Talking To Atheists


“Black holes are cosmic objects that harbour a gravitational field so powerful that nothing, not even light or radiation can escape.”

Atheists and Christians look at life and the world from diametrically opposed views, so having a conversation between those who hold to those divergent opinions is not easy. On one hand, atheists, believing only in scientifically verifiable substance, are convinced that God does not exist. Some even question the historicity of Jesus. These fundamental positions lead them to dismiss the Bible as more myth than an accurate historical source.

In contrast, Christians know that God and an entire supernatural realm beyond the scope of science, exist. This fundamental position leads us to accept the Bible not only as accurate but authoritative since the words and thoughts are God’s, written by humans through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Most of that last paragraph would be nearly unintelligible to atheists. After all, from their perspective there is no God, therefore no Holy Spirit, no inspiration, leaving the Bible to be a book of made-up stories and rules.

Generally conversation between those holding the two opposing positions means one side creates a “convincing” argument dismantling the position of the other, only to have the reverse occur during rebuttal.

So does that mean there is no way the two can discuss the big issues of life? There certainly is a barrier. From my perspective as a Christian, I feel as if I’m trying to convince someone who is colorblind that the sky is blue. It’s an obvious fact to me, but he has no knowledge of blue and therefore considers everything I say to be nonsense.

From his perspective I imagine he has what seems to be the most obvious, basic, clear, tangible standards by which reality can be determined, but Christians claim truth on the basis of those standards plus something intangible, unclear, obscure, and convoluted.

If I’m right, both sides shake their heads at the other and say, how can they be so ignorant?

In reality, I as a Christian would like to learn to talk to atheists, but to do that means bridging this worldview divide. Oh, sure, we can talk at each other—I can quote Scripture, which they don’t believe, and they can quote “Bible scholars” who don’t believe the Bible. I can throw out names of Christian scientists and they can list three times as many atheist scientists. I can present archeological data supportive of the Bible, and they can point to detail after detail in the Bible for which no historical evidence exists. I can discuss cosmology and the need for an intelligent designer to explain intelligent complexity, and they can discuss evolution and the natural development of all life.

The point is, we aren’t actually talking to one another. Rather, I’d like to find out, beyond theory, why atheists believe as they do.

Some, of course, believe they have come to the only rational, intelligent conclusion possible, but that presupposes that the human mind can know all that is or is not in the vast cosmos, including the multiverse and the possible different dimensions, should string theory prove to be true.

Ah, but there lies the problem. We humans don’t know if string theory is true. We don’t know if there are other dimensions. And if there are? Why would those dimensions have to be like ours? Might not there be a spiritual dimension filled with the supernatural?

Humankind is still looking for evidence of life in space though we don’t know for sure if it exists or if it will be intelligent should it exist. Despite that uncertainty, atheists are certain God is not there. Life maybe; God absolutely not.

All the above to point out that claims to “the only rational, intelligent conclusion possible” are hardly sufficient to answer the question why someone is an atheist.

On the other hand, if someone asks a Christian why they believe as they do, I think the answer might also be categorical—something along the lines of, I’m convinced Jesus is who He said He is: Son of God, Savior, Lord.

And where’s the evidence, atheists will answer.

Where indeed? Within the pages of the Bible the atheist doesn’t believe in; by the witness of the Holy Spirit living in each Christian, which the atheist doesn’t believe in; through the power of a changed life which the atheist has no way to measure or to ascribe cause.

It seems we’ve returned to the impasse. But I keep coming back to the question why the atheist can’t accept what he can’t see for himself—at least when it comes to God. He can’t see gravity, but believes in it; can’t see black holes, but (most) would agree they exist.

When it comes to God, however, inferring His existence from the effect He has on life (which is how we know about gravity and black holes) is insufficient evidence. So “a cosmic accident” is a better explanation for the existence of life than is an intelligent designer.

Why?

Maybe if I understood that, I’d understand atheists better.

This article is a re-post of one that first appeared here in October 2014.

Faith Vs. Wishful Thinking


Sometimes I feel like I’m beating a dead horse, but when an atheist friend tells me in a comment, as happened a few days ago, that he understands faith better than I do, I need to set the record straight.

How can someone who says he has no faith understand faith better than someone who claims to live by faith?

When I first joined the atheist/theist Facebook group I’ve mentioned from time to time, our first discussion was about the definition of faith. It was then that I learned, when atheists say “faith” they mean what Christians refer to as “blind faith,” which is nothing more than wishful thinking. I wish I didn’t have to go to work—maybe tomorrow will be some holiday I didn’t know about, or a snow day, or (here in SoCal) a fire day. (I seriously doubt if anyone ever wishes for that!)

