Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Foundations of the Church Week 4 - “Messy Humans”

 For the past few years, when my parents come down for Thanksgiving, we try to visit a historical site in Arizona. We’ve been to the Ghost Town in the Proving grounds, Tombstone, Oatman, and Wickenburg. This year we went down to the Yuma Territorial prison. For what it was, I thought it was a good little site. What struck me was some of the crimes, mostly by the women. You had the usual, burglary, manslaughter, murder, but then you had adultery and polygamy; two things nowadays would barely catch people off guard. But there was one criminal act that stood out above the rest for me. One lady was in there because she was dancing and her brother didn’t like it, so she shot him with a shotgun. 

And it was a fitting place to visit, because it brought into focus how easily it is for humans to do evil. Which brings us back to our fall apologetics series where we are looking at five heresy that come out of a Ligionier Ministries survey; to which Christianity Today wrote an article stating, “Overall, adults in the US are moving away from orthodox understandings of God and his Word year after year (Stefani McDade, https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2022/september-web-only/state-of-theology-evangelical-heresy-report-ligonier-survey.html).”

In week one we covered how 26% of Evangelical Christians agree that the Bible was helpful, but wasn’t true. So we walked through both the internal and external consistencies of the Bible, showing that it is non-contradictory, logical on the subjects it speaks on, fundamentally unchanged throughout the centuries, and archeologically prove time and time again. To which we talked about, that the problem isn’t with the truthfulness of the Bible, but rather an issue of submission to what is being stated through it.

In our second week, we combined two of the heresies because they both dealt with the person of Jesus. The survey found that an average 58% of Evangelical Christians believed that Jesus was a created being, less god than God the Father. Here we went through, what I called, mystery passages in the Old Testament, that when originally heard in the context of Israel didn’t make a lot of sense. These passages held two seemingly opposing truths together: there is one God, yet a plurality exists with this one God. This is conundrum that Jewish theologians prior to Jesus were struggling with. Yet, when Jesus came on the scene, this conundrum became clearer with the understanding that within God, there are three persons. Co-eternal God and yet within this being of God, are unique. We walked away from this week with the understanding that we must worship the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as equal persons and as one God.

This brings us to our last week, where we covered the issue of the exclusivity of Jesus. We saw that in response to Ligionier’s survey, 56% of Evangelical Christians believed the God accepted the worship of all religions. This translates into an understanding that there are many paths to salvation. Here we gave three reasons as to why this isn’t true. First we gave biblical reasoning through several passages of Scripture that claim there is One Savior and only through Jesus can a person be saved. Then we gave a philosophical reason as to why the mere existence of the universe points to only one God, to which Christianity follows. Finally, we gave a religious reason. This reason looks at the religion’s of the world, where everyone gives a caveat to Christians’ salvation, but Christianity does not do the same.

This week we’ll finish up both the heresies from this article and our fall apologetics series. And I must warn you that this one we’ll be a downer at first, but I hope we end on the hope we have in Jesus, which will then lead us into our Christmas series on the joy of Christmas. So let’s get into it.

In the survey, Ligionier Ministries asked the respondents if they agreed or disagreed with this statement, “Everyone sins a little, but most people are good by nature.” 66% of the average US population, who responded, agreed with that statement. The response from the Evangelical Christians wasn’t that far off, with 57% also agreeing with the statement. What this means is that, for most people, the idea of sin isn’t that big of a deal, and that people are generally good. 

But why is that? Why do people downplay sin and up play human goodness. I think there’s at least two reasons: First, we up play human goodness because we look to ourselves as the standard. I can justify my actions therefore I am good. I can then carry that logic to other people in general, with the except of those that I might politically or social disagree with, or who do horrendous things. A reason for then downplaying sin is that our definition of sin is not consistent with a biblical definition. I’ve run into people who tend to hold that sin is a curse word, a white lie, or being a murder. In other words, either things that are common in everyday life that have no true repercussions, or acts so heinous that the average person wouldn’t even commit. So if a person doesn’t commit serious acts, such as murder, then the common sins don’t mean anything. This then strengths the idea of the goodness of humanity. 

Yet this far from what God says on the subject. 1 John 3:4 gives us a simple definition of what sin actually is. It reads, “Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness.” The law being spoken of is not human law, but God’s law. And not simply the law of Moses, but the natural law that God established at creation. Sin is not bad things a society says are bad, whether socially unacceptable things or things codified in law; no, sin is the breaking of God’s creation law, not just in a physical outwardly way, but inwardly as well. 

Jesus teaches this inner breaking of God’s law. In the Matthew chapter 5, the sermon on the mount, Jesus takes the issues of murder and adultery, and then proceeds to speak of the internal, not merely the external, issue of sin. So the breaking of God’s law starts with the inner thoughts. Murder happens not just when you take the knife and stab the person to death, but when you first hold anger towards them. You didn’t only break God’s law when you slept with that person who wasn’t your spouse, you broke it the moment you looked at someone who wasn’t your spouse and desired them. To this Jesus says these words in Matthew 15:19, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.”

