Absolute Truth Really Is All About God

 Contending for the Recognition of Absolutes, Part 17

Consider the atheist who is outraged at seeing a violent murder on the ten o’clock news. He is very upset and hopes that the murderer will be punished for his wicked actions. But in his view of the world, why should he be angry? In an atheistic, evolutionary universe where people are just animals, murder is no different than a lion killing an antelope. But we don’t punish the lion! If people are just chemical accidents, then why punish one for killing another?…[Moreover, m]any atheists behave morally and expect others to behave morally as well. But absolute morality simply does not comport with atheism.
Dr. Jason Lisle

Truth always carries with it confrontation. Truth demands confrontation; loving confrontation nevertheless. If our reflex action is always accommodation regardless of the centrality of the truth involved, there is something wrong.
Francis Schaeffer

View summaries of all the articles in this series here.

Part 16 is available here.

The Declaration of Independence begins with this insightful and profound statement:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

The acknowledgement of “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” is more than significant. The Founders affirmed the existence of a set of standards coming from God and reflected in nature, or the natural world. It’s true that the Declaration does not mention a specific God; the point of the document was not theological. Even more importantly, it was widely understood that this reference was to the God of the Bible. Our early leaders believed strongly in religious liberty. Even so, God’s existence is assumed, not argued—and equally assumed is the idea that laws, including principles that affirm human dignity and a set of standards of right and wrong, are an inherent part of the natural order of things. These standards originate from outside—and not from within—humanity and human reason.


Truth comes from outside human beings, not from within.


Writing for the Heritage Foundation, Mark David Hall addresses the question “Did America Have a Christian Founding?” He essentially answers by saying, “It depends on what is meant by ‘a Christian founding,’” but affirms the answer is yes if the phrase means biblical principles and ideas strongly influenced America’s architects. “I believe,” Hall writes, “that an excellent case can be made that Christianity had a profound influence on the Founders.” He cites five specific examples, including these.

  1. Their faith taught them that humans were sinful.…
  2. They firmly believed that God ordained moral standards, that legislation should be made in accordance with these standards, and that moral laws took precedence over human laws.

The idea of absolute truth, therefore, was an important principle informing and guiding America’s Founders as they led the Colonies to separate from Great Britain and as they drafted the US Constitution. Although it didn’t originate in the United States, the affirmation of absolute truth can rightly be called an American ideal.

Last week we highlighted five specific characteristics of Alliance Defending Freedom’s clients, and we used Blaine Adamson, Jack Phillips, and Barronelle Stutzman as representative examples. Against the backdrop of America’s founding, I want to underscore a point we dare not miss from our previous discussion. Here I am elaborating on last week’s fifth point, the importance of affirming and living by the right principles.

Blaine Adamson, Darold and Barronelle Stutzman, Kelvin Cochran, Evelyn and Donald Knapp, and Jack Phillips

Adamson, Phillips, Stutzman, and others are upholding principles that originated outside themselves. They are not willing to risk everything to have the right to follow their own feelings on a matter. If an individual is going to risk everything, he or she ought to risk it for something more certain than that! ADF clients are upholding the truth—absolute truth that reflects universal standards of right and wrong. These arise from God and His character.

God is the Architect of all that is, including morality and ethics.
Ancient of Days by William Blake (1757-1827)1

Yet their convictions run even deeper than that. Their beliefs are rooted, not just in ideals or principles, but in God Himself and their sense of accountability to Him. Last week’s three-minute audio clip contained clear evidence of this from the perspective of each client. This one-minute excerpt presents that core evidence. You’ll hear Adamson first, Phillips second, and Stutzman third.

To be clear, an individual doesn’t have to believe in God to believe in moral principles or absolute truth. However, the existence of absolutes is best explained by the existence of God, as apologist J. Warner Wallace has pointed out.

Confronted with the hostility, pressure, and expressions of hate that ADF clients surely must experience, these courageous men and women are not following their feelings. They’re not following their opinions either, although their opinions align with what they know to be true.


Alliance Defending Freedom’s clients aren’t following their feelings or opinions. Rather, they’re putting everything on the line because of what they know to be true and because they are compelled to obey the God who is the source of all truth.