Yesderday I saw the clash between meanings arise again, this time on a video of John Lennox debating Richard Dawkins. The two men each saw faith as different entities: Dawkins as little more than wishful thinking and Lennox as a reasoned position that is trustworthy.

The two meanings can’t get further apart, I don’t think.

I know the difference. As I’ve recounted before, when I was a child, I prayed for a bicycle. That was actually wishful thinking. I wanted a bike and asked God for one. I had no reason to ask Him. I had no idea if He wanted me to have a bike. Though I thought He had the power to give me a bike, I didn’t know if He would give me a bike. I wanted one, and that’s all that mattered.

But that’s not faith.

Faith is actually a reasoned position that is reliable and can be trusted.

Atheists have faith just as much as Christians do, though I have no doubt they will deny it. The point is, they have a reasoned position that they find reliable and trustworthy. They arrive at their position by believing the various scientists and the conclusions they reach, without considering other disciplines.

Christians don’t all have the same reasonings. Some look to the Bible, some to what a church leader or parent has taught, some to their own personal experience, some to the natural world, some to philosophy, and some to a mixture of all these. Maybe more. The bottom line, however, is that Christians have some reason they find belief in God and His Son Jesus to be reliable and trustworthy.

There is no wishful thinking involved in Christianity. Unless in error, like my prayer for a bike. Which explains why a lot of people claim they were Christians but no longer are. They had no reasoned position that they found to be reliable and trustworthy. They did what they thought was expected of them or what they hoped would bring them something—acceptance, maybe, or peace and happiness. But it was never a reasoned position they found reliable and trustworthy.

Christians aren’t fervently wishing heaven was a true place. On the contrary, we have reason to believe Heaven exists and is in our future. Christians aren’t desperately wishing for a Savior. Rather, we have reasons to believe we have a Savior, One who is reliable and trustworthy.

In fact, however a Christian reaches the conclusion that Jesus is reliable and trustworthy, we discover, as we walk with Him day in and day out, that He gives us more and more reasons to count Him worthy of our trust. Not because He heals our cancer or that of our loved ones. Because Christians die of cancer. Not because He spares us from suffering and persecution or abuse. Christians get tortured, beheaded, persecuted today even as they were in the first century.

So what’s reliable and trustworthy about a God that won’t stop all the bad things from happening?

First and foremost is His promise that He will go with us in the midst of all the trouble. God said through Isaiah: “Though you pass through the river, I will be with you.” And even more convincingly, Jesus came and lived right here with us. Truly, He did what He said: I will be with you.

Then, when Jesus left, He sent the Holy Spirit who not only lives with us but in us. Think about it. The people of God’s choosing, the descendants of Abraham, had God in their midst as they traveled from Egypt to the Promised Land in the form of a pillar of cloud and of fire. Then He showed His glory in the tabernacle and eventually in the temple. He sent prophets to relay His words, to demonstrate that, yes, He was still faithful, even though some didn’t believe.

Christians don’t have God in a temple made with hands. Or a church building. We don’t have God walking beside us or making an occasional appearance. We have Him with us every second of every day. We are the temple.

We are the living stones. Sure, we can ignore Him or we can rely on Him. We can go our own way or go His way. But the presence of the Holy Spirit is a powerful evidence of our relationship with God, our trustworthy and reliable position upon which our faith rests.

I certainly don’t “wish” I had the Holy Spirit. To be honest, His conviction can be decidedly uncomfortable. But having the Holy Spirit also means I have access to His gifts and His fruit and His intercession in prayer and His guidance and more. I don’t pretend to understand all about the Holy Spirit, or the Triune God, for that matter, but I do know believing Him, counting Him trustworthy and reliable, is nothing like wishful thinking.

But I don’t know if people who rely on something else can see the difference.

Published in: on October 29, 2019 at 5:49 pm  Comments (17)  
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By Grace Alone, Through Faith Alone


A significant anniversary for Christians is approaching. On October 31, five hundred and two years ago, the grace of God once again took its rightful, prominent place in Christianity. Consequently, I’m re-posting this article from three years ago, with revisions, in commemoration of what God has done.

Part of my growing up included a spiritual education, so I learned early on that I was a sinner in need of a Savior. I understood that I could not do enough good things to make up for the bad. And I understood that no one could help me because they had their own sin problem. No one, except Jesus. His being the only sinless person who ever lived, qualified Him to be the Lamb of God who took away the sins of the world for those who believed.

So nothing I did or could do would merit me to be acceptable to God. Only Jesus, standing in my place, taking the punishment I deserved, solved my sin issue.

Because I understood the basics of salvation at an early age, I have never grasped what it would be like to live any other way.

