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Actions Run on the Rails of Beliefs

Certain surveys appear to show the actions and moral values of Christians similar to those who don’t attend church.  I’ve seen stats on divorce saying it is as high as 50% both inside and outside the church.  The reaction of many pastors is to preach more sermons aimed at what the Bible says about proper moral behavior.  And yet overall actions of individuals that comprise the church hasn’t changed.  Should the programs of the church or preacher aim at behavior or is the problem much deeper?

Dr. JP Moreland once wrote: “Beliefs are the rails upon which our lives run.  We almost always act according to what we really believe[1].”  Could the behavior problem be weak beliefs?   Researcher George Barna 10 years ago put out a survey and his conclusion was yes[2].  He writes:

Citing the findings from a just-completed national survey of 2033 adults that showed only 4% of adults have a biblical worldview as the basis of their decision-making, researcher George Barna described the outcome. “If Jesus Christ came to this planet as a model of how we ought to live, then our goal should be to act like Jesus. Sadly, few people consistently demonstrate the love, obedience and priorities of Jesus. The primary reason that people do not act like Jesus is because they do not think like Jesus. Behavior stems from what we think – our attitudes, beliefs, values and opinions. Although most people own a Bible and know some of its content, our research found that most Americans have little idea how to integrate core biblical principles to form a unified and meaningful response to the challenges and opportunities of life. We’re often more concerned with survival amidst chaos than with experiencing truth and significance.”

Barna said our attitudes, beliefs, values, and opinions are the foundation of our actions.  If Jesus is the best moral model for society, then we should be acting more like Him.  He wrote the major reason we don’t act like Jesus is because we don’t think like Jesus.  Only 4% of the population has a Biblical Worldview.

For purposes of his research Barna used certain criteria to identify a person who held a Biblical Worldview.  Obviously, this list of beliefs could be expanded.

For the purposes of the research, a biblical worldview was defined as believing that absolute moral truths exist; that such truth is defined by the Bible; and firm belief in six specific religious views. Those views were that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life; God is the all-powerful and all-knowing Creator of the universe and He stills rules it today; salvation is a gift from God and cannot be earned; Satan is real; a Christian has a responsibility to share their faith in Christ with other people; and the Bible is accurate in all of its teachings.

The next question is, what about the church?  How many people who identify themselves as followers of Jesus Christ have a Biblical Worldview?  The results exposed what I think is a major problem facing the church.

The research indicated that everyone has a worldview, but relatively few people have a biblical worldview – even among devoutly religious people. The survey discovered that only 9% of born again Christians have such a perspective on life. The numbers were even lower among other religious classifications: Protestants (7%), adults who attend mainline Protestant churches (2%) and Catholics (less than one-half of 1%). The denominations that produced the highest proportions of adults with a biblical worldview were non-denominational Protestant churches (13%), Pentecostal churches (10%) and Baptist churches (8%).

Clearly our churches are filled with people who don’t know what or why they believe what they believe.  Barna reported the impact this has on behavior based on questions he asked concerning key moral issues.

People’s views on morally acceptable behavior are deeply impacted by their worldview. Upon comparing the perspectives of those who have a biblical worldview with those who do not, the former group were 31 times less likely to accept cohabitation (2% versus 62%, respectively); 18 times less likely to endorse drunkenness (2% versus 36%); 15 times less likely to condone gay sex (2% versus 31%); 12 times less likely to accept profanity 3% versus 37%); and 11 times less likely to describe adultery as morally acceptable (4% versus 44%). In addition, less than one-half of one percent of those with a biblical worldview said voluntary exposure to pornography was morally acceptable (compared to 39% of other adults), and a similarly miniscule proportion endorsed abortion (compared to 46% of adults who lack a biblical worldview).

Among the more intriguing lifestyle differences were the lesser propensity for those with a biblical worldview to gamble (they were eight times less likely to buy lottery tickets and 17 times less likely to place bets); to get drunk (three times less likely); and to view pornography (two times less common). They were also twice as likely to have discussed spiritual matters with other people in the past month and twice as likely to have fasted for religious reasons during the preceding month. While one out of every eight adults who lack a biblical worldview had sexual relations with someone other than their spouse during the prior month, less than one out of every 100 individuals who have such a worldview had done so.

My conclusion is the majority of churches needs to raise the bar and begin focusing on changing beliefs rather that behavior.  Both are important but if we primarily aim at behavior, according to the work of Barna, we will see little or no change in the actions of our people.

If pastors continue to preach topical sermons, such as how to have a happy marriage, it seems likely we will continue to watch the church to follow the morality of society.  The Bible exhorts pastors to preach the word in season and out of season (2 Tim. 4:2).  I believe this means rightly dividing the word through primarily book studies.  A change in preaching will not likely be enough without the individuals spending time in study (2 Tim. 2:15).  The Scriptures are the foundation of beliefs and if we want to be more like Jesus in our values and opinions we need to be continually impacted by the Word of God.  In other words we need to learn to think like Jesus in order to act like Him.

[1] Moreland, J.P. Loving God with all Your Mind, Navpress Colorado, 1997, pg. 73-74

[2] Barna, George, https://www.barna.org/barna-update/5-barna-update/131-a-biblical-worldview-has-a-radical-effect-on-a-persons-life#.Uic3JD9_b-s


How to Test a Worldview Part 5 Testing Mormonism & Islam

This will be my final post examining worldviews.  I will briefly evaluate Mormonism and Islam asking a few important questions and using REAL to test the answers.


  1. God –Is there more than one God?  What is the nature of God?  Mormons believe there are millions of gods in the universe.  They also believe the Father is God, the Son is God, and Holy Spirit is God.  And a good Mormon can become a god.  Here is a quote from Lorenzo Snow a LDS ex-president: “As man is, God once was; as God is, man may become.”  God the Father was once a man just like us and we can become a god of our own planet.
  2. Death – What happens when you die?  Everyone who dies and never heard the Mormon Gospel gets a second chance.  They go to a post-mortal spirit world where Mormon’s will teach them Mormonism.  Everyone will go to one of three heavens.
  • Telestial kingdom:  Lowest kingdom level where the wicked of the world will spend eternity.  They will be deprived of the presence of God the Father and His Son but will be ministered to by angels and the Holy Ghost.
  • Terrestial kingdom:  This is the second level where honorable people, including “lukewarm” Mormons, will spend eternity.  They will receive the presence of the Son but not the fullness of the Father.
  • Celestial kingdom:  This kingdom consists of 3 different levels.  The top level is the location where the Mormon hopes to be exalted.   This is the place where God the Father dwells and is the goal of all sincere Mormons.  To gain exaltation one must keep all the commandments of the Lord.  It is here they become gods and dwell with their families.

Testing the answers using REAL (Reason, experience, authority, and living)  

Reason: They say the Bible and their scriptures (Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, etc.) do not contradict.  There are a minimum of 28 verses in the Bible that teach there is only one God.  Mormonism teaches there are 3 separate gods for our planet and millions, if not billions of gods throughout the universe.  This is a direct contraction of the Bible.

Authority:  The Book of Mormon is not historically reliable.  The scientific evidence of the so-called ancient Hebrew people group in America shows no Hebrew DNA.  Where are the artifacts?  Archeology has found nothing to support the existence of an ancient Hebrew people group.  Since writing was in existence during the time of this so-called ancient people, what manuscripts do we have from the Nephites and the Laminites?  Of course there is none.  So called golden plates were never seen other than Joseph Smith and a few others who said they saw through the “eyes of faith.”   I have written on the lack of evidence for the Book of Mormon at Part 5 Book of Mormon’s make-believe history and Part 6 Archeology & DNA evidence falsify the Book of Mormon.  Historically, knowing the background of Joseph Smith, why would I trust him?  You can find information on Joseph Smith at: Part 3 Joseph Smith polygamist, Part 4 Joseph Smith occultist and multiple visions.

Living: To reach the Celestial Kingdom, a Mormon has to reach moral perfection.  If they do sin they have to repent and never do that sin again.  No living Mormon can live a morally perfect life.  What Mormon has repented and never did that sin again?


  1. God – For the Muslim Allah is the only true God.  They totally reject the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.  They call belief in the Trinity “Shirk” which means associating partners with Allah and is an unpardonable sin.  All who commit Shirk are destined for hell.
  2. Death – For the Muslim salvation consists of doing the 5 pillars of the faith (Sura 10:109).  Salvation is gained by a combination of belief and works.  God will weigh your good works against your bad deeds. No assurance of heaven.

Give it the REAL test. 

Reason: Can a person earn his or her way to heaven?  How do you know if you’ve done enough?  When it comes to the law, following it (doing good) is what is expected; doing good accounts for nothing.  Every law broken there is a penalty on earth as it is in heaven.  If we do good and obey the speed limit we receive nothing.   However, if you break the speed limit and get caught you pay the penalty you deserve.  It is the same for God (Allah). We break God’s laws daily.  There is a penalty to be paid for every divine commandment we have broken.  As a Muslim, how do you think following the law pays for all the thousands of times you break Allah’s laws?  The answer is it doesn’t!  Under this system no one will get to heaven.  This is why Muslims need Jesus to pay the penalty for their sins.

Authority:  I would challenge the Kor’an and how it was put together.  Can you live by the precepts on the Kor’an?  Do you support the violence taught in the Kor’an?  How do we know this book is from God?

For further reasons why Islam has serious problems I have written a series called Unmasking the Deception of Islam.

As I close this series the following are some things to think about.

  • All beliefs have strengths and weaknesses.  Test any worldview using REAL and follow the belief system that is true.  I believe the Christian worldview has the best answers to life’s tough questions and is logically coherent.
  • Many when confronted with evidence against their beliefs may say the following:
    • I don’t care if my view is contradictory or against reason I am still going to believe.  This is a denial of objective truth and clinging to subjective.  Many people believe due to emotions, rather than evidence.
    • Others ask me, Steve why do you need evidence for what you believe…evidence destroys faith.  This is a poor and unbiblical definition of faith.  The Bible teaches faith is the substance of things hoped for the evidence of things not seen (Heb. 11:1 KJV).  REAL is a good way to test the evidence of a belief to see if it is worthy of your faith.
    • I have had friends tell me in 25 years science or archeology will have the missing evidence.  Really?  This is an example of blind faith covering the weaknesses of the belief.
    • I don’t have enough blind faith to believe in atheism, Hinduism, Mormonism or Islam.  I hope you don’t either.  Look to Jesus.  He has the best answers.  For further study the following books I highly recommend:

Resources:  Books

  • Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics by Norman Geisler
  • Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis
  • Kingdom of the Cults by Walter Martin
  • Worldviews in Conflict by Ronald Nash
  • The Universe Next Door by James SireEnhanced by Zemanta

How to Test a Worldview Part 4 Testing Atheism & Hinduism

Atheism loves to attack other belief systems.  However, it has its own problems.  I have yet to hear anyone make a strong case for why atheism is true.  It seems 99% of the time atheists try to prove other worldviews false.

Since atheism doesn’t have a standard set of doctrines or answers to these tough questions, I used responses I’ve heard, read, or were logical outcomes of the worldview.  Let’s see how they do when tested.

1.   God – Who and what is God?  Does God exist?

  • God does not exist.

2.   Ultimate Reality – How does your worldview explain the existence of reality?  How did the universe come about?

  • Universe came into existence from nothing by nothing.
  • The other option is the universe is eternal. Philosophy and science rules out this possibility.

3.   Origin of life – How did life begin?  How did we get here?

  • Life spontaneously arose from non-life.
  • Life went slime in a pond to us; from simple to complex; descent with modification (all life came from the same early life form).  As some have said “goo to you via the zoo.”

4.   Ethics – What is the basis for morality?  Where do moral truths come from?

  • Morality is manmade.
  • Our sense of morality is passed down through the genes.
  • “Might makes right,” which means whoever is in power makes the rules.

5.   Death – What happens when we die?

  • We go out of existence and our bodies return to the earth.
  • There is no afterlife.

6.   Problem of evil – Does evil exist?  What is the source of evil?

  • It arises from human ignorance.
  • Evil is decided by the majority.  To call something universally evil you need a standard.  There are no objective moral truths.  Therefore, without a universal standard the word “evil” is meaningless.

7.   Meaning to Life – Do we have a purpose and what is it?

  • No ultimate meaning to life.
  • Any meaning or purpose to life depends on the imagination of the individual.

