Tag Archives: salvation

Saved? For What?

About two years ago I received a call from a man named Mitch. I had baptized him a few years before.  He called to let me know his cancer had come back and he didn’t have much time left. He wanted to express his thankfulness to God that I had shared the gospel with him and led him to place his faith in Christ. He was thankful to be able to face the end of his life on earth with the hope of heaven in his heart. Not long after that call, Mitch went on to be with the Lord.

Years before, however, Mitch had barely survived a terrible car wreck. He was in a coma for a few weeks. Gradually he regained strength and health, albeit not without lingering pain and other complications. Before he drove his truck off an embankment, he really didn’t care if he lived or died. He had been in a battle with cancer, which, along with life’s many other hardships, had left him deeply depressed and feeling hopeless.

When he came out of the hospital, after his wreck, his cancer was also in remission. He had come to church a few times before with his mother, but this time was different. He asked if he could meet with me to discuss baptism and committing his life to Christ. On a cold day in January of 2011, I had the privilege of baptizing Mitch by full immersion. He was buried with Christ in baptism “in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, [he] too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4).

Mitch often wondered aloud with me about why God had allowed him to survive his accident. He was looking for a specific reason. Mitch wanted to know why God had saved him, and that in more ways than one, both physically and spiritually. My answer to Mitch was always the same. “Mitch, I don’t really know the particulars of God’s specific plan for your life, but I do know that you were saved for  the same reason everyone else is saved: to love God with your whole heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself.

For the past few years I have taught an introductory discipleship study called “The Walk.” I designed the study around several basic questions. Three of the questions are: Why do we need to be saved?; What are we saved from?; and What are we saved for?

Although the Bible uses this kind of language frequently, it is not all that popular a topic in many circles, including in the church. The thought that people need to be saved can be offensive because it implies there is something wrong with us and that we are in grave danger. But we may not feel like there is anything wrong with us. Indeed, we may feel like we are perfectly fine just the way we are. But the Bible clearly indicates that something is wrong and we all do need to be rescued from something. N322.01W50

In short, we are saved from sin and its consequences. We are saved from corrupted desires and the consequences of acting on those desires. Sin is not only the bad things we do, but also the power that corrupts our good God-given desires. Just take the seven deadly sins for example: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride.

Each of these is a corruption of a good desire. God designed us to have certain desires as creatures created in God’s image. The desire for sex is good, but sin corrupts it and distorts it. The desire for food and drink is also not bad, but when corrupted by sin it can become detrimental to us and others. The desire to work and make a living is not bad, but greed can make us slaves to work and money. The desire to rest and relax is good, but sloth is not. The desire for justice is wonderful, but wrath drives us away from justice to hatred and personal vengeance. The desire to be loved and respected is not bad, but envy and pride distort those desires in narcissistic ways.

Through Jesus Christ God saves us not only from the consequences of sin, the penalty, but also from its corrupting influence, the power. The grace of God in Christ also begins to heal our corrupted desires and rescues us from an eternity separated from God. That’s why we need to be saved and what we need to be saved from? But we’re not only saved from something, we are also saved for something.

As the verse from Romans 6 referenced above indicates we are saved for a purpose, namely to “walk in newness of life” (v.4). The word “walk” here is used in Ephesians 2 as well.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:8-10 ESV (emphasis mine)

Here Paul tells is what we are saved by, through, and for. Each of these aspects of salvation must be held together in the proper order and priority. We must not put a period where there should be a comma; and we must not mix up the order here given.

We are saved by grace, what God has done for us in Christ, it is a gift. But the gift of what God has done for us must be received by faith. One aspect of the gift of grace is that by it we are remade by God in Christ. As Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.” In Christ we are remade by God. In other words, as Jesus put it to Nicodemus, we are born again (John 3). Along with forgiveness, this transformation is also the gift of God. And the purpose for which God has remade us as a new creation is for good works . These good works in no way contribute to our salvation, but they are the fruit of our salvation that “God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” But what exactly are these good works?