They are putting everything on the line because of what they know to be true and because they are compelled to obey the God who is the source of all truth. It’s all the more reason to follow their examples. As Barrnelle Stutzman affirms, “you can’t be lukewarm” in your commitment to Christ.

What have you risked lately because you’re a Christian?

 

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

1Use of Blake’s work is not to be construed as an endorsement of his religious views. Ancient of Days does, however, symbolically highlight a number of divine traits that are consistent with the authority and creative power of the God of orthodox Christianity, which we do affirm.

top image: portion of an 1869 US postage stamp commemorating the presentation of the Declaration of Independence

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 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 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.

 

Contending for the Recognition of Absolutes, Part 9

Encouraging People to See Relativism’s Fatal Flaw

Imagine that you woke up today and saw this news flash: “All bills in American currency declared equal.” No longer is the $100 bill more valuable than the $1 bill. Under the new system the only thing that matters is who has the most bills of any kind. Thus, a person holding a hundred $1 bills now has the same purchasing power as a person holding a hundred $100 bills. The only question would be, “How many bills do you have?” Of course this would never fly. People would revolt and demand that the value of their bills be recognized.
Voddie Baucham

View summaries of all the articles in this series here.

Last week we examined several serious cracks in relativism as a philosophy. This week I want to highlight what we might consider its fatal flaw. Yes, it has many—but this one is a doozy. As we move toward identifying this defect, we’ll briefly review material we’ve covered already and provide a context for making our main point. Remember what relativism is—a philosophy that states that all perspectives have equal value, that no one idea is less or more justifiable than any other. Thus, relativism says absolute truth does not exist.


Relativism is a philosophy that states that all perspectives have equal value, that no one idea is less or more justifiable than any other. Thus, relativism says absolute truth does not exist.


What ought we to say about relativism?

First, absolutes clearly exist in the scientific world. This point isn’t hard to make and we could cite countless examples to prove it. Previously, we examined the saga of Apollo 13. Here’s one more. Refresh your memory about the disease known as “infantile paralysis,” or polio, and the medical professionals in the 50s and early 60s who conquered the disease. In particular, become better acquainted with medical pioneer Dr. Jonas Salk on this page.

Why were Dr. Salk and his team successful? They respected reality and adjusted their work to absolute truth, to the unyielding realities that were in effect. While it’s true Dr. Salk is widely known to have said, “Hope lies in dreams, in imagination and in the courage of those who dare to make dreams into reality,” we must never forget that he also said, “Nothing happens quite by chance. It’s a question of accretion of information and experience.”


Nothing happens quite by chance. It’s a question of accretion of information and experience.
—Dr. Jonas Salk—


Second, absolutes exist in everyday life, and relativists appear to have no problem conforming to them. Yes, even “a relativist has to admit that some truths and falsehoods exist. He knows he’s wearing a blue shirt and not a red one. She lives in Texas, not in Vermont. Go through a traffic intersection when you approach a green light, not a red one.” Let’s add this item to the mix as well: Allison is married to Rick.

Deny or even ignore realities like these, and you’ll get into trouble—maybe not right away, depending on which truths you challenge. Keep it up, though, you’ll be “up a creek without a paddle.”

Third, the notion that all ideas—even moral ones—have equal value is inconsistent and illogical. It is self-refuting. We said this early on in part 2 when we spoke of the law of non-contradiction. We emphasize this point once more here.

William M. Briggs notes, “In 1994, professor Mark Glazer said, “Cultural relativism in anthropology is a key methodological concept which is universally accepted within the discipline” (go here for the quote). Briggs encourages his readers to notice the flaw in Glazer’s claim, then he points it out in glaring terms.

If it is true that “Cultural relativism is the view that all beliefs are equally valid” etc., and that that proposition is “universally accepted”, then we are confronted with something that is true wherever you are. If “relativism” is true, then it is false because anthropologists everywhere believe it, and if they everywhere believe it, it is a universal truth, something that is true without regard to culture.