The biblical understanding of sin, is that it flows from our heart into our actions. So, though I have never murdered, I have held anger, therefore I have broken God’s law to love. Though I have never slept with someone who isn’t my spouse, if I have desired someone in that way, then I have broken God’s law of faithfulness. This is why Isaiah states in his 64th chapter, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away (v.6).”

Paul references this Isaiah verse in Romans 3, and adds this in verse 23 of that chapter, “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” When we understand that sin is the breaking of God’s creation law on both the internal and external level, we remove the idea that there are small sins and there is human goodness. Because, though there are sins that may effect the greater world in different ways, they still effect our standing with God. True you’re in right standing with society because you didn’t murder that neighbor that threw his dog’s poop in your yard, but you’re in bad standing with God because you plotted how you were going to make him eat it.

This standing is what is spoken about in Isaiah 59:2, “But your iniquities have separated you from your God…” That word iniquities means guilt. The guilt from the sin we have both inwardly and outwardly committed by breaking God’s creation law.

But this where I’ve seen push back. I’ve heard things like, well I’m not that bad. “God wouldn’t punish me for such small infractions…I’m not as bad as Jeffry Dahmer or one of those other psychos…I just don’t have it in me to do such things.”

To this I point to a book by Clay Jones. Clay Jones is our pastor Jeff’s younger brother, and he wrote a book a few years back called, Why Does God Allow Evil? I think one of the most important chapters is chapter two entitled, “Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?” I want to read you two excepts from that chapter.

“Most of us know that during World War II, many Germans participated in the murder of six million Jews. But few realize that an almost equal number of Poles, Ukrainians, Russians, Gypsies, handicapped, and so on were also killed. And this doesn’t include those actually killed in combat, or those who died in cites (Jones, Clay, Why Does God Allow Evil: Compelling Answers For Life’s Toughest Questions. [Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 2017),  page 50.]).”
“But still, some resist this conclusion. In smiling, closed-eyed denial, some will say that those who perpetrated genocide must have been abused as children, or raised by severe parents, or something—anything. These people simply do not want to believe, cannot allow themselves to believe, that they and their children were born Auschwitz-enabled. They are desperate to escape the conclusion that we could all do genocide. Nonetheless, skeptics and even many Christians will argue that Auschwitz or no, there are still some good people (Jones, Clay, Why Does God Allow Evil: Compelling Answers For Life’s Toughest Questions. [Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 2017),  page 62-63.]).”

Earlier in the chapter Jones goes into detail about an experiment called the Eichmann Experiment, conducted at Yale University in the early 1960s. In the experiment participants would be split off into pairs, with each person in a par chosen at random to be either a teacher or a learner. The learner would then be given a list of words to memorize and recite. The teacher was then instructed to press a button that would give the learner an electric shock. This device had a scale for the output of electrical charges, ranging from slight to danger. As the experiment went on, the overseer of the experiment instructed the teacher to slowly increase the electrical charge. Even as the learner became increasingly hysterical and begged the teacher to stop, 65% of the teachers continued to increase the charge all the way up to a lethal shock. In reality, the learner was an actor, the shocks a trick, the real subject of the experiment was the teacher. Average people committing torture. 

Isn’t interesting that 66% of the average American citizen believes that people are generally good and 65% of the experiment went all the way to the maximum shock?

This showed that each one of us has the capability of inflicting horrific things on others, to which the Bible recognizes comes from the sin that wells up from within our inner being. It’s something that we all know we have inside us, but we all try to keep in check. Yet it it comes out. During the pandemic, the world saw upwards to a 33% increase in domestic violence calls (https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2022/06/shadow-pandemic-of-domestic-violence/). During the pandemic here in the US, aggravated assaults increased by 11%, Murder rates increased almost 29%(https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/research-reports/myths-and-realities-understanding-recent-trends-violent-crime). In home violence drastically occurred when we couldn’t get outside to do something else.

We live in a world that doesn’t take sin seriously and errors on the side of human goodness. Do you know why we have a government that is supposed to have such rigid checks and balances? Because the Founders understood that we live a world where humans were sinful and needed to be checked. 

We are not good in the sense that we are pure, humanly specking we may do good acts, but even those are tainted. How often do we do something for someone’s else’s good, yet we don’t get recognized for it and then hold bitterness, saying things like, well I’ll never help them again. How often do we do something good for someone and say, well that’s my good deed for the year, or they better be appreciative of all I do for them. If we’re honest with ourselves, none of us achieve pure love in all things. And because we don’t, we break God’s creation law, we become sinners, and are destined for eternal separation from him in a place called hell.

And yet, there’s hope. The Psalmist states, “Then I acknowledged my sin to you
and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.’ And you forgave the guilt of my sin (v. 32:5).”