I’ve heard Jews and Catholics and Greek Orthodox joke in a knowing way about the guilt instilled in them by their religion, or more specifically, by someone who was holding them to a strict adherence to their religion—a parent, a priest, a teacher. I’ve also heard people refer to Christians as bound by guilt.

That thought seems odd to me. I don’t recall a time in my life when I’ve felt guilt-driven.

So I’ve been spoiled because I’ve believed from my youth that I’m forgiven because of God’s grace.

Christians haven’t always had this understanding. There was a period of time when grace took a back seat to doing good works, as the Church defined them. No doubt some people who were saved, gained that right standing with God because of His grace, but they were perhaps less aware of His free gift.

All that changed when Martin Luther went public with the results of his own doubts, questions, and struggles to understand God. On October 31, 1517, Luther sent a paper he’d written to his bishop: “Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences.” This document became known simply as the Ninety-five Theses. Whether Luther ever attached a copy of the document to the door of the church at Wittenberg is a matter of contention, as was the document itself, when it first appeared.

But from the thoughts, question, and issues Luther looked at, grew the bedrock of Protestantism and a reformation (though more slowly, it would seem) of the Catholic Church, which is what he intended. Luther challenged the practice of selling indulgences, by which the priests grew richer because of the desire of the poor to do what they could to insure the salvation of their loved ones.

Luther contended that salvation depended on God, not on humans:

The most important [truth of Christianity] for Luther was the doctrine of justification—God’s act of declaring a sinner righteous—by faith alone through God’s grace. He began to teach that salvation or redemption is a gift of God’s grace, attainable only through faith in Jesus as the Messiah. “This one and firm rock, which we call the doctrine of justification,” he wrote, “is the chief article of the whole Christian doctrine, which comprehends the understanding of all godliness.” (see “Theology of Martin Luther,” Wikipedia)

Luther had much Scripture to support his position, not the least of which is Ephesians 2:8-9—“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

The work is God’s, Luther proclaimed. A worker giving his copper to the church would not save the soul of his dead brother.

When I was growing up, I’d never heard of indulgences or even doing something to help a dead person reach heaven. The works I knew about were the kinds of things people did to make themselves acceptable to God. And these works included good things: going to church, reading the Bible, giving money to the poor, going on a short term mission trip, and so on. Good things.

But just like Paul’s list of good Jewish things recorded in Philippians, this Christian list of good things amounts to rubbish if its considered the means to a relationship with God. Paul’s birth status, circumcision, religious affiliation, and even his personal righteousness, were nothing in view of the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ (Phil. 3).

Essentially Martin Luther discovered and proclaimed what Paul had learned through his own quest. The two men were similar. They both wanted to please God, and they both went about it by trying to be good enough for Him based on the good things they did. Both eventually realized that there weren’t enough good things in the entire earth to make them good enough, but that God had given right standing with Himself as a free gift through Christ Jesus.

That’s grace.

Nothing earned here.

A free gift.

Undeserved.

I know that rankles American minds—perhaps the minds of others, too. But in this culture today we have two competing philosophies—an independent, “earn your own way” mentality, and an entitlement, “you deserve it” belief. God’s free gift is an affront to both of those positions. We humans don’t get to take credit for salvation, no matter how you look at it. We didn’t earn it, and we aren’t so wonderful that it ought to have been handed to us based on our incredible merit.

Luther did the hard work of sussing out from Scripture this truth, and I’m incredibly grateful.

Thanks be to God for His free gift of salvation, and thanks be to Him for teaching this truth to Martin Luther so that he could make it widely known.

Saying No To Free Gifts



Photo by Lisa Fotios from Pexels

When I was a kid, we had a mother cat that delivered six or seven beautiful kittens. We couldn’t keep them, of course, so we put an ad in the newspaper for free kittens. No one came to claim one.

The same thing sometimes happens today. Authors, from time to time, offer free things—perhaps a free ebook or a short story that someone can download for free. Some even hold drawings in which a winner will receive some cool prize.

So, why doesn’t everyone who hears about these freebies, grab the opportunity to order or download or enter?

I’ve thought of several possibilities:

1. They already have whatever is being offered and don’t think they need another.
2. They don’t want to take the time to order or download or fill out an entry form.
3. They don’t want to give the required information.
4. They don’t think the give away will be as good as it sounds or that they have a chance of winning.
5. They see so many give-aways, they are numb to them and barely notice them.
6. They don’t want the thing that’s offered.

As you might have guessed, this post isn’t about promotional giveaways. Actually there is a clear parallel between those who decide to say no to an author’s giveaway, and those who say no to God’s great giveaway: the free gift of salvation, offered on the basis of His grace through faith in the sacrificial death and resurrection of His Son.

