Questions Christians Ask: How Do We Know That Jesus Rose From The Dead?

1 Corinthians 15:3-4 says: “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.”

The historical event of the resurrection vindicates the claims of Christ and the theological significance of his death. With so much hanging then on the claim that Jesus’ physically rose from the dead, how can we have confidence that it did in fact happen?

The resurrection of Christ was a historical event, like the crucifixion. The Apostle Paul says pointedly: “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17). Our faith is built on the sure Word of God and that word is supported by good historical evidences which support the historical reality of the resurrection. Below are some compelling circumstantial evidences for historical event of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead:

The Transformation of the Disciples – After the crucifixion of Jesus, the disciples were timid and fearful. Following the resurrection, the disciples were transformed into bold witnesses for the risen Christ, to the point of being willing to die for their convictions. Many of them did.

The Location of the Early Church – The church began in Jerusalem, the same city where Jesus was crucified. Further, the earliest Apostolic preaching took place at the temple and its surrounding environs, the same locations where the opponents of Jesus had condemned him and crucified him just days before, and not some distant location.

The Message of the Church – Early church preaching was in large measure centered on the historical fact of Jesus’ resurrection. On nearly every occasion of preaching and teaching recorded in the book of Acts, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead was the central truth being communicated.

The Day of Worship – The earliest Christians were Jews who recognized Jesus as the Messiah. The Jewish day of worship was the Sabbath which was observed on Saturday. From the very start, the earliest Christians began recognizing Sunday as the significant weekly worship day, since it was the day that Jesus was resurrected.

The Object of Worship – Considering that Jews were strict monotheists (Dueteronomy 6:4), it is simply inconceivable that devout Jews would begin worshipping Jesus as the one true God apart from compelling proof of the resurrection.

The Form of Worship – Christians began practicing baptism and observing the Lord’s Supper in remembrance of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The person of Jesus and the events of his crucifixion and resurrection lay at the heart of Christian worship.

The First Eyewitnesses of the Empty Tomb – The Gospels record that women in the early church were the first to discover the empty tomb and report back to the disciples. This detail was maintained even in light of the fact that the testimony of women was simply not respected in that culture.

The Empty Tomb – The location of the tomb was publicly known by many including Joseph of Arimathea, the disciples, Jewish opponents, governmental leaders and their soldiers who were assigned to guard the tomb. Further, it was covered securely with a large stone, branded with a Roman seal, and guarded by Roman soldiers. And yet, the fact that the tomb was empty three days later was never disputed by contemporaries (only why it was empty), even among those who opposed the Christian movement.

The Physical Nature of the Resurrection – The disciples were dogmatic that the resurrection was a physical, bodily resurrection. Had the story been fabricated, it would have been far easier and more acceptable in the first century to claim a spiritual resurrection. Jesus appeared physically alive over the course of forty days (Acts 1:3) to crowds as large as five hundred people at a time. As the New Testament documents were beginning to be penned, there remained many eyewitnesses alive to verify the facts (1 Cor. 15:6).

The Conversion of Saul (later known as the Apostle Paul) – A devout Jewish Pharisee and persecutor of the church (Philippians 3:4-6; Acts 7:54-60). After an encounter with the risen Jesus (Acts 9), he became a convinced follower of Jesus Christ and proclaimed the resurrection to many around the Mediterranean world of his day.

As the two man who were present at the tomb, asked the women who arrived early that resurrection morning looking for Jesus: “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen” (Luke 24:5). I can’t resist saying: he has risen, indeed!

Questions Christians Ask: Why Did Jesus Have to Die?

John 3:16:For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son….”

This is perhaps the best known verse of the bible. The teaching that this verse says two things straightforwardly, that God is love and that Jesus died. But why couldn’t, in his love, God have just snapped his fingers and said, “I want to save you and you and you,” and it be done? Or could he have just said, “Let’s forget about this whole sin thing and let bygones be bygones?”

The following two concepts are absolutely necessary to understand why Jesus had to die:

1. The Holiness of God. The phrase, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty” is found in both the Old Testament and the New (Isa. 6:3, Rev. 4:8). Because God is perfectly Holy, He requires perfect Holiness in those that would share His fellowship and abide in His presence.

2. The Sinfulness of Man. Romans 3:23 says that, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” This sin causes separation from God as Isaiah 59:2 says, “Your iniquities have separated you from God.