8.   Knowledge – Where does knowledge come from?

  • Information comes from molecules and matter.
  • All actions are a result of stimulus and response.  Free will is an illusion. All life is deterministic.
  • Rationality comes from irrationality, material processes.

I will briefly test the atheistic worldview with REAL.  I will focus on the test of reason.  An atheist has to believe life comes from non-life, design comes from chance, rationality comes from irrationality, and morality (or right and wrong) comes from chemicals.  The difference between mother Teresa and Hitler was a chemical imbalance.  Are these reasonable answers?  Other than an atheist, who would believe this?

Vedanta Hinduism

  1. God:  Brahman is the only God who exists.  Hinduism is pantheistic, which means God is all and all is God.  There is only one reality.  Brahman is inexpressible and indefinable.
  2. Ultimate Reality:  The material world is an illusion, it is Maya.
  3. Authority: The Hindu scriptures are called the Vedas.  The goal of the scriptures became known as the Vedanta, meaning the end.  It is one of 6 schools of Hinduism.
  4. Death: Vedanta Hinduism teaches reincarnation.  Based on the good we do in this life we get to enjoy heaven for a period of time and then we are reincarnated back to earth at a higher level than the last time.  If we do evil while on earth we eat of the bitter fruits for our evil deeds.  Then we return to earth to do better.  Higher states of heaven and earth are rewards for good deeds and lower states are punishments we earn.  Ultimately, we will achieve liberation from Samsara (the cycle of rebirths) and union with Brahman.
  5. Problem of evil: Difficult to answer the source and existence of evil.

I will give it the REAL test.

  1. REASON: Do any answers violate reason or logic?  Where does evil come from?  If everything is God, then is evil God?  If all is God then how do you define good and evil?  There are no distinctions (all in one) and therefore there are no differences between good and evil.  (Read C.S. Lewis Mere Christianity page 33: Rival Conceptions of God)
  1. EXPERIENCE: Does your answer match the way we perceive or experience the world?   The belief all existence is an illusion contradicts the idea that I can know that I am a player in the illusion.  If we are all part of an illusion, Maya, then how would we possibly know that?  Does Charlie Brown know he is a cartoon character?  You have to know the real to know what is not real.
  2. Authority:  What is the evidence the Vedas is a reliable source of information? Must justify reincarnation and any teaching that violates logic and reason.
  3. Live:  Can a person live as if the world is an illusion?  The answer is no.  All who believe in Hinduism will still stop at red lights to avoid being run over.

Go to part 5

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How to Test a Worldview Part 3 Testing Christianity

I will now test a few different belief systems.  In this short series I will not be able to delve into extensive details on each viewpoint.  I will begin by testing the Christian worldview. The answers will be brief.

God – Who and what is God?  Does God exist?

  • God is a personal being.
  • God has revealed himself in creation, Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ, and the Bible.
  • One God subsists in three persons Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; co-equal and co-eternal.

Ultimate Reality – How does your worldview explain the existence of reality?  How did the universe come about?  Is it eternal or did it come into existence at some point in time?  Does reality exist or is it an illusion?

  • God is the creator of the material universe.
  • God is transcendent from his creation and yet, He is immanent (Separate but is actively involved).

Origin of life – How did life begin?  How did we get here?

  • God is the creator of all life.
  • God made humans in His image (character traits, rationality, etc.).

Ethics – What is the basis for morality?  Where do moral truths come from?

  • All morality comes from the nature of God.
  • God is morally perfect.
  • All humans are born with a sin nature (original sin).

Death – What happens when we die?

  • All human souls continue to live beyond death.
  • All souls will face judgment for sins committed during their lifetime.
  • Those who trust Jesus, He pays for their sins.
  • Heaven is for followers of Christ.  Hell is separation from God for all eternity. A place for those who don’t trust Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins.
  • Sinners will not be forced into heaven.  They will be given what they desire; separation from God for all eternity.

Problem of evil – Does evil exist?  What is the source of evil?

  • All good comes from the very nature of God.
  • God allows human free choice and evil results from bad choices.
  • God is not the author of evil but allows evil to exist so free choice is real.
  • God has good reasons for allowing evil.

Meaning to Life – Do we have a purpose and what is it?

  • Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever[1].
  • Followers are to live like Jesus and tell others about Him.
  • Life’s meaning comes from loving God and serving others.

Knowledge – Where does knowledge come from?

  • God is the basis for all logic and reasoning.
  • God has given us an immaterial mind to develop and utilize knowledge and reasoning skills.

Then each of these answers needs to be given the REAL test questions:

  1. REASON: Do any answers violate reason or logic?  None that I am aware of.
  2. EXPERIENCE: Does your answer match the way we perceive or experience the world?  The answers seem to fit the world as we experience it.  One example would be the doctrine of original sin.  Christianity teaches every person is born in sin, passed down from Adam.  If this is true then we would expect every person in the history of the world to have a dark side; to make moral mistakes in some way.  I believe this is verified very early on.  You don’t have to teach your children to be selfish.  They come out of the womb saying “I want it!  Give it to me!”  I can say with confidence a perfect person, other than Jesus Christ, has never lived.  This is exactly what you’d expect if original sin was true.
  3. AUTHORITY: By what authority are you basing your answers?  Primarily on the teachings of the Bible.  Evidence in support of the Bible can be found at my series called:  Is God the Author of the Bible?
  4. LIVE: Can you consistently live by your viewpoint?  YES. A follower of Jesus can live consistently but not perfectly.

The Christian worldview can compete in the marketplace of ideas.  It can answer some of life’s toughest questions.  In fact among all the religions of the world, I believe it is the one who makes the strongest case for the truthfulness of its beliefs.

In my next couple of posts I will examine other belief systems such as atheism, Hinduism, Mormonism, and Islam.

Go to part 4


[1] Westminster Shorter Catechism


How to Test a Worldview Part 2 What are the Issues?

Every worldview should be tested by REAL[1] (Reason, Experience, Authority, and Living).  If you live by an unexamined belief system, you are living by blind faith.  Evidence for your beliefs will not be necessary.  This seems to be the plight of most Mormons.  Truth is not tested; it is felt in the heart and discovered by prayer and positive feelings, supposedly from God.  Any worldview that refuses to examine itself is not worthy of belief.

My suggestion is to memorize these four tests.  You can examine any belief system including your own.

So what exactly do we need to test?  What are some of the key issues that all belief systems have to answer?

Below is a list of topics.  There are additional issues that could be included on this list but this is a starting place.  Under each topic I’ve come up with a series of questions.  Of course many more could be asked.

  1. God – Who and what is God?  Does God exist?  Is God personal or impersonal?  Is there more than one God?
  2. Ultimate Reality – How does your worldview explain the existence of reality?  How did the universe come about?  Is the universe eternal or did it come into existence at some point in time?  Does reality exist or is it an illusion?
  3. Origin of life – How did life begin?  How did we get here?  Does evolution adequately explain the origin of humanity?  How do you explain the complexity of early life forms?
  4. Ethics – What is the basis for morality?  Where do moral truths come from?  Are they manmade or do they come from a transcendent moral law giver?
  5. Death – What happens when we die?  Do we go out of existence?  Is there life after death?  If we do live after death, what does that look like?
  6. Problem of evil – Does evil exist?  What is the source of evil?  Why is there so much evil in the world?
  7. Meaning to Life – What is the meaning of life?  Do we have a purpose and what is it?  Are we just bags of chemicals that have no actual meaning?  Do we create our own purpose?
  8. Knowledge – Where does knowledge come from?  How do we know what we know?

Every belief system has to answer the above questions and many more.  The next step is to test each answer by REAL.

  1. REASON: Does the answer violate reason or logic?  Is the answer contradictory and/or self-defeating?
  2. EXPERIENCE: Does the answer match the way we perceive or experience the world?
  3. AUTHORITY: By what authority are you basing your answers?
  4. LIVE: Can you consistently live by your viewpoint?

Go to part 3 here

[1] The acrostic REAL is my work to make the tests more memorable.  The content for the tests can be found in the book, Worldviews in Conflict by Ronald Nash.

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Do All Roads Lead to Heaven? Part 2 What is Truth?

Do All Roads Lead to Heaven?

I will begin by defining what is meant when people say all roads lead to heaven.  When it comes to religious beliefs, all are equally valid and it is wrong to say a belief is false. All religions have truth.  It is equally wrong to say yours is the only way to heaven.  One survey said 70% of Americans believe many religions lead to eternal life[1].  According to this view no one has the corner on religious truth.

Do I believe all roads lead to heaven?  NO!  It is a ridiculous and self-defeating statement.  I will now spend the rest of my time justifying my conclusion and helping you understand how we can find a belief system that is true.  I will show you how it is the product of shallow thinking when it comes to religious belief.  In my attempt to show the statement “all roads lead to heaven” is false, I need to discuss the issue of truth.

We don’t create truth, we discover it.  It is independent of anyone’s knowledge of it.  If something is true, it is true for all people, in all places, and at any period in time.   The math problem 2 + 2 = 4 is true for everyone, everywhere, and at any time period.  Beliefs cannot change a fact, no matter how sincere they are.  All truths are absolute truths.

Contrary beliefs are possible, but contrary truths are not possible.  We can believe everything to be true but we cannot make everything true[2].  Our beliefs can be wrong.  When is a belief true?  When it matches reality, the way things really are.

I would like to look at two different categories of truth, subjective and objective.  To help you grasp these concepts I will illustrate them by contrasting ice cream and insulin[3].

I will begin with subjective truth.  When it comes to choosing a flavor of ice cream, you choose what you like or what is true for you.  There is no “right” flavor you must choose and no one is going to take issue if you like chocolate more than vanilla.  This is called a “subjective truth.”   It seems very odd for me to say, you are wrong because you think chocolate ice cream is the best.  There are no right and wrongs with subjective truths; there are just preferences.  Remember subjective truth is true for the subject, the person; the focus is on the preferences or choices of the individual. We are not talking about true truth; just personal preferences.

The other type is objective truth.  When it comes to choosing medicine you do not choose what you like or what is true for you.  Rather, you choose the right kind of medicine, medicine that will actually heal you, like insulin if you have diabetes.  This qualifies as an objective truth.  Objective truths are things we discover and cannot be changed by our internal feelings. Objective truths focus on the object at hand, whereas subjective truths focus on the subject; the person making the judgment.  Objective truth claims can be either true or false; whereas, subjective truth claims aren’t subject to that judgment.

Go to part 3 here

[1] USA Today reporting on data from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life U.S. Religious Landscape Survey of 35,000 Americans.  Conducted the survey May through August 2007.

[2] Geisler, Norman & Turek, Frank, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist, Publ. Crossway Books, 2004 p. 37-38

[3] Koukl, Greg, Illustrations and definitions from various teachings.

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Do All Roads Lead to Heaven? Part 1

Why do you believe what you believe?   Why am I a Christian, an atheist, a Buddhist, a Mormon, a Hindu, or whatever?  What would you say?

There are many reasons why people hold beliefs.  Some are emotional.  Some are solid rational reasons.  A person may say I believe in Mormonism because God gave me a burning in my heart it was true.  Others may say I am Catholic because I was raised that way.  Or I am a Muslim because of where I was born and it’s all I know.  Another could say I am new age because it resonates with the way I think the world is.

I have a friend who is a strong advocate of the “all roads lead to heaven” mantra.  All religions are true.  He believes his thinking reflects a new way of looking at belief and is specifically designed to replace outmoded religions like Christianity.

One morning we were talking about Christianity being exclusive.  He said saying Jesus was the only way to heaven was a primitive belief.  In fact it is not only offensive but closed minded and hostile to all other beliefs.  He saw his beliefs as superior and in harmony with all religions.  He finished by saying Christianity is archaic.

A writer in the Los Angeles Times responded to a letter by a Muslim theologian about the relative nature of religious belief.

“It was refreshing to see your article on the religious relativism of Abdul Kareem Surash in which this Iranian theologian is quoted as saying that all religious understanding is relative and that no one interpretation is absolute. Such a lesson in religious tolerance and pluralism is not just needed in Iran. In the United States, people like Pat Robertson, Pat Buchanan and Jerry Falwell need to comprehend that they do not possess a monopoly in understanding God’s will. Additionally, of course, it would be a great day for the world if the Pope would also adopt Surash’s admonition to abandon religious absolutism.”[1]

In this response there is a sense the original writer was promoting a “live and let live” philosophy of which I find commendable.  Especially, since the writer was quoting a Muslim whose religion has many extremely violent followers.