The key to understanding this is the word “walk“. The Hebrew equivalent of this word in the Old Testament is halak. It is used repeatedly to refer to a life lived in obedience and faithfulness to God’s commandments. I just read this morning in Isaiah where Hezekiah, one of the kings of Judah during the ministry of Isaiah, used this word in exactly this way.

“… ‘Please, O Lord, remember how I have walked before you in faithfulness and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in your sight.’ ….” Isaiah 38:3 ESV

This is a common way to speak about faithfulness to God throughout the Bible (see Psalm 119:1-3). One of the most significant places where the Bible uses this language is found in the new covenant promise in Ezekiel.

“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”               Ezekiel 36:25-27 ESV (emphasis mine)

Paul Young, author of “The Shack,” argues that rules just get in the way of real relationship. Well the promise here in Ezekiel, which was fulfilled in Jesus Christ, indicates that obedience to God’s rules are at the heart of the new heart God wants to give us. God’s law is not the problem, disobeying it or trying to obey it with selfish motives is. God’s rules obeyed from the heart don’t get in the way of relationship, they actually facilitate genuine relationship, with God and our neighbors.

The good works for which we are saved are those things that are in harmony with the spirit and intent of God’s commandments. Truly they are an expression of genuine love, love of God and love of neighbor.

 “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,’ and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” Romans 13:8-10

To put it another way, we are saved by love, the love of God for us in Christ, and we are saved for love, the love of God in us for God and neighbor. In his “Treatise on Good Works,” the Protestant reformer, Martin Luther sought to correct misunderstandings of his teaching on justification by faith. In that treatise he said that genuine Christian  faith is a fulfillment of the first commandment and obedience to the rest of God’s commandments flows from there as a product, a fruit, of salvation, albeit not its cause. In other words, obedience is what we are saved for not by. This, said Luther, is how to understand what the good works are for which we are saved.

Mitch’s question was a good one, too often neglected. In my ministry I have worked hard to answer that question, not only for Mitch, who was spared a tragic death in a car wreck, but for all who have been saved from the deadly wreckage of sin and hell by the grace of God in Christ Jesus through faith. In some cases, in many Protestant circles any talk at all about good works has been met with suspicion at best. But we must not forget or ignore what we have been saved for! And we should not underestimate or underrepresent the grace by which we are saved.  Paul captures the fullness of it well in his letter to Titus.

 “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”  Titus 2:11-14 (emphasis mine)

“The Shack”: How Firm a Foundation?

Several weeks ago I received a message from one of my church members asking for my thoughts on the book “The Shack” and the movie that was just coming out at that time based on the book. She said she had read something critical of the story, which she had read, and had even participated in a church study group a few years ago on the book. At that point I had only heard about “The Shack”, but had never read it even thought it had been recommended to me. Neither was I familiar with the author, Paul Young. Since I knew little to nothing about the book or the author, I really couldn’t say much for sure. I did tell her that if it varies too far from the revelation of God as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the Bible then it might be misleading.the-shack-grayscale-graphic3.jpeg

Over the course of the next several weeks I did come across some articles that were critical of “The Shack”, a couple from the reformed and conservative Lutheran branches of the church, and a couple from evangelical United Methodists  (See Dr. Ben Witherington’s thoughts here and Dr. Chris Ritter’s here). I also listened to some interviews with the author, Paul Young. It seemed to me that there was indeed much to be wary of. Yet the reviews were mixed with some praise for “The Shack” movie, at least, coming from some conservative evangelical voices.

Last week I stayed up late a couple of nights and actually read “The Shack” in its entirety. I know some have tried to dismiss the concerns that have been expressed over the last several years by saying that it’s just a fictional story, a parable, and therefore shouldn’t be criticized so much for theological imprecision. But is it true that there is only room for theological nitpicking when it comes to this story?