It’s the unchanging nature of His holiness, and the unflinching demands of His justice that require God to punish sin. We must understand that God would cease to be righteous if he allowed wickedness and evil to go unpunished (Exodus 34:6-7; Proverbs 17:15).

The cross stands as the vindication of the love and justice of God. This is Paul’s argument in Romans 3:25-26: “[We] are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished – he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”

But what happened at the cross when Jesus died? Well, the New Testament uses several different images to capture what happens to sinners when they turn to Christ in faith.

1. We are Redeemed (The Language of the Prison/Marketplace)

This theme in the New Testament captures the idea that people are slaves to sin, that a payment is required for freedom, and that Jesus paid the ransom for the sins of His people.

Matthew 20:28 – “…The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”

Revelation 5:9 – “You were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God out of every tribe and language and people and nation.”

2. We are Reconciled (The Language of Relationship)
This language refers to the event through which God and human beings, previously estranged from one another, are made “at one” again.

Romans 5:10 – “For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life!

3.We are Justified (The Language of the Law Court)

This imagery underscores the gracious act of God by which he declares are sinner righteous only through faith in Christ.

Romans 8:34 – “It is God who justifies; who is to condemn?”

Acts 13:39 – “Through Him (i.e., Christ) everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from through the law of Moses.”

1 Corinthians 6:11 – “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified…”

4. We are Adopted (The Language of Family)

This beautiful image is the act of God in which he confers upon sinners the status of sons and the privilege of sonship.

Romans 8:14-17 – “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”

• 1 John 3:1 – “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.” 

It is out of His love that God reached out to us and brought us back into fellowship with Him from a place of guilt and condemnation. And he did it through the death of Jesus.

 

Questions Christians Ask? What is Sin and Why is it Such a Big Deal?

The Creation of Humanity and Sins Entrance into the World

Sin disrupts everything. We don’t live in the world that we were originally designed to live in because of sin. Things simply aren’t the way they were originally meant to be. The story of the human race, as presented in the Bible, is the story of God fixing broken people living in a broken world. It is the story of God’s victory over the many results of sin in the world. And the story begins at the very beginning of the Bible.

The key passage for understanding the nature of mankind is found in Genesis 1:26-28:
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them,Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Both men and women are said to be made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27), they are the only beings in all creation that this is said about. Consequently, they are more like God than anything else in all creation.

God did not create humans because of any need within himself (Job 41:11; Psalm 50:9–12; Acts 17:24–25) but primarily so that He would be glorified in them as they delight in Him and reflect His character. God describes his people as “everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made” (Isaiah 43:7).

How Did Human Sin Originate?

With respect to the human race, the first sin was that of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3). The eating of the fruit of the ‘tree of knowledge of good and evil’ (the first human sin) is in three ways typical of sin generally:

1. Their sin struck at the basis for knowledge, for it gave a different answer to the question: “What is true?” Whereas God had said that Adam and Eve would die if they ate from the tree (Genesis 2:17), the serpent said, “you will not die” (Genesis 3:4). Eve decided to doubt the truthfulness of God’s word and conduct an experiment to see whether God spoke truthfully.

2. Their sin struck at the basis for moral standards, for it gave a different answer to the question “What is right?” God had said that it was morally right of Adam and Eve not to eat from the fruit of that one tree (Genesis 2:17). But the serpent suggested that it would be right to eat of the fruit, and that in eating it Adam and Eve would become “like God” (Genesis 3:5). Eve trusted her own evaluation of what was right rather than allowing God’s words to define right and wrong.

3. Their sin gave a different answer to the question, “Who am I?” The correct answer was that Adam and Eve were creatures of God, dependent on him and always to be dependent upon him as their Creator and Lord. But Eve, and then Adam, succumbed to the temptation to “be like God” (Genesis 3:5), thus attempting to put themselves in the place of God

What is Sin?

Sin is anything (whether in thoughts, actions, or attitudes) that does not express or conform to the holy character of God as expressed in his moral law.

1. Sin is moral evil (e.g., murder) as opposed to natural evil (e.g., cancer). Moral evil is personal rebellion against God, and it is what brought natural evil into the world.

