Suppose there’s a man in a town with a history of shady business practices and fraudulent dealings. He also happens to be a regular church-goer.
Many people where he lives know the man to be shonky and would say they’ve been ‘ripped off’ as would people in other towns. What’s terrible is that some people where the man lives say, ‘If that man is a Christian, then I don’t want any part of Christianity’. And, at one level, their reaction is understandable.
The story raises questions about what it means to be a genuine Christian and what churches and other Christians should do when people say they are Christian but their actions clearly aren’t. You can imagine that the answers aren’t always easy.
Certainly the Bible says that those people whose lives are grossly hypocritical and who refuse to change ought to be excluded from church. But what if they keep calling themselves Christian in the community? Or they just move to another church and start again?
Or what if a church or a whole movement of people begin to do things in the name of Jesus that are just plainly at odds with the Bible? History is full of appalling things done in the name of Jesus. Some are well known: the Spanish Inquisition, the Crusades, people burning each other at stakes. Thankfully, it’s simply not possible to justify these kinds of things from the Bible.
So where does the problem lie? Not with God. The very reason Jesus came to earth was because we’ve got a major issue. It’s called sin. And sin is in every person. We all think, say and do things that we should rightly be ashamed of.
Jesus said this about His coming into the world: God’s light [Jesus] came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil (John 3:19).
What we mustn’t do is use the bad example of some ‘Christians’ as an excuse for not worshipping Jesus and coming into the light ourselves. That’s because the only people who can join the Christian movement are sinners willing to repent. So any person in church will always be a moral failure. Including you!
So yes, Christians should be people who try to live changed lives full of joy and good deeds. All of them will struggle in doing this. And yes, occasionally you’ll find some that seem to be really just pretending. But don’t let Christians put you off Jesus.
Bible verse: John 3:19 “God’s light [Jesus] came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil.”
Prayer: Dear God, please help me to leave behind evil works and worship you in the light.
Acknowledgement: This article was sourced from Outreach Media, Sydney, Australia.
Images and text © Outreach Media 2019
Posted, May 2019
No matter how interested you are in cricket, it’s Australia’s national game. Indeed, when he was Prime Minister, John Howard, reckoned he had the second most important job in the nation after the Australian cricket captain. If that’s true, then a year ago, in March, we had a crisis of national leadership when our nation’s captain, vice captain and another player were caught tampering with the ball.
One year later, on March 29, 2019, the most severe bans ever handed down by Cricket Australia for on field behavior will come to an end. After a year’s forced absence, former captain, Steve Smith, and former vice captain, David Warner will once more be eligible to play for Australia, New South Wales and their Big Bash teams.
When the ball tampering was discovered the almost universal response from media commentators and the general public was that the punishment needed to be significant. One online poll with over 45,000 responses had 91% saying that Smith should lose the captaincy for good.
All of this shows that most Australians not only don’t believe in winning by any means, but they also do believe in honesty and justice. And they want the consequences of justice applied equally – even if it means losing international competitions because our best players are absent through penalty.
However, if we want justice applied equally to others then we need to be willing to have it applied equally to ourselves as well. And that’s going to be tough. Because if we’re honest we’ll need to admit that we’ve all done things that deserve punishment.
And if we’re brutally honest… we’ll acknowledge that the one person we absolutely must talk to about our wrongdoing is God. After all, He’s our maker. Ultimately, we’re going to have to answer to Him. In the Bible, God makes it clear that, ‘everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard’.
God’s standards are much higher than ours. His standard is perfection. Which means He cannot tolerate evil and will not allow it into heaven with Him.
The good news though, is that if we front up to God now about our failings God is willing to offer an amnesty for the penalty we deserve. Instead of punishing us God promises that our penalty has been dealt with by Jesus at the cross. The Bible puts it this way
“Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but He died for sinners to bring you safely home to God” (1Peter 3:18).
So, take the amnesty. Pray now.
Bible verse: Romans 3:23, “everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard”.
Prayer: Dear God, thank you for sending Jesus to take my penalty on Himself at the cross. Please help me to live with you as my Lord.
Acknowledgement: This article was sourced from Outreach Media, Sydney, Australia.
Images and text © Outreach Media 2019
Posted, March 2019
The Bible tells us how to overcome the obstacles that prevent us from being reconciled with God. First, we need to recognize God’s purpose for us.
God’s purpose for us is peace and life
God loves you and wants you to experience peace and life – abundant and eternal.
The Bible says:
– “We have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us” (Rom. 5:1NLT).
– “This is how God loved the world: He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16).
– “My purpose is to give them [people] a rich and satisfying life” (Jn. 10:10).
So we need to recognize that God’s purpose for us is peace and life. Why don’t most people have this peace and abundant life that God planned for us to have? Because there is an obstacle or barrier in the way. In order to remove the obstacle or barrier, we need to realize our greatest problem.
Our problem is that sin separates us from God
God created us in His own image to have an abundant life. He did not make us as robots to automatically love and obey Him. God gave us a will and a freedom of choice. We choose to disobey God and go our own wilful way. We still make this choice today. This results in separation from God.
The Bible says:
– “Everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard” (Rom. 3:23).
– “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).
So we need to realize that our choice results in separation from God. But people have tried many ways to remove the obstacle or barrier that separates us from God.
The Bible says:
– “There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death” (Prov. 14:12).
– “It’s your sins that have cut you off from God. Because of your sins, He has turned away and will not listen anymore” (Isa. 59:2).
So none of these ways remove the obstacle or barrier that separates us from God. We need to realize what God has done about our greatest problem because that’s the only way to remove the obstacle or barrier that separates us from God.
God’s remedy for our problem is Christ’s substitutionary death
Jesus Christ died on the cross and rose from the grave. He paid the penalty for our sin and removed the obstacle or barrier that separates us from God.
The Bible says:
– “There is one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5).
– “Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but He died for sinners to bring you safely home to God” (1 Pt. 3:18).
– “God showed His great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Rom. 5:8).
So Christ’s death is the only way to overcome the obstacles so we can experience God’s peace and life. Now that God has done His part, we need to respond by doing our part. We need to respond to God’s remedy.
Our response is to trust in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord
God’s remedy to overcome the obstacle that separates us from God is a gift that can be accepted or rejected. To receive the gift we must trust in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.
The Bible says:
– “Look! I [Jesus Christ] stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends” (Rev. 3:20).
– “to all who believed Him [Jesus Christ] and accepted Him, He gave the right to become children of God” (Jn. 1:12).
– “If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9).
So the steps you can take for peace with God by trusting in Jesus Christ right now are:
– Admit your need (I am a sinner).
