful danger you are in: it is a great furnace of wrath, a wide and bottomless pit, full of the fire of wrath, that you are held over in the hand of that God, whose wrath is provoked and incensed as much against you, as against many of the damned in hell. You hang by a slender thread, with the flames of divine wrath flashing about it, and ready every moment to singe it, and burn it asunder, and you have no interest in any Mediator, and nothing to lay hold of to save yourself, nothing to keep of the flames of wrath, nothing of your own, nothing that you ever have done, nothing that you can do, to induce God to spare you one moment.
Jonathan Edwards, in his sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”—

For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.
the apostle Paul, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in Romans 5:6-9—

View summaries of all the articles in this series here.

Before distributing the final exam, the college professor told his class his last test would have a strict time limit. “Ladies and gentlemen, you have 90 minutes and only 90 minutes to complete this test. If you go over that time, I will have to lower your grade substantially for this class.”

An hour passed. Seventy minutes. Then the students began to finish—a few at first, then more. They rose from their seats, placed their work on the professor’s desk, and quietly left the room. At the end of the hour-and-a-half period, one student remained, and he kept working. The professor sat silently at his desk and watched him intently—but the student didn’t look up even once. Then, at a full 20 minutes past the deadline, he rose from his chair with paper in hand and walked to the front of the room.

“Young man,” said the professor, “you know you took more than your allotted time to complete this exam. I’m afraid I’m going to have to reduce your grade to a point where it really will hurt you. I would not be fair to everyone else in the class if I didn’t.”

“Sir,” responded the student, “do you know who I am?”

“No, I don’t” said the professor.

“Good!” He then randomly inserted his own test in the stack of exams on the desk. Grateful he’d been able to hide his own paper among those of his fellow students, he smiled at the professor, wished him a good afternoon, and walked out of the room.

Bad News That Gets Even Worse

“Wow, that’s a pretty sharp kid!” someone might say. Maybe so, but his tactic absolutely will not work for the biggest test of all—life’s final exam. You see, God not only knows who each one of us is, He knows all. Moreover, He overlooks nothing, and He doesn’t grade on a curve.

As hard as this news is, there’s more. It actually gets worse. God is angry. In Romans 1:18, Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, declared, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and righteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” Actually, the New International Version translates the tense of the verb even more clearly:2 “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness,” (emphasis added). Paul went on in subsequent statements to elaborate on ways this was occurring, but for now let’s consider the realities that God is angry, His anger is real, and it affects people directly.


God’s character determines reality, and anything contrary to His character invokes His wrath. This is how things are, regardless of feelings or opinions to the contrary. 


We said earlier that “God determines reality; people don’t.” Moreover, we’ve sought throughout this series to convey that God didn’t arbitrarily determine what reality would be, even though certainly He made deliberate choices. More to the point, God’s character determines reality, and anything contrary to His character invokes His wrath. This is the way things are, regardless of feelings or opinions to the contrary. The Greek word translated wrath in Romans 1:18 reflects not only God’s judgment and punishment for wrongdoing, but also the divine anger on which the judgment and punishment are based.

The Reason for God’s Anger

Why is God angry? We first need to know that the Lord has revealed Himself through nature and the created order. We call this “general revelation.” We use the term “special revelation” to refer to revelation occurring when God transcends nature and reveals Himself in miraculous ways, including through Scripture, and especially through His Son, Jesus Christ. In the Bible God speaks of His unveiling Himself in nature. “The heavens declare the glory of God,” wrote David in what we now know as Psalm 19, “And the firmament shows His handiwork.

Day unto day utters speech,
And night unto night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech nor language
Where their voice is not heard.
Their line has gone out through all the earth,
And their words to the end of the world (Psalm 19:1-4).

Asher Brown Durand, The Catskills1859

Note verse 3 in particular. Nature and the ordered world speak a universal language, one everyone can understand. They testify clearly to God’s glory. Furthermore, in Romans 1:20, Paul wrote that God’s deity and power are clearly evident in creation, so much so that people “are without excuse.” Verses 18-23 of Romans 1 provide a context that helps us more fully understand.

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, 21 because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things (Rom. 1:18-23).