It gets even more asinine. If “Cultural relativism is the view that all beliefs are equally valid” etc., then how valid is the view that “Cultural relativism is false”? I’ll leave you to fill in the blanks.

It’s even worse than this. Relativists use relativism to reject philosophies and ideas with which they disagree as well as to validate those with which they agree. They do these things in logically incorrect ways, but they do them nonetheless. Moreover, all the while, they essentially contradict what they say they believe by the way they live their lives. As we saw in our observations last week, apologist Greg Koukl paints this picture in vivid terms.


It is not my intention to offend—only to shed light on the truth.


Perhaps I should emphasize at this point that my purpose here is not to offend, but to help people who have been blinded by a lie discover the truth. This isn’t possible to do without taking the risk of stepping on some toes. I’ll take that risk.

Fourth, believing every idea has equal value has disastrous consequences. Hillsdale College president and professor Dr. Larry Arnn makes this point vividly in a true account he relates in a free online course on C. S. Lewis offered by the college. Dr. Arnn is discussing a Lewis’s book The Abolition of Man.

Go here to see photos depicting a partial legacy of Adolf Hitler. Be aware that the pictures are graphic. Viewer discretion is advised.

Adolf Hitler is but one example of many we could cite to demonstrate not only the poison consequences of relativism, but also the testimony of the truth that an immutable set of standards of right and wrong exists and is applicable for all.

I would like to ask my relativist friends this question: Are you really willing to live by a philosophy that exonerates Adolph Hitler? If this question bothers you, even a little bit, it shows that you really do believe in absolute truth. If it doesn’t bother you, you have a deeper problem than that of being misled by the popular idea of relativism.


Are you really willing to live by a philosophy that exonerates Adolph Hitler? If this question bothers you, even a little bit, it shows that you really do believe in absolute truth. If it doesn’t bother you, you have a deeper problem than that of being misled by the popular idea of relativism. 


Relativism’s Fatal Flaw

All four these items are serious enough, but now we come to relativism’s fatal flaw, and it is two-pronged. The fifth and sixth points flow from number four. While relativists claim moral absolutes don’t exist, sound reasoning demonstrates undeniably that—fifth—they actually do. Scientific and practical absolutes simply mirror their moral counterparts. Finally—sixth—they point to God’s existence.

Homicide detective and Christian apologist J. Warner Wallace explains. (This clip comes from part 1 of a 2-part series available on youtube.com. You can view both videos here.)

I have another question for my friends who claim to be relativists. Do you agree that it is wrong to kill people just for the fun of it? If you do, you really don’t believe in relativism! Relativism says that no moral absolutes exist, so if just one does, this philosophy is just as false as it would be if a set of absolute truths were real. The whole system falls like a house of cards. Here’s another important point. If one absolute principle exists, it’s quite likely others do as well, just as J. Warner Wallace indicated. 


Do you agree that it is wrong to kill people just for the fun of it? If you do, you really don’t believe in relativism! Relativism says that no moral absolutes exist, so if just one does, this philosophy is just as false as it would be if a set of absolute truths were real. The whole system falls like a house of cards. Here’s another important point. If one absolute principle exists, it’s quite likely others do as well. 


Sixth, even just one absolute principle points to the existence of God. Absolute truth has a Source to whom all things are not equal. Relativism is false on its face!

In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis said,

My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such violent reaction against it? A man feels wet when he falls into water, because man is not a water animal: a fish would not feel wet. Of course, I could have given up my idea of justice by saying that it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too—for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist—in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless—I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality—namely my idea of justice—was full of sense. Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning.

Summary

In claiming that moral absolutes do not exist, relativism sets itself up as the ultimate absolute, moral and otherwise. It turns out, then, that to be a relativist is to be an absolutist after all—and to be both an inconsistent and self-refuting one at that!

Moreover, when any relativist appeals to or seeks to uphold any virtue—including the favorite tenets of tolerance and justice—she betrays herself, he unmasks his warped, convoluted, and false perspective.


When any relativist appeals to or seeks to uphold any virtue—including the favorite tenets of tolerance and justice—she betrays herself, he unmasks his warped, convoluted, and false perspective.