– Be willing to turn from your sins (repent) and ask God to forgive you.
– Believe that Jesus Christ died for you on the cross and rose from the grave.
– Invite Jesus Christ to control your life through the Holy Spirit.
This can be expressed in a prayer:
Dear God. I know that I am a sinner. I want to turn from my sins, and ask for your forgiveness. I believe that Jesus Christ is Your Son. I believe that He died for my sins and that You raised Him to life. I want Him to take control of my life. I want to trust Jesus as my Savior and follow Him as my Lord from this day forward. Amen.
Assurance of salvation
If you followed these steps to peace with God, the Bible says:
– “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom. 10:13).
– Jesus said, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me, for my Father has given them to me, and He is more powerful than anyone else. No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand” (Jn. 10:27-29).
– “God saved you by His grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it” (Eph. 2:8-9).
– “Whoever has the Son [Jesus Christ] has life; whoever does not have God’s Son does not have life. I have written this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know you have eternal life” (1 Jn. 5:12-13).
It says “will be saved”, not “might be saved”. Salvation is one of God’s promises. One of the purposes of the Bible is so we can know that we have eternal life. So we can know that we are forgiven and restored because God says it in the Bible.
This post is based on information from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
Written, March 2019
Also see: Obstacles in life
Some of my grandchildren do an Obstacles Course as an after-school activity. And we face many obstacles in life. Today we are looking at the most important obstacles in our lives. These are the ones that come between us and God. This post is based on a message given in Sydney, Australia, by Franklin Graham in February 2019. It’s also on video.
Do you have peace with God? Are things good between you and God? Are things settled between you and God? Do you know Him? Do you know who His Son Jesus Christ is? Jesus Christ came to the earth for a reason. God sent Him on a rescue mission.
The Bible tells us that we’ve all sinned, we’ve all come short of God’s glory (Rom. 3:23). The penalty of sin is death (Rom. 6:23). Yet God so loved you that He sent His only Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, from heaven to earth for the purpose of taking our sin (Jn. 3:16). Because the penalty of sin is death, the entire human race was born under a death sentence. When the first man and woman (Adam and Eve) sinned, sin came into the world. Sin is disobeying God. It’s breaking God’s law. It’s infected the entire human race. We’re all born in this sin. No one had to teach you how to be bad. No one had to teach each of my twelve grandchildren how to be bad. I’ll tell one of them “Don’t do this”, and then they’ll do it! They’ll do it just to defy you. Where did that come from? It’s the sin nature that we’re all born with.
God created humanity, but we’re separated from Him because of our sin. And God planned to redeem (restore) us by sending His Son Jesus Christ to take the death sentence for you and me. And Jesus Christ came from heaven to earth to take our sin. He died on a cross for you and for me. He was buried for our sins and on the third day God raised His Son to life. If you’ve never trusted in Jesus Christ, I’m going to invite you to do this today by confessing your sin to God, and by asking Him for forgiveness. If you do this God will forgive your sins, give you eternal life, and give you a new beginning in your life. The new start is like hitting a reset button on your life. Many people say, “If I could just start life over again”. Well, you can do that today.
The Bible says, “what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?” (Mk. 8:36NLT). Let’s look at a man in the Bible who was on the verge of losing his soul.
A new start
Jesus entered Jericho and made His way through the town. There was a man there named Zacchaeus. He was the chief tax collector in the region, and he had become very rich. He tried to get a look at Jesus, but he was too short to see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree beside the road, for Jesus was going to pass that way.
When Jesus came by, He looked up at Zacchaeus and called him by name. “Zacchaeus!” He said. “Quick, come down! I must be a guest in your home today.” Zacchaeus quickly climbed down and took Jesus to his house in great excitement and joy. But the people were displeased. “He has gone to be the guest of a notorious sinner,” they grumbled.
Meanwhile, Zacchaeus stood before the Lord and said, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!” Jesus responded, “Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham. For the Son of Man [Jesus] came to seek and save those who are lost [like Zacchaeus]” (Lk. 19:1-10).
Jesus was passing through Jericho, which is in the Jordan valley about 27 km (17 miles) from Jerusalem. The Romans put a tax collecting office there because it was on a route between Syria (Iraq) and Egypt. Zacchaeus was a tax collector for the Romans who were a foreign occupying government. Zacchaeus was a Jew who worked for the Romans. His people, the Jews, saw Zacchaeus as a traitor. He was working with the enemy. So they didn’t like him. And as a tax collector he was corrupt. He was a corrupt public official. Nobody likes corrupt public officials. They are despised. The Jews couldn’t do anything about it because the Romans were in power. The Romans didn’t care if Zacchaeus overtaxed people. And that’s what he did. He charged too much. He would give the Romans what they required, but would charge the person a little more and put the extra in his pocket. The Bible says that he was “very rich”. And he was despised, the people called him “a notorious sinner”. He was hated. He was a cheat, and a liar. He sinned against his people.
When Jesus was passing by, Zacchaeus wanted to see who He was. He’d probably heard a lot about Jesus. He’d raised the dead. Given sight to the blind. The deaf could hear. Sick people were healed. He just wanted to see who Jesus was. And when Jesus travelled there were always many people following Him. There was a commotion. It sounded exciting. Zacchaeus wanted to see who He is. But Zacchaeus was short. And Jesus was passing by. And Jesus is passing by you as you read this post. If you’re not sure that your sins have been forgiven. If you’re not sure that you have peace with God. You can be forgiven today. You can hit that reset button on your life. You can start your life over again. If you’re willing to put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ.
Obstacles to a new start
So Zacchaeus just wanted to see who Jesus was. But there were obstacles. He was short. And there was a big crowd. He was probably up on his tip-toes. He wanted to look over the top of their heads, but he couldn’t do it. It makes you feel that you’re little in the eyes of God. It makes you feel as though your life isn’t important to Him. That you’re somehow insignificant. But you’re important to God. You have a soul. You have a spirit. God made you and created you. And He loves you. And God wants to have a relationship with you. He wants to talk to you. He wants you to talk to Him. But sin is a barrier between us and God. Sin has to be removed because you can’t have a relationship with God with sin in the way. God loves you. You’re important to Him. The Bible says that “this is how God loved the world: He gave His one and only Son [Jesus Christ], so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16).