Please note these phrases and clauses. God is revealing His wrath (verse 18) against this backdrop.

  • Verse 19: “what may be known of God is manifest in them”
  • Verse 19: “God has shown it to them”
  • Verse 20: “clearly seen,” “understood,” “without excuse”

Even though people saw and comprehended the truth about God, the passage tells us, “they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (v. 21). Consequently, “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (v. 18).

Do you now see why God is angry? He effectively painted a portrait of Himself on the canvas of nature, declaring that He exists and created everything that is. He spoke—and speaks—so clearly that no one can fail to understand. God’s self-portrait is unambiguous. Specifically, since “His eternal power and Godhead” (v. 20) are evident, people know from what they see in nature to look for God, not in nature, but beyond it. Yes, it’s true that we need to know more about God than creation tells us, but here we are concerned with what people have done with the initial information they have received. People have ignored and rejected God’s revelation!


God has made Himself known, and people have ignored and rejected God’s revelation!


We are reminded of the parable of the wedding feast in Matthew 22:1-14. While this parable has multiple implications, we must not miss this main point: The king invited people to his son’s wedding, and they refused to come. They even “made light of it” (v. 5). We therefore readily understand why the king “was furious” and took action against them (see v. 7). Romans 1 presents a similar scenario.

A Warning for Everyone

The situation is dire for those who turn a cold shoulder to what they know about God, but we must read Romans 1 with great humility. No one is immune from responding to God’s revelation in the way Romans 1 describes. We need only look at Psalm 19 to see this. After describing God’s portrait of Himself in creation and how the Lord’s laws and ways were supremely valuable, David wrote, “Who can understand his [own] errors? Cleanse me from secret faults. Keep back Your servant also from presumptuous sins; Let them not have dominion over me.” (Psalm 19:12-13). As God declares in Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; who can know it?” If Romans 1:18-32 does not describe you, it is only because of God’s grace that it does not!

A Great Urgency

Again, we return to the truth “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (v. 18). This may upset us, but because it is true, we need to know and understand what this means. The Greek word translated wrath in Romans 1:18 appears in numerous other places in the New Testament, including Romans 5:6-9, which we cited at the top. Examining several Bible passages that carry the term will help us gain the understanding we need, along with a sense of urgency about where people—including you and me—stand before the Lord.

Next week, we’ll look at 4 Bible passages that tell us about divine wrath.

Yes, the bad news is bad—no question about it. Even so, we have hope. Just as God’s character exudes wrath, so also is His character the source of our hope.

Don’t miss next week’s discussion!

Part 15 is available here.

 

Copyright © 2017 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All Rights Reserved.

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.

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

Notes:

1Gregory Koukl, The Story of Reality: How the World Began, How It Ends, and Everything Important that Happens in Between, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017), 97.

2James Montgomery Boice, Romans, Volume 1, Justification by Faith, Romans 1–4, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1991), 133.

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.

Contending for the Recognition of Absolutes, Part 11

Jesus’ Death and the Internal Consistency of the Christian Faith

Many people quite naturally think to themselves, If I live a good life and my good deeds outweigh my bad ones, I should be saved. Yes, in the abstract that sounds good, but it ignores so many things that a perfect God cannot allow to be ignored.…[Thus,] God’s salvation plan wasn’t just one plan that He chose among many.…He had no choice other than the one He exercised for our salvation because [of] His moral perfection, His holiness, and His perfect justice inhere[nt] in Him. Unless He was willing to deny His own nature and compromise and violate His perfect holiness and justice, He couldn’t just wipe the slate clean without requiring a sufficient satisfaction of our debt. Far from violating His nature, He vindicated it with this brilliant salvation plan.
—David Limbaugh1

View summaries of all the articles in this series here.

Although I originally had planned to release an article this Easter weekend about Jesus’ resurrection, I am compelled, in part because I am in the midst of writing a series of posts about the existence of absolute truth, to write instead about Jesus’ death. I trust you’ll see why as my presentation unfolds. I have written earlier about evidence for Christ’s resurrection, including one post about the transformed life of the apostle Peter. Please visit these posts for information about this crucial aspect of Easter.

Today’s discussion will rely heavily on last week’s presentation of the Seven Pillars of Christianity. For easy reference, print out this one-page summary of the Seven Pillars and refer to it as you read this article.