Not only do moral absolutes exist, but they have an ultimate source. They have to! A world without meaning really has to be a world without any purpose or meaning—including any kind of awareness of or aspiration to meaning or virtue.

Chew on this for a while, and be sure to return next week. We haven’t discovered nearly all the gems in this mine yet!

Part 10 is available here.

 

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

Contending for the Recognition of Absolutes, Part 8

 Cracks in the Foundation of Relativism

If you say there is no such thing as morality in absolute terms, then child abuse is not evil, it just may not happen to be your thing.
Rebecca Manley Pippert

The eternal difference between right and wrong does not fluctuate, it is immutable.
Patrick Henry

View summaries of all the articles in this series here.

One of my favorite images demonstrating the core problem in American culture today is the Castle Illustration from Answers in Genesis. We’ve highlighted this image previously and discussed some of its implications. We said,

Ken Ham, president, CEO, and founder of Answers in Genesis, has observed that Christians commit a strategic error in opposing evil by going after…“progressive” causes themselves rather than attacking the foundation upon which those causes rest.

Christians must learn to effectively attack the foundation of humanism, sometimes called secularism.

Note that Moral Relativism is a balloon in the above graphic. Relativism can accurately be considered a balloon or thought of as part of the foundation on which the castle rests. For our purposes here, we will consider it a part of the foundation. Moral Relativism is, and grows out of, autonomous human reasoning.

Christians need to offer well-reasoned arguments that shine the light on relativism’s inherent weaknesses. We endeavored to do this earlier in this series, but this issue is of such importance we need to revisit it. Moreover, this post covers new ground. While such presentations might be perceived as vindictive, they actually are helpful and beneficial. Truth is a friend to everyone who cooperates with it and makes the adjustments needed to live under its authority.

This is not to say that Christians never should frame arguments defending natural marriage, the preservation of innocent human life, or religious liberty, to name just three of the hot button issues raging in today’s culture. It is to say that when we consistently fail to point out the fallacies of “autonomous human reasoning,” including relativism, we aren’t really acting in love toward our secular neighbors and friends.

“But the church just needs to ‘stick to evangelism,’” someone will say. “Only the gospel can change people’s minds and hearts.” When seen against the backdrop of a clear understanding of what is really happening in our culture, these statements demonstrate that Christians need to think of evangelism in broader terms. Hitting the foundation of secularism is all about evangelism. If our friends on the other side of God’s truth believe they’re right and we’re wrong* about foundational beliefs, we won’t ever be able to convince them to join our side.


Christians need to think of evangelism in broader terms.


Greg Koukl, founder and president of the apologetics ministry Stand to Reason, knows how to shine the spotlight on secularism’s crumbling foundation. In an article titled “Seven Things You Can’t Do As a Relativist,” he emphasizes that to be consistent, relativists can make no value judgements whatsoever. This renders their philosophical foundation as unstable as an avalanche! The mantra, “Well, that may be true for you, but it isn’t true for me; everybody can make up his or her own truth” may sound benign or even magnanimous, but it actually throws all kinds of obstacles in the paths of those who claim to live by it.


The philosophical foundation of relativism is as unstable as an avalanche!


Here’s a summary of Greg Koukl’s list of seven restrictions relativists have imposed on themselves through their own beliefs. In this seven-item list, quotations come directly from Koukl.

Rules for Relativists

First, don’t ever point your finger at anyone else and accuse him or her of doing something wrong. Relativists can’t do this, because their foundational belief denies the very existence of wrong. If they accuse anyone of anything they believe shouldn’t happen—things like racism, sexism, or bigotry, let’s say—they’ve stumbled on their own worldview. Advocates of relativism can’t be consistent without dropping words like should and ought from their vocabularies.

Second, don’t protest evil or complain about its existence. Relativism won’t allow this because, again, as a foundational belief, it denies the very existence of evil and wrong. This presents a huge problem for atheists, because the existence of evil frequently is seen as evidence that God isn’t real. Were God God, the argument goes, He would be omnipotent, and He would eliminate evil. Obviously He hasn’t done this, so

  1. He must not be all-powerful and therefore not really God, or
  2. He must not be good, or
  3. He doesn’t exist at all.