What obstacles prevent you from being reconciled with God? What are the obstacles that prevent you from coming to Christ today? Zacchaeus had that crowd – he couldn’t see over their heads. What’s your obstacle? Sin prevents us from coming to God. Sin blocks the way. Sin is breaking God’s laws and standards. All of us are guilty. I’m a sinner. When I was 22 years old I prayed to God confessing my sins. I trusted that Jesus died to take the penalty for my sins. When I was growing up I didn’t want God running my life. I just wanted to have fun. And I thought that the more fun that I could have the better life could be. But I found out that the harder that I tried to have fun, the more empty my life became. And I finally got to the place in my life where I was just sick and tired of being sick and tired. And you might feel like that. So I prayed, “God I have sinned. My life is upside down in such a mess that I don’t know where to go or what to do. Today I surrender. I want to turn from my sins. I believe that Jesus is your Son. I believe that He died from my sins. I believe that you raised Him to life. I want to trust Him. I want Him to forgive me. I want a new beginning. A new start. If you just take the pieces of my life, you can have it”. When I prayed that prayer, I meant it. And God forgave me, He’ll do the same for you. We’re all sinners. We’ve all lied (said something deceitful)? We’ve all stolen (taken something that doesn’t belong to us). We’ve all coveted (wanted something that someone else has). If you’ve lied, God will forgive you. If you’ve stolen, God will forgive you. If you’ve coveted, God will forgive you. If you’re guilty of sexual sins, God will forgive you. We’re all guilty and under a death sentence. But God has provided an escape and that’s through the cross. Because Jesus took our sins to the cross, He paid the debt for us.
You may say, “There’s lots of religions in the world”. This is not about a religion. It’s about a relationship with the one true God. You can have that today. But you have to be willing to accept it by faith. The Bible says, “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). Even if you’ve kept all the laws, you were still born into sin. And the penalty of sin is death. Now Zacchaeus had this big obstacle. And you’ve got a big obstacle without Jesus Christ. Because the only way that you can come to God is through faith in Him. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father [God] except through me” (Jn. 14:6). There’s not many roads to God – there’s only one and that’s through the cross of Jesus Christ. Because He’s the one who paid the debt of sin. No one else paid the debt of sin in all of history, only Jesus. None of the religions claim to take your sin. Only Jesus Christ has taken your sin. If you put your trust in Him today, He will forgive your sin. But you have to come by faith.
Now Zacchaeus had this big obstacle. That crowd was in his way. Something was missing in his life. And he was searching. But he probably didn’t know what he was searching for. When Jesus was coming, he wanted to see who Jesus was. I think something was drawing him. When God made and created us, He created a vacuum in everyone that could only be filled by God Himself. The Bible says that “He [God] has planted eternity in the human heart [mind]” (Eccl. 3:11). And when we come into a right relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ He comes in and fills that void in our lives.
Overcoming the obstacles
Zacchaeus wanted to see who Jesus was. He was pretty resourceful, so he ran ahead of the crowd and climbed up a sycamore-fig tree. So he was sitting up there like a monkey just waiting for Jesus to pass by.
Zacchaeus had a great job. He had a licence to steal! He could just overcharge people and the Romans wouldn’t do anything about it. So he had a pretty good job. He had plenty of money. He was successful. Although no-one liked him, that didn’t seem to bother him too much. Maybe you’ve been able to get all the things in life that you have wanted. The career that you’ve studied and worked for. The toys that you’ve always wanted. Maybe the family that you’ve wanted. But something’s missing. There’s a vacuum inside that you’re trying to fill with things. People sometimes try to fill it with work, drugs, alcohol, or sex. But it doesn’t fill the void that only God can fill. Jesus can give you purpose today. He can give you meaning. If you’re willing to trust Him.
So Zacchaeus is in that tree and here comes Jesus. And the Bible says that Jesus stopped. And He will stop for you today. And the Bible says that Jesus looked up and saw Zacchaeus. And He sees you today. He knows everything about your life. He loves you. He made and created you. And Jesus comes to Zacchaeus and He sees Zacchaeus and He calls him by his name. He knows your name today. He called Zacchaeus. And God is calling some of you. You are thinking, this is something that I need to do. I need to get this right today.
Jesus called Zacchaeus by name. And then He said the call is urgent, “Zacchaeus! Quick, come down! I must be a guest in your home today”. And the Bible says that Zacchaeus responded immediately. He “quickly climbed down” from the tree. He could have sat there thinking, I’ll just wait until the next time that Jesus comes by and maybe I’ll have lunch with Him then. But Jesus wasn’t coming back to Jericho again. Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem. He was on His way to the cross to die for you and me. He wasn’t going to come back that way again. Zacchaeus wouldn’t have another opportunity. He had to make a choice either to obey Jesus or to keep sitting in the tree and ignore Him. But he responded immediately. And when he climbed down from the tree, He called Him Lord. I think he was converted by the time his feet hit the ground. He called Jesus, Lord.
Now the people began to gripe and complain. “Can you believe that Jesus is going to go to this guys home?”. There was gossip going on. And Jesus heard it. And Zacchaeus heard it. Zacchaeus said, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!”. That money didn’t mean anything to Zacchaeus anymore. He’d found something worth a lot more. He’d found the Lord Jesus Christ. And Jesus said, “I want to come to your house to stay today”. Jesus wants to come into your life and He wants to stay in your life today. Zacchaeus obeyed, and Jesus came into his house. He wasn’t hindered by the people’s criticism, grumbling and griping. We are all sinners. We are all guilty. We all deserve God’s punishment. But God loves you and He’s holding out His Son the Lord Jesus Christ and if you’ll put your faith and trust in Him, God will forgive you. If you’re not sure your sins are forgiven, then confess that you are a sinner. Say you are sorry and acknowledge that Jesus Christ is God’s Son and that you want to trust Him as your Savior.
To do this follow the “Steps to peace with God”.
This post is based on a message given in Sydney, Australia, by Franklin Graham on 24 February 2019. This event was sponsored by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. It’s also on video.
Written, March 2019
Also see: Steps to peace with God
The news in the daily news media is usually bad news. It’s often about disasters and tragedies like accidents, fires, floods, earthquakes and tsunamis. Fortunately in a world where bad news dominates, God has given us good news.
When Paul wrote to the Christians at Corinth, he addressed those who denied the possibility of the resurrection of the body after death. He corrected them by saying that Jesus died and was resurrected: “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4).
And because Christ lived and died, we can infer that He was also born (the incarnation). The reason He came to earth was because humanity was separated from God and under God’s judgment. This problem was caused because people rebelled against the God who made them in the beginning.
Paul said, “Christ died for our sins”. He died to pay the penalty that our sins deserved. After Jesus was raised back to life He ascended back to heaven. And He promised to return and resurrect all those who believed that He died for their sins.
Putting all this together we have God’s good news story. Paul says it’s the most important news for us to know.
