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Posts Tagged ‘belief’

Often persons think that being a member of a local assembly of Christians makes them right with God individually. If that were true, the apostle Paul would not have admonished: “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” (2 Corinthians 13:5, ESV). Just because we are associated with others who are following Christ does not necessarily mean that each one of us is following Christ individually.

The Bible clearly tells us to “repent and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15). If anyone in an evangelical church is asked whether he has repented of his sins and believes the gospel, he is likely to answer in the affirmative. One cannot help but question the sincerity of a person’s repentance and belief if that person is known to sin without concern. Far too many professing Christians miss worship on Sunday because they had rather hunt or fish or even do work that is not required to be done. Church members make ungodly statements on Facebook, fail to return things borrowed, fail to acknowledge all their income when paying taxes. In these and many other ways, professing believers reveal the insincerity of their repentance.

Thomas Manton (1620-1677) gave us this warning: “If an unregenerate man should leave off sin under fear of death or hell, it would not be out of hatred to sin, but out of the fear of the punishment, as the bird is kept from the bait by the scarecrow.” Similarly, William Gurnall (1617-1679) wrote: “Take heed thou prayest not with a reservation, be sure thou renounces what thou wouldst have God remit. God will never remove the guilt as long as thou entertains the sin. . . . It is desperate folly to desire God to forgive what thou intends to commit. Thou hadst as good speak out, and ask leave to sin with impunity, for God knows the language of thy heart, and needs not thy tongue to be an interpreter. . . . Hypocrisy is too thin a veil to blind the eyes of the Almighty. Thou mayest put thy own eyes out, so as not to see Him; but thou canst never blind His eyes that He should not see thee.”

Someone may immediately protest: “You have no right to question the genuineness of my repentance and faith in Christ just because I attend worship irregularly or because I make some comments you disapprove.” The purpose here is not for any of us to examine anyone else. The purpose before us is to examine ourselves. Paul wrote: “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith.” We need to ask ourselves: “Do I truly repent of my sins? Am I really trusting in Christ? If I am, what does my life say about my profession?”

Matthew Henry (1662-1714) provides counsel as applicable today as when he penned his thoughts: “By repentance we must lament and forsake our sins, and by faith we must receive the forgiveness of them. By repentance we must give glory to our Creator whom we have offended; by faith we must give glory to our Redeemer who came to save us from our sins. Both these must go together; we must not think either that reforming our lives will save us without trusting in the righteousness and grace of Christ, or that trusting in Christ will save us without the reformation of our hearts and lives. Christ hath joined these two together, and let no man think to put them asunder. They will mutually assist and befriend each other. Repentance will quicken faith, and faith will make repentance evangelical; and the sincerity of both together must be evidenced by a diligent conscientious obedience to all God’s commandments. Thus the preaching of the gospel began, and thus it continues; still the call is, Repent, and believe, and live a life of repentance and a life of faith.”

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Many professing Christian theologians have jettisoned belief in practically all the “hard-to-believe” sections of the Bible. Gone is the belief that God created the heavens and the earth and all therein in sixth twenty-four-hour days. Gone is the belief that Moses, by the power of God, parted the waters of the Red Sea. Gone are Elijah’s chariots of fire and Jesus’ miracles.

For many theologians, the Bible’s declaration that Adam and Eve were real, literal people is too much to swallow. Tremper Longman, a professor of religious studies at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California, and a noted evangelical, claims that a person would have to be guilty of a “highly literalistic reading” of the first two chapters of Genesis in order to believe in a literal Adam. Unfortunately, Dr. Longman’s reasoning for rejecting a literal Adam is used by many to reject all of the supernatural events recorded in Scripture.

Take, for instance, the virgin birth of Christ. One has to admit that such an event is not just a little out of the ordinary, and yet Matthew was very explicit in detailing what occurred: “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’” (Matthew 1:18–21, ESV). Matthew intended his hearers to comprehend that no human father was involved with the conception of Jesus. Is this, too, only a “myth”?

John Shelby Spong, a retired Episcopalian bishop, revealed his contempt for those who believe in the virgin birth of Christ: “When one Episcopal bishop told me that he accepted the virgin birth story literally because ‘if God wanted to be born of a virgin, he could have arranged that,’ or when another said, ‘If God created ex nihilo, the virgin birth would be a snap,’ I thought to myself, ‘How will the church survive in this world with that lack of scholarship among its leaders?’ In those statements the bishops were asserting their belief in a God who was in fact a manipulative male person, who would set aside the processes of the world to produce a miracle in order to bring his divine presence into a human enterprise called life, from which this God was clearly separated. They also revealed no knowledge whatsoever of the biblical studies that have, for at least a century, thrown new light on the interpretation of these birth narratives.” Spong believes that the Virgin Birth is merely a myth to reveal God’s concern for the universe.