Paul Young has made it clear that he intended to describe his view of God and what God is really like in story of “The Shack.” His parable is also certainly about dealing with human pain and brokenness that result from broken relationships and injustice, but he also wants to correct what he perceives to be misconceptions about God that exacerbate that pain. So “The Shack” paints a portrait of Young’s view of God. The question is whether or not this a complimentary or contradictory portrait of God compared to what we find in the Bible.

The first clue that Young might be setting up a contradictory view comes fairly early in the book, on page 65-66. At this point in the storyline the reader has already been rocked by the nightmarish tragedy of the main character, Mack, barely rescuing one of his children from drowning, only to discover, after a frantic search, that his young daughter, Missy, has been abducted by a cold-hearted, callous serial killer, called “the Little Lady Killer.” Also at this point the reader is hooked by a momentous mystery. Mack has received a note in the mail box inviting him to return to the shack deep in the woods where he and law enforcement had found Missy’s ripped, blood-soaked dress. The note is signed, “Papa”, his wife’s affectionate name for God. As Mack ponders whether the note might actually be a tantalizing invitation to meet with God or a taunting trick of a serial killer still at large, Paul Young, as the narrator, brings into question Mack’s seminary training that he says had reduced God’s voice to the paper of Scripture in order to keep God bound in a book only to be interpreted by the proper authorities. Young says sarcastically, “Nobody wanted to keep God in a box, just in a book. Especially an expensive one bound in leather with gilt edges, or was that guilt edges?” (p. 66)

Here, I think, we have more than a little hint that the God Mack will encounter in the shack will burst the boundaries of traditional evangelical interpretation at minimum and probably even the contours of the way God is described in the Bible itself. It seems pretty obvious that Young here anticipates criticism and objections to his view of God and was probably trying to inoculate his enthused readers from criticism by way of caricaturing his inevitable critics. Again, the question is not whether the depiction of God in terms of the metaphors and symbolism used by Young is identical to what we find in Scripture, but is his depiction of God in harmony with or contradictory to what we find in Scripture? Was Young suggesting that God may reveal himself in new ways, but in ways that are in harmony with the Bible, or was he suggesting that God may reveal himself in ways that contradict and therefore correct the Bible itself?

In “The Shack” Young boldly attempts to cast his vision of God in terms of the Christian concept of the Trinity. There are some commendable features to Young’s explanations of the Trinity in that he captures that God is inherently and eternally a relational being of mutual respect and love. Overall, however, he blurs together the distinctions between the three persons enough that it seems more like a functional Unitarianism than the Trinity. All three persons bear the marks of crucifixion and all three are described as becoming human in the incarnation (i.e. John 1:14 when the word became flesh).

Moreover, in terms of the depiction of Jesus, he seems to be for all practical purposes fully human but not really divine. Sure Young describes him as divine and even as the God-man, but functionally his version of Jesus never has or ever will draw upon his divine nature to do anything. He only lives moment by moment as every human being was designed to live in relation with God and relying on God’s power. Papa tells Mack that Jesus was “just the first to do it to the uttermost” (p. 100). Young’s Jesus is nominally and inherently divine but not functionally so, even  after the resurrection and ascension.

This may seem like nitpicking, but this is a different portrait of Jesus than the Biblical portrait that reveals that Jesus not only shares the divine name and titles such as I Am, the Lord, God, the Alpha and the Omega, etc., he also shares and exercises  divine power and functions such as the power to raise the dead (John 5:21), including raising himself (John 2:19-21). Jesus also exercises the divine authority to judge, a power delegated to him by the Father, who judges no one, Jesus says (John 5:22-23, see also Rev 4 & 5 ff). And, as we will see, divine judgment gets redefined quite a bit too in “The Shack.” Nevertheless, “The Shack” seems to have a high Christology nominally but a very low Christology functionally