God made a perfect world. But people rebelled against their Maker and came under His judgment. Since then they suffer from broken relationships, they put other people down, they lack peace, and they are enslaved to their idols. So God sent Jesus to pay the penalty that our sins deserved. Jesus died, was buried and rose back to life in a resurrected body. He ascended back to heaven and has promised to return and resurrect those who have trusted in Him and take them to heaven. God’s followers are reconciled with God, delivered from their sinful ways, adopted into His family, find their identity and freedom in Jesus Christ, and have peace with God. Jesus is the hero in this historical story. He is the person we are to know, love and worship.
In our celebrations, let’s not forget to remember and celebrate God’s good news.
Appendix: Other biblical summaries of the Christian gospel
“Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great: He [Jesus Christ] appeared in the flesh, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory” (1 Tim. 3:16).
“Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit” (1 Pt. 3:18).
“Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and He will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him” (Heb. 9:28).
“This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son [Jesus] as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 Jn. 4:10).
This blogpost was inspired by the following book,
Chan S (2018) “Evangelism in a skeptical world”, Zondervan, p. 97-99.
Written, December 2018
A few years ago our car was involved in an accident and was written off by the insurance company. It wasn’t worth fixing and they refunded the agreed value of money so we could buy a new car. The old car had failed. It was no longer useful for us. Sometimes if we fail, we can think that we are useless to God. It’s feeling like we are written off.
Its been said that everyone makes mistakes and “the only one who never makes a mistake is the one who never does anything”. We all fail sometimes in life. We all have weaknesses. And these can lead to embarrassment, shame, guilt, disappointment, depression, giving up and wondering whether we will ever be forgiven. The important question is “How can we survive failure?”.
In this post we are going to answer this question by looking at the life of Peter in the Bible.
Simon Peter was a fisherman who lived at Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee. He was one of Jesus’ early disciples. Peter was a leader amongst the disciples as he was a natural leader and was probably the oldest one. After he spent three years following Jesus, he was an apostle who taught the church and wrote some of the New Testament, and he was an elder in his local church.
Peter was impulsive and impetuous. He was usually the first to act and speak his mind. He was enthusiastic. A man of action. Because of this, he often failed. Here are seven examples of this:
- Peter rebukes Jesus
When Peter was at Caesarea Philippi (north of the Sea of Galilee), he said that Jesus was “the Messiah, the Son of the living God”. Soon after this we read that: “From that time on Jesus began to explain to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that He must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” Jesus turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns’” (Mt 16:21-23NIV).
When Jesus predicted His suffering and death, Peter rebuked Him saying “Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you!” Peter thought he knew better than Jesus. Peter thought the Messiah would be triumphant and victorious and not go through suffering, rejection, and death. But he was wrong. Jesus said that Peter was influenced by human concerns (like power and status), rather than the concerns of God who was to use what Jesus went through as a suffering servant to offer salvation to humanity.
So Jesus rebuked him, “Get behind me, Satan!”, which means “get away from me”. Peter protested against Christ’s death, but that was Jesus’ purpose in coming to earth. The cross is God’s plan for delivering humanity from their sin. Peter acted like Satan. He was influenced by Satan, and was talking like Satan. Satan tries to discourage people from obeying God. He tempts us to take the easy path.
This incident shows that the death of Christ for our sins is not an option, but a divine necessity. There’s no other way to get right with God.
So Peter failed when he rebuked Jesus and tried to get Jesus to avoid going to the cross. He was ignorant of God’s plan. It’s an example of his self-centred audacity.
- Peter treats Jesus like another prophet
About a week later, Peter was taken up a high mountain and was privileged to see a vision of what it will be like when Jesus comes to reign over the earth. Mark says that, “Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There He was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.) Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: ‘This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to Him!’” (Mk. 9:2-7).
He saw Jesus in dazzling white talking about His death with Moses and Elijah (Lk. 9:30). Peter suggested putting up three shelters, one for each of them. He put Jesus on the same level as Moses and Elijah. But by speaking from a cloud God rebuked Peter for comparing Jesus with Moses and Elijah. They aren’t equals, because Jesus is Lord over all. When Jesus reigns, He will be pre-eminent above everyone else.
The Bible says that Peter “did not know what to say, they were so frightened” and “He did not know what he was saying” (Lk. 9:33). So he rushed in and said the first thing that came into his mind!
This incident shows us that Jesus is the unique Son of God. He’s not just a human prophet like Moses and Elijah.
So Peter failed when he spoke before thinking. It’s called putting your foot in your mouth! Or shooting yourself in the foot. And he missed the bigger picture of seeing Christ’s glory.
- Peter didn’t want Jesus to wash his feet
In biblical times, the use of open sandals made it necessary to wash one’s feet frequently. A servant usually washed the feet of a host’s guests. When Jesus celebrated His last Passover with His disciples, He began to wash the disciple’s feet. This shocked Peter. He thought it was wrong. So Peter said to Him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” (Jn. 13:6-9).
Peter didn’t stop to think about the spiritual significance of the foot washing. Because sin destroys our fellowship with the Lord, Peter needed spiritual cleansing. The external washing was a picture of cleansing from failure and sin. It symbolized Jesus washing away a person’s failure and sin. But Peter didn’t understand Jesus’ path to the cross.
This incident shows Jesus as a humble servant. It was before His greatest act of service.
So Peter failed when he resisted having Jesus wash his feet. He told Jesus not to do it. Fortunately he changed his mind soon after.
- Peter fell asleep when Jesus prayed
After the last supper, Jesus took Peter, James and John into the Garden of Gethsemane and told them to “Stay here and keep watch” and “pray that you will not fall into temptation”, while He prayed. He asked God the Father if there was any other way by which sinners could be saved other than by His death, burial and resurrection. But there was no other way. And Jesus wanted His followers to understand the importance of prayer during difficult times.
Then He returned to His disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” He said to Peter, “are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mk. 14:37-38). He came back and found them sleeping three times! They couldn’t stay awake when Jesus faced the thought of becoming a sin-offering for humanity. They slept when they should have been praying. They couldn’t stay awake.
This incident illustrates our human weakness.
So Peter failed to obey Jesus when he slept instead of keeping watch and praying. And later that night Peter did fall into temptation when he denied knowing Christ.
