October 13, 2011

How the Bible Protects Us from False Beliefs

Apologetics is the ancient practice of defending the truth of the Bible against the many ways that people try to deny or twist it according to their own views. It comes from a Greek word that means "defense” or “answer" in 1 Peter 3:15. Peter said every believer should be ready to give a defense of our hope in Christ as Lord, yet to do it with gentleness and respect (I myself have failed many times to be gentle and respectful and have felt a lot of shame as a result).

The apostle Paul wrote one of his strongest defenses of the gospel against those who were teaching that they had to keep the Law and become Jewish to be saved. That's when he wrote the book of Galatians. He wrote in the introduction that he was astonished at the Christians in Galatia, because they were so soon being turned from God's message of grace to a different gospel. He said, "not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed." (Galatians 1:6-9)

This was perhaps the strongest condemnation Paul ever pronounced against anyone, and the reason he did so was because those false teachers had distorted the gospel so badly that they were teaching a different way of salvation than the way God had announced through Jesus to the apostles--which was complete salvation by grace alone apart from any good works that we could perform (Luke 18:9-17; Ephesians 2:1-10). So Paul was very upset because they were actually changing the message of salvation. And that is why we have the practice of apologetics today in the Church. As Jude 1:3 says, "Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints." Jude also saw how it was necessary to contend for the faith and defend it against distortions, even though he would have rather written to them about something else.

Because of all this, we ought to watch out that people don’t influence us in the wrong ways. For example, the early Christians believed what Jesus taught about having the freedom to eat any kind of food as long as we give thanks to God for it. They also warned against the popular teaching of that time that said we must avoid eating certain things in order to be holy or pleasing to God. In 1 Timothy 4:1-5 Paul wrote: "Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer."

Notice how Paul wrote that "the Spirit expressly” said these things. This means God really wanted us to know that in the last days people would start leaving the truth for other beliefs. Paul even said that false beliefs are from "the teachings of demons." One of those teachings was that people would forbid marriage. Another teaching was that they would require people not to eat certain foods, and he adds, "that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth." Obviously God knew these things would become a problem and so He warned us ahead of time in the Bible to protect us from error.

Another area that the New Testament makes really clear is our need to discern the difference between true and false teachers. Jesus warned that many false teachers would come in His name, but that we should not follow them. While they usually look good on the outside as “wolves in sheep’s clothing,” nevertheless there is a way to recognize them. The way Jesus taught us to tell the difference was by their message and their lifestyle. Hesaid you can judge a tree by its fruits. A good tree makes good fruit but a bad tree produces bad fruit. (Matthew chapter 7)

We don't have to be extremely educated or know a whole lot about everything to tell the difference between good and bad fruit. We just have to know what it is. As Christians, it is important that we learn as much as we can about what God's Word teaches, so that we will become better able to rightly judge between the good and the bad (Hebrews 5:12-14). A simple way to do that is to just know the gospel really well and know who Jesus is according to the Bible. The Bible shows that most deception involves a distortion of who Jesus is and what the message of the true gospel is. Since the it teaches that Jesus is God in human flesh (John 1:14), then most cults and false religions in the world today usually deny some aspect of His God-Man nature. Oneness Pentacostals, such as T. D. Jakes and others, deny the doctrine of the Trinity, which can be seen on almost every page of Scripture. The reason it is so important is because the letter of 1 John makes our belief about who Jesus is one of the tests of true faith. ohn also wrote in John 1:1 that He was both “with God” and “was God” (in His nature) at the same time, but that He is not the same as the Father or Spirit (John 16:13; 17:5). Some people don’t like the doctrine of the Trinity because it is hard to understand, but that shouldn’t discourage us from believing what He revealed about Himself in the Bible.

The other problem that comes up is the message of the gospel. It is solely by God's grace and goodness, and because of His own free will and love, that we are saved by faith in Jesus. We are made new in Christ, so that we live for Him and His eternal Kingdom now. But this simple message is often distorted when people say that we must do good works in order to be saved, such as circumcision (in the early church), or baptism, or the Lord's Supper, or obedience to the Law. All of those things are good and necessary when properly used. The Old Testament sign of the covenant was circumcision, and Jesus commanded baptism and the Lord's Supper, and also taught us to obey God's law (Matt 5:17-19). But none of those can make it possible for us to go to heaven, because that is a free gift. Yet that is precisely what many false teachers denied back then and still deny today. I used to go to a church in Pittsburgh that denied salvation by grace through faith alone. I felt terrible that I fell for that, because that’s what Paul was warning about in Galatians, as well as his other letters.