For your convenience, print out this one-page summary of the Seven Pillars and refer to it as you read this article.


Significantly, we’ll highlight all seven and demonstrate their interrelatedness. Unlike relativism, Christianity has perfect internal consistency. Its components fit together and make sense of the world.


Unlike relativism, Christianity has perfect internal consistency.


We start with pillar number three, which upholds the Bible as the true and reliable written revelation of God to humanity. Introductory evidence for this can be found here, here, here, and here. We need to realize as well that the Bible also accurately records the events in which God acted to reveal Himself in history, an element of Christianity upheld by pillar number two. Keeping in mind these two supports, we now move to a third.

The Role of Ethical Teachings in Christianity

In the seven pillars, pillar number five is made up of “ethical teachings that mirror God’s character and that contrast to man’s sinful nature as well as the choice of every human being to follow his or her own way rather than God’s.”

A set of ethical and moral teachings as a component of any religious belief system certainly does not surprise us. While living a pure life is important, Christianity’s moral teachings are unique in that they represent far more than guidelines to follow and ideals for which to strive. Old Testament principles of morality, as well as the broader teachings upheld by Christ in the New Testament—all the moral guidelines of the Bible—point not only to how people should live, but also to both God’s holiness and man’s sin. When we understand this, we begin to uncover a critical way in which the Christian faith stands apart from all other belief systems. We need to ask, therefore, what God is like, and how the moral guidelines He provides reflect His nature.

God Is Perfect

Pillar number one describes God with several important words, including “just and holy.” To the Lord God, “all things are not the same.” Notice that this refutes relativism outright. Also, God “is the source of absolute truth, for He is the source of reality.” There is much more here than we can cover in this short post, but let’s examine just a few Bible passages that showcase God’s righteousness, justice, and holiness. You can see all of the following passages printed on one page here.


To God, who is the source of reality, all things are not the same.


We see in these Bible passages that God is absolutely perfect. He always is just and fair. He consistently does everything right. Keep in mind, though, that He is loving as well. In fact, the Bible declares with profound simplicity that “God is love.”

God’s Laws Reveal His Perfection

Returning to pillar number five, we note further that the ethical teachings of Christianity don’t just tell us what God wishes of us; they also demonstrate His holiness and perfection. We need look no further than the Ten Commandments to see this. Here are some examples.

God’s love is shown in His commands as well. Matthew 22:35-40 says,

35 Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”

37 Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ [see Deut. 6:538 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ [see Lev. 19:1840 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

But wait! God isn’t just perfect in what He does, but also in who He is. Therefore, attitudes are important to Him, not just actions. Note Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount. The sobering truth is this. If you think you’ve done well by not killing anyone, but have hated someone—anyone—in your heart, you’ve still broken the law. It’s a good thing not to have committed adultery, but you’ve still violated God’s law if you’ve lusted after another person in your heart. Do more than you’re required to do! Go the second mile! Love not just those who love you, but your enemies as well. Finally, Jesus nails us all when He says, “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48).

The important point here is God’s character, which is absolutely pure, perfect, and holy. To violate the law of God is to violate His character, and consequently, to offend Him!

God’s Laws Also Put the Spotlight on Human Sinfulness

We ought to be seeing this truth already. If we are attentive, we will hear the Ten Commandments and other divine guidelines telling us not only about God, but also about ourselves. It doesn’t even take Jesus’ expanded guidelines to show us we stand guilty before Almighty God. We tend to think we are pretty good people until we measure ourselves against God’s standard—then we realize how completely we’ve missed the divine mark. We’re reminded of Isaiah. Confronted with God’s holiness, he was overcome with a realization of his own unworthiness and sin. As Psalm 14:2-3 states, “The LORD looks down from heaven upon the children of men, To see if there are any who understand, who seek God. They have all turned aside, They have together become corrupt; There is none who does good, No, not one.” Romans 3:23 echoes this with the testimony that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

On his Facebook page, evangelist Ray Comfort explains.