Young also gives us a much more confused version of the Trinity than necessary. Of course it is a great mystery of the Christian faith, but the mystery of God’s divine nature should not be used as an excuse to blur and redefine those things that God has revealed to us in Jesus and in Scripture. One such area of confusion is in terms of Young’s depiction of the Trinity as non-hierarchical. That is, that there is no hierarchy of authority between the three persons. Young does not believe that genuine relationship can involve any hierarchy. To Young hierarchy is inherently bad and only a result of broken relationships. So, of course, there would be no hierarchy among the perfect relational being. Yet, again, this is not the portrait of God that we find in the Bible. God the Father sends the Son, the Son reveals the Father and is the way to the Father, and the Father and the Son send the Spirit who brings glory to the Son, who in turn brings glory to the Father. Jesus said himself that the Father is greater than him (John 14:28) and 1 Corinthians 15 indicates that when Christ has subdued all things under his authority he himself will be subjected to God the Father. Young seems to envision the perfect being and the perfect society in terms of an absolute equality of power and authority in mutual submission. Consequently, Young also conveys an anti-institutional sentiment throughout the book. I believe this is directly connected to his view of God, or possibly vice versa.

The Bible, however, does not convey the idea that a hierarchy of authority is inherently bad, even within the Trinity. The Father, Son, and Spirit are equal in terms of their shared divine nature and the dignity and honor that accompany that nature, but the Bible does portray them as having different levels of authority. Likewise God created human beings in his image and we are all equal in terms of human dignity by virtue of our shared human nature, but God has given each of us talents and gifts that differ from one another. So some will have more authority in society and in the church than others. Those God-given higher authorities are to be obeyed in so far as they are in harmony with the highest authority, which is God (see Romans 13, Hebrews 13:17, Acts ).

Hierarchy is not inherently bad. What is bad is selfishness and greed inspired by sin that can cause some to abuse their God-given authority. Hierarchy is not inherently corrupt just because it can be corrupted. There is no possibility of that within the being who is absolutely perfect and incorruptible in righteousness, justice, and holiness. And relationships don’t have to be less loving because of differing levels of authority.

Institutions are not inherently bad either. They too can become corrupt and abusive, but they doesn’t make them inherently so. If there is to be order rather than confusion and chaos there will inevitably be organization, which will lead to organizations. Young seems to make the mistake of thinking you can have the power of spirituality without the form of religion, such as ritual and institutions. To acknowledge the power of spirituality one need not deny the form of religion (see 2 Tim 3:5).

Young also reveals an impoverished view of the law and rules and responsibilities. He has Sarayu, his character for the Holy Spirit, answer in the affirmative to Mack’s question, “Are you saying I don’t have to follow the rules?” Young’s Holy Spirit responds, “Yes, In Jesus you at not under any law. All things are lawful” (p. 203). At best this is a confused conception of Christian liberty based on a misunderstood slogan from the 1st century church on Corinth (see context of 1 Cor. 10:23). God’s grace and the power of the Spirit don’t free us from the moral law to live contrary to it if we want. God’s grace frees us from the righteous condemnation that disobedience to the law brings, and the Holy Spirit empowers us to live in harmony with the law of God (see Romans 8 & Galatians 5:16-26). As with hierarchy and institutions, Young, at least, seems to imply that there is something deficient and inferior about the law itself in contrast to Paul who insisted that the law is good (Romans 7).

Indeed the law of God itself is good, it is a reflection of the very character of the holy and righteous God. The problem is not the law; it is sin. Because of sin, the law can only condemn. According to Romans 8 the Spirit enables believers to overcome the power of sin so that by walking in the Spirit the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us (v. 4) because we will submit to God’s law (v. 7-9). This was the promise of the New Covenant all along (see Jer 31:31-34; Ezk 36:25-27), which Young seems to allude to, but he does so in a confused way that throughout history has led to misunderstanding grace as a license to sin rather than freedom from sin for obedience to God’s law. Compare part of the New Covenant promise found in Ezekiel 36:27 fulfilled in Jesus to what Young’s version of the Holy Spirit says in “The Shack.”