2. Sin is always and ultimately related to God. While sin has devastating societal, relational, and physical ramifications, the central problem of sin is that it offends and incurs the wrath of God. David demonstrates this understanding in his confession of adultery and murder: “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment” (Psalm 51:4). This is not to minimize his sin against Bathsheba, her husband Uriah, or the people of Israel, but rather to recognize that, relatively speaking, it is God he has ultimately offended, and it is to God alone that he must finally answer. Sin is a personal attack on the character and ordinances of God.

3. Sin is breaking God’s law, which can take several forms. There are sins of omission (not doing what we should) as well as sins of commission (doing what we should not do). Breaking one of God’s commandments is rebellion against the entire character of God, and in that sense it is equivalent to breaking all of the commandments: “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it” (James 2:10). God’s unified law is a reflection of his personal nature and claims, which means that rejecting one of his laws amounts to rejecting him

4. Sin is rooted deep in our very nature, and sinful actions reveal the condition of a depraved heart within: “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matthew 15:19). Internal attitudes are frequently identified as sinful or righteous in the Bible, and God demands not only correct outward actions but also that the heart be right (Exodus 20:17; Hebrews 13:5).

5. Sin has brought about a guilty standing before God and a corrupted condition in all humans. The pronouncement of guilt is God’s legal determination that people are in an unrighteous state before him, and the condition of corruption is our polluted state which inclines us toward ungodly behavior. By the grace of God, both this inherited guilt and this inherited moral pollution are atoned for by Christ: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

All Are Sinful Before God.

Scripture testifies to the universal sinfulness of mankind. No one is exempt. No one is above this description. David says, “They have all gone astray they are all alike corrupt; there is none that does good, no not one” (Psalm 14:3). “No man living is righteous before you” (Psalm 143:2). And Solomon says, “There is no man who does not sin” (1 Kings 8:46).” And Paul says, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23).

So, this is the bad news. The good news is that God has not left us without hope. as I said in the introduction, the Bible is the story of God’s victory over the effects of sin and rebellion among his creation. We will look next time of God’s triumph through the cross of Jesus Christ.

 

Questions Christians Ask: I Get That Jesus Was Human But Does the Bible Really Teach That He Was God?

You hear a knock at the door, and after opening it you recognize that there standing before you are representatives from a non-Christian cult wanting to talk with you about their groups teaching and beliefs.

So often, the dividing line between Christianity and the cults (and other religions like Islam) comes down to the identity of Jesus Christ. Is he God (as the earliest documents of Christianity teach) or is he something less? A created being, as non-Christian cults and religions teach.

It is an eternally important question.

How do we know from Scripture that Jesus was fully God? What are the evidences? We will look in turn at the Bibles’ explicit teaching and indirectly, the attributes of deity demonstrated by Jesus in the New Testament.

1. Scriptural Evidences

John 1:1 and 1:14. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” In the first verse of the Gospel of John it is clearly stated that the Word is God and verse 14 explains that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The Word taking on flesh is Jesus who is said to be God.

John 20:28. The disciple Thomas calls Jesus “My Lord and my God.”

Romans 9:5. “To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.”

Colossians 2:9. “In Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.”

Titus 2:13. “Waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.”

Hebrews 1:3. “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.”

Such statements are not confined only to the New Testament. Isaiah 9:6, for example, declares that the human child to be born, that is Christ Jesus, “will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God.”

Finally, we have Jesus’ claims of himself. There is his great statement in John 8:58, “Before Abraham was born, I am!” The Jews understood that he was claiming to be God. “I AM WHO I AM” was God’s way of identifying Himself to Moses. The audience picked up stones to stone Jesus because their unbelieving hearts judged this to be a blasphemous statement. It is clear that Jesus was equating himself with God!

2. Attributes of Deity Seen in Jesus

It is not just declarations made of Jesus that help us to understand his divinity. There are also accounts of Jesus’ actions that clearly commend him as fully God. We see Jesus’:

Omnipotence. Jesus had authority over all things. He changed the water into wine (John 2:1-11); fed the 5,000 with 5 loaves and 2 fish (Matthew 14:13-21); and calmed the storm with a word (Matthew 8:26-27).

Omniscience. Jesus knew people’s thoughts (Mark 2:24); knew who was going to betray him (John 6:64); and knew people’s backgrounds (i.e., the woman at the well in John 4). Even others who spent time with him admitted that he knew everything, as Peter does when being restored after his denial in John 21:17.

