Faith in God
Pilate, the Roman governor who consented to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, justified himself by asking, "What is truth?" (John 18:38). He was not sincerely looking for the answer, but rather he was insinuating in a scornful, offhand way that the answer is unknowable. He was declaring that his only creed was skepticism. The same creed is popular today, especially among the well educated, for the influential thinkers of the modern world have taught that doubt is the safest view of any attempt to solve the riddles of existence by means of religion or philosophy.
But Jesus says, "I am . . . , the truth" (John 14:6), and He promises, "Seek, and ye shall find" (Matt. 7:7). Thus, to find the truth in Jesus, a man must become a seeker. But many who pretend to be seekers after truth are not seekers at all. The attitude of many intellectuals today is that if God wants their allegiance, He must furnish them with satisfactory proofs of His existence and justice. A true seeker takes a very different attitude. He recognizes that we must allow God to reveal Himself as He chooses. It is possible, after all, that the God of the universe might behave in ways defying human comprehension. He might even perform signs and wonders, or provide salvation through the sacrifice of a divine man on a cross, or reveal Himself preferentially to the meek and unsophisticated rather than to the erudite. Indeed, He might allow contemporary knowledge (so called) to wander far from the truth because He wished to give the proud their excuses while reserving light for the humble.
To know God, we must first forsake all desire to dictate His manner of speaking to us. We must see ourselves as ephemeral nothings who are incompetent to prejudge the counsels of Almighty God. Only by taking a right view of ourselves can we give due consideration to the belief of Christians that God has revealed Himself through an obscure ancient book, the Bible. Rather than scoff at this belief, or regard it with indifference, a true seeker will examine the Bible seriously, with great hope of finding God.
The Bible says,
But without faith it is impossible to please him [God]: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.
In other words, we cannot progress toward the knowledge of God unless at the outset we make two assumptions. The first is that God exists. The second is that He can be found. The faith required of us is not contrary to reason, for we find evidence of God everywhere around us and in our own minds. Where did this elegantly designed universe come from, if not from a divine Creator? If there is no God, how is it that we can even conceive, however inadequately, of an omnipotent, omniscient, all-righteous Being?
A seeker after God who is willing to make these assumptions has no trouble finding Him.
I love them that love me; and those that seek me early shall find me.
But if from thence thou shalt seek the LORD thy God, thou shalt find him, if thou seek him with all thy heart and with all thy soul.
The LORD is with you, while ye be with him; and if ye seek him, he will be found of you.
2 Chronicles 15:2
But these promises raise a distressing problem, for the Bible also says that no one is a true seeker after God.
2 God looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, that did seek God.
3 Every one of them is gone back: they are altogether become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.
Everyone, in his native pride and folly, prefers reality to be Godless. The predilections of the human mind all pile up against the door to ultimate truth. How then can anyone attain the knowledge of God?
Such knowledge would be impossible except that "with God all things are possible" (Matt. 19:26). Because God loves the world (John 3:16), He reveals Himself to us, His elect children, even though we innately resist knowing Him. His first overture is to place in our hearts a God-ward impulse, enabling us to believe that He exists and is self-revealing. We then begin to seek Him with the faith and diligence that He promises to reward (Heb. 11:6). As we press onward in the pilgrimage of a true seeker, He continually brings us to new evidence of His existence, and the accumulating evidence becomes ever more compelling until at last it prohibits doubt. Faith, then, although it arises from a desire for God that God Himself implants in the heart, grows to maturity on the nourishment of facts. Indeed, facts are in its favor from the beginning.
The facts which point to God are set forth in apologetics. Apologetics is the use of reason to satisfy any seeker after truth that the truth lies in Christianity. Yet no student of apologetics should suppose that becoming a Christian is essentially an intellectual commitment. No, it is essentially a commitment of the heart, a gift to God of our unconditional allegiance and love. It is coming into an intimate personal relationship with Him.
God has created man and summoned man to Himself because He wants to give and receive love. That is why God requires us to seek Him by faith, for faith is an expression of love. That is why the believer's life on earth is fraught with trials which have the effect of strengthening faith. That is why the message of truth is not so overbearing and undeniable as to exclude faith. For God does not treat us as robots by drawing worship from us against our will. He does not coerce our homage by bringing us into the overwhelming majesty of His presence. Rather, He gives us a true power of decision, and He puts us into circumstances requiring us either to accept or to reject Him. Accepting Him when the contrary is a real option is a step of love toward the unforced fellowship that He desires.