Have you kept the Ten Commandments? This is what someone would be like if he kept the moral Law—he would always love God with “all of his heart, mind, soul, and strength,” and love his neighbor as much as he has loved himself. He has never made a god to suit himself (either with his hands or in his mind). He has always given God’s name reverence, kept the Sabbath holy, honored his parents implicitly, and never once has he been “angry without cause.” He has never hated anyone, had lust in his heart, or had illicit sex. He has never stolen even a paper clip or ballpoint pen, or told as much as a “white” lie, and not once desired anything that belongs to someone else. He is, and always has been “pure in heart,” perfect in thought, word, and deed.

God is not indifferent to these offences. He cannot be, because of His holy character. He must judge sin. What is the punishment for sin before a holy God? Death, both physical and spiritual: “For the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). Ray Comfort continues,

The truth is, we are not like that. We have all “sinned” many times, and therefore we have stored up God’s wrath, which will be revealed on Judgment Day. The proof that we have sinned will be our death, and after death we must face God in judgment. Think of it—if He has seen our every thought, word, and deed, and if He is going to bring all our sins out as evidence of our guilt on the Day of Judgment, we will all be found to be guilty. Our conscience has shown us right from wrong; we will be without excuse. God will give us justice, and Hell will be the place of our eternal punishment. “For there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known” [Luke 12:2]. That’s why you need the Savior.

Before moving ahead, we do well to recognize that all of these things are true because of absolutes. God is, and He is who He is. We are humans made in God’s image but marred by sin. We not only have a bent to sin but also have freely chosen to disobey God. We face the dilemma we face because of the real circumstances that prevail. We cannot dodge these realities or imagine them away. We cannot come up with our own “truth” to rescue us.


God is, and He is who He is. Moreover, as sinners, we have offended God and stand guilty before Him. We face the dilemma we face because of the real circumstances that prevail. We cannot dodge these realities or imagine them away. We cannot come up with our own “truth” to rescue us.


What, then, can we do? As Ray Comfort declares, we “need the Savior,” One who can rescue us from our otherwise helpless state. Only God can provide a Savior, and the good news of Easter is that He did just that in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ.

The Law Points Us to Our Need for Christ

Accordingly, the Bible affirms, “Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (Gal. 3:24). Obeying the law was and is insufficient to save us, because we cannot obey it perfectly. Only God can do that. So, God sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, who was and is God, down to earth as a human being to live a perfect life and to reveal the truth about God. Pillar number four speaks to this. The apostle John wrote,

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.… 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.… 17 For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him. (John 1:1-5-5,14,17-18).

Artist Enrique Simonet depicts Jesus’ weeping over Jerusalem.

Jesus not only revealed truth about God; He also obeyed God’s moral law perfectly. In other words, He “fulfilled the law” (see Matt. 5:17). Having done that, He could die in the place of sinners, paying their penalty for them. Indeed, the only way their penalty could be paid was through His death. Accordingly, Jesus sacrificed Himself willingly as He was crucified on a Roman cross. Jesus’ death and subsequent resurrection were the two most important historical events orchestrated by God and alluded to in pillar number two. What did God accomplish through Jesus’ death and resurrection? These passages tell us.

Artist James Tissot depicts his perspective of what Jesus saw from the cross.

From the writings of Paul:

  • For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor. 5:21).
  • For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time (1 Tim. 2:5-6).

From the writings of Peter:

  • For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit (1 Pet. 3:18).

From the writings of John:

  • He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him.11 He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. 12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: 13 who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God (John 1:10-13).
  • And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up,15 that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. 16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved (John 3:14-17).

Significantly, John went on to write in John 3:18 these reassuring—and jarring—words: “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”


He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
—the apostle John in John 3:18—


God’s Invitation, and Real Answers for Life as it Really Is

Christ died for all, but His death is credited only to those who receive God’s invitation “making it possible to avoid His wrath, experience His mercy and grace, and get to know Him personally and intimately. When we accept God’s invitation, the Holy Spirit regenerates us, giving us a new spiritual life.” This is pillar number six.