James chapter 2 also warns us about those who say they have faith, but who do not have good works to back it up. He taught that our faith is rather proven to be genuine by our life of humble obedience, love for others, and good works, though they do not earn our salvation. There are other ways the truth is denied by false teachers, but these are some of the most important ways the Bible warns us about.

Peter and Jude, as well as John (known as “the apostle of love”), wrote specifically to help us tell good teachers from bad ones. Peter said that the "ignorant and unstable" distort the Scriptures (2 Peter 3:14-18). Jude said they pervert the grace of God into immorality and deny Jesus (Jude v.4). He later said, “Yet in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones” (v.8). The glorious ones refers to angels, but is in the context of how such people aren’t afraid to speak blasphemously of authoritative powers. Jude may have had Exodus 22:8 in mind, which says, “"You shall not revile God, nor curse a ruler of your people.” Jude then said that even the angel Gabriel would not say anything slanderous of an authority, not even to the devil himself, but instead appealed to God as the Judge. That was because all authority is given by God. Even though many authorities might not be just or act rightly, they are still to be spoken of respectfully in fear of God. But false teachers usually reject the authority of good Christian pastors and teachers, and they speak badly of them, and often set themselves up as their own authority. They don’t like to do what God's Word says about humble submission to other faithful believers in obedience to Christ. Jude warned us about people like that so that we wouldn’t follow their example.

Most of the New Testament was written in response to these very problems. And thank God He gave us all this information ahead of time, so that we know exactly how we can please Him and bring glory to His name by an assured faith! It is so wonderful that we know these things, because the more we stand firm in the truth delivered to us, the harder it will be to distract us from glorifying the Lord Jesus by our lives, and God will be praised!

Some people are easily led astray by conspiracies, and we can all be affected by them if we are not careful. A verse that has been a good encouragement to me in confusing situations is Isaiah 8:11-13, “For the LORD spoke thus to me... and warned me not to walk in the way of this people, saying: ‘Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. But the LORD of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.’” This is also a reason why I think it is just good for Christians to learn more about the Bible at a good church. Of course, no church is perfect, but neither are we. We are just glad to be in God’s grace and to learn with others who are standing firm, too!

So I wrote all this because I hope it will encourage you not to let many of the confusing things out there get you down. I also know of many other ways our hope in God and His Word can be hindered by Satan through false teachings, but I wanted to write to warn you of those things which can quickly make us forget how the Bible says we already have everything we need in Jesus Christ our Lord! (Colossians 1-2)

June 14, 2011

Concluding the Debate with KJR at Atheist Central

I have been going at it back and forth with someone over at Ray Comfort's blog, Atheist Central, about the existence of God, etc. Because the comment box was getting too thin over there, I decided to post here his response to some things I told him, and my answer to it. This is not an attempt to publicly make KJR look bad, but simply to answer him thoughtfully, as the Bible tells me I should (1 Peter 3:15).

We eventually started to discuss some presuppositions. KJR's words are italicized and my answers are given below them...

"You quote the Bible at me like it has some value."

Yes. I believe the Bible has authority over both of us, so naturally I quote it to you. If the Bible is in fact true, then your dismissal of it beforehand does nothing to diminish its authority from God.

"That's step #3. Lets start by showing that God exists. Then showing that the Bible actually his work. Then I'll believe it, and you can quote it."

Why should I follow your procedure in this matter? Why should my quoting of Scripture depend on your acceptance of it? Biology teachers don't quote a biology textbook only after every student accepts that it's reliable. If God exists and the Bible is His Word, it doesn't depend on whether you agree or not. The problem is with your unbelief, not the proof. I have already demonstrated to you that God exists, but you ignored my arguments. Why should I expect you to behave differently with additional proofs? God exists because to deny Him cuts the rug out from under your ability to reason, talk, or even do science.

"Claiming theuniverse is a creation isn't proof, or even evidence. The Bible is just one of hundreds of creation stories. And it doesn't even get through the first chapter without failing to fit observable reality."