“I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” Ezk 36:27 ESV

“‘Are you saying I don’t have to follow the rules?’ Mack had now completely stopped eating and was concentrating on the conversation. ‘Yes. In Jesus you are not under any law. All things are lawful.” The Shack p. 203 

Young’s main concern with the law is not that it leads to the righteous judgment of God because of sin, but that law leads to the worst sin of all in the eyes of Young and most of the more liberal persuasion in general: judgmentalism. The God of “The Shack” is loving, affirming, and accepting, but not really into judgment, at least not as traditionally understood.  The God of “The Shack” is not concerned about responsibilities and expectations because that would lead to guilt, shame, and judgment. Young’s God is never disappointed with people (ps. 205-26). No expectations? Never disappointed with anyone?

How does that portrait compare to Jesus’ telling of the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30? What about Mark 9:38?! How does it square with Micah 6:8 that tells us what God requires of us? Of course what God requires God provides by his grace and his Spirit if we will turn to him, but he does seem to expect us to work from, NOT for, but FROM the grace he has given us to produce fruit (Mark 12:1-12?).

And what about the judgment of God? The God of “The Shack” does judge but not for destruction, only for redemption (ps. 169; 224). For Young the fire of God’s judgment is for purification not condemnation. But God never punishes. Indeed God doesn’t punish sin; he only cures it (p. 120). Of course God can and does cure sin, but will the Great Physician cure those who absolutely refuse to receive his medicine of immortality?

As many have long suspected Paul Young envisions a God of universal salvation, meaning all will eventually be saved. This fits well with his vision of the nature and character of God in which he emphasizes love and mercy at the expense of justice for those who refuse to repent (see Rev 6,14,16, 20, & 21). In “The Shack” after Jesus shocks Mack by saying he doesn’t care if people of other religions become Christian, Mack asks if that means all roads lead to him. Young cleverly has Jesus respond, “Not at all. Most roads don’t lead anywhere. What it does mean is that I will travel any road to find you.”

This clever response probably provided Young with some wiggle room to dodge reasonable concerns that he intended to promote universalism. 20 million copies sold later, he apparently no longer feels like he needs any wiggle room. In his newest book, “Lies We Believe About God,” he makes explicit what was more subtle in “The Shack.” He leaves no doubt that he believes that everyone is already saved and that it is a lie that anyone “needs to get saved” (see Tim Challies’ article). He said as much in “The Shack” to begin with. He believes that everyone is on the same path and headed in the right direction, some are just farther along than others. And death in no way will end that journey and neither will hell.

But what does the Jesus of the Bible say?

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few

 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” Matthew 7:13-27 ESV (see also Matthew 24 &25)

Of course those of the more liberal theological persuasion will probably love “The Shack.” Those steeped in the Moralistic Therapeutic Deism that pervades so many churches will embrace it and promote it. It will find plenty of welcome on the OWN (Oprah Network) and in New Age circles as well. And some conservatives who were a little too eager to give Paul Young the benefit of the doubt may not have seen the red flags that have been there all along.

“The Shack” serves up quite a bit of false assurance with the big helpings of comfort food coming out of Papa’s kitchen in the shack. The vision of God that Young portrays is really not complimentary with the revelation of God in the Bible. The two views are contradictory. To build your life on the theology of “The Shack” is to build on shifting sand. To build your life on God’s word is to build your life on the Rock Christ Jesus as he is revealed in the Bible. You really have to choose, and there is no indication in the Bible that you will have all of eternity to do it.

Why Follow Jesus?

At the end of what is called the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew, the Bible says the people were amazed by the teaching of Jesus, not just because of what he taught, but also by the way he taught. He taught them with an authority unlike anything they had heard from other teachers of the word of God (Matt 7:28). Throughout the Gospels it is evident that Jesus speaks quite unlike any scribe or even any other prophet before him.

