Sunday, June 5, 2011

A Basis for Faith and Morality, Part 1 of 4

Faith, hope and love; and the greatest of these is love,” 1st Corinthians 13:12.

The reason for quoting both the verse above, and using the title I have chosen is to demonstrate the moral, abstract qualities of these very real, very human emotions. Also, I hope to put forward the reality that such concepts cannot properly function, much less exist, in a world divorced of a transcendental power; i.e. God. For the reader’s interest, I will consider the usage of transcendental in this context to specifically identify with “giving value or authority to words that transcends human opinion.”

Faith, as the Bible puts forward its definition, is “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen,” Hebrews 11:1. “Substance” in the original Greek is “hypostasis” which means “confidence, trust, or essence.” The term “evidence” in the Greek is “elenchos” and means “certainty or proof.” In layman’s terms, faith is confident trust that rests, or finds its hope, as a proof of the heretofore unseen.

Before anyone rejects this definition as unrealistic in quality, allow me some demonstrations. Faith, by its very existence, needs an object on which to anchor its trust. Faith in itself is pointless. Consider: have you ever heard anyone honestly say they have faith in faith? Faith is a redundant and useless abstract, unless the object which faith seeks out is genuine, reliable, and capable of supporting the weight of faith’s demands. Christians are accused of having blind faith; this is both true and false. It is true in the sense that certain things we believe are simply not capable of being wholly intellectually explained; i.e. the Trinity, the virgin birth of our Lord, Christ being both God and man as one. Even the very existence of God is itself a mystery. That God is needs not be explained; it cannot be explained, because the capability of rationally, intelligibly communicating God in an exhaustive way is beyond human ability. Genesis, which begins the Biblical account of creation and God’s dealings with mankind, would be the perfect place that someone would expect God to explain Himself so we might better comprehend Him. Yet it only begins with, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” Genesis 1:1. God apparently felt no need to have an apologetic to explain Himself.

Christians having blind faith is false in the respect that our faith is disconnected from reality, and incapable of being logical or reasonable. Let me propose two scenarios for a start to define faith, and how it is used logically and illogically.

Scenario 1: logical faith

I will use myself as an example. I came to faith in Christ when I was a child under the preaching of a pastor at a church my mother and I attended in Cloquet. Yet I was not a spiritual Christian until my latter twenties. What brought me to a genuine faith in Christ was not a radical, blind and irrational hope that God existed. My mother was a believer and would demonstrate the reality of her faith in both word and deed; this was how it had been my entire life. Yet I could not live on my mother’s faith; I needed something tangible that I could have as my own. I began to read John’s Gospel, and at the same time I read Donald Barnhouse’s Illustrating the Gospel of John. I read the word of God, and then listened as a godly man defended Scripture with intelligence, logic, and proof. Archeology and science were appealed to; history (Christianity’s foundation on this earth) was appealed to; Scripture’s internal testimony and congruency were appealed to.

Think of it: 40+ authors over 1600 years with dozens of vocations, living in various states of wealth or poverty, war or peace, humanly penned the Bible. There was an overarching intelligence back of these men to coordinate and orchestrate Scripture so that mankind received what the Bible truly was: a progressive revelation from our Creator and Redeemer. Historically, the ordinances of the church (baptism and the Lord’s Supper) could not have just sprung into existence during the first century with such an outrageous claim as to their origin, otherwise opponents of Christianity would have exposed these myths as lies…unless what occurred in first century Israel occurred just as the Bible records it.

Luke’s Gospel and Acts (written by the same author, humanly speaking) have been well-vindicated as remarkably reliable historical documents that capture even minute points of first century life in Israel. Then there was the moral and spiritual aspect of the Bible that arrests attention and demands a verdict. The Bible evidences a holy God, who is just and almighty. This great God is also merciful and loving; and the appearance of Jesus Christ on the world stage was the demonstration of His love, and the fulfillment of more than 100 prophecies spoken by dozens of prophets hundreds of years before His birth. The mathematical odds of one man completing every “criteria” that God put forth as a sign of Messiah’s arrival is so great as to be utterly impossible to achieve…unless that One individual to whom the prophecies refer appears. Ancient secular historians have mentioned both the reality that Christ lived, and even the darkness that shrouded the earth when He died.

Faith must rest on an object, and the trustworthiness of said object determines whether or not such faith is blind or not. God left numerous evidences of His existence (the created world, our conscience), the Bible’s reliability (archeological evidence, fulfilled prophecy, scientific evidence; read Lee Strobel’s A Case for Christ or Josh McDowell’s Evidence for Christianity), and the moral quiescence we would expect from the very mouth of God as witnessed in the teachings of Jesus Christ and His apostles; both their sayings and their lifestyles. It is significant to understand that when there is an archeological dig in lands surrounding Israel the team consults the Bible as a source of topography and history. If the Bible is steadfast with the proclamation of simply historical truths (which time has proven again and again as the case) that alone begins to validate the Author of the Bible as one who man would do well to pause and heed.

The Bible does not excuse or ignore such issues as sin, suffering, justice and injustice, death, or inequality. The message of Scripture is real; it speaks to us about daily experiences, but commands that we begin to perceive these issues from a Heavenly perspective, to consider them as God considers them. Christianity does not offer a fantastical, mythical faith like Mormonism; it does not offer an escapist illusory faith like Christian Science; it does not attempt to change immoral men into moral men by obeying God as Jehovah’s Witnesses. It brings the message that all have sinned and come short of God’s glory, which daily life attests to. Men kill one another, lie to each other, steal, cheat, rape, etc. we are sinful people; and this is not the product of societal conditioning: it is the nature of our person. The sickness, God says, is not from without but from within. Psychology can reform a person’s behavior; Christ can revive a person’s nature. God’s solution to sin is faith: believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will receive, as a gift of God’s sovereign mercy, eternal life in Jesus’ name. Reconciliation comes not from church attendance, good deeds or being moral, but being restored into a right relationship with the Lord; and this is only possible through the atonement of Jesus Christ on the cross, John 14:6.

Seeing this sinful world that is overrun with evil, this explanation and solution speaks truth to me. There is nothing in me inherently to offer to God that He would find an acceptable payment for reconciliation and entrance into Heaven. Mankind was not created in this present condition, so the Bible declares, but has fallen into sin, and our nature has become depraved. We need to understand that we are sinners by nature and choice. Our problem is not lack of refining culture, cultivating good behavior and cherishing religious traditions; our problem is that sin separates us from God, Isaiah 59:2. Christ is the only way for sinful man to return to God, and God left man with free will so that those who, by virtue of the Spirit’s drawing and conviction, believe in Jesus Christ may receive life in His name. To become a member of God’s family one must be adopted by the Father. The Father has laid down the principles upon which such an adoption will occur. If we reject what the God of Heaven has said concerning eternal life and salvation we cannot blame God for His rejection of us. We have already refused His Son, and if you refuse the Son, you do not have the Father, either. Hell is the appointed place for everyone who, by choice, remains dead in sins and trespasses, and therefore remains separated from God. Eternal separation is one’s punishment for our selfish choice to spurn the offer God has made through His Son. God’s word, the plan of salvation it reveals, and more so the Person who inspired and superintended its writing, are what I place my faith in.

1 comment:

  1. Great job, Ian.

    I was caught up with youth camp and couldn't read the posts earlier. As you accurately point out, the difference between real Christianity and Religion is that we are renewed in the spirit of out minds, in Righteousness, rather than just changing our behavior when we place our faith in Jesus Christ.


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