- Peter attacked the servant of the high priest
When Jesus was being arrested, Peter cut off the right ear of Malchus, the servant of the high priest (Lk. 22:50-51; Jn. 18:10-11). He was trying to stop Jesus being arrested. But Jesus told him to put his sword away and Jesus healed the man’s ear. At this time, Peter didn’t understand that Jesus came to die for our sins. Jesus was being arrested so He could be crucified. The time had come for Him to lay down His life. Jesus’ betrayal and death was in God’s eternal plan; it was no accident. It was predicted in the Old Testament, but Peter was acting against God’s plan and against God’s will. Peter failed. He didn’t understand that physical weapons are useless for spiritual warfare. Our weapons are prayer, the Bible and the Holy Spirit. Peter was on the wrong wavelength. He wasn’t on the same page as Jesus.
This incident illustrates that God’s battle is won by His power alone. The ultimate answer to our problems comes through faith in Christ, not faith in others, such as politicians.
So Peter failed when he used violence to try to stop the arrest of Jesus. He took matters into his own hands instead of bringing them to Jesus.
- Peter denied knowing Christ
Peter’s most famous failure is mentioned in each of the gospels (Mt. 26:69-75; Mk. 14:66-72; Lk. 22:55-62; Jn. 18:15-19, 25-27). This occurred when Jesus was being questioned by the high priest before His crucifixion. Three times Peter denied knowing Jesus.
Here’s how Luke described it: “Then seizing Him [Jesus], they led Him away and took Him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance. And when some there had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them. A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, “This man was with Him [Jesus].”
But he denied it. “Woman, I don’t know Him,” he said.
A little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.”
“Man, I am not!” Peter replied.
About an hour later another asserted, “Certainly this fellow was with Him, for he is a Galilean.”
Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly” (Lk. 22:54-62).
Peter had a Galilean accent that was conspicuous in Jerusalem (Mt. 27:73). And he was recognized by a relative of Malchus who had seen Peter cut off Malchus’ ear (Jn. 18:26). But he still denied knowing Jesus.
And this happened after Peter promised never to disown Jesus. After the last supper, “You will all fall away,” Jesus told them, “for it is written: “‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” Peter declared, “Even if all fall away, I will not.” “Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “today—yes, tonight—before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times.” But Peter insisted emphatically, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the others said the same (Mk. 14:27-31). And Peter said earlier, “I will lay down my life for you [Jesus]” (Jn. 3:37). But instead of being bold before the Jewish leaders in the Sanhedrin (like Jesus), he couldn’t even stand up for Jesus before a servant girl!
Peter wasn’t the only disciple that failed at this time. After Jesus was arrested, they all deserted Him and fled (Mk. 14:27, 50). John was the only other disciple at the trial and crucifixion (Jn. 18:15-16; 19:26-27). They were the only disciples who followed Jesus to the courtyard of the house of the high priest. And Peter wasn’t a coward, he tried to cut off the head of Malchus! Peter’s denial was when his faith faltered, but it didn’t completely fail – because Jesus had prayed that his “faith may not fail” (Lk. 22:32). But his faith was momentarily overshadowed by his tiredness (he had been up all night) and his doubts and fears (Jesus’ case looked hopeless). He was afraid and exhausted. He found it difficult to be the odd man out. And he was unprepared to be questioned by a servant girl.
This incident illustrates human weakness and the danger of self-confidence. Even mature believers are prone to failure. Especially when they face unexpected trials and temptations. And self-confidence can lead to humiliation.
So Peter failed when he denied knowing Jesus. He did what he said he would never do. He cracked under pressure, and in a crisis he lost his courage. They were moments of disloyalty.
- Peter discriminated against Gentiles
Peter was a Jew, and he was the first to bring salvation to the Gentiles when he visited Cornelius. However, later he was influenced by legalistic Jewish Christians to discriminate against Gentiles.
Paul said, “When Cephas [Peter] came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, ‘You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?’” (Gal. 2:11-14). Paul’s argument continues to the end of Galatians 2. Paul emphasised that salvation was through faith in Christ and not through keeping some Jewish customs. And all believers are unified in Jesus Christ, and cultural or national differences shouldn’t affect their fellowship. Peter must have responded well to Paul’s rebuke because he referred to “our dear brother Paul” (2 Pt. 3:15) in one of his letters.
Peter contributed to racial divisions within the church. He had been mixing freely with Gentiles, but when some Jews arrived from Jerusalem who insisted that circumcision was required for believers in Christ, Peter began avoiding the uncircumcised Gentile believers. Paul called Peter a hypocrite for following the law of Moses. But because of Paul’s bold confrontation, the behavior was corrected and Peter went on to serve God in unity amongst all races and nations.
This incident shows us that even mature Christians can lapse into sinful behavior.
So Peter failed when he discriminated against Gentiles.
Peter was a follower of Jesus who failed big-time. He was corrected by God, Jesus, and Paul! We’ve looked at seven instances where Peter failed. It was a habit of his. He failed when he misunderstood Jesus. Peter failed when he sinned. His main sin was self-confidence. His failures and sins had painful consequences.
In October David Reynolds led for most of the Bathurst 1000 car race. But when he spun the rear tyres at a pit stop, he was given a penalty that moved him to seventh place. This failure had a consequence.
When Paul reminded the Christians of when the Israelites failed in Old Testament times, he said, “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). He didn’t want them to repeat Israel’s mistakes. It’s a warning to the self-confident like Peter. A warning that spiritual pride often leads to a spiritual fall. A spiritual failure. It’s a warning to those who think they are spiritually strong. For example, Elijah had a great victory over the prophets of Baal, but soon after he was running away from queen Jezebel.
But Peter’s failure didn’t define him. Although it’s recorded in the Bible, it wasn’t the end of Peter. It didn’t stop him from being a leader in the early church. He was not rejected by Jesus.
But how did Peter survive failure?
After Peter publicly denied knowing Jesus he repented and was restored to fellowship with the Lord. This restoration was recognized publicly after Christ’s resurrection. Three times Peter answered Jesus, “Lord, you know that I love you” (Jn. 21:15-19). Jesus accepts this declaration, restores him to fellowship and commissions him for service by saying “feed my sheep”. The three affirmations matched the three denials. Peter learnt to be humble; he said “Lord, you know all things” (Jn. 21:17). And he told others to “clothe yourselves with humility” (1 Pt. 5:5). Peter served as an apostle and a church elder (1 Pt. 5:1-4). Through Jesus, Peter learnt that failure isn’t final.
Peter was restored to service because of his repentance. God used him mightily in the early church. He preached the first sermon when the church began on the day of Pentecost and 3,000 people decided to follow Jesus. He was courageous; he was put in jail more than once for proclaiming that Jesus had risen from the dead.
Jesus chose Peter knowing that he would fail and knowing that he would be restored. God used Peter’s failure and sin to strengthen his faith and build him up for service in the early church. It cured him of his excessive self-confidence. Jesus can transform failures into followers. Like Peter we all fail and we all sin in some way. But like Peter we can be transformed from failure to following Jesus once again. Like him we can be former failures, and not final failures.