Both the original writer and the responder believe in religious relativism; basically, that all roads lead to heaven.  However, there is a problem with this letter.  The statement “…all religious understanding is relative and that no one interpretation is absolute,” is itself a religious statement.  Therefore, there is at least one interpretation that is absolute.  It is the statement “no one interpretation is absolute.”  The statement itself is self-refuting; it is contradictory and obviously false.  It cannot be true.  I would like to ask the author are you absolutely sure there are no absolutes?

This letter sounds so good.  And yet the basic premise “all religions are relative and no one has the truth,” is a truth statement.  Therefore, according to his letter, he doesn’t have the truth.  His letter self-destructs!

We can be easily be fooled by fine sounding letters like this.  How nice it would be if all roads led to heaven.  However, I am going to show you how it is a false statement.  I would like to help you become more discerning when it comes to religious beliefs.

I have 2 objectives for this series.  You will be able to…

  1. Explain why all roads lead to heaven is false.

Describe the differences between subjective and objective truth


[1] Tabash, Edward, Letter to the Editor, LA Times February 10, 2005

Go to part 2 here

[1] Tabash, Edward, Letter to the Editor, LA Times February 10, 2005

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Does James Contradict Paul? Part 4 Why do Good?

Where do good works fit?

I will use both James and Paul to help us.  We read in James 2:24-26 You see that a man is justified by works [Proven to be righteous] and not by faith alone. 25 In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26 For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.”

True faith in Jesus Christ will be accompanied by good works.  A person who has been justified by faith alone will exhibit a changed life.  She will begin the road to becoming more like Jesus Christ.  Rehab believed God and demonstrated that belief by saving the messengers.  If someone doesn’t display good works, James says that faith is dead; it is non-existent.

Doing good works is part of God’s plan.  Paul writes in Ephesians 2:8-10 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. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”

Good works are a demonstration of a true faith.  The Bible is without knowledge of a faith that doesn’t do good works.  This is why the book of James is so important.  He gives us the classic verse, “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.”  A person who claims to be a Christian and there is no evidence, James clearly condemns that person.  That faith is dead!  Those are strong words but they don’t come from me.  The Bible says a genuine faith will result in becoming more like Jesus.  Not attaining perfection but moving in the right direction.

And God will help us in this process of growth.  The Bible says in Ephesians 2:10 that God prepares good works for us ahead of time.  He has a plan for our life and wants to use us to do good deeds.   Paul writes, “We are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works.”  What are some examples of good works?

  • Sharing our faith – 2 Corinthians 5:20 “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

As ambassadors we are commanded to share our faith.  Evangelism is not an option, it is a command.  God’s plan is to reach those outside the faith and He will use us as His ambassadors to accomplish that task.  We have the privilege of taking God’s message of reconciliation to a world that needs Jesus.  It is the work of the Holy Spirit that places that desire in the life of a believer.  Another good work God prepares for us is…

  • Using our gifts in ministry – 1 Peter 4:10-11 As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. 11 Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

Christ’s body (the church) functions best when all believers use their gifts in the service of others.  All true believers have been given at least one spiritual gift and we are to use these gifts to serve one another.  A typical church has multiple ministries with many needs.  God wants us to get involved.  We need to identify our gifts and use them to serve the body.  My last example is we are to…

  • Become more like Christ – 1 Peter 1:14-15 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;”

God saved us to become like Jesus.  He lived a sinless and holy life and we are to model our lives after Him.  This means moving in the right direction, knowing sinless perfection is impossible.  Fortunately, God helps us by sending us the Holy Spirit.

Good works cannot save you but a true faith will lead to good works.  James does not contradict Paul but is complimentary.  James challenges us to examine our faith to make sure it is genuine.  If your life over time is not moving you to become more like Jesus, James says your faith is dead.

The North County writer who wrote the Bible teaches goods works saves you (part 1), needed to examine the scriptures a little closer.  Paul didn’t invent the doctrine of saved by grace through faith, it is taught throughout the Bible.

Many people are going to be separated from God for all eternity because they believe they are good enough to earn heaven.  As followers of Jesus Christ it is our privilege to share the good news of the free gift of grace.  We are saved by grace through faith and not by works.  You cannot earn heaven.

When I shared with the administrative assistant (part 1) at my school how good works cannot satisfy God and then gave her some illustrations, she finally understood the truth. A few days later she placed her faith in Jesus Christ.  Now she is saved to do good works.  And so is every believer in Jesus Christ.


Does James Contradict Paul? Part 3 Faith Works

Part 2 we saw that Paul was the champion of salvation by grace through faith.  Our next task is to look at the book of James.  Does he teach we are saved by works?

Does James contradict the teachings of Paul?

Many people have struggled with some verses from the book of James.  Martin Luther once called the book a “straw epistle” when compared to the writings of Paul and Peter.  His complaint was it appeared James contradicted Paul and taught we are saved by works and not by faith alone.  Is this true?

In the verses leading up chapter 2 verse 21, James wrote practical aspects of showing the love of Jesus to others.  He dealt with how we should approach suffering, controlling the tongue, doing what God says, and not showing favoritism.  Up to this point James wrote a very practical book for the follower of Jesus Christ.  Beginning in verse 21 James wrote verses that seem to contradict the words of Paul.

James 2:21-26 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? 22  You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; 23  and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS,” and he was called the friend of God. 24  You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25  In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26  For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.” 

Looking at the underlined verses, some people wonder how this book ever got in the Bible.  Paul in Romans said we are justified by faith and not by works. James seems to teach just the opposite; we are justified by works and not faith.  On the surface this looks like a contradiction.

If God is the true author of the Bible we cannot have a contradiction.  God cannot contradict Himself.  How do we reconcile these two sets of passages?

One of the keys to solving the problem is to understand the word “justified.” It has more than one meaning. Paul used one definition of justified in Romans 4 and then James used a different one in chapter 2. It is not uncommon for words to have more than one meaning.  It is the context that dictates what definition is in view.

This is a very important point to remember when studying our Bibles.  Meaning is not derived by looking up a word in the dictionary.  The dictionary can give us the range of meanings but context will reveal the correct definition.

Let’s look at the word justification. There is a difference between when God justifies a man and when a man justifies himself. When I say to you, “Justify yourself,” what am I asking you to do? I am asking you to provide a reason for your actions, prove to me something about the nature of what you did.  You are being asked to show me something.  When God justifies a man, He doesn’t show him something. He gives him something; God gives him righteousness.

So justification has two meanings. First, God justifies the ungodly. What does that mean? He gives them righteousness. He applies it to their account. He “reckons them righteous” is how Paul puts it.  One meaning of the word justify is to give righteousness.  God grants righteousness to all who believe.  The second meaning of the word justify is to prove to be righteous.  It has to do with a demonstration, just like when I ask you to justify yourself.  James says if you say you have faith prove it by your life; justify it by your works.

How do we know there are two different meanings that are in view? Both Paul and James quote Abraham, but they quote different periods of his life. Paul in Romans 4 quotes Genesis 15:6 “Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteous.” This was the time Abraham becomes right with God.

Later on in his life, long after this event, God tested Abraham in Genesis 22.  It was a test of his faith. God says take Isaac and offer him as a sacrifice on the altar. When he obeyed God and does what he was told to do, God stopped him in the middle of it and said, you don’t have to do this anymore, I have provided a substitute.  God then made a very important statement. In Genesis 22:12 He said, “Now I know that you fear God since you have not withheld your son, your only son from Me.”  Abraham proved his saving faith was real; his obedience demonstrated his righteousness.

When Paul sought evidence for Abraham’s justification he quoted from Genesis 15.  When James wanted evidence for Abraham’s justification, he quoted from Genesis 22, many years later.  Here Abraham demonstrated his righteousness and proved himself to be righteous.

Further, what’s interesting is that not only did James quote Genesis 22, but he sees Genesis 22 as a fulfillment of Abraham’s salvation in Genesis 15. We read, James 2:22, 23 “You see that faith was working with his works [He obeyed God and was ready to sacrifice his son Isaac.], and as a result of the works, faith was perfected [shown complete; it was the real deal]; [23] and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. [1].”  James says in v. 23 and the scripture was fulfilled.  How was it fulfilled?  Abraham believed God and He made him righteous. 

Bottom line Paul and James are actually saying the same thing concerning a person’s salvation.  Both are saying we are saved by faith and not by works.  However, James goes further by saying a true faith will always result in actions; in doing good deeds.  In other words Abraham “proved” his faith by his works.

Go to part 4 here

[1] Koukl, Greg, “Faith & Works: Paul VS James,” Stand to Reason Web Site, 1995


Does James Contradict Paul? Part 2 Saved by Grace

We begin our study of whether or not there is a contradiction by looking at what the Apostle Paul taught.

Paul taught we are saved by grace through faith

Paul wrote in Romans chapters 1-3 how we are under God’s judgment.  God is going pour out his wrath upon all who do wrong and His love upon all who do right (2:5-11).  However, we have one major problem; we all break God’s laws!  Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  We are all condemned sinners under the wrath of God.

Beginning in verse 21 of chapter 3 Paul delivered great news!  Romans 3:21-22 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.”  Paul tells us the righteousness of God is available to all who believe.  This righteousness or right standing before God is received by faith.  We read in verse 22 “…even the righteousness of God through faith.”  The object of our faith is Jesus Christ.  We receive God’s righteousness “Through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe.”   Paul taught we are right with God apart from trying to live by the law.  Salvation is open to all who believe.  It is available to everyone, Jew or Gentile by faith in His Son Jesus Christ.  That’s it!  Nothing more!  No works, not being good, just believing in God’s Son.

Paul is now going to use Abraham as an example to emphasize how we can be right with God by faith alone.  What is interesting is Abraham would have been thought of by the Jews as the father of works and not faith.  This was probably why Paul used 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.”   I will define a few key terms:

  • Justified – Legal act by God where our sins are forgiven and we receive Christ’s righteousness.
  • Works – Following God’s law and doing good deeds.
  • Righteousness – Being in right standing or relationship restored with God.
  • Credited (reckoned) – A banking term. God applies righteousness to our account.

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 means a person can pay for his sins by following the law.  Paul here is making a hypothetical statement.  He is saying if Abraham could earn his way to heaven then he could brag about it; he could tell God I didn’t need you.  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 we could earn heaven by works we could boast, however, Paul says boasting is excluded.  Why?  Justification comes by faith and not by our works!

Now Paul is going to reinforce his point from the Old Testament.  Romans 4:3 “For what does the Scripture say?  Abraham believed God and it was credited (reckoned) to him as righteousness.”  This is a quote from Genesis 15:6.  Abraham was credited righteousness by belief; by faith in God.

Paul writes in Romans 4:4, “Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due.”  If you work for it, then God owes you forgiveness.   Verse 5, “But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.”   God’s forgiveness cannot be earned!  We cannot work our way heaven.

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.  It’s not our cash it’s God’s cash; it’s God’s righteousness.  He puts it into our account, and because the account is in our name, then 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.  We receive all this through faith.  Now that’s a deal!  Jesus pays for our moral wrongs on the cross and we receive His goodness.  Not by doing good but by faith.

This is one of the main themes of much of what the Apostle Paul writes.  He is no doubt the champion of salvation by grace through faith.  It is central in his writings to the Church at Galatia and Ephesus.

Some call this a bizarre doctrine invented by Paul and not taught in the Old Testament.  Paul communicated to the church in Rome, salvation by faith was taught in the Old Testament.  Abraham was right with God through faith and not by works.  These individuals need to rethink their position.

Next we will examine the writings of James on this issue.

Go to part 3 here


Does James Contradict Paul? Part 1 Faith versus Works

When I was a physical education teacher in the Escondido School District, one day I visited our school’s administrative assistant who had just had a cancerous tumor removed from her brain.  She was still at risk of dying.  As I drove down her street I prayed for God’s help because I knew I didn’t have the gift of mercy.  What would I say?

After learning more about her surgery, I asked her if she had a system of support and she told me how her wonderful family was meeting her needs.  I then asked her if she had thought about spiritual support.  She proceeded to tell me she used to attend the Catholic Church but had lost touch over the years.  However, due to the situation she had thought a lot about spiritual issues and was reading her Catholic Bible to seek out answers.  I then asked, if she passed away today, why God would let her into heaven?  She said God would let her into heaven because she was a good person and always tried to live a good life.  She was dependent on her good works to please God.

