Let’s Go to Theology Class: Salvation

The following is a summary of my most recent class in pursuit of my master’s in theology at Colorado Christian University.

By Steven Barto, B.S., Psy.

Based on what we read in Grudem’s Systematic Theology and what Scripture says about the topics discussed in Chapter 31 (on salvation), and any other source(s), we were told to identify as specifically as we could where God is responsible (i.e., what God is doing) and where humans are responsible (i.e., what humans are doing) in the following aspects of salvation: election, regeneration, and conversion.

“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12, RSV).

I found this week’s discussion prompt to be very engaging. Perhaps the most wonderous aspect of the life and death of Jesus on the cross is this thing called “salvation.” As I noted in last week’s discussion, salvation is a rather complex concept. At its simplest definition, it is “deliverance, especially of humanity, from sin’s power and effects.” [1] From a biblical perspective, its root-meaning encompasses “width,” “spaciousness,” “freedom from constraint,” and “deliverance.” The Exodus of the Jews from Egypt is considered “salvation.”

Relative to NT references, salvation (sȏtēria) also indicates deliverance or preservation, with hints of wholeness, soundness, and health. It is clear that much of God’s grace is ongoing and touches on many areas of daily existence, from restraint over runaway evil to inspiring and life-saving creativity; from governmental and other institutions in human society to numerous examples of love and kindness; from the selfless actions of our emergency first-responders to the soldiers who stand between us and our mortal enemies. It is the endless and unmerited grace of God that fuels each of these interventions and benevolent actions. To me, this is definitive proof that He wishes all to prosper and to come to forgiveness.

Grudem says, “Grace restrains sin but does not change anyone’s foundational disposition to sin, nor does it in any significant manner purify fallen human nature or negate the consequences of sin.” [2] So why does God pour out His common grace on undeserving sinners? Perhaps He is demonstrating at least an approximation of the grace that is available through true repentance, wishing that no one should suffer eternal death and damnation. His patient sufferance of our obstinate disobedience serves to give all mankind the opportunity to repent. God wishes to demonstrate His goodness and mercy through the many blessings He bestows to the undeserving. David recognized the compassion God has shown over all He has made. Grudem believes God’s forbearance of judgment testifies to the fact that, clearly, He takes no pleasure in doling out punishment. Ezekiel 33:11: “As I live, says the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel?” (italics added).

God wishes man to comprehend His justice. Paul notes that those who consistently resist God’s call to salvation are simply storing up more wrath for themselves, noting that on the day of judgment “every mouth will be stopped” (Rom. 2:5). No one will be able to rightly claim that God has been unfair. Instead, we must recognize the many blessings in the world as evidence of God’s power and wisdom—a continual expression of His abundant grace.

Relative to the order and operation of “salvation,” we are asked this week to look at election, regeneration, and conversion. Specifically, what is God’s responsibility (His “doing”) and what is man’s responsibility (his “function”) in each of these elements of salvation? Of course, I have already delineated some of this above. God is the author and finisher of our salvation. It is His plan (which He ordained before the foundation of the universe) that puts the element of salvation in motion. He fashioned a perfect plan for redemption and provided the incredibly efficacious means for underwriting that plan: the death of His Son Jesus. He remained faithful to that plan and provided opportunities through many institutions for man to recognize the degree of His grace and His love for mankind. Further, His plan and the underlying graciousness that fuels it remained constant. Not once did He change His mind and decide mankind was worthless and without purpose despite the pervasiveness of evil manifested throughout creation. His instructions were simple and concrete. He elected those whom He would save, and He set forth the method for salvation at great cost to Himself—the death of His only begotten Son.

It is at this point that the responsibility changes hands. Man becomes answerable to God relative to the plan of salvation. J.I. Packer describes regeneration (i.e., “new birth”) as an inner recreation of fallen human nature through the power of the Holy Spirit. This new birth necessarily involves renewal effective enough to change a person’s disposition from sin and lawlessness to one of obedience, trust, and love. The proof is in the pudding, as they say, when there is a repentance (a “turning away from”) past rebelliousness, unbelief, and abject disobedience. Regeneration in its simplest definition is when someone moves from the state of being dead in trespasses and sins to being made alive in Christ unto righteousness. God, being rich in mercy and possessing great love for us, makes us “alive” together with Christ, to the extent that He shows us the immeasurable riches of His grace and kindness in Christ (Eph. 2:4-7).

Of course, we have a part in this. There is a decisiveness in our putting on this “new birth.” Assuming we have admitted to our lost state, we must now choose renewal of our spirit. This involves our coming to understand that we’re buried therefore with Christ by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly also be united with Him in a resurrection like His. We know that our old self was crucified with Him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin (Rom. 6:4-6). J.I. Packer notes the perfect tense of the verb genan, meaning both “to beget” and “to bear,” which allows us to see our part in responding to God’s saving revelation in Christ. [3]

We can now look at the aspect of conversion and our role in how it works in our lives as new Christians. Admittedly, I once held the opinion that I was “converted” by the Holy Spirit the moment I accepted Christ as my “personal Lord and Savior.” Grudem is clear about what conversion truly entails, stating it is “our willing response to the gospel call, in which we sincerely repent of sins and place our trust in Christ for salvation” (italics added). [4] It involves a spiritual “turn” toward Christ. There is considerable emphasis placed on us relative to conversion. Our will is involved. In other words, it is not simply a “zapping” of our spirit by the Holy Spirit following recitation of a prayer. Conversion is the point at which we consciously repent from our sinful ways. It is here that we make a “180” and walk away from sin as part of our regeneration. This regeneration is made possible through God’s election. All of which, doctrinally, stems from God’s plan for redemption which He ordained before the foundation of the universe.

Specific to conversion, it is critical to realize none of this is based upon simply knowing about it. Grudem states, “Personal saving faith, in the way Scripture understands it, involves more than mere knowledge.” [5] We can know “facts” about God and His Son, but this is simply data. Conversion must be based upon knowing God, not knowing about Him. It entails trusting Jesus as a living person for forgiveness of sins and for eternal life. D.G.Bloesch notes that in evangelical theology, conversion has two elements: it is both divine and human, involving incursion of divine grace and a conscious decision to change our behavior. [6] In fact, Bloesch says we are active in conversion (we become willing) while passive in regeneration. Remember, regeneration is an inner recreation of our fallen human nature through the power of the Holy Spirit. It is for this reason we do not merely latch on to salvation; rather, we decide for salvation once our eyes have been opened by God’s grace. Lastly, of course, true conversion includes making Christ Lord over our life.

[1] R.E.O. White, “Salvation,” in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017), 768.

[2] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 663.

[3] J.I.Packer, “Regeneration,” in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017), 734-35.

[4] Wayne Grudem, 709.

[5] Wayne Grudem, 709.

[6] D.G. Bloesch, “Conversion,” in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology ((Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017), 212-13.

Scientism: Is it a “Religion” or is it Science?

Our children are growing up in a post-Christian culture in which the public often views people of faith as irrelevant or even, in some cases, extremist. In his book Scientism and Secularism, J.P. Moreland articulates a way of friendly engagement with the prevailing worldview of Scientism.

By Steven Barto, B.S. Psych.

IN HIS BLOG POST Be Careful, Your Love of Science Looks a Lot Like Religion, Jamie Holmes writes, “Science is usually equated by proponents of this view with empiricism or, in many fields, with a method of inquiry that employs controls, blinding, and randomization. Now, a small group of contemporary psychologists have published a series of provocative experiments showing that faith in science can serve the same mentally-stabilizing function as religious beliefs.” What is this thing called “Scientism?” It is said to be an excessive or exclusive belief in the power of scientific knowledge and techniques. It names science as the best or only objective means by which society should determine normative and epistemological values.

Okay. But what does that mean? The claim that scientific judgement is akin to value judgement is often accompanied by the normative claim that scientific judgment should be guided by so-called epistemic or cognitive values. Epistemology refers to the theory of knowledge, especially with regard to its methods, validity, and scope. Epistemology is the investigation of what distinguishes justified belief from opinion. We can immediately recognize the “religious” language in the above definition: e.g., justified belief. The problem with such a viewpoint is this: Justified by whom and against what ultimate truth?

Much of this worldview, which is actually a secularization of nature and existence, is rooted in the Enlightenment, during which time philosophers decided that reason and individualism should prevail rather than tradition. It was heavily influenced by seventeenth-century philosophers such as Descartes, Locke, and Newton, and its prominent promoters include Kant, Goethe, Voltaire, Rousseau, and Adam Smith. We must remember that worldview means a set of presuppositions (assumptions that may be true, partially true, or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic make-up of the world. Scientism is, accordingly, a worldview. Admittedly, Christianity is also a worldview.

