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Posts Tagged ‘God’

credit Daniel Eisenstein and SDSS-III

A map of galaxies from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and its Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey.

Many use the phrase “the Abrahamic religions” to describe Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. But what does this mean? Do we mean that each religion is a legitimate descendant of the faith Abraham shared or that these three religions merely claim it? If we care about truth, we must accept the second definition, because the three expressions radically contradict. Therefore they cannot all express Abraham’s faith. So what was the faith of Abraham? We must look to Genesis (the earliest account of Abraham’s life) and compare it to Jesus’ own teachings as passed on through his apostles. Doing so, the Christian faith is found to follow Abraham’s faith.

And [God] brought [Abraham] outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:5-6 ESV)

For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void . . . That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” . . . No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.
(Romans 4:13-25)

Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. (Galatians 3:7-9)

For more, read Galatians and Romans 4-5, and of course the rest of Genesis. Discover that Abraham’s saving faith was a faith in God’s grace and promises rather than an obedience to laws. We must conclude that the only truly Abrahamic faith is one that trusts that God saves by faith in his promises and good news.

Image credit: Daniel Eisenstein and SDSS-III (http://www.eurekalert.org/multimedia/pub/119797.php)

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Luther door
Oct 31, 1517 Reformation Day
The Protest for Reformation in the church in the early 1500s may have been triggered by the question of how money for indulgences was garnered and spent, but the root issues on both sides of the Roman Catholic and Protestant divide delve deep to the heart of the Christian faith, that of the authority of Scripture, getting it into the hands of the people in their own languages, and clarifying the Good News of the Gospels (i.e. what one puts their faith in and how one attained salvation of their souls). Thus the Reformers discussed “the Solas” (or “the alones”) which ought to characterize Christian faith.

Sola Scriptura – The ultimate authority for Man to know God’s mind is through God’s Word alone. By Scripture we test all other ideas and urges which we might wish that God had given us (1 Cor 4:6).
Sola Fide – We are saved by “Faith alone” (Gal 2:16) and not by trying harder to do good things while we continue to have a past (or even present) full of guilt. It is a faith in Jesus and his work that saves, but it is not a faith that is alone, for works bloom from faith.
Sola Gratia – Our salvation is a work of grace as a gift from God, so it is “grace alone” that initiates salvation, not our own will, so that none may boast (Eph 2:8).
Solus Christus – Salvation is through Jesus Christ alone and that by faith in him. “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” -Peter (Acts 4:2)
Soli Deo Gloria – Glory to God alone (Isa 48:11).

These were ideas from Scripture and had been noticed throughout church history, and here’s just one example a couple decades before it was declared by the Reformers.

When I confine myself to explaining holy Scripture my hearers receive much more light, and my preaching bore much more fruit in the conversion of men to Christ. For the holy Scripture contains that marvelous doctrine which more surely than a two-edged sword pierces men’s hearts with love which has adorned the world with virtue and has overthrown idolatry, superstition, and numberless errors.”
—Dominican monk Girolamo Savonarola,
The Triumph of the Cross, Florence, Italy, A.D. 1498

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People often wonder at Christianity for the claim that Jesus is the only way. However, this is the claim Jesus and his disciples made themselves. “Why should we believe that other religions don’t help us be good enough to get to heaven,” some ask. Because the God revealed in the Bible, the one whom Jesus claimed to be, says he is the only God who really exists (Isaiah 45:21-22). All other gods or views of God are false ones by process of elimination. Following God then would be to discover Jesus, and following Jesus would be to obey his command to reject all that was contrary to him (Matt 10:38). The exclusivity is merely to that of what is true, rather than one of favoritism.

Now, hypothetically, one may have partial knowledge of the real God and call on him for salvation, but Jesus states that the condition of our souls is far more grave than we would like to imagine. Jesus said that if one truly loved God then they would also love him (John 8:42). He taught that unless one believes that he is who he claimed to be, that we would all die in our sins, that is, unsaved (John 8:24). These sins lead us away from God and cause us to prefer our own ways or our own safer versions of God over the real God (2 Tim 4:3-5). Knowing God exists and trying to be a good person does not solve the problem because past guilt is never erased by unrelated future actions. Humanity, led by its sin, will inevitably find false gods of greed or sex, worship Creation in place of Creator, or find another way to replace God, even if it means deciding that the individual determines destiny as if a god unto themselves (Rom 1:18-23).

Jesus was not making arrogant, baseless claims about being the hinge on whom all people’s eternity hung. He was revealing the way of salvation to those who would hear him. And if, as his resurrection strongly suggests, he is the Son of God, the only God, then turning to him is to turn away from all other god-substitutes. If the solution is trusting in him and hearing about what Jesus has done to do away with the guilt of sin, then shouldn’t we? As evangelist Ravi Zacharias has said, “If God had given us 1,000 ways to get to heaven, we would have wanted 1,001.” Should we complain that the good news is the only news?

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You might have heard a Christian complain that other Christians share a “gospel” of bad news rather than good news, but that criticism (though well intended) could be like telling an ambassador not to talk about the war but only of terms for its resolution. It is not an either-or issue, but an issue of overall emphasis. It is also a moral issue of whether we are true to sharing with rebels God’s terms of peace.

Throughout history many nations have thought that the moral high ground was to kill those labeled morally inferior. Today we think the high ground is not to kill anyone at all for any immorality, and even the concept of moral high ground is sometimes offensive. We have hit the opposite extreme, so that talk of judging this or that person for this or that action can be considered “hate speech” or “harmful talk.” But what does God’s Word say about how we should think of immorality and his judgements? Is God a pacifist? Or, on the other extreme, does he always seek justice by punishing sins with plagues? Isn’t the answer somewhere in between? When discussing sin and God’s judgements (the bad news), we have to remember one thing: it is the Creator’s prerogative to kill or not to kill. Only God gets to play God. Scripture says God judges and puts people to death, but it also says that often the judgement a person might receive for sin is that God might just hand us over to the wicked desires which we crave. In the end, that judgement is far more frightening than a disaster, because there may be no opportunity for turning back to God. At least, that ought to frighten us.