It was typical of teachers of the Bible to refer to other famous rabbis or the Bible itself as an authority; and it was typical of a prophet to speak with the authority of “Thus saith the Lord” wherein God Himself is the authority. Yet Jesus’ teaching was self-referential, meaning he referred to himself as the authority. Throughout the Sermon on the Mount he says things like, “You’ve heard it said but I say unto you …”  He never refers to any other human teacher as an authority and he never says “Thus saith the Lord” as was common among the Jewish prophets.  He spoke with a power and authority that most would think was only reserved for God.

In Mark 2, for instance, he claimed the authority to forgive sins to the alarm of the religious leaders who declared it, within the silence of their own hearts, to be blasphemy, for as they thought to themselves, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (v. 7). Although they never spoke a word with their lips, Jesus heard them loud and clear as if he was indeed the One to Whom all hearts are open (i.e. 1 Chronicles 28:9; Jeremiah 17:10); indeed, because He was and is (see Revelation 2:23). When He stills a storm on the sea His bewildered disciples ask, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (NRSV)  Who but the One Whom the Psalms declare is the one “who rules “the raging of the sea” and stills the rising waves (Psalm 89:9), the One who stills the storm and hushes the waves of the sea (Psalm 107:29). Who else could it be but the One who existed before Abraham as the great “I Am” (John 8:39-59)? Who else could command honor for Himself and faith in Himself along side of God Himself (John 5:19-29; 14:1), but the One Who was indeed God in flesh? (See John 1)

Jesus didn’t walk around with a T-shirt that said “I am God”, but He said and did many things that indicated that He thought he was.  The question is was he telling the truth?

Some people, those who don’t claim to be Christians and some who do, insist that Jesus was just a really good man, but a man only and nothing more. They assure us that they admire Him as a good moral teacher and even as a powerful prophet, but they can’t believe He really was God in the flesh. And even though Jesus Himself declares, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” and that “no one comes to the Father except through” Him, some insist that Jesus may be one way, but He certainly wasn’t and isn’t the only way to know God. C.S. Lewis reveals the folly of such sentiments.

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 either be a lunatic – on the 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 patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to” (from Mere Christianity, chapter 3).

Often, I have found, people end up following a Jesus of their own imagination rather than the Jesus revealed in the Bible. I know that was true for me (Click on the Blog title and scroll down to begin reading my testimony). Throughout history people have found themselves quite uncomfortable with the God revealed in the Bible, hence the ever present, persistent temptation to idolatry. From the very beginning, beginning with chapter 1 of Genesis, through to the very end, the Bible makes the bold, albeit often hard to believe claim that there is only one true God whom all people should follow and worship. The worship of other gods and idols is the problem for which the revelation of the God of the Bible is the solution.

If we have followed the story line of the Bible closely and carefully we shouldn’t be surprised by the very stark and exclusive claims of Jesus in John 14:6. As the manifestation of the world’s only rightful Lord in human form, we should not be surprised at all. He claimed not to be a way, but the way, and in the context of the Bible, which insists, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3) we shouldn’t be surprised to learn that He is the only way. In light of Isaiah 45:22, which declares, “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other”, neither should we be surprised when Peter declares that outside of the name of Jesus “there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Jesus made some bold claims such that He really only leaves us three options. Either he was insane, a devilish deceiver, or He was and is Who he claimed to be.  Why should we accept Him? Why should we trust him and follow him? Is there any good reason?

Path down the Mount of the Beatitudes to the Sea of Galilee

The short answer is yes; and it is spelled t-h-e r-e-s-u-r-r-e-c-t-i-o-n.

Some, including many very brilliant scholars, dismiss the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which Christians have always believed to have been a bodily event in time and space, simply because they assume it couldn’t have happened because of the improbability. But improbable doesn’t mean impossible, nevertheless many scholars work under the assumption that it does. Since the early days of the Enlightenment and the growing prevalence of a deistic and eventually an atheistic worldview much of the scholarship on the Bible has filtered out miracles and divine intervention. What many don’t realize is that this “modern” worldview was just an updated version of an ancient worldview called Epicureanism. This is a worldview with it own set of presuppositions which are not themselves beyond question. As hard as it may be to accept we live in a universe with many things beyond human reason and empirical investigation, and it is not close-minded to believe that.

