Reasons to Believe the Bible From History

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”(Mk 13:31)

Historical Evidence
Archaeology confirms scriptural accounts of history over and over again. In fact, archaeologists used to deny the existence of the Hittites, Horites, Edomites, and other peoples and places mentioned in the Old Testament. Evidence of all these groups has since been uncovered. The names of some 40 kings have been found in documents taken from locations associated with their Old Testament references.

Hezekiah’s tunnel described in 2 Chronicles 32 was a viaduct constructed to supply water to the city of Jerusalem while it was under siege by King Sennacherib of Assyria in 701 B.C. This tunnel still cuts an 1800 foot ‘S’ shaped curve under the streets of Jerusalem. In 1880, two boys swimming in the tunnel discovered an inscription that described in detail how the tunnel had been built. That description agrees with the account of the building of the tunnel in 2 Chronicles 32. (1)

Here are some other archaeological finds that corroborate biblical accounts of ancient history:

Exodus
According to the book of Exodus, Pharoah’s army was drowned when they tried to pursue the Israelites into the Red Sea along the path that God had opened up through the water (Ex 14:8-30). Up until just a few years ago, no one had been able to find any evidence of this event. Then in the year 2000, Dr. Lennart Möller, a medical research scientist and marine biologist from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, conducted a search in the Gulf of Aqaba along a delta that matched biblical description of the place where the crossing took place. The sea floor rises thousands of feet at this point to create a broad plateau that extends across the entire width of the gulf. The floor of the ocean along this natural pathway is littered with coral formations shaped like overturned chariots. Metal detectors picked up traces of bronze in these formations. The crew even filmed one perfectly preserved chariot wheel that was coated with an alloy that had prevented it from being encrusted with coral. (2)

Ebla Tablets
The Ebla Tablets are 2500 clay tablets found in the archive at the ancient palace of Ebla. These tablets date from 2400–2300 B.C. They contain a list of places and names from the patriarchal books of the Bible. Prior to their discovery, Bible critics contended that the stories in these books were fiction. An account of creation from these tablets closely parallels the Genesis version written some 800 years later. The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and Haran, Abraham’s ancestral home are also mentioned. (3)

Hittites
Confirmed by archaeological digs in Bogazkoy, Turkey. (4)

Saragon’s Palace
Described in the book of Isaiah chapter 20. Discovered in Khorsabad, Iraq. (5)

Capture of Ashdod
Described in the book of Isaiah chapter 20 and recorded on the walls of Saragon’s Palace. (6)

Daniel 5
King Belshazzar offered to make Daniel third highest ruler in Babylon. Recently discovered tablets show that Belshazzar was co-regent with his father, Nabonidus. Daniel would have been third in line after father and son. (7)

Nebo Sarsekim
Accompanied King Nebuchadnezzar at the siege of Jerusalem. His name was found on a 2500 year–old Assyrian cuneiform tablet as the chief eunuch of Nebuchadnezzar. His name is mentioned in Jeremiah chapter 39. (8)

Temech
One of the names on Nehemiah’s list of exiles in Nehemiah chapter 7. It was found engraved on a stone outside the old city walls near the Dung Gate. (9)

Nehemiah’s Wall
Remnants of the wall described in the Old Testament book of Nehemiah were discovered in an archaeological excavation in Jerusalem’s ancient City of David in 2007. (10)

Biblical Flood
Also recorded in the Sumerian King List, Eleventh tablet of Gilgamesh Epic, and folklore from 270 other cultures. (11)

Garden of Eden
Also recorded in the Story of Adapa in Mesopotamian mythology. (12)

Tower of Babel
Described in Genesis 11 and also recorded in Sumerian Tablets. (13)

Taylor Prism
A six–sided clay artifact about fifteen inches tall found at the site of the ancient city of Nineveh in 1830. It has six columns containing over five hundred lines of writing. It details the attack on the fortified cities of Judah by King Sennacherib of Assyria described in 2 Chronicles 32. It makes no mention of booty taken from the capital city in keeping with the biblical account that says God spared Jerusalem in answer to the prayer of Hezekiah, King of Judah. (14)

Assyrian Palace Walls
Assyrian King Sennacherib dedicated an entire wall of his palace in Nineveh to a relief of his victory over Lachish, one of the fortified cities of Judah. Such details as the huge sloping siege ramp south of  the city gate, the double walls of the city, the iron–clad battering rams, the counter ramp inside the city, and huge boulders from the city wall blackened by fire and strewn about the battlefield all confirm the biblical account of that same battle in the book of 2 Kings 18-19. (15)

Bullae
Bullae are clay seals affixed to papyrus scrolls and imprinted with the insignia of the writer. Yigal Shiloh, an Israeli archaeologist, found a cache of fifty-one bullae during his excavation of a building in Jerusalem in 1982. One scroll bore the seal of “Baruch son of Neriah” who was the prophet Jeremiah’s personal scribe (Jer 36:4). Another bore the seal of “Gemaryahu the son of Shaphan” who was King Jehoiakim’s scribe (Jer 36:11). A third scroll bore the name of Elishama. His name is mentioned in Jeremiah 36:20. (16)