Faith in the Bible
After God makes us desirous of finding Him, He leads us to His book of self-revelation, the Bible. By every relevant test of credibility, the Bible appears worthy of our consideration. Its authors were pious men whom no unjaundiced person could seriously accuse of deliberate lying or manipulation. Indeed, some New Testament writers went to a martyr's death rather than recant their faith in God. Although the Bible is the work of many different authors in widely separated times and places, its spiritual teachings are marvelously self-consistent, as are its historical narratives. Also, none of these narratives is proved wrong by contemporaneous documents or artifacts. Moreover, the Bible in all parts has a transparent honesty that refuses to flatter the reader, to multiply sensational detail, or to gloss over the faults of revered men. The only hero that the Bible recognizes is God Himself. Even in its portrait of Abraham, father of the nation Israel, the Bible exposes conspicuous flaws, and such flaws as his cowardice in the face of Pharaoh's desire to take his wife, Sarai, are not even endearing (Gen. 12:10-20).
If the Bible contained the thoughts of man rather than the thoughts of God, its backdrop would be ancient mythology, and much of its content would be clearly mythological in character. But the outlook of mythology is entirely foreign to the Bible. The Bible never ascribes personality to natural objects or forces. Rather than seeing God in a grand fusion with the universe, the Bible teaches that His essence is distinct and transcendent. The angels that the Bible places higher than man but lower than God live within a spiritual realm rather than within the realm of nature. Furthermore, unlike mythology, the Bible gives us a God who is perfect in knowledge, absolute in power, and unfailing in holiness.
The Bible teaches ethical ideals far loftier than those found in other religious writings. The oldest system of laws in the Bible is the law of Moses, which many people ignorant of its provisions wrongly suppose to be harsh and inhumane. The truth is quite otherwise. The Mosaic code displays many evidences that the author is a Being of supreme tenderness and love. It spares a man from military service if he has recently built a home or planted a vineyard, lest he die before he can enjoy the work of his hands (Deut. 20:5-6). It even grants an exemption to a man on his honeymoon (Deut. 24:5). In the laws of what other society, ancient or modern, do we see compassion of this kind? Further, the Mosaic code stipulates that a captive woman taken as a wife is never to be subsequently sold or treated as a slave since "thou hast humbled her" (Deut. 21:10-14). Apart from divine direction, a human lawmaker in the time and culture of Moses would never have been concerned to protect the rights of captive women. Some of the regulations in the Mosaic code demand kind treatment of animals (Deut. 25:4). Others require simple neighborliness (Deut. 22:1; 23:24). The code is imbued with concern for the needy, the alien, the fatherless, and the widow (Deut. 24:17, for example). It enjoins farmers to pass over some of the crop at harvest time so that the poor can gather whatever remains (Deut. 24:19).
A divine perspective transcending all human perspectives can be seen also in the moral teachings of the New Testament. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus articulates a new conception of love, a conception so exalted that it is unequaled in any other ethical system known to man. Love according to Jesus is a selfless love for all mankind, not excluding enemies (Matt. 5:44). He is the only founder of a religion who insists that love carries with it the obligation to perform every conceivable good on behalf of others (Matt. 7:12).
Yet the God of the Bible offends many modern readers. They dislike thinking of God as a wrathful Being who pours vengeance upon His enemies. But their failure to understand the wrath of God proceeds from a more fundamental failure to understand the love of God. People today imagine that love never transgresses the elusive ethic, "Live and let live." But what parent who truly loves his child would not react angrily if a stranger perversely attempted to poke out the child's eyes? Although human anger may be a form of animal defensiveness or a device for selfish purposes, it may also be a natural expression of love. God too has children. From humanity He has called out a people for Himself, and He has placed them in the position of sons. Because He loves them with the love of a perfect Father, He hates any enemy, human or superhuman, who would hurt them. As a perpetual threat to the children of God, the ungodly among men and angels will suffer divine wrath forever.
Many educated people have learned a smattering of so-called higher criticism, which treats the Biblical writings as mere story and fable written long after the time when their principal characters supposedly lived. Higher criticism makes some pretense to be a science, but it is really a highly speculative theory of history—a theory that has stubbornly refused to die despite a growing mass of contrary evidence. Although no archaeological discovery in the last century has proved irreconcilable with the traditional view that the Biblical writings are authentic, many discoveries have utterly contradicted some view of the higher critics. Yet higher criticism continues to be well respected because it is the only alternative to taking the Bible seriously.