The first reason seems to me to be common. Those who say no to God’s free gift of salvation don’t think they need salvation. Maybe they think they’re good enough or that God is such a good guy he’ll overlook their reprehensible thoughts and behavior. After all, there are so many who are worse. You know, murderers and the like, people who nobody wants to hang with for eternity. As long as they’re not as bad as those guys, then maybe they can get by without forgiveness.

Another possibility is that they think they can do enough to earn their own salvation. Maybe they ascribe to the “I don’t take charity” motto. Or maybe they think they shouldn’t need salvation and are too proud to let everyone know they actually do.

Secondly, I suspect there’s a good number who say no to God’s free gift because they’re too busy to pay attention to His offer. They don’t want to slow down to find out what exactly they would have to do and how their lives would change if they said yes. They might even promise themselves “someday,” thinking they’ll give it more thought later.

Undoubtedly there are some in a third camp—they wouldn’t mind a free gift if the price weren’t so high. You know, if there weren’t strings attached. Sure, it’s free, but there’s personal information they have to disclose—sins they have to confess, truths they have to believe. Getting to a place where they are willing to be so personal is asking too much, in their book.

Fourth, it’s possible some say no to God’s free gift of salvation because they don’t think it’s real. They think He doesn’t exist, or that He isn’t good. Some few might think their lives have been so unutterably evil that God couldn’t possibly extend salvation to them; it just can’t be true.

A fifth reason for saying no to God is that there are so many offers on the table, each saying this about God or that or the other. He’s interested in making you healthy and wealthy, he hates gays, he will bring everyone into heaven eventually, he is one with the universe—in us all and all of us in him–and so on. Who knows if the story about Jesus dying in their place to pay for their sins, is reliable and true? There are just so many other possibilities.

Lastly, there are undoubtedly some who say no to God’s free gift of salvation because they don’t want to see Him showing up in their house, at their place of business, at their parties, or any of the other places they hang out. Salvation, frankly, isn’t appealing because God is attached to the gift. They don’t want “such a tyrant” bossing them around.

Amazing, isn’t it? Something so valuable, so necessary, so life-changing, and yet person after person refuses the free gift. They have their reasons, after all.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

This article is based in large part, on one that appeared here with this same title in September, 2012.

Published in: on August 23, 2019 at 5:12 pm  Comments (15)  
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Belief In What?


This question, belief in what, might not be one that other people ask. Maybe it’s obvious to them, but not to me, at least not when I first thought about the question. It came up again today as I looked at a passage in James. His explanation in the second part of chapter 2 is that Christians must have some action that gives life to their faith. At one point he says, “The demons also believe and shudder.” Believe in what?

Well, his previous statement was this: “You believe in God, you do well.” So the demons, apparently, “believe in God.” And that causes them to react in fear, not in faith. So “believing in God” is not enough. Saying, I believe God exists. Is not enough. I believe that God is the supreme authority in the universe—that He is One—is not enough.

So, what are we to believe?

I want to say, We are to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, because believing in Him sets apart Christians from other “faith communities.” In other words, from other people who believe something, but not that Jesus is Lord.

But what about Abraham and all the other saints of the Old Testament? Abraham is particularly easy to discuss because both the Old and the New Testaments say, And Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. He believed God.

But what about God did He believe? In the Old Testament context when the statement was first made about Abraham (Genesis 15:6), God had just promised him that he would have as many descendants as the stars of the sky, that he would possess the land upon which he stood. Then Abraham believed in the LORD. Abraham went from calling on God to believing in the LORD. I mean, he’d left his home back in Ur because God told him to do so, back when he was calling upon God.

Now, however, these years later, his belief is counted as righteousness. What did he believe? Not that God existed. He’d believed that before. But now he believed the promise of God, the word of God. He believed that God was telling him the truth, even though he clearly would not live to see all the things happen that God said would happen. He didn’t need to see God keep His promises. He believed He would.

God’s promises, essentially, can be boiled down to one: the coming of His Son, Jesus. No, He didn’t explain it all to Abraham. But He set in motion the coming of Jesus, born of a descendant of David, who was one of those many descendants of Abraham, which God promised.

So, believe in what? I guess I’d say, I believe in what God says, what He’s promised.

It’s really the fact that Adam did NOT believe in what God said that got him in trouble back in the Garden of Eden. God’s word is the thing Satan has attacked from that time until now. Further more, the enemy of our souls wants to bring God’s word in question at every turn. Has God really said ______. Fill in the blank. He even brought that same tactic to Jesus when he tempted Him. “If You are the Son of God. . .,” “If You are the Son of God . . .,” he repeatedly threw at Jesus. If You are the Word, he could just as easily have said, because that’s precisely what John told us about Jesus.