Immortality. He declared that he had the power to take up his own life (John 10:17-18) and proved it in his resurrection. Hebrews 7:16 says that he has the “power of an indestructible life.”

Sovereignty. Jesus’ exercised the prerogatives of God when he claimed the ability to forgive sins upon seeing the faith of the paralytic (Mark 2:5-7).

Worthy of Worship. Only God is worthy of worship; yet we see Jesus being worshipped not only as an infant by the Magi (Matthew 2:11) but throughout his ministry on earth and in heaven around the throne (Revelation 5:11-14):

We are all faced with the choice that C.S. Lewis suggested in his book Mere Christianity that is either Jesus is Lord or he was a lunatic:

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would be either a lunatic — on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

Political Ideologies and Idols

In his book Political Visions and Illusions, David Koyzis brings the two issues together (the dark side of politics and idolatry) and makes a provocative claim: that political ideologies can function as a form of idolatry.

An ideology takes something good in the created order and sets it up as the ultimate aim in place of God, making creation revolve around and serve it. An ideology says that this thing is what has the capacity to save us, rather than God.

An ideology often contains in it some truth and some good—that’s what makes it seductive to many of us. In fact, an ideology does its most damage when it convinces us that serving it is serving God. Ideologies are essentially a “respectable” form of idolatry.

Each of them tempts government toward something analogous to totalitarianism: the end is so important that government is willing to intrude into more and more spheres of life and authority in order to achieve it. Rather than seeking to do justice now, ideologies are goal-oriented. The promise of some future conception of “justice” as a goal thus allows us to rationalize any amount of injustice now.

Koyzis has some examples that will make every one of us uncomfortable as we think about our own political beliefs. For each of these, we’ll think about what they elevate, what they miss, and how we should be careful of them.

1. Liberalism

A form of liberalism, not as the term is normally used in politics in America, but, a Western tradition that animates both our political left and right. Liberalism elevates the autonomy and freedom of the individual. Much of our human rights discourse comes from this tradition, and it has produced undeniably good things: the end of slavery, religious freedom, and freedom of speech, for example.

What liberalism misses, however, is any claim on individuals by community, tradition, or God’s authority that would limit that liberty. In liberalism’s narrative, we submit to authorities not because God has commanded us to, but because we’ve consented to be governed and entered into a social contract.

So how should we be careful of liberalism? If you’re on the political left, are you tempted to keep expanding the scope of individual liberties or rights, so that government has to enter more and more spheres of life in order to protect them? For example, suppose you decided that housing was a right. You might conclude that government must therefore levy significant taxes and use eminent domain to fund and build and maintain housing for every citizen, regardless of the costs that this imposes on others. That might not be just—but if you’re in the grip of the ideology of liberalism, you might be blind to that injustice.

On the other hand, if you’re on the political right, are you so wedded to the idea of individual liberty that you protect or apologize for people who use their liberties to harm or abuse others? Are you ever tempted to defend a person or entity by saying that they were “acting within their rights” rather than asking whether what they were doing was right?

As you can see, liberalism can actually lead to the ungodly expansion of the state or to its ungodly negligence.

2. Conservatism

Conservatism is associated with the political right in America. Conservatism elevates a respect for tradition, history, and a humility about what human beings can accomplish. Conservatives are particularly aware of the fragility of human endeavor and of the tendency of human beings to fall into evil. In this sense, they capture a truth that’s recognizable to Christians: that we’re sinful, and that we should therefore be skeptical about our capacity to accomplish big, good things, especially with the state’s power of the sword. And for this reason, conservatives urge caution when change is proposed: there are ways things have always been done, and while they’re not perfect, no tradition is without some redeeming value that is worth conserving.

What conservatism misses is that tradition can work toward justice or toward injustice. The first question you have to ask a conservative is: what are you trying to conserve? And why? You’re not likely to get a consistent answer across geographies or (especially) across time periods. Go back 30 or 50 years—any number of “traditions” from that time that you want to conserve will be a mixed bag. Absent is a serious examination of whether a particular tradition is worth preserving according to God’s definition of justice.

So how should we be careful? Do you uncritically resist change, rather than asking whether the change moves us toward justice or away from it? Think about arguments for the maintenance of slavery, some of which played on a fear of the disruption to society and way of life that emancipation would cause.