Sin earns us death (Rom 6:23), but the Way to eternal life is forgiveness through his Son, Jesus Christ, the coming king and judge (Acts 14:38-43; 17:30-31). While Jesus did not approve of followers who would do violence for his sake, Jesus also never asserted pacifism as the only way to live. He wasn’t against judgement (John 7:24). He was against judging hypocritically. Jesus asserted that having faith in him, and in his death on the cross for sin, was the only way to live. God the Father killed his willing Son as a substitute for the judgement on our sin (Isa 53:10-12). Jesus taught that the wages of sin—death and hell—would be paid in full to the disobedient, and that by his hands (Luke 19:27). Then he rose again on the third day.

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You might be surprised that the Bible actually does not contain a miracle for every page, or even every book. There are even centuries after centuries where we read no miracle or prophet was given. Why then is it the case that we (this writer included) too often expect a miracle to rescue us from every trouble?

Certainly, God does still rescue people in answer to our prayers, and there are people in the Bible whom God rescues from physical dangers and maladies. But wait. Are the written promises made to one group the same as promises which all groups may claim? If we read carefully, we will read of even faithful believers who suffered and who died without a rescue. These apparently did not receive such a promise and chief among them is Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God. Therefore, it becomes important for us to understand just what the Scriptures do promise and to whom.

Jesus promises all believers, for example, the exact opposite of a rescue from physical trials:
“The hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God [but] they have not known the Father, nor me . . . when their hour comes . . . remember that I told this to you. . . . I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:2-4, 33)

These promises should radically change a believer’s thinking toward their own suffering. If we aren’t promised a rescue from every enemy, but rather are promised that some armies will indeed slay some of us, then we are battle-ready. Terrors, though felt just as sharply, could never shake a believer thus equipped, because the false expectation of guaranteed rescue or healing would not only be absent, but replaced by an expectation of danger for ambassadors in a foreign land. Using struggles as reasons to accuse God, the only sure object for faith, would seem like insanity.

The Hebrew slaves of Egypt were promised deliverance and saw wonders, yet they still despair that Pharaoh will win. We have God’s promise that we will, in fact, struggle, and yet there is still the tendency to twist struggling into a reason to doubt God’s words, the very words which are proven by the struggle itself. So expect a greater rescue, from death itself, for Jesus also promises a reward for suffering.

. . . Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:10-12 ESV)

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There are two essential similarities between atheists and adherents of religions besides Christianity. They all deny the God described in the Bible. Some may sound as though they affirm Yahweh, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but from the Bible’s perspective they deny him by accepting too many gods or a false version of God. If we examine the point of view of the Bible’s God, then we see that there is even a category of believer who confesses God precisely and calls Jesus Lord and Savior, yet deny him by their lives (Titus 1:16; Matt 7:21-23; Matt 15:8-9).

Jesus of Nazareth said:
“‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”

There is an opposite truth as well, that people deny God with their lips, but by their deeds they reveal that they actually know he exists. This is a second similarity between atheists and theists, that both know that God exists. Atheists have convinced themselves otherwise because they are morally opposed to God, yet they still live as though God-dependent things like moral obligations exist, even if they don’t see the connection. A few candid atheists even admit to this, coming into full agreement with Romans chapter one. Philosopher Dr. Thomas Nagel writes, “I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God!” The Bible’s God responds that there exists such accessible proof that even atheists will be without excuse when face-to-face with Jesus at the Judgement (Rom 1:18-24; Acts 17:31).

Ultimately, whether someone has a belief in God (or gods) or lives a “good life” (by their own standard) is not the measure of a person’s life. What matters more than that is a true faith in the real God leading to the right actions. However, none of us do this naturally. We are all “practical atheists” denying Jesus Christ by either our deeds or words. Who will save us from this spiritual grave? Jesus—is not only the Way to God. He saves us from these denials for faith in him (Col 1:12).

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Who is God? This neglected question is more important than any other. Why? Because the answer to the question of who God is (or who you think he is and even including whether you think he is not) is the foundation for how you live your whole life. If you believe God is unimportant or does not even exist, then something else takes the place of God so that all of your priorities will reflect this belief. But if you believe God is the God of the Bible, then all of your priorities will reflect that belief. Now, I am not suggesting that we are all so very consistent as to live perfectly in line with our beliefs all the time, rather I am pointing out how the logical priority of our beliefs about God affect our driving passions. That is why it is vitally important that we not neglect this question, because neglecting it is actually an admission of guilt.

A question which goes unanswered is a question answered implicitly. If I asked you a “yes or no” question, such as “Do you want to take this job?” but you refused to answer or even to think about an answer, then your answer implicitly becomes a “no” answer. The same is true about the question of who is God. If we fail to consider it deeply, or cling to a never-ending agnosticism, then we have answered the question with a wrong answer and have shown by our lives that we don’t think the “God who is” (who is the answer to the question) matters very much. If we have believed an answer which is false, then our lives are lived for a false god who truly is unimportant since it does not, in fact, exist. Now, we may never know God exhaustively, but we can know him by what he has revealed about himself. Yet, if we never put prayer in our schedule to ask the questions which he has graciously answered in his Word, then what hope do we have left? A false one.
(John 6:56-69; Luke 11:9-13)

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