The prophet Micah proclaims, “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. 19 You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea (v. 7:18-19).”

The Apostle John encourages, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (v. 1:9).”

And the Hebrew writer points to hope when they write, “so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him (v. 9:28).”

And this is the key: Sin needs to be recognized. When we gloss over it, we lose what truly will change us and this world. When we down play sin and up play our goodness, we don’t deal with the reality of what’s happening within us and what is spilling out to the world. What’s ironic is that we tell addicts the first step in recovery is to recognize you have a problem. No truer words could be spoken to the every human in the world. When we recognize that we are sinners, we can then get help from the only place that is equipped to deal with it. That place is with the Living God, in which the Father gave his Son so that all who put there trust in him would not perish but have everlasting life.

And when we put our trust into Jesus, confessing our sinfulness, accepting that he sacrificed for us, by taking our sin and punishment on to himself as he hung on the cross, sins power is broken in our lives. The Holy Spirit rushes into us and lives with us, combating the last vestiges of sin’s foothold in our lives. Bringing out of us real goodness, which is the goodness of God.

Paul says it this way in Ephesians 2:1-10, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

A modern praise song has this chorus in it, “Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending reckless love of God…Oh, it chases me down, fights 'til I'm found, leaves the 99…And I couldn't earn it…I don't deserve it, still You give yourself away…Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending reckless love of God.”

Let’s be honest with ourselves and with God. I think that is the hardest part. I am a sinner, I have broken God’s law, and I am deserving of whatever punishment comes from that. Yet, God is merciful and desires that I be his. Through Jesus he cleanses me of all my sin and guilt and accepts me wholly into his love. My life now is his, as he transforms me from the sin I practiced, into the righteousness of the Father’s Son. Not because of anything I did, but because he is pure good, and now I know what goodness is.

My challenge for you this week is to be honest with God. Whether you are a believer or not. Take an inventory of yourself. Are all your thoughts pure? Are all your actions not compromised. Because it only takes one to make us a sinner, a breaker of God’s law. But what really matters is not that you are a sinner, that only matters if you continue in sin rejecting being honest. That will lead to forever separation. But if you recognize, confess, and seek Jesus as Savior, then what matters is his great love for you. That no amount of sin, whether small or large will keep you from being welcomed by God into his presence for eternity.

So let us be people of honestly. Let’s not sugarcoat our sin, or up play our goodness, but deal with it in the light of Jesus. The Savior, Forgiver, Redeemer, and Lover of humanity. Amen.

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Foundations of the Church Week 3 - “Jesus' Path”

  San Francisco is one of those places I have a love hate relationship with. Before it became so bad, visiting places like the wharf, or China Town, or Alcatraz, or Candlestick Park when it was there, was great. We took a group of teens there several years back and they had a great time overall. 

But I also loathe going there. Mostly for the traffic. Before I came to Quartzsite my sister asked me to officiate her wedding. They wanted it to be held in October with the Gold Gate Bridge in the background. The night before the wedding, my parents arranged to have hotel rooms for us in San Francisco proper. The trip to there was a story of its own, but when we got to the city we had to navigate to our destination with a regular map, since cell phones didn’t have GPS at the time. We finally got to the street the hotel was on, it was a one way, going to our left, which is where we needed to be. We were also on a one way and the cars in front of us turned left on the green light. So we proceeded to turn as well. 

Apparently, unbeknownst to us, there was a sign saying, no left turns; we were told this by the police officer who, as we turned onto the street told us after he pulled us over. Of course we got a ticket, and ever since then San Francisco has become one of my least liked cities. And one of the reasons why I very much dislike city downtowns for all the one way streets, and why I love having modern GPS.

But it’s this idea of going down a one way street that brings us back into our Fall Apologetics series.

Three weeks ago we started this series by looking at the result of a study by Ligionier Ministries, which was presented in an article by Christianity Today. In that article, Stefani McDade wrote, “Overall, adults in the US are moving away from orthodox understandings of God and his Word year after year (Stefani McDade, https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2022/september-web-only/state-of-theology-evangelical-heresy-report-ligonier-survey.html).”

In the article, they present five heresies that are in the American Church. In our series we are looking at these heresies and showing how we as Christians need to reject them and embrace God’s teaching on these subjects.

The first of these heresies that we tackled dealt with the trustworthiness of the Bible. In the first week we saw that 26% of Evangelical Christians agreed that the Bible was helpful but not true. So we proceeded to show how the Bible was both internal and external consistent. That what’s contained in the Bible isn’t contradictory or logically wrong on the subjects it presents, and that the Bible is proven to be historically unaltered and credible through archeology. And we walked away with the understanding that the issue really isn’t, is the Bible true, but rather am I willing or not to submit to it.

