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Can You Lose Your Salvation? Part 3

Why do some believe you can lose your salvation?

I will share four reasons I encounter most when I discuss this topic.

1.   They believe the position of their church.

For some their view is tied to a foundational belief their church holds concerning salvation.  Some churches are Calvinistic (teachings of John Calvin), which teaches followers of Jesus Christ cannot lose their salvation. It is an essential part of this system of belief.  God sovereignly chooses the elect (those who will believe) and cannot lose anyone He chooses.  Examples of Calvinistic churches are Presbyterian Church in America, Dutch Reformed churches, and Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church.

The other major view on the opposite side is an Arminian belief (teachings of Arminius).  A person freely chooses to follow Jesus and can freely at any point in time reject Him and leave Christianity.  Some churches that teach this are the Roman Catholic Church, the Nazarenes, and the Wesleyans.

People holding either of these two positions may not know the reasons why they believe a person can or cannot lose their salvation.  They simply believe it because their church teaches it.

 2.   They know people who made a confession of faith and turned away.

We all know people who have said they trusted Christ and yet today reject Christianity.  To some it seems if they at one time were saved and today turn their back on Christ, they obviously lost their salvation.  In my own experience I knew a young college student named Mike who helped me do ministry at a church and seemed to be on fire for the Lord.  We spent hours praying together, talking about Jesus and teaching others about the Bible.  Then after going away to graduate school he came back changed.  He now rejected Jesus as His Lord.  Mike told me my faith was built on the opinions of others and that I blindly believed their characterization of Jesus.  He said he had finally started thinking for himself and was now an atheist.  I was in shock!  He had seemed so grounded in what he believed.  One explanation some people would have is he lost his salvation.

 3.   They believe it helps keep people from sinning.

Some people believe if we cannot lose our salvation, we have opened the door to a person sinning all she wants.  What’s to stop us without the carrot of losing our salvation?  Therefore, these individuals conclude once saved always saved cannot be true.  They say we need to stay on our toes through the fear of losing our salvation.  If not the sin door will swing wide open and then anything goes.

 4.   There are passages in the Bible seem to teach you can lose your salvation. 

If there weren’t passages in the Bible that seem to show someone could lose their faith, I don’t think the above reasons would make a strong enough case.  I have to admit there are some passages that are difficult to understand and seem to indicate a person can be a follower of Jesus and then later reject Him.  I will tackle the two primary Biblical passages utilized by many people to demonstrate someone can lose his or her salvation.

Go to part 4 here

 

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Can You Lose Your Salvation? Part 2

As I tackle this question I am not doing it without some personal investment.  I too have family members and close friends who have at one time professed a faith but currently reject Christianity.  This is not an easy subject.

What does salvation mean?  Salvation is to be right with God through faith and upon death to come into the presence of God.  Salvation cannot be earned by doing good works.  The Apostle Paul writes, Ephes. 2:8-9 “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; [9] not as a result of works, that no one should boast.”  Salvation is by grace alone by faith alone.  Both the Old and New Testaments teach the same salvation.  Moses writing about Abraham, “Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.” (Genesis 15:6)  Abraham was right with God through belief or by faith.

What are the elements of salvation or a saving faith?

The Bible seems very clear that saving faith involves the entire person; mind, emotions, and will.  Let’s look at each one.

    • Intellectual accent – True belief involves the intellect

Information is vital to growing in knowledge. In Christianity the facts matter.  Biblical faith is defined as knowledge that leads to action.  Knowledge is supported by evidence that appeals to our intellect.  When we hear the truth we respond with belief.

Romans 10:14 “How then shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?”

Paul writes a non-Christian cannot believe unless someone brings him the good news.  This makes a good case for why we need to not only live like Jesus but we also have to talk about Him.  Once we hear about Jesus we can either accept or reject. Faith is a personal commitment to believe Jesus died on the cross to pay for your sins.

However, knowledge is not enough.  We read in James 2:19 “You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.”  Here we see knowledge alone will not save anyone.  Even the demons have spiritual knowledge and are still condemned.  Their problem is they refuse to submit their will to God.  This leads to the second element of saving faith.

    • Commitment of the will – True belief involves the will

Romans 10:9-10“That if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; 10 for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.”

Here we see believing and submitting our will to the authority of Jesus working side-by-side.  Our confession that Jesus is God and authority over our life comes as an outworking of the belief in the heart.  A true confession is part of right belief.

In the early church the heart symbolized our entire being; to believe in the heart was to encompass our heart, soul, and mind.  The point of the passage is an outward confession stems from an inward conviction resulting in a submission of the will to Jesus.  We become followers of Jesus; we make Him ruler over our life.

Further we see in John 1:12 saving faith is more than an intellectual exercise.  “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name,” John 1:12 (NASB).  The receiving is an act of the will.  Remember saving faith is knowing that leads to action; the action here to receive the free gift of God’s saving grace and commit our lives to Him.

    • Brokenness – True belief involves the emotions

Here we sense our brokenness over our rebellion against God.  God is not interested in us telling Him how lucky He is to know us.  Jesus spoke of a Pharisee who once did that in the temple. He told God all the good things he did and he was not like the lowly tax collector, who was also in the temple praying.  God was not impressed with this Pharisee.  However, he was impressed with the tax collector.  He came before God with his hands empty, his heart heavy, and knew he fell short of God’s standard.  He simply said, “God have mercy on me, a sinner.”  No arrogance, no strutting his stuff; just heartfelt sorrow over breaking God’s laws.  Jesus then says this man, the tax collector and not the Pharisee, left the temple right with God.

With our mind we intellectually believe the truth, with our will we receive the free gift and follow, and with our emotions we humbly bow before God broken and asking for God’s mercy.  Paul writes about this…2 Cor. 7:10 (NASB)  “For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation; but the sorrow of the world produces death.”

Worldly sorrow leads to death but Godly sorrow, admitting we have broken God’s commandments leads to eternal life.  Repentance of sin is turning from our moral wrongs and turning to God.

The vital elements of a saving faith are intellect, will, and emotions.  They are all essentials of a true salvation.

Go to part 3 here

 

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Can You Lose Your Salvation? Part 1

Question:  After becoming a Christian, can you lose eternal life?

I am beginning a new series.  The focus will be theological. Inside the Christian Church there is disagreement on this issue.  Some believe you can lose your salvation and others say once saved always saved.  I am going to make the case a person who is a spirit filled believer cannot lose his or her salvation.  However, I will acknowledge there are good people on both sides of this issue and I am open to counter arguments.

Mike, a youth pastor friend of mine, visited two former high school ministry leaders who had graduated and were now attending San Diego State.  He had not seen them for months and was curious how they were doing.  These individuals were strong Christians and the previous year were great leaders for his High school group.  Both were popular, athletic and on fire for the Lord.  What he found out stunned him.

At breakfast the first young man told him he was now a baptized Mormon and believed strongly that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God and the Mormon Church was the one true church.  Mike was stunned.  He tried to reason with him but couldn’t convince him otherwise.  The doctrines this young man now believed contradict the Bible.  Mike thought to himself, how could this have happened? He left discouraged but was ready to meet his other student leader.

At lunch he encountered a second shock.  His other high school ministry leader now was an outspoken atheist.  He said intellectually he could no long embrace the Christian faith.  Mike again made an effort to reason with him but to no avail.  He was more than ready to argue with Mike against the Christian faith.  It was a very depressing visit.

How could this happen?  How could two young men, both under 20, drastically turn against classical Christianity?  Just months ago both would have staunchly defended their Christian beliefs; now they were ready to attack them.

The vast majority of us know someone who has at one time professed to be a Christian but today reject the teachings of the Bible and Christianity.  The tough part is that some of these individuals are family members or close friends and we ponder how God is going to deal with them.

Does God still see them as Christians?  Did they lose their salvation?  Or were they never a Christian?  These are the questions I will tackle over the next few weeks.

Go to Part 2 here

 

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Should Abortion be Legal?

Question:  How do you argue against abortion being legal?

Answer:  Science and philosophy both support the pro-life arguments.  However, science cannot dictate morality, it can only inform morality.  The following is a philosophical argument that demonstrates why abortion should be illegal.  It was written by Clinton Wilcox in a blog called, “Philosophical Arguments Destroy ‘Pro-Choice’ Case on Abortion[1].”

A syllogism is simply an argument composed of premises that lead to a conclusion. A basic syllogism has two premises and one conclusion, but arguments can have more premises, and even more conclusions, than that. Here is a basic example of a syllogism:

P1: All men are mortal.
P2: Socrates is a man.
P3: Therefore, Socrates is mortal.

This is an example of deductive logic. Deductive logic argues from a general idea (that all men are mortal) to a specific case (that Socrates, being a man, is mortal). A premise is made up of a statement that can either be true or false. If all the premises are true, then the conclusion can’t be false.

If the conclusion follows necessarily from the premises, then the argument is valid. An invalid argument is one where the conclusion doesn’t follow from its premises. An argument is sound if it is valid, and all of its premises are true. If the argument is invalid, or if it can be demonstrated that one or all of the premises are false, then an argument is unsound. So an argument can be valid, but unsound. An argument can even be invalid, but have a true conclusion (you just arrived at it through bad reasoning). But an argument can’t be invalid and sound.

The argument I generally make for the pro-life position is as follows:

P1: It is prima facie immoral to kill a human being.
P2: Abortion kills a human being.
C: Therefore, abortion is immoral.

Premise one can be supported because human beings are inherently valuable based on the kind of thing they are, human beings. All human beings have the inherent capacity as rational, moral agents. It is just as immoral to kill an infant as it is to kill an adult.

The term prima facie is Latin for “at first sight.” I insert this phrase because most pro-life advocates agree that sometimes killing is justified, such as in self-defense. Some pro-life people believe that capital punishment and just war are also justified forms of killing. The idea here is that under most circumstances, it is wrong to kill a human without moral justification. Abortion is an unjustified form of killing.

Premise two is supported through science. We know that all human beings are living human organisms from fertilization.  So the conclusion necessarily follows. If it is immoral to kill human beings, and the unborn are human beings, then it is immoral to kill them.

So we see that it’s immoral, but should it be illegal? Well, I add a premise and a conclusion to show that abortion should also be illegal. My updated argument looks like this:

P1: It is prima facie immoral to kill a human being.
P2: Abortion kills a human being.
C1: Therefore, abortion is immoral.
P3: The unjustified killing of human beings is illegal (e.g. murder).
C2 (from P2 and P3): Therefore, abortion should be illegal.

Premise three is supported because we do make the unjustified killing of human beings, like murder, illegal. In all civilized societies, murder is always illegal (although we sometimes disagree over what constitutes murder).

So conclusion two necessarily follows that abortion should be illegal.

This is sound reasoning making the case why abortion should be illegal.  When I discuss abortion with people who call themselves pro-choice they almost always use two tactics.  First pro-abortionists move away from logic and science and try to make their case for keeping abortion legal emotionally.  Especially, when confronted with someone who understands the pro-life logic and can make a rational case.  They will ask you if you are against abortion in cases of rape, extreme poverty or Down’s syndrome in order to justify killing them.  In these instances and others similar to these, there is only one question that needs to be answered.  Is the baby human?  If the baby is human then according the logic above, it is wrong to kill an innocent unborn baby and should be illegal in all cases (an exception is life of the mother).

The second tactic is to focus on the needs of the woman and avoid mentioning the baby at all.  I’ve read pro-abortion article after article that speaks about a woman’s right to her body and avoid talking about the baby.  This is why visual images are so important in this debate.  The images move the debate from abstract arguments and woman’s rights to reality.  I offered a friend a 5 minute video that shows actual abortion baby limps and bodies, along with a video sequence inside the womb of a baby during a saline solution abortion.  I admit these images are disturbing and graphic but they strongly make the case a human baby is being killed, not just a thing to be discarded.  He has yet to accept my offer.

Armed with logic, truth and graphic images I believe it is possible to move society and lawmakers towards making abortion illegal and saving millions of lives.

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What if They Never Heard About Jesus? Part 2

Understanding the Christian Worldview

Question:  Are people who have never heard of Jesus going to hell?

Answer: In Part 1 I covered the first false assumption a person makes in asking this question.  No one goes to hell for not accepting Jesus; they go to hell for breaking God’s law.  Here is the second false assumption. There is such a thing as a noble savage; that there exist people in the most remote parts of the world who are truly seeking after God but can’t find Him.  No one was there to tell them about Jesus.  Are you saying God holds them responsible?