Mark it down. Relativism itself robs its followers of the rhetorical thunder they think they have. All three of these points rest on the assumption that evil is real. If a relativist is true to what she claims to believe, she won’t call anything evil. She can’t even call the Holocaust evil, since doing so would to be to uphold a specific standard of morality.

Third, don’t ever commend anyone or anything with praise or condemn it with criticism. Why not? A relativist claims to live by a philosophy that renders every action and event neutral. Nothing can be blameworthy or praiseworthy—ever; all things are “lost in a twilight zone of moral nothingness.”

Fourth, you have to throw words like fair, unfair, just, and unjust out of your vocabulary. You have to throw out terms like guilt and innocence as well. These words represent ideas that, under relativism, simply don’t exist. Think about it. If nothing can be blameworthy (see the third item), then no one ever can be guilty of anything wrong, and no one can be held accountable for wrongdoing. A relativist never can pursue justice and fairness, because nothing ever can be fair and just, or unfair and unjust. This rule simply says proponents of relativism need to make their words and their arguments conform to the beliefs they claim to hold.

Fifth, acknowledge that your belief system makes moral improvement impossible. A relativist certainly can change his ethics, but he cannot improve his behavior or aspire to anything better in any way. His foundational belief “destroys the moral impulse that makes people rise above themselves because there is no ‘above’ to rise to.”

Sixth, don’t try to engage in debates or discussions that address morality or values. With respect, I am compelled to point out that you have nothing to say. Relativism says all ideas are equally valid, so none can be better or worse than any other. Any claim to the contrary refutes relativism altogether. Thus, when an individual claims to be a relativist, he forfeits his right to accuse anyone of shoving his or her morality down his throat.

Seventh, stop talking about tolerance, because your belief system negates it. Relativism says values don’t exist. If values don’t exist, then how can tolerance, which is upheld as a value to be practiced, be real? It can’t.

You might think the heading of this list, “Rules for Relativists,” is an oxymoron because relativists don’t believe in rules. It isn’t an oxymoron, and I’ll tell you why. Not believing in rules doesn’t render them nonexistent. These rules are applicable because of the nature of reality and the inconsistencies of relativism as a belief system.


Not believing in something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.


Greg Koukl has done all of us a favor—relativists included—by turning the spotlight on these cracks and exposing them.

As advocates of absolute truth, let’s follow his example and do the same. Here is a page carrying just the summary of Greg Koukl’s article.

Part 9 is available here.

 

Note:

*The very fact that our friends who espouse relativism would believe that they’re right and we’re wrong about foundational beliefs actually is a refutation of their belief system to begin with. Remember, they say all beliefs are equally valid. Yet they typically don’t see the inconsistency. This is why articles like this one and this series of articles are so important.

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

top image: an avalanche in the Himalayas near Mount Everest

 

Contending for the Recognition of Absolutes, Part 7

Getting the Big Picture of Reality Is a Key Factor in Affirming the Existence of Absolute Truth and Understanding Authentic Liberty

[T]he problem of the 1920s to the 1980s…is the attempt to have absolute freedom—to be totally autonomous from any intrinsic limits. It is the attempt to throw off anything that would restrain one’s own personal autonomy. But it is especially a direct and deliberate rebellion against God and his law.
Francis Schaeffer in The Great Evangelical Disaster, published in 1984—

The end of law is not to abolish or restrain, but to preserve and enlarge freedom.—John Locke in Two Treatises of Government, published in 1689

View summaries of all the articles in this series here.

In a Family TalkTM booklet titled Discipline, Dr. James Dobson relates a story loaded with lessons for us today. Countering the idea that parents and their children should “be on an even playing field—making decisions by negotiation and compromise,” Dobson recalls observing his daughter’s pet hampster fidgeting in his cage, anxiously trying to escape. The little guy

worked tirelessly to open the gate and push his furry little nose between the bars. Then I noticed our dachshund, Siggie, sitting eight feet away in the shadows. He was watching the hamster, too. His ears were erect, and it was obvious what was on his mind. He was thinking, Come on, baby. Open that door, and I’ll have you for lunch. If the hamster had been so unfortunate as to escape from his cage, which he desperately wanted to do, he would have been dead in a matter of seconds.