In the second week, we combined two of the heresies because they both dealt with the person of Jesus. By combining these two we saw that there was an average of 58% of Evangelical Christians who agreed that Jesus wasn’t God, but rather some sort of lesser created being. Here we walked through some mystery passages in the Old Testament that spoke of a tri-personal God, yet were not clear on what that meant. Then we went to the New Testament and saw how Jesus’ teaching brings clarity to those passages. In the end we saw that the biblical teaching is that God is a one in three persons, and as Christians we must worship Jesus and the Holy Spirit just as much as we are to worship the Father. 

This week we turn our attention to a more controversial subject of Jesus being the only way to God. The survey made the statement, “God accepts the worship of all religions, including Christianity, Judaism and Islam.” The response of Evangelicals was that 56% agreed with the statement. 

That means over half of those surveyed believe that there are multiple ways to God, and that Jesus, or Christianity is only one way. In my experience I can attest to people believing this to be true, and if you’re in this room and you agree with this, don’t tune out here. I want to give you three different approaches to answer this question, does God accept all religions. This would translate to, is there only one path to salvation, or does God accept any path? 

First, is the biblical reasoning. There are dozens of passages throughout Scripture that point to the God of the Bible being the only way, I want to give you three. The first is from the Old Testament from the book of Isaiah.In the last two weeks of our series we have referenced Isaiah 43:10, “‘You are my witnesses,’ declares the Lord, ‘and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me.” This alone should begin to point us to an understanding that there is only one God in the universe, and so every other belief in a god or gods, would be inherently false. But for salvation purposes, we need to continue reading the very next verse. Verse 11 reads, “I, even I, am the Lord, and apart from me there is no savior.” God is stating unequivocally that he is both the only God there is and that he is the only Savior. In other words, he is the only path for salvation. This is done in a context of both polytheistic worship of many gods in the land where the Israelites were, and with the future Babylonia exile in mind. If the God of the Bible was accepting of any religious worship, why make such an exclusive statement?

Fast forward to Jesus’ teaching and the most poignant verse on this subject is John 14:6, “6 Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’” This is really important because Jesus, like the Isaiah passage we just read, is stating that he is unequivocally the only way of salvation. And if you were here last week, we explored how Jesus claimed to be the same deity that spoke in the Old Testament. So Jesus’ statement here would be a continuation and a more exclusive view of what was spoke in Isaiah 43. Meaning it isn’t just a belief in the God of the Bible, but more specifically in the life and death of Jesus.

It’s because of verses like these that Peter, speaking to the Jewish high religious council in Acts 4:12 states this, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” Another unequivocal statement given by Scripture that points to the God of the Scriptures and Jesus Christ being the only way of salvation.

These are just three verse from the Bible that point to there being only one way of salvation for the world, but that’s not all we have. The next approach would be a philosophical one.

What I am going to share with you is one philosophical argument, that by itself doesn’t prove either God or that he is the only way of salvation. To do such a thing, we would need more time for the explanation of several philosophical arguments that compound on one another. Understanding this, let’s look at this one philosophical argument called the Contingency Argument. This argument has four premises. 

First Premise: Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence (either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause). In other words, everything exists with there being a reason why it exists. If we found a watch in the desert, we wouldn’t say it just appeared there. We would understand that it came there by falling of a person. And we would understand that the watch had been made by a human. And that human was made by two other humans. If we saw a tree, we would understand that the tree comes from the seed, the rain that grows the seed comes from the clouds, which in turn comes from evaporation, and we enter into the circle of life. Everything has an explanation as to why it exists, therefore premise one is true.

The Second premise is: The universe exists. Can we all agree with that? We are interacting right here and now, we can say we exist. Now there’s those that might say it’s a matrix, or it’s a personal reality, but that doesn’t negate the reality that at some level the universe does exist. Therefore premise two is true.

The Third premise is: If the universe exists, then it has an explanation of its existence, that explanation needs to be beyond the universe itself. We know that everything has an explanation as to why it is here, premise one; the universe exists, premise two, so it must have an explanation as well. But here’s the thing, whatever is the explanation for the universe must be distinct from it. The watch is not the human who made it. The seed is not the water that grew it. So there must be something beyond the universe that created it. This is what we would call God. But that God would then need to be defined in light of what the universe is. So let’s take the universe and define what this God must be. The universe is spatial, meaning it has space, then God must be spaceless. The universe is material, therefore God must be immaterial. The universe is natural, therefore God must be beyond natural as in supernatural. The universe is guided by natural law, therefore God must be all-powerful to be able to make the law. The universe is caused, big bang or whatever you like, therefore God must be uncaused. And finally, in order that the universe to even exists with ways in which objects, such as humans, can comprehend it, means that this God must be personal, because impersonal things, such as numbers, cannot produce anything without being understood first. 

The Final premise is: The universe exists because God created it. If premise three is true, then the final premise is also true. That the universe exists because God made it to exist.

There’s more that could be said, but with time constraints will leave it there. If all four premises are true, the question then is, who is this God and has it revealed itself to us.