We note here also that God’s plan of salvation and the way it addresses life’s critical issues give us real answers to the questions we naturally ask about the imperfect world that surrounds us. We saw this in pillar number seven. Here is one such question. Why does a holy, perfect, all-powerful, and good God continue to allow suffering and evil in the world? Peter tells us in 2 Peter 3:9: “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise [to return and to set the world right], as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”

The internal consistency of Christianity is striking. This is especially true when we contrast it to relativism, which is self-refuting. While the harmony between the components of the Christian faith by itself doesn’t prove Christianity to be true, it stands as strong evidence. Furthermore, the biblical worldview coincides with what we see externally, in the real world. It explains reality as does no other belief system. Our questions are answered, not completely, but adequately.


The internal consistency of Christianity is striking. This is especially true when we contrast it to relativism, which is self-refuting.


Knowing all these things, however, is not enough. We must respond. Returning to the invitation we highlighted in pillar number six, we emphasize that Jesus’ death and resurrection place before us life’s most important question. Pilate faced it, as will every other human being. Pilate asked, “What then shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” (Matt. 27:22). Again, because of the absolute realities of (1) a holy God who exists and loves you, (2) your sinful condition, and (3) Christ’s provision for you on the cross, you must answer this question. You can’t “make up your own truth” to detour around it.


Because of the absolute realities of (1) a holy God who exists and loves you, (2) your sinful condition, and (3) Christ’s provision for you on the cross, you must determine what you will do with Jesus. You can’t “make up your own truth” to detour around this issue.


How will you respond?

Next week, against the backdrop of this post, we’ll offer answers to two common objections to God’s plan of salvation.

Written on Good Friday, April 14, 2017

Part 12 is available here.

 

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

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.

Contending for the Recognition of Absolutes—Part 10

The Seven Pillars Christianity, an Authentic Faith

 Genuine Christianity is more than a relationship with Jesus, as expressed in personal piety, church attendance, Bible study, and works of charity. It is more than discipleship, more than believing a system of doctrines about God. Genuine Christianity is a way of seeing and comprehending all reality. It is a worldview.
Charles W. Colson

View summaries of all the articles in this series here.

Christian Apologist Gregory Koukl admits to facing a dilemma when he meets another individual and shares introductory information about himself. Once, when he was seated next to a stockbroker on a flight, the gentleman asked him what he did for a living, and Greg told him he was a writer. “What do you write about?” certainly was a natural question for Greg’s new friend to ask, but it triggered a challenge for Greg. Mr. Koukl writes about religion—Christianity specifically—and he could have said that, but he didn’t want his seatmate to misunderstand the nature of his work. While most people would not condemn Christian authors outright for believing lies and myths, neither would they view their writings as authoritative or authentic in any deep way. Rather,

people are tempted to think of religion as a kind of spiritual fantasy club—true for you, but not necessarily true for me. Find the club you like—the one that meets your personal needs, that gives you rules to live by that are respectable but not too demanding, that warms your heart with a feeling of spirituality. That’s the point of religion. Do not, however confuse religious stories with reality. They don’t give you the kind of information about the world that, say, science does. Yes, believing in God is useful to a point, but religion taken too seriously is, in some ways, like believing in Santa Claus—quaint if you’re a child but unbecoming of an adult.1

Yet, as Koukl goes on to say, Christianity isn’t like that. Instead, it “is a picture of reality.”2

The rebuilding of a Southern California house previously consumed by a fire provides a great analogy, because the reconstruction of the dwelling reveals its otherwise hidden traits. These include things like the solid nature of the foundation as well as the strength of the nuts and bolts that hold the rafters and studs together. In Koukl’s words, the “whole house is bolted down to the ground in many different ways.”

Christians and non-Christians alike need to see that Christianity is like the new house: “It’s not a flimsy structure that someone has sunk a couple of nails in and the first guy to come by who can huff n’ puff real strong is going to blow it away. Christianity is a system bolted down to reality.”

If true, this has serious consequences for everyone rejecting or ignoring the Christian faith. Summit Ministries president Jeff Myers puts it this way.

Although it might sound broad-minded to argue that we should invite everyone to live as he or she pleases, the world does not change to fit our whims and desires. If Christianity is true, then it accurately describes the world as it actually is. Rejecting Christianity, then, is the same as rejecting reality itself. Inevitably, the real world crashes in, revealing the consequences of rejecting God’s rules and patterns.3


Rejecting Christianity is the same as rejecting reality itself. Inevitably, the real world crashes in, revealing the consequences of rejecting God’s rules and patterns.
—Jeff Myers—


As Jesus said in Matthew 7:24-27,

24 “Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: 25 and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.