A presupposition is something assumed or supposed in advance of the evidence. Generally, a presupposition is a core belief—a belief that one holds as “self-evident” and not requiring proof for its validity. A presupposition is something that is assumed to be true and is taken for granted. Of course, there is a pejorative quality to this term. Synonyms include prejudice, forejudgment, preconceived opinion, fixed conclusion, based upon a priori knowledge. To be fair to this concept, a priori knowledge simply means knowledge possessed independent of experience—that knowledge which we cannot help but bring to our experience in order to make sense of the world. Some philosophers, such as Locke, believe all our knowledge is a posteriori—that the mind begins as a “blank slate.” In order to level the playing field, we must all come to realize that every worldview, whether secular or Christian, contains a degree of presupposition. Christianity, however, has been coming up true and accurate more and more as science and archaeology uncovers empirical proof of the accuracy of the Bible.

Charles Colson, in his book How Now Shall We Live, writes, “We must show the world that Christianity is more than a private belief, more than personal salvation. We must show that it is a comprehensive life system that answers all of humanity’s age-old questions: Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going? Does life have any meaning and purpose?” (Colson and Pearcy, 1999, xi) [italics mine]. The Christian worldview breaks these huge questions down to three distinct categories:

  • Creation. Where did we come from, and who are we?
  • Fall. What has gone wrong with the world?
  • Redemption. What can we do to fix it?

Christianity is a Worldview

Colson believes the way we see the world can change the world. As believers, in every action we take, we are doing one of two things: we are either helping to create a hell on earth or helping to bring down a foretaste of heaven. We are either contributing to the broken condition of the world (part of the problem) or participating with God, through his Son and us, to transform the world to reflect His righteousness and grace (part of the solution). This requires us to see reality through the lens of divine revelation. Arguably, the term worldview may sound abstract or “philosophical” (indeed, it may even sound like a “head in the clouds” perspective); a topic that must be relegated to college professors and students in the halls of academia. Keep in mind, however, that understanding and acknowledging one’s worldview is tremendously productive.

Christianity cannot sit back and consider itself a mere belief system, reduced to little more than a private feeling or “experience,” completely devoid of objective facts or physical evidence. In their book Evidence That Demands a Verdict, Josh McDowell and Sean McDowell consider evidence for matters such as the reliability of the Bible, the deity of Jesus Christ, and the historical (actual) resurrection of Jesus from the dead, revealing strong historical evidence that confirms the Christian worldview. If we have the authentic words of Jesus claiming to be God, evidence that He genuinely performed miracles, and confirmation that Jesus rose from the grave, then Christianity is undeniably true.

Naturalism, the other side of the coin, permeates Western culture, claiming that only physical things exist and that all phenomena can ultimately be explained by the combination of chance and natural laws. This worldview underlies much rejection of metaphysical causes or origins. The New Atheists take particular aim at intelligent design and the deity of Christ. Interestingly, naturalism has absolutely no explanation for the origin of matter or life, the existence of consciousness, the nature of free will, or objective morality. This quest is  true regardless of geopolitical position. All of mankind asks these basic questions. In any event, Anthony Flew (in Licona, 2010, p. 115), a former atheist, said “The occurrence of the resurrection [has] become enormously more likely.”

Scientism as Religion

In 2013, a study published in The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology​ found that when subjects were stressed, they were more likely to agree to statements typifying science such as, “the scientific method is the only reliable path to knowledge.” When people felt anxious, they esteemed science more highly than calmer subjects did, just as previous experiments have shown to be the case with religious ideals. Therefore, beliefs about science are often defended emotionally, even when they’re wrong, as long as they provide a reassuring sense of order. That is to say, beliefs about science may be defended thoughtlessly—even unscientifically. Scientism, accordingly, seems to both religious and scientific outlooks as a soothing balm to our existential anxieties. What we believe, the parallel implies, can sometimes be less important than h​ow ​we believe it. This would indicate that a deep faith in science as the only means for explanation of the origin of matter and life, and the meaning existence, is a form of irrational extremism.

Does this view merely negate scientism, or does it also indict Christianity? This is not meant to be a cop-out, but the answer depends on individual worldviews. In other words, if a believer in Christ refuses to consider science at all, stating it has no explanation for the natural world, he or she is viewing the world with eyes closed, misunderstanding all they see. Moreover, such an individual is ignoring the numerous scientific discoveries proposed by Christians and theists over the centuries; please note the wide range of scientific fields represented below (philosophy of science; botany; astronomy; physics; mathematics; chemistry; electricity and electromagnetism; biology, microbiology, and neurobiology; subatomic theory; psychiatry; neuropsychiatry; genetics; information theory):

  • Robert Grosseteste, patron saint of scientists, Oxford, founder of scientific thought, wrote texts on optics, astronomy, and geometry.
  • William Turner, father of English botany.
  • Francis Bacon, established inductive “scientific method.”
  • Galileo Galilei, revolutionary astronomer, physicist, philosopher, mathematician.
  • Blaise Pascal, known for Pascal’s Law (physics), Pascal’s Theorem (math), and Pascal’s Wager (theology).
  • Robert Boyle, scientist, theologian, Christian apologist, who said science can improve glorification of God.
  • Isaac Newton, discovered the properties of gravity.
  • Johannes Kepler, astronomer, discovered planetary motion.
  • Joseph Priestly, clergyman and scientist, discovered oxygen.
  • Michael Faraday, established electromagnetic theory and electrolysis.
  • Charles Babbage, information theorist, mathematician, pioneer in computer programming.
  • Louis Pasteur, biologist, microbiologist and chemist renowned for his discoveries of the principles of vaccination, microbial fermentation and pasteurization.
  • Lord Kelvin, mathematical analysis of electricity and formulation of the first and second laws of thermodynamics. 
  • J.J. Thompson, credited with the discovery and identification of the electron and discovery of the first subatomic particle.
  • Johannes Reinke, phycologist and naturalist who strongly opposed Darwin.
  • George Washington Carver, American scientist, botanist, educator, and inventor who believed he could have faith both in God and science and integrated them into his life.  
  • Max Born, German physicist and mathematician who was instrumental in the development of quantum mechanics. 
  • Michael Polanyi, appointed to a Chemistry chair in Berlin, but in 1933 when Hitler came to power he accepted a Chemistry chair (and then in 1948 a Social Sciences chair) at the University of Manchester. Wrote Science, Faith, and Society.
  • Rod Davies, professor of radio astronomy at the University of Manchester, known for his research on the cosmic microwave background in the universe.
  • Peter Dodson, American paleontologist who has published many papers and written and collaborated on books about dinosaurs.
  • Charles Foster, science writer on natural history, evolutionary biology, and theology.
  • John Gurdon, British developmental biologist, discovered that mature cells can be converted to stem cells. 
  • Paul R. McHugh, American psychiatrist whose research has focused on the neuroscientific foundations of motivated behaviors, psychiatric genetics, epidemiology, and neuropsychiatry. 
  • Kenneth R. Miller, molecular biologist, wrote Finding Darwin’s God.
  • John D. Barrow, English cosmologist based at the University of Cambridge who did notable writing on the implications of the Anthropic principle.

J.P. Moreland

In his book Scientism and Secularism: Learning to Respond to a Dangerous Ideology, Moreland (2018, p. 16) writes, “As the ideas that constitute scientism have become more pervasive in our culture, the Western world has turned increasingly secular and the centers of culture (the universities, the media and entertainment industry, the Supreme Court) have come increasingly to regard religion as a private superstition. It is no surprise, then, that when our children go to college, more and more of them are just giving up on Christianity.” Scientism claims that only the “hard” sciences can discover and explain reality. It also believes everything else is based on private emotions, blind faith, or cultural upbringing. Moreover, scientism believes reliance on religious explanation for the origin of matter and life has yielded no reality at all. Simply put, theology and philosophy offer no truth whatsoever and, accordingly, are of no repute.

I find it fascinating that Christian theology does not make the same stinging conclusion about science. As we saw above, many great scientists, inventors, and discoverers throughout history (including many contemporary pioneers in science) were or are Christians or theists. Each of them believe God’s general revelation (that is, the natural order of things and the origin of matter and life) speak loudly of God as our intelligent designer. I, too, hold this view. Nanoscientist James Tour said, “Only a rookie who knows nothing about science would say science takes away from faith. If you really study science, it will bring you closer to God.” This is the basis for the Teleological Argument that (i) every design has a designer, (ii) the universe has a highly complex design, therefore (iii) the universe had a designer.

Atheism Requires More Faith Than Not Believing!

Postmodern culture has made every attempt to destroy truth. It teaches that the idea of truth and morality are “relative” to the circumstance, person, or era; that there is no such thing as absolute truth. This zeitgeist is prevalent in academia today in our public schools and most (if not all) secular universities. The postmodernist thinks not believing in ultimate truth or metaphysical explanations regarding the universe means one is “enlightened” and, therefore, not reliant on “dogmatic thought.” Interestingly, despite the postmodern belief that there is no absolute truth or morality, society seems to behave as though it exists. Yet these supposedly bright and enlightened ones insist that “truth” is merely a social contract defined and maintained by the powerful to remain “in power.” Admittedly, truth has fallen victim to modern culture. The modern ideas of tolerance and pluralism are a direct result of taking God out of the equation.

The term “university” is actually a composite of the words “unity” and “diversity.” Our universities should allow for the pursuit of knowledge and truth through such unity.