The Moabite Stone
This is a black basalt stone measuring about three–and–a–half feet high and two feet in width. It wadiscovered by a missionary named F.A. Klein in1868 and subsequently broken into pieces by the Arabs, but not before a French scholar named Clermont Ganneau was able to make an impression of the inscription. It tells the story of the conquest of Omri, King of Israel, by Mesha, King of Moab, after years of Moabite subjugation by Israel. This version of events is corroborated in 1 Kings 16, and 2 Kings 3. The Moabite stone also makes mention of the “House of David,” King of Israel. (17)

The Cyrus Cylinder
This is a small clay cylinder about nine inches long inscribed with the account of the victory of King Cyrus of the Medo–Persian Empire over Babylon in 539 B.C. It makes references to his humanitarian resettlement policies. This description coincides with biblical accounts of the return of the Babylonian captives from Jerusalem to their homeland and King Cyrus’ provision for the rebuilding of the walls under Nehemiah (Neh 2:1-8). (18)

The Weld Blundell Prism
A list of Sumerian kings who ruled between 3200 and 1800 B.C. inscribed on a baked clay prism. This would have dated from slightly before the time of Abraham to about 700 years before the flood. Ten of these kings ruled before the flood and lived for hundreds of years like Adam’s descendants (Gen 5:1-32). Herbert Weld Blundell, an English archaeologist, discovered it in Larsa, Iraq in 1922. (19)

Roman Records of Jesus
Several Roman historians make mention of the life and times of Jesus dating back as far as just two decades after his crucifixion. In 64 A.D. Cornelius Tacitus, a Roman historian and governor of Asia, confirmed that Jesus was executed as a criminal under Pontius Pilate in his Annals. He made reference to the rapid growth of Christ’s followers  and the threat they posed to emperor worship. (20)

Caius Suetonius was the official historian of Rome during the reign of the emperors Trajan and Adrian. He chronicled the lives of the first twelve Caesars. In the section on Claudius, who ruled from 41 to 54 AD, he mentions how the followers of Christ were banished from Rome for refusing to acknowledge the emperor’s deity. He also describes how Nero blamed the burning of Rome on the Christians. (21)

The historian Pliny the Younger, a contemporary of Suetonius, recorded how the deep
devotion of Christians for Jesus Christ forbade them from worshipping the emperor at the cost of their very lives. (22)

In the century following Christ’s death, a government official named Lucian wrote an
account of the travels of Proteus, a well-known Greek fugitive. Proteus encountered some followers of one Jesus Christ who was crucified in Palestine. This man, according to Proteus, was a lawgiver whom they worshiped as God. (23) There is a letter in the British Museum listed as Syriac Manuscript 14,658. It was written by a Syrian prisoner named Mara Bar-Serapion in the first century. In this letter he urges his son to follow the instruction of various great teachers. One of them he calls the King of the Jews, a religious leader who was executed by the Romans under pressure from his own people. He tells his son that the teachings of this wise king lived on after his people were exiled for killing him, a reference to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in A.D. 70. (24)

Finally, Julius Africanus, a North African Christian teacher, explained an unusual event
reported by a pagan historian named Thallus in 52A.D. Thallus describes a three-hour period of darkness that enveloped Judaea in 32 A.D. in the middle of the day. He attributed this darkness to a solar eclipse. But according to his account, the sky was so dark that the stars appeared as though it were the middle of the night. Africanus makes the point that this event, a reference to the biblical account of Christ’s crucifixion, occurred during the Jewish Passover which always coincided with a full moon. Solar eclipses never occur during this phase of the moon. Therefore it had to be a supernatural act of judgment as God poured out his wrath on his own son for the sins of the world. (25).

END NOTES

1. Butt, Kyle M.A. “Archaeology and the Old Testament.”
Apologetics Press.
http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/2502
2. “The Exodus Revealed: Search for the Red Sea
Crossing.” Discovery Media Productions.
3. “The Old Testament Has Been Archaeologically
Verified.” Please Convince Me. July 2011.
http://www.pleaseconvinceme.com/index/The_Old_Te
stament_Is_Verified_Archeologically.
4. Ibid.
5. Ibid.
6. Ibid.
7. Ibid.
8. Ibid.
9. Ibid.
10. Ibid.
11. Ibid.
12. Ibid.
13. Ibid.
14. Ibid.
15. Ibid.
16. Ibid.
17. Ibid.
18. Ibid.
19. Wood, Dr. Bryant, “Ancient Replicas-Weld Prism.”
1995.http://www.ancientreplicas.com/weld-prism.html.
20. Jeffrey, Grant R. “Historical Evidence About Jesus.”Prophecy On Line. http://www.grantjeffrey.com/article/historicalev.htm.
21. Ibid.
22. Ibid.
23. Ibid
24. Ibid.
26. Ibid.

 

Posted in Apologetics, Creation | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What to Trust – The Bible or Science?

Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (Job 38:4,7)

Are Science and Faith Really Incompatible?
In 2002 the Council for Secular Humanism produced a manifesto that declared, in part, “”We deplore supernatural terms to explain the universe.”1 They maintained that the realms of science and faith are mutually exclusive and that no physical phenomena can be explained by the activity of a Creator God.

According to this belief, the universe is the product of random chance, — a great cosmic accident. Such a universe would be completely unpredictable. Yet scientists’ observations of the universe depend on a very high degree of predictability.

For instance, we could not launch a satellite into space with any expectation of success if it weren’t for the laws of physics. If it weren’t for math, we could not build highways or erect buildings or manufacture trains, planes, or automobiles.  Musicians couldn’t produce any great musical masterpieces. Modern communications and entertainment and navigation and everything else that depends on computers would be impossible.