Must we believe in the Virgin Birth to be truly Christian? Many would doubtlessly argue that not believing is regrettable but does not mean one is not a Christian. Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary provides a needed correction to such an opinion: “This is not a hard question to answer. It is conceivable that someone might come to Christ and trust Christ as Savior without yet learning that the Bible teaches that Jesus was born of a virgin. A new believer is not yet aware of the full structure of Christian truth. The real question is this: Can a Christian, once aware of the Bible’s teaching, reject the Virgin Birth? The answer must be no.”

Baptist theologian Millard Erickson gives us this to think about: “If we do not hold to the virgin birth despite the fact that the Bible asserts it, then we have compromised the authority of the Bible and there is in principle no reason why we should hold to its other teachings. Thus, rejecting the virgin birth has implications reaching far beyond the doctrine itself.” I wonder–could not the same be said about creation?

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Believing to Understand

Occasionally a college student will ask me to respond to something a professor has taught concerning the Bible. For instance, a religion professor pointed to Numbers 12:3: “Now the man Moses was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth.” The professor asked, “If Moses wrote the book of Numbers, how could he have made such a statement about himself? No one who is truly humble will make notice of his humility.”

The point which the professor was trying to make was that Moses did not write the first five books of the Bible, the Pentateuch. Instead, the Pentateuch, as well as most of the Old Testament, is merely the compilation of stories and writings that were gathered and edited and added to and subtract from by various redactors until finally published as the product we have today. Essentially, in their view the Bible is the work of man, not the work of God.

Such a view is not without disastrous ramifications. If the concept of the infallibility and inerrancy of the Bible is jettisoned, then the Bible basically becomes little more than a book of fables and a nice dose of self help. The reader can cling to what he agrees and reject what he wishes.

This relatively modern (it arose during the late eighteenth century), essentially God-rejecting view of the Scriptures, however, finds no support in the Scriptures themselves. The belief in the inspiration of the Bible finds its basis in 2 Timothy 3:16: “All Scripture is breath out by God.” Scripture is, therefore, not the product of ingenious or even well-meaning men. It is, as Dr. J. I. Packer states, “a product of his [God’s] creative power, and so is an authentic disclosure of his mind and presentation of his message.” The Holy Spirit of God supernaturally and providentially guided chosen men to write the truth which he desired to be communicated to others.

The professor mentioned above, though, would doubtlessly claim that God played a role in the writing of the Scriptures. Many will affirm a doctrine of the inspiration of the Bible while not affirming that the words of Scripture themselves are inspired. They claim that only the thoughts of the authors are inspired. A belief in the inspiration of thoughts, however, does not go far enough. Particular words must be given to convey particular thoughts. It would not be possible to understand truly the thought intended if the right words were not used. It is necessary to insist that the words themselves are inspired in order to safeguard the meaning which God intended.

This issue of Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch comes back to this. Throughout church history, readers of the Pentateuch assumed Moses as its author based upon statements in the New Testament. For instance, in Mark 7:10, Jesus said, “For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’” In Deuteronomy 31:9 we read, “Then Moses wrote this law and gave it to the priests, the sons of Levi, who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and to all the elders of Israel.” Deuteronomy 31:24-26 notes, “Moses commanded the Levites who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, ‘Take this Book of the Law and put it by the side of the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, that it may be there for a witness against you.’” See also Matthew 19:8; Mark 12:26; John 5:46-47; 7:19; Acts 3:22. Suffice it to say that books have been written by believing scholars supporting the traditional understanding of Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch.

So how might we answer the charge that Moses could not have written Numbers 12:3 because a truly humble man would not have written that about him? A man writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit would have written the truth about himself. Moses wrote about his sins and weaknesses and also recorded his meekness. He was not boasting about himself; he simply recorded what is the true.

How one handles what others contend are scriptural difficulties really depends upon a person’s perspective. If a person is a believer, that person will try to understand a solution to the proposed difficulty while remaining true to the inerrancy and divine authorship of the Bible. If a person is a skeptic, he will use the difficulty as a reason to affirm his belief that the Bible is the inerrant and infallible work of God. Puritan Samuel Rutherford asserted, “It is common for men to make doubts when they have the mind to desert the truth.”

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