God has not hid himself.  He has revealed himself to everyone.  Acts 17:27, “God did this [created the world and gave all men life] so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.”   God is close to this “noble savage” no matter where he is living.  Psalm 19:1-4 “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 display knowledge.  There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.  Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”  Here we see the heavens reveal God’s existence; they pour forth speech.  Everyone can look to creation and see God’s handiwork.

Romans 10:18 the Apostle Paul is speaking about the unbelieving Israelites and quotes Psalm 19:4, “But I ask:  Did they (Israelites) not hear?  Of course they did:  ‘Their voice has gone out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.’”  God did not leave us without a witness of His existence.  When people go out to the desert and in the evening look into a cloudless sky they blurt out the words, “Oh my God.”  They see the massive number of stars.  All creation shows the truth of God.

The clearest Biblical evidence about God’s judgment and revelation is Paul’s writings to the church in Rome.  He was addressing all mankind.  Romans 1:18-20 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.”  Man says I never knew about you and God says yes you did.  The noble savage is without excuse because he suppresses the truth in unrighteousness.  He doesn’t want the God of the universe to exist.

Who should we believe?  Do we believe God or people who claim they are looking but cannot find Him?  Yet we look at the cross and read the Gospel narratives to see what it cost God to rescue man.  You realize God is not going to all that trouble to save people through the death of His Son Jesus Christ only to hide eternal life from us.  All that pain, humiliation and then go out and trick people.  Romans 1:19 says God has made his presence known within all of us.  How do people respond to this God that reveals himself to them?  They run away!

What is God’s response to those who reject Him?  God will hold them accountable for their sins.  Psalm 5:5 “. . . You [God] hate all who do wrong.”  Psalm 11:5 “The Lord examines the righteous, but the wicked and those who love violence his soul hates.”  God is going to judge men who break his laws and reject him.  Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Everyone on earth has broken God’s moral laws and earns judgment and spiritual death.  We deserve only punishment.

But God actively pursues us.  1 Tim. 2:4 “. . . who [God] wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”  1 Peter 3:9 “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.  He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”  God wants ALL to be saved.  However, men reject this salvation, so God has to act.  And He does.  John 6:44 “No one can come to me [Jesus] unless the Father who sent me draws him.”  The word draw in the Greek literally means to throw a net over the top and drag them.  We are not looking for God, we are running from God.  He pursues us.

People say, “I thought God didn’t tamper with our free will.”  This type of statement is not found in the Bible.  When we pray for non-Christians, what do we pray for?  We say, “God change the heart of my brother or my parents.”  We are asking God to interfere with their free will.  This is not to say we don’t have free will.  But if God doesn’t tamper with it nobody would believe in Him.

Paul was on the road to Damascus minding his own business. God blinds him and he falls to the ground.  Do you think God tampered with his free will?  God seeks guilty people because He loves them.  God’s love is an act of mercy when nothing is deserved but hatred, condemnation and punishment.  God’s love cost him something.  God pays for what he loves.  God sent his Son to die on the cross to pay the penalty we deserved.

When it comes to the noble savages, God always responds to the seeking heathen with revelation.  If anyone is seeking the true God, He will always respond.  Why?  God has already been working in that person’s life to draw him to Himself.  God wouldn’t pull the person to the door of salvation then slam the door in his face.  The heathen that seeks Him, God may respond by sending a missionary or by direct revelation of Himself in the form of a vision.  In the book by Don Richardson, “Eternity in Their Hearts,” he gives many modern day experiences where God reached natives in extremely remote areas.  If people anywhere in the world want to know the one true God of the universe, He will make Himself known to them.  However, most don’t want to know Him.  Unless God moves first they will not respond.  And He has moved.

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Part 2 Thomas called Jesus Lord and God – John 20:28

I will begin to test the beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses with my favorite scripture John 20:28.  Lately, I have used this verse in every one time encounter at my door or on the street.  It has been very effective and no one has adequately answered it.

 John 20:28 “Thomas answered and said to Him, ‘My Lord and my God!’”

Jesus had risen from the dead and appeared to the disciples.  However, Thomas was not present at that meeting.  As the disciples explained how Jesus appeared to them, Thomas said unless Jesus showed him the nail prints in His hands and feet and the hole in his side he would not believe.  Jesus then appears to Thomas and tells him to touch his wounds and believe.  We read verse 28: “Thomas answered and said to Him, ‘My Lord and my God!’”  Thomas clearly called Jesus the one true God.  This passage seems to contradict the doctrine of the Jehovah’s Witnesses that Jesus is a lesser god; a created being.

One explanation they have given me was Thomas was using God’s name in vain.  Similar to when we get frustrated and say, “My God what’s wrong with you?”

This is an extremely poor answer.  Nowhere in early religious writings or in the New Testament do we see a Jewish person or anyone making statements even close to “Oh my God.”  It was not part of the language during the time of Jesus or the early church.  This is a very recent expression.  Plus a very religious monotheistic Jew would never say something like that.  Using God’s name in vain would be breaking the 3rd commandment.  They revered the name of God.  In fact even today they do not even write the name of God.  What you see in much of the Jewish literature is G-d.  At the web site Judaism 101 the author writes this about God as the creator: “In general, Judaism views the existence of G-d as a necessary prerequisite for the existence of the universe.”  If Thomas was using God’s name in vain and thus breaking the 3rd commandment, we would expect to see Jesus correct him.  Instead in John 20:29, “Jesus said to him, ‘Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.’”  Jesus commends Thomas and anyone in the future who believe He is Lord and God.

A second explanation I have heard was that Thomas said to Jesus “My Lord” and then looked to heaven and said “My God.”  Witnesses say Thomas never called Jesus God, he was acknowledging Jehovah in heaven.

First, nowhere does the text say Thomas looked to heaven and prayed to the Father.  The Jehovah’s Witnesses simply assume their viewpoint is true and then trying to make sense of the verse.  This is a logical fallacy called circular reasoning.  The text doesn’t teach Jesus is a lesser god; they assume it.  Second, it says Thomas said to “him,” singular.  He was only addressing Jesus.  Therefore, the words “my Lord and my God” apply to Him alone.  Third, if Jesus was not God, Jesus should have rebuked Thomas for blasphemy.  Instead we see him commending him for what he said.  Fourth, the Greek text actually says, “The Lord of me and the God of me[1].”  In calling Jesus God, Thomas used the Greek words “ho theos” = the God.  A Jehovah Witness cannot add the article “a” here because in the Greek there already is the article “the.”  Therefore, Jesus cannot be a god, a mighty god, or a lesser god but is in fact almighty God.  Utilizing “ho theos” John is emphatically saying Jesus is “the God.”

I have never heard a good explanation for this text.  Most Jehovah’s Witnesses will not try to answer this verse but try to steer you to another set of verses.  In Biblical interpretation you should always interpret the unclear in light of the clear.  This verse clearly teaches Jesus is God.  Once this is understood then you can properly interpret those verses that could be deemed controversial.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses you share this with will walk away with a large stone in their shoe.  In one verse you have given them something to think about.

One morning I was jogging down a street and I saw two Jehovah’s Witnesses talking with a man; I knew I needed to get involved.  When I shared John 20:28 with one of them, he was stunned.  He couldn’t believe that Thomas called Jesus “the God.”  He said he would go home to check to see if the Greek actually said “ho theos.”  I don’t know if he ever followed up on what he said he’d do but if he did he would discover what I told him was true.  It could be he is no longer a Jehovah’s Witness.  This is why we share the truth in love.  You never know what God will do with a simple truth.

Go to part 3 here



[1] “The Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures,” Watchtower Bible and Tract Society 1985

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What if They Never Heard About Jesus? Part 1

Question:  This is one of the toughest questions to be asked in the public square. What about the heathen in Africa?  Are you trying to tell me that these people that live on another continent, live in another culture, worship another religion that they are going to hell because they don’t believe in Jesus?

Answer: One possible response is to say a person in Africa, who never heard of Jesus, cannot be held accountable by God.  Therefore God would have to automatically let him into heaven.  Is this what Jesus and his disciples taught?

If this was true then Christianity should immediately end all missionary trips and hide all Bibles.  We could stop all information about Jesus from being spread, which would prevent anyone from being held accountable for their sins.  If we were able to keep Christianity a secret then everyone would go to heaven.

This certainly doesn’t seem to be what Jesus had in mind when he gave the great commission to his disciples in Matthew 28:19.  Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” Jesus throughout the New Testament sent out his disciples instructing them to tell people about Him.  In multiple passages the Bible says we are to tell the world about Jesus for the forgiveness of sins.  The Scriptures also teach that everyone commits moral wrongs (Rom. 3:23) and is accountable for their sins (Rom. 6:23).  The scriptures say Jesus is the only solution to the sin problem (John 14:6; Acts 4:12).  So how do we answer this question?

We must deal with two false assumptions people have who pose this question.  First, no one goes to hell for not hearing the name of Jesus.  Jesus is not the problem but the solution.  People go to hell because they have broken God’s laws.  It is sin that separates people from God.

Many Christians have a mistaken view of the nature of salvation.  Usually we tell people the good news and leave out the bad.  We share God loves them and He will do great things in their life.  Go to a Buddhist and say accept Jesus and you will have peace.  The Buddhist will say I already have peace, why do I need Jesus.  Go to a New Age believer and say accept Jesus and you’ll get the Holy Spirit, speak in tongues, and work miracles.  This person will tell you I already speak in tongues and do miracles so why do I need Jesus.  What are you going to do now?  What we mistakenly do is present Jesus as if we are asking the person to join the Jesus club.  People are not condemned because they don’t believe in Jesus.  The fundamental issue is not belief but of behavior.

If there was such a thing as an innocent heathen, when he died he would go straight to heaven.  God does not punish the innocent.  Non-Christians don’t go to hell for wrong belief; they go to hell for behavior.  The real issue is not who has heard of Jesus, the real issue is who is innocent.  Where is the innocent heathen in Africa, South America, and Australia?  He doesn’t exist.  Every single person has broken God’s law and will be judged by God.  Rev. 20:12, “…The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.”  In this passage nothing is said about accepting Jesus.  They are not being judged for their belief but behavior.  The books that are opened contain every wrong the person has committed.

Jesus says we will even give an account of every idle word we speak.  Breaking God’s law is the issue.  If you never have had a traffic ticket and you run a stop sign, you will still get a ticket.  You get a ticket, not for being good all your life, but for breaking the law.  God doesn’t give us credit for following the law; it is what is expected.  Justice means if you break the law you pay.  James 2:10, For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.”  James says that if you break just one law you are a lawbreaker.  The point is God only punishes the guilty!

God does not owe us a pardon.  Some people think God owes us forgiveness.  In our government if we break a law, does the government owe us forgiveness?  Absolutely not!  We deserve punishment.  If we get leniency we don’t call that justice we call it mercy.  A woman receives in the mail her photographs and goes back to the photographer and complains, “These photos don’t do me justice.”  The photographer replies, “Lady you don’t need justice you need mercy.”  That’s what we need.  When it comes to the law we don’t want justice we appeal for mercy even though we deserve punishment.  God looks at mankind and if they are guilty of breaking His laws, He doesn’t owe anyone forgiveness.  We do not deserve mercy.  If He wants to pardon some it’s up to Him to do so.  The rest will get justice.

On Friday I will complete this post.

Go to part 2 here

 

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A Son will be given

Isaiah penned these words over 700 years before the birth of Christ.

“For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. 7 There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, On the throne of David and over his kingdom, To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness From then on and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this.”  Isaiah 9:6-7 (NASB)

These verses from Isaiah are a prophecy of a coming Messiah, one who will sit on the eternal throne of David and rule over His kingdom.  In the one person of Jesus the Messiah, there were two natures (one person, two natures): 100% undiminished deity and 100% true humanity.[1] Jesus was truly God and truly man. Isaiah 9:6 suggests the dual nature of Jesus.

  • In His humanity we read, “A child is born.”
  • In His deity: “A Son is given.”

Jesus, clearly, was a different person from the Father.  Sometimes He spoke in reference to His deity: “I and the Father are one [‘one essence,’ lit.].” (John 10:30) Jesus meant he was one divine essence with the Father, meaning only one God two persons.  Sometimes He spoke in reference to His humanity: “…the Father is greater than I” (John 14:28). Greater in terms of station not quality. The Father has a higher station because of the humbling, the Son coming to live as a man.