I find it curious that liberal secularists insist on tolerance, yet they have absolutely no tolerance for non-secular worldviews. This is non-tolerance! Perhaps they see “tolerance” differently than the rest of us; they seem to think it does not simply mean treating those with different ideas respectfully and civilly. If you think they are not using disrespect and intolerance to defend their “religion” of naturalism and scientism, then log on to YouTube and find a couple of debates to watch between believers (such as Dinesh D’Souza, Ravi Zacharias, Ken Ham) and the so-called New (or “militant”) Atheists (which includes Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins). In nearly every instance, and despite some atheists with a background in science, they attack Christ, Christianity, and, more typically, the believer rather than providing a convincing argument against intelligent design.

It is rather easy for the postmodern secularist to avoid confronting or defending the notion of intelligent design and creation science because he or she rejects the idea of absolute truth and the Law of Non-contradiction at the start. Rather than engaging in an intelligent point/counterpoint debate, the postmodernist goes about town moralizing to everyone about the importance of tolerance without having to explain the inherent contradiction presented by his or her closed mind regarding all things spiritual or metaphysical. This smacks of intellectual fraud. They simply do not practice what they preach—especially toward Christians. Why is this? One thought is because Christianity is truth, and Jesus knew the world would reject his followers in the same manner they rejected Him. Truth, on one hand, sets us free. But it also confounds and convicts those who reject it and peddle a counterfeit reality.

There is a degree of “political correctness” in this attitude. Even many churches have been corrupted and misguided by the unsustainable notion that pluralism allows for tolerance. Many have allowed their theology to be watered down and have permitted the authority of Scripture to be undermined in favor of society’s “evolved” or “advanced” ideas on morality. Unfortunately, many Christians and their church leaders have become an accomplice to the denigration of truth. This is a conscious and deliberate disobedience of the Great Commission presented to the body of believers by Christ before his ascension (see Matt. 28:16-20).

A Dangerous Division

Harvard paleontologist Stephen J. Gould, though a prominent critic of intelligent design, has claimed he is not atheistic. Science and religion cannot conflict, he believes, because they deal with different subject matter: science is about empirical facts, whereas religion is about meaning and morality. Unfortunately, many of today’s Christians are falling for this rather dangerous division of science and theology. As a result, they are ill-prepared to give an answer for the faith they have in the gospel. A negative side-effect of this lack of preparedness is the tendency to either shy away from defending the gospel or doing so from a militant or insulting position. Neither of these reactions are within the scope of 1 Peter 3:15:

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect (NIV).

We cannot allow the surgical division of science and Christianity to persist. As noted above, many Christians have made groundbreaking scientific discoveries over the centuries. In fact, the list I provided is incomplete. Space does not allow the listing of all scientists who were Christians or theists. It is also important to note that because all truth is God’s truth, the Bible and science are not diametrically opposed. The means by which the New Atheists make this claim is unfair. It is literally a comparison of apples to oranges. To say that science can explain every aspect of creation is to misuse applied or experimental science when the proper tool is “historical” science. We cannot test the past to see if certain empirical theories are possible. We do not have a time machine.

Further, no one has been able to “create” the building blocks of life (the necessary enzymes, proteins, and genetic code) in a laboratory. No one has an explanation for the origin of biological information needed to establish Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, and Species. Modern science knows full-well that, ultimately, life is a molecular phenomenon. All organisms are made of molecules that act as the very building blocks required for origin and operation. Living cells require a constant supply of energy to generate and maintain the biological order that keeps them alive. This energy is derived from the chemical bond energy in food molecules. The proteins, lipids, and polysaccharides that make up most of the food we eat must be broken down into smaller molecules before our cells can use them—either as a source of energy or as building blocks for other molecules. The breakdown processes must act on food taken in from outside, but not on the macromolecules inside our own cells. It’s as if we have tiny nuts and bolts, gears and pulleys, of biological “equipment” inside us. How brilliant is that? We are like the pocket watch found on the ground in the woods by a hiker; we’re fearfully and wonderfully made, with highly intricate biochemical and physical operations, that can come only from a “watchmaker.”

Although it contains one, Christianity is not merely a worldview. Nor is it simply “a religion.” If it were, then it might deserve the reputation of being a narrowly pious view of the world. Thankfully, Christianity is an objective perspective on all reality, a complete worldview, that consistently stands up to the test of practical living. Additionally, it is about our relationship with the Creator. We become one with Christ when we choose to make Him Lord and Savior. This is a great litmus test for deciding whether a particular “branch” or “sect” of Christianity is genuine. Accordingly, we can admit that “false prophets” have arisen. I’m reminded of Jim Jones and David Koresh. Today’s atheists love to talk about all the people murdered over the centuries in the name of Christ. They don’t respond well to the rebuttal that millions were murdered by people who were not followers of Christ, typically in the interest of genocide: Benito Mussolini, Adolf Hitler, Pol Pot, Fidel Castro, Josef Stalin, Ho Chi Mihn, Idi Amin, Saddam Hussein, Mullah Omar, Leonid Brezhnev, Kim Il-Sung, Augusto Pinochet, and (drum roll please) the worst, Mao Ze Dung.

References

Colson, Charles, and Pearcy, N. How Now Shall We Live? (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House), 1999.

Licona, Michael, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press), 2010.

McDowell, J. and McDowell, S., Evidence That Demands a Verdict: Life-Changing Truth for a Skeptical World. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson), 2017.

Moreland, J.P., Scientism and Secularism: Learning to Respond to a Dangerous Ideology. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway), 2018.

Let’s Go to Theology Class: Calvin vs. Arminius

The following is a summary of my most recent class in pursuit of my Master’s in Theology at Colorado Christian University. 

Written by Steven Barto, B.S. Psy.

For the purposes of this exercise, and not necessarily as a reflection of what you really believe, assume the stance of either an Arminian or a Calvinist. From the point of view of your chosen perspective, present and develop two ideas: (1) the one which is most convincing to you about the Calvinist or Arminian perspective and (2) the one with which you struggle the most regarding that perspective.

Concerning the differences between Calvinism and Arminianism, we must remember these schools of thought address two distinct issues: (1) free will and ability to choose one’s actions; and (2) election, or God’s choice, as to whom He saves. Calvinism and Arminianism both support the idea of the total depravity of man, to include an inability to choose how to behave. We cannot be saved by the Law. Rather, the Law merely informs us of our inability to “behave” ourselves into righteousness. Arminianism supports universal redemption (general atonement) and conditional election, whereas Calvinism believes in limited (definite) atonement and unconditional election. Calvin is best noted, of course, for adherence to “predestination.” After the Fall, man stood condemned before God. God chose and called “some” who would be saved.

Arminians believe God’s election depends on man’s free will because it is based on His foreknowledge. God does, in fact, see all time at the same time as noted by Grudem. [1] The apostle Peter said we are “chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood” (1 Pet. 1:2, RSV). Paul wrote, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren” (Rom. 8:29). Arminians are clear that individuals must accept God’s calling to be saved. It is not a matter of being predestined or chosen “ahead of time.” It is interesting to note, however, that this doctrine (universal salvation) is not necessarily supported by Scripture. Since Jesus died for all, Arminians argue that all will be saved. First Corinthians 6:9-11 says the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God; further, only those who are washed (sanctified, justified) by the blood of Jesus will be saved.

Taking the position of Calvinism, I would have to believe the “call” of God on our lives is resistible—we can reject Jesus or accept Him. However, once we accept Jesus as Messiah and Lord, the internal leading of the Holy Spirit is all-powerful, achieving God’s purpose in our lives and giving us a measure of grace to be able to choose. We can stand on the belief that God works out everything for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28). We’re made “spiritually alive” with a new ability to see God’s plan for our redemption and the place of Jesus in that plan. This call is so wonderful and appealing that it becomes impossible to say no to God. This is not a violation of our free will because we didn’t really have it in the first place; our will was corrupted by original sin. Martin Luther believed even the most excellent of men—endowed with the Law, righteousness, wisdom, and all virtues—is nonetheless ungodly and unrighteous. Due to the innate nature of sin, man cannot consistently choose to act righteously, if at all. [2]

Paul gave the example that many Jews were without faith who were most wise, most religious, and most upright. He said they had a “zeal” for God yet were transgressors of the Law. He wrote in Romans 3:9-10 that the Jew was no better than the Gentile; both are under the power of sin. No one is righteous on their own. This fits well with Paul’s remark that we do not wrestle with flesh and blood, but with powers and principalities; rulers of the darkness of this world (Eph. 6:12). Because we all are Adam, we need salvation. Adam’s offense comes to us not by imitation, nor necessarily by anything we do (although we do sin, sometimes habitually); rather, we receive our sin nature by birth. Luther believed original sin “does not allow ‘free-will’ any power at all except to sin and incur condemnation.” [3] Therefore, he rejected the notion of free will. He believed this conclusion is well supported by Scripture, especially in the writings of John and Paul.