Billy Monger is a British car racing driver. In April 2017 he was involved in a high speed crash and had the lower part of both of his legs amputated. It seemed like that was the end of his career. But in 2018 he recommenced driving a Formula 3 car with hand controls. It was a great recovery.
Now that we’ve looked at how Peter survived failure, we need to consider “How can we survive failure?”. There’re two answers to this question. The first is to ensure our failures aren’t fatal. And the second is dealing with ongoing failures.
How to ensure our failures aren’t final
Judas Iscariot failed and sinned when he betrayed Jesus. But his failure was final and fatal. How can we escape this fate? The process is summarized in this diagram.
– Failure and sin separates us from God and puts us under His judgment, and if we do nothing about this separation and judgment, it is final and hell is our ultimate destiny. Although failure is an event and not a destiny, in this case it leads to a destiny. To not trust on Christ is a fatal failure and a fatal sin.
– The first step to fix the problem is to be convicted of our failure and sin. It involves recognizing it. We may feel guilty or sorry. For example, after he was confronted, the man who had been sexually immoral at Corinth was very sorry about his behavior (2 Cor. 2:7).
– The next step is to confess our failure and sin to God. It means admitting that we are wrong.
For example, David confessed his adultery, deceit and murder (Ps. 32:5).
– The next step is repentance, which is a change of behavior where our change of attitude is shown in our actions. It’s like doing a U-turn in a car to go in the opposite direction. For example, the prodigal son stopped his wild living and travelled back to his father. He remembered that his father still loved him. We cannot become a follower of Jesus without conviction, confession and repentance. That’s the way to respond to failure and sin.
– Then God promises to forgive all our failures and sins, in the past, the present and the future. Peter preached, “Repent … and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out” (Acts 3:19). God is a judge of all those who have never trusted in Him. This judicial forgiveness removes the barrier to heaven. It is when an unbeliever comes to faith in Christ. If we acknowledge our sinfulness and believe that Jesus paid the penalty for us, then we are viewed as God’s children. Jesus died for all our failures, weaknesses, and sins. Have you experienced this kind of forgiveness? If not, why not start following the Lord by confessing your sins and trusting Christ as Savior?
– After our failures and sins have been dealt with, we have peace with God and are reconciled with God. And heaven is our ultimate destiny, where all our failures are forgotten.
Now we have ensured our failures aren’t fatal, how can we deal with ongoing failures?
Dealing with ongoing failures
James says that teachers “all stumble in many ways” (Jas. 3:2). This applies to us as well.
Note the words “all” and “many”. Everyone fails sometime. And there are many ways to fail. In this passage, James addresses failures caused by the words we speak. The principle of this verse is that a sense of failure and sinfulness is necessary for our spiritual health.
The Bible says that Christians cannot grow as followers of Jesus without regular conviction, confession and repentance of their failures and sins. For a Christian, all sin has been dealt with by the death of our Savior. Paul said, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). But God allows us to fail so our faith can be strengthened. That’s what happened to Peter. He did more for Jesus Christ after his failures than he did before. His pride and self-confidence were replaced with humility and confidence in God and determination to serve Him.
The process for dealing with our ongoing failures is summarized in this diagram, which is similar to the previous one. Sin causes failures and spoils a believer’s relationship with God.
Conviction. The first step is to admit our failures and sins instead of excusing them. Peter was convicted after he denied the Lord three times. The Bible says he wept bitterly (Mt. 26:75).
Confession. The next step is to confess our failure and sin (1 Jn. 1:9). David said, “I have sinned against the Lord” (12 Sam. 12:13). Christians need to do this regularly. It means admitting our failures and sins and confessing them so our relationships can be restored with each other and with God. If we examine ourselves and get right with God, we will not come under His discipline. That’s why the Christian life should be full of confession. So our fellowship with the Lord can be restored. The Christian life is full of restarts. Each of these involves conviction of sin, confession of sin, repentance to put things right, and then putting our failures behind us and moving ahead.
Repentance. The next step is to change direction and turn around to follow God once again. It involves completely changed attitudes and behavior. It is more than confessions or remorse. The Bible says it’s having a new heart and a new spirit (Ezek. 18:30-32). The churches in Revelation were urged to repent (Rev. 2:5, 16; 3:3, 19).
Forgiveness. After we are convicted and confess and repent, God offers forgiveness. He has great mercy. David was told “The Lord has taken away your sin” (2 Sam. 12:13). God is a Father of all those who have trusted in Him. This parental and family forgiveness restores a believer’s fellowship with God after it has been broken by failure and sin. The Bible says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:9).
Restoration. Once we are forgiven, we are restored to following Christ once again.
This should be a time for celebration, like when the prodigal son returned home (Lk. 15:22-24).
Up to 2013 golfer Tiger Woods won 79 titles. But then he struggled with personal problems and injuries. He was divorced in 2010 and his fourth back surgery was in April 2017. Many people had written him off. But in a great comeback he won the Atlanta title in September 2018.
The Bible says that Abraham, Moses, Elijah, David, and Peter all failed God at some time; but they recovered from this to serve God in mighty ways. For them, failure was an event, but not a destiny.
Lessons for us
We have seen that failure is a normal part of life. It’s not unusual. We should expect to fail from time to time. Failure is a fact of life.
Even Google has failures. In 2011, Google launched Google+, which was supposed to be the next big social network. I was thinking of posting on it with links to my blog, like I do on Twitter. But Google+ was a flop and it’s being closed down.
The ability to handle failure is a vital part of our spiritual life and a sign of maturity. Fear of failure shouldn’t dominate our mind. The Bible says we are all sinners and prone to failure, but in Christ we can become overcomers.
Failure doesn’t disqualify us, even if we’ve been following Jesus for some time. God gives us another chance.
Peter was very good at failing, but he was even better at not giving up. Through his failures, Peter refused to throw in the towel. He learned from his bad decisions and allowed God to shape and mould his character. So next time you’re feeling down about yourself, remember Peter. Take a deep breath and try again.
Let’s learn from our failures and mistakes. These teach us how much we need God and His mercy in our lives. God can use failure to do spiritual housecleaning. Peter laid down his pride and put on the Holy Spirit’s courage. Remember that God sees beyond our faults and failures. If we have failed, God can make us useful again. And he continues to call us to serve Him.
Parents, let your children fail. Just as God lets us fall flat on our faces so that we may become stronger, we must allow our children the privilege of failing, too. And when they do fail, be ready to forgive them as God forgives us. For that is God’s answer to human failure.