So what these people are saying, in effect, is that a universe filled with order and symmetry and a great degree of complexity and interdependence occurred by mindless chance.

A Creation Filled With Purpose
But the Bible says the universe was Created by God with a very specific purpose in mind. It was to show Himself to mankind in all His limitless perfections and to reveal man’s duty toward Him as  his Creator and the source of every good gift. Psalm 19 says:

The heavens declare the glory of God,
    and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
 Day to day pours out speech,
    and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
    whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
    and their words to the end of the world.” (Ps 19:1-4)

The entire universe is a silent witness to the creative work of an all-wise, all-powerful  God. The Apostle Paul reiterates this thought when writing to the Romans in the New Testament, “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.  For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” (Rm 1:19-20)

The Supremacy of Revelation Over Discovery
The Bible  tells us many things about nature that science has not been able to explain. One of the most interesting things was revealed over 4000 years ago but was unknown to scientists until only very recently. It has to do with one of the ancient patriarchs of the Jewish people named Jacob and his uncle Laban. Both were shepherds.

Jacob had agreed to work seven years for Laban in exchange for his younger daughter’s hand in marriage. But Laban tricked him by secretly substituting his elder daughter on Jacob’s wedding night and then requiring another seven years of labor for the privilege of marrying his younger daughter. Not only did Laban cheat Jacob in this regard, but he also kept changing the terms of his employment to his own advantage, despite the fact that Laban’s flocks had multiplied greatly under Jacob’s management. So Jacob devised a  plan to get the upper hand. He convinced his uncle to keep the best of the flock while he  would take only those sheep that were discolored.  Laban agreed, but then once again deceived Jacob by separating out the speckled sheep before Jacob could claim them.

 The book of Genesis describes how Jacob got even:

 “Then Jacob took fresh sticks of poplar and almond and plane trees, and peeled white streaks in them, exposing the white of the sticks.  He set the sticks that he had peeled in front of the flocks in the troughs, that is, the watering places, where the flocks came to drink. And since they bred when they came to drink,  the flocks bred in front of the sticks and so the flocks brought forth striped, speckled, and spotted.  And Jacob separated the lambs and set the faces of the flocks toward the striped and all the black in the flock of Laban. He put his own droves apart and did not put them with Laban’s flock.” (Genesis 30: 37-40 ESV)

This episode sounded foreign to our modern ears until just a few years ago when scientists discovered the phenomenon of “epigenetics.”  It was first observed back in 1944 when the Nazis cut off the food supply to the Netherlands. As a result of starvation, many babies were born with health problems like diabetes and heart disease. The odd thing was that these children passed the same characteristics on to their own children a generation later, despite the fact that they weren’t malnourished. Somehow these traits had become imprinted on their DNA.

Not until 2008 did molecular geneticists figure how such alien characteristics could be passed from one generation to the next. Apparently, starvation released certain chemicals that turn portions of the DNA on or off, causing permanent genetic changes that could be inherited. These chemicals are the free amino acids methionine and choline.

To test this hypothesis, scientists experimented with a certain breed of mouse. They discovered that these chemicals caused the fur of their offspring to appear speckled. The same effect could be observed in other animals with similar fur. Interestingly, these chemicals grow under the bark of poplar, almond, and plane trees, the very same trees from which Jacob took the branches that he peeled and put into the watering troughs.2 So either Jacob had somehow stumbled upon this phenomenon on his own, an unlikely prospect, or God had revealed it to him in some way.

Some So-Called Bible Myths
Before the discovery of epigenetics, many people discounted this Bible story as a myth just like the accounts of people living nearly 1000 years before a flood destroyed the entire earth. But there again a scientist who re-created conditions based on the biblical account of the pre-flood world was able to grow cotton plants that were 2 to 3.5 times larger than normal plants after just 35 days of growth. His model was based on the Hebrew description of creation in the Old Testament. Computer modeling suggested that the “waters above the earth” described in Genesis1:6-8 were actually  encapsulated by an ultra-thin crystalline film that was supported and sustained by the earth’s magnetic field. This film would not only have filtered out harmful radiation, but increased atmospheric pressure and CO2 to optimum levels that would have yielded much longer lifespans and enormous growth. The higher pressure would also have yielded optimal saturation rates of oxygen in the blood, promoting total retention of fetal brain cells and greatly enhancing intelligence. It also would have produced a magenta hue in the sky and an electromagnetic field that further enhanced growth.  This thin layer would have acted as a prism that revealed the full spectrum of starlight, causing a panoply of color at night and acting as a radio transmitter that picked up sound waves emitted by stars. This ‘star music’ would explain the Bible passage in Job that says:

Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
when the morning stars sang together
    and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (Job 38:4,7)1

Given these near optimum conditions for life on earth, human beings would have lived longer, and been much stronger and more intelligent. This likely explains the very advanced level of knowledge of ancient peoples that modern science has attributed to alien visits from outer space.