When an ordinary person hears learned attacks on the Bible, he may assume that these spring from logic or evidence. In fact, they spring from another foundation—from the assumption that miracle and prophecy are impossible, even unthinkable. For example, the overarching reason for the late dates that critics assign to Old Testament books like Daniel and Isaiah is that with uncanny precision these books tell of certain future events. So, the critics conclude that the events must have come first.
Faith in Jesus Christ
Ministry of Jesus. Anyone who wishes to understand the Bible must read it as the book of Jesus Christ. Jesus was a man of Jewish descent who lived two thousand years ago in the country of Palestine, then part of the Roman Empire. Both divisions of the Bible—both the Old Testament and the New Testament—have Jesus as their prime subject. The Old Testament speaks of the developments leading up to His coming. The New Testament chronicles His public ministry, as well as the growth of the church during the first twenty or thirty years after His death.
His ministry began when He was about thirty years old. For the next three and a half years He walked throughout the land and taught the people an ethic of radical righteousness. Also, He presented Himself as the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies which foresaw the coming of an anointed one—in Hebrew called the Messiah, in Greek, the Christ—who would set right the evils of the world. And, in proof of His claims, He performed many astounding miracles. On several occasions He raised the dead to life. Once, in the presence of thousands, He multiplied a few loaves and fishes into a meal sufficient for them all. Rather than deny His miracles, His enemies accused Him of being a sorcerer.
Yet the mobs who followed Him at the beginning of His ministry soon turned away when they discovered that His mission was essentially spiritual, not political. The leaders of the Jewish nation likewise rejected Him. Regarding Him as a threat to their own power, they brought Him before the Roman governor, Pilate, and falsely accused Him of stirring up civil unrest. Pilate bowed to their will and condemned Him to die by crucifixion, a method that assured He would undergo horrible suffering. Yet He made no attempt to defend Himself, He uttered no complaint, and as He was dying He prayed, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34).
We can be glad that the history of Jesus does not end at His death. During His ministry, He taught that after He had lain in the tomb for three days, He would rise again. And the prophecy came true. Over a period of forty days beginning on the third day after the Crucifixion, He was seen alive on numerous occasions, once by no less than five hundred people.
Salvation through Christ. According to the Bible, the spiritual mission that Jesus came to fulfill was to rescue man from his sinfulness—that is, from his natural tendency to do things that are wrong. A man may be a decent sort of person by the standards of men, but by the standards of God he is thoroughly bad. The reason is that he constantly breaks the law of God. That law requires him to love God with his whole being and to love his neighbor as much as himself (Matt. 22:37-40). But rather than submitting to these demands, he exalts self to the place of god and pursues a life of self-centeredness. And there is nothing he can do to change what he is. No attempt at self-reform can bring him to the perfection that God requires (Rom. 3:23). The persistent flaw in his character disqualifies him from living forever in the presence of God.
Yet because God loves us as His own creation, He is reluctant to deny us that privilege. Divine wisdom has resolved the dilemma in a manner difficult for us to comprehend. In the omniscient counsels of eternity, God, who is one Being in three persons named the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, decided to take the penalty for man's sin upon Himself, in the person of the Son. The Son left His lofty estate and entered this world as the man Jesus so that He might undergo the gruesome ordeal of dying on a cross. As God in the flesh, He owned the power to escape death. As sinless man, He did not deserve death. But He died willingly for our sake.
In the course of Jesus' suffering, God vented all of His displeasure and punitive wrath toward sin upon Him rather than upon us. In consequence, God stands ready to forgive us of our sin and to give us an eternal abode in heaven rather than in hell, the place of exclusion from God's favor. In the language of Christians, to receive these privileges is called salvation. The only requirement is that we must gratefully accept Jesus as our Savior and Lord.
We must humble ourselves before Jesus though we lack absolute proof of His deity. We must believe in Him though no writing in the sky or voice from heaven affirms His preeminence. In other words, we must receive Him by faith. Yet faith in Jesus Christ is not a fanciful, subjective preference. As we will show in these studies, a multitude of evidences establish who Jesus was.