26 “But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: 27 and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.”

Authentic Pillars Support a Faith that is Objectively True

We’re in the midst of a series of articles on absolute truth, and during the past two weeks (here and here) we’ve been poking holes in relativism as a belief system. We’re not finished doing this, but as we enter Holy Week with its Easter climax, I want to use a couple of posts to uphold the authenticity and reliability of Christianity. Next week we’ll do this by focusing on an important aspect of Christ’s resurrection, but this week I want to present the big picture of the Christian faith, which has seven reliable pillars. Christianity rests on these firm supports. Our discussion is far from exhaustive, but it will be informative and helpful in showing the basic elements of Christianity.

Just as no building can stand without adequate supports, so, too, Christianity can’t stand without authentic pillars. Because its pillars are solid, the Christian faith also is objectively true.

Pillar number one: A creative, eternal, omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, and loving God. The first words in the Bible highlight and allude to many of these divine qualities. Moreover, God is both objectively real and personal. He also is just and holy; to Him all things are not the same. He is the source of absolute truth, for He is the source of reality. In addition, God reveals Himself in nature. In other words, we can learn a great deal about God simply by observing the created order, the interactions within it, and the uniqueness of human beings (also go here).

Pillar number two: Real, historical events in which God has acted to accomplish His purposes.

Pillar number three: A trustworthy and reliable written revelation of God to humanity. We have this in the Bible, which we rightly refer to as God’s Written Word.

Pillar number four: A personal revelation of God to humanity in the person of Jesus Christ, who is God in human flesh. Jesus, in fact, is the central focus of the Christian faith. Jesus is God’s Living Word and God’s ultimate revelation of Himself to humankind. One writer even affirms this: “Knowledge of truth is possible because of the creating and revealing work of the Logos [Word] of God, Jesus Christ.” Jesus came to earth as a human being without ceasing to be God, lived a perfect life, and on a Passover Friday died on a Roman cross to pay the penalty for human sin. On Sunday morning, He rose from the dead and subsequently appeared to His followers multiple times before ascending back to the Father, even as angels assured His disciples that He one day would return.

Pillar number five: Ethical teachings that mirror God’s character and that contrast to man’s sinful nature as well as the choice of every human being to follow his or her own way rather than God’s.

You’ll find pillars two through five discussed succinctly in this brief article.

Pillar number six: An invitation to humanity from God making it possible to avoid His wrath, experience His mercy and grace, and get to know Him personally and intimately (go here and here). When we accept God’s invitation, God the Holy Spirit regenerates us, giving us a new spiritual life.

Pillar number seven: Reasonable, clear answers to life’s basic questions. We look around us, and intuitively we know things are not as they ought to be. Why are things out of kilter? Christianity offers us substantive and adequate, though not exhaustive, answers. The explanations it gives us make sense of the world we live in as does no other belief system. The Christian faith tells us

  • how we got here,
  • how we got into the mess we are in,
  • the ultimate solution to our problems, and
  • how God will resolve things in the end.

It also shows us how we fit into God’s master plan.

Since the seven pillars are real, Christianity also is true, period—regardless of what people think or feel about it. In other words, Christianity and the biblical worldview square with reality because they are true in the absolute, objective sense.


Christianity and the biblical worldview square with reality because they are true in the absolute, objective sense.


Like the house built to withstand earthquakes in Southern California, they are “bolted down to reality.”

Next week, we’ll look at a central teaching of Christianity—the resurrection of Jesus Christ. That discussion, too, will help us contend for the recognition of absolutes.

Part 11 is available here.

 

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

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.

Notes:

1Gregory Koukl, The Story of Reality: How the World Began, How It Ends, and Everything Important that Happens in Between, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017), 21-22. Learn more about Koukl’s book here.

2Ibid., 23.

3Jeff Myers, Understanding the Faith: A Survey of Christian Apologetics, (Manitou Springs, CO and Colorado Springs, CO: Summit Ministries and David C. Cook respectively, 2016), 15.