Dobson goes on to discuss the difference between the hampster’s perspective and his own: “I was aware of dangers that he couldn’t have foreseen. That’s why I denied him something that he desperately wanted to achieve.”

In this respect, children are like that hampster—but so is everyone else in the human race, regardless of age, before he or she is willing to acknowledge the big picture offered by “nature and nature’s God,” to quote the the Declaration of Independence.

But wait! The Declaration does not just speak of “nature and nature’s God,” but of “the laws of nature and nature’s God.” What? In the Declaration of Independence? Yes! Our founders got it right. True freedom and liberty—on both personal and societal levels—can be established and maintained only when individals and society affirm the laws of nature, or absolute truth. Dr. Dobson’s perspective in relation to his daughter’s hamster parallels the one we need with regard to the world, life, and the universe.


True freedom and liberty—on both personal and societal levels—can be established and maintained only when individals and society affirm the laws of nature, or absolute truth. 


No One Really Believes Truth Doesn’t Exist

Even a relativist has to admit that some truths and falsehoods exist.

  • He knows he’s wearing a blue shirt and not a red one.
  • She lives in Texas, not in Vermont.
  • Go through a traffic intersection when you approach a green light, not a red one.

Truths and falsehoods in the moral and spiritual realms exist, too. These also are evident, but we don’t recognize them with physical senses like seeing and hearing—and they often are even more consequential than realities in the physical relalm.

True Freedom Is Found In a Recognition of Absolute Truth

In their book on apologetics for high schoolers titled Don’t Check Your Brains at the Door, Josh McDowell and Bob Hostetler expose 42 myths that have become quite popular in today’s culture. One of them is the “Anarchist Myth.”1 To expose this false belief for the lie it really is, McDowell and Hostetler tell a story. The story also is available online.

Herman, the son of a crab named Fred, was growing rather weary of what he believed to be the confinement imposed on him by his shell. “Hey, Dad! This shell is really boxing me in,” said Herman. “I can’t take it anymore! I want my freedom! My friends and I have been talking, and they feel the same way. Some of them are thinking about forming a group called ‘Crabs for Shedding Shells.’ I’m ready to help!”

“Son,” said Fred to his boy, “I understand your frustration. I know it’s easy for you to think your shell is denying you freedom and that you could move around unencumbered if you only could get rid of it—but let me tell you a story.”

“Aww, Dad, come on. I’m too old for that!” complained Herman.

“Now, hear me out,” replied the elder crab. “I think this will make a lot of sense to you. My story is about

Humphrey the human, who insisted on going barefoot to school. He complained that his shoes were too confining. They cramped his style, he said. He longed to be free to run barefoot through fields and streams. Finally, his mother gave in to him. He skipped out of the house barefoot. Do you know what happened?”

Herman opened his mouth, but his father continued before he could answer.

“Humphrey the human stepped on pieces of a broken bottle. His foot required twenty stitches, and some other guy took his girl to the prom while Humphrey sat home watching reruns of Flipper.”

“That’s a pretty lame story, Dad,” Herman said.

“Maybe, Son, but the point is this: Every crab has felt this way at one time or another, thinking life would be better if he could be completely shell-free. But that’s like a sailor getting tired of the confinement of a ship and jumping to freedom in the sea. He may think that’s freedom, but if he doesn’t get back to ship or shore, he’ll drown and end up as crab food. What kind of freedom is that?”

Fred explained to Herman that one day in the not-too-distant future, he indeed would discard his shell. The process, called molting, is a normal part of a crab’s growth into adulthood. “But don’t be fooled,” Fred warned his son. “After your old shell comes off, you’re going to be especially vulnerable. It’ll be a dangerous time. You’ll need to be more careful than ever until your new shell hardens.” Fred tapped his son’s exterior shield a couple of times and then summarized his main point. “The truth, Herman, is that without a protective shell, life will be far more confining than liberating.”