Or think about the recent relaxing of the embargo on Cuba. Some would argue that this was a move toward justice –that, because it has outlived the Cold War that led to its passage, the embargo wouldn’t be enacted under today’s circumstances. If that’s true, then the conservative impulse might make an error here: it will gravitate toward defending the status quo and be less likely to consider whether changed circumstances warrant changed policy.

Questions about mass incarceration are worth considering here as well. Are we sure that America’s imprisonment rate, one of the highest in the world, is necessary, or are we simply fearful of considering other solutions?

3. Nationalism

Nationalism elevates communities of people—think ethnic groups, language groups, people who live in a particular geographic area. People seek their identities in communities, and the claims they make upon the loyalties of those people matter.

Nationalism also protects communities of people from abuse by government—often by making provision for the community to govern itself (this is where the word nation-state comes from). Ideas like the right to national self-determination come out of this tradition.

However, nationalism has a huge blind spot: the claims and rights of those who are excluded from the community. This is further complicated by the fact that communities overlap and are difficult to define. An example: how do you define the Afrikaner nation in South Africa? Traditionally it’s by their shared language, Afrikaans. But South African “Coloureds,” who have mixed racial origin, also speak this language. And they were never fully accepted by white Afrikaners because their skin color is different.

And let’s just state the obvious: the elevation of any one group of people will, taken to its extreme, run into direct conflict with our understanding of all people as equal image-bearers of God. It can lead to racism, sectarian war, and, of course, war between nation states. Koyzis puts it this way: “Nationalism is a bloody religion whose victims dwarf in number all the casualties of the late medieval crusades.”

So how should we be careful of nationalism? Here’s my obligatory Nazi reference for the week. National Socialism was fundamentally rooted in a drive to “protect” the German people from internal threats (non-Germans, Jews) and eliminating external threats (the countries to the west and east, and eventually around the world). The slippery slope of nationalism led to a mandate for world domination and genocide. Beware a nationalism that’s this assertive.

In the present day, how does nationalism influence the way you think about an issue like immigration? A government certainly has its most proximate duty to its own citizens, but are you tempted to think about immigrants and American-born citizens as “us” and “them,” rather than remembering that all are human beings made in God’s image?

Certainly this has been a relevant topic in this post recent election cycle.

4. Democracy

It may sound strange that we define democracy as an ideology; isn’t it really more of a system? Yes, it is. But democracy also acts as an ideology. What it elevates is public opinion, the will of the people.

Democracy as a system has obvious benefits. In essence, democracy restrains governments from many forms of bad behavior because that bad behavior is incompatible with what most or all citizens want.

But here’s what it misses: Democracy as ideology can lead to a belief in the near-infallibility of the voice of the people – we believe something is right simply because the majority favor it. Clearly that isn’t Biblical at all: something is right because God says so. At its worst, democracy as ideology can lead to an unjust majority abusing the minority.

So how should we be careful? To take one example, public opinion has recently undergone a sea change from being pro-traditional marriage to being for same-sex marriage. Politicians of all stripes are rushing to follow this shift. Are you tempted to make it a less important issue because it’s now less politically convenient to take a firm stance?

Or are you ever tempted by arguments that a judge’s decision wasn’t right because it overturned something that had been passed by an elected legislature or by initiative? Sometimes conservatives understandably try to stem the tide of social change coming from judicial decisions; for example, they argue that changes to marriage law should not be decided by the courts, but at the state level or by the people. Well, that’s not true at all. It is understandable what they’re trying to do politically, but “the people” have no more right to redefine marriage than the courts do. This is substituting one idolatry for another.

5. Socialism

Socialism may seem to be past its heyday, but it strikes a chord with people because it elevates the idea of a fairer economic arrangement. Sure enough, we recently had a serious presidential candidate who described himself as a democratic socialist. And socialism is not wrong when it says that massive inequality can lead to massive injustice. Think of what the Bible has to say about employers, with more capital, having the potential to abuse their employees. The unchecked market can lead to this kind of injustice. Socialism does us a service by pointing this out.

But socialism misses the limits of our ability to impose or create equality. Socialism asserts that inequality is such a terrible injustice that the existing government and system must be completely overthrown in order to eliminate it. Socialists find that once they’ve done that, it isn’t enough to make everyone equal. So once in power, they need to consolidate and extend that power to do more. Government eventually has to take over everything. This is what led to Stalinism in the Soviet Union and the Cultural Revolution in China.