To me, as a Christian who accepts the divine authority of the Bible, creation is self-evident proof both of being created and the existence of the Creator. The reason you don't accept it as such is because you are committed to autonomy. You don't believe, so you dismiss any tangible evidence in favor of belief. Even if I had shown you observable physical evidence for the existence of God, would that not in itself be proof from creation? It would be indeed. But as an atheist, you have not observed all the evidence in the universe to know for sure whether there is not more evidence out there for or against the existence of God. You would have to have observed all the evidence that exists to know, which you haven't done. So you are left with pure agnosticism--you can't know for sure. But that itself is a position requiring absolute knowledge about the fact that you cannot know all the evidence, thus the contradiction that demonstrates the impossibility of living consistently with your skepticism. Become a Christian and you will have a basis for knowing things as they are made known by the Creator. As an atheist, you don't know enough about all the existing evidence to tell whether the opening chapters of Genesis are not consistent with observable reality, since you haven't observed all of reality. You only observe a small part of it. You don't have absolute knowledge about the beginning of our universe, nor have you observed it. The question of whether Genesis makes sense in an atheist' universe is irrelevant anyway, seeing we are only self-replicating chemicals. You are just programmed for unbelief by the way you have evolved. But to a Christian, the opening Genesis chapters make sense in that they declare God as the Creator and Designer of all things, and that He purposefully made mankind, putting them in a special position of authority over this world, reflecting His own likeness. That is not unreasonable at all from a believing point of view. Only from your unjustified unbelieving view do you have a problem with it because of your presuppositions.

"Of course, you'll just claim that I can't know anything because I reject your particular God."

Yes, indeed. From my point of view, you are living in YHWH's world and denying it. That's what the Bible says (Romans 1:18-32). So as long as you claim to have knowledge as an atheist, you contradict yourself, because if atheism were true, there could be no immaterial laws governing the universe (destroying your faith in logic), nor could you have all knowledge to know whether there is enough evidence in the universe to prove the existence of God or disprove Him. And as I said, by being agnostic you are also claiming a certainty that you cannot support--the certainty that you cannot be certain, which is a claim to knowledge that you cannot have. So I hope you begin to see why as a Christian I think your perspective is foolish. Without acknowledging that we are made by God, and everything we know is dependent upon Him, we are utterly in the dark about science, evidence, logic, intelligence, design, reasoning and morality, since the underlying principles for these things cannot be accounted for without God. As the late Dr. Bahnsen used to say, "The proof that God exists is that without Him you couldn't prove anything."

"The base assumptions I start with is that I exist, and what I can observe is, in fact, real. Beyond that, everything is my interpretation of that observational input."

If I asked you, what proof do you have to know that you exist? You would likely have to answer me assuming that you already exist. The same is true for how you justify your use of reasoning. That's the circularity of atheism. You believe things without proof, then hypocritically denigrate others, especially Christians, for doing the same. I'm glad you admit some of your presuppositions, but on what basis are you able to trust that your observations are correct, or that your own reasoning is reliable?

"No, I don't have all the answers. I also can't say with 100% confidence that there are no gods. That confidence level, however, is so close to 100% as to make no difference. I am absolutely certain that the Bible is man made and Yahweh doesn't exist. Likewise with the Quran and Allah."

The fact that you claim you can't know "with 100% confidence that there are no gods" is itself, logically a claim to absolute certainty. You simply can't say that you are unable to know with 100% confidence that there are no gods, since you don't have all knowledge to know that. Perhaps you can be 100% confident that there is one God? Now the Christian answer to this problem of certainty is by relying on the One who does actually know all things for certain, and reveals specific things to us by which we can know them. We aren't ashamed of the belief that God moved men to write the Bible (2 Peter 1:16-21). But since you claim to know Yahweh doesn't exist, I challenge you to prove that He doesn't exist. Tell me how you were able to see all the existing evidence with a perfectly neutral mind and finally come to that conclusion after long hours of careful consideration. Perhaps you will then see my point.

The Bible teaches that we must repent by changing our minds toward God and putting our trust in the One He has sent to reconcile us to Him, Jesus Christ, His Son. We submit our wills to His, believing so that His death and resurrection covers our sin and brings us to God in peace. We need an ongoing "renewing of our mind" as we learn of Him who first loved us. You need the same, KJR. If I could, I would show you the real scars on Jesus' hands, feet and side, and the glory of His appearances alive from the dead, so that you would believe. But I can tell you to look in the New Testament. Read the story again. Think about it. Think about it seriously. However, as long as you are committed to your unbelief, even if you saw Him with your own eyes, you would not believe (Luke 16:31, "[Abraham] replied to him, 'If they do not respond to Moses and the prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'" NET).

"May Thor not squash you with his Hammer."

If you believe in Thor, why do you then argue against the existence of deities? But since you don't actually believe in him, I have no reason to discuss him with you. Let's keep talking about your unsubstantial belief in atheism and the reasons for my belief in Yahweh.

Thank you KJR.