Witness-Bearing & Prosecuting God’s Case (Trusting God & Reasoning about Him)

paul mars hillAs Christians we all want to see non-Christians convert to faith in Christ by the grace of God. Even more, we probably want to be instrumental in such a conversion–for that would be a special blessing. But let’s be honest: we all hope that such an opportunity will be a peaceful encounter between us and someone who has never heard and/or understood the Gospel. We would like to see someone receive the Good News from us and immediately respond with joy, repenting and believing.

Well, it is fine for us to hope for a chance to share the Gospel without having to deal with conflict and confrontation, but that does not usually happen. No one has ever knocked on my door because an angel of heaven told him to come to my address and hear an important message from God. In real life people don’t often ask about the Gospel, and when they begin to get the gist of the message, they usually try to change the subject. The reason for this should be obvious; the good news of the Gospel is an offer of forgiveness–an offer which presupposes that all people are sinners against their Creator and deserving of His wrath.

Witnessing for Christ inevitably involves some level confrontation. While a Christian must do all he can to speak peacefully with unbelievers, trying to entirely evade the fact that there is a conflict involved will probably mute his message.

Defense & Offense

Confronted with the claims of the Gospel, people typically respond to our message by saying that it is not true or that it is an interesting hypothesis which MIGHT be true. It is at this second point that I personally am usually most tempted to compromise the claims of Christ. Perhaps you are too. Not wanting to give offense, we can easily be derailed from offering “a ready defense.” How does this happen?

In my experience, a person who is sharing the Gospel will almost invariably want to “prove” to the non-Christian that Christianity is true. “Let us reason together,” he might say to the unbeliever. “I don’t want you to accept the Gospel on ‘blind faith’.” And then he will go on to present arguments and evidences which he thinks, if his friend will consider them, will lead him to the conclusion that God exists.

While it is true that people should reason in order to believe the Gospel, and that our faith is not supposed to be blind, defending Christianity in this way involves a fatal compromise. It treats the person as if he is a “neutral” observer who has the right to evaluate the claims of Christ for himself and decide whether or not they are worthy of acceptance. This simply will not do. According to the Gospel, people are creatures who ought to submit to their Creator in ALL of their thinking, and are sinners who are ANYTHING but neutral regarding the true God.

A cursory study of Biblical terminology will reveal that “bearing witness” for Christ has judicial implications. We are bringing an accusation against the world. It is the creature and sinner who must be cleared before God’s judgment seat, not Jesus who stands awaiting the judgment of any mere man.

Without Excuse

But does this mean that the Christian faith is irrational–that it is to be believed without evidence? Far from it. All people everywhere are already confronted with evidence that God exists. They may say that they are unsure of God’s existence, but in fact they are surrounded by God’s personal testimony. God never “left himself without witness” to anybody (Acts 14.17). Each person without exception is especially confronted with the revelation of the true God in his own person. God

made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for

“In him we live and move and have our being”

as even some of your own poets have said,

“For we are indeed his offspring.”

Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. (Acts 17:26-29, ESV)

Every single fact in human experience undeniably shows forth the face of God. And all unbelievers without exception are suppressing this fact in this experience. They do this, not only by disbelieving the Bible, but by denying His general revelation (in nature and history) and coming up with rationalizations to justify themselves–rationalizations that we know as false philosophies and false religions—“the art and imagination of man.” Instead of admitting that God is personally present with them, they insist that reality is ultimately impersonal. The only “god” they will accept is a finite being in the same impersonal surroundings. Or else they insist that “God” is a word to cover over the ultimately impersonal nature of reality.

By arguing as if an unbeliever is legitimately ignorant of God, by treating him as a neutral seeker of truth, we can deny the real situation and undercut the Gospel. For, if a person can be legitimately ignorant of God, then he cannot be sinning against Him. The Gospel is unnecessary. A person has an excuse for unbelief. Indeed, we are implicitly agreeing that reality is not a personal revelation of God, but an impersonal environment.

But if God is self-evident, and if the Bible is recognizable as the voice of the true God, then the Gospel makes sense. The fact that seemingly sincere people deny that it is true also makes sense. The Bible explains that people practice self-deception. Sinners don’t ultimately need new evidence to be persuaded of God’s existence. That need may arise because, as part of the process of suppressing the truth, there is disinformation that has been from generation to generation. But ultimately, people need a new ethical orientation so that they will stop suppressing the evidence they have and “seek God.”

They need a new heart.

A More Excellent Way

Does all this mean we cannot argue with unbelievers in any constructive way? Not at all! It only means we have to argue in a way that does not compromise the Gospel. We must argue in a way that does not undermine the universally evident truth of God’s existence and the sinful disposition of people to deny the His personal revelation in nature and history and in Scripture. Much more could be written about the various more specific ways we are tempted into such compromise, and the various ways we can avoid it. For the moment, consider a brief general explanation of how we might defend the Faith without compromising.

I’ve already mentioned that, as witnesses for Christ, we are in a courtroom situation. We are pressing charges against sinners who need to seek clemency before it is too late. As everyone knows from watching fictional courtroom dramas or even real court cases, the primary objective of a defense lawyer is to present a plausible reinterpretation of the prosecution’s evidence. Sometimes this involves some key piece of new evidence, but usually both parties have an agreement at the outset about the evidence at hand for the case. One’s conclusion mainly hinges on how one interprets the mutually-acknowledged evidence. This non-Christian reinterpretation results in untrue “worldviews”–the false philosophies and religions I mentioned above.

As witnesses for our Lord, we must attempt to show unbelievers that their supporting false beliefs are insufficient and incoherent. An impersonal world, after all, is ultimately unknowable. By showing that only the Christian teaching of God, creation, and human destiny makes any sense at all, we will press home to the non-Christian that he is evading the God Who has surrounded him with testimony to His own existence.

Ambassadors of Peace

As we do this, it is important we never be unnecessarily combative. A person raised in an unbelieving environment is different from someone who walked away from knowledge of a Gospel. We do need to account for the fact that many people are not self-consciously aware of where they are going or why when they walk away from God in daily life. The fact that all people are sinning in how they evade knowledge of God does not mean they are all self-conscious enemies. Depending on who we are talking to, we can function as helpful counselors rather than debate gladiators.

While we need to not support ultimate neutrality when we make our intellectual case for Christianity, we also need to not treat people as self-conscious rebels. The deep mystery of self-deception is that one is somehow both the deceiver and the deceived. In many cases the “deceiver” has been helped by years of deceptions from an unbelieving culture. So nothing in what I am saying above is intended to justify a hostile style of witnessing as necessary to faithfully defending the Gospel.


“Transformationalism” Is A Derogatory Term for The Great Commission

crownOne of the ways that Dispensationalists pretend their position is not only right, but the standard for orthodoxy, is to give a novel name to traditional Christian theology. Rather than admit that the Church throughout the ages, outside of their own recent sect, has understood the Church as the new Israel, the label such a view “Replacement Theology.”

Within the Reformed Tradition, the attempt to import Dispensational ideas about the difference between law and gospel is using a similar tactic. People who believe, as Christians have always believed until recently, that Jesus is Lord of all of life, are being called “Transformationalists.”

The term isn’t as inherently misleading as “Replacement Theology,” but the content of the term is not the issue. The point is that novel innovators press their case by labeling the traditional view by a novel name. This implies the falsehood that those defending and transmitting the traditional view are some kind of new school of thought.

When Abraham Kuyper wrote that Jesus claims the entire cosmos, he wasn’t developing a new position against other Christian theologies. He was staking the traditional Christian position against the modern world. To the extent that Christians have consciously collaborated with modernity, or been duped into it, his words do challenge other Christians. But from the standpoint of historic Reformed theology–or historic Christianity of any kind, whether Protestant, Roman Catholic, or Eastern Orthodox–Kuyper was simply appropriating the Christian heritage.

There is a lot of other confusion evident in the “anti-transformationalist” movement. But I want to leave that alone and move on to a more important point.

The reason why all Christians until the post-enlightenment secular experiment have been “transformationalists” is because Jesus was “patient 0” of the spreading plague. Anyone who believes the Bible is accurate cannot escape this. Here is the only proof needed:

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Going therefore, disciple all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:16-20)

I change the ESB slightly to match the koine. “Go, therefore, and make disciples from all the nations,” has a couple of problems. One minor problem is that, having declared himself the new king of the universe, Jesus didn’t need to issue a command to his disciples to go anywhere. By declaring himself the new lord and master of the cosmos he had already commanded his hearer to acknowledge his rule and authority everywhere. So I prefer to keep the participle form, “going.” As I understand it, the implication is, “Since you will be going…”

A more important and definite problem, in my opinion, is that the typical English translation settles for the reader that Jesus intends for us to pick out converts from all the nations. Obviously, that is the process we must take. The fact that Jesus refers to baptism proves that must be the foundational method for carrying out the Great Commission. You baptize people, not abstractions or collectives. However, in the Greek, “disciple” is a verb. There is no “make” in Jesus’ words. And while “disciple” is the verb, “nations” is the object of action–“all nations.” The English translation completely re-orients the Great Commission in a modern direction. While this hasn’t hurt earlier readers who were willing to take seriously the rest of Scripture in context and learn from it, I think in our own day it is important to let readers know what Jesus really said.

So we are told to “disciple all the nations.” And how? By baptizing and teaching. Teaching what? “Teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

Everything means our whole Bibles. Jesus said that “Scripture cannot be broken.” He condemned Pharisees for not keeping God’s law. Of course, I’m not saying that Jesus expected the Law to be kept in its Mosaic aspect. Noahic dietary freedoms are fine and blood rituals like circumcision and animal sacrifice are no longer to be practiced as they once were. But the whole Bible, properly interpreted, is our governing document. And by “our” I mean, all humans.

Every moment Iran or India or the United States spends disregarding the Bible as the king’s word to them, at any institutional or personal level, is a moment of treason. All peoples, tribes, nations are called to entrust themselves to the new king and be his subjects (not to mention that he actually wishes to make them his co-rulers).

This means, by the way, that if we preach a gospel that doesn’t communicate to the hearers that the universe now has, by virtue of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, a new public king–that we aren’t preaching the real gospel. We see this is the explicit content of the post-resurrection sermon ever preached:

“Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,

“The LORD said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.

Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Acts 2:29-36, ESV)

The Great Commission, on its face, outlaws secularism and cultures based on any other god or lord than our Lord Jesus Christ. And it tells all Christians to say so.


The Gospel of the Ten Commandments

bibleAs American Protestants drift further from their Reformation roots…

I should stop there and try to avert confusion. Neither the sixteenth nor the seventeenth centuries contain the climax of all church history. I am not saying that all and every change since some point in the past represents a decline. The climax of church history will be in the future at the climax of human history, which I can safely promise will be over a hundred thousand years from now.

Still, in my opinion, some changes in American Protestantism have not been done intentionally nor correctly, but are rather accidents of a kind of community amnesia.

So, with that in mind: As American Protestants drift further from their Reformation roots, we see a lot of people disparaging the Ten Commandments (“Law”) and holding up the Gospel as a different form of life. The call to trust in Christ is held up as an alternative to hearing and obeying the Ten Commandments.

This is a foolish mistake that is caused by incoherent theology and which then produces even worse confusion.

The First Commandment teaches us to trust in Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life.

  1. The First Commandment reads (I’m using NASB throughout): “You shall have no other gods before Me.” Obviously, trusting in someone or something else (even one’s own good works) for justification, sanctification, and eternal life” is to have another god beside the true God. It is a rejection of Jesus and his work. It is a violation of the First Commandment.
  2. As a matter of the historic record, at the time of the Reformation, that Protestants invoked the First Commandment precisely for the purpose of defending the doctrine of sola Christo and thus of sola fide. The took the First Commandment as a condemnation of Rome’s superstitions and her teaching of salvation by works. For example, consider the Heidelberg Catechism

    Q94: What does God require in the first Commandment?
    A94: That, on peril of my soul’s salvation, I avoid and flee all idolatry,[1] sorcery, enchantments,[2] invocation of saints or of other creatures;[3] and that I rightly acknowledge the only true God,[4] trust in Him alone,[5] with all humility [6] and patience [7] expect all good from Him only,[8] and love,[9] fear [10] and honor [11] Him with my whole heart; so as rather to renounce all creatures than to do the least thing against His will.[12]

    1. I Cor. 10:7, 14
    2. Lev. 19:31; Deut. 18:10-12
    3. Matt. 4:10; Rev. 19:10; 22:8-9
    4. John 17:3
    5. Jer. 17:5
    6. I Peter 5:5-6
    7. Heb. 10:36; Col. 1:10b-11; Rom. 5:3-4; I Cor. 10:10
    8. Psa. 104:27-30; Isa. 45:6b-7; James 1:17
    9. Deut. 6:5
    10. Deut. 6:2; Psa. 111:10; Prov. 9:10; Matt. 10:28
    11. Deut. 10:20
    12. Matt. 5:29-30; 10:37; Acts 5:29

    (a) Notice the prooftext for the demand that we “rightly acknowledge the only true God” is John 17.3: “And this is eternal life, that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.” The other New Testament texts are interesting as well.

    (b) Notice also that this a Christian (see question #1) is told that disobeying the First Command will imperil his or her salvation. If the First Commandment does not teach us to trust in Christ alone then this would be problematic.

    (c) Finally, notice the mention of the invocation of the saints. The First Commandment was not only about never sinning; it was about trusting the true God and mediator to deal with your many continual sins. The Roman Catholics rationalized prayers to the saints and hope on their merits. The Protestants said that we should pray to and trust in Christ alone. And they used the First Commandment to prove this.

  3. Having no other gods before Yahweh meant never sacrificing animals to any other god but Him. This is not only the obvious context of Exodus and the Pentateuch, but only a few sentences after the giving of the Decalogue God gives instructions on how to properly sacrifice “ascension offerings and peace offerings.” These sacrifices pointed to Christ. The First Commandment teaches us to trust in Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life.
  4. Some Christians, claiming to be loyal to the Reformed heritage insist that the Decalogue cannot command us to repent and believe because the Moral Law was imposed on both unfallen Adam and later Jesus. Since they didn’t need to repent and trust in a mediator then the Decalogue cannot contain such a command. This is bogus reasoning. The fact that neither unfallen Adam, nor Christ, needed to be forgiven is entirely irrelevant. The First Commandment tells us to trust in God alone for all that we need. For us sinners, that means that we must trust in Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life. For Jesus it meant trusting the Father for vindication, growth in grace (Luke 2.51), and resurrection to glory. If we need anything, then the First Commandment tells us to look for God as he has revealed his will in reference to that need. We need justification, sanctification, and eternal life. Those can only be found in Christ. Christ is true God as well as true Man. Thus, the First Commandment teaches us to trust in Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life.
  5. The Ten Commandments as given at Sinai are part of the administration of the covenant of grace. They were not stipulations given to sinless beings in which they were expected to persevere in perfect obedience. They are stipulations given to sinners expected to constantly sin. When an Old Testament Hebrew sacrificed to Baal in order to receive the forgiveness of sins, he was violating the First Commandment. When a Church member decides to pray to the god of the Mormons for the forgiveness of sins, he is violating the First Commandment. The First Commandment teaches us to trust in Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life.
  6. Thus the preamble to the Decalogue makes it clear that the Ten Commandments are given for the saved community to live by faith in God’s grace. “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” Thus, the Westminster Shorter Catechism teaches:

    Q44. What doth the preface to the Ten Commandments teach us?
    A44. The preface to the Ten Commandments teacheth us, That because God is The Lord, and our God, and Redeemer, therefore we are bound to keep all His commandments [Deut. 11:1; Luke 1:74-75].

    The Decalogue explicitly appeals to God as Redeemer, the one who frees God’s elect from all sin and brings them into an esate of salvation (See question 20 and then 21 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism).

I can only hope this brief essay is totally superfluous for most readers. As usual, Francis Turretin’s wisdom is worth reading today:

Although faith in Christ (which is prescribed in the gospel) can be called new in respect of its object (which is revealed in the gospel alone), still it belongs to the law in respect of act and of obligation because we are bound to believe in God and all his word. Repentance also belongs to the law; not as it was made for the first man, but as repeated for the sinner and illustrated by the gospel; and materially, if not formally, because it teaches and prescribes the mode of repentance.


Did David Really Learn From Abigail?

david abigail1 Samuel 25 – ESVBible.org.

This is one of my favorite Bible stories. It shows David trying to run an honest protection racket as best he can. The pressure must have been immense. Consider who followed David:

David departed from there and escaped to the cave of Adullam. And when his brothers and all his father’s house heard it, they went down there to him. And everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was bitter in soul, gathered to him. And he became commander over them. And there were with him about four hundred men. (1 Samuel 22:1-2, ESV)

I don’t think you want four hundred “bitter of soul” men with swords hungry and angry at you. Later, after the group had grown to six hundred (1 Sam 27.2), they almost decided to stone David to death because of a defeat they suffered under his leadership (1 Sam 30.1-6).

READ THE REST: Did David Really Learn From Abigail? | Once More, With Feeling.

The doers of the law are believers because unbelief is disobedience to the law

jesus-paulI’ve touched on this subject more than once. Paul tells Christians that they can and should keep the law by loving one another. His condemnation of boasting is not necessarily aimed at the claim to have kept the law. When the Bible speaks of “keeping the law” it refers to something that sinners are able to do, by the Spirit, despite their inherent sinfulness.

So in this post, I want to add one more point about Romans 2.13. When Paul writes, “For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.” This is obviously no contradiction of justification by faith alone.

READ THE REST: The doers of the law are believers because unbelief is disobedience to the law | Once More, With Feeling.

Lack of Faith Is Not Passive; It Is An Accusation Against God

apostle paulIt is pretty common to hear nonchristians say they lack faith in a wistful way, and add that they (sometimes) wish they had it. See Joss Whedon for example.

In the first place, I think this is actually a misuse of language. What they really mean is that they are not intellectually convinced that God exists. Along with this, they often speak on the assumption that “faith” is some kind of mystical intuition that they are lacking.

Faith is not a mystical or any other kind of intuition, other than, I suppose, the feeling some people get that indicates (rightly or wrongly) that they can trust someone else. But even that feeling is based on data, whether rationally or irrationally inferred. I’ve explained here why I don’t think Hebrews 11.6 assumes or implies that one comes to acknowledge the fact that God exists “by faith.”

As I see it, the Bible presents the entire creation as a signal from God, and the only reason we don’t respond properly to the signal is that God (or the idea of God) makes us so anxious that we’d rather pretend the signal is just noise. (Incidentally, Romans 1.18ff has almost nothing to do with this.). Of course, hidden motives are never easy to prove. Self-deception is real, but one side of it entails that the person who claims he is not intellectually convinced that God exists, really is not intellectually convinced. He needs to be argued with, not given orders to repent.

So acknowledging God’s existence isn’t precisely faith. It is more like an immediate deliverance of reason. It is simply an evident truth, like the belief that your friends have minds (one each, I mean) or that the kitchen still exists when you are in the living room.

Faith, on the other hand, is simply another word for personally trusting that God. Trusting him for what? The content of that faith will depend on what specific promises one believes God has made, but in general, by definition, you are trusting God to be faithful.

While I’m not condemning phrases like, “I have faith” or “he just doesn’t have faith,” I do want to be careful we don’t see this as simply some kind of passive absence. We are taught (correctly) that faith is a gift of God, and see it almost as a mystical form of enlightenment. But that’s not it.

Hebrew 11 describes Sarah’s faith this way:

By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. (Hebrews 11:11, ESV)

This corresponds to the writer of Hebrews earlier exhortation–the reason he gave why his readers should continue in  the faith:

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. (Hebrews 10:23, ESV)

The point is that, if you distrust God, you are saying he is untrustworthy. There is nothing passive or neutral about a lack of faith. You are making a positive attack on God’s character.