Serious scholars of history and the Bible from the past and the present have declared the resurrection of Jesus Christ to be the best explanation for the history that transpired thereafter. There are historical realities which require adequate explanation. We must wonder why movements of other would-be Jewish messiahs who were executed or killed on either side of Jesus of Nazareth disbanded or found another would-be messiah to follow in all cases that we know of except for the followers of Jesus who not only continued to follow Him but clearly worshiped Him and honored him as Lord and God.

The reason Jesus’ actual disciples gave was that He was actually raised from the dead. Keep in mind, here again, we are not talking about a merely spiritual experience of a mere apparition. The earliest disciples of Jesus believed and insisted that Jesus was bodily raised from the dead. Hence Luke’s story of Jesus insisting he was no ghost and pointing to his very physical flesh and bones in their presence, after which he ate a piece of fish in their presence (Luke 24:36-42), and John’s depiction of Thomas actually touching Jesus’ wounds from the crucifixion.

Doubtless there are countless questions that still arise and still plenty of mystery, but make no mistake the earliest disciples insisted that Jesus was bodily raised from the dead. As N.T. Wright has explained there would really be no other type of resurrection other than a bodily one in the ancient world (See “The Resurrection of the Son of God”), and then as well as now the possibility of resurrection was very hard to believe as the stories on the Gospels actually indicate. Yet Jesus’ followers came to believe in it wholeheartedly.  They took this to mean that Jesus really was Who he claimed to be; therefore they continued to follow Him as the Messiah of Israel and the hope of the world.

Even some of the most skeptical scholars know this to be a historical fact; that is that Jesus’ earliest followers really believed that he was raised from the dead, not that Jesus really was raised from the dead. It is a highly probable fact of history that the earliest followers of Jesus really believed He was raised from the dead to never die again. For Paul it was definitely the essential linchpin to the Christian faith and Christian proclamation (1 Corinthians 15) and an essential belief for salvation (Romans 10:9). It’s not so much a question of whether the earliest disciples of Jesus really believed He was bodily raised from the dead, they certainly did. The question is why? This is a historical question that needs to be answered.

Hence skeptics, those who rule out the possibility of resurrection on philosophical grounds, put forth alternative explanations. They put forth explanations because something has to be explained, namely the rise and expansion of the Church. None of them, however, have the explanatory power of the simplest – as paradoxical as that may sound to some – explanation. Jesus earliest followers believed that He was raised from the dead and continued to follow Him and to proclaim Him to be the world’s rightful Lord and its final Judge because He really was raised from the dead.  And because they believed this they risked, and many lost, their own lives to proclaim it.

Many will die for what they believe to be true when they are not in a position to know for sure whether it really is true, but the earliest followers of Jesus were willing to die for a claim that they were in a position to know for sure whether or not it was true. If Jesus were still really dead His followers would not have had any incentive at all to risk their lives for claiming He was bodily raised from the dead. If Jesus was not raised from the dead, like all the other followers of would-be messiahs, they would have disbanded or jumped on someone else’s bandwagon. As Paul said, if Christ wasn’t raised from the dead “why are we putting ourselves in danger every hour?” (1 Cor. 15:30).

This get’s to the heart of the matter and what we believe about this is a matter of the heart. I believe Jesus was raised from the dead? Do you? I confess Jesus Christ as Lord, and follow him accordingly, do you?  If so, then, praise God!, according to Romans 10:9-10 you are saved. Next time I’ll discuss why it is so important to believe in the resurrection and the difference it makes in our lives.

“Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” Romans 10:9-10 ESV

Maybe you’re thinking you could believe if you could see. But it is also true that if you can believe then you could see. You can believe! And there are plenty of reasons to believe in Jesus Christ and to confess him as Lord. Believe and you will see; trust and you will know; you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.

 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” John 20:29 ESV