Grudem quotes Peter, who called Jesus, “a stone that will make men stumble, a rock that will make them fall; for they stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do” (1 Pet. 2:8, emphasis added). Peter says in verse 10, “Once you were no people but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy but now you have received mercy.” Grudem says in a footnote related to verse 8, “The ‘destining’ in this verse is best taken to refer to both the stumbling and the disobedience. It is incorrect to say that God only destined the fact that those who disobey would stumble.” [4] Grudem notes that Calvin gives some room for man’s “free” acts and choices. Calvin admitted, however, that this statement is a bit confusing, causing him to avoid using it. Instead, man has “this sort of free decision, not because he has free choice equally of good and evil, but because he acts wickedly by will, not by compulsion.” [5]

For me, this idea of “will” can mean only one thing: man acts wickedly by deciding to reject the Light of Christ and remain in darkness. He is compelled by his sin nature to act the only way he can—in an ungodly and unrighteous manner. Admittedly, some men choose to act justly or “God-like” at times, but no man is capable of decidedly obeying the Law and acting righteously in a consistent manner. He is not compelled or tempted to do so by God. James said, “When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed” (James 1:13-14, NIV, emphasis added).

Grudem notes that God has made us responsible for our actions, reminding us that our actions have real and eternal consequences. He notes that Adam blamed Eve for his own disobedience, saying, “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate” (Gen. 3:12). Scripture, as Grudem notes, never blames God for sin. Regardless, He accomplishes all things (no matter their impetus) according to the counsel of His will (Eph. 1:11). In the case of Job, God pulled back and allowed Satan to attack Job in any manner He chose (including wiping out his livestock, killing his wife and children), but He would not allow the devil to kill Job. This type of issue gives me pause. It is easy, at least in my human intellectual capacity, to think God willed (therefore, caused) evil on Job’s animals and his family. Innocent people died for God’s point to be made. However, when I consider the horror and evil inflicted upon Jesus during the last twelve hours of His life (what we consider the “passion”), and when I play it out to the end, seeing that mankind could only be redeemed through the shedding of the blood of Jesus, I have an easier time understanding what is meant by God using whatever happens to accomplish His will.

Grudem says, “In response to the claim that choices ordained by God cannot be real choices, it must be said that this is simply an assumption based once again on human experience and intuition, not on specific texts of Scripture.” [6] Note that Grudem uses the term “ordained by God,” and does not say God performed the evil act itself. This speaks of the means through which He achieves His intended result. We are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). We’re made in such a way, however, that God ordains all we do. The Calvinist would endorse the theory that God does not sin but brings about His will through secondary causes, including the immorality of others. We should accept that whatever God ordains is within His purview and His authority.

Calvin distinguishes between “necessity” and “compulsion.” He notes that unbelievers necessarily sin. Scripture supports this, as does Martin Luther. There is, however, no “Godly compulsion” to sin. There is simply God’s ability to use whatever happens to further His will and promote His glory. What I find most difficult to grasp regarding Calvinism is the idea that God “predetermined” who will be saved and who will not. Perhaps this is a gross misinterpretation of “predeterminism.” The concept that, before the foundation of the world, God predestined a plan of redemption is about the plan and not a prior decision who He will accept and who He will reject. In addition, because God sees the past, the present, and the future all at once, He already knows who will be saved. The responsibility still remains with each individual to either accept or reject the sacrificial death of Jesus as the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world.

Bibliography

Grudem, Wayne, Systematic Theology. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan), 1994.

Luther, Martin, The Bondage of the Will, trans. By James I. Packer(Old Tappan, NJ:       Fleming H. Revell Co.), 1957.

 


[1] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), p. 168.

[2] Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will. (Old Tappan: Fleming H. Revell, 1957), p. 275.

[3] Ibid, p. 298.

[4] Grudem, p. 327.

[5] P. 330.

[6] P. 343.

Let’s Go to Theology Class: Basic Tools of Doing Systematic Theology

The following is a summary of my most recent class in pursuit of my Master’s in Theology at Colorado Christian University.

Written by Steven Barto, B.S. Psy.

IT’S ONE THING TO pick up a book and read about theology. And that’s okay. It’s how I got interested in taking the subject on as a graduate student. It all starts with contemplation. We “think” about what it means to be alive, to have purpose. We wonder how we might make a difference in society. We question the “logic” of believing in God. Armed with such a burning desire to know, I enrolled in a master’s program in theology and started out on what so far has proved to be an amazing, breathtaking journey.

In week four of my theology class we considered the proper relationship between theological study, sanctification, contemplation, prayer, and action. Further, we discussed the type of character most conducive to theological insight, and how the systematic study of theology should impact one’s character. Generic “theological” study does not necessarily require any degree of sanctification. Many people choose to study theology or philosophy without any sense of what is meant by redemption or sanctification. These concepts are, however, imperative in Christian theology.

What is the proper relationship between theological study, sanctification, contemplation, prayer, and action?

I was amazed how little I understood about sanctification over the years. I thought it “just happened” when I “got saved.” Considering the decades of sinful behavior and active addiction I went through after accepting Christ (at age 13), I was far from sanctified. Of course, it does start with salvation. When we become redeemed, we are expected to “repent” of our old life. Then sanctification can begin. According to R.E.O. White, sanctification means “to make holy.” [1] It’s not uncommon for a new Christian to think this means he or she is made holy (shazam!) all at once. White further explains that to be sanctified is to be “set apart” from common or secular use.

First Corinthians 1:2 says we are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints. R.E.O. White writes that sanctification is not merely justification’s endgame; rather, it is justifying faith at work. The new believer is declared to be acquitted and clothed in the righteousness of Christ. Through sanctification, God begins to accomplish His will in us. This is often called becoming spiritually mature. We are not saved by good works, but there is little hope of sanctification without submitting to the will of God.

Thomas Aquinas says in the Summa Theologiae [2] that four of the gifts of the Spirit of the Lord are wisdom, understanding, knowledge, and counsel, and that these gifts have a direct impact on the intellect. Isaiah 11:2 says. “And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD” (RSV). David Jeremiah explains that the coming king “will be endowed with the Spirit of the Lord, who provides the wisdom, ability, and allegiance to God that are necessary to accomplish a challenging task.” [3] Proverbs 2:6 says, “For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.” James reminds us that if we lack wisdom in any circumstance, we are to ask God and He will give it (James 1:5). Thomas Aquinas said any discourse of reason always begins from an understanding. It is critical, therefore, that we never attempt theology while lacking understanding. Although the work of the Spirit is already completed relative to the compiling of Scripture, His work regarding “illumination” is ongoing.

Prayer is the means by which we gain access to God. Just as we speak to the Father, and call upon Jesus, we must request from the Holy Spirit the guidance, understanding, knowledge, illumination, and discernment needed to effectively and accurately undertake systematic theology. It is equally important to pray for guidance regarding God’s call on our lives. When I decided to change my major from the master’s in counseling program to the master’s in theology, I spent weeks in prayer. I consulted with my pastor, several lay ministry friends, family members, my CCU student advisor, two professors, and several elders at my church. I cannot fathom undertaking a systematic study of Christian theology without prayer.

What type of character is most conducive to theological insight, and how should it change as the result of undertaking theological study?

In any theological undertaking, one would expect there to be a change of character. I think of Nabeel Qureshi (1983-2017), author, speaker, lecturer, and apologist, who converted to Christianity from Islam after spending nearly two years conducting an exegetical study of the Holy Bible. His character, if you will, was that of a loving, dedicated, well-behaved young man who had been raised in a religious home. In fact, no one in his immediate or extended family were extremists or jihadists. He loved the Qur’an, Allah, and his messenger Muhammad. This “character” coupled with a sharp intellect likely contributed to his willingness to examine the theology of Islam, and, ultimately, compare it to Christianity.

Tradition injects a lot into character, and, when that character matures, one becomes curious about tradition, religion, politics, culture, the meaning of life, and so on. Qureshi said one of the greatest hardships he faced was having to inform his parents he had become a Christian. He was, after all, part of a “community of believers” that were bonded together by solid theological principles and deep-seated tradition. He believed in Islam. He revered Muhammad. Regardless, once he met Jesus Christ, he could no longer reject Him than he could make himself stop breathing. This is precisely the type of character it requires to begin a theological study.

Insight comes from honest, rigorous, open-minded, and thorough study. We’ve been told that theology is in its simplest form “the study of God.” For me, the desire to know God stems from my burning desire to know why my earthly father seemed to hate me so much and, more frighteningly, whether my Heavenly Father was as mean-spirited, vindictive, nasty, judging, and punishing. (Incidentally, I eventually learned that my dad did not hate me, and he did the best he could to keep me from running off the rails and into the gutter.)

If God were to be “the same as” my dad, I would have no time for Him. Regardless, somewhere deep inside, I wanted to know several things. First, exactly who or what was this Christian God I’d heard of at church? Second, was He authoritative—leading from a position of authority and strength, love and longsuffering—or authoritarian—ruling over everyone with a heavenly despotic fist, ready to accuse and condemn? Third, was it true, as my father said many times, that I was worthless, or was there hope that my life had some greater meaning?