At other times, Jesus refers to different perspectives.  Jesus the man becomes hungry, tired; God cannot be hungry or tired.  “In Jesus’ humanity, He is subject to the Father because the Father is greater than His humanity. But in His deity, He is coequal with God the Father because He is of one essence with Him.” (Lindsey, p.81).

As we celebrate this Christmas, the baby born in Bethlehem, born to a virgin, born in a manger, we need to make sure we honor Him for who He is.  Jesus was more than a good teacher, more than a prophet, He was God incarnate.  And He told us what honor is due to Him.  Jesus said in John 5:23, “…that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father.  He who does not honor the Son does not honor the father, who sent him.”  Jesus is to be honored equal to God the Father because He is.

Isaiah 9:6 predicted a future king would be born.  At Christmas we remember and celebrate the fact that Jesus came to live the life we should have lived and on the cross, pay the penalty we couldn’t pay.  Only through Jesus can we be rescued from our moral wrongs.  Only by believing in this truth can we have eternal life.  This is the meaning of Christmas; a truth made evident in the Scriptures and fulfilled at the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Merry Christmas,

Steve Bruecker



[1] Lindsey, 80. [precise source unknown, Ed.]

 

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Ministering to Mormons in Utah Day 6

Friday July 6, 2012:  Again we tried to do a free car wash and this time the weather cooperated.  We had a handful of customers and some great conversations.  I had two that stood out.  One was with a LDS restaurant owner who volunteered at rest homes to give the last rites.  We spoke briefly about grace before his car was done.  I tried to leave him with the truth and a crack in his worldview foundation.

Another gentleman couldn’t believe we were giving free car washes.  I explained we were doing this to serve the community and to share the love of Jesus.  He said he was LDS.  We discussed the issue of the Book of Mormon and the lack of archeological evidence.  He said the LDS church had a special vault in Salt Lake City where they kept the sword of Nephi and other artifacts.  They kept the evidence locked up so they wouldn’t get stolen.  I said this practice was highly unusual because Biblical artifacts are freely displayed and they help establish the historical reliability of the Biblical record.  These artifacts in the vault would help the Book of Mormon.  And I asked why they don’t use them to lend historical support. He said he didn’t know.

I then began to talk about the burden of Mormonism.  I asked if he had assurance of reaching the highest possible heaven according to the teachings of the church.  He said he was working on it.  He then said he was trying to live by all the commandments.  I asked him how he was doing and he said not so well.  I told him in the Bible God said he needs to be perfect.  Matthew 5:48 “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  1 Peter he wrote something similar: 1 Peter 1:14-16 (NASB) As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, 15 but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; 16 because it is written, “YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.” 

I asked are you following the commandments perfectly.  He said no.  I then shared why we need a savior.  Jesus lived the life we were supposed to live.  He lived a sinless life and then went to the cross to pay the penalty for our sins.  He did what we could never do.  I said because of Jesus I have assurance of being in the highest heaven with God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

As he was leaving I challenged him to read Matthew and 1 Peter.  He said he’d look into it.  He seemed extremely interested in what I had to say.  It was a great conversation!

On our last evening in Salt Lake City we met with Rob Silvulka and his family.  He invited the team over for dinner.  Rob currently is the president of Courageous Christians United–a ministry that reaches out to all sorts of cults, false religions and philosophies. His mission work is primarily street preaching to the LDS.  Rob also runs a web site called Mormoninfo.com.  I enjoyed my interactions with Rob.

It was a great evening of relaxing and sharing stories of our week.  I told the group the week was like fishing in a hatchery.  It was so easy to get into a spiritual conversation with people who are out to convert you to their religion.  All you had to do was to be friendly, ask questions, and soon you would be talking about Jesus.  It was great!  I loved the entire week!

Temple Square from the roof of the Conference Center

 

Saturday July 7, 2012:  After a quick breakfast we drove the 13 hours back to Escondido.  All of us had special memories of the week.  We were now headed back to an environment where it is difficult to get into spiritual conversations; we are going to have to work much harder.  Looking back, our hope is through the power of the Holy Spirit, God will use our conversations and friendly demeanor to convict the hearts and minds of the LDS we spoke with.  We share and God saves.  Lord thank you for letting us participate in your plan.

Steve Bruecker

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This is the last of the challenging Scriptures I recommend to share with Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Over the years I have used the John 2:18-21 to demonstrate Jesus raised Himself from the dead and therefore must be God.  As before, the answers I have received from the typical Witness at my door have been rather weak.  However, through research I found that Bob Passantino of Answers to Action had taken that argument to another level.  It is his argument, with two additional points, I would like to present here.

      3.   John 2:18-21:  The Biblical Toolman: Three Biblical Doctrines in One Handy Passage

Next time you’re frustrated trying to share with your Jehovah’s Witness friend about how he’s been taught false doctrine by the Watchtower, don’t give up in frustration because there are too many issues to cover at one time. Instead, do what I do and ask your friend a simple question: “What would you do if I could show you one passage in Scripture that teaches the deity of Christ, Christ’s bodily resurrection from the dead and that death does not mean that you cease to exist?”

Jehovah’s Witnesses are taught that humans cease to exist when they die, that “resurrection” means to be recreated from Jehovah’s memory. They are taught to deny the doctrine of the Trinity and the deity of Christ. Jehovah’s Witnesses are also taught that Jesus was not raised physically from the dead, but was raised as a spirit creature.

It could take many hours to help a Jehovah’s Witness understand the errors he’s been taught by the Watchtower, to help him understand that the Bible really does teach that Jesus is and always has been God, that he did not cease to exist when he died, and that he was raised immortal in the same physical body that had died on the cross. Next time, use this one passage to show all three teachings at once.

John 2:18-21 contains a conversation Jesus had with Jews in front of the Jerusalem temple during his ministry. In this passage, John quotes Jesus, notes the response of those he is speaking to, explains what Jesus meant by what he said, and explains how his disciples came understand what he meant.  The passage reads this way:

Then the Jews demanded of him, “What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” The Jews replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.

Let’s look at the passage step by step. First, the basic meaning of the passage is that the skeptical Jews were asking Jesus to prove that he was the Messiah. He replied that although his body would die, he would raise himself from death to immortality to prove to them that he was the Messiah.

Jesus is claiming that after his death he will still have conscious existence – he must exist and have consciousness in order to raise himself. If Jesus continues to have conscious existence after the death of his body, then death must not mean that one ceases to exist. In fact, as we know well from many other passages, the dead are conscious and face the judgment of God, either of salvation through faith in Christ, or of condemnation by rejecting Christ. Matthew 25:46 promises, “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to life eternal.”

Jesus is also claiming (and John is affirming) that his resurrection would be bodily – in fact, the same body that was crucified on the cross. Jesus said, “Destroy this temple and I will raise it again.” John defines “this temple” as his body. Therefore, Jesus is declaring and John is affirming that Jesus was resurrected in a human body, the same body in which he lived and died. In fact, as we know from many other passages, Jesus’s resurrection is a bodily resurrection, not a “spirit” resurrection. Luke 24:39 quotes the resurrected Jesus assuring his disciples, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost [spirit] does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”

Finally, Jesus is also claiming to be God Almighty by claiming that he will raise himself from the dead. Although sometimes prophets were used by God to resuscitate people who have died, and Jesus raised others during his ministry, the power to resurrect someone from the dead never to die again, belongs to God alone. The Bible clearly declares that it is God who raised Jesus from the dead (see, for example, Acts 2:22, 24, 32, 36; Acts 3:13-15; Romans 10:9). In John 10, Jesus explains how it is possible for him to die and yet raise himself from the dead: as God he has the power to raise himself from the dead. He declares, “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life – only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again(John 10:17-18).

If you study John 2:18-21 in its context and understand exactly what Jesus and John mean by what is said in the passage, you can have an effective “multi-purpose tool” for sharing with your Jehovah’s Witness friends the truth about life after death, the deity of Christ, and Christ’s bodily resurrection. Remember to wait patiently for your friend to answer “What would he do?” if you could show all three teachings from one passage. When eternal life is on the line, one should be willing to follow Scripture no matter where it leads – even if it leads to renouncing what the Watchtower has taught and clinging to what Jesus declares in God’s Word.[1]

This is a powerful tool to share with your Jehovah’s Witness friend at your door.  As before my encouragement is to write some notes in the margin of your Bible to help you remember the key points and any supporting scriptures.  My hope is the entire series of scriptures I have shared to challenge a Jehovah’s Witness will be useful.  God, through the power of the Holy Spirit, can use these arguments to move an individual closer to the truth.   As ambassadors for Christ we need to be prepared to give an answer to the next Jehovah’s Witness we meet.  Study and share the truth in love and let God do the rest.



[1] Bob Passantino, “The Biblical Toolman: Three Biblical Doctrines in One Handy Passage” 2003, http://www.answers.org/theology/john2_19_21.html

 

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Were Godless Schools a Cause of the Sandy Hook Shooting?

Question:  Did the Connecticut school shooting occur because God and prayer have been almost completely removed from the public schools?  Was the lack of Biblical morality a major factor?

Answer:  There are times when I hear or read the words of a professing Christian and I have to cringe.  That’s what occurred when I heard what Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee said recently on Fox News just days after the shooting at the elementary school in Connecticut.  Part of me wanted to hide the fact that I follow Jesus.

Here are some of the words Mike Huckabee said on Fox News:

It’s an interesting thing. We ask why there’s violence in our schools but we’ve systematically removed God from our schools. Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage? Because we’ve made it a place where we do not want to talk about eternity, life, what responsibility means, accountability. That we’re not just going to have to be accountable to the police, if they catch us, but we stand one day before a holy God in judgment…  Maybe we ought to let [God] in on the front end and we would not have to call him to show up when it’s all said and done at the back end.

Why do I have a problem with what Huckabee said?  Three reasons: 1) The poor timing of his comments; 2) He seems to be setting up an “us versus them” mentality, and 3) He gives others the impression that if we still had prayer and Christian morality in the schools this wouldn’t have happened.

First let me comment on the timing of his comments.  I have non-Christian friends who are going to ask me, did you hear what Huckabee said?  What do you think?  And I am going to say exactly what I feel; he is an insensitive idiot.

What words do I think were needed at this time?  We should have heard from Huckabee words of compassion, love, and support for the families hurting from the loss of their child.  As a parent and grandfather, I cannot even imagine the pain those families are going through.  I tear up whenever my mind thinks about this tragedy.   The words of President Obama put what Huckabee said to shame.  He spoke powerfully from the heart, which at the time was what was needed.

I could agree with some of what Huckabee said but his timing was insensitive to the situation.  His words rang hollow in the minds of unbelievers.  The Bible says as followers of Jesus Christ we are to be wise as serpents and gentle as doves.  Huckabee was neither.

Second, his words seem to be promoting an “us versus them” mentality.  His comments concerning the superiority of Christian morality can fuel this idea.  How can we win people to Christ if our words erect barriers to the very people who need to hear about Jesus?  We are called to operate within the boundaries of society and be ambassadors for Christ.  And we need to be careful not to put ourselves on a pedestal looking down our noses at society.  That’s how I think my friends will interpret his statement.  Jesus said we are to be lights to the people around us.  Our words can attract or repel.

As a retired public school teacher I realize schools are not perfect and make decisions I disagree with.  I believe negative influences have increased as schools have become more secularized.  I continually argue with friends and relatives about how our rights are being restricted in the public schools; such as the continued bombardment against our First Amendment rights (freedom of speech and religion) and the pushing of the far left moral agenda.  However, I again go back to the timing and sensitivity issue.  I think Huckabee’s words just after the incident were terribly insensitive.

As a follower of Christ I can properly influence public policy the same way any citizen can in this great nation of ours.  I can do it in a way that doesn’t promote this “us versus them” mentality.  My desire is to show love to all my non-Christian friends and to point them to Christ.  I spent years trying to be a light for Christ on my campus.  I found ways within the system to teach foundational moral truths in my classes that promoted the common good.

And finally, in the mind of the non-Christian it appears Huckabee is attempting use this horrible tragedy to push Christianity’s moral standards on the public schools.  To them he is attributing the killing of innocent children as a judgment for removing God.  How does Huckabee know this?  How does he know this was the motive for the killer?  The obvious answer is he doesn’t.  He has a political agenda.