So how should we be careful? Are you tempted to believe that it’s of paramount importance that the government alleviate a particular social ill? If you elevate that aim to take the place of God, then nothing is stopping you from trampling over all other considerations of justice in order to achieve that aim.

The warning for all of us is to be on our guard against allowing an political ideology to become a “respectable idol” for us (something that becomes functionally ultimate, in the place of God), and something we look to as a functional savior.

Questions Christians Ask: Is the ‘Trinity’ Biblical?

I remember being in church in seventh grade and hearing that the ‘Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are each God’ and at the same time it was said that ‘we worship only one God.’ I was not particularly good at math but I did recognize that something was not adding up. So, what is the Trinity and is it a teaching that is biblical?

The term “trinity” is not a Biblical term in the sense that the word is not found anywhere in Scripture. It was actually first coined by a man named Tertullian in the second century. However, “Trinity” is a useful term that summarizes a doctrine of several biblical concepts, which are indisputable from the text of Scripture. Namely that there is but one God, that the Father and the Son and the Spirit are each distinct persons, and that the Father and the Son and the Spirit are each fully God.

This doctrine of the Trinity is a summary of six propositions that can be explicitly extracted from Scripture: (1) the Father is God, (2) the Son is God, (3) the Holy Spirit is God, while at the same time (4) the Father is not the Son, (5) the Son is not the Spirit, and (6) the Father is not the Spirit. The first three propositions describe God’s divine unity, while the last three describe the diversity of the persons of the Godhead.

Christianity clearly affirms that there is only one God, but this one God exists in three Persons. Is that reasonable? In one sense “yes” and one sense “no.”

“Yes,” because nothing in Trinitarian doctrine is unreasonable or irrational. There is nothing inherently contradictory about the position despite its mysteriousness. We’re not saying there are three gods, but that there is one God in three persons.

“No,” though, because “the doctrine of the Trinity is indiscoverable by reason, so it is incapable of proof from reason.

It is difficult to find adequate analogies to explain the Trinity, since at some point all analogies for the Trinity eventually fall short. Some have likened it to an egg. The yolk, the white, and the shell are all egg, yet there is only one egg. The yolk is part of an egg, but standing alone it is not an egg. They are not composite parts that you add up to get a divine sum. Others have likened it to H2O in its different forms, steam, liquid, and solid. In the analogy of H2O, it is only at one time steam, liquid, or a solid, but not all three simultaneously. Yet, unlike the differing states of H2O, the Father is fully God, Jesus is fully God, The Holy Spirit is fully God, simultaneously. It is best not to try an analogize the Trinity but rather to think about it and talk about it in the categories that the Bible gives us: primarily that of relationship.

Even though there is no perfect analogy in the natural world which can help us fully understand the Trinity, it’s not a proof-less doctrine.  As Wayne Grudem says, “The fundamental proof that God is a Trinity is supplied…by the fundamental revelation of the Trinity…that is to say, in the incarnation of God the Son and the outpouring of God the Holy Spirit. In a word, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are the fundamental proof of the doctrine of the Trinity.”

That’s why we don’t see a formal argument for the Trinity in the Epistles of the New Testament. The entire New Testament bears its witness to the doctrine of the Trinity. The following are some of the key Trinitarian passages in the New Testament:

Matthew 3:16As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

The three persons of the Godhead are seen clearly in this passage functioning in their distinct roles. God the Father is speaking from heaven, God the Son is being baptized to fulfill the Father’s will, and God the Spirit is seen descending from heaven upon the Son empowering his ministry.

Matthew 28:19Jesus says, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

Notice that Jesus does not instruct his disciples, to baptize new believers in the “names” of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit, as if we were dealing with three different beings, but in the “name,” which is singular. Jesus, like he did so many other times in his ministry, teaches that He and the Father are one, and here He includes the Holy Spirit in that unity of essence. The statement asserts the unity of the three Persons of the Trinity by combining them all within the bounds of the single Name; and then emphasizes the distinctness of each by introducing them in turn with the repeated article: ‘in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Spirit.’

The benediction found at the conclusion of 2 Corinthians (13:14), mentions each person of the Trinity:

II Corinthians 13:14“May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”

The truth is that God is one, and he is in three persons with each person being fully God. Yet, this truth is not confined to New Testament but is hinted at in the Old Testament as well. Consider the example of Genesis 1:26: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness.” Notice the plural pronouns – “us” and “our.” Here the plural pronoun of “us” at the very least provides a framework for the fuller doctrine of the Trinity to develop.