A Different World
Clearly the world as God first created it must have been dramatically different from the one we live in today. According to the book of Genesis, that world was drastically altered by a global flood. Creationists tell us that the waters that “burst forth” from beneath the earth to precipitate that flood as described in Genesis 7:11 would have been under so much pressure that they would have created geysers that were 10 to 70 miles high.3 These geysers would have destroyed the film that encapsulated the earth, causing torrential downpours. The water that poured down upon the earth would have been subject to enormous lunar tides occurring twice daily,  piling up the huge sedimentary layers that now cover the globe and contain fossils of all the creatures destroyed by the deluge. Thermonuclear radiation created by super heated underground water would have melted the earth’s crust in some places while cracking it in others, creating the great Tectonic plates that cause today’s earthquakes. The result would have been the formation of giant mountain ranges and deep ocean basins that ultimately absorbed the water that had inundated the globe. Scientists tell us that there is enough water in the oceans to cover a flat world such as the pre-flood world to a depth of over 1.5 miles.

False Assumptions Lead to Wrong Conclusions
Scientists base all of their conclusions about origins on the assumption that the world they observe today has been undergoing slow but uniform change since the very beginning. They do not factor in the cataclysmic effects of a world wide flood. If they did, their conclusions about origins would be very different. This view of science is called uniformitarianism and it is described this way in the Bible, “scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “…ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation. For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished” (2 Peter 3:5-6).

Today we are faced with a constant barrage of contradictory information presented as scientific fact by evolutionists and their allies in the media and academia. To hold a different point of view can be very intimidating. Yet actual scientific findings continue to corroborate the Bible. Scientists’ try to explain away the inconsistencies in their theories rather than acknowledge the obvious truth of the Bible. We must always be aware that there are things God knows that scientists have yet to discover or may never know.

 

Posted in Apologetics, Creation | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Forsaking All to Follow Christ

And he said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?'” (Lk 9:23-25)

Hard for the Rich to Follow Christ
Remember the story of the rich young man who came to Christ with the question so many seekers ask, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mk 10:17). Jesus knew this young man’s heart. He had a sense of his own self righteousness. So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” Then Jesus told him he must keep the law perfectly. This man claimed he had done that from his youth. But he must have had a sense his efforts had fallen short or he would not have asked the question in the first place. So Jesus asked him to do one more thing – to sell everything he had and come and follow him. This was one commandment the young man could not obey because he was too attached to his wealth. So in great sorrow he went away.

Mark tells us that Jesus had great affection for this young man, despite his unwillingness to follow. So why did Jesus let him go? Why didn’t he make things a bit easier for him? Jesus did not require others to sell all their belongings in order to follow him. Commenting on this incident to his disciples, Jesus said, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” (Mk 10:23).

Seeker Friendly Lowers the Bar
What would happen in this same context today? If an evangelist were to sense that a person’s wealth might be a hindrance to the gospel, he might very likely lower the bar just enough to let him in. In fact, many evangelists would go even farther and promise the young man that a life of service to Christ might mean even greater riches. This is what is known as the prosperity gospel.

I met a woman once who said she would never have come to Christ if the evangelist had confronted her with her sins. She needed to hear all about the blessings first. There is a very popular book in Christian bookstores called “The Shack.” The main character encounters God as a black woman. This man had issues with his father, so the author of the book presents God as someone more soft and compassionate, someone that will be easier for him to accept.

It seems that many folks today simply cannot trust the Holy Spirit to do the work of conversion through the word of God without a little assist from the evangelist. We need to soften the message to make it less offensive and more palatable. But the core of the gospel message is that sinners need  to be reconciled to God through the blood of Jesus Christ. Paul says this message is “a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (1 Cor 1:23). Who wants to acknowledge the fact that their transgressions are so offensive to a Holy God that it required the death of his Son to save us? Today that same gospel is no less offensive than it was 2000 years ago. We should expect people to have difficulty accepting it.

The Call For Total Commitment
Here is what Jesus said to those who had reservations about following him, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me,” (Mt. 16:24). “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Mt. 10:37). “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Lk 9:58).  “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God” (Lk 9:60). “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” ( Lk 9:62). “So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Lk 14:33). “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left houses or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life” (Mk 10:29-30). Does that sound like he was making things easier for them? On the contrary, he expected total commitment without reservation.

Jesus said that his followers should expect to be hated by the world because the world hated him, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:18-19).

The Apostles affirmed what Jesus said. Acts 14:21-22 says, “When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” Peter said, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Pet 4:1). The Apostle James said, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,  for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (James 1:2). Paul told his disciple Timothy that, “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim 3:12).

John the Baptist, Jesus and the apostles all began their messages with an appeal to repent. John the Baptist and Jesus both said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt 3:2, Mt 4:17). Peter accused his listeners of killing the Son of God, “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:22-23). Stephen launched a diatribe against the religious leaders for their hypocrisy just before they stoned him, “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it” (Acts 7:51-53). The entire first chapter of Romans is a condemnation of the lawlessness of man without God. Paul begins by saying, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Rom 1:18).

Spiritual Blessings are not for the Natural Man
We must recognize that the natural man cannot receive the things of the spirit, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor 2:14). So when we offer spiritual blessings before the Holy Spirit brings new life, the natural man misconstrues this as an appeal to his  natural desires. To him becoming a Christian under these terms means all things are going to go well with him. But the blessings are not natural blessings. They are supernatural blessings that come with repentance and submission to the lordship of Christ. And they are accompanied by tribulation. Jesus said to his disciples, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world”  (John 16:33). The peace that Christ gives comes in the midst of turmoil. It is not an escape from hardships. Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you” (John 14:27). This is the kind of peace that martyrs experience in the face of death, not the peace that comes from looking at a beautiful sunset. The unbeliever does not associate peace with calm in the face of peril. In describing his own sufferings, Paul told the church at Rome, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:37-39). He experienced the comfort of Christ in the midst of all kinds of terrible times. This is the peace that Christ confers on the believer.