Hebrews reinforces this. God spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets, but in these last days has spoken to us in His Son. (See Heb. 1:1-2). We can essentially put in an equal sign: God’s Word=Jesus, God’s Word.

He is the promise Abraham believed. He is the promise we must believe today.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (Rom. 1:16)

The gospel. The Good News the angels told the shepherds on the day of Christ’s birth. The Good News “which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son” (Rom. 1:2b-3a).

Believing God, believing in God, is taking God at His word that He would and did send His Son. John said it plainly in his first letter:

The one who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself; the one who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has given concerning His Son. And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life. (1 John 5:10-12)

Published in: on August 22, 2019 at 5:39 pm  Comments (14)  
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What’s Satan’s End Game?


Satan and his end game for the world, for humanity, really for his own personal destruction, though he thinks it’s for his glory, is no secret. It’s what he’s planned from the beginning.

Some years ago, as part of our study in the book of Luke, our pastor showed something critical about Satan. But it starts first with why Luke said he was writing his book:

it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:3-4, emphasis mine)

The central purpose was so that Luke’s target audience, originally a man named Theophilus—but now the rest of us,too—would know the exact truth about the things “accomplished among us [the first century believers], just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word” (Luke 1:1b-2).

Luke then launches into an account of the birth of John the Baptist, the forerunner of the Messiah, interspersed with the angel’s announcement to Mary about Jesus’s coming birth, including this statement: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35b, emphasis mine).

Fast-forward thirty years and both Jesus and John are grown men. John was baptizing people in the Jordan and Jesus also came to him to be baptized. When he came out of the water, “the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove, and a voice came out of heaven, ‘You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased’ ” (Luke 3:22, emphasis mine).

Curiously, or so it would seem on the surface, Luke follows this account with a genealogy of Jesus. One thing His lineage shows is that He was a descendant of King David. But it doesn’t stop there. Rather it traces His heritage back to Abraham and beyond, until we get to this: “the son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God” (Luke 3:38, emphasis mine).

So in these opening chapters, Luke shown the angel telling Mary her child would be the Son of God, the Holy Spirit announcing that Jesus is the Son of God, and that by lineage He is the Son of God.

Enter Satan. Behind the particulars of the three recorded temptations Satan threw at Jesus is a central theme: “If You are the Son of God” (4:3b); “if You worship before me” (4:7a); “If You are the Son of God” (4:9b, emphases in all three are mine). Satan was calling into question Jesus’s identity—the very thing Luke had clearly established in the first three chapters.

This strategy is not so different from what Satan used in the garden with Eve. He suggested that God was holding back from her, that if she would eat of the fruit, she would be like Him. Satan’s key question was, “Indeed, has God said . . .” (Gen. 3:1b). Satan’s tactic, then, is to call into question God’s words and God’s Word, the Incarnate Jesus Christ.

I suggest Satan’s plan of attack has not changed over the years. He still wants people to doubt God Word and His words. Surely God didn’t really mean . . . And Jesus is The Way? Really?

The issues with which we’re confronted in our postmodern/post truth culture fit nicely with Satan’s strategy. Nothing can be known for certain, our society tells us, least of all the Bible. It’s gone through so much copying and translating, not to mention interpreting. How can we know what He really said? The best we can do is identify the particular truths as defined by a particular faith community, understanding that someone else with a different mindset may well see things differently.

So “do not kill” doesn’t necessarily include abortion; “men with men committing indecent acts” because God turned us over to our “degrading passions” due to our exchanging “the truth of God for a lie” (Romans 1) isn’t a statement against homosexuality; belief in creation instead of evolution is foolish dismissal of science; loving people is more important than loving a “wrathful tyrant God”; believing that hell awaits anyone is barbaric; and many more such beliefs.

Satan is working the audience. He’s getting applause, and he’s winning people to his side. He has the culture now asking, Did God say . . . And if the answer is, Yes absolutely, the accusations fly. How foolish to believe that, how hateful to say so, how cruel to claim it, how bigoted to think such. Accuse, accuse, accuse. But that’s what Satan is—the accuser of the brethren (Rev. 12:10). He finds it intolerable that we cling to what God has said.

The best way to fight such a spiritual enemy is to stand firm and hold fast. Scripture tells us that, too.

Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end (Heb. 3:12-14).

This post is a revised and updated version of one that appeared here in April, 2014.

False Teaching Really Is False


One of the objections to Christianity that I’ve heard atheists make is that anyone can say the Bible points to whatever they want, so all these “Christian” views are equally invalid, since they disagree with each other.

When I rebut that argument by declaring that words have meaning and there is actually an intended meaning in the Bible, which false teaching drifts from, I hear the common atheist objections that have cute and quick handles and serve as a way to dismiss the idea that false interpretations of the Bible are not the same as what the Bible actually says.