As Scriptural revelation continues to unfold, we see it more fully fleshed out in the pages of the New Testament. The Bible is an inspired record of progressive revelation. God shows more and more of Himself to His people over time and He reveals Himself as a God who is in His being three persons and one in essence. So, yes, the Trinity is biblical.

Questions Christians Ask: Why is the Bible Not Just Like Any Other Book?

We are continuing our series on ‘Questions Christian Ask’ and today’s question: What is unique about the Bible? We will give three reasons why the ‘Scripture in not just like any other book.’

1. Scripture is Inspired

First, Scripture is divinely inspired. In 2 Timothy 3:16, we read that, “all Scripture is God-breathed,” literally breathed out by God.  As Wayne Grudem defines it: “Inspiration is a supernatural, providential influence of God’s Holy Spirit upon the human authors, which caused them to write what He wished to be written for the communication of revealed truth to others.”

Prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). Here we understand that prophecy of Scripture was not finally rooted in the prophet’s own interpretation or ideas, but rather the will of God. The Bible is not fundamentally a record of other people’s experience of God, nor is it creatively inspired religious literature, rather, it is the revelation of saving truth.

It is the primary source of our revelation about God. If the Bible is merely of human origin, it can always be replicated and improved upon (“to err is human”). The Bible therefore stands over us as our judge, and not the other way around. We must not seek to only obey Scripture when it seems reasonable or convenient to us.

Scripture is Trustworthy

Second, Scripture is inerrant. The inerrancy of Scripture means that Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact. In other words, the Bible always tells the truth regarding everything it talks about. This fact is based on the very character of God, “It is impossible for God to lie” (Hebrews 6:18). As Proverbs 30:5 states, “Every word of God proves true.”

Scripture helps us to see ourselves and God correctly since we are inclined to try to wrongly justify ourselves and fit God into our own mold. Additionally, we can use it as a source for direction and guidance in life.

Scripture is Sufficient

Finally, we see that Scripture is sufficient. The sufficiency of Scripture means that Scripture contained all the words of God that God intended His people to have at each stage of redemption history, and that it now contains all the words of God we need for salvation, for trusting Him perfectly, and for obeying Him perfectly. As Paul writes in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

God did not leave us lacking in his revelation. It is fully sufficient to inform on matters from the way we approach evangelism and how we should think about the nature and function of the church, to the means we pursue for spiritual growth, to the way we think about marriage, or work, or parenting, and on and on.

 

Questions Christians Ask: Is God Knowable?

We are beginning a new series called ‘Questions Christians Ask,’ where we will seek to address Christian beliefs in a question and answer format. We will begin the series with the question: Is God Knowable? Together, we are going to explore what the bible has to say on the ‘knowability’ of God and of the nature of God’s revelation of himself and his will.

The starting point for this question is that, had he chose to, God could have left us completely in the dark regarding who he is and what he expects of us. But scripture teaches that we can have a true and personal knowledge of God because he has graciously revealed himself to us. While he does make himself known, scripture also affirms that he will never be exhaustively or completely known.

1. God cannot be exhaustively known

God cannot be exhaustively known because, simply put: God is God and we are not. God is infinite in his being and we are finite in ours. The following scriptures underscore the fact that this truth is so:

Psalm 145:3: “Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom.”

Job 11:7-9: “Can you find out the deep things of God? Can you find out the limit of the Almighty? It is higher than heaven – what can you do? Deeper than Sheol – what can you know? Its measure is longer than the earth and broader than the sea.”

Isaiah 55:8-9: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Romans 11:33: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!”

Job 26:14: “Behold, these are but the outskirts of his ways, and how small a whisper do we hear of him! But the thunder of his power who can understand?”

2. God can be truly known (through ‘General Revelation’ and ‘Special Revelation’)

I. General Revelation

General revelation is the revelation of God to all people at all times. This revelation is experienced both through nature (Psalm 19:1- 4a) and through conscience (Romans 2:14-15). This means that all humanity has true evidence for the existence of God and some knowledge of his character.

Additionally, general revelation also evidences attributes of God like his existence, power, wisdom, and creativity (see Romans 1:19-20).

Psalm 19:1-4a: “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.”