As to what type of character should result from theological study, Trevor Hart said, “Faith is not a natural progression from knowledge or experiences available to all, but results from a special dispensation which sets us in the perspective from which the truth may be seen, and demands a response” [4] [italics mine]. In other words, deciding to systematically study Christian theology is both a soulful drive or ambition and a rigorous discipline. I have gone through numerous personal changes as an undergraduate student of psychology at Colorado Christian University. I believe those changes set the stage for my choosing to take on a master’s level study of theology. There is a progression at play. Had I not first chosen to return to college, I would not have discovered CCU; had I not enrolled at CCU, I would not be the Christian I am today; and, had I not grown more mature in Christ as an undergraduate, I would not have undergone the requisite changes conducive to undertaking a master’s degree in theology.

This is the fourth week of my first theology class, and already I feel tectonic shifts within me. My personality has brightened, and my mind has cleared. I am ravenous for information about theology, Christology, eschatology, and apologetics. I see people as God sees them, and I’ve begun to feel a heartache for those who will never see the truth about the life, love, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I have started to keep my promises more consistently than I used to, and I exercise greater control over my tongue (which was no easy task!). I even noticed a major change in the amount of television I watch. All of that notwithstanding, I find myself asking God every morning to put a task before me; to lead me where He needs me to go; to break my heart for what breaks His.

Footnotes

[1] R.E.O. White. “Sanctification.” Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017), 770

[2] Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologiae, I.II, q. 68, a1

[3] David Jeremiah. The Jeremiah Study Bible. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2013), 893-94.

[4] Trevor Hart. Faith Thinking. (Eugene:Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1995), 75.

 

 

Disturber of the Peace

Written by Steven Barto, B.S. Psych.

Lucifer Cast Down.jpg

WE HAVE HEARD OF many names for Satan. He started as Lucifer—his name is derived from the Hebrew word (helel), which means “brightness.” In Latin, it means “shining one, light-bearer.” This is also the Latin name for the planet Venus, the morning star in the ancient Roman era, often used for mythological and religious figures associated with the planet. The name “Satan” is derived from Hebrew, meaning “adversary.” He has been called Beelzebub, Belial, the tempter, god of this world, prince of the power of the air, and the father of lies. I’d like to propose one more: disturber of the peace.

The following is the legal definition of the term disturbance of the peace:

Disturbing the peace, also known as breach of the peace, is a criminal offense that occurs when a person engages in some form of unruly public behavior, such as fighting or causing excessively loud noise. When a person’s words or conduct jeopardizes another person’s right to peace and tranquility, he or she may be charged with disturbing the peace.

When I think of peace in a generic sense, I tend to scratch my head and wonder from where does this lovely ideal come? Why, if it exists, why do we failed to find “peace?” Why, instead, do we find conflict, turmoil, frustration, agitation, disharmony, distress, fighting, and a deep sense of personal angst? In Psalm , David cries out to the LORD seeking the opposite of turmoil, persecution, anxiety, and fear he sometimes felt. He previously stated in Psalm 3:1, “LORD, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me” (NIV). He said this after fleeing from the murderous intent of his own son! He makes this wonderful proclamation in Psalm 4:8: “In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, LORD, make me dwell in safety.”

Jesus With Open Arms

With the peace of Christ, we feel a sense of quietness come over us. Its meaning in Hebrew (sâlôm) is quite comprehensive in its meaning: “wholeness, completeness, soundness, health, safety and prosperity.” It is a favorite biblical greeting, is used as a dismissal to or cessation of war, relationship between friends, and man’s relationship with God. The prophet Isaiah describes the fruit of righteousness as peace, stating “its effect will be quietness and confidence forever” and that God’s people will “will live in peaceful dwelling places, in secure homes, in undisturbed places of rest” (Isaiah 32:17-18). The prophet also wrote, “‘There is no peace,’ says the LORD, ‘for the wicked'” (48:22).

Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27, RSV). The Greek word used in this verse is eirênê, which refers to the peace that is the gift of Christ. It is also used many times in the New Testament to express Christ’s mission, character, and gospel. The purpose of the incarnation of Jesus was to bring spiritual peace with God through reconciliation. Luke 1:79 says, “to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace” (NIV). Christ’s life depicted in the Gospels is one of majestic serenity (Matthew 11:28; John 14:27). The very essence of the gospel can be expressed in “peace” (Acts 10:36; Ephesians 6:15). As Christians, we have countless blessings that are grounded in peace.

The mystical writings of the Zohar (a mixture of the mystical aspects of the Torah, secular mysticism and psychology) teach that God is peace, His name is peace and all is bound together in peace. In post-Talmudic Jewish thought, Isaac Arama paraphrased this idea by saying:

Peace is a positive thing, the essential means by which men of differing temperaments and opinions can work together for the common good. Pearls of individual virtue would be dim in isolation were it not for the string of peace that binds them together and so increases their luster. That is why peace is a name of God for it is He who gives unity to the whole of creation.

The Opposite of Peace

Paul wrote, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:15-17). Perhaps the opposite of peace is rooted in our failure to adhere to Paul’s admonition?

Anxiety 01.jpg

Truly, anxiety is antithetical to peace. The American Psychological Association defines anxiety (in a general sense) as an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure. In clinical terms, anxiety may become quite pronounced. People with anxiety disorders usually have recurring intrusive thoughts or concerns. They may avoid certain situations out of worry. They may also have physical symptoms such as sweating, trembling, dizziness or a rapid heartbeat.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5), anxiety disorders include those that share features of excessive fear and anxiety and related behavioral disturbances. Fear is the emotional response to real or perceived imminent danger, whereas anxiety is anticipation of future peril. Panic attacks feature prominently within the anxiety disorders as a particular type of fear response. A few decades ago, I began to experience overwhelming anxiety. It seemed no matter what I did, I could not escape the thought that something drastic was about to happen. This unfortunately led to panic attacks. On one occasion, I was nearly done shopping for groceries when I became overwhelmed with debilitating panic and fear. It was so pervasive that I left everything in my cart (milk, ice cream, cheeses, meats, and all) and ran from the store. 

So what are the deciding criteria for panic disorder? According to the DSM-5, a panic attack is an abrupt surge of intense fear or discomfort that reaches a peak within minutes, and during which time four (or more) of the following symptoms occur:

  1. Palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate.
  2. Sweating.
  3. Trembling or shaking.
  4. Sensations of shortness of breath or smothering.
  5. Feelings of choking.
  6. Chest pain or discomfort.
  7. Nausea or abdominal distress.
  8. Feeling dizzy, unsteady, light-headed, or faint.
  9. Chills or heat sensations
  10. Paresthesias (numbness or tingling sensations).
  11. Derealization (feelings of unreality) or depersonalization (being detached from oneself).
  12. Fear of losing control or “going crazy.”
  13. Fear of dying.

If a panic attack is followed by one month (or more) of the following: persistent concern or worry about additional panic attacks or their consequences (e.g., losing control, having a heart attack, “going crazy;” a significant maladaptive change in behavior related to the attacks (e.g., behaviors designed to avoid having panic attacks, especially avoidance of exercise or unfamiliar situations). Not surprisingly, many people who are in the throes of a panic attack believe they are actually having a heart attack.

The Story of Satan

Satan Attributes

In Ezekiel 28:14-15 we hear God speaking of the fall of Lucifer: “You were anointed as a guardian cherub, for so I ordained you. You were on the holy mount of God; you walked among the fiery stones. You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till wickedness was found in you” (NIV). Isaiah writes, “How you have fallen from heaven, morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations! You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to the heavens; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of Mount Zaphon.’ I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High'” (Isaiah 14:12-14, NIV).

Some theologians have refused to apply the prophesies of Isaiah 14:12-14 and Ezekiel 28:12-15 to Satan under the contention that these passages are addressed solely to the king of Babylon (in Isaiah) and the king of Tyre (in Ezekiel). Others believe these scripture passages refer to Lucifer for two important reasons: first, these prophecies far transcend any earthly ruler, and, second, Satan has a close connection in Scripture with the world system. Ephesians 6:12 says, “For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (RSV).

Revelation 12 describes the casting down of Lucifer: 

Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him… Therefore rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short (12:7-9, 12, NIV).

Tempted (Apple)

Satan, as the “serpent,” caused the fall of the human race (Genesis 3). His judgment was predicted in Eden (3:15) and accomplished at the cross (John 12:31-33). It’s been said by theologians that the number of demons who roam the earth in service to Satan is so great as to make them practically ubiquitous. Satan, although adjudicated “guilty” at Calvary, continues to usurp authority. Second Corinthians 4:4 tells us, “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the likeness of God” (RSV). Satan tempts and accuses us daily, intending to steal our peace and destroy our relationship with Christ. Believers are reminded of this in Ephesians 6:11-18, which contains specific and powerful instructions for how to defeat him.