I once asked a similar question to a Muslim taxi driver and he told me Allah would let him into heaven if his good works outweighed his bad.  A Christian Chaplin friend, whose job was to talk to people on the verge of death, told me when he offers the free gift of eternal life through Jesus the vast majority of people about die tell him they don’t need Jesus; they are good enough to get into heaven.

It seems the common answer to the question, why would God let you into heaven, is always the same.  God will let me in because I am a good person and have lived a good life.  God weighs the good and the bad and a person with more good goes to heaven.  Not one has said they are headed for hell.

Other times I’ve asked people, what does the Bible teach concerning how you get to heaven?  Most say the Bible teaches heaven is earned by doing good works.  I follow with, where in the Scriptures do you find this?   I have yet to get an answer.

What does the Bible teach?  Are we saved by faith or are we saved by works?  In a letter to the editor in a local newspaper a writer wrote that salvation by faith alone was an invention of the Apostle Paul’s.  He said the writers of the Old Testament, Jesus, and others in the New Testament taught heaven was earned by doing good works.  He writes, “After Paul invented his bizarre doctrine [Faith alone], Jesus’ brother, James, wrote a rebuttal directly contradicting justification by faith without works (James 2:17-26).”

Does the Bible teach we get to heaven by our good works?  Is justification by faith alone a bizarre doctrine?  Was the Apostle Paul the inventor of this crazy teaching?  Do Paul and James contradict?

I think the best way to solve this mystery is by looking at the controversy that surrounds Paul and James.  Both use the Old Testament to make their case and by solving this supposed contradiction it will help us grasp what the Bible teaches.

My objective in this short series is to demonstrate that the writings of these two great men are not contradictory but complementary and that the Bible teaches we are saved by grace through faith alone and not by works.

Go to part 2 here


What is Faith? Part 5 Faith that honors Christ

What have we learned about faith?  We honor God by…

  1. Growing in Knowledge: Biblical faith is reinforced by facts.   It does not believe in the unbelievable.
  2. Looking for Evidence: The Bible over and over again demonstrates true Biblical faith is supported by evidence.  “So that you may know” is a repeated phrase in both the Old and New Testaments, showing faith is based on knowing the truth.
  3. Demonstrating Action: Biblical faith will lead to action.  Hebrews chapter 11 is all about individuals who lived out their faith.
  4. By Trusting in His Son Jesus Christ:  Through the power of the Holy Spirit we become a lifelong follower of Jesus.

When my friend said it takes all the faith he could muster to believe the creation account in Genesis, I had to spend time with him discussing the true definition of faith. I told him it was a commitment to reality, to acting on what you have good reason to believe is true.  Science and the Bible properly interpreted do not contradict; they are compatible.  After a few minutes of discussion we were in total agreement and he felt relieved there were real answers to his concerns.  His faith was strengthened.

Let me finish by saying God is not honored by Blind faith.  Ignorance is never considered a spiritual discipline.  Here is an illustration to make my point.  Let’s say you are downtown in the city of Los Angeles with $10,000 and you give it to a complete stranger and ask him to deposit it in the bank.  He asks, “Why are you asking me to do this deed.  You don’t know me.”  You answer, “That’s okay, I have a simple faith in you and trust you will deposit the money.”  Then you leave.  What does this man think of you?  He thinks you are an idiot!  He feels no honor in your blind trust and has no good reason to think otherwise.

However, in a second circumstance you approach another stranger and ask him to deposit the $10,000.  And he asks, “Why are you asking me to do this deed.  You don’t know me.”  You answer, “I know more about you than you could fathom.  I have seen you from afar at work and seen what a hard worker you are.  I have talked to co-workers and found out how honest you are and a man of integrity.  No, I know you and I trust you.”  Do you think the second man feels honored?  Of course he does.  The first man thinks you’re a fool and the second man feels he has been honored by your trust.

What would you say to Jesus if He was to ask you why you trusted him?  Would you say, “Oh I have a simple faith and I trusted in you so I could escape hell.”  Do you think this would honor Jesus?  However, if your answer was, “I trusted in you because I have evidence that you were raised from the dead, that you loved me so much you died on the cross to pay for my sins, and that you are coming back.  You are worthy of my trust and the more I study about you the more my faith is reinforced you are worthy of praise and worship.”  Which faith honors Jesus?

Blind faith honors no one.  Biblical faith, where knowledge is supported by growing evidence, honors Jesus Christ.  As we see our faith matching reality we can confidently act upon that faith.  The disciples’ faith changed the world.  Upon a similar foundation of faith in Jesus we can do the same.


Did Jesus Teach we are Saved by Works?

Question: Did Jesus actually teach we are saved by works in Matthew 5:20?  Did He contradict the teachings of the Apostle Paul?

Answer:  Matthew 5:20 “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

If Jesus taught we can earn heaven by works, then according to Matthew 5:20 you would have to live a life morally superior to the Jewish religious leaders.  Yet, later in Matthew 5:48 Jesus sets the bar even higher.  Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  Jesus here says you have to live a morally perfect life.  How many people, outside of Jesus, have lived a sinless life?  The Apostle Paul, speaking about all humanity, answered that question in Romans 3:10-12 (NIV) As it is written: ‘There is no one righteous, not even one; 11 there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. 12 All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.’”   Paul’s answer is crystal clear; no one is good, not even one.  You can only enter the kingdom of heaven by living a perfect life and no one has done that.  Everyone who has ever lived is doomed to hell.  So why did God give us the law if we cannot possibly keep it?  And if our destiny is eternal destruction, how can we be saved from the wrath of God (Romans 1:18-20)?

The Mosaic Law was not given to show us how to get into heaven but to show us how we fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23).  If anyone thinks they can earn their way to heaven they need to read the Book of Galatians.  Paul says in Galatians 2:21 “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.”  If we could earn heaven by our good works, then we didn’t need Jesus Christ to die on the cross for our sins.  Paul writes the law was actually given to lead us to Christ.  Once we understand we cannot enter heaven through trying to obey the law we should be open to a savior from sins.  Galatians 3:24Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.”  The word justified means to be declared innocent of all our sins.  Through trusting in the finished work of Christ on the cross we can be justified before God.  Through His death, Jesus pays the penalty for all our moral wrongs.  We are saved by grace through faith and not by works (Ephesians 2:8, 9).

In the New Testament, Jesus taught we are saved by belief (faith).  While teaching a crowd, Jesus was asked what they could do to please God.  He gave them an answer they didn’t expect.  John 6:28-29 Therefore they said to Him, ‘What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?’ 29 Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.’”  The people wanted to know what good works would get them into heaven and Jesus answered simply believe or trust in Him.

Additional supporting Scriptures that Jesus taught we are saved by belief (faith):

  • John 3:16 [Jesus speaking] “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”
  • John 10:26-28 [Jesus speaking] But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep. 27 My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; 28 and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.”
  • John 20:28-29 Thomas answered and said to Him [Jesus], ‘My Lord and my God!’
    29 Jesus *said to him, ‘Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.’”
  • John 20:30-31 Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.”

Jesus taught we are saved by grace through faith and not by doing good works.  Jesus and the Apostle Paul were complimentary and not contradictory.  They were on the same page.

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Do All Roads Lead to Heaven? Part 4 The Answer is NO!

Since religious truth claims are objective, then the belief all roads lead to heaven is contradictory.  Here is why.  If all roads lead to heaven then all belief systems are true.  This has three major problems:

  1. If all views are true then Christianity is true.  The Christian belief Jesus is the only way to heaven and all other  religions are false is therefore true.  This contradicts the belief all roads lead to heaven.  On the other hand if the statement Jesus is the only way is false, then Christianity doesn’t lead to heaven, contradicting all roads lead to heaven.
  2. All roads cannot lead to heaven because the core beliefs or the central doctrines of all worldviews contradict each other.  Let’s look at a few examples.
    • Christianity teaches you cannot get to heaven by doing good.  Islam teaches you must do good to get to heaven.  These views are contradictory and both cannot be true at the same time.
    • God is personal or God is impersonal.  Christianity and Hinduism cannot both be true
    • Christianity says Jesus bodily rose from the dead.   All other religions deny this event.  Both cannot be true.
  3. The “all roads lead to heaven” mantra is an exclusive belief system.  It says if you believe your religion is the only way to heaven then you are wrong. That means exclusive religions like Christianity, Islam, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Mormonism are wrong.  In fact all worldviews (belief systems) think they are right and everyone else is wrong.   Therefore, all roads don’t lead to heaven.

A story is told of an east coast pastor who began his sermon with all religious beliefs are true.  During the sermon a college student near the front squirmed in his seat as he listened to the pastor preach.  At the end, as the congregation was filing out the back, the pastor greeted them.  The student tried to sneak out but the pastor stopped him, and asked him where he was from?  He said I am on break from a seminary in Bowling Green.  The pastor asked what religious belief he was and the student said he’d rather not say.  The pastor asked why not?  The student replied I don’t want to offend you.  “Oh son,” the pastor replied, “it doesn’t matter what your beliefs are, they are all true.  So what do you believe?”  The student said okay and whispered in the pastor’s ear, “I believe you are going to hell.”  The pastor got red faced and said I guess I made a mistake!  All religious beliefs cannot be true, because yours certainly isn’t true!

Summary: All roads do not lead to heaven.  Contradictory teachings cannot be true.  Either the Christian who says you must place your faith in the saving work of Jesus to get to heaven or other religions are right who teach your good must outweigh your bad to qualify for heaven.  Both cannot be true at the same time and in the same way.

The saying “all roads lead to heaven” is one type of religious pluralism.  It is a popular view but one that is intellectually lazy.  It is a self-defeating belief.  There are other versions of religious pluralism that are more defensible. However, I will not analyze those ideas and move forward examining how to choose a worldview.  If all roads don’t lead to heaven, then how do we figure out which belief system is the best?  Which one is objectively right?

Go to How to Test a Worldview Part 1


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What is Faith? Part 4 Actions Follow Faith

In my previous post we looked at examples of faith and how it is supported by evidence.  Here we’ll see the importance of a faith lived out.

Exercising Biblical faith leads to action

We have a natural faith we use all the time.  By natural faith you sat down today on chairs without giving it much thought.  You had faith in the manufacturer and based on previous experience, you expressed that faith by sitting down.  You could say you trusted in the workmanship of the chair.  However, sometimes even fairly reliable things break; planes do sometimes crash; chairs do sometimes break.  The object of our natural faith is not always reliable.

However, Biblical faith is a supernatural experience.  Biblical faith begins when we place our trust in Jesus Christ.  It continues as we live this faith out through the power of the Holy Spirit.  When we place our faith in Jesus we trust something more real and someone more trustworthy than anything or anyone we could ever comprehend with our natural senses.   It is supernatural because the object of our faith, God, is a supernatural being.  Since we live in a natural world, evidence to support our belief is both natural and therefore testable and it is also supernatural, God working in us and through us.

Natural faith depends on the natural senses.  Hebrews 11:1 speaks of a supernatural faith with an unshakeable assurance that is contrary to the natural man.  This faith yields the conviction of things not seen.  It is by faith we begin to experience God and without this faith we cannot even please Him.

Hebrews 11:6 And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” 

We exercise faith by…

1.   Placing our trust in Godfor he who comes to God must believe that He is

Biblical faith begins with believing in God.  The Bible says we do that by placing our trust in His Son Jesus Christ.  In John 14:6 “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”  Heaven awaits only those who have placed their trust in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins.

We exercise faith by…

2.   Producing actions that demonstrate that trustHe is a rewarder of those who seek Him.  Here we see Biblical faith doesn’t end with belief.  You could say it just begins.  Faith is lived out by those who actively seek God.

Biblical faith is belief that is demonstrated by deeds.  Seeking after something is an action.  This is what pleases God.  The majority of the Hebrews 11 is about individuals who served as examples of “those who seek him.”  Their faith was supported by their actions.  In chapter 11 we see example after example of people who placed their faith in God and then lived out that faith.  Here is a sampling of true saving faith in action.

  • Hebrews 11:7 By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.”