So, failure isn’t final. No matter how we feel, it’s not the end. If Peter can fail, we can fail. If Peter can be restored, we can be restored. There is hope for us all.
Remember our car that was written off? It was taken to the insurer’s yard of damaged vehicles. Then it was probably sold to someone who repaired it and it’s probably still driving around today. It was restored.
The students at Capstone College in Poatina in Tasmania struggled at high school. Because of negative experiences, they hated school and found excuses to do other things instead. Their attendance record was poor – they were absent more than present. They were failures as students. But this failure wasn’t final or permanent or set in stone. Things have changed. They are now happy to attend school at Capstone College. Because of Capstone College, their life has turned around.
And failure needn’t be final for us also. Through Jesus, our life can turn around. The gospel solution to surviving failure is that God offers us forgiveness and restoration, and now we must confess our failures and sins to Him. So because Jesus died to pay the cost of our failures, failure isn’t final. Because of Jesus, failure isn’t final. Through Jesus, failure isn’t final. That’s how to survive failure.
Written, December 2018
What is faith? Is it blind, as some critics in popular culture claim, or does it involve our intellect and rationality? Should we switch off our brains at the door when we go to church? Or should we be thoughtful in our beliefs? Do we have good justifications and reasons for our faith? Or, do we just blindly jump in?
People say that faith is blind because they think that there is and can be no good reasons or justifications for Christian faith.
To see how atheists typically characterise faith, let’s look at some representative quotes:
– “Faith means not wanting to know what is true” (Nietzsche).
– “Faith is nothing more than the licence religious people give each other to keep believing when reasons fail” (Sam Harris).
– “Faith is the denial of observation so that belief can be preserved” (Tim Minchin).
– “Faith is the surrender of the mind; it’s the surrender of reason” (Christopher Hitchens).
In all these examples it is clear how they view faith, it refers to how someone forms and holds their beliefs and that it is totally divorced from all reason, evidence and justification. But this description does not seem consistent with how the Bible characterizes faith or how Christians have historically viewed faith.
The Greek word used in the Bible for faith is pistis. This word is most regularly translated as faith, but on occasion as believe or assurance. It comes from the root word pethio meaning “to convince” or “persuade”. Pistis was used in the ancient world by both Christians and non-Christians to describe confidence in something that was persuasive or trustworthy. The Latin rendering of pistis is “fiducia”, from which we get our word faith. So faith has traditionally been understood as trust in something which is persuasive and trustworthy. Faith is equivalent to trust, they are synonyms. For example, children trust (have faith) in parents and the vision impaired trust (have faith) in guide dogs.
Martin Luther, the Protestant Reformer held that faith has three components.
First, there is notitia, or understanding. That is, a person must understand what it is they are claiming to believe. If you don’t know or understand what the core truths of the gospel are then there is no possible way you could meaningfully believe in them (have faith in them).
Second, there is assensus, or intellectual agreement. This means finding something rationally compelling and agreeing with it. A person must intellectually accept the things they say they believe – otherwise they can hardly say they believe them, can they? So, a person must not only understand the truths of the gospel but also agree with them. Many people understand the gospel but reject it anyway. Jesus said that such “people loved darkness instead of light” (Jn. 3:19NIV).
Finally, there is fiducia, or trust. This is the root of the word faith. Saving faith involves not merely understanding and having an intellectual agreement with some list of doctrines, but a whole-hearted commitment and trust in the God they are about. Remember, even the demons believe that there is one God, but they don’t trust in God (Jas. 2:19).
To a Christian, faith is not the mindless, blind leap it is often mischaracterized as. It is the trust we put in a God and a gospel that we have thought about carefully and have found to be convincing and trustworthy.
A popular illustration has been that of a famous tightrope walker by the name of Charles Blondin. In1859 he tightrope walked across Niagara Falls repeatedly, even doing a summersault, with a wheelbarrow, on stilts and blindfolded. Then he asked if someone would hop on his back and be carried as he walked across the falls. Most turned down the offer. They understood what he was asking of them (they had the notitia), they all emphatically agreed that he could achieve the feat (they gave their assensus) but most were unwilling to put their trust (their fiducia) in his skills. Practically speaking, their belief had as much influence on their behaviour as unbelief would have. However, one man did have faith (fiducia) in Blondin’s skills and he was successfully carried across Niagara Falls.
What does this faith look like in the Bible? In the case of Abraham, he saw the faithfulness of God, who gave him Isaac when “his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead” (Rom. 4:19). He trusted God’s commands and promises. And when the Israelites saw God’s power in Egypt, they put their trust in Him to be led out of Egypt (Ex. 14:31).
Or in the New Testament, there was the woman who suffered constant bleeding who trusted Jesus could heal her after she had seen all that Jesus could do (Mt. 9: 18-26). And the Centurion who had heard of Jesus’ power and trusted that He could heal his servant remotely by a simple command (Lk. 7: 1-10). The men who lowered their paralytic friend through the roof, believed that Jesus could heal their friend if only they could get their friend to Him (Mk. 2:1-12). And Thomas wouldn’t believe in Christ’s resurrection until he saw and touched Jesus’ wounds. He received that evidence, found it convincing and declared “My Lord and my God” (Jn. 20:28). Thomas put his full trust in Jesus, going so far as to die for his faith in Christ rather than recanting.
So biblical faith isn’t a blind hope, or a surrender of reason. But it is always based on knowledge of God’s nature and character, His promises in the Scriptures, and what He has done.
Knowing and showing that Christianity is true
When sceptics say, “faith is blind”, they either ignore or are unaware of the intellectual foundation of faith. So what is that intellectual basis? How do we know Christianity is true? How we can know that the Christian message is true? There are two ways we can know that the Christian Gospel is true.
The first is internal, it is the inner witness of the Holy Spirit – a direct, personal self-authenticating experience that is truthful (or genuine) and unmistakable. The second comes from persuasive arguments for Christian truth claims, including arguments for the existence of God, evidence for the historicity of the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the reliability of the Bible.
These have different roles in knowing Christianity is true and showing that it is true. The inner witness of the Holy Spirit helps us to know that Christianity is true, and arguments and evidence show us that Christianity is true.