Loss of Meaning or Purpose

One of the main reasons I have decided to follow my undergraduate degree in psychology with a master’s degree in theology is because I see a tremendous loss of meaning or purpose today. Especially in Western society, we tend to seek definition for our lives—what makes us joyous or happy or believewe have a sense of worth—through “things.” From a materialistic standpoint, this can be anything from the car we drive to the type of cell phone we carry conspicuously as we walk through the supermarket. For others, it is determined by the size of their bank accounts or the overall accumulation of wealth. We seem to have forgotten that none of these things will provide a true sense of worth, purpose, or peace. In the extreme, this approach becomes a form of idolatry.

Ravi Speaking.jpg

I have been following the ministry of Ravi Zacharias for several years, and enjoy watching his lectures and debates. I’ve read several of his books, including The End of Reason: A Response to the New Atheists and Beyond Opinion: Living the Faith We Defend. I highly recommend both books. (For further information concerning Ravi’s ministry please click here.) 

Ravi Zacharias says questioning life’s meaning and our purpose is quite normal. We are, after all, sentient beings. Unlike any other animal in God’s universe, we have capacity for morality, justice, beauty, meaning, love, and hatred. We’re hardwired to ask, debate, challenge, and search. He notes four great questions for which we seek answers: origin, meaning, morality, and destiny. Where did I come from? Why am I here? How should I live? Where am I going? I honestly know no one over my years that has not contemplated these questions. The result of a sense of meaninglessness in America and across the world has caused a myriad of social and personal consequences, ranging from addiction and other excesses to mental illness and conflict. Pluralism and moral relativism have led to a loss of any sense of “the vertical” view between heaven and earth, God and man, right and wrong. The great lie being taught today is there are no absolutes—that everyone’s worldview is correct. This is simply not true.

According to Zacharias, there is an immense difference between a worldview that is not able to answer every question to complete satisfaction (the Christian worldview) and one whose answers are consistently contradictory or arbitrary. There is an even greater difference between answers that contain paradoxes and those that are systemically irreconcilable. The Christian faith stands out as unique in this test, both as a system of thought and in the answers it provides. Christianity does not promise that you will have every question fully answered to your satisfaction before you die, but the answers it gives are consistently consistent. There may be paradoxes within Christian teaching and belief, but they are not irreconcilable.

Emmanuel Kant said, “Thought without faith is empty. Faith without thought is blind.” A genuinely critical Christian theology will be firmly rooted in the tradition of faith while open to the inevitable and necessary reforming of its traditional thought through critical reflection and interaction with new sources of knowledge, new ways of seeing things. A great example is the adjustment made in Christian thought when it was demonstrated through empirical evidence that the sun does not revolve around the earth (geocentric), but that the earth revolves around the sun (heliocentric).

The fact that truth is never available to us in any direct or absolute manner does not mean that we may not pursue it, or that we are unable to lay hold of it at all. The realization that our knowledge is inevitably mediated by some perspective or other does not lead automatically to the despairing conclusion that all points of view are equally useful in answering the question of truth.  Believing that there is something real out there to be known, therefore—that there is a truth to be laid hold of—yet recognizing nonetheless that our particular viewpoint is precisely that, and that the “view from nowhere” is unavailable to us, our concern will be to ensure that we stand in the place which offers the best view available.

Concluding Remarks

Not since the end of World War II has mankind felt afloat on menacing seas. The events of 9/11 (this generation’s Pearl Harbor) plunged us headlong into constant fear and loathing. Hatred, especially as it pertains to racism and violent terrorism, has created a tremendous loss of the sense of safety and security, and has given rise to ever-increasing claims that there is no God; or, if there is, that He is a violent heavenly despot. We see things from “left to right” with little-to-no concern for the middle. We are turning on one another in the name of ideology.

God wants us to be still and know that He is God; that He will be exalted in all the earth (Psalm 46:10). The Hebrew word for still comes from a word meaning to “let go” or “release.” He will make wars cease to the ends of the earth. He will break the bow and shatter the spear. Be still is a call for us to stop fighting and be quiet in Him. It comes from the Hebrew word rapa, meaning “to slacken, let down, or cease.” In some instances, the word carries the idea of “to drop, be weak, or faint.” It connotes two people fighting until someone separates them and makes them drop their weapons. It is only after the fighting has stopped that the warriors can acknowledge their trust in God.

We will find no true sense of meaning or purpose until we let go of the reigns, stop trying to be “right” (especially through might), and return to a vertical orientation (up-and-down.) We are all made in God’s image. We’re expected to look toward Him for the answers to Ravi Zacharias’ four great questions. Where did I come from? Why am I here? How should I live? Where am I going? Further, as Christians, we are commanded to give an answer for the reason for our faith, and to do so with “gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:15, RSV). The true path to finding the meaning of life lies in the “community” of believers. Without first putting down our weapons and taming our tongues, we will not discover a comprehensive, cohesive worldview, nor will we be able to come against the true disturber of the peace: Satan.

 

 

 

 

The Nature of Man; The Nature of Sin

I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me. For I delight in the law of God, in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members” (Romans 7:15, 19, 20, 22-23, RSV).

“Among these we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of body and mind, and so we were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:3, RSV).

By Steven Barto, B.S. Psych.

THE DOCTRINE OF SIN has become increasingly controversial in recent years. In fact, it is often stated by those of a liberal philosophy that conservative concepts and values concerning man and his sinful nature are archaic. Today’s New Atheists typically accuse Christians of being narrow-minded, backward, or elitist. How can Christianity claim unequivocally that man is (by his very nature) sinful? Or that the only means by which man can be “saved” is through faith alone in Christ Jesus alone? The above Scriptures indicate that as human beings we are prone to follow the desires and passions of our flesh and our minds.

Paul is presenting us with a description of an ongoing struggle with sin in Romans 7:14-25. He describes himself as a “prisoner” of sin, doing the evil he does not want to do, and not doing the good he does want to do. This is what is meant by being in bondage to sin. Paul sees himself as a “wretched” man crying out for deliverance. His self-portrayal in this passage demonstrates a man who is captive to sin in two aspects: in both his conscious choices and decisions, and also in his unconscious reactions to people and circumstances. It has been said that habitual sin is lodged somewhere in our unconscious responses to stimuli.

It would appear that Paul finds himself settling on options he does not want to choose, and responding habitually to situations and people in ways which he does not want to act. From a psychological perspective, these unconscious choices qualify as habitual sins. The accepted psychological definition of habit is a conditioned, automatic response to a stimulus, performed apart from conscious thought or choice. That may sound simple and innocent on the surface, but when it comes to unconscious behavior we are talking about compulsion. The average person wishing to discontinue a habit deemed to be unhealthy or, in the present application, sinful, sees a gradual or (sometimes) immediate decrease in said behavior. But what of those individuals who are not able to change their behavior? Psychiatry would have us believe there is a neurotic or psychological component to the habitual practice of that behavior.

Compulsion is a state of mind in which an individual feels an irresistible urge to perform an action. The word also connotes the action itself. In such a state, the individual feels compelled to say, think or do something they are unable to resist which, even at that very moment, appears to him or her to be harmful, absurd, pointless, or unhealthy. Of course, this is the very root of addiction. The command to perform the action comes from within and is contrary to the conscious will. We can now see the dilemma of defining the type of behavior Paul describes in Romans 7.

The conflicts underlying habitual performance of sinful acts are (according to Paul) unconscious. Such conflicts are varied and involve difficulties like fear, hostility, hatred, rejection, persistent self-doubt, despair, and self-destruction—all of which run contrary to the instinct to act in such a manner as to assure continued health, safety, and life. Of course, Paul’s argument is that once a Christian becomes aware of his or her tendency to sin (while in the flesh), the nature of sin and its concomitant consequences should provide some degree of strength or ability to decrease sinful acts in order to promote spiritual growth. He realizes that his sinful nature (that which resides in his flesh) seeks instant gratification regardless of the consequences of giving in to temptation. In other words, he does not see a “human” remedy for this problem; only a spiritual one.

“Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I of myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin” (Romans 7:24-25, RSV).

THE NATURE OF MAN

Psychological Aspect

Most of us realize that human nature consists of a myriad of characteristics, including how we think, feel, and act. These characteristics are said to occur naturally. Perhaps one of the oldest debates in human history is whether man is basically good or essentially bad. Certainly, this speaks to our overall tendencies. Accordingly, man is both inherently good and inherently bad. We all have the capacity to love and care for others (to one degree or another) on a sliding continuum. Additionally, we have the capacity for being bad: mean-spirited, selfish, hateful, prejudice, deceptive (even murderous under the right circumstances). The extent to which we lean toward one extreme or the other is deeply rooted in a number of factors: childhood experience, personality, culture, geography, demographics, and the like.

You likely remember the tales of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Frankenstein. Each story gives us a particular viewpoint on the nature of man. Robert Louis Stevenson showcased the capacity within man to turn to the left or to the right—to do good or do evil. Dr. Jekyll was a member of the privileged class—a wealthy physician of public renown. He possessed an underlying evil nature which he could not control. When this sinister side took over, he said, “It was the curse of mankind that these incongruous personalities—the good and the bad were thus bound together—that in the agonized womb of consciousness, these polar twins should be continuously struggling.”  Mary Shelley painted a different picture. The monster Frankenstein said, “I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend. Make me happy, and I shall again be virtuous.”