Noah followed the command of God and built a large ark without an ocean nearby.  He was mocked by the people.  They thought he was a fool.  He warned them of the impending judgment of God but they refused to listen.  Through his faith his family was saved and all mankind perished.  Noah acted by faith; by earnestly seeking God.  When told by God to build an ark he obeyed.  A second example of faith in action was Abraham.

  • Hebrews 11:8 By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going.”

Abraham, soon to be the Father of the Hebrew people, was told by God to stop what he was doing, pack his bags and go.  So what do we see?  Genesis 12:4 So Abram went forth as the LORD had spoken to him; and Lot went with him. Now Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.”  Abraham was an old man and yet by trusting in God, Abraham acted upon that faith and left.

Faith is not just intellectual assent. It’s not just acknowledging that certain facts about Jesus, the Bible, or the resurrection happen to be true. Faith is a trust lived out.  It’s taking your life and putting it on the line based on your confidence in those facts.  To please God we must actively seek Him.  Actively seeking him is to follow Him, is to produce actions that demonstrate a true faith.

Go to part 5 here


What is Faith? Part 3 Examples of Biblical Faith

I will provide four Biblical examples to establish faith is more than wishing.  I’d like to show there is no inconsistency between knowing something is true and having faith in it.

In Exodus 3 we see Moses going out into the wilderness and encountering a burning bush where God gave him the directive to go back to Egypt and ask Pharaoh to let His people go. Moses then asked God why anyone would believe he speaks for Him.   God told him to pick up his staff and throw it down. It turned into a serpent. God said pick up the serpent and it turned back into a staff.  God said now do these miracles and others before the Jewish people and Pharaoh.  He then told Moses I will produce hail, frogs, and turn the Nile River into blood. And through you I will put the sun out and more.

Exodus 7:17 Thus says the LORD, ‘By this you shall know that I am the LORD…’”  Did notice the key phrase? “By this you shall know.” This phrase is repeated over and over again throughout this miraculous account. God did these visible acts of power, not so the people of Israel could hope or wish or believe the unbelievable, but so that they could know. When Pharaoh asked Moses why should I let your people go, Moses demonstrated God’s power. God didn’t tell Moses to ask Pharaoh to take it by faith. He gave evidence; powerful proof that God was in fact working through Moses. 

In Mark 2 we see Jesus preaching in a house.  Most are familiar with the story where the friends open the roof and let the paralytic down. Jesus said to him, “Your sins are forgiven.”  The people immediately got angry because who could forgive sins but God alone?

Jesus understood what they were thinking and He said: “What’s harder to say, your sins are forgiven, or to rise, take up your pallet and go home?”  For me it would be harder to say, arise, take up your pallet and go home. I can go into a room and say your sins are forgiven and nobody is going to know exactly what I am talking about. But if I lay hands on somebody in a wheelchair and I say, take up your wheelchair and go home, and they sit there, I will look pretty dumb.

Jesus is going to do both.  In order to support His power to forgive sins, which cannot be observed, He does the impossible and heals a paralytic, which can be observed.  Jesus said, “In order that you may know that the Son of Man has the power and authority to forgive sins, I say to you, arise, take up your pallet and go home.” And the man got up and walked out. Notice the phrase, “In order that you may know.”  Here we see the very same message in the Old and New Testaments!  He is not asking the observers to take what He did by blind faith but by observing His miracles in action.

In Acts 2 we see the first sermon preached following the resurrection. Peter was in front of a massive Jewish audience. He told them about how he and the other disciples were eyewitnesses to the resurrection of Jesus.  He was making an appeal to evidence that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God.

Peter tells them, “These men are not drunk as it seems, but rather this is a fulfillment of prophecy. David spoke of this. Jesus got out of the grave, and we saw him, and we proclaim this to you.”  He points to the resurrection as the confirmation of the truth of the Hebrew Scriptures.

Notice how he ends his sermon.  Acts 2:36, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.” There we find a familiar phrase. “Know for certain.” Here Peter points to the resurrection as physical evidence to support his contention Jesus is the Messiah.

The Bible is loaded with examples of asking people to believe based on the evidence.  In Romans 1:4 Paul said, Who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead…”  The power of the resurrection declares Jesus is the Son of God.  Is that just a blind faith statement? Is it something we just wish for? The resurrection was a fact witnessed by Paul and hundreds of others (1 Cor. 15:6).  The evidence supporting Jesus as the Son of God is the fact of the resurrection.

Finally, in the book of 1 John we see this all brought together. 1 John 5:13, “These things,” John says, “I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal life.”

John wants us to know it! Remember how John started out his book? He started out by saying he was not only an eyewitness of the resurrection but he personally spent time with Jesus. “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have beheld and our hands handled concerning the Word of Life, and the life was manifested, and we have seen and bear witness and proclaim to you the eternal life.”  (1 John 1:1,2)

In reference to the disciples and others he said we walked with Jesus, we talked with Him, we touched Him; therefore our faith is not vain hope. It is not simply wishing. We have put our trust in God based on the evidence, and that’s what Biblical faith entails.

According to the Bible, faith does not believe the unbelievable. Rather, it is an act of trust based on evidence that leads to action. That’s why Peter and others said, “Know for certain.”

Go to part 4 here


What is Faith? Part 2 Defining Biblical Faith

In my previous post I established what Biblical faith is not.  I gave examples of how Biblical faith does not believe the impossible.  I would now like to define it.

What is Biblical faith?

Blind faith:  Believes in things when common sense tells you not to.  Another local editorial writer said this, “Among several definitions of faith, one finds ‘firm belief in something for which there is no evidence.’  It is noteworthy that concrete physical evidence is unnecessary for religious belief.  Unswerving faith alone can be sufficient to sustain and defend religious belief[1].”  This is what I will call blind faith.

Biblical faith: This is the opposite of blind faith.  It doesn’t believe against the evidence.  Instead, Biblical faith is knowledge, foundationally based on evidence, which results in action.  Let me support this definition from a passage found in the Book of Hebrews.

Hebrews 11:1 (NASB) “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” We see the words assurance and conviction–that is, confidence.  According to Webster’s dictionary assurance means to be certain in the mind.  Conviction means a strong persuasion or belief.  How are these key words tied to faith?

In the movie “Back to the Future Part 2” the villain Biff found out about the professor’s time machine.  He then stole a book that had the results of sporting events over a number of years.  By going back in time he could then use the book to bet on the winning teams and win a fortune.  Do you think Biff simply hoped he would win?  No!  Do you think Biff had the assurance he was going to win?  Absolutely!  Do you think his conviction pertaining to who would win gave him the confidence to place the bets?  Certainly!

The same goes for Biblical faith.  For the Christian the facts matter. You cannot have assurance for something you don’t know you’re going to get. You can only hope for it.  Evidence strengthens our assurance; evidence strengthens our conviction our beliefs are true.

Now faith is a deeply misunderstood word.  A better word for faith is trust.  The more we know about something the more we can trust it.  I travel around the country putting on workshops for physical educators.  I can know a lot about airplanes and their performance record but until I walk onto the plane I am not expressing faith.

The same goes for marriage.  I can know all you can know about the institution of marriage but until I walk down the aisle and say “I do” I am not placing my faith or trust in the institution of marriage.  Remember faith is knowledge resulting in action.

Go to part 3 here

[1] West, Dick; “Faith doesn’t need proof,” North County Times; Faith & Values 1/5/07


What is Faith? Part 1

Have you ever heard the statement, “Well if you don’t understand, just have faith!”  This is an answer given by many well-meaning Christians.  Numerous young people have walked away from Christianity simply because their questions were never addressed.  The only answer they got was, “Quit doubting and just have faith.”

Faith is a word that is often deeply misunderstood. Some people define faith as believing the impossible. People of faith believe that which is contrary to evidence. People of faith ignore reality.  One friend told me that with all the scientific discoveries, it takes all the faith he can muster to believe Genesis chapter 1.

In the movie “The Miracle on 34th Street” the mother tries to convince her daughter to believe by faith that the man who claimed to be Santa was the real Santa.  Here was an extremely intelligent mother telling her daughter to just believe; to just have faith.  She then gave this definition, “Faith is believing in things when common sense tells you not to.”

A letter to the editor to a local newspaper one writer wrote about faith:  “I met a likable fellow at a tennis court in San Marcos last year and discovered that he was a creationist. I said the fossil record shows sequentially changing species through time. He said biologists, geologists and paleontologists are wrong.  I asked how Noah’s flood could have occurred around 2,250 B.C. without the Egyptians noticing, since their civilization was over 1,000 years old by then. He said historians and archaeologists are wrong.  I told him the world must be over 6,000 years old because some processes on Earth took millions of years to occur. He said chemists and geophysicists are wrong. I told him that light from some galaxies has taken millions of years to reach us. He said physicists and astronomers are wrong.  So, I asked: With nearly all of science being so thoroughly wrong on nearly everything, who isn’t wrong? The answer was himself and those who agreed with his literal interpretation of the Bible. Welcome to the alternate reality of creationism’s faith-based science[1].”

The creationist and others suggest that it is not preferable to search for evidence to support your faith. Faith is not the kind of thing that has anything to do with facts. .  I had a research pediatrician once ask me, Steve why do you place so much importance on evidence for your faith?  Don’t you know evidence destroys the beauty of faith?  Here was a man who deals with facts everyday but when it came to his religious beliefs he threw out any notion that facts had anything to do with his beliefs.

In the examples above we find individuals that believe if we have evidence to prove what we believe, then that takes away from real faith. What they’ve done is made a virtue out of believing against the evidence.  This is all wrong.

Think about it for a moment. Talbot philosophy professor, Dr. J.P. Moreland has suggested that if this is really the Christian view of faith, the best thing that could happen to Christianity is for the bones of Jesus to be discovered. Finding His bones would prove He didn’t rise from the dead. When Christians continue to believe that He did, then, they would be demonstrating the strongest of all faith, believing something that all the evidence proved was false; they would be “Believing the unbelievable.”

This is silly. We have faith in the resurrection because we have evidence that Jesus rose from the dead. If we’re encouraged to believe because of the evidence for the resurrection, then that proves this other view of faith is false. It may be the view Christians hold in many cases, but it is not the view of the Bible. It is not the view of Christianity.

My objective is to help you understand what Biblical faith is.  I will make the case that “Faith without evidence is dead.”

Go to part 2 here

[1] Carr, Fred; “Creationism has an alternate reality,” North County Times; Faith & Values


Why Believing in a Creator is Reasonable

Why on earth are we here?  As we look at the odds against the existence of human life on earth, let alone any life, it seems reasonable to point to a designer.  However, this doesn’t sit well with atheists and the scientific community.

Dennis Prager, Los Angeles radio talk show host and editorial writer gives us a glimpse at how the multiverse argument, put forth by some in the science community, actually establishes the validity of the design argument and the rationality of those who posit a creator.  The following is an excellent article outlining the weaknesses of this viewpoint.

Why Some Scientists Embrace the ‘Multiverse’ by Dennis Prager[1]  6/18/13

Last week, in Nice, France, I was privileged to participate, along with 30 scholars, mostly scientists and mathematicians, in a conference on the question of whether the universe was designed, or at least fine-tuned, to make life, especially intelligent life. Participants — from Yale, Princeton, Harvard, Berkeley and Columbia among other American and European universities — included believers in God, agonistics and atheists.

But it was clear that the scientific consensus was that, at the very least, the universe is exquisitely fine-tuned to allow for the possibility of life. It appears that we live in a “Goldilocks Universe,” in which both the arrangement of matter at the cosmic beginning and the values of various physical parameters — such as the speed of light, the strength of gravitational attraction and the expansion rate of the universe – are just right. And unless one is frightened of the term, it also appears the universe is designed for biogenesis and human life.

Regarding fine-tuning, one could write a book just citing the arguments for it made by some of the most distinguished scientists in the world. Here is just a tiny sample found on the website of physicist Gerald Schroeder, holder of bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he later taught physics.

Michael Turner, astrophysicist at the University of Chicago and Fermilab: “The precision is as if one could throw a dart across the entire universe and hit a bull’s eye one millimeter in diameter on the other side.”

Paul Davies, professor of theoretical physics at Adelaide University: “The really amazing thing is not that life on Earth is balanced on a knife-edge, but that the entire universe is balanced on a knife-edge and would be total chaos if any of the natural ‘constants’ were off even slightly.”