So the person who comes to Christ for all the blessings without acknowledging his own sin and repenting will fall away when times get tough. That is not what he signed up for. And that is why, despite the dysfunctional relationship a man had with his father, we should not try to redefine God as a kindly Black woman or something else that he is not in order to make him more appealing. He is a holy and righteous God who cannot tolerate sin and will not receive us unless we come to him humbly, confessing our sins and asking for his forgiveness. That is the only way anyone can ever be reconciled to God. The Holy Spirit is perfectly capable of enlightening that man or woman with the truth of the gospel regardless of his or her background without false comforts offered by us. He did it in Paul’s day in a society as morally bankrupt and full of dysfunction as our own. He can still do it today.

Sacrificing All For Christ
The thrust of Jesus’ message to the rich young man was that in order to become a disciple he would have to put Christ first. Jesus was testing his willingness to do that by asking him to leave his possessions behind and come and follow him. In another passage. Paul said, “I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Phil 3:8b). Like Paul, those who would inherit the blessings of eternal life must be willing to forsake all to follow Christ. Those who come to Christ in an attempt to “gain the whole world,” or as we would say today to “have it all,” will only lose their own souls.

 

Posted in evangelism, Repentance, salvation | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

What it Means to Be Reformed

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight..” (Eph 1:3ff).

Soteriology – The Theology of Salvation
I recently had a conversation with a woman who is very active in church Bible studies. These are normally small group studies that are based on an inductive Bible study method. People are free to draw conclusions about what the Bible means based on their own self discovery without necessarily being guided by the historical interpretations of the church.

I was surprised that this woman had never heard of Arminianism despite having taught various Bible studies for fifteen years. I was also surprised to learn that the elders of the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church which I used to attend had never heard the words “Reformed Theology.” These represent the two most common views on soteriology or the study of salvation in the Christian faith.

Definition of Reformed Theology
To put it simply, Reformed Theology is how the founders of the Protestant church understood the great doctrines of salvation. It is the theology upon which the Protestant Church was built. It is expressed in the great confessions of the Protestant faith such as the Westminster Confession, the Belgian Confession, The London Baptist Confession, the Canons of Dort, the Heidelberg Confession, the Nicene Creed, and the Apostles Creed. These documents explain the basic teachings of the Bible regarding such biblical truths as the nature of the Trinity, justification by faith, unconditional election, the preservation of the saints, the limited scope of Christ’s atonement, irresistible grace, and the total depravity of mankind.

Unfortunately, the modern evangelical church has for the most part neglected these confessions and the orthodox doctrines they represent. Few churches recite them as part of the worship service or teach them in catechism class anymore. They are rarely if ever referenced in preaching or in Bible study. Consequently, most evangelicals have ceased to believe or practice much of what they teach.

Unconditional Election
For instance, the vast majority of evangelical Christians believe that people either accept or reject Christ based on the exercise of their own free will. But that is not the faith the Reformers confessed. In fact, that teaching was condemned by the church at the Council of Dort in 1619. The Canons of Dort say, “In accordance with this decree God graciously softens the hearts, however hard, of the elect and inclines them to believe, but by a just judgment God leaves in their wickedness and hardness of heart those who have not been chosen.” (Canons of Dort, Article 6).

The Reformers believed it is God who chooses to save some people and to leave others in their sins based solely upon his own determination.  The Westminster Catechism puts it this way, “All those whom God hath predestined unto life, and those only, he is pleased, in his appointed and accepted time, effectually to call, by his Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death, in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation, by Jesus Christ.” (Chapter 10.1).

In the same way that God chooses to save some, he consigns others to unbelief. This is very evident in the way Christ veiled the truth in parables so that many of his hearers were unable to understand what he said. Matthew 13 says, “Then the disciples came and said to him, Why do you speak to them in parables? And he answered them, To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.” (Mt 13:10-11).

On the other hand, Christ very plainly revealed himself to others, like the woman at the well. When she said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” (John 4:25) Jesus’ response to her was very straightforward and unambiguous, “I who speak to you am he.” (John 4:26). He kept nothing hidden from her because she was one of his chosen ones.

Irresistible Grace
The doctrine of irresistible grace says that it is not possible for those whom God has chosen to resist his will, nor is it possible for those whom he has not chosen to come to faith in him. The best example of a man who could not resist the will of God is the Apostle Paul. He was on his way to the city of Damascus to arrest Christians when Jesus suddenly stopped him in his tracks with a blinding light and a voice from heaven that said, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 26:14). Saul simply said, “Who are you Lord,” to which the voice answered, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” So Saul did what he was told. Later Ananias showed up in response to a vision he had received from God, and said to Saul, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”(Acts 9:17). Then Saul arose, ate something, and was immediately baptized. Saul never took the initiative in any of these actions.  God called him, commanded him, gave him back his sight, and filled him with the Holy Spirit before he did anything. He had been chosen by Christ and his only option was to obey. This is irresistible grace.