Right from the get go we can already rule out religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism or other pantheistic or polytheistic religions. The reason for this this because each of these creation stories put forth that the universe is eternal, and the gods used it to create what we now see. Scientifically we know the universe isn’t eternal, so these types of religions cannot be true. So even if they have good information on a moral level, they fail at eternal manners. 

In fact there are only three major religions that logically follow the Contingency Argument, and those are Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. All accept the Genesis account of creation that the universe was created separate from God out of nothing.

But out of the three, only Jesus states that he is the only way. In Deuteronomy 8:15, Moses of Judaism spoke of a prophet to come, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him.” In other words, he didn’t claim his way was the way, but rather to look for another prophet to which the Jewish people were to listen to. Muhammad of Islam, though supposed to be the last prophet of God, agreed that the Jews and Christians should follow their holy books In the Quaranic chapter 29, verse 46 it reads, “Do not argue with the People of the Book unless gracefully, except with those of them who act wrongfully. And say, ‘We believe in what has been revealed to us and what was revealed to you. Our God and your God is ˹only˺ One. And to Him we ˹fully˺ submit.” (https://quran.com/29?startingVerse=46). What this is saying is that Muhammed believes that the People of the Book, i.e. Jews and Christians, serve the same God. So he is claiming that exclusivity spoken about in the Old and New Testaments is true. Yet a study between Jesus’ words and the words of the Quran reveals that Jesus would reject the teachings of Muhammed.

Jesus is the only figure in the three religions who logically follows the Contingency Argument, and who claims the only way of salvation. Therefore, as C.S. Lewis puts it, he’s either lying and can’t be trusted, he’s a lunatic and shouldn’t be believed, or he is Lord and we must follow him for salvation. 

The final approach we can take when addressing if Jesus is the only way to salvation is to look at the tenants of several religions. First, remember Christianity teaches Jesus’ words from John 14:6 that he is the only way. Therefore Jesus rejects any other way of salvation but that which is through him. So what do the other religions believe?

Let’s start with religions that are outside of those that claim agreement with the Bible.

Dr. David Frawley comments on the idea of salvation in Hinduism, “Hindu Dharma respects freedom of belief for all people, holding that there is ultimately One Truth and a unity of consciousness behind all existence. Hindu Dharma states that each individual should be free to follow whatever spiritual path he or she feels most drawn to, or even no path at all (https://hindupost.in/society-culture/hindu-view-of-christian-salvation/)." In other words, salvation, though the understanding would be different, is a matter of personal choice, not one of divine requirement. 

Of Buddhism, Alfred Bloom writes, “With respect to the afterlife, all beings have been embraced within the compassion of Amida’s fulfilled Vows. Though they are saved, they do not know it and, therefore, see themselves subject to karmic destiny. But even with such a destiny, the retribution is not eternal and the person eventually is born into the Pure Land (https://bschawaii.org/shindharmanet/salvation2/)." In other words, all people are saved, even if their beliefs contradict each other.

Now let’s look at those that claim to agree with the biblical worldview.

The Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding & Cooperation, states, “Our partnership in no way minimizes the ongoing differences between the two communities and two religions. We believe that G-d employs many messengers to reveal His truth, while we affirm the fundamental ethical obligations that all people have before G-d that Judaism has always taught through the universal Noahide covenant…In imitating G-d, Jews and Christians must offer models of service, unconditional love and holiness. We are all created in G-d’s Holy Image, and Jews and Christians will remain dedicated to the Covenant by playing an active role together in redeeming the world (https://www.cjcuc.org/2015/12/03/orthodox-rabbinic-statement-on-christianity/)." Again, though Judaism does’t agree with Jesus being God, as we showed last week, the orthodox stance is that Christians still are a part of the redeeming work of God.

In Islam the question on salvation is answered like this from the website, “Why Islam?”, “To achieve salvation, one must accept the tenets of Islam mainly the belief in one God, all Prophets and Messengers, previous scriptures, the hereafter, angels, and God’s decree. These tenants were taught by all previous Prophets and Messengers. Islam did not start with the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, rather it was the religion of all Prophets and Messengers starting with Adam. Therefore, the Quran teaches that previous religions, such as Christianity and Judaism, in their authentic and original forms were based on the Oneness of God. People who accepted the message of previous Prophets and followed them will also achieve salvation (https://www.whyislam.org/salvation/)." In other words, Jews and Christians both have a path to gain salvation if they follow their original teachings. 

Finally, let’s look two groups that claim to be Christian themselves, but have theology that doesn’t align with the core of the Christian faith.

The first is the Church of Latter Day Saints, or Mormonism, where the official LDS website states, “Almost every person who has ever lived on the earth is assured salvation from the second death (https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/gospel-topics/salvation?lang=eng)."

Another group similar to the LDS is the Jehovah’s Witness, which state on their official site, “Do Jehovah’s Witnesses Feel That They Are the Only People Who Will Be Saved? No. Many millions who lived in centuries past and who weren’t Jehovah’s Witnesses will have an opportunity for salvation (https://www.jw.org/en/jehovahs-witnesses/faq/who-saved/)."