Roger Penrose, the Rouse Ball Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford, writes that the likelihood of the universe having usable energy (low entropy) at its creation is “one part out of ten to the power of ten to the power of 123.” That is “a million billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion zeros.”

Steven Weinberg, recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics, and an anti-religious agnostic, notes that “the existence of life of any kind seems to require a cancellation between different contributions to the vacuum energy, accurate to about 120 decimal places. This means that if the energies of the Big Bang were, in arbitrary units, not: 10000000000000000000000000000000000000 00000000000000000000000000000000 00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000, but instead: 1000000000000000000000000000 000000000000000000000000000000000 00000000000000000000000000 000000000000000000000000000000001, there would be no life of any sort in the entire universe.”

Unless one is a closed-minded atheist (there are open-minded atheists), it is not valid on a purely scientific basis to deny that the universe is improbably fine-tuned to create life, let alone intelligent life. Additionally, it is atheistic dogma, not science, to dismiss design as unscientific. The argument that science cannot suggest that intelligence comes from intelligence or design from an intelligent designer is simply a tautology. It is dogma masquerading as science.

And now, many atheist scientists have inadvertently provided logical proof of this.

They have put forward the notion of a multiverse — the idea that there are many, perhaps an infinite number of, other universes. This idea renders meaningless the fine-tuning and, of course, the design arguments. After all, with an infinite number of universes, a universe with parameters friendly to intelligent life is more likely to arise somewhere by chance.

But there is not a shred of evidence of the existence of these other universes. Nor could there be since contact with another universe is impossible.

Therefore, only one conclusion can be drawn: The fact that atheists have resorted to the multiverse argument constitutes a tacit admission that they have lost the argument about design in this universe. The evidence in this universe for design — or, if you will, the fine-tuning that cannot be explained by chance or by “enough time” — is so compelling that the only way around it is to suggest that our universe is only one of an infinite number of universes.

Honest atheists — scientists and lay people — must now acknowledge that science itself argues overwhelmingly for a Designing Intelligence. And honest believers must acknowledge that the existence of a Designing Intelligence is not necessarily the same as the existence of benevolent God.

To posit the existence of a Creator requires only reason. To posit the existence of a good God requires faith.

One additional point I would like to add.  How did the first universe begin and then reproduce to make trillions of universes?  All they’ve done is push the creator problem into a new realm and they have no explanation how the first universe can come from nothing by nothing.

Thanks Dennis Prager for your finely tuned argument.


Don’t be Religious Part 5 Examine Yourself

So much of my inspiration for this series was provided by the thought provoking book by A.W. Pink called Studies on Saving Faith.  His writings confronted the religious believer (spiritless) and gave indicators of what a spirit-filled follower of Jesus would look like.

Pink’s challenge to the reader was to examine yourself to see if you are truly saved.  The Apostle Paul writes, 2 Corinthians 13:5 Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?”   The religious person many times will object to anyone questioning his faith and will ignore passages in the Bible that implore him to test his faith.  He thinks examining his faith is totally unnecessary.

I would like to finish this series by looking at some marks of a spirit-filled believer.  A follower will be 1) drawn by the Father (John 6:44), 2) believe essential doctrines, 3) sealed with the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 1:22), 4) endure to the end, and 5) become more like Jesus (sanctification).  Let’s examine each of these marks a little closer.

1.   Drawn by the Father:  Jesus says, “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him” (John 6:44). Pink writes:

 This “drawing” is accomplished by the Spirit: first, in effectually enlightening the understanding; secondly, by quickening the affections; third, by freeing the will from the bondage of sin and inclining it toward God. By the invincible workings of grace, the Spirit turns the bent of that will, which before moved only toward sin and vanity, unto Christ[1].  Without the drawing of the Father, you are not a follower of Christ.  The Holy Spirit must do a work in your life before you will bend your knee to Jesus.

 2.   Believe essential doctrines: We must believe we have been saved by grace through faith and not by our works.  Minimal facts concerning salvation: 1) all people have sinned (Rom. 3:23), 2) the penalty for our sin is death (Rom. 6:23), 3) Jesus Christ died to pay the penalty for our sins (Rom. 5:8)[2].  Other possible essential doctrines could include believing in the Trinity, resurrection of Jesus, only one God, and that Jesus is the Messiah.  A person cannot reject an essential doctrine and call herself a Christian.

 3.   Sealed by the Holy Spirit:  In Romans 8 Paul contrasts the flesh [love of sin] with the spirit.  He is essentially making a distinction between a spirit-filled believer and a spiritless (flesh driven) non-believer.  Only a true believer is indwelt with the Holy Spirit.  He writes in 2 Corinthians 1:21-22 Now He [God] who establishes us with you in Christ and anointed us is God, 22  who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge.”  It is the Holy Spirit we hear in our conscience that convicts us of our sin and is shaping us to become like Jesus.  It is an internal pledge or confirmation we are saved.

 4.   Endure to the end: A true follow of Christ will stay the course until he or she dies.  He will imperfectly walk with the Lord his entire life, progressing towards Christlikeness, and not rejecting his faith.  In this passage Jesus was warning his disciples of tough times ahead.  Matthew 10:22 “You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved.”  Enduring to the end is a mark of a true believer in Jesus.

5.   Becoming more like Jesus:  A changed life can be a demonstration of the power of the Holy Spirit.  Paul writes, Galatians 5:22-24 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”   Paul writes in Romans we are dead to sin and alive to Christ.  We will never reach moral perfection but over time the ongoing work of the spirit in the life of a Christian will be evident.

Some of the characteristics above can be observed but others, such as the drawing of the Father and sealing of the Holy Spirit are invisible.  This is why it is so difficult to know who truly believes and who doesn’t.  Some can fool us into thinking they are a follower.  Pink writes about the person who has head knowledge only:

How many rest on their sound doctrinal views of Christ. They believe firmly in His Deity, His holy humanity, His perfect life, His vicarious death, His bodily resurrection, His ascension to God’s right hand, His present intercession on high, and His second advent. So too did many of those to whom James addressed his epistle, but he reminded them that the “demons also believe and tremble” (James 2:19). O my reader, saving faith in Christ is very much more than assenting to the teachings of Scripture concerning Him; it is the giving up of the soul unto Him to be saved, to renounce all else, to yield fully unto Him[3].

A religious person can say she believes all the right doctrines and still be far from knowing Christ.  How many in our churches fall into this trap?  They are resting on doctrinal knowledge but living a spiritless or religious life.

At age 33 I was reading through the Bible and suddenly I became keenly aware of my sin. I was an atheist at the time.  I was living a good life, married to a beautiful wife, had 3 kids, and was doing what I loved to do; teach physical education and coach sports.  I didn’t need Jesus.  And yet, the Father drew me and I saw my life as God does; a sinner, prideful, selfish, egotistical in need of forgiveness.  This was not wishful thinking but the work of the Holy Spirit.  I bent my knee to the free gift of grace through faith.  As I examine changes in my own life I can look back over the nearly 30 years of following Jesus and see how God turned my world upside down.  The process of regeneration can be one of the most helpful when testing your faith.  Pink writes:

Regeneration is that miracle of Divine grace wrought in the soul which enlists the affections Godward, which brings the human will into subjection to the Divine, and which produces a real and radical change in the life. That change is from worldliness to godliness, from disobedience to obedience. At the new birth, the love of God is shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Spirit, and that love is manifested in a dominating longing and sincere purpose to please in all things the One who has plucked me as a brand from the burning[4].

One of my purposes for this series was to challenge you to examine yourself.  Do you see yourself as God does?  Do you believe the right doctrines?  Are you daily convicted by the work of the Holy Spirit?  Do you identify yourself as a follower of Jesus Christ?  Do you see over time the work of Christ in your life?  As Pink says, are you moving from worldliness to Godliness?  Does the love of God and others dominate your life?  If these are not characteristic of your life, it could be you are religious.  As I told my kids, if what you’ve learned about Jesus from the Bible, church, and me is not true truth then reject the Christian faith.  Don’t be religious!

[1] Pink, A. W. Studies on Saving Faith, Kindle edition Location 1279-1281

[2] Grudem, Wayne, Systematic Faith, Zondervan Publ. 1994, p. 694

[3] Pink, A. W. Studies on Saving Faith, Kindle edition Location 1344-1348

[4] Ibid Location 1509-1512


Don’t be Religious Part 4 Impact upon the Church

The following comments on how religious attenders impact the church are not taken directly from any one resource.  I will be using over 25 years of experience as a church attender, pastor, preacher, avid reader (theology & apologetics), and leader in the church.   I do not consider myself an expert in this area.  What I will share is from a sense of frustration when I see the church begin to cater to the religious attenders rather than strengthen the followers of Jesus Christ.  I will focus my comments on two areas: Sermons and evangelism.

For two years as a director of ministry development for Mission Hills Church, our senior pastor chose to implement the Saddleback model for church growth developed by Rick Warren.  Rick does many things well and I am not here to bash him.  However, I think some of his church philosophies were geared to target the religious people rather than the spirit-filled Christians.

One such strategy was to focus sermons on application rather than an in-depth examination of the text.  Rick felt by teaching to application points you could reach all levels from mature to new believers in Christ.  In theory it seems to have merit.  Under this preaching philosophy each major point of the sermon began with a verb, attempting to spur the listener to action. This is such an appealing methodology.  Every pastor in the world wants their listeners to put their sermons into practice.  So it makes sense to make application the major focus.  So what’s the problem?

We must ask ourselves, what motivates a change in behavior?  As Dr. J.P. Moreland says in his book Loving God with all Your Mind, actions run on the rails of beliefs.  Weak beliefs can contribute to a lack of action.  On the other hand strong beliefs can be a foundation for positive behaviors.  By focusing on the action and making beliefs less important, change doesn’t seem to take place.  In many surveys, the actions of Christians fares no better than the non-church going individual.  The application focus doesn’t seem to be working.  I realize this could be viewed as a simplistic solution to our moral problem inside the church, but it could be a contributor.

I am not going to go into depth on how to change beliefs.  In his book Moreland says we cannot do it directly, only indirectly.  Our beliefs can be affected indirectly through study, meditation, prayer, scriptural reflection, and other spiritual disciplines.  I believe sermons can help in this process.  My point is I believe teaching to application doesn’t seem to yield the desired outcome.  Most listeners ignore the weekly 3-5 application points and for the most part behavior remains unaffected.

And yet multiple sermon application points is exactly what the religious person desires.  Through this type teaching they are given a checklist of things they can do to please God.  It caters to the works salvation crowd.

Now application has its place.  The Bible is loaded with application and these are to be preached.  People need to be given the scriptural challenge to apply the teachings of the Bible to their lives.  However, application points that go beyond the verses simply come from the imagination of the pastor and I don’t believe carry God’s power from His Word.  Pastors have an obligation to preach the word as the author intended and to carefully challenge the listeners with logical applications taken from the text.  I am not trying to put forth a hard fast rule here but I am asking pastors to be careful not to make application the focal points of the sermon.  Expound the text and application will naturally flow from your teachings.

I believe gospel centered sermons will reach all levels.  The emphasis needs to be on what Jesus has done and not what we can do.  When application is the primary focus, we become the focal point of the sermon.  Jesus is no longer needed.  Joel Osteen is king of preaching how you can live a successful life by pulling up your own bootstraps.  I heard one of his sermons on television where Jesus was never mentioned.  Why should he be?  If I can solve my problems by doing things myself why do I need Jesus?

I am aware of a local preacher in an evangelical church who preached on forgiveness and never mentioned Jesus Christ.  How is that possible?  Forgiveness is only possible through the finished work of Jesus.  Yet in his sermon Jesus wasn’t needed for forgiveness.  He spent the majority of his efforts on forgiving one another.

A highly recommended book on this topic is Michael Horton’s book Christless Christianity.  He gives an in-depth look at why evangelical churches today need to bring Jesus back to the center of the sermon, the center of worship, and focus on the gospel.

The second problem is how the religious view affects evangelism.  For many people the word evangelism is to be feared and only done by the trained professionals.

Spirit-filled believers know it is their duty to share Jesus and feel a sense of guilt for not participating.  Their heart breaks over the fate of the unbeliever but many still struggle with the task of getting into spiritual conversations.