When discussing the nature of man, we are examining whether man is a product of his environment (nature) or the result of an amalgam of his interpersonal experiences (nurture). I believe we are impacted by both. We’re speaking of “temperament,” which is a term we typically see in theories of personality development. I have found in my undergraduate studies in psychology that there are both empirical and theoretical links between childhood experience and adult personality traits. Personality seems to have an unavoidable influence on behavior. Temperament is often seen as a constitutional predisposition, observable in pre-verbal infants and animals, and tied, at least theoretically, to basic psychological processes. Personality traits are assumed to be acquired patterns of thought and behavior that might be found only in organisms with sophisticated cognitive systems.

I subscribe to Albert Bandura’s Social Learning Theory. He agreed with behaviorists relative to classical and operant conditioning, but added two additional criteria: (1) mediating processes occur between stimulus and response; and (2) behavior is learned from the environment through the process of observational learning vis-a-vis modeling behavior of primary caregivers and other significant individuals in our world during childhood and adolescence. I also support cognitive behavioral therapy to help clients address and defeat their “irrational” beliefs regarding the world and and their own sense of worth. This can be effective with people struggling with addiction and (what used to be labeled) neurotic views of the world. Further, it dovetails nicely with basic Christian doctrine: We must come to see ourselves not as we see ourselves, nor bound to the sum of all our past mistakes; rather, we must see ourselves as God sees us as believers—a new creation, clothed in the righteousness of Christ.

Spiritual Aspect

Scripture sees unregenerate man as enslaved to sin and possessing a corrupt nature. In this regard, man is in need of transformation through rebirth. When a person chooses to believe the Gospel, he or she identifies with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Accordingly, the old nature is crucified with Christ. Paul says of the regenerate Christian, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed every day” (2 Corinthians 4:16, RSV). The “old man” or the “old nature,” as expressed by Paul, is man as he was before he was reborn and sanctified by the grace of the Spirit. Don Steward of blueletterbible.org says, “The natural man may be defined as an individual who operates entirely on human wisdom.”

Although not everyone believes in an all-powerful Creator, both atheists and theists are tasked with explaining the innately fallen nature of humans. Mankind is capable of showing kindness and love and sacrifice on one hand,  and cold, calculating selfishness, hatred, deception, and murder on the other. I don’t believe these extremes are present to the same extent in every human being. I do, however, believe there is an underlying sinful and evil nature in mankind. In other words, the potential to be both good and bad exists within us all to varying degrees. Admittedly, many people have difficulty buying into the idea that from the moment of birth we are not innocent and inclined toward goodness. Instead, we are inclined toward sin.

“Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned” (Romans 5:12, RSV).

Dr. Werner Gitt of Answers in Genesis believes it is impossible to understand human nature apart from biblical revelation. Despite my becoming a “born-again” Christian at age 13, I struggled for decades with the concept that I was less than what I have the potential to be. It’s been said to me recently that I don’t give myself enough credit for my accomplishments. Ten years ago, I would have been in complete agreement. But when I undertake an honest and thorough moral examination of myself, I see glaring character defects, repeated selfish and mean-spirited acts, forty-plus years of active addiction, numerous incidents of lying, cheating, and stealing, and the tendency to want “maximum results with minimum effort.” This is beyond laziness. It is akin to the sense of “absolute entitlement.”

Frankly, I am okay with this assessment. It finally makes perfect sense to me, and, accordingly, provides the opportunity for lasting change. I’ve said many times that no “human effort” (neither mine nor the relentless intervention of others) could rescue me from active addiction. Moreover, I have come to recognize (anew) the spiritual battle we all face daily, whether Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Native American, or atheist. I see how I’ve been a pawn in the struggle between flesh and blood, good and evil. There are powers of darkness that want to recruit us to go to war against God and Jesus Christ; against goodness and honesty, kindness and selfless service. Paul was well-aware of this concept, and he made it an integral part of his ministry.

A Personal Example

It is with some trepidation that I confess to a particular habit I have found hard to stop. I am quite fond of sex and enjoy feeling the nearly-euphoric closeness one experiences during sexual relations. For me, there is unfortunately a dark underside to this stimulus. At some point it became a form of escape. The physical sensation of achieving orgasm served as a perfect way to mask depression, anxiety, even physical pain. In this regard, these sensations became yet another form of “self-medication.” Naturally, this is not what sex is meant for. At least not when it becomes a compulsion. Moreover, the act of masturbation became yet another addiction. In fact, I was told years ago by a psychologist who specializes in addictive behaviors that because I tended to mix masturbation with the use of addictive substances that enhance the physical sensations of sex, I needed to address both issues. He said, “If you don’t, it’s like having two broken legs but only having a doctor set one of them.”

In its excessive form, masturbation becomes a compulsive (perhaps neurotic) act. When it is found in this form, it serves the purpose of allaying anxiety or other uncomfortable emotions. The root of this (and I don’t mean to sound Freudian here) may stem from a number of causes. A neglected or rejected child, who early in childhood may have learned to resolve the fear of isolation or insecurity by indulging in earlier infantile pleasures, will resort to masturbation as a satisfactory relief or consolation. The obvious downside to the persistent habit of masturbation, especially while viewing pornographic images, tends to cause the individual to objectify or sexualize women. This flies in the face of establishing meaningful relationships with a member of the opposite sex.

I am happy to report that by seeing pornography and masturbation as yet another addiction, I have applied the same methods to this compulsive behavior that I have been able to apply to my struggle with substance abuse. I could admit here that I have only recently become drug-free after yet another relapse, but I would rather focus on the fact that I am clean and sober today. I finally grasp the paramount importance of taking it “one day at a time.”

THE NATURE OF SIN

David said, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 199:11, NIV). This is truly the only means by which we can hope to defeat habitual sin. Much like physical exercise—which strengthens our calves or our core muscles over time—the continual practice of sin will serve to strengthen our bad habits. It is true that Christians are often tempted to sin. It’s impossible to completely avoid temptation while we exist in the flesh. Sadly, many end up giving in to such enticement on a regular basis.

It is one thing to recognize our vulnerability while clothed in a fleshly body, but it is a completely different matter to give up and give in to the same sin time and time again. Although I don’t believe recurrence of habitual sin will nullify the saving grace and power of Jesus’s sacrifice, I think habitual sin tends to fill us with guilt, shame, and regret. It can cut us off from fellowship with God. Once this separation occurs, we become increasingly vulnerable to the practice of sin. Indeed, this becomes a vicious circle. Moreover, it taints our testimony, causing us to look like a testiphony

For me, I tend to fall into habitual sin when I fail to believe that holiness can result in a happier, healthier, successful life. In addition, I think the root of habitual sin is not necessarily a battle for self-control. Paul was clear about this in Romans 7. Instead, the root of habitual sin can be found in the need to “feel good.” We have a difficult time quitting a behavior for which we gain something—a sense of euphoria, peace, or happiness. In this manner, said habitual actions are a form of self-medication. Or, worse, an attempt at assuaging the pangs of guilt and the sense of failure we might be experiencing. Regarding chronic use of pornographic images, for example, those who use it to feel good are actually creating a false reality.

John said, “All wrongdoing is sin” (1 John 5:17a, RSV). But it is also more complicated than that. Although sin is simple by its nature, it can create complex illusions that are very difficult to identify and deny. Urges and motivations are quite complicated, often causing a tangled mess in our soul and spirit. In his epistle, James wrote, “each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire… Then desire, when it has conceived, gives birth to sin; and sin when it is full-grown brings forth death” (1:14, RSV). James had never taken a course in psychology, but he thoroughly understood two things: what sin is in its basic form; and the concept that each of us is pulled in directions specific to our own desire. This is precisely why not everyone who drinks alcohol will become an alcoholic. It also explains why not every man or woman is enticed or drawn in by viewing pornographic images.

I believe every sin is, to a great degree, a repeat of the original sin when our first parents decided to eat the forbidden fruit to fulfill their desire to be “like God.” They were not ignorant of God’s instructions. They possessed enough information to make an informed decision to obey or disobey. In fact, God told them that eating the fruit would be wrong and that they would be far happier if they refrained from eating it (see Genesis 2:16-17). Satan misrepresented the truth and told them they would be far happier if they ate the forbidden fruit. In fact, he said to Eve, “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5, RSV). This sounded good to Eve.

We become enslaved according to what we believe. Accordingly, it becomes quite difficult to give up that which we’ve embraced as a means to escape an uncomfortable situation or alleviate a troublesome emotion. This makes habitual sin impossible to defeat through the power of self-denial. While in the grips of a habit that produces in us a great sense of relief or euphoria (consider the brain chemistry of dopamine, oxytocin, seratonin, and endorphins), we are powerless to stop the rewarding behavior. We can only defeat such a habit through the power of a greater desire. Sure, self-denial is necessary, but self-denial is only possible (especially over the long-haul) when it is fueled by desire for a greater joy than what we have decided to deny ourselves. One way to express this is the common phrase, “Change happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change.”