So looking at these different groups and the words of Jesus in John 14:6 you have two options. Either there is a universal salvation that doesn’t matter what you believe, or that there is only salvation through Jesus alone. Either everyone gets salvation, or only those that trust in Jesus as Savior. For Christians who follow Jesus as the only way of salvation, they have salvation no matter if they are right or wrong. But if Jesus is truly the only way, then only the Christians have salvation.

This is the uniqueness of the Gospel message, that there is only one way to God through Jesus’ death and resurrection. This is the message that Paul told the philosophers at Mars Hill in Acts 17. Paul stated, “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead (v. 30-31).” That man is Jesus, and salvation is only through him.

But before we end, I want to address one question that will inevitably be brought up. What about those who have never heard the Gospel of Jesus? To this we must lean on God’s judgment. We are given a hint in Romans 1:19-20 reads, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”

What is being said here, is that God has given all people what they need to seek him, i.e. the natural world. So all people have access to at least this information and will therefore be judge on it. But we are also given this hope in Jeremiah 29:13, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” If God is true, and he is the only way of salvation, then he is also loving and merciful. God will judge humanity in his goodness so that there will be no excuse. Whether you hear the Gospel or not, you will be dealt justly by God.

So, we just walked thorough three approaches to answering the question is Jesus the only way of salvation. Biblically, yes he is; philosophically, yes he is; religiously, yes he is. But like the struggle with, is the Bible true, the core of this comes down to, do you believe Jesus or not? If he says he is the only way, do you believe that? Jesus can’t be a good teacher if he claims things that are not true. Jesus can’t say that he’s God and be a trustworthy if he’s not. Jesus can’t say he’s the only way of salvation, if he isn’t. And if he does claim those things and he’s not who he says he is, then why trust anything he says?

But if he is true, then we must bow before him and give up our lives to follow him. The reward is eternal life, the alternative is hell. But if he isn’t true and we follow him, no matter what, salvation is assured. It’s a win-win situation.

My challenge for you this week, is this, if you don’t believe Jesus is the only way to salvation and I’m misrepresenting what is being said, then read through the book of John and see if Jesus doesn’t claim deity and exclusivity of salvation. Struggle with his words, not Jeremiah’s. It’s not Jeremiah that decides salvation; if Jesus is true then he does, if he isn’t true then no one does.

But if you’re a believer I want to challenge you to look up two other Philosophical arguments. One is the Cosmological Argument and the second is the Kalam Argument. Expand your understanding of the logic of our God. How his creative works point us towards his great salvation.

Let us be a people that trust Jesus and him alone for our salvation, and share that exclusive message with all those who are on a wide path; a path for destruction and not life. Let us be proclaimers of the greatness of our God and his gift of eternal life to all those who accept Jesus as their Savior. Amen.

Sunday, November 6, 2022

Foundations of the Church Week 2 - “The Uncreated Jesus”

In 303 AD Caesar Galerius encouraged Augustus Diocletian to rouse the patriotism of the Roman people. Over the years, Rome seemed to be waining in power and influence, Diocletian looked to the failing of worship to the Roman gods as the cause of this downturn. His attention focused on the Christian sect, who prayed to no other god than Christ. Diocletian sent word that prohibited Christians meeting for worship, and that all their books be destroyed. Then the word came out that any clergy would be arrested unless they sacrificed to one of the Roman gods. Soon after, all Christians were told to do the same.

Christians were jailed, beaten, and killed, manuscripts of the Scriptures were burned. The persecution was most intense in northern Africa, and lasted for eight years, until AD 311. One year later Constantine won control of the western Roman Empire, and in the east, Christianity gained legal toleration. 

Constantine, a now professing Christian, saw that there was a growing division within the Church over the issue of Jesus. On one side was the Bishop Arius, he taught that Jesus was a created and not as eternal as the Father. On the other end was Athanasius who taught that Jesus was as much God as the Father. Constantine therefore called the first worldwide council of Bishops together to discuss and come to an agreement over the issue.

This council was held at Nicaea in 325 AD, and was attended by 323 Bishops, mostly from the eastern Roman Empire. There the two sides presented cases, argued Scripture, and tried to dismantle the other side’s arguments. The recorder of the event, Eusebius, wrote that Constantine urged the bishops to be of one mind, and at the end of council a creed was written. 318 members of the council agreed to the creed that read…

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible;

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten of the Father, of the substance of the Father; God of God and Light of Light; true God of true God; begotten, not made, of the same substance as the Father, by whom all things were made, in heaven and on earth: who for the sake of us men and our salvation, descended, became incarnate, and was made man, suffered, arose again on the third day, and ascended into the heavens, from where he will come again to judge the living and the dead;

And in the Holy Spirit.