Many religious people don’t see the need to evangelize.  Everyone has their religion and who are you to tell someone he is wrong.  I am aware of one local pastor who was preaching through the book of Acts and made evangelism his central theme.  After a number of sermons, the sheer quantity of complaints about his focus on evangelism, he had to abandon the series.  My guess is the majority of the complainers were the religious individuals.

Classes on evangelism in a typical church are not well attended.  At Saddleback Church I discovered they were hosting a top notch evangelism speaker.  With a weekend congregation of over 20,000 people and knowing Rick Warren’s love for evangelism, I decided I needed to get there early or I wouldn’t get a seat.  By the time this guest speaker started there were less than 20 people in a large room.  I was stunned to say the least.  Rick Warren has a heart for the lost and has communicated that passion continually.  However, it seems those who call Saddleback their church were content to let Rick do the evangelizing and they didn’t need to be trained.

What can be done?  First and foremost church is not about us.  Churches need to make the gospel the center of all sermons and Jesus Christ the heart and soul of the worship service.  Christianity is about God’s kingdom; His restoration plan through His Son Jesus Christ.  We must not let the religious crowd dictate how we do church.

Go to part 5 here


Why are Christians Anti-Everything?

I will begin a new series where I take on questions that either Christians have given me or I’ve been challenged to answer in spiritual discussions.  These will be café type answers; ones where I won’t go into great depth and can be employed in the public square.


Bible (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

Question: Christians today are way too reactionary – being anti-gay, anti-abortion, anti-this and that.  Droves of younger people are walking away from the church because of their anti-attitude.  What should we do?

Answer:  The church has always taken a stance when it comes to moral issues.  We are under the authority of the Bible.  The Scriptures teach us to be prolife, pro-heterosexuality, pro-sex inside the confines of marriage, and pro-marriage reserved for a man and a woman.  We are pro-Biblical morality.  Whenever the church takes a stand that goes against the politically liberal viewpoints we are apt to be put on display in a negative light in newspapers, magazines, radio, and on television.  This is why it seems we are anti-everything.

In fact it is the church that has been attacked and labeled as anti this an anti that.  Labels such as these are used as tactics to get the church to shut-up.  I have been called anti-Mormon because I disagree with Mormon doctrines in my writings and witnessing.  They want me to stop critiquing their worldview and quit sharing with their missionaries.  All books that expose the false beliefs of Mormonism are labeled anti-Mormon.

The fact that young people are leaving over the moral stance of the church demonstrates the shallowness of many of the younger generation.  We are not losing true believers in Jesus Christ; we are losing cultural Christians who grew up in the church and today want the church to be neutral in areas of morality.  This we cannot and must not do.

Some churches reacting to young people leaving have compromised the Biblical values in order to grow their church.  Homosexual pastors can serve in the ministry in some denominations.  Sin is no longer preached in many churches.  Compromising God’s moral standards are an abomination in the eyes of the Lord.  These churches will come under God’s judgment.

Our job is to share the truth in love.  As long as the church takes a Biblical moral stance it will come under attack from the homosexual community, abortion providers, and young people who want to live by their own morality.  This attack is only going to intensify.  We have just seen the tip of the iceberg when it comes to secular society trying to dismantle the Christian church or at the very least get it to shut up.

As followers of Jesus Christ we are not anti-everything but pro the good life.  God is not a cosmic killjoy and has communicated through the Bible how we can experience the fullness of life.  True joy can only be found in a relationship with Jesus Christ.

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Don’t be Religious Part 3 Why People are Religious

I am exploring the issue of people who call themselves a Christian, go to church, and read their Bibles but are not spirit-filled believers.  What are some reasons for why Christianity has spiritless religious people?

Many times the word Christian is used as an adjective.  “That was the Christian thing to do.”  Usually people mean when doing a good thing, is they are imitating the actions of Jesus Christ.  The next step is to believe that’s what it means to be a Christian.  They think all you have to do is act like Jesus and you’re in.  This is not taught in Christianity.

As many have said, “Christianity is not a do religion, it is a done religion.”  Doing good works will never earn someone heaven.  It is a “done” religion because salvation comes from what Jesus has already done on the cross and not what we can do.  The Apostle Paul writes, Galatians 2:16 “…nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.”  We become right with God through faith and not by doing good works.  Later Paul writes if we could become right with God through works, Christ died for nothing.  Doing the Christian thing does not make you a Christian.

Others say they are Christians because they have at one time or another professed their faith in Jesus Christ.  It could be they walked down an isle at a church or signed a card when the pastor made a salvation call.  As a kid they may have made a profession of faith in their Sunday school class or youth group.  They associate this action with being a Christian.   All you have to do is say right words and you will be in heaven.

The early church taught that salvation involved the entire person; mind, heart, and will.  With our mind we believe the truth about Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross.  With our heart we feel a sorrow over our sin against God.  We have rebelled against His rulership and only He can forgive us our sins.  And last with our will trust Christ with our lives.  That he is to rule in our hearts and our desire is to follow Him.  The confirmation Jesus comes into our life comes through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  As a result we become slaves to righteousness in response to this new power within us.  We dedicate our lives to Jesus.  This is what it means to make Jesus Lord.  The Apostle Paul writes to the church at Rome, 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.”    A Spirit-filled believer is the only true follower of Jesus Christ.  Those without the spirit, you may say the right things, do some of the rights things, but you are not a follower of Christ.  A changed life, one that moves towards being like Jesus, is a sign of the work of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus addressed this issue in his famous parable of the soils in Matthew 13:3-9 and the explanation in verses 18-23.  Jesus compared a sower spreading seeds over different types of soil which yielded different results.  In three of the examples the growing plant either doesn’t get started or it later died.  However, the good soil was one that grew abundantly.  He then transitions from farming and planting seeds to people who listen to the preaching of the gospel.  In the immediate context the sower was Jesus preaching, but in the broader context it could represent anyone who shares the gospel.  The seed was the word of God being preached to others.  The four soils represented different listeners who heard the word of God preached to them.

The first soil was hard and rocky and the seed was snatched away by birds representing rejection of the message.  Many people reject the gospel and are under the control of Satan, who is the evil one keeping them from accepting the truth.  The second soil is represented by a thin upper layer, preventing the plants from establishing deep roots.  This person emotionally is excited about the gospel and receives it but as soon as affliction or persecution arises he turns his back and rejects it.  The third soil is one that seems to take root but weeds and thorns grow around the plant and chokes it out.  This person allows the worry of the world and pressures take away any full commitment to following the word.  Finally, the fourth soil the seed falls on good ground that produces a great crop.  This represents the only true spirit-filled believer who hears and understands the word and puts it into action.  This life produces many good fruits.

Many religious persons are the second and third soils.  They hear the word, accept it and then show no fruit in their lives.  They are religious and will do things to earn God’s approval but without the spirit of Christ.  God is not impressed.  When problems arrive they are quick to reject what they say they accepted.  This is why the persecuted church in certain countries around the world has very few religious people.  A full spirit-filled commitment is needed to withstand threats of death or torture.

I heard a missionary living in a country hostile to Christianity say he had never heard the phrase, “backsliding Christians.”  A backsliding Christian is one who lives like the world, celebrating and participating in sinful practices.  However, over a period of years and the persecution against the church became nonexistent; this phrase became common place in their church.  Why?  Without the worries of putting your life on the line, the religious believers felt comfortable returning to the church.

I hope you can see why I told my kids not to be religious; either believe and follow the truth or reject it.  Don’t go through the motions.

Go to part 4 here


Don’t be Religious Part 2

In all world religions being religious is desirable.  The word “religious” in this context is devotion to the precepts of the belief system.  Participating in the various ceremonial activities is part of being religious.

Christianity is different.  Being religious has both a positive and negative connotation.  If you are a spirit filled believer in Jesus Christ, then the Bible commends your religious devotion to following the commands dictated in the Bible.  Obedience is a sign of true belief.  James makes a case that true faith without doing good works is dead (James 2:26).  Here the word dead points to a lifeless faith.  Jesus would say be religious and follow me.

However, if you call yourself a Christian and are not indwelt with the Holy Spirit, then don’t be religious.  Practicing the Christian faith without the Spirit of Christ is only an illusion and will not please Jesus.  Jesus had something to say to those people who go through the motions of Christianity but are not spirit filled believers.  Matthew 7:21-23 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. 22  “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ 23  “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’”

It is possible to be involved in many religious practices but still end up in hell.  Jesus says he knows only those who do the will of His Father.  What is the will of the Father?  John 6:40 For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.”  True belief is characterized by a changed life made possible through the power of the Holy Spirit.    

I am using the word “religious” in this series in a negative sense.  I previously acknowledged calling someone a religious person can be thought of as a compliment; admiring his devotion to his beliefs.  For the spirit filled Christian being religious is a positive trait, in that you are devoted to following Christ.  For this reason I have decided to use italics when using the word religious in a negative sense[1].  This will draw attention to the reader to look for how I define religious.  My concern is directed towards all the false religious individuals who call themselves Christian and yet are not spirit-filled believers in Christ.  They go through the motions of religion but are not true followers.  At death Jesus will tell them He never knew them.

The Apostle Paul says in Romans 8 this false believer is person who is devoted to the flesh and doesn’t have the mind of Christ.  Flesh in this context refers to our propensity to live in sin and be controlled by it.  Paul writing to the church in Rome used strong words for the false religious person.  He said they cannot please God.  Romans 8:6-8 For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, 7  because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, 8  and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”  Without the Spirit no one can please God.  He was confronting the church at Rome that obviously had both Spirit filled believers and false religious believers.  How does someone know which side of the fence you are on?

At the church at Corinth Paul encouraged those professing a faith in Jesus Christ to examine yourselves to make sure you have the Spirit of Christ.  We read in 2 Corinthians 13:5 Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?”  How do we test ourselves?  James 2:14-26 gives us one measure of true faith; we will do good works.  This subject I will answer in more detail in a later post.

Christianity is unique.  All other religions want religious people dedicated to their beliefs.  Yet, in Christianity Jesus wants spirit filled believers practicing their religious beliefs and the fleshly religious people to stop their phony devotion and turn to Him in faith.  The problem is all who fall into the latter category are unaware of their predicament.  This is why the Bible has multiple warnings to become a true religious follower of Jesus Christ.

Go to part 3 here

[1] I will use italics unless I use another clarifying distinction is present.  Such as the person was devoted to a false religious practice.  The formatting would not allow me to use italics in the title.


Don’t be Religious Part 1

As a parent of three children I equipped my kids in the basics of the Christian faith.  They all understood the doctrinal teachings of the Bible.  As a dad who had a passion for apologetics and theology, we had great discussions about the truth of Christianity.  When they reached high school I told all three the same thing; either believe Christianity to be true truth or reject it; don’t be religious.

What do you mean by religious?  A religious person is one who calls himself or herself a Christian but is not a spirit-filled believer.  Paul writes to the church in Rome in Chapter 8 of Romans and he identifies the person without the spirit of Christ as one who is guided by the flesh or sin nature.  A mind set on the flesh cannot please God.  Someone who is guided by the Holy Spirit is a true follower of Christ.  It is obvious the Church at Rome was similar in make-up to our churches today.  It was filled with true believers in Christ and those who were followers by name only.

Romans 8:5-9 For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. 6 For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, 7 because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 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.”   Religious people call themselves Christian but live by the flesh.  They are not aware they are without the spirit of Christ.  Verse 6 says those whose minds are on the flesh are spiritually dead.

A typical Bible believing church in America has three groups of people who attend services; true believers, religious people, and seekers.  The similarity between religious people and seekers is both groups are not true followers of Jesus.  The difference is religious people think they are.  Liberal protestant churches are dominated by religious people.

A religious person comes in many forms.  I will focus on two of them.  One is the Sunday only religious person.  This person goes to church on Sunday through habit or tradition and lives like a non-Christian the rest of the week.  He is not committed to following Christ day in and day out.  Without the spirit of Christ there is no internal drive to become more like Jesus.  However, since this person does come and hear the sermons he is likely to be a decent person; a person with moral standards because this is what he hears each week.  The effort to live the good life is externally driven, just like any non-Christian.

A second religious type individual is a legalist.  This is a fleshly driven person who takes God’s law into her own hands.  She loves looking down her nose and complaining about those so-called “Christians” who violate her high standards or don’t meet her needs.  Many times her standard goes beyond the scriptures, inventing laws that are not Biblical.  Usually this type of person is very self-centered expecting everyone else to meet her needs.