Both the irony and the reality of the situation were beginning to dawn on Herman. After thoughtful reflection, he turned to his dad and said,

“You mean that some things may seem to limit freedom but really make greater freedom possible?”

Fred smiled broadly and patted his son on the back with a mammoth claw. “How’d you get to be so smart, Son?” he asked.

Corporate Liberty Depends on the Affirmation of a Supreme Authority

“The laws of nature and nature’s God” are like Herman’s shell. Coming back now to the larger picture, we note that as a nation, if we don’t return to these, we will lose our liberty. Does everyone have to become a Christian in this nation for America to restore and maintain liberty? No, not everyone was a Christian even at America’s founding, although most were. People believed in God, however, and that was key. In particular, the Founders held beliefs “rooted in the Judeo-Christian values found in the Bible.”

While we might not be able to convince our secular friends and neighbors of the existence of God right off the bat (even though we certainly need to know and be able make the case for God’s existence), if we can help them see the connections between law, liberty, and belief in a divine being, that will be a good first step.

Yet we may need to take at least one step even before that. We absolutely must teach our children about these connections. As the Bible affirms Psalm 119:45: “I will walk at liberty, For I seek Your precepts.”

Have you had a discussion about absolute truth in your home?

Part 8 is available here.

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


For Further Study


Homicide detective J. Warner Wallace became a Christian after applying principles of forensic analysis to the Gospel accounts and determining that they passed the tests for authenticity. In these videos, he discusses the evidence for God based on the existence of moral truth.


In this video, conservative radio talk show host and devout Jew Dennis Prager argues from the other side of this issue. Prager makes the case that without God, objective moral truth cannot exist.

Both Wallace and Prager are correct, but each deals with the issue from a different angle.


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 6

The Myth of Complete Autonomy

In his book The Abolition of Man, [C. S.] Lewis warned that moral relativism (the denial of universal and objective moral truths and principles), foolish emotionalism, and the rejection of reason would bring about cultural decay and growing depravity.  When societies fail to teach morality and train the hearts of men to embrace and emulate virtuous behavior, they produce “Men without Chests,” individuals who are intelligent but behave like animals—men who don’t practice the virtues and are controlled by their appetites.…Many decades have passed since Lewis wrote his book, and things have gotten much worse.  While mainstream secular society still maintains that honor, ethics, and integrity matter, it has increasingly attacked, silenced, or destroyed those institutions and organizations that used to teach moral principles and universal truths that instilled honor and character into men’s hearts and souls.
Chris Banescu in 2016—

In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.
C. S. Lewis in The Abolition of Man, published in 1943

View summaries of all the articles in this series here.

Zig Ziglar (1926-2012), a motivational speaker and author who inspired millions, readily admitted that life is tough. Yet “[w]hen you are tough on yourself,” he would say, “life is going to be infinitely easier on you.”


When you are tough on yourself, life is going to be infinitely easier on you.
—Zig Ziglar—


Zig was right. It was his way of saying that recognizing and cooperating with the world as it really is sets the stage for a person not only to do well in it, but also to thrive in it and to enjoy life to its fullest. A key idea here is that of discipline, and a related key concept is a recognition of authority, including absolute truth.

Sadly, the philosophy of relativism, which denies the existence of absolutes, is wreaking havoc in people’s lives and in society as a whole. Why? In saying each individual person can make up and follow his or her own truth, relativism discourages discipline and the acknowledgement of any authority outside of oneself. It is a formula for disaster because it denies reality.

The Bible speaks straightforwardly about these things, and in this post I’d like to examine just a few Bible passages that address the matter. Even a person who doesn’t believe the Bible to be the inspired Word of God cannot deny the practical realities it affirms. Freedom to follow one’s feelings brings consequences that can be both harsh and inflexible.

Wasteful Living Produces a Wasted Life

In Luke 15:11-24, Jesus gave what has become one of His best known parables, the Parable of the Lost Son. Apparently following every impulse, desire, and whim he felt, a young man demanded his inheritance early and then, in “a far country,…wasted his possessions with prodigal living” (v. 13). Such behavior could not, and did not, continue indefinitely. When the young man “had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want. Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him to his fields to feed swine. And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything” (vv. 14-16).