But the creed was not just an endorsement of Jesus being equal in godhood with the Father, but also a rejection of Arius’ beliefs. The creed continues…

But the Holy Catholic and Apostolic church anathematizes those [i.e. the Arians] who say “There was a time when he was not,” and “Before he was begotten, he did not exist” and “He was made from that which did not exist.” The same goes for those who assert that he is of a different substance or essence from the Father, or that he was created, or can be changed.

This was not the end of the debate, a debate which still comes to the surface every time someone asks the question, where did Jesus come from?

Last week we started our fall apologetics series by looking at an article written in Christianity today that states, “Overall, adults in the US are moving away from orthodox understandings of God and his Word year after year (Stefani McDade, https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2022/september-web-only/state-of-theology-evangelical-heresy-report-ligonier-survey.html).”

We looked at a the first of these areas in which the US population is moving away from orthodox beliefs. In the first week, we looked at how the US population now believes that the Bible does contain helpful information but is not wholly true. But what was more alarming is that 1/4 of evangelical Christians agree. 

So, we took some time and saw that the Bible was both internally and externally consistent. Internally consistent because it isn’t contradictory, and is logical on the subjects it contains. And externally consistent, because it is well persevered through the centuries and is confirmed by archeology. We walked away with the understanding that, Christians can be assured that the Bible is wholly true, because of these consistencies. But that’s not the really issue. The real issue is, do we personally trust it. Because if we trust it, that means we have to submit to it, and submission is really what’s at the heart of the issue.

Now that we’ve discussed how the Bible is wholly true, we can turn our attention to the issue of Jesus. In the article they asked two statements about Jesus. The first statement was, agree or disagree, “Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God.” The second statement was, “Jesus was a great teacher, but he was not God.” These two statements are linked together and so, we’re going to deal with both today.

But before we do, let’s look at the statistics from the Ligonier survey. For the first statement, “Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God,” 73% of Evangelical Christians agreed. That means almost 3/4 of Evangelicals agree that Jesus was created by God.

In the second statement, “Jesus was a great teacher, but he was not God,” 43% of Evangelical Christians agreed. Now there’s something off here. Both questions deal with the divinity or godhood of Jesus, yet we have a 30% difference. 

My assumption is that when hearing the first statement, “Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God,” we’re talking about the relationship between God the Father and Jesus. When I’ve encountered this idea with people, there’s a tendency to think of Jesus as lesser, therefore I can see how people agree more with this statement.

Whereas the second statement, “Jesus was a great teacher, but he was not God,” we’re talking about Jesus’ relationship with other religious figures, such as Muhammed, or Buddha. In this case, people tend to think of Jesus as greater than these, so there is a decline in agreement with the statement. 

But let’s take an average from these two and say that the average Evangelical Christian, taking both statements into account, would be about 58%. Taking this approach would mean that over half of Evangelical Christians consider Jesus, less than God the Father. This is exactly the issue that was up for debate at the Council of Nicaea. Is Jesus’ equal with the Father, or is he less than? Is Jesus eternal like the Father, or is he a created being less eternal?

This is where the Scriptures come in. We must look to and see how God shows himself through the Scriptures. 

To do this, we’re going to look back at something we mentioned last week. Last week I brought up the mystery language about God that we see in Genesis 1 and Exodus 3. How, in Genesis 1, God speaks to in plurality. Then in Exodus 3, we see three names used in the passage, The Angel of the Lord, the Lord, and God. I want us to follow this a little more.

In Deuteronomy 6:4, we get the Shema. This has become a ritual prayer for Jewish people, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” This prayer speaks to the monotheism of God. A quick breakdown is this: God is saying, nation of Israel, listen and hear, your God is the Lord God, the Lord is one. But in the Hebrew it’s more ambiguous, “Shema Israel Yahweh Elohenu Yahweh.” (e-hād Yah-weh ’ĕ·lō·hê·nū Yah-weh yiś·rā·’êl šə·ma’) Or “Hear Israel, Lord, our God, Lord.” It’s another area where the repetition of three when connected with God happens.

But one of the strangest passages of the Old Testament comes from Isaiah 9:6-7. You might have heard these verses around Christmas time. "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.” Remember that part of the kingdom for a little bit later. 

Instead, let’s focus now on the titles which in and of themselves are strange. Setting aside the first title because it carries even more than what we can cover today, the last three are strange in that they are attributed to a child who is being born. Why would a child being born be called Mighty God? How can he be a Mighty God? How can the title Everlasting Father be attributed to a son of a human? How can he be both the Everlasting Father and a Prince of Peace, when a prince is the son of the father?

This passage is strange because these titles don’t make sense in a strict monotheism. Especially when just 34 chapters later in the same prophetic writing Isaiah pens these words from God, “‘You are my witnesses,’ declares the Lord, ‘and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me (43:10).’”

So how can there be a child born with the titles like Mighty God, and yet, God declaring himself to have no other gods either before or after him. Either this child is somehow connected to God’s deity or God is lying.