The fact is, false teaching has been around as long as the Bible itself. As it happens a number of New Testament writers warned the early church about these false ideas that distort what Jesus taught. Paul, for instance, said some where peddling a “false gospel.”

Later, in 1 Timothy 4:1 he warns his young student in the faith: “the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons.” Paul continues for another three verses, uncovering the false ideas that were going around at the time before he turns to some related practical matters: have nothing to do with “worldly fables,” discipline yourself spiritually, teach the truth, read and teach Scripture, and so on.

Perhaps no passages in Scripture come down harder on false teaching than do Jude and similarly, 2 Peter. Jude starts with this warning:

For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. (v 4)

The rest of the short letter is basically an indictment and warning of these mockers “who cause divisions” and are “worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit.”

Peter is just as straightforward, warning the early church of the dangers of deceitful teaching:

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. (1 Peter 2:1)

I think the key here is “denying the Master who bought them.” Today people who profess Christ “deny the Master who bought them” in a variety of ways. Some spiritualize His very existence—the Bible, they say, is not about a real, historical person but an idea, a good idea that we should try to emulate.

Others “sanitize” the New Testament. They believe Jesus was real, just not the miracle worker his followers claimed he was. The disciples exaggerated his deeds in order to get more people to follow them.

That one is particularly hard to believe because telling wild “Pecos Bill” type tales hardly seems like the way to convince others to believe. It seems more likely a way to create scoffers.

Still others completely distort who Jesus is: he’s just a man—God is not triune; he’s the son of God, as are we, as is Satan—spirit children conceived by God before time.

More subtle twists of the truth say things like, Jesus came to make us good and happy. He wants all His people to be rich and healthy and powerful. This one is particularly dangerous because there’s truth in the premise—just not in the working out of the idea.

God does want us healthy and happy—for eternity. To get there, He intends to fashion us in the image of Jesus. And that may involve suffering. And because we live in a fallen world, one which God has purposefully left us in, we know we will experience suffering and the cracking of this clay pot which we call our body. But thanks be to the Father. He promises to give us new homes, which includes new bodies. The 2.0 versions will be much better than the old models, though God uses the old to bring us to Himself.

All this to say, those who profess Christ are not equal. Some have conjured up a christ of their own imagining, based on the philosophies and traditions of men, some claiming an angel imparted this new and extra revelation to them. But some who profess Christ belong to the true Church, the bride of Christ who will be with Him forever.

The differences are vast, even though the claim of believing in Christ sounds the same. It is not.

Jesus As Lord


Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

The Bible reveals Jesus as many things—the Messiah, the Son of God, the Savior of the world, but it seems that the one thing God will make clear to all people at some point is that He is Lord.

For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil. 2:9-11)

When I think of “Lord” I think of authority. Interestingly, it was Jesus’s authority that caught people’s attention early on. The gospels record that people questioned the authority with which He taught, they wondered about (and some doubted) His authority over unclean spirits. And His disciples were especially amazed at His authority over elements in nature.

I’m also curious about the way that Satan interacted with Jesus in the three temptations recorded in the book of Matthew. One was a concession that Jesus was master over physical elements, acknowledging that He could turn stones into bread if He wanted. Another was a concession that He, or at least His Father, was master over the angelic host and could protect Him at will.

The third is the one that seems different. In the temptation involving who would rule the kingdoms of the world, Satan seems to be offering to trade what he had for what Jesus had—his power and control of the earthly kingdoms, for God’s position as Lord over all.

Jesus being God had that same position and authority.

Sadly, people in today’s western culture seem eager to bring Jesus down. For some time, other religions have acknowledged Jesus as a prophet, and it seems that view of Him is flooding into our Christianized societies. Hence, to many He is little more than a guru, a rabbi, a good teacher.

Even professing Christians belittle Him by limiting His work on earth to a “this is how it’s done” example for us to emulate. Given that Jesus lived a sinless life, we can undoubtedly learn by studying what He did and said. But Jesus as example should not supplant Jesus as Lord.

What Jesus said wasn’t just good thinking, wise advice, logical, helpful, and moral. It was right. It was true.

He spoke as the one person who knew the Father and who could reveal Him. He spoke from a position of omniscience, without any misconceptions or delusions. No one else could speak this way. Only Jesus. Only the One who is over all.

For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority (Col 2:9-10, emphasis added)

I find it especially interesting that Jesus’s half brother James started his letter “James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ …” Here’s a man who could have claimed a special relationship with Jesus on a human level but chose instead to identify himself as a servant for life to the Lord. Essentially he established his credentials to say what he was about to say by declaring his relationship with Jesus as Lord, not as brother or friend or even as Savior.