During the time of Jesus those practicing legalism could be found among the religious Jews.  The Pharisees and Sadducees lived good moral lives but their efforts were external lacking the power of the Holy Spirit.  They were very showy in their religious practice always demonstrating how spiritual they were.  Many were prideful individuals who were glad they were above the common people.  They were more concerned about their religious appearances rather than helping the poor and the needy.  When Jesus came on the scene, he redefined what it meant to be spiritual.  He was a servant of the people and preached the kingdom of God.  Near the end of His ministry Jesus had lots of negative things to say about the Pharisees and the Sadducees.

Go to part 2 here


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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As we look back at 1 Corinthians 15:44 we must understand that throughout the New Testament, whenever the Greek word soma (body) is applied to a person it always refers to a physical body.  There are no exceptions to this.  In fact Greek scholar Robert Gundry, in his authoritative book Soma in Biblical Theology, speaks of “Paul’s exception-less use of soma for a physical body.”   Hence, all references to Jesus’ resurrection body (soma) must be taken to mean a resurrected, physical body.  This supports the view that the phrase “spiritual body [soma]” refers to a spirit-dominated and supernatural physical body[1]

Additional Pauline writings support a physical resurrection

We also see throughout the writings of Paul that he preached a bodily resurrection of Jesus. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.”  After Jesus’ death on the cross we see the words “He was buried and that He was raised.”  The same body of Jesus that goes down in burial is the one that was raised or resurrected.  In order to appear to others He needs to have a physical body, which is consistent with the text. 

Paul continued in his commitment to a physical resurrection in Philippians 3:21 (NIV) Who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.”  It is our lowly mortal body that will be “transformed” and not eliminated.  The apostle could easily have said we would be like Jesus’ glorious spirit[2].  

Paul shared a fulfilled prophecy in Acts 13:34-37 that Jesus, the Holy One of God, would never bodily decay.  As for the fact that He raised Him up from the dead, no longer to return to decay, He has spoken in this way: ‘I WILL GIVE YOU THE HOLY and SURE blessings OF DAVID.’ 35 “Therefore He also says in another Psalm, ‘YOU WILL NOT ALLOW YOUR HOLY ONE TO UNDERGO DECAY.’ 36 For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep, and was laid among his fathers and underwent decay; 37 but He whom God raised did not undergo decay.’”  David’s body went to the grave and underwent decay.  The body of Jesus, the Holy One of God, didn’t undergo decay because it was resurrected.  The bodily resurrection of Jesus was a fulfillment of a prophecy of David (Psalm 16:10).

Further support a bodily resurrection

Jesus said He would raise his physical body.  John 2:19-22 Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ 20 The Jews then said, ‘It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?’ 21 But He was speaking of the temple of His body. 22 So when He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken.”  Jesus said after they destroy the temple (his body) he would raise it up in three days.  Nowhere do we see Jesus was to be raised up as a spirit.

Go to part 4 here

[1] Rhodes, Ron, Reasoning from the Scriptures with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Harvest House Publishers, 1993, p. 190
[2] Habermas, Gary & Licona, Michael, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, Kregel Publ., 2004 p. 155

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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Who has the Burden of Proof?

I have been posting tough questions from atheists.  We should always attempt to find answers to the challenges of skeptics (1 Peter 3:15).  However, we also need to challenge the belief system of atheists.  The following is an excellent article by J. Warner Wallace of Stand to Reason[1].  He makes the case that both theists and atheists share the burden of proof in answering tough questions.

Are Theists the Only People Who Have the “Burden of Proof”?

As an atheist, I rarely found it necessary to defend my position when talking with friends who believed in the existence of God. After all, my Christian friends were the ones who were making a claim about an invisible Being; certainly the burden of proof belonged to them rather than me. I simply held the “default” position: There’s no need to defend the absence of something that appears to be absent! From my perspective, theists alone were the ones who needed to make a case. My position as an atheist was self-evident. This approach almost always put my Christian friends in a defensive position. They found themselves struggling to assemble the evidence while I simply criticized the validity of each piece of their case. I never stopped to think that I might also need to make a case for what I believed, and my Christian friends were unable to demonstrate my responsibility to do so.

Today, as a Christian who has been involved in the examination of evidence for the past 25 years, I understand that atheists also have a burden of proof. All of us, in attempting to explain the world around us, move from a plethora of questions to a single responsibility:

There Are Many Questions Atheists and theists both agree that the big questions of life are numerous. How did the universe come into existence? Why does the universe exhibit the ‘appearance’ of ‘fine tuning’? How did life originate? Why does biology exhibit the ‘appearance’ of ‘design’? How did human consciousness come into being? Where does ‘free will’ come from? Why are humans so contradictory in nature? Why do transcendent moral truths exist? Why do we believe human life to be precious? Why do pain, evil and injustice exist in our world? While atheists and theists have their own list of unanswered questions, we all agree that there are many important issues that need to be examined.

There Are Only Two Kinds of Answers In the end, the answers to these questions can be divided into two simple categories: Answers from the perspective of philosophical naturalism (a view I held as an atheist), or answers that accept the existence of supernatural forces (a view I now hold as a theist). Atheists maintain that life’s most important questions can be answered from a purely naturalistic perspective (without the intervention of a supernatural, Divine Being). Theists argue that the evidence often leaves naturalism ‘wanting’ for answers while the intervention of an intelligent, transcendent Creator appears to be the best inference. In times like these, the theist finds it evidentially reasonable to infer a supernatural cause.

There Is Only One Shared Responsibility Both groups share a singular burden of proof. If theists are going to posit God as the answer to some (or all) of the questions I’ve described, we are going to have to argue for His existence and activity. If atheists are going to argue that adequate answers exist without the need for God, they are at least going to have to provide sufficient naturalistic explanations. In either case, both groups (if they are honest with themselves) will have to shoulder the burden of proving their case. The burden of proof is not limited to the theist; all of us need to be able to make a case for our choice of answers. One side defends supernaturalism, the other defends philosophical naturalism.

The nature of the questions (and the limited categories of potential answers) ought to motivate all of us to decide which of the two explanatory possibilities is most reasonable. While atheists are sometimes un-persuaded by the arguments for God’s existence, they are still woefully unable to provide coherent and adequate answers to the most important questions of life related to the cause of the universe, the appearance of design, the origin of life, the reality of human free will and the existence of transcendent moral truth. Theists aren’t the only ones who have to answer these questions. If naturalism is true, naturalists have their own unique burden of proof.

As Christians instead of immediately trying to answer the challenges we need to turn the tables become adept at asking questions to make sure he or she shares the burden of proof.   When you do that you’ll find atheists struggle with answering similar challenges.  For additional information on the burden of proof go to part of 3 of my series “How to Ask Questions.”


Do the Two Genealogies of Jesus Contradict Each Other?

Challenge: The genealogies of Jesus in the book of Luke and Matthew are different.  Atheists contend they contradict each other.  How do you answer this objection?

Answer:  There are multiple explanations for why the genealogies in the two Gospels are different.  I will take the position the Matthew genealogy traces Joseph’s lineage and the genealogy from Luke follows the family line of Mary.  I have multiple reasons for believing this is the best solution.

 1.  Doctor Luke said he researched extensively other writings before he wrote Acts and the book of Luke.  His primary source of information was the Apostle Paul.  Both of these men would have been well aware of the writings during their lifetime.  Most New Testament scholars would say that the book of Matthew was written years before Luke.  In fact they would say Mark was the first Gospel written.  As part of his research Luke would have been very acquainted with the writings of both Mark and Matthew.  In fact we see lots of shared materials amongst the three Gospels.  Therefore, Luke would have known and likely studied the genealogy in Matthew’s writings.  Why would Luke write another genealogy concerning the lineage of Joseph?  And if it’s about Joseph, why is it so different?  I believe the differences reflect the fact that Luke described the family line of Mary; even though her name doesn’t appear in the genealogy.  My sense is her name is left out for cultural reasons.  Almost all genealogies from that time period traced the family tree of men.  Tracing Mary’s genealogy would have been highly unusual during that time period.  A virgin birth would also have been highly unusual during any time period.  We can ascertain it is Mary’s family tree because Heli is listed as the “father” of Joseph but he is really the father of Mary.  Heli was Joseph’s “father in law.” The Jewish Talmud (ancient religious writings) identifies Mary’s father as Heli.

2.  Matthew lists Jacob as the father of Joseph and Luke seems to also have Heli as the father of Joseph.  This sounds like a contradiction.  Key to understanding this dilemma is Luke 3:23 When He began His ministry, Jesus Himself was about thirty years of age, being, as was supposed, the son of Joseph, the son of Eli.”   In verse 23 Luke says Joseph is supposedly the father of Jesus.  He is not the physical father of Jesus.  The rest of Luke’s genealogy traces through the physical descendants.  Joseph is the legal father through marriage but it is Mary who is the actual physical mother of Jesus.  Matthew’s purpose for his Gospel was that he was writing to a Jewish audience and by tracing back to Abraham he was trying to establish Jesus as the coming Messiah and the fulfillment of the blessing from the Abrahamic Covenant.  However, Luke was writing to a primarily gentile audience and he was tracing the physical line back to Adam to establish Jesus was fully human.  In His humanity He could be the savior of the world.  So both genealogies had a different purpose reflected in the many differences.  The different purposes also explain why Matthew wrote about the line of Joseph and Luke Mary.  A key piece of evidence to explain the different purposes is the Davidic Covenant.

In the Davidic Covenant, God promised David his kingdom that would have no end.  Someone from his line would sit on the throne forever.  From David’s family line a child, yet to be born would succeed him and establish his kingdom.  2 Sam 7:12-17 “I will raise up your descendant after you…and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.”   The immediate reference (v 12-15) refers to Solomon, who will build the temple instead of David. Yet the promise also looked to the future: “And your house and your kingdom shall endure forever; your throne shall be established forever.” (v16)  In the future sense, this would be fulfilled in Jesus, who came to establish the Kingdom of God. Jesus was born in the city of David (Luke 2:4) and his ancestry was traced by Luke back to David (Luke 3:23-38).  The Solomon connection was fulfilled when Joseph became of the father of Jesus through adoption.

Matthew traces his genealogy through David and his son Solomon to fulfill the Davidic Covenant.  In contrast Luke’s genealogy goes through David’s son Nathan.  Both family lines come from David.  Luke, a physician and researcher, knew exactly what he was doing by providing a second genealogy of Jesus.  His tracing the descendants through a different son of David also gives us a clue this is the line of Mary and not Joseph.  Jesus then has a physical link to the line of David through Mary and through Solomon to Joseph we have a father who has legal status from adoption.  The virgin birth excluded a physical father.  Thus the Davidic Covenant was fulfilled.

3.  An additional problem arises from the fact that King Jehoiakim (formerly Eliakim in 2 Kings 23:34) was so evil God said no physical offspring of his would sit on the throne (have a lasting reign).  We read in Jeremiah 36:30-31 Therefore thus says the LORD concerning Jehoiakim king of Judah, ‘He shall have no one to sit on the throne of David, and his dead body shall be cast out to the heat of the day and the frost of the night. 31 I will also punish him and his descendants and his servants for their iniquity, and I will bring on them and the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the men of Judah all the calamity that I have declared to them—but they did not listen.’'” This is a powerful judgment from God punishing the king of Judah.  This seemed to be a major problem because Jehoiakim is from the line of Solomon and the future king of the Davidic Covenant is to be from the line of Solomon.  How would this be resolved?  Again the resolution involves Mary and Joseph.  If we see the Luke genealogy as Mary’s then Jesus was her physical offspring from the line of David through Nathan.  The problem of Jehoiakim being cursed by God and no physical offspring as king was solved when Jesus was not the physical offspring of Joseph but instead was his adopted son.  Thus we have the complete fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant, in spite of the curse upon King Jehoiakim.  God accomplished the impossible.

I believe I have answered the challenge.  There are other solutions to this genealogy problem.  However, it seems reasonable that if Luke was well aware of Matthew’s genealogy, he is not an idiot and he wouldn’t have written a competing genealogy.  Most scholars view his writings as very scholarly and historians love what we today call the book of Acts.  Most of the evidence points to the second genealogy as Mary’s.  Plus we have no written objections from this time period to this second genealogy.  If there was an obvious contradiction, people during Luke’s time would have objected and raised a fuss. And yet, we have no record of any objections.

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