The doctrine of irresistible grace is expressed in Article 10 of the Canons of Dort, “But the cause of this undeserved election is exclusively the good pleasure of God. This does not involve God’s choosing certain human qualities or actions from among all those possible as a condition of salvation, but rather involves adopting certain particular persons from among the common mass of sinners as God’s own possession. The Westminster Confession puts it this way, “This effectual call is of God’s free and special grace alone, not from anything at all foreseen in man, who is altogether passive therein, until, being quickened and renewed by the Holy Spirit, he is thereby enabled to answer this call, and to embrace the grace offered and conveyed in it.” (Westminster Confessions 10.2) Saul was a passive participant until he was filled with the Holy Spirit. Only then did he begin exercising his faith by preaching in the synagogue. (Acts 9:20). He could not resist God’s call despite the fact that he was a sworn enemy of Jesus Christ.

Limited Atonement
If it is true that God calls only some to salvation, then it follows that the sacrifice Christ made on the cross  covers only the sins of those whom he has chosen. Those who have not been chosen still must pay for their own sins. If Christ’s sacrifice covered everyone’s sins, then what would be the point of God choosing some over others? If, on the other hand, atonement is available to to only those who accept it, then his sacrifice is ineffectual for those who reject him. This would mean God is not sovereign. The Westminster Catechism 10.1 says, “All those whom God hath predestined unto life, and those only, he is pleased, in his appointed and accepted time, effectually to call, by his Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death.” This idea that Christ’s sacrifice covers only the sins of his chosen ones is called “limited atonement.”

Total Depravity
Total depravity does not mean that man is incapable of doing anything good. It means that no man is capable of humbling himself before a righteous God in genuine repentance. Romans 3:10-11 says,

None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good,
not even one
.”

Reformed theology teaches that sin has so radically corrupted the human soul that repentance is impossible unless the Holy Spirit first imparts a new nature that can respond to God. Jesus told Nicodemas, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God…  That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:3, 5-8) Spiritual birth is necessary because we are all dead in our sins. Dead men cannot play any part in their own salvation. Spiritual life comes entirely from outside them.

Spiritual rebirth precedes believing faith. It is an invisible process that takes place at God’s direction and is prompted by the Holy Spirit through God’s Word.

Justification by Faith
This doctrine is understood in much the same way by both evangelical and reformed believers and so does not require a great deal of explanation other than to say that all men are born sinners and cannot achieve righteousness by an exercise of their will. (Jn 1:12-13) The only righteousness available to them is the righteousness of Jesus Christ who lived a perfect life and then offered up his life as a sacrifice for the justification of the elect. We appropriate this righteousness by faith in Him, not by our own efforts or even by our own choosing, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.  For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:8-10)

Preservation of the Saints
When described from the perspective of the believer, this doctrine is commonly known as the perseverance of the saints. When described from God’s perspective, it is called the preservation of the saints. Preservation means that God keeps us saved. Perseverance means that we constantly pursue salvation. In either case, the true believer cannot lose his salvation. But the reason why is important. If salvation is entirely a work of God, then he cannot fail to bring his work to a successful conclusion. He holds us in an unbreakable grip. As Paul says in Romans 8, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8:38). He explains his reasons for such confidence in the preceding verses. If God did not withhold his most precious Son but gave him up for us while we were still at enmity with him, why would he withhold any good gift from us now that we have been reconciled to him? The Judge Himself has justified us. We have no reason to fear condemnation.

The Westminster Catechism expresses this truth beautifully. Chapter 17.1 says, “They, whom God hath accepted in his Beloved, effectually called, and sanctified by his Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace, but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved.”

Why Theology is Important
These doctrines should inform our study of the scriptures. They provide the guard rails to prevent us from going astray and a context to help us reconcile seemingly contradictory verses of scripture.

For example, how are we to understand a verse like 1 Timothy 4:9-10 if we do not put it into the larger context of scripture? At first glance it seems to be telling us that Christ saves both believers and unbelievers, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.” The doctrine of justification by faith alone tells us that only believers are saved. So in what sense does God save all people? And what is special about the salvation of those who believe?  Well, we already know that the salvation of those who believe is forever. So from what are those who don’t believe saved? They are spared from immediate destruction by the wrath of God which would consume them if it weren’t for his patience and mercy. Paul explains this seeming contradiction in Romans 9:22-24, “What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy…?” 

Prone to Error
I have heard all kinds of error taught in small group Bible studies. Many of these groups foster a
“there are no wrong answers” type of environment. But there is only one truth, not multiple versions of the truth. God wants us to understand the Bible one way and one way only – the way he intended it. That is why we must respect the contributions of those great saints who came before us and whose wisdom has withstood the test of time.

The meaning God’s word does not evolve with time. It remains the same throughout the ages because God does not change. If Bible study produces novel teaching, it is producing heresy. Yet Christian bookstores continue to pump out the latest Christian fad from Church Growth strategies to Seeker Friendly to the Purpose Driven Church to Contemplative Spirituality to the New Apostolic Revival. You would be hard pressed to find Christian classics like the works of St. Augustine or Martin Luther or John Calvin or any of the reformers or Puritans on the shelves of Christian bookstores.  Yet the true church has been built on the shoulders of these great saints, not the promoters of the latest evangelistic technique or church growth method.