Huckabee needed to be a light when all he cast was darkness.  There is a time and place for serious dialogue about issues concerning the public schools; but not a few days after the event.  Now is the time to be praying and mourning with those who are hurting.

Huckabee should have taken the opportunity to encourage the Christian churches in the area.  He could have challenged followers of Jesus all over the world to pray for the Christians in the community as they continue to meet the needs through meals, counseling, and other acts of kindness.  The church needs ambassadors, not public school critics. Through our love we can point those hurting to eternal hope found only in Jesus.

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The Watchtower Organization claimed a great apostasy occurred after the death of the apostles and the Christian Church went into darkness.  Only a remnant of true and faithful followers kept the doctrines of Jehovah’s Witnesses today.  As I showed in part 5 there is no historical evidence for believing this mass apostasy happened.  In fact the ancient writings of the early church fathers demonstrate the opposite.

The group of individuals that followed the death of the apostles was named the early church fathers or sometimes called ante-Nicene Fathers.  Some of them were disciples of the apostles themselves. As a group they stressed the importance of passing on the teachings of those that went before them.  Any introduction of non-apostolic doctrine would have immediately raised red flags and opposition would have formed from those who knew the truth firsthand.

We see examples of the apostolic teaching forming the foundation of the church in their writings.  Irenaeus, speaking about Clement of Rome, said, “He had seen the apostles and associated with them and still had their preaching sounding in his ears and their traditions before his eyes –- and not he alone, for there were many still left in his time who had been taught by the apostles.”[1]  Irenaeus then said, “Now the Church, although scattered over the whole civilized world to the end of the earth, received from the apostles and their disciples its faith in one God, the Father Almighty…and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who was made flesh for our salvation, and in the Holy Spirit.”[2]  These quotes plus others make is reasonable to assume, when it comes to the key doctrines of the Christian faith, the writings of the early church fathers are a great source for discerning apostolic teachings.

The Watchtower booklet, “Should You Believe in the Trinity,” tries to make the case the ante-Nicene Fathers (writers prior to the council of Nicea or early church fathers) taught their doctrines.  The following was taken directly from the Jehovah’s Witnesses booklet.

“THE ante-Nicene Fathers were acknowledged to have been leading religious teachers in the early centuries after Christ’s birth. What they taught is of interest.

Justin Martyr, who died about 165 C.E., called the prehuman Jesus a created angel who is “other than the God who made all things.” He said that Jesus was inferior to God and “never did anything except what the Creator . . . willed him to do and say.”

Irenaeus, who died about 200 C.E., said that the prehuman Jesus had a separate existence from God and was inferior to him. He showed that Jesus is not equal to the “One true and only God,” who is “supreme over all, and besides whom there is no other.”

Clement of Alexandria, who died about 215 C.E., called Jesus in his prehuman existence “a creature” but called God “the uncreated and imperishable and only true God.” He said that the Son “is next to the only omnipotent Father” but not equal to him.

Tertullian, who died about 230 C.E., taught the supremacy of God. He observed: “The Father is different from the Son (another), as he is greater; as he who begets is different from him who is begotten; he who sends, different from him who is sent.” He also said: “There was a time when the Son was not. . . . Before all things, God was alone.”

Hippolytus, who died about 235 C.E., said that God is “the one God, the first and the only One, the Maker and Lord of all,” who “had nothing co-eval [of equal age] with him . . . But he was One, alone by himself; who, willing it, called into being what had no being before,” such as the created prehuman Jesus.

Origen, who died about 250 C.E., said that “the Father and Son are two substances . . . two things as to their essence,” and that “compared with the Father, [the Son] is a very small light.”

“There is no evidence that any sacred writer even suspected the existence of a [Trinity] within the Godhead.” – The Triune God [James Fortman].

“Summing up the historical evidence, Alvan Lamson says in The Church of the First Three Centuries: ‘The modern    popular doctrine of the Trinity . . . derives no support from the language of Justin [Martyr]: and this observation may be extended to all the ante-Nicene Fathers; that is, to all Christian writers for three centuries after the birth of Christ. It is true, they speak of the Father, Son, and . . . holy Spirit, but not as co-equal, not as one numerical essence, not as Three in One, in any sense now admitted by Trinitarians. The very reverse is the fact.'”

Thus, the testimony of the Bible and of history makes clear that the Trinity was unknown throughout Biblical times and for several centuries thereafter.  [Exert from the booklet, “Should You Believe in the Trinity?”]

I will demonstrate how the Watchtower deceitfully misrepresents the early church fathers and falsely tries to use them to justify their anti-Trinitarian beliefs.

Go to part 7 here



[1] Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3.3.3, in Cyril C. Richardson, Early Christian Fathers (NY: Macmillan, 1970).

[2] Ibid. 1.10.1.

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Does Prayer Change Things?

Question:  If God knows the outcome of our lives, does prayer change things?

Christians praying in Goma, DR of Congo.

Christians praying in Goma, DR of Congo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Answer:  It is true God knows all things.  In theology it is said God is omniscient.  What that means is God knows all true propositions of the past, present, and future.  God knowing all things doesn’t mean He causes all things.  Let me illustrate this truth.  By simply knowing the past events of my wife’s actions today doesn’t mean I caused those events.  I know she went to the store, had a hair appointment, and made dinner for me.  You could say I have knowledge of her past free will actions.  In the same way God knowing the past, present, and future events doesn’t mean He causes them.  His knowledge of what we will do is based on our free will actions.

Since God is all knowing (omniscient) He cannot grow in knowledge.  Therefore, when we pray we don’t surprise God with new information.  He knew we were going to pray and what we were going to ask.  God can begin answering our prayers even before we pray them.

Here are some examples of an omniscient God answering prayer.

  • Genesis 25:21 Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was barren; and the LORD answered him and Rebekah his wife conceived.”
  • In the Old Testament God judged David’s actions and Israel was punished for his sins.  We read that 70,000 Israelites died at the hand of an angel sent by God.  David prays for the plague to end and we read 2 Samuel 24:25, David built there an altar to the LORD and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings. Thus the LORD was moved by prayer for the land, and the plague was held back from Israel.”
  • The following is a great example of where the God of the universe responds to the prayers of Hezekiah and allows him to live 15 more years.  2 Kings 20:1-6 In those days Hezekiah became mortally ill. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him and said to him, Thus says the LORD, ‘Set your house in order, for you shall die and not live.’  2 Then he turned his face to the wall and prayed to the LORD, saying, 3 ‘Remember now, O LORD, I beseech You, how I have walked before You in truth and with a whole heart and have done what is good in Your sight.’ And Hezekiah wept bitterly. 4 Before Isaiah had gone out of the middle court, the word of the LORD came to him, saying, 5 ‘Return and say to Hezekiah the leader of My people, Thus says the LORD, the God of your father David, I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; behold, I will heal you. On the third day you shall go up to the house of the LORD. 6 I will add fifteen years to your life, and I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria; and I will defend this city for My own sake and for My servant David’s sake.'”
  • In the Book of Acts a God-fearing military officer had his prayers answered by an angel of the Lord.  This angel sends Peter to Cornelius for the purpose of bringing the good news of forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ.  Acts 10:30-31 Cornelius said, ‘Four days ago to this hour, I was praying in my house during the ninth hour; and behold, a man stood before me in shining garments,’ 31 and he *said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God.’”  Cornelius and his men hear the Gospel and through the power of the Holy Spirit respond in faith.  God clearly answered his prayer!

When we pray we know God hears us and will answer our prayers.  We must remember that God will either fulfill our requests now or in the future or He will say no.  All our prayers will be answered in some way.  God is in control and will do what is right and good.

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Do Jews and Christians Worship the Same God?

Question:  Is the Jewish God the same as Christianity?

Answer:  The simple answer is no…but that answer isn’t so simple.  Let me explain.

Following the fall (Adam’s rebellion) God exacted a plan by which all humanity could be restored to a right relationship with Him.  This restoration of internal righteousness would not be accomplished by doing good works but by believing in God as He has revealed Himself.  This is clearly articulated in the life of Abraham in Genesis 15:6.  Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.”   To be declared righteous in the Old Testament times meant the individual had to place his trust in the one true God.  However, a more detailed description of this God had not been revealed.  This would not occur until the New Testament.

The key issue was the nature of God.  The Christian God is Triune in nature.  A definition of the Trinity is: One God subsists (continues to exist) in three persons Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; co-equal and co-eternal.  God in His wisdom did not fully reveal His tri-personal identity until the incarnation (birth of Jesus).  The Old Testament Jew was not expected to believe in the Trinity because the doctrine was progressively revealed in Scripture.  Up until the New Testament we only find partial revelation of the multiple persons of the Godhead.  Why did God delay full revelation?  Here are two good reasons; 1) Without the birth of Jesus it would be difficult for people to grasp the Trinity.  God had to patiently wait for second person of the Trinity (Jesus) to enter into the world, and 2) Abraham and the nation of Israel were surrounded by polytheistic cultures.  During this time God would only require belief in the one true God to separate believers from the surrounding societies.

From a theological standpoint the Christian God has been Triune from all eternity past.  There never was a time when God was not a Trinity.  In Judaism they believe in one God and one person (the Father).  They reject one God subsisting in three persons.

There are passages in the Old Testament that seem to point God’s Triune nature.  Here are some of them:

  • Genesis 1:26a “Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness…”
  • Genesis 3:22a “Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil…”
  • Isaiah 6:8a “Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?’”

These verses demonstrate a plurality of persons in God Himself.  Nowhere is a number defined and nothing approaching a complete description of the doctrine of the Trinity can be found in the Old Testament.

The God of Christianity is Triune and only through faith in Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, can someone be forgiven.  Judaism rejects the Trinity and rejects Jesus as the Messiah. The Jew who doesn’t place his faith in Jesus is without a savior for sins.

Therefore, Christianity and Judaism worship different Gods.  For a more in-depth study of the God of Christianity see my series called “Loving the Trinity.”

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Are there Contradictions in the Bible?

Question: Are there contradictions in the Bible?

Answer:  What is a contradiction?  Something cannot be one thing and the opposite at the same time and in the same way. For example an animal cannot be a dog and not a dog at the same time and in the same way.  In the Bible Jesus cannot be God and not God at the same time and in the same way.

Whenever I am told the Bible is loaded with contradictions I love to hand the Bible to the person and ask him to show me a contradiction.   The majority of time the person says I don’t know where one is.  If they have one you’ll either have to answer right there or get back to them.  If the Bible is God’s Word, when properly understood, it cannot have contradictions.  It is impossible for God to contradict Himself.  Good resources I have used to solve some of these problems are the New International Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties by Gleason Archer and When Critics Ask by Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe.

The following are a few study techniques for solving so-called contradictions.

  • Read the passages in context.  Sometimes just reading the paragraphs before or after will solve many of these problems.
  • Use the clear Biblical passages to interpret the unclear.  An example is the issue of faith versus works.  Some people believe the Bible teaches we are saved by doing good works.  However, the clearest passages say we are saved by grace through faith alone.  It is either a contradiction or we have to have to come up with an interpretation of the less clear passages so they don’t contradict the clear.
  • Sometimes the writers used hyperbole to emphasize a point and didn’t always worry about precision.  In Mark 13:1-2 Jesus tells his disciples the temple will be torn down  and  not one stone will be left on one another.   The temple was destroyed as Jesus said but there were some stones left on one another.  Jesus used hyperbole too emphasize the complete destruction of the temple.
  • The Gospels were written thematically and didn’t write sequentially as we would today.  Do not expect them to have the same historical flow.
  • Many times they skipped events to make a point.  We do the same when we make a sound bite explanation versus a more detailed explanation of the same event.
  • Sometimes they focused on one key individual ignoring others.  For example Mark talks about an angel speaking (Mark 16:5) and Luke said there were 2 angels (Luke 24:4) at the tomb of Jesus. Nowhere does it say there was only 1 angel.  Mark wasn’t interested in the other angel; he just highlighted the one who spoke.  For a personal example let’s say I talk to a friend about a family gathering and I mention I spoke with Bill.  With another friend I tell him I spent time at the gathering discussing teaching with Mary and Sarah.  Does that mean Bill wasn’t there?  No!  I didn’t mention Bill because he wasn’t my focus.  The writer Mark only emphasized the one angel that spoke and ignored the other one.

 

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Part 11 Who besides unbelievers will be judged?

Questions: Will others be judged?  Who will be the judge?