In other words, when we desire a closer relationship with the LORD more than we desire continued physical pleasure, we are better equipped to extinguish habitual sin. This is achievable only by walking in the Spirit and not according to the flesh. We must renounce the lies we have believed, repent for having persistently believed them, and begin to exercise faith in God’s promises through obedience to Him. Until we believe we will experience the abundant life Jesus talked about, we will remain in bondage to our flesh, our neurotic or irrational beliefs about how best to achieve peace, joy and happiness. We will continue applying a bandage to our wounds rather than seek to have them healed.

In Whom Are Hidden All the Treasures of Wisdom and Knowledge

“My goal is that [you] may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that [you] may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that [you] may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:2-3, NIV).

By Steven Barto, B.S. Psych.

Paul’s opening statement in Colossians is what I like to refer to as very meaty. It is rich beyond what we can comprehend, containing much promise for the Colossians. It applies to us today as much as it did to those living in Colossae. Paul wanted the Colossians to grasp what was available to them as new Christians. They were to be encouraged in heart and united in love, enjoying the full riches of complete understanding. He noted that through Jesus they had access to the mystery of God. Not that they would know the mind of God, or be like God; rather, that they would begin to comprehend all the hidden treasures of knowledge and wisdom that was revealed through Christ Jesus.

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Revealed through Him? Yes. He walked in complete harmony with the Father, determined to do the Father’s will no matter what it cost. He was the embodiment of love, yielded to the will of the Father—even unto death—and exemplified compassion for the lost and the downtrodden. If Christ were to walk the Earth in the twenty-first century, I have no doubt He would teach, admonish, heal, and serve everyone no matter their personality, sexual orientation, political affiliation, denomination, afflictions, habits, or hangups. Jesus Christ came that all might know the Father through Him. He only displayed anger and disappointment when confronting the self-righteous. The Pharisees. The Hypocrites.

That’s a strange phrase: the self-righteous. In the secular world, it means “having or characterized by a certainty, especially an unfounded one, that one is totally correct or morally superior” That is a rather convicting statement even without a spiritual component. I’ve known some self-righteous people in my life. Some who know me might think the term applies to me. I’ll admit I have a difficult time being humble, but I’ve never felt morally superior. On the contrary, I have often felt inferior, shameful, unable to be redeemed. I have often struggled with being trustworthy, honest, or transparent. The root-cause of these rather ugly traits are deep for me. It’s something I’ve worked hard to overcome. It has not been easy forgiving myself and shaking the sense of shame and guilt.

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It is not surprising that we cannot achieve “righteousness” on our own. Isaiah 64:6 says, “But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; we all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away” (NKJV). Eugene Peterson translates this verse as follows: “We’re all sin-infected, sin-contaminated. Our best efforts are grease-stained rags. We dry up like autumn leaves—sin-dried, we’re blown off by the wind” (MSG). That’s quite an indictment. Who can stand before God clothed in such a manner and hope to survive His judgment? No one. We can’t save ourselves, earn God’s grace, pay the ransom for sin, or escape through our own power the punishment we justly deserve.

Today’s New Atheists want us to believe God is a heavenly despot who unjustly inflicts pain and takes away life. I’ve heard it said that there is no “free will” in Christianity. These militant atheists say that because God threatens us with hellfire and brimstone (and the gnashing of teeth) if we don’t accept the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, it’s as if God is holding a gun to our head, saying, “Believe in my Son or I will kill you.” These so-called scholars want to convince us that God kills with impunity. That He has no right to create a sentient being and then kill him for not believing in Him. My initial response is quite adamant: Yes He does. But beyond that, God never intended for mankind to suffer, or for His creation to be wrought with pestilence, disease, famine, disasters, wars, and death. Nothing is as God intended it to be.

I don’t believe God kills or hands out cancer, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, COPD, diabetes, or whatever infirmity you may list. He does not condone pedophilia, rape, murder, theft, deception, or environmental crimes. When our first parents, Adam and Eve, chose to disobey God’s one command (that’s all they had to do was not eat of the forbidden fruit), man (and thus mankind) fell from grace. Because of original sin, the Garden of Eden and access to the Tree of Life was closed off to all. Any attempt to behave or earn our way back into God’s grace (back into the Garden) is doomed to fail. Our own righteousness is like filthy rags. The righteousness of Christ, however, is white as the driven snow; as pure as the wool of a young lamb. It is sad, however, that many fail to see themselves as God sees them, including me.

IN WHOM ARE HIDDEN

According to the Dake’s Annotated Reference Bible, the phrase “in whom are hidden” in Colossians 2:3 does not necessarily mean in whom, but rather in which, referring to the mysteries of verse two. In these mysteries of the Gospel are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. In Romans 11:33-36, Paul wrote, “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them? For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen” (NIV). These mysteries have been revealed by God in Christ.

Jesus knows all. He created all. He died to save all. He sustains all. When we see Him, we see the Father (John 14:9). Jesus was one with the Father and the Holy Spirit even at the moment of Creation. In fact, John wrote, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made (John 1:1-3, NIV). John said that in Christ was life, and that life was the light of all mankind (v. 4). Genesis 1:26 reads as follows: “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.'” (NKJV).

There are three possible explanations for God’s use of the plural “Us” in this instance. First, some believe God may be referring to Himself and the angels. I don’t agree with this conclusion given the rest of Scripture’s depiction of angels as representative servants or messengers of God who are not endowed with the power to create. Indeed, Lucifer’s fall from grace was a direct result of his wanting to be equal with God. Second, this could be what scholars call a plural of self-exhortation or self-encouragement, meaning God is referring only to Himself. This would also be referred to as “the royal ‘we,'” something we see used by human kings and rulers when making proclamations or decrees. I believe the third possibility is the truth: That God is speaking as a Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. According to Scripture, the Trinity was present as a whole at Creation. Genesis 1:2 describes the Spirit of God hovering over the waters, and John 1:1–3 reveals that the Word, Christ, was active in the creation of all things.

THAT WE MAY KNOW

Jesus simply knows all things. John 16:30 says, “Now we know that You know all things, and have no need for anyone to question You; by this we believe that You came from God” (NASB). The extent of Jesus’s knowledge was compelling proof of His divine origin. At the end of His time on earth Jesus pressed Peter: “The third time He said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ He said, ‘Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said, ‘Feed my sheep'” (John 21:17, NIV). Peter concluded from Jesus’s words that Jesus had knowledge of his heart. “You know all things” is a general and unqualified statement that John’s gospel presses on our minds.

The greatest thing that can be said of Jesus’s knowledge is that He knows God perfectly. We can only know God partially and imperfectly. Jesus knows Him like no one else can. He said, “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matthew 11:27, NIV). Accordingly, our knowledge of the Father depends wholly on Jesus’s gracious revelation. But our knowledge of God is derivative, partial and imperfect. First Corinthians 13:12 says, “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (NIV).

Mankind has been endowed with a certain kind of awareness—one which animals were not given. We possess the capacity for reason, morality, language, personality, and purpose. We can ponder the wonder and meaning of life. Morality and spirituality are unique to man. Like God, we possess the capacity to experience and understand love, truth, and beauty. In this manner, we are God’s chosen image-bearers. So when we accept Christ, we become one with Him in death and in new life. This must occur in order for us to see that which is hidden in Christ.

The desire to know the hidden treasures of God is truly a gift. Not everyone believes in any theistic being at all. Many do believe but don’t buy into the Christian faith or believe in the divinity of Christ. For those who do believe in Jesus, it is not a matter of believing in something or someone that is known through external observance. Instead, it is a matter of finding and knowing the truth by way of deep and serious meditation. It is a matter of faith. But the reward for such faith is full revelation of the reality, nature, character, morality, and truth of God.

Matthew Henry (1997) says our soul prospers when we have clear knowledge of the truth as it is in Christ. We not only believe with the heart, we also are ready (when called) to make confession with the mouth. The truth is so huge we cannot contain it within our own spirit. Knowledge and faith make the soul rich. The more we know and understand the truth, the stronger our faith. These true statements are hidden from non-believers. This, of course, includes the atheist who is determined to shout from the mountaintops how irrational and backward is our faith in Jesus. They simply cannot see the truth for they have chosen to reject the truth ad hoc.

Naturally, we cannot be built up in Christ, nor can we grow in Him, unless we are first rooted in Him—founded upon Him. Once established in the faith, we are exhorted  to abound and improve in it, working out our salvation daily. The Greek word for full assurance in Colossians 2:2 (plêrophoria) actually means “full and accurate knowledge” or “full persuasion.” This implies not only knowledge, but an accurate understanding of that knowledge. We cannot achieve such a degree of certainty by our own mental capacity. Thankfully, that which Paul is speaking about is literally revealed in and through Jesus. Christ Himself is the mystery in Whom all the treasures of wisdom are hidden. Understanding this passage of Scripture allows us to better understand why no one can “know” God through application of empirical tests and measurements. The fullness of the knowledge of God is revealed by the Father through the Son.

References

Dake, J. (2008). Dake’s Annotated Reference Bible. Lawrenceville, GA: Dake Publishing, Inc.

Henry, M. (1997). Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.