When I think about the fact that those words were inspired by the Holy Spirit, I get a picture of how God wants me to view Jesus.

This article is an edited version of one that first appeared here in June 2011.

Published in: on June 20, 2019 at 5:05 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Extraneous Theology


In a Facebook group to which I belong, another member used the term “extraneous theology.” I might not have given the phrase too much thought except for the fact that it was used in conjunction to a definition of “Christian”—someone who “professes and follows Christ.” All the rest, he went on to say, is “extraneous theology.”

Really?

The discussion began with the question about including books by Mormon writers in a list of titles considered Christian science fiction or fantasy. One person stated that Mormons are not Christians. To which the aforementioned member responded with the professing-and-following-Christ and extraneous-theology comment.

I don’t think the deity of Christ is extraneous. That’s the issue at stake when Christians want to include Mormons among the brethren. Someone else in this same group chided the membership for being overly concerned about who is in “the club.”

I’m not sure which point to answer first!

The Church is not a club. It’s the bride of Christ. All may be included.

The gospel of Matthew records a parable Jesus told of a king who invited people to his son’s wedding feast. Presumably he began by inviting those close to him—neighbors and friends. But they refused to come. So he told his servants to go out into the streets and invite whoever they encountered, “both good and evil.”

Christianity is not an exclusive club—apart from this one thing: Christians accept God’s invitation to His banquet. Well, there’s one other thing.

One of the guests in Jesus’s parable showed up without the proper attire. “A man [was] there who was not dressed in wedding clothes” (Matt. 22:11b). When the king asked him why, he had no answer so he was thrown out. Worse, he was punished.

So, were those who attended the wedding feast a special club? How could that be if everyone was invited? Were the requirements for attending the wedding feast “extraneous”? Hardly. Seems like they were necessary.

In the same way, understanding who Jesus is falls into the necessary category. Mormons understand him to be a created being, the brother of Satan. A number of years ago I did some research on this subject. Here’s what I found regarding Mormon beliefs

About God and Jesus (source for these excerpts, Truthnet.org):

  • “God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man…”(Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 345)
  • “The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangilble as man’s; the Son also; but the Holy Spirit has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit…” (Doctrine and Covenants, 130:22)
  • “As man is, God once was: as God is, man may become” (Prophet Lorenzo Snow, quotedin Milton R. Hunter, The Gospel Through the Ages, 105-106)
  • Remember that God, our heavenly Father, was perhaps once a child, and mortal like we ourselves, and rose step by step in the scale of progress, in the school of advancement; has moved forward and overcome, until He has arrived at the point where He now is” (Apostle Orson Hyde, Journal of Discourses, 1:123)
  • When our father Adam came into the garden of Eden, he came into it with a celestial body, and brought Eve, one his wives, with him. He helped to make and organized this world. He is Michael, the Archangel, the Ancient of Days! About whom holy men have written and spoken—He is our FATHER and our GOD, and the only God with whom we have to do” (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 1:50)
  • Jesus is the brother of Satan this is revealed in the Pearl of Great Price, Book of Moses 4:1-4 and affirmed by Brigham Young in the Journal of Discourses, 13:282)

Let me add a statement from a Mormon site:

Like most Christians, Mormons believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Creator of the World. However, Mormons hold the unique belief that God the Father and Jesus Christ are two distinct beings. Mormons believe that God and Jesus Christ are wholly united in their perfect love for us, but that each is a distinct personage with His own perfect, glorified body (see D&C 130:22).

Mormons believe that all men and women ever to be born, including Jesus Christ, lived with God as His spirit children before this life. God wanted each of us to come to earth to gain experience, learn, and grow to become more like Him. But God also knew that His children would all sin, die, and fall short of His glory. We would need a Savior to overcome our sins and imperfections and reconcile us with God. Mormons believe that Jesus Christ was chosen to be this Savior long ago during our premortal life with God. We shouted for joy when we were presented with God’s glorious plan for His children (see Job 38:7). [emphaes are mine]

Notice the intro, “like most Christians.” Mormons, or Latter Day Saints of Jesus Christ, which is their official name, want very much to be accepted as part of the mainstream of Christianity. They are not. What they believe about Jesus (let alone the concept of our preexistence as “spirit children,” God having a physical body, and much more) shows that they do not agree with what Scripture teaches.

Is the deity of Jesus “extraneous theology”? Clearly not. Why are so many Christians blinded by externals? In truth, Mormons live upright lives. They believe in “family values.” They are good citizens, for the most part (except for the small portion that clings to the original Mormon doctrine about polygamy). They are kind and welcoming and friendly. In all likelihood, Mormons make good neighbors. They certainly have a close-knit community, and they support their writers. But these things do not make them Christians! Beyond these externals lie the false ideas about Jesus.

Perhaps the starting place is for us to learn the difference between extraneous and essential theology. Who Jesus is, is pretty much at the core of Christianity.

Sunday “Christians”


Photo by Joshua Eckstein on Unsplash

Sunday Christians may not be Christians. Only God knows. A couple of the pastors I listen to on the radio when I’m doing dishes or the like, repeatedly challenge their congregation—and by extension, those of us listening to the broadcast—to examine our hearts to see if we are of the faith, because it’s too, too easy to sit Sunday after Sunday in a church service and not actually be saved.

But how is that possible? someone may ask.

One way is to sit under the instruction of false teachers who “tickle our ears.” Of course, no one forces us to choose false teachers. This is something we do because we like it that way: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, (2 Tim. 4:3)

In other words, these false teachers are giving people what they want to hear, but it’s not the gospel.

Another way people calling themselves Christians may not actually be Christians, is if they see their “religious activity” as their ticket to heaven. In other words, going to church is just one activity on a list that they can check off and add to the “good deeds” side of the ledger. In their mistaken way of thinking, as long as the good outweighs the bad, they can bank on heaven for their future home. It’s sort of like depositing money in your savings account so when it comes time to buy a new house, you have a sufficient down payment.

Sadly, for these folk, salvation doesn’t work that way.

There’s a third category, and of course, there well may be Christians in this group. Only God knows their hearts. These are people who come to church, listen, say they believe, and then go away and live their lives as if they are just like everyone else. In other words, their Christianity does not inform their daily lives—what they say, how they work, what they do on their free time—none of it.

Some actually think this is a good thing. The more they can blend in with society, the better they think it is. They don’t want to look too radical, too focused on “just Christianity.” They want the empirical data to govern their every-day lives and the Bible to govern their spiritual lives—never the twain should meet.

What I don’t see or understand is how this approach fits in with the Lordship of Jesus Christ. He told us that we who would follow Him should take up our crosses daily. We are to die to self, and we are to live for Christ. This approach requires a total reordering of our lives, our priorities, our purposes. Can a person be a Christian without such a renewed approach to life?

Maybe. God only knows. I mean, none of us enters the Christian life as fully formed, mature believers with all the right priorities. We talk about growing in our faith because we do need to develop from little seedlings into more sturdy plants, on our way to fully developed trees that will withstand the storms of life. We simply don’t start there once we acknowledge our need for a Savior and turn to Jesus for our redemption.

The point is, can a person be saved and still look like pretty much everyone else? Maybe. Maybe the Holy Spirit hasn’t convicted them about things others see in their lives. They might think there’s nothing wrong with porn, for example, because the world tells them nothing is wrong with porn. But at some point the Holy Spirit will convict a true believer and they will deal with that sin in their lives.

We all face this sort of roller coaster experience in our Christian lives. We repent and then find ourselves needing to repent all over again. To repent means to turn from, but our turning too often seems like a U-turn. We can’t seem to continue on the path of righteousness that God would have us walk. We want to. We pray to. And we see our baby steps taking us along the way more and more, but not all at once. Never all at once.

So who’s to say that another person is a believer or not?

Of course if they say they’re not, they’ve answered the question for us. If they think they are, but are sitting under false teaching, that’s pretty easy to see they have deluded themselves. Same with those who think doing religious duty is the same as following Christ.

Truly, becoming a Christian requires us to declare who Jesus is, what He’s done, why we need Him.

Who is He? Jesus is God’s Son who died for the world, to pay they penalty for our sins which we have no way of paying for on ourselves. He is Lord—not only in a future sense when every knee will bow to Him, but now, in my heart.

What has He done? He’s stepped in to do what we could not do for ourselves. He’s become the Mediator between God and humanity. He’s made it possible for humans to see God and to know Him and to enter into a relationship with Him.

Why do I need Him? Because I’m a sinner and have no way to reach God on my own. I’m mired in the world system, entangled by my own evil desires. I need Jesus to rescue me from the “dominion of darkness.”

In the end, I don’t want to go my own way any more. But sometimes I do. I wish it weren’t true, but that’s the reality Paul described in Romans 7—“For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want” (v. 19).

So, do Sunday Christians exist or are they all pretend Christians who don’t exhibit a sold-out lifestyle? I have no doubt that some are saved and some are not. God knows who’s who. My responsibility is to examine my own life, to lay it before God, and ask Him where He wants me to grow in order to become conformed to the image of His Son. I really have no way of doing that for anyone else.

Published in: on June 11, 2019 at 5:41 pm  Comments (5)  
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