This is the turning point of the story. He “came to himself” (v. 17) and resolved to go home to his father and ask to be taken on as a hired servant. When the father saw his son return, he welcomed him gladly and even threw a party to celebrate (see vv. 20-24). Jesus’ parable illustrates vividly that a person can follow his own whims but that reality eventually will hit. In other words, A person is free to follow his or her feelings, but not without consequences. The idea of complete personal autonomy is a myth! Unfortunately, in 21st-century America, it’s a myth that’s exacerbated because society and culture, often through government, frequently attempt to “rescue” people from the negative consequences of their irresponsible behavior. This dynamic is worthy of exploration in a future post, but for now, note that if not mitigated, the consequences actually can teach valuable lessons. The father in Jesus’ parable actually saved his son by not intervening to “rescue” him!

Different Paths Lead to Different Destinations 

It’s noteworthy that the lost son chose to travel down one of two paths and when reality hit, changed his thinking and behavior. In other words, he moved to travel down a different road! His decision to change course made a profound positive difference in his life. As we indicated in part 1 of this series, relativism compels people to go their own way rather than God’s way. These two paths don’t just offer different journeys, but also different destinations.

A tombstone in a cemetery in Indiana bears this epitath:

Pause, stranger, when you pass me by:
As you are now, so once was I.
As I am now, so you will be.
So prepare for death and follow me.

The words attracted the attention of a visitor to that cemetery. The visitor scribbled these words underneath the verse etched in stone.

To follow you I’m not content,
Until I know which way you went.

Jesus warned His hearers, “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.”

Inspired by God, King Solomon offered a similar warning in Proverbs 14:12 and 16:25: “There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death.”


There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death.
—King Solomon of Israel—


All of us eventually will die physically, of course, but Solomon’s advice refers to something broader and bigger than even this. When Moses relayed God’s challenge to His chosen people who were about to enter into the promised land, he, too, encouraged them to choose life over death.

I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live; that you may love the Lord your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may cling to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days; and that you may dwell in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them (Deut. 30:19-20).

Choosing life involves not only selecting a path that leads to life, but also living lives consistent with that choice. The Bible affirms that salvation costs us nothing. Even so, it requires everything of us.

The High Cost of Choosing a Discipline-Free Path

Let’s examine two additional passages that caution against doing whatever one feels like doing. The Bible indicates that adultery is an act with very dire consequences. Keep in mind that a person involves himself in an extra-marital affair precisely because he or she is following personal feelings, impulses, and instincts. Solomon wrote,

27 Can a man take fire to his bosom,
And his clothes not be burned?
28 Can one walk on hot coals,
And his feet not be seared?
29 So is he who goes in to his neighbor’s wife;
Whoever touches her shall not be innocent (Prov. 6:27-29).

The analogy here is particularly jarring, even alarming. Just as placing hot coals in one’s lap and bringing a flame close to his chest is certain to set his clothes—and him—on fire, so too will adultery exact a severe price from those who engage in it.

Returning to the the New Testament, we see another depiction of the consequences of following one’s own inclinations rather than a clear principle or revealed truth. Examine Romans 1:18-25 closely. Note Paul’s use of the themes truth and lie.  

  • The apostle used the word truth in verses 18 and 25.
  • By speaking of people who suppress the truth in verse 18, Paul alluded to their following a lie instead; and he used the Greek term for lie in verse 25. The term for lie— “pseudos,” from which we get our English prefix pseudobroadly means “whatever is not what it seems to be.” Once again, we recall Proverbs14:12 and 16:25.

A lie may soothe and the truth may frustrate, but in the end, the former will be an enemy and the latter a friend.


Relativism is the way of a lie, but God’s way is the way of truth. A lie may soothe and the truth may frustrate, but in the end, the former will be an enemy and the latter a friend (see Prov. 27:6). Anyone and everyone will do well to heed the truth and reject the lie.

That’s just the way it is.

Next week, we’ll consider an illustration that vividly demonstrates the myth of compete personal autonomy. Be sure to return!

Part 7 is available here.

 

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

top image: Rembrandt, The Return of The Prodigal Son

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.