Answers:  1)All followers of Jesus will be judged.  However, we will not come before the great white throne judgment seat and be judged for our sins.  Jesus already paid the penalty for our moral wrongs.  Instead our judgment will be to give account for our lives as believers and to be rewarded for our good works.  The Apostle Paul writes in Romans 14:10-12But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. 11 For it is written, “AS I LIVE, SAYS THE LORD, EVERY KNEE SHALL BOW TO ME, AND EVERY TONGUE SHALL GIVE PRAISE TO GOD.” 12 So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God.”   Paul tells us that we are not to wrongly judge and criticize other believers because we are going to be held accountable for our own shortcomings.  Barclay writes, “We stand before God in the awful loneliness of our own souls; to him we can take nothing but the character which in life we have been building up.”[1]

We read further in 2 Corinthians 5:10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”  Here again see that all believers will be judged in the end times.  This is when we will be recompensed or rewarded for certain actions outlined in the Bible.  Jesus gave some examples of future rewards in Matthew.  Actions such as giving, praying, and fasting will be rewarded in heaven (Matt. 6:1-6).

Paul writes that once we become a follower of Jesus all our works will be tested by fire at the believers’ judgment.  Fire is simply a symbol for testing.  1 Corinthians 3:11-15 For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. 14 If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. 15 If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.”

We will be rewarded for using our gifts to further the Lord’s work.  Some works are more valuable than others.  Some people occupy their time with religious busy work and Paul calls these works wood, hay, and straw; when tested by fire and these works will burn up.  Other works, such as investing in the spiritual lives of others through discipleship or serving others in need or accurately teaching the Word of God, are labeled precious stones and expensive metals and will survive the fire and be rewarded by God.  In the end we will be held accountable for using the gifts God has given us.

2) Angels will also be judged.  Peter writes in 2 Peter 2:4 For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment.”

Interesting is the Bible teaches believers will help in the work of judgment and will judge angels.   1 Corinthians 6:2-3 Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? If the world is judged by you, are you not competent to constitute the smallest law courts? 3 Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more matters of this life?”

3) In the end it will be Jesus who will function as the judge of the world.  2 Timothy 4:1 I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom.”  Peter makes a similar statement about Jesus in Acts 10:42 And He ordered us to preach to the people, and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead.”  The right to judge the entire universe has been given to the Son by the Father.  For everyone living or dead Jesus Christ will either be their deliverer or their judge (Matt.25:31-46).


[1] New American Commentary – Volume 27: Romans.

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Part 10 Are there levels of punishment in hell?

Question:  When an unbeliever dies will there be levels of punishment?

The Bible seems to teach people will be judged by the severity of their sins.  For example Jesus pronounced judgment upon cities where He had performed miracles but they refused to repent and believe.  Jesus speaking, Matthew 11:21-24 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 Nevertheless I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. 23 “And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You will descend to Hades; for if the miracles had occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day. 24 Nevertheless I say to you that it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for you.”  They had received all the proof they needed to follow Jesus and yet they didn’t.  The unbelieving people in these cities will be judged more severely than other cities because they had been given greater revelation but still refused to believe.

Again we see this same theme in the Book of Luke.  Luke 12:47-48 [Jesus speaking] And that slave who knew his master’s will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, will receive many lashes, 48 but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few. From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.”  The more opportunities people have to believe in Jesus, when they reject, the greater the punishment.

God as a righteous judge will dole out punishment based on what they have done.  Our justice system works the same way.  A murderer will receive a more severe penalty than someone who stole a television.  Where do you think we got that internal sense of justice that our court system is based on?  God has written His moral law on our hearts and revealed it through the Scriptures.  The Bible teaches the severity of the penalty should match the severity of the crime.  It was a foundational principle of God’s justice system for Israel.  Deuteronomy 19:21 Thus you shall not show pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.”  God’s pure moral nature is revealed through is righteous judgments.

In hell people will receive the penalty they deserve. God has recorded all the moral wrongs we have committed during our lifetime and either we pay the penalty for our sins or Jesus pays for them.  In Revelations the Apostle Paul was given a vision of the future judgment of unbelievers in front of the great white throne judgment seat.  Revelation 20:12-15 And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. 13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”  All unbelievers will be cast into hell and will receive whatever level of punishment their deeds demand.

In the end all unbelievers will get exactly what they deserve.  They have rejected God and his pardon for sin and they will receive the due penalty for their moral crimes.  However, the follower of Jesus doesn’t get what she deserves.  The Apostle Paul writes that everyone commits moral wrongs.  Romans 3:23 “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  And yet through faith in Jesus she is pardoned by the blood and sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  He takes the penalty on the cross that we deserve.  This is called grace.

The Apostle Paul gives us a glimpse of this grace and the justice of God.  He is going to let us know that what we earn from our unbelief is eternal separation from God.  He begins with the bad news and then follows with the good news.  Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  The bad news of sin is hell and levels of punishment and the good news is we will spend eternity with Christ as a result of the free gift of God.  

Go to part 11 here

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Question: What do you say to the religious person (Muslim) who asks, “How can anyone believe in a God who would let a murderer go to heaven and me a good Muslim be cast into hell?”

Answer:  I had a Muslim taxi driver ask me this question.  I told him this was a great question.  I was trying to be nice but was actually stalling for time to think about how I was going to answer.  I then asked him do you know the two greatest commandments.  He said no.  I said, Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31)  According to the Bible, rejecting God and His Son is extremely bad and committing murder is horrible.  I then asked him which is worse, to reject God and His Son or to commit murder?   He didn’t answer.  I told him if the greatest commandment was to love God, then the greatest sin was to reject God; greater than even committing murder.  Both are extremely bad but from God’s point of view rejection of Him is greater.  If you turn your back on God and His Son you cannot be forgiven.  However, God can forgive a murderer.  Jesus died for all sinners.  I asked him, does that make sense?  He said yes but he didn’t like it.

God desires to forgive anyone who places their trust in Jesus Christ and that even includes a murderer.  God’s great mercy extends to everyone who wants to follow Jesus.  Yet, God will not forgive someone who rejects him.  Rejection of Christ, God’s Son is the same as rejecting the God the Father.  Jesus speaking in John 15:23, He who hates Me hates My Father also.” 

Question: Why do you believe in hell?  Why would Christianity hold such a horrible teaching?

Yes I do believe in hell.  Here are my reasons and why Christianity cannot change:

  1. The Bible teaches about it.  As a follower of Jesus Christ, I am under the authority of the Bible.
  2. Jesus taught more about hell than anyone else.  Am I going to call Jesus a liar?
  3. Hell provides for ultimate justice.  Stalin, Lenin, Mao Tse-tung, Khrushchev, and Hitler murdered over a 100 million people (1995 Guinness Book of Records).  They will receive the punishment they deserve for all eternity.
  4. Punishment in hell preserves the holiness and justice of God.  If God just winks at moral wrongs and simply forgives people without a penalty, then He is an unjust God and not worthy of worship.
  5. The Christian Worldview is a systematic belief that tries to explain reality. If hell is real then Christianity cannot get rid of the doctrine.  Either hell exists or it doesn’t.  Jesus taught hell is real and therefore is part of Christianity.

Do I like the doctrine of hell?  It is not about whether or not I like this teaching.  It about whether it is the actual destiny of non-Christians.  It is about truth and not about feelings.  I don’t like thinking about hell or even talking about it.  Hell is not something anyone would dream up.  It is a doctrine that is a stumbling block for many people who are investigating Christianity.  I believe hell exists after death because the Bible clearly teaches it.

Go to part 10 here

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Ministering to Mormons in Utah Day 1

This new series will be a daily account of the Utah Missions trip I co-lead with Kristeena Cardoza July 1-7th, 2012.  We went to help Mormons move away from the false beliefs of Joseph Smith and assist in their journey to find the Biblical Jesus.  Other members of the team were: Brandon Sims, Nick Perkins, Teresa Barlow, and Norma Puerta.

The Utah Missions Team consisted of volunteers from the post college group at Emmanuel Faith Community Church in Escondido.  I was asked to join primarily to help equip the team on how to share with Mormons.  We all raised support from friends, family, and members of the church.  Our objectives for the week were to 1) Grow in our understanding of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS); 2) Connect with various ministries reaching out to the Mormons; and 3) Engage in spiritual conversations with LDS.  We wanted to challenge their false beliefs.

I joined the team near the end of May and only had a month to get them ready for Utah.  I focused on both content and tactics.  I was asked to teach on Mormonism to the entire post college group for two consecutive Wednesday evenings.  The first evening I came as Mormon Elder Bruecker.  It was a great evening as I fooled many and had a few individuals angrily walk out of the room.  They thought I was a real Mormon and didn’t appreciate my attacks upon historic Christianity.  An intern chased them down and let them know who I was and they returned to the room.  One of my goals was to show the group the importance of knowing what and why they believe what they believe.

The night went great as there were at least 3-4 hands up the entire evening to ask questions and try to pin me down.  My experience with sharing with Mormons helped me escape all challenges.  What they didn’t know was how much I was struggling as I attacked my own beliefs; I felt like a heretic.  Finally, I revealed who I was and why I portrayed a Mormon.  I told them I’d return the following Wednesday to share why Mormonism is false and why our beliefs are solidly based on the Bible.

On consecutive Sunday afternoons, I met with the team only.  I focused on the doctrine of the Trinity and tactics in conversations.  On another training day we had James Wallace Warner come out to train the team.  He is an apologist with a great knowledge of Mormonism.  He runs the ministry web site called Please Convince Me.  James brought his son Jimmy to portray a Mormon based on his vast experience of sharing on the streets of Salt Lake City.  This was a turning point for our team.

I knew ahead of time Jimmy would act as a Mormon missionary so I decided to sit back and let the team ask all the questions and answer his challenges.  Our team applied what they had learned the last couple of months.  At first the team sat back too much and tried to be too nice.  James Warner, Jimmy’s dad, told them that if he was an observer of this conversation he’d have to say the Mormon was making the better case; they needed to step it up.  This invitation was all they needed, as they made stronger challenges the rest of the afternoon.

Over the years I have met with many Mormon missionaries and Jimmy acted just like any of them who have sat in my front room.  He was the best Mormon imposter I’d ever seen!  I later told the team he would be by far the toughest LDS they would ever encounter.

From this training I knew our main task was to become better listeners.  I told them they let Jimmy off the hook way too many times.  He made assertion after assertion and they let him get away with them.  They needed to ask the why question to force him to justify his conclusions.  Brandon said he was too focused on what to ask next, which got in the way of listening to Jimmy.  I listed at least 10 assertions Jimmy made that should have been challenged.  This experience helped me as their trainer to work more on asking the two main questions, “What do you mean by that” to get clarification and “Why do believe that to be true” to force the person to justify their belief.  This was the last training experience before we traveled to Utah.

Sunday July 1, 2012: Following a family wedding in Chico, CA I flew in from Oakland to Salt Lake City Utah (SLC) to join the team driving up from Escondido.  I met Russ East, founder of the Utah Partnership for Christ, at the airport.  His ministry provided the housing and agenda for our team.  We drove to SLC to meet the team at a restaurant.  After dinner we went to temple square to begin our trip with prayer.  Bobby Gilpin, an intern for UPFC and UK apologist, gave us tour of the LDS facilities and provided an overview of what the various buildings represented.  At each stop we then prayed around temple square for wisdom of speech, open hearts, and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit for our upcoming conversations with LDS.  We then returned to the “Blue House,” our housing for the week, for last minute instructions and sleep.

Go to Day 2 here

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Part 8 What about the people who have never heard?

Question:What about those people who have never heard?  Are they going to go to hell because they never believed in a Jesus?  How is that fair?

Answer: Remember in part 6 I wrote in some detail that a person goes to hell for sins committed against God and not his lack of belief in Jesus.  Jesus is the solution and not the problem.  However, a person does have to believe in Jesus to be cured and thus forgiven.  This doesn’t seem fair to the person who has never heard of Him.

First we need to deal with the issue of moral wrongs committed against God.  Sometimes a good tactic to use is to make it personal.  The individual you are talking to needs to realize he is in trouble for breaking God’s laws.  I will quote Greg Koukl from his article entitled “Am I Going to Hell?

I asked him this question. Do you think that people who commit moral crimes ought to be punished? He said, “Yes.” I said, “Good, so do I.” Second question, “Have you ever committed any moral crimes?” Pause. Then he said, “Yes, I guess I have.” You know what I said to him? “So have I.”

This just took 30 seconds, right? Then I reflected back to him, “Look where we’ve come so far. We both believe that people who commit moral crimes ought to be punished. And we both believe we’ve committed moral crimes. You know what I call that? Bad news.” And it is bad news.

As you can see in just a few seconds you can establish the fact that everyone commits moral wrongs and therefore, everyone deserves punishment.  All who have never heard about Jesus have the same problem as those who have heard.  We have all committed moral wrongs against the creator and justice demands punishment.  Jesus taught this punishment is hell and separation from God for all eternity.

All religions have to deal with this moral wrong problem.  Christianity’s solution is Jesus. All the other belief systems try to solve it with ‘good works’ to appease God.  The Bible clearly teaches this solution will not work.  Doing good or following God’s laws are what is expected and doesn’t pay the penalty for breaking the laws.  Good works saves no one from punishment.  Even in our own justice system following the laws is expected.  There is a penalty every time we break the law and get caught.  From God’s perspective, only Jesus can pay the penalty for all our moral wrongs.  We have to place our trust in Him to receive forgiveness.  Some will ask is this fair to those who have never heard of Jesus?

In Romans 1:18-31 the Apostle Paul writes that God has clearly revealed Himself in nature.   Then in Romans 2:16-22 he writes that God has also written His moral law on our hearts.  Paul says in verse 18 that men suppress the truth in unrighteousness; they don’t want to believe in the one true God.  God revealing Himself through creation and the moral law leads to the conclusion in Romans 1:20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.   Those who have never heard about God suppress the truth and therefore God’s punishment is justified.

Aren’t there some who have never heard of Jesus truly seeking God?  Are they going to hell?  I believe God will reach those individuals with the truth about Jesus through a variety of means.  Throughout the Bible we have examples of people responding to many different experiences such as direct speech, dreams, and visions.  God called Abraham directly; He gave Pharaoh dreams; He appeared to Cornelius in a vision which resulted in his being saved.

I have heard stories from missionaries to the Middle East who speak about Muslims who have come to Christ because of visions they’ve had involving Jesus.  God is working throughout the world and will reveal Himself and His Son to anyone truly seeking to know Him.

Those who have never heard about Jesus have to pay for their moral wrongs.  If they truly seek after God, if they seek Him with a sincere heart, I believe He will make Himself known to them.   The person then has to place his or her trust in Jesus to receive a pardon for all personal moral wrongs.

Go to part 9 here

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Part 12 Problems with transitional fossils

Is Darwinian Evolution a Fact?

What about transitional fossils?

What should we find if evolution is true?  We should find millions and billions of transitional fossils.  A transitional fossil is a living creature that forms a bridge between two other living organisms.  For example Archaeopteryx is supposed to be a transitional creature between a lizard and a bird.  This creature had wings and feathers like a bird but it also had teeth, a long lizard-like tail, and claws on its wings.  This was hailed as confirmation of the evolutionary link between reptiles and birds.  Scientists finally had evidence for Darwinian Evolution.

However, the joy soon turned to sorrow when paleontologists determined Archaeopteryx was one of the earliest birds and not a missing link.  What is also interesting, this bird is not in the line of modern birds.  In fact modern bird fossils were found in the same geological strata as Archaeopteryx.  What we have is the earliest known member of a totally extinct group of birds.  This creature leads to a dead end.  What was hailed as a transitional fossil is now just an interesting fossil of an early bird.

What Darwin believed was the fossil record would reveal all life resulting from a single source.  This is where we see drawings of the tree of life.  All life started from one point, the tree trunk, and then over years and years moved from simple to more complex and branched out in different directions; similar to the branches of a tree.

Is this true?  Unfortunately, for Darwin what we discover in the fossil evidence is the tree is not alone, it is part of a forest.  In the geological strata, during the Cambrian period, extremely complex life appears out of nowhere.  Instead of life coming out of a common trunk we see life erupting suddenly from multiple directions with no fossil explanation.  It is such an abrupt appearance in the fossil record that scientists have nicknamed it the “Cambrian Explosion.”  Darwin’s tree doesn’t work; the fossil record is a forest of trees; many fossils suddenly appearing in the same time period and in the same geological strata.  This has led many scientists to be skeptical of Darwinian Evolution.

Niles Eldridge, one of the world’s leading experts in vertebrate fossils says this:  “No wonder paleontologists shied away from evolution for so long. It never seems to happen….When we do see the introduction of evolutionary novelty, it usually shows up with a bang, and often with no firm evidence that the fossils did not evolve elsewhere! Evolution cannot forever be going on somewhere else.”

What Eldridge is saying is there’s no evidence of a gradual step by step variation from one organism to another; no macroevolution.  In the fossil record we don’t see gradual change leading to new species; instead we see fully formed organisms; many of which come and then go out of existence; they lead to dead ends.  The fossil record is a forest, not a tree.  Without transitional fossils, Darwinian Evolution is proven false.

The Bible teaches God created individually a variety of living creatures. (Genesis 1:21-25)

Genesis 1:21, “God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves with which the waters swarmed after their kind, and every winged bird after its kind; and God saw that it was good.”

The reason the fossils appear in the geological strata suddenly and without explanation is because God created all life.  Organisms can only reproduce after their own kind.  A fish cannot reproduce a lizard, a dinosaur cannot eventually become a bird after millions of years.  The Bible confirms the law of biogenesis, like begets like.

Genesis 1:24-25 Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures after their kind: cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth after their kind”; and it was so. 25 God made the beasts of the earth after their kind, and the cattle after their kind, and everything that creeps on the ground after its kind; and God saw that it was good.

What the Bible teaches is exactly what we see in the fossil record; living creatures reproducing after their kind.  God is the creator and He is the reason we see fossils appearing out of nowhere, suddenly without an explanation; a forest instead of a tree.  This puzzles scientists but not theologians, not Christians.  This is exactly what we should expect according to the Bible.  God created individual living creatures according to their kind; fully formed organisms.  The fossil record confirms the Bible is right and true.

In summary, we see is that scientists have no idea how life comes from non-life, how early life is so complex, and why there aren’t millions and billions of transitional forms.  DARWINIAN EVOLUTION IS NOT A FACT!  Instead it is a theory with major flaws or an implausible modern day creation story.

Go to part 13 here

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Question:Isn’t eternal damnation for temporal sins overkill?  Why should God punish forever those who have only sinned for a short time?

Answer: One view that tries to deal with this question of eternal punishment is universalism.  In this view when people die everyone goes to heaven.  Therefore, there isn’t any eternal punishment.  Since this view goes against the clear teachings of the Bible I consider it false.  I will not spend time refuting it.

A second view some theologians have proposed is called annihilationism.  Until recently only heretical groups like Jehovah’s Witnesses held this interpretation.  According to this view when the unbeliever dies he or she goes out of existence.  The believer goes to heaven and the unbeliever is annihilated.  Arguments in favor say 1) the Greek word for destruction of the wicked implies they are no longer in existence, 2) eternal damnation provides an inconsistency between the love of God and eternal conscious punishment, and 3) there is a discrepancy between sins committed in time and eternal punishment.

The first argument against annihilationism is all the Bible verses that speak about eternal punishment.  By reflecting on these scriptures this view is untenable.  I will examine a few of these verses.  Following the judgment of unbelievers and believers we read in Matthew 25:46 These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”  In Mark 9:47-48 Jesus tells His disciples,If your eye causes you to stumble, throw it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than, having two eyes, to be cast into hell, 48 where THEIR WORM DOES NOT DIE, AND THE FIRE IS NOT QUENCHED.”  Hell here is described as a place where the worm lives on and the fire does not go out.  John the Baptist told the Jewish religion leaders that the wicked will be “burned with unquenchable fire” (Matt. 3:12).  Fire produces pain described as “weeping and gnashing of teeth”(Matt. 8:12;

English: Print by Gustave Doré illustrating th...

[By Gustave Doré parable of the rich man and Lazarus  (Wikipedia)]

13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30).  Eternal punishment is depicted as a “coming misery,” “easting flesh with fire,” and the “day of slaughter”(James 5:1-5).  This suffering is constant because it is said that those in hell “will have no rest day or night” (Rev. 14:11) and “will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (20:10).  And finally, the parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31 gives us a glimpse of heaven and hell.  The rich man was conscious as he suffered in hell.  Pastor John MacArthur writes, “Though human sensitivities may balk at the doctrine of eternal punishment, it is both the explicit teaching of the Bible and demanded by God’s justice and holiness.”[1]

Many passages speak about ‘destruction’ as the punishment for unbelievers after death.  For example, 2 Thessalonians 1:9 These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.”  Additional passages include Matt. 7:13, Rom. 9:22, 2 Peter 3:7, and Rev. 17:8.  The Greek word for destruction doesn’t have to mean gone from existence.  The same word has multiple meanings in the New Testament.  It can mean the harmful and destructive effects of final judgment on unbelievers; also personal ruin.  When combined with the many clear verses on eternal punishment the best definition seems to be personal ruin or the destructive effects of judgment.

What is inconsistent between love and punishment?  Doesn’t a loving father discipline his children?  Does God have the right to punish moral criminals?  If punishment is justified, then what difference is there for the length of time God can punish?  If God has the right to punish for some length of time, the span of time is a non-issue.[2]  It is the prerogative of the one whose laws have been broken.  To claim the length of punishment is disproportionate to the crime is assume we can know the extent of the evil done against God.  Who are we to judge God?  Who are we to make suggestions to God what is and isn’t appropriate punishment for the sins of the world?  Plus sins against an infinite being should have an infinite punishment.  If not then once they pay for their sins, they should be allowed to enter heaven.  Similar to human justice, we let criminals go free once they have paid their debt.

The amount of time it takes to commit the crime doesn’t factor into our justice system.  To murder someone takes seconds and yet, in our courts the person either gets the death penalty or life in prison.  Time perpetrating the wrongdoing isn’t the issue; the penalty is assessed based on the severity of the crime.  Who are we to judge the severity of our crimes against the eternal creator of the universe?

CS Lewis once said the doors of hell are locked from the inside.  People receive the desires of the hearts.  Since God has created creatures who consciously will live forever, then the penalty of rejecting God is separation forever.  Why would God force into heaven someone who would rather worship self rather than worship the creator?

Finally, where is the justice if all unbelievers get the same annihilation?  Hitler and Stalin get the same punishment as an unbeliever who has lived a good moral life.  Under this system if you are not going to follow Jesus you can be as evil as you desire; there is no ultimate justice in the universe.  This viewpoint is clearly wrong.  God is not only a loving God but He is just.  Eternal punishment preserves the eternal justice and holiness of God.  Praise God there is justice in the universe and a person like Hitler will get what he deserves!

Go to part 8 here

 


[1] John MacArthur, MacArthur New Testament Commentary – Revelation 12-22.

[2] Wayne Grudem, Systematic theology, Intervarsity Press 1994 pp. 1150-1151

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When sharing Jesus with non-Christians there are questions we want to avoid.  It is not because we don’t have answers; it is because the answers are difficult for the listener and hard to unpack in a brief conversation.  Hell is one of those doctrines that the vast majority of people hate and wonder why we would hold such a disgusting teaching.

The following are some questions Christians hope no one asks:

  • Do you believe in hell?  Why would you believe in such a terrible doctrine?
  • How can you believe in a God who will torment people for all eternity?  Isn’t that cosmic overkill?
  • Am I going to hell?
  • If Jesus is the only way to heaven, what about the billions of people who have never heard of Jesus?

Answering Tough Questions

The primary apologetic issue about hell is balancing the love of God with eternal punishment.  People argue that hell and a good God are incompatible.  Actually, no matter what answers we provide, the existence of hell is not a defeater for the Christian worldview.  Christianity can be true and hell can be real.  All a person can say is they don’t like any worldview that holds to the doctrine of hell.  And yet many people try to use hell to argue against the Christian worldview.  Just because someone doesn’t like the doctrine of hell doesn’t make Christianity false.  The famous atheist Bertrand Russell once said…

Bertrand Russell

Bertrand Russell (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“There is one very serious defect to my mind in Christ’s moral character, and that is that He believed in hell.  I do not myself feel that any person who is really profoundly humane can believe in everlasting punishment.”[1]

“I must say that I think all this doctrine, that hell-fire is a punishment for sin, is a doctrine of cruelty.  It is a doctrine that put cruelty into the world and gave the world generations of cruel torture; and the Christ of the Gospels, if you could take Him as His chroniclers represent Him, would certainly have to be considered partly responsible for that.”[2]

Russell obviously had some serious personal complaints to the doctrine of hell and about Jesus who gave us the most detailed descriptions of everlasting punishment.  His opinions are not arguments.  They don’t carry any weight when evaluating the truth of Christianity.   In addition his assertion that hell promotes cruelty is without support.  Mr. Russell how does the belief in hell bring cruelty into the world?  Instead it should bring about compassion towards those without Christ and an endless stream of Christians reaching out to those without Jesus through selfless service and evangelism.  It should be a motivator for believers to love those outside the kingdom of God, not to promote cruelty.

Objections abound from people who hate or don’t understand hell.  I will provide answers to tough questions about eternal punishment.  These will be café discussion type answers, ones that can be used in the public square when challenged.

Question:  Are you saying that if I don’t join the Jesus group I am headed for hell?  Why would God judge someone for choosing the wrong club?  Why couldn’t I get to heaven in the Christian Science club or the Muslim club or even the Mormon club?

Answer: Many Christians miscommunicate why someone goes to hell.  We make it sound like if you don’t join the Jesus club you’re out.  No one actually goes to hell for not believing in Jesus; they go to hell because of sin.  People have a sin problem and hell is where they will pay the penalty for breaking God’s law.  Jesus is the solution and not the problem.  If someone has cancer and doesn’t go to the doctor and he dies, is the doctor to blame?  If he had gone to the doctor he would have lived.  People who go to the spiritual doctor Jesus and place their trust in Him will have eternal life; they will be cured of the sin problem. If you don’t avail yourself of the solution, when you die you will pay the penalty for your sins and you will be separated from God for all eternity.  People who don’t want to follow Jesus will get what they desire; separation from God.  God doesn’t force Himself on anyone.  Jesus is the only solution to the sin problem.

Go to part 7 here


[1] Bertrand Russell, Why I am Not a Christian, Simon & Schuster, Inc. Publ. 1957, p. 16

[2] Ibid p. 18

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I am continuing to look at what the Bible says about hell (see part 3).

New Testament letters and Book of Revelations teachings on hell

2 Thessalonians 1:7-9  And to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, 8 dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power,

Hebrews 9:27 And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment,

2 Peter 2:9 then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment,

Jude 1:6-7 And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day, 7 just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire.

Jude 1:12-13 These are the men who are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves; clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted; 13 wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam; wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever.

Revelation 14:10-11 He also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.”

Revelation 20:10 And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.

Revelation 20:11-15 Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. 13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

Revelation 21:8 “But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”

The following are some of the ways the Bible describes hell: 1) fire (Matt: 13:42, 50; 18:8, 9); 2) darkness (Matt. 25:30; Jude 13); 3) punishment (Rev. 14:10-11); 4) exclusion from God’s presence (Matt. 7:23; 25:41; 2 Thess. 1:9); 5) restlessness (Rev. 14:11); 6) second death (Rev. 2:11, 20:6, 14); and 7) weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt. 13:42; 50; 22:12-13).

Christian theologians differ on how literally to take these descriptions.  How do you have fire and darkness simultaneously?  Many take them metaphorically but that doesn’t decrease the severity of hell.  Metaphors teach a literal truth.

The Bible also teaches hell is everlasting.  Jesus said Matthew 25:46 “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”  If Jesus says heaven is everlasting, then so is hell.  This teaching for many calls into question the justice of God.  I will be addressing this issue later.

The horrific descriptions of hell, the length of punishment, and the fact Jesus spoke about it more than anyone else makes it an important topic.

Go to part 5 here

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Part 3 What did Jesus teach about hell?

Who then enters heaven?  It is reserved for those who are saved from God’s wrath.  Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”  We all deserve hell and punishment and yet, by God’s mercy and grace followers of Jesus enter heaven.  Jesus describes aspects of heaven in John 14:2-3 “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. 3 If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.”  Jesus is using a house metaphor to communicate He has a place in heaven for His disciples.  Not only that, He is going to come back from heaven to bring them in personally when they die.  These verses apply to all who have trusted in Jesus.

In the letters to the Corinthian Church, the Apostle Paul was writing to believers.  We read 2 Corinthians 5:1,2 & 6-8 For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven…6 Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord— 7 for we walk by faith, not by sight— 8 we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.”   The house he speaks of is our body and the “building from God” is heaven.  Once we die and are absent from the body, we will be in heaven present with Jesus.  It will be a glorious existence one that Paul says is by far superior to living here on earth.

Heaven is the good news; hell is the bad news.  Heaven is for those who worship and follow Jesus Christ; hell is for those who prefer to worship themselves.  A great quote from C.S. Lewis in his book The Great Divorce, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell chose it.”

The Bible is not detailed exposition concerning heaven or hell.  However, Jesus said more about hell than heaven.  In fact He said more about hell than anyone else in the Bible.  I am going to provide a series of Scriptures from Jesus that will give us a glimpse at hell and what awaits those who reject God’s Son.

What did Jesus teach about hell?

Matthew 5:29-30 “If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 “If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell.

Matthew 13:49-50 “So it will be at the end of the age; the angels will come forth and take out the wicked from among the righteous, 50 and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Matthew 18:8-9“If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire. 9 “If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell.

Matthew 22:13 “Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 

Matthew 25:41-42 “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink;

Matthew 25:46 “These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Mark 9:43-49 “If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life crippled, than, having your two hands, to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire, 44 [where Their worm does not die , and the fire is not quenched .] 45 “If your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame, than, having your two feet, to be cast into hell, 46 [where Their worm does not die , and the fire is not quenched .] 47 “If your eye causes you to stumble, throw it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than, having two eyes, to be cast into hell, 48 where Their worm does not die ,and the fire is not quenched . 49 “For everyone will be salted with fire.

Luke 12:5 “But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him!

Luke 16:19-31 “Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day. 20 “And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, 21 and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. 22 “Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. 23 “In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw* Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. 24 “And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.’ 25 “But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. 26 ‘And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.’ 27 “And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father’s house—
28 for I have five brothers—in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ 29 “But Abraham said*, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 “But he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!’ 31 “But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.'”

In part 4 I will continue examining what the Bible teaches about hell.

Go to part 4 here

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Part 2 Who goes to heaven?

In 2003 a research group discovered 64% of Americans expect to go to heaven when they die, but less than 1% think they might go to hell[1].  I wonder what criteria they base this on.

Most people believe that heaven is for good people; that God grades on a curve.  Many of these individuals believe if your good works outweigh your bad you make it.  It seems people judge the “good line” that God draws for entrance into heaven is somewhere below them.  They’ve made it but they don’t want to judge anyone else.  Is this what the Bible teaches?  How can we know if we are going to heaven?

Before looking further into the issue of hell I would like to Biblically answer the question, who goes to heaven?  Can good works save someone?  What are we being saved from?

The Bible is clear that works cannot earn heaven.  In the book of Romans the Apostle Paul spent much of chapters 1-3 revealing the bad news of how we have turned our backs on God and how we are under His judgment.  As a God of justice He is going pour out his wrath upon all who do moral wrongs.  Romans 6:23 “The wages of sin is death…”  What we earn from sin is death and separation from God for all eternity.  And who commits sins?  Romans 3:23 says, “We all sin and fall short of the glory of God.”    We are all condemned sinners under the wrath of God; we are all headed for hell.

However, in Romans chapter 3 Paul delivers great news! He writes in verses 21 & 22,But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction…”  Clearly, Paul is teaching God’s righteousness, God’s forgiveness comes by faith and not by works.  He says that in verse 22 “even the righteousness of God through faith.”  Righteousness simply means to be right with God.  We receive this righteousness through faith.  Paul says the object of our faith is Jesus Christ.  What he is saying is we can be right with God apart from trying to live by the law.  Salvation is open to all who believe in His Son Jesus Christ.  That’s it!  No works, no trying to be good, but by faith alone!

Paul is now going to use Abraham as an example of how we can be right with God.  What is interesting is Abraham would have been thought of by the Jews as the father of good works and not faith.  This is probably why Paul uses him.  We read in Romans 4:1-5 What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? ‘ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS CREDITED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.’ 4 Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. 5 But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness…

Let’s define a few terms Paul uses:

  • Justified – Legal act by God where our sins are forgiven and we receive Christ’s righteousness.  Essentially, God gives us His righteousness.
  • Works – Following God’s law.  Earning our way to heaven.
  • Righteousness – Being right with God.
  • Reckoned – A banking term. God applies righteousness to our account.

Let’s break these verses down.  Paul says, “What then shall we say about Abraham, our forefather, according to the flesh. What has he found? If Abraham was justified by works he has something to boast about, but not before God.  The words justified by works simply mean a person can pay for his or her sins by following the law.  Paul here is making a hypothetical statement.  He is saying if Abraham could earn his way to heaven he could brag about it.  However, Paul had already dealt with the boasting in Romans 3:27-28 “Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. 28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.  If you could earn heaven by works you could tell God I don’t need you. However, Paul says boasting is excluded.  Why?  Justification comes from faith!  We are forgiven by trusting in Jesus Christ and not by what we do.

Now Paul is going to reinforce what he said in chapter 3 by quoting from the Old Testament and utilizing Abraham.  He writes, “…for what does the Scripture say?” He now quotes from Genesis 15:6, “Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.”  Abraham was granted righteousness or forgiveness by belief and not by good works.

Paul goes on to say, “Now to the one who works, his wage is not reckoned him as a favor but what is due.” If you work for it, then God owes you forgiveness; he owes you heaven.   Verse 5, But to the one who does not work, but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness.”   Paul says God’s forgiveness cannot be earned!  We cannot work our way heaven.  Only by faith can we receive God’s righteousness.

Remember the word “reckoned” is a banking term. By believing in His Son Jesus Christ, God applies Christ’s righteousness to our account. We have an empty bank account and God puts cash in there. Don’t you wish you had friends like that?  It’s not our cash, it’s God’s cash; its God righteousness. He puts it into our account, and because the account is in our name, we can spend it. It becomes ours even though we didn’t earn it.  The cash put into our account is our sins are forgiven and we get credit for all the good Jesus represents.  What a deal!  Jesus pays for our moral wrongs on the cross and we receive all the good he did by faith.[2]

The Apostle Paul the champion of salvation by grace through faith alone.  It is central in his writings to the Church at Galatia and to the church at Ephesus.  As Paul points out in Romans, salvation by faith alone was taught in the Old Testament.  Abraham was right with God through faith and faith alone.  Heaven cannot be earned.

Go to part 3 here


[2] Greg Koukl, “The Bible Fast Forward,” Audio teaching from Stand to Reason

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Part 1 What Ever Happened to Hell?

One of the toughest topics in Christianity to discuss is hell.  This is why so many pulpits today avoid preaching on the subject.  Society has changed and people don’t want to hear bad news at church; they only want to hear about a loving God. Speaking on hell and brimstone seems to be relegated to a small minority of preachers.  The trend towards building big churches many times means avoiding tough issues; we don’t want to offend anyone.

In systematic theology, hell falls under end times theology or more specifically Eschatology.  As I approach this topic at times I think to myself who in the hell wants to talk about hell.  And yet when we look at the Bible Jesus spoke more about hell than anyone else; He thought it was important to warn people.  Over the next few weeks I am going to give you a reader’s digest version of hell.  In order to cover the topic I will also spend some time talking about heaven.

I was in a spiritual discussion with a Muslim many years ago.  After explaining Christianity he said to me, “How can anyone believe in a God who would let a murderer who believes in Jesus go to heaven and me a good Muslim be cast into hell?”  For a few moments I was perplexed, wondering to myself how am I going to answer this question.  I did give him an answer which I will provide later.  What would you say?

In this series I will give basic definitions, discuss who goes to heaven, look at what the Bible teaches about hell, discuss an article by Redeemed Church Pastor Tim Keller called “What’s so important about hell?” and then answer a few tough questions.  My objective is to help you grow in your understanding of heaven and hell and give you content to share with others when this topic comes up.

This subject is very personal to me.  I have multiple family members and friends who do not follow Jesus Christ and according to the Bible are headed for hell when they die.  I don’t even want to picture what this looks like in my mind.  I have been accused of being an uncaring person because I believe in hell.  I write about hell because the Bible teaches it, not because I like it.

Definitions

Heaven is the abode of God.  It is also called the third heaven or paradise.  The Apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 12:2-4; I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a man was caught up to the third heaven. 3 And I know how such a man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows— 4 was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak.”

Theologians consider the first heaven the earth’s atmosphere (Deut. 11:11; 1 Kings 8:35; Isa. 55:10).  We read in the Scriptures how the heavens poured out rain, as the speaker is referring to the sky.  The second heaven would be considered outer space (Gen. 15:5; Ps. 8:3; Isa. 13:10).  The writer asks the person to look to the heavens and count the number of stars.  The third heaven is God’s dwelling place; the final destiny of the righteous.[1]

Interesting is Mormonism also teaches there are three heavens.  However, these heavens have no Biblical basis.  Nowhere in the Scriptures do we see the Mormon teaching of the Telestrial, Terrestrial, or Celestial heavens.  Joseph Smith simply borrowed two of the names from 1 Corinthians 15 (Terrestrial “earthly” and Celestial “heavenly”) and made up the other one.  The Apostle Paul was writing about the bodily resurrection and not heavens.  Christianity has always taught there is one heavenly abode of God.

Hell is the place of everlasting punishment.  It is reserved for those (angels and humans) who have broken God’s moral laws and have rejected Jesus Christ, the only solution to the problem.

Go to part 2 here


[1] Norm Geisler, Systematic Theology Volume 4, Bethany House Publishing 2005, p. 294

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Losing Faith in the Sinner’s Prayer

Over the years I have noticed the importance Christians place on the sinner’s prayer (usually associated with the 4 spiritual laws). Here is the basic formula: Jesus I admit I am a sinner and believe you died on the cross to pay the penalty for my sins; come into my life and save me.

Many seem to believe when you share Jesus with a person all you have to do is to get them to pray this prayer and they are saved.  It is as if the sinner’s prayer is equal to the magic chant abracadabra.  Say the magic words and you’ll be saved.  I recently had a parent tell me her atheist son is okay, he’ll be in heaven because when he was younger he prayed this prayer.

I vividly remember sharing Jesus with two friends and felt the pressure to close the deal and have them pray the sinner’s prayer.  My thinking at that time was if they say these key words and if they really mean it, they will be in heaven someday.  After intense discussions with the two of them, I got them both to pray the prayer.  In each instance I left with a sense of success.  I thought I had opened the door for two new Christians to enter into God’s kingdom when they die.

This occurred over 20 years ago and my friendship with these individuals has continued.  What I noticed was nothing changed in their lifestyles; they are exactly the same before and after praying the prayer.  One never went to church and has continued that pattern and the other is religious on Sunday’s and lives like a pagan the rest of the week.  How is this possible?  How could both of them pray to follow Jesus and yet continue living as if He never existed?

What we have to realize is the sinner’s prayer saves no one!  That’ right, nobody has ever been saved by saying some scripted words.  Salvation is the work of the Holy Spirit.  Nowhere in the Bible are we given a formula to pray with people to get them into the kingdom.  The sinner’s prayer is a recent human development, within the last 150 years.

In my own personal spiritual journey no one shared a prayer of repentance with me.  I was reading the Bible and the Holy Spirit convicted me of my sin and need for forgiveness.  The next time I heard a pastor ask people to receive Christ I knew in my heart I’d already done that.  At the time I didn’t know how but I did.

Salvation is between God and the individual.  He doesn’t need our help.  And yet God chooses to use us as His ambassadors to present the gospel.  We get the privilege of sharing Jesus with others and participating in the work of the Holy Spirit.  We then get the privilege of watching God convict the person of his sin and apply what Jesus did on the cross to his account.

When I teach people how to evangelize, I remind my audience it is our job to share and it is God’s job to save.  I tell them over and over again, I have saved no one; it isn’t my job.  I am given the task by God to be an ambassador for Christ, as if God is making His appeal through me (2 Corinthians 5:20).  I am to be His witness (Acts 1:8).

Over the years I have had a few spiritual conversations where I have given resources to people to read and study.   Meeting months later I discovered through asking questions they were dramatically changed.  They went from being an opponent of Christianity to becoming a follower.  When I asked them who they are trusting in for the forgiveness of their sins they said Jesus Christ.  No one gave them the sinner’s prayer; the Holy Spirit utilized the specific resources to convict them of their sin and bring them to Christ.  All I did was point them in the right direction and then let God the Holy Spirit do His saving work.  As far as I know they are still following Jesus.

As I am sharing Jesus, if someone starts to agree with me and shows interest, I go through a series of scriptures to confirm what God is doing.  I usually talk them through the Roman road: 1) Romans 3:23 to establish they are sinners, 2) Romans 6:23 to show the penalty is spiritual separation from God for all eternity, 3) Romans 5:8 to teach them Jesus died on the cross for them, and 4) Romans 10:9, 10 to help them realize Jesus is now in charge of their life.  These scriptures save no one but can help the person realize what it is to be a follower and help me to understand what the person is trusting in.  God uses the Scriptures to bring individuals to Himself.

The confirmation of the work of the Holy Spirit is whether or not the person is becoming more like Christ.  As James says faith without works is dead.  The major sign of true belief is who are you following?  Are you following the Biblical Jesus?  Or do you following Buddha, yourself, or some other god?  Are you committed to the truths of the Bible?  Jesus said John 10:27 My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.”  All true new believers will begin a new life in Christ.  The Apostle Paul writes about believers in Romans 8:9, However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.”  Our lives and our beliefs will reflect whether or not we have the Spirit of Christ.  The sinner’s prayer either can confirm what has already happened or God will use the shared Scriptures to bring or reconcile her to Himself.   2 Corinthians 5:17-18 “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. 18  Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation…”  It is God who saves, not the sinner’s prayer.

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Part 1 Challenging a Jehovah’s Witness

The Watchtower

The Watchtower (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After spending the night in Torrance California visiting my elderly dad, I was out for a morning run around the Alondra Park Golf Course.  As I was going along I decided to change my course and shorten my run so I could walk with my wife Peggy.  As I was passing the small lake on my left, a Jehovah’s Witness reached out to give me a Watchtower Magazine.  She had no idea who I was and how much I knew about her religion.

Knowing I was on a time bind, I had to make sure I hit her with one of my strongest arguments.  After we exchanged some pleasantries, I said we have a different view over who Jesus is.  To demonstrate our differences I had her turn to John 20:28.  I gave her some background information on the passage.  Jesus had risen from the dead and appeared to the disciples.  However, Thomas was not present at that meeting.  As the disciples explained how Jesus appeared to them Thomas said unless Jesus showed him the nail prints in His hands and feet and the hole in his side he would not believe.  Jesus then appears to Thomas and tells him to touch his wounds and believe.  I then had her then read verses 28: Thomas answered and said to Him, ‘My Lord and my God!’”  Thomas  called Jesus the one true God.  This passage clearly contradicted her beliefs about Jesus.  

The conversation went great and afterwards as I ran off towards my dad’s house, I knew I had given her something to think about.  This had all the appearances of a divine appointment.  My sudden change of my running course and the fact she wanted to stop me pointed to God’s intervention.  Utilizing John 20:28 was an excellent quick hitting challenge that God could use in this woman’s heart.

In my first series on Jehovah’s Witnesses I gave background information on the Watchtower Organization and answered some of their favorite scriptures.  In the second series I examined the lies and deception of the Watchtower Organization.  The primary focus was the anti-Trinitarian booklet, “Should You Believe in the Trinity?”  I presented how they misrepresented the resources and scholars they quoted.  In the booklet they attempted to make Trinitarians agree with their false beliefs.

In this third series I would like to present three solid arguments based on what the Bible teaches that contradicts the Jehovah’s Witnesses beliefs.  I will present them in the order of my preferences.

  1. Thomas calling Jesus Lord and God in John 20:28.  By far my favorite verse for “on the run” evangelism.
  2. The Alpha and Omega argument from Revelations.  Both Jesus and Jehovah (God) claim to be the only Alpha and Omega.  This is a powerful argument establishing two persons of the Trinity.
  3. John 2:18-21 where Jesus says He will raise Himself up from the dead.  I will show you how you can challenge three Jehovah’s Witness doctrines in one set of passages.

Most Christians, especially in our country, will have multiple future opportunities to share with a Jehovah’s Witness.  The question I am often asked, what are the best quick hitting scriptures to confound the Witnesses at my door?  People are busy but want to make a difference in the lives of the two individuals engaging them in conversation.  They want them to walk away with a spiritual stone in their shoe.  I have presented all of these arguments multiple times and have yet to hear a good answer.  These are truly passages that if presented well cannot be answered adequately.  The primary reason is they all expose the false teachings of the Watchtower Organization.  The individuals at your door will walk away spiritually limping as they hopefully begin to question their beliefs; similar to the woman I talked to on my run.

Go to part 2 here

 

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I am continuing my discussion of an inside the church issue concerning the interpretation of Genesis 1.  Here are five more interpretations.

3. The Framework Interpretation

The distinctive feature of the Framework view is its understanding of days of the week as a metaphor. According to this interpretation, Moses used the metaphor of the week to narrate God’s acts of creation. Thus, God’s supernatural creative words or fiats are real and historical but the exact timing is left unspecified. The purpose of the metaphor is to call Adam to imitate God in work, with the promise of entering His Sabbath rest. Creation events are grouped in two triads of days:

Forming                                                         Filling

Day 1: light & darkness separated   Day 4: sun, moon, stars

Day 2: sky and waters separated   Day 5: fish & birds

Day 3: dry land & waters separated;         Day 6: animals & man

Plants & trees

4. The Analogical Days Interpretation

According to the Analogical view, the “days” of Genesis 1 are God’s workdays, analogous (but not necessarily identical) to human workdays. They set a pattern for our rhythm of work and rest. The six days represent periods of God’s historical supernatural activity in preparing and populating the earth as a place for humans to live, love, work, and worship. These days are broadly consecutive. That is, they are successive periods of unspecified length. They may overlap in part, or they may reflect logical rather than chronological criteria for grouping certain events on certain days.  The sun is not created until the fourth day[1].

5. The Historic Creationism Interpretation

The word used for “beginning” in Genesis 1:1 does not connote any specific length of time, nor does it necessarily mean that the next thing stated follows immediately. What God created in the first verse existed for an undefined period of time before God began the work of preparing the uninhabitable land for the habitation of mankind. The preparation of the uncultivated land and the creation of Adam and Eve occurred in the six literal 24 hour days of Genesis 1, as in Exodus 20:11. This view leaves open the possibility of an old earth, six literal days of creation, and a young humanity on the old earth.  The sun and moon are created in the initial act of creation in Genesis 1:1.

6. The Gap Interpretation

In this view, Genesis 1:1 explained a first creation. That happened, perhaps billions of years ago. Then, a catastrophic event, likely the fall of Satan from heaven, left the earth in the destroyed condition of Genesis 1:2. God responded to this disaster by re-creating the earth again, a few thousand years later in six literal days and repopulating the earth as recorded in Genesis 1:3-27. According to this view, the earth is from the first creation, and mankind is young because of the recent creation.

7. The Theistic Evolution Interpretation

In this view, God essentially began creation and then pulls back from working directly in creation and works instead through the natural process of evolution. The only exception was God involving himself directly again in making of the human spirit.  Some find this view an oxymoron; designed (Theistic) by chance (evolution)[2].  I personally struggle endorsing this view.

I want to reemphasize how old is the universe is an open hand issue and each person reading this blog needs to study to discover what you think best fits the scriptures.  All local pastors at Emmanuel Faith in Escondido and Mission Hills in San Marcos believe the Bible to be God’s Word, inspired and inerrant (without error) and needs to be read according to the intents of the authors and the type of literature; yet they differ in their interpretation of Genesis 1.

Remember the main reason for learning about science and the Bible is because God began his revelation with “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” God thinks science is important and so should we.

The other main reason was to strengthen your faith.  We need to grow in our knowledge that our faith is based on solid evidence; that God’s Word and science are compatible and they do not contradict.  The more we know how faith and science work together the more our love for God will continue to grow stronger.  And the more we will be prepared to share with others.

Go to part 7


[1] http://www.reasons.org/four-views-biblical-creation-account[Primary source for #1-4]

[2] Mark Driscoll & Gerry Breshears, Doctrine, Crossway Publ. Wheaton, Ill. 2010 pgs. 89-92 [Primary source for # 5-7]

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