 

 

Posted in Assurance of Salvation, Election, False Teaching, Reformation, Reformed Theology | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Holy Affections – The Sign of True Faith

There is a show on local Christian radio here in the Chicago area called, “In the Marketplace with Janet Parshall.” The host likes to quote Luke 6:45b, “for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.”  The preceding part of that verse says, “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil” (Lk 6:45a). The gist is that a man’s words are an indication of what is in his heart, therefore we can know something about what he believes by what he says. So, if a man says that Jesus Christ was a cynic, we would not expect him to be sympathetic to the Christian faith. Yet on one occasion, Mrs. Parshall reprimanded one of her callers for suggesting that President Obama, the man who said those words, is a Muslim. She objected because Mr. Obama himself claims to be a Christian and she believes we should take him at his word. Barack Obama is the same man who forced Christian employers to provide health insurance policies that cover abortion in violation of their Christian beliefs and who blames the Christian church for many of the world’s evils. A quick search for Obama quotes on Youtube shows that he is far more sympathetic toward the Prophet Mohammed than he is toward Jesus Christ. Judging by his words, it is far more likely he that he is a Muslim than that he is a Christian, despite what Janet Parshall says.

Words vs. Deeds
In today’s pluralistic culture, it is considered uncharitable to pass judgment on another’s profession of faith despite that person’s unchristian or even anti-christian behavior. Who can know what goes on inside someone else’s heart, the argument goes. If he calls himself a Christian, we should take him at his word. But the Bible is clear that when a person becomes a believer, his behavior always changes. The reason it changes is that true believers receive new spiritual life when the Holy Spirit takes up residence in their hearts. So that Spirit, the very Spirit of Jesus Christ, immediately begins producing new Christ-like behaviors. If it doesn’t, it is likely that spiritual birth never occurred.

Not only will the Holy Spirit begin to change the new believer’s behavior, it will also begin to transform his affections and thought patterns. “Old things are passed away, behold all things have become new,” says 2 Corinthians 5:17. Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” With faith comes transformation of the believer’s very thought processes to conform them to the mind of Christ.

In the heart of every true believer there is a love for Christ demonstrated by a desire to know his word and to obey it. Jesus says that the one who loves him will obey his commandments, “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him” (John 14:21). The person who does not practice obedience to Christ neither loves him nor is loved by Christ or God the Father.

There is also a love for other believers and a desire to spend time with them in worship together. The writer of Hebrews says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another,” (Heb 10:24-25). David had a profound love for worship. He said, “I was glad when they said to me, Let us go to the house of the Lord!” (Ps 122:1). He also had a deep love for God’s word. Psalms 19 and 119 are filled with praise for the word of God and the benefits of obeying it. The Psalmist says:

In the way of your testimonies I delight
as much as in all riches.
 I will meditate on your precepts
and fix my eyes on your ways.
I will delight in your statutes;
I will not forget your word.
(Ps 119:14-16).

The rules of the Lord are true,
and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb” (Ps 19:9-10)

A true believer will have a craving for sound biblical teaching and preaching. He will be able to say with Peter when Jesus asked the disciples if they would ever leave him, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). The true believer will have an insatiable appetite for the word of God.

Misplaced Affections
My wife and I recently left a church we had been attending for several years because we could no longer bear the cavalier attitude towards the word of God. The pastor was not a good preacher. It was clear he put very little effort into the preparation of his messages. He took every opportunity to outsource the preaching and teaching to others. He relied very heavily on his wife who was a much better preacher and teacher, but she contracted cancer and passed away. Without her, he was simply unable to carry on and soon secretly remarried and resigned his pastorate. The church, which actually has three congregations, is now without a single pastor, all three having moved on. Only one of the pastors devoted himself diligently to the preaching and teaching ministries.

There is a small group of people in that church who have become discontent with the lack of good preaching and teaching and are looking for another church. But the amazing thing is how few are willing to leave in search of better pastures. Most are content with the pathetic quality of the ministry of the word of God. This raises serious questions about the genuineness of their relationship with Christ, which apparently is not strong enough to overcome their desire to stay in familiar surroundings.

My wife and I, on the other hand, did not have to go far to find a church where the ministry of the word of God is held in high regard. Just one mile down the road we found a church where the pastor is a very skilled Bible expositor and the worship is refreshingly reverent. We have tried to encourage members of the other church to join us by sharing sermons with them and inviting them to come to worship, but only a few have taken us up on the offer.

The Path to Revival
It is sad because this little church is clearly on the wrong path and on its way to extinction if things don’t change. And there are many more churches where the same thing is true, where there is a lack of appetite for the faithful preaching and teaching of the word of God, where the ministry is based on the personality of the preacher or the attractiveness of the programs or personal friendships rather than faithfulness to the ministry of the word.

Social Media – Barometer of True Affections
There are few places in our society where discussions of religion and politics are welcome. But social media presents a great opportunity for sharing spiritual truths because it is an open forum where anything and everything can be discussed. Facebook is a powerful indicator of where people’s real affections lie. Christians post pictures of the food they eat, the company they keep, their activities, their families, their hobbies, and their travels. But very few share anything about Jesus Christ from the word of God or Christian media.  Few exhibit the change in affections from the things of this world to the things of Christ.

Matthew 17:17-20 says, “every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit.  A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.” So it is possible to distinguish between believers and unbelievers based on their conduct and what they cherish regardless of their profession of faith. If we were only able to rely on a person’s profession, then the church would cease to be a redeeming influence on the world, since its attitudes and behaviors are in many cases no different from the attitudes and behaviors of the world.