This mystery is compounded with Daniel’s vision in the seventh chapter of his writing, “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed (Daniel 7:13-14).”

In this passage Daniel sees someone like a son of man, so someone who looks like a human, coming in clouds. There’s more to that cloud imagery that we can cover, but he approaches the Ancient of Days, another title for God, and is brought into his presence. Then he is given authority, glory and sovereign power. These are things wielded by God himself. But what happens next is telling, the nations worship this son of man. Now the word here is the Hebrew word pelach (pel-akh’) which means to serve. In the book of Daniel it used used to connect God’s people to his service, or worship. It is used to say that Daniel and his friends won’t serve other gods, but their own God (Daniel 3). So this service that the nations are giving to this son of man person, is the same that is given to God himself, hence why worship is used in this context. 

But also notice that, like the child in the Isaiah 9 passage, this son of man is receiving a kingdom that is everlasting. These two figures, the child of Isaiah and son of man of Daniel, seem to be the same person. At the very least, the ambiguity of this person is overwhelming. 

Yet, when we come to the New Testament we see how this ambiguity gets worked out. At Jesus’ first trial before the Jewish leaders, the high priest asked him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God (Matthew 26:63b).”

To which Jesus replies, “You have said so…But I say to all of you: From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven (Matthew 26:64).” Jesus connects himself to the son of man person in Daniel’s vision. The same person that is deserving of the same worship as God. This then connects Jesus to Isaiah’s child, who is called the Mighty God. Jesus isn’t just saying that he is a figure to be followed, but he is connecting himself to the deity of God.

But this isn’t the only place where we see Jesus connects to deity. In John chapter 8, we see this interaction between Jesus and some Jewish leaders. 

“‘I am not possessed by a demon,’ said Jesus, ‘but I honor my Father and you dishonor me. 50 I am not seeking glory for myself; but there is one who seeks it, and he is the judge. 51 Very truly I tell you, whoever obeys my word will never see death.’

“52 At this they exclaimed, ‘Now we know that you are demon-possessed! Abraham died and so did the prophets, yet you say that whoever obeys your word will never taste death. 53 Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?’

“54 Jesus replied, ‘If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me. 55 Though you do not know him, I know him. If I said I did not, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and obey his word. 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.’

“57 ‘You are not yet fifty years old,’ they said to him, ‘and you have seen Abraham!’

“58 ‘Very truly I tell you,’ Jesus answered, ‘before Abraham was born, I am!’ 59 At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.”

As we saw in John 10 last week, these Jewish leaders are not picking up stones because of the work of Jesus, but because he was connecting himself to the deity of God. Jesus is stating that he was before Abraham, but not only that, he is using language that connects himself back to the Exodus 3 passage. That same ambiguous passage where there were three titles, and from which the name Yahweh, or I am that I am, comes from.

This is why John, at the beginning of his Gospel writes these words, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made…The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth (1:1-3,14).”

And it’s why Paul wrote in his letter to the Colossians, “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross (1:15-20).”

This Son who is the visible image of the invisible God, who is the Word that was in the beginning both with God and who is God, comes to earth and gives us the eternal nature of God in the name of God, “The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19).”

The Bible carries this mystery of God from the very first pages of Scripture and then flushes it out at the coming of Jesus. From eternity past, there is one God uncreated, with no beginning. Yet this God is more than a strict idea of singular. He is one, yet within this deity there is the person of the Father, the person of the Son and the person of the Holy Spirit.

The Father is uncreated, the Son is uncreated, the Holy Spirit is uncreated. They are one God, none greater than the others, though subservient in love towards each other. They are one glory, one in creative power, one in their all-powerfulness, and one in Lordship. Yet they are not three Gods, nor three Lords, nor three created powers. They are one. Not three Fathers, or three Sons, or three Holy Spirits. And yet unique in accomplishing their task of salvation, so that there is the Father who sends the Son, the Son who gives himself up for sacrifice, and the Holy Spirit who indwells all of God’s people. 

And we are to worship God in the Unity of this Trinity, because he reveals himself so.

The Bible reveals that Jesus is not created, but truly God in every way. Therefore we must worship Jesus as we worship the Father, and the Holy Spirit. Doing anything less, is to misunderstand and lessen the God who we say we believe in. The Church as it did in the past will see this issue brought up again and again, because it’s not an easy thing to understand. But makes perfect sense when we begin to think that God is more profound and greater than anything we can think of and therefore we need to worship him as he has revealed, even if we don’t fully grasp it.

My challenge for you this week, is to speak to each of the persons of the Trinity. Father, from whom all blessings flow; Son who came to earth to sacrifice for our salvation; Holy Spirit, who indwells the believer to accomplish the will of the Triune God in our lives and this world.

Let us worship and praise the Holy Triune God who from eternity past to eternity future holds the universe together by his mighty word. Amen.