Romans 1:18-20: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 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.”

Acts 14:17: “Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.”

Romans 2:14-15: “For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.”

See also Acts 17:22-23.

General revelation is sufficient for humanity to be held accountable, but insufficient to bring humanity to a saving knowledge of God. General revelation does not tell the whole story. For that we need God’s special revelation.

II. Special Revelation

Throughout Scripture we are given many examples of the ways in which God reveals himself to humanity. These are often referred to as modes of revelation and include: mighty acts in history including miracles, signs and wonders, visions and dreams, direct speech, and messages communicated through angels. Here we note the two primary sources of special revelation, namely Jesus Christ, the incarnate God, and the Scriptures.

A. Jesus Christ, the incarnate God

The incarnation is the most complete revelation. The life and words of Jesus perfectly reflect the character and nature of the Father.

Hebrews 1:1-3a: “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.”

John 1:14,18: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth…no one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.”

B. Scripture, the Word of God

Scripture is God’s written revelation of who He is and what He has done in redemptive history. Then he (Jesus) said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44).

We will have more to say in coming blog posts about the nature and attributes of scripture.

The Parable of the Soils (Luke 8:4-15)

A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed…it fell on different soils…When Jesus said this, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Luke 8:5, 8

By our standards, farming in first-century Israel was a tough going affair. Without the benefits of modern machinery, a farmer would have to go out into the fields on foot and scatter his seeds manually, often on ground that was ill prepared to grow a crop.

Jesus often would use illustrations from everyday life in order to communicate spiritual realities. In the ‘Parable of the Soils’, Jesus described his own teaching ministry as he broadcasted the Word of God, and, just like today, it is met with different receptions. Its enemies were the birds that ate it (the devil), the sun that scorched it (temptation and tribulation), and the thorns that choked it (wealth and worldliness). But the message of the parable does not end there. It follows a clear patter. Four times we read that some seed fell, meaning (again four time) that four groups all heard the Word of God (v. 11). The basic question is what they did with it when they heard it. What reception did they give it?

Some give the Word no reception at all. It never penetrates their defenses. They have a closed mind and a hard heart. Others give the Word a shallow reception. They receive it with initial enthusiasm. For a short period they appear to outside observers to be believers. But the seed never takes root; there is rock underneath their soil. Consequently, when the fierce glare of the sun (temptation and persecution) beats upon them, their spiritual life shrivels up.

Others give the Word a mixed reception. They receive the Word, but over time they show themselves to have a divided heart. In the end, business, pleasure, and wealth, like thorns, choke their spiritual life. They find their ultimate identity in health, achievements, career, family life, and not in Christ. The warning here is that this progression is often subtle and imperceptible.

Finally, others give the Word a wholehearted reception. They hold fast to it and persevere. They give it priority. They nourish it, and it bears much fruit.

The questions that remains: are you are person who has allowed the seed of God’s Word to work in your heart to produce fruit for the glory of God?

“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit” (John 15:5)

Prayer (Part 2)

As I indicated in Part 1, Timothy Keller’s book, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God, is a excellent book on biblical prayer. In the book he summarizes his points regarding prayer under the heading ‘The Touchstones of Prayer.’ These ‘touchstones help us to be biblically faithful in our prayers and help us connect with God as he has revealed himself.

They are grouped into four parts, and the following is the overview of the final two parts.

Part 3, What It Gives:

Perspective: Prayer reorients your view toward God.
“Prayer brings new perspective because it puts God back into the picture.”
Strength: Prayer is spiritual union with God.
“Prayer is the way that all the things we believe in and that Christ has won for us actually become our strength.”
Spiritual Reality: Prayer seeks a heart sense of the presence of God.
“Through prayer our somewhat abstract knowledge of God becomes existentially real to us.”

Part 4, Where It Takes Us:

Self-Knowledge: Prayer requires and creates honesty and self-knowledge.
“Prayer must eventually take us beyond a mere sense of insufficiency into deep honesty with ourselves.”
Trust: Prayer requires and creates both restful trust and confident hope.
“The final thought of every prayer must be for the help we need to accept thankfully from God’s hand whatever he sends in his wisdom.”
Surrender: Prayer requires and creates surrender of the whole life in love to God.
“You should not begin to pray for all you want until you realize that in God you have all you need.”

Which ones of these resonates the most with you today?