The book of Acts records how the scribes and elders marveled at Peter and John when they were brought before the council for preaching Christ, “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.” (Acts 3:13). We need a revival of sound biblical teaching that will lead to genuine transformation of people’s affections from the things of this world to the things of Christ in order that the world might take note of the fact that we have been with Christ and give glory to God. As Matthew 5:16 says, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Posted in Church Reform, Lukewarm Church, new birth, Reformation, Revival, sanctification | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ancient Wonders Prove Superior Humans

The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.” (Gen 6:4)

I have started watching the show “Ancient Impossible” on the History Channel. I am absolutely fascinated by all the technological wonders of the ancient world, some of which cannot even be duplicated today. How did they build structures on such a massive scale with such fine engineering tolerances? How did they move massive blocks of stone without modern cranes and earth moving equipment? How did they form marble into columns and statues without iron and diamond cutting tools? How could the Roman army build a bridge across a two mile stretch of river in just ten days? How could they drill a four mile long tunnel through a mountain starting from both ends and connect in the middle without laser technology?

For lack of any other explanation, popular science says aliens from an advanced society in outer space gave them a hand. But there is a much more logical explanation and that is that despite their lack of modern technology, the ancients were smarter than we are. If you believe God created man without defect, as He did all creation, then you won’t find these technological marvels so puzzling. Before sin ravaged the human species, man would have had superior mental capacities. Adam and Eve were probably much smarter than Einstein. They just didn’t have the accumulated knowledge base of coming generations upon which to build.

The book of Job was written long before the book of Genesis. In fact, it may have been written before the flood, given the references to prehistoric animals. Listen to this description of a creature called “Leviathan” in Job 41 and tell me if it doesn’t sound like the description of a dragon:

Can you pull in Leviathan with a hook,
 and tie down its tongue with a rope?
 Can you put a cord through its nose,
 or pierce its jaw with a hook? Is it not fierce when it is awakened?
 Who is he, then, who can stand before it? I will not keep silent about its limbs,
and the extent of its might,
and the grace of its arrangement.

“Who can uncover its outer covering?
 Who can penetrate to the inside of its armor?
Who can open the doors of its mouth?
 Its teeth all around are fearsome.
 Its back has rows of shields, 
shut up closely together as with a seal;
each one is so close to the next
 that no air can come between them.
They lock tightly together, one to the next;
 they cling together and cannot be separated.”

“Its snorting throws out flashes of light; 
its eyes are like the red glow of dawn.
 Out of its mouth go flames, 
sparks of fire shoot forth!
 Smoke streams from its nostrils
as from a boiling pot over burning rushes.
Its breath sets coals ablaze
and a flame shoots from its mouth.”

“Strength lodges in its neck,
and despair runs before it.
 The folds of its flesh are tightly joined;
they are firm on it, immovable.”

“Its underparts are the sharp points of potsherds, 
it leaves its mark in the mud
like a threshing sledge. 
It makes the deep boil like a cauldron
and stirs up the sea like a pot of ointment, It leaves a glistening wake behind it;
one would think the deep had a head of white hair.
The likes of it is not on earth,
 a creature without fear.
It looks on every haughty being;
it is king over all that are proud” (Job 41)

Here is a creature with armored flesh, rows of shields on its back, powerful limbs, iron jaw, fearsome teeth, flashing eyes and smoking nostrils that breathes out fire and creates a foaming wake as it swims. This is like no other creature scientists have ever found even in the fossil record. So it must be an antediluvian creature of enormous strength and size.

And as ancient as his times were, Job describes technologies that include iron working. This is from Job 19:23:

O that my words were written down,
O that they were written on a scroll,
that with an iron chisel and with lead
they were engraved in a rock forever!

In chapter 28 Job describes the mining of gold, iron, silver, copper and precious gems using powerful explosives:

Surely there is a mine for silver,
and a place where gold is refined.
Iron is taken from the ground,
and rock is poured out as copper.”

“Man puts an end to the darkness; 
he searches the farthest recesses
for the ore in the deepest darkness.
Far from where people live he sinks a shaft,
in places travelers have long forgotten,
far from other people he dangles and sways.”

“The earth, from which food comes,
is overturned below as though by fire;
a place whose stones are sapphires
and which contains dust of gold;
a hidden path no bird of prey knows –
no falcon’s eye has spotted it.
Proud beasts have not set foot on it,
and no lion has passed along it.”

“On the flinty rock man has set to work with his hand;
he has overturned mountains at their bases.
He has cut out channels through the rocks;
his eyes have spotted every precious thing.
He has searched the sources of the rivers
and what was hidden he has brought into the light.”

The Bible makes reference to a race of men born of the union of the “sons of God” with the “daughters of men.” They were called “heroes of old, men of reknown” (Gen 6:4). The “sons of God” is a term that is applied to heavenly creatures in the Old Testament. When Satan comes before God to accuse Job, the narrator says, “Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them” (Job 1:6). So, the Sons of God were probably angels. In the early days of creation these “sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose,” creating an unholy union between angels and men, thus producing a superior race both physically and intellectually. They were no doubt the ones who produces the ancient wonders that scientists today attribute to aliens from another planet. According to the creation account in Genesis, the earth was created before everything else. The stars were not created until after plant life. Vegetation was created on the third day and the “lights in the heavens” were created on the fourth day (Gen 1:11-19). So no intelligent life existed anywhere in the universe before Adam and Eve.

Posted in Apologetics, Creation | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment