July 23, 2012 I started writing about a chapter of the Bible every day. I was about to enter my senior year at the University of Vermont. On October 24, 2015, the mission was complete. 1189 days in a row certainly didn’t make me into a perfect Christian, but there are a few things that stood out to me on the macro level that I want to share with you now from this journey.
- God is at the center of it all.
I think that there is a certain temptation that we often fall into where the chief purpose of the Bible is to be a self-help book. I need a proverb to give me advice. I’m not sure that is quite true. The Bible is a very helpful book, but it doesn’t seem like that is the chief purpose. Rather, it seems to me that the purpose of the Bible is to tell us the story of God. From the beginning of creation to the end of time, we hear about what God has done, is doing and will do. We hear this in the form of narrative, wisdom, poetry, prophecy, biography or parable.
This stood out to me as I looked at the various tags I have applied to each one of my posts every day. The top two are “God” and “Following God.” The Bible was primarily written to tell us about God.
- We need to respond to that knowledge.
If the Bible was written to tell us the story of God from beginning to end, we need to figure out what that means. God has made Himself known to us, but that could ultimately not make a difference in our lives. After all, the Bible could be nothing more than a piece of fiction. If it is that, maybe it has some entertainment value or some interesting thoughts to consider, but it ultimately will not change our worldview.
However, the Bible itself does not really give us that option. It requires that we make a decision. Whether we are looking at Abraham being willing to sacrifice Isaac or Jesus claiming to be the Way, we are not called to complacency. Rather, we need to decide whether we are going to follow God or not.
God is at the center of it all, but it is not enough to simply recognize that He is the protagonist. Rather, the knowledge that we learned about God necessitates a decision about whether or not He is worth following or not. The Bible was written to tell us about God, but some of the things we learn force our hands. Romans 3:23 brings out the problem and John 3:16 emphasizes the solution. We need to act.
- We need to be willing to work.
One of the top tags as I was writing through the Bible turned out to be “Controversy.” I did not break down how many times I used it as a descriptor of in-house debates between Christians or external debates with other religions, but there is plenty of controversy to go around when talking about the story of God.
I mention that in my highlights here because if the Bible is as controversial as I seem to think it is, then we’re going to run into plenty of people who disagree with us. That should not be surprising. However, what that means then is that we need to be prepared to have these discussions. We need to learn why we believe what we believe. 1 Peter 3:15 speaks about having a reason for the hope that we have as Christians.
If there is controversy, then it also means that there are not always easy answers. We all agree on what color the sky is because the answer is easy. The Bible is a little bit more difficult. However, if the Bible also is the story of God and demands that we make a decision about whether or not God is one worth following, then we need to be willing to do this hard work.
I hope that this blog has helped you out as much as it has helped me out. I know that I have learned more about God by doing this, and I hope it has given you something to think about as well. I really appreciate everyone who has read, commented and shared over the years. You are all such an encouragement, and I appreciate the support.
I’m going to be taking a brief hiatus from the blogging world. As some of you know if you read my bio page, I am currently an online student at Houston Baptist University, and this spring I will be working on my Master’s thesis before I graduate in May with my MA in Apologetics. Given the amount of time that I will need to dedicate to reading and writing for that endeavor, while I will probably still write and post on other outlets occasionally, I don’t know that I will have the time to write on the regular basis that running my own website would require. Down the road though, I am sure I will have a new project, but I am still in the idea stage for anything like that.
If you remember nothing else I have ever written, please remember this:
God is the center of the Bible, and God is the center of history. Jesus Christ is the most important man who ever lived, and He is the one and only Savior. By believing in Him, anyone can have eternal life. It takes a decision, and it is easily the most important decision you will ever make. We all have to answer that same question that Pontius Pilate asked, “What shall I do then with Jesus who is called Christ?” What will you do?
Revelation 19 is the beginning of the end. Evil is going to be thrown away forever.
Rev 19:20 And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone.
Rev 19:21 And the remnant were slain with the sword of him that sat upon the horse, which sword proceeded out of his mouth: and all the fowls were filled with their flesh.
Naturally, the problem of evil is a powerful argument against the Christian faith. Why does God allow evil to exist? Especially in the light of Revelation 19, it shows that God is certainly capable of throwing out evil. Evil is going to lose.
If God has that kind of power, why is God waiting?
On one hand, we certainly cannot absolutely know the mind of God. Perhaps God has a reason that we are not capable of comprehending. It doesn’t mean that God does not have a reason. This will naturally be unsatisfactory to many skeptics however, so I think it is wise to have at least a conception of a possible reason that God might be waiting.
It seems to me that verse 20 sums it up pretty well. It is not just the beast who is going to be separated from God forever. All those who followed him will also be separated from God forever. Perhaps then God is giving as much time as possible so that more have the opportunity to come to faith in Him.
Of course, this invites the rebuttal that since God is the judge, He could simply let everyone into heaven anyway and let it be done now. However, God is also a God of justice, so He cannot simply go against His character and not bring justice.
Evil has no place at the wedding ceremony of the Lamb, and Jesus Christ died so that we might have our sins covered over and forgotten. Accepting that gift gives you a ticket to the banquet.
Revelation 16 brings us to Armageddon.
Rev 16:16 And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon.
Rev 16:17 And the seventh angel poured out his vial into the air; and there came a great voice out of the temple of heaven, from the throne, saying, It is done.
Rev 16:18 And there were voices, and thunders, and lightnings; and there was a great earthquake, such as was not since men were upon the earth, so mighty an earthquake, and so great.
Rev 16:19 And the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell: and great Babylon came in remembrance before God, to give unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath.
Rev 16:20 And every island fled away, and the mountains were not found.
Rev 16:21 And there fell upon men a great hail out of heaven, every stone about the weight of a talent: and men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail; for the plague thereof was exceeding great.
It is interesting that even after everything that has happened throughout this book, people are still not willing to acknowledge God. People are still going to curse God rather than recognize that they need to get themselves right with God.
From the beginning, sinfulness has been a human problem. Free will that was abused brought about a world that was fallen and plagued by sin. It created the separation between God and man, and Jesus Christ provided the bridge to bring people back to God if they are willing to again make the free decision to repent.
Even at the end, there are going to be people who will not make that decision. Obviously, that is a terrible thing, but with the gift of free will that we were given, there is the potential for people to turn away.
As we enter Revelation 15, we see seven angels fly out with seven final plagues. What is fascinating, and we have seen before in Revelation, is that before the judgment is laid out, there is a worship service.
Rev 15:3 And they sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints.
Rev 15:4 Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name? for thou only art holy: for all nations shall come and worship before thee; for thy judgments are made manifest.
I know we have talked about this before, but let’s think about this idea that everyone is going to worship God when His judgments are made manifest. That seems somewhat counterintuitive. After all, I don’t know very many people that are thrilled about being judged. You would think that they would be mad at God.
This passage also does not seem to limit this worship to those who believe in God. It hasn’t happened yet because it is speaking in the future tense. Ultimately however, every knee is going to acknowledge the deity of the one and only God. As a result, it seems to me that this is rather confusing.
If God is everything He says He is, then God is just. If God is just by definition, then it seems to me that He cannot do anything that is unjust. If He is not capable of doing anything unjust by definition because it is not consistent with His character, then if the Christian God is real, He has to be just. This might sound like circular logic to some people, and I freely admit that for the purposes of this post, I am not providing a full apologetic defense for the reality of the Christian God. I think you can make that defense, but that is for a different post.
My main point is that we live in a world today that is yearning for justice. People want to see wrongs made right. It is not hard to see that. Therefore, maybe that is why every knee will bow even when they are faced with the judgment of God. Because we are wired to desire justice, when we actually encounter the source of that justice, I would not be surprised to see everyone worship no matter how they encounter God whether in adoration or judgment.
3 John 1 brings us to a very interesting discussion about those who are capable of doing good deeds. In context, John is warning the church about a leader among them who is very self-centered and does not want to welcome fellow leaders into the church. After saying how this is not right, John brings us to a very interesting point.
3Jn 1:11 Beloved, follow not that which is evil, but that which is good. He that doeth good is of God: but he that doeth evil hath not seen God.
Immediately, I can see the objections flying for many people. Christians are not the only people who do good things on earth. Is John saying here that for example a Hindu individual cannot perform good deeds? I don’t think so. This verse says that they have seen God. It does not specify that they have a relationship with Him or not. The Pharisees saw Jesus, but they did not have a relationship with Him.
Consequently, as Christians, we also believe that God has made Himself evident in the world. The heavens certainly declare the glory of God, but there are also other things that showed the fingerprints of God if you will. Think about what CS Lewis wrote about the concept of the Tao. There is a sense that all of humanity has shared certain moral teachings around the world and across time. Perhaps God has implanted these ideas in the people that He created. You could say that people who have recognized these universal rules like do not murder have seen God for instance. They might not recognize God, but there have seen Him.
This verse makes more sense in that context. God created the universe, and it was good. Therefore, everything that is good comes from God. Evil comes when there is rebellion against the will of God. It was not created by God. When we do things that are good, we are only capable of doing that because God made those things good. We don’t have to acknowledge them as good or even recognize God, but the simple fact that doing good is possible points towards the existence of God who is all good. Perhaps this is then common ground to speak to our nonbelieving friends. They know that they want to do good things, but they might not have a reason why. We can help fill in the blanks and give a reasonable basis for that belief they hold.
1 John 5 would be hard to reconcile for anyone who wants to remain as a Universalist.
1Jn 5:12 He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.
1Jn 5:13 These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.
It seems rather straightforward here. This entire chapter is talking about having a relationship with Jesus Christ, and this is the summary of the first section. This seems to square with Jesus claiming that He was the Way. It is a rather straightforward dichotomy. Either we have Jesus and we have life, or we do not have Jesus and do not have life.
I understand that these types of statements don’t seem very comforting, and many Christians might be hesitant to take this type of position. However, there are a few things to keep in mind. First of all, salvation is a free gift from God. All it takes is a decision to follow Jesus Christ. You do not need to be rich; you do not need to be powerful. You need to recognize the reality of Jesus and make a commitment to following Him.
Second, while many people might argue that as Christians we should not be criticizing the religions of other people. Maybe it is all one mountain of truth, and we are simply climbing up different sides of it. Remember that this is not a position that we are taking because we feel like it. I believe what the Bible teaches because I believe that God is the best explanation for the way the world is. The Christian worldview makes the most sense. Therefore, I don’t take this position simply to disparage other religions. I take this position because the Christian worldview is the one worldview that corresponds best with reality, and you simply cannot erase parts that society might not be comfortable with. If Christianity is true, then the teachings of Christianity are true, and this is one of them.
Some people might be uncomfortable with this type of narrow gate to God. However, for Christians, we need to recognize that it one reason Jesus is so important is because He is the Way.
It’s no secret that many people have disagreements, and even the church is going to have conflict in it. Ideally, it should not happen, but we are human, and people do not always get along. However, we need to be very careful that these disagreements do not become hatred. In 1 John 4, there is very strong terminology used for people who carry hatred with them.
1Jn 4:20 If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?
1Jn 4:21 And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.
Brother here does not necessarily mean a familial relation. According to my Greek dictionary, brother here can be literal or figurative. It is the same root word used in Philadelphia also known as The City of Brotherly Love.
As a result, this seems to indicate to me that we cannot hate either our Christian or our non-Christian brethren. Keep in mind that this does not say anything about how the act towards us. Jesus speaks about the world hating him and his disciples, but as Christians we cannot reciprocate that. If we do, John says that we cannot simultaneously say that we love God and hate our brother.
Getting back to my original thought at the beginning. Churches are not without conflict, and feelings are hurt without a doubt. However, Christians need to be careful not to fall into hatred. John uses strong words, and I don’t want to discount them. If we’re supposed to be people that are marked by loving our neighbor as we love ourselves, then what does it say to the world around us when we hate each other in the church? Discipline might certainly be appropriate and necessary in certain situations, but at the same time, should we not characterize our interactions specifically within the church but also with everyone with grace, forgiveness and mercy?
It is obviously no secret that there have been many false teachers in history of the church. In 2 Peter 2, Peter mentions that even at the early date he was writing this book, false teaching was already an issue in congregations.
2Pe 2:1 But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.
2Pe 2:2 And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of.
2Pe 2:3 And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not.
One consequence of false teachers is that the perception of the way of truth becomes perverted. Christianity is without a doubt beautiful. When people begin to understand who God is and what God has done for us, it is attractive. However, there are false teachers who bring in heresies. As soon as we began to depart from what God has taught, we are in the realm of heresy, and the problem with that is that they are man-made.
Man-made heresies are naturally problematic because they are made by fallen people. If we are all fallen people who do evil, then it makes sense that any type of belief system that we develop on our own will consequently be evil as well.
The problem with heresies is that they claim to be Christian. Therefore, they are taking a man-made religion and claiming it is the same as that which God has given us through inspiration. Then, if people look at this heresy as representative of Christianity, it will not be beautiful because it is a perversion of that which is beautiful.
The early church had many challenges in regards to heresy, and they were very aggressive about making sure that they were still following God and not their own twists. Sometimes I don’t know that we in the church today are strong enough about opposing heresy today. They certainly still exist.
1 Peter 3 encourages Christians to remember that what we believe in is nothing to be ashamed of, and we should be prepared to talk about that whenever we are asked.
1Pe 3:14 But and if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled;
1Pe 3:15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:
1Pe 3:16 Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ.
1Pe 3:17 For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing.
It is better to suffer for doing something good than it is to do something evil. We shouldn’t be afraid if we suffer for what we believe, but we should always be ready to give an answer for the hope that we have as Christians. As a result, we can have a good conscience because even if they do accuse us of evil, we know that we have done what is right.
This is incredibly relevant for the world today. It doesn’t matter what people say about us, and it doesn’t matter what the consequences are. If we are Christians, then we need to be Christians in the good times and the bad times. If we are only Christians when it is easy to be a Christian, then it says something about our level of commitment in the beginning anyway.
It strikes me then that that should be our resolution. Fair weather Christianity is a problem, and we need to make sure that we avoid it. We need to make sure that we are committed to following Christ wherever it may lead.
Controversy alert! James 2 brings us the meat of the issue we began looking at yesterday. What exactly is the balance of faith and works? Are we saved by faith alone?
Jas 2:20 But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?
Jas 2:21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?
Jas 2:22 Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?
Jas 2:23 And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.
Jas 2:24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.
Faith without works is dead. Logically, that means that faith with works is alive. I think this is the important thing to recognize in this relationship. If our faith is truly alive, the evidence is going to come out. If we are living in a way that we ought to end our faith is placed in God, then it seems to me that there is no way to avoid living as a Christian.
To see this, we need to go back to Romans.
Rom 12:2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
When we become Christians, our minds are transformed. We are new creations. As a result, without the evidence of that transformation, it would seem reasonable to question whether or not that process actually took place. Granted, this will appear different in many people, but the transformation does not seem to be optional if one has truly begun a life of following Christ.
Now, we have to put together the pieces. I am of the conviction that faith comes first. We are saved by faith alone regardless of what we have done. That makes me think about the criminal on the cross beside Jesus. His faith was what gave him salvation. However, this passage from James emphasizes that if there is no evidence of that faith in our works, then perhaps we were never transformed by that faith anyway.
In other words, think about a society like America of yesterday where many people were simply culturally Christian. They might have identified as Christians and said they were of the faith, but if that faith did not mean anything to them, there would be no evidence of it. Were they really Christians? I obviously cannot judge individual cases. That is between people and God. However, James is warning us that this is not simply something that we claim for political convenience or as just a label. Rather, it is a transformed life, and if our life does not show evidence of that transformation, maybe we were never of the faith to begin with.