Inner witness of the Holy Spirit
We can know Christianity is true because of our direct self-authenticating experience of God’s Holy Spirit within us. A person who directly experiences the witness of the Holy Spirit doesn’t just have a subjective assurance of Christianity’s truth; like a “warm fuzzy feeling” about what we would like to be true. The inner witness of the Holy Spirit is a direct experience of God that gives us objective knowledge of the truth of Christianity, without the need for any additional arguments or proofs to authenticate it. This kind of direct knowledge is like the way we directly experience our own existence. We don’t need to be given any evidence or proofs that we exist. We know it directly from our own experience. In a similar way, we know that things beyond ourselves exist, things in the world around us. And again, we don’t need special arguments or proofs to convince us that we experience the world around us. We know it directly from our experiences. We shouldn’t press these analogies too far, but they give a good illustration of how the inner witness of the Holy Spirit gives us a similar sort of experiential knowledge of God.
Paul describes the way the Holy Spirit works within us, “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. . . . Because you are His sons, God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father!’” (Gal. 3:26; 4:6).
By God’s Spirit we directly know that we are children of God, “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children” (Rom. 8:15–16).
When Paul describes the result of the Holy Spirit’s witness, he uses the term plerophoria which means complete confidence, full assurance. He means to indicate that the believer has knowledge of the truth by the Spirit’s work. “Because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction (plerophoria)” (1 Th. 1:5).
And Jesus said, “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (Jn. 14:26). The Holy Spirit teaches us the things we need to know in order to know Christianity is true.
And John echos Jesus’ teaching, “But you have an anointing from the Holy One [the Holy Spirit], and all of you know the truth . . . the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his [the Holy Spirit’s] anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him” (1 Jn. 2:20, 27).
Paul also said, “The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words” (1 Cor. 2: 10-13).
So the inner witness of the Holy Spirit enables us to know certain truths of the Christian gospel, such as “God exists,” “We were condemned by God”, “We are now reconciled to God”, “Christ lives in us”, and “we are children of God”.
According to the Bible, The Holy Spirit also has a special role for the non-Christian. Jesus said, “But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate [the Holy Spirit] will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world [Satan] now stands condemned” (Jn. 16:7–11).
The Holy Spirit convicts the unbeliever of their sin, of God’s righteousness, and of their condemnation before God. By the inner witness of the Holy Spirit a non-Christian can know such truths as “God exists,” and “I am guilty before God”. Paul even tells us that without the inner witness of the Holy Spirit no one would ever become a Christian, “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands [about God]; there is no one who seeks God” (Rom. 3:10–11). And, “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit” (1 Cor. 2:14). “The mind governed by the flesh [instead of the Holy Spirit] is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so” (Rom. 8:7). As Jesus said, people love darkness rather than light.
So the self-authenticating inner witness of the Holy Spirit gives both the Christian and the non-Christian direct knowledge of core truths of the Christian message – independent of arguments and evidence. But what about arguments and evidence?
Arguments and evidence
Some people say we should never seek to defend the faith. That nobody comes to Christ through arguments and evidence. Just preach the gospel and let the Holy Spirit work! But this attitude is dangerous – it’s unbalanced and unscriptural. Instead Scripture commands us to be prepared to give such a defence to an unbeliever, “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” (1 Pt. 3:15).
We should appeal to the head as well as to the heart. For the Christian, arguments and evidence give extra assurance – we have double the reason for our faith. This adds to the confidence we already have from the Holy Spirit’s witness. The rational foundation for our faith can protect us in times of hardship or doubt. For the unbeliever, these arguments can be both one of the means through which the Holy Spirit works to bring them to Christ and they can also help predispose an unbeliever to respond to the drawing of the Holy Spirit when they hear the gospel. This is where rational arguments are crucial in showing Christianity is true.
So what arguments and evidence might we use? There are many of them and some are outlined below.
Existence of God
Firstly, there are general arguments for the existence of God. These arguments don’t demonstrate that Christianity, specifically, is true. They show that belief in a supreme God and Creator is more rational for a person to believe than Atheism. These arguments include the following.
The Kalam cosmological argument
- All things that begin to exist have a cause of their existence.
- The universe began to exist.
Conclusion: The Universe has a cause of its existence.
You might wonder, where is God in this? But when you unpack what this cause must have been like, it must be outside time and space, be immaterial, extremely powerful, and most likely be a personal being. And this is a lot like the God of the Bible.
The Leibnizian cosmological argument
- Anything that exists has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause.
- If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.
- The universe exists.
Conclusion 1: the universe has an explanation of its existence.
Conclusion 2: the explanation of the existence of the universe is God (from 2, and Conclusion 1).
The teleological (“Fine-Tuning”) cosmological argument
- The universe is finely tuned to make life physically possible.
- The fine-tuning of the universe is due to either physical necessity, chance, or design.
- It is not due to physical necessity or chance.
Conclusion: The fine tuning it is due to design. And the designer is lot like God.
These first three arguments reflect the thoughts of David in Psalm 19 and Paul’s words in Romans 1. “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world” (Ps. 19:1-4).
“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20).
The moral argument
- If God does not exist, objective moral values (right and wrong) and duties do not exist.
- Objective moral values and duties do exist.
Conclusion: God exists.
This helps us see God’s moral nature. God is the foundation of moral values. Paul reflects the basic premise of the moral argument in Romans 2 when he says that the Gentiles who didn’t have the law of Moses, “are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them” (Rom. 2:14-15). The moral law is clearly perceived by all people.
There is an important misconception that often gets attached to the moral argument; That a person can only do morally good things if they believe in God. The moral argument does not say that a person must believe in God to be able to do morally good deeds, Indeed the verse just quoted from Romans even says this. What the argument says is that if any act is truly good or bad, it is because God exists and is the foundation of moral goodness. A non-believer can still do good things.
The ontological argument
- It is possible that a maximally great being (God) exists.
- If it is possible that a maximally great being exists, then a maximally great being exists in some possible world.
- If a maximally great being exists in some possible world, then it exists in every possible world.
- If a maximally great being exists in every possible world, then it exists in the actual world.
- If a maximally great being exists in the actual world, then a maximally great being exists.
Conclusion: a maximally great being (God) exists.
Here, “maximally great being” means the best possible being (person) that could ever be described. This is the kind of being that has all the qualities that make a being great and excellent, and it has those qualities to the fullest possible extent. These would be qualities like moral goodness, power, knowledge, wisdom, and self-sufficiency. These are all the qualities typically associated with being God. The term “maximally great being” is used in the argument to avoid any misunderstandings that might occur because people often have their own assumptions or ideas about God based on past experiences. The term is used to avoid all that baggage people might attach to the word God.
This is a rather abstract argument to get your head around at first, but what it shows is that if it is even logically possible that God exists, then He exists necessarily, and it would be impossible that He doesn’t exist. In order to defeat this argument and show that God does not exist, the critic of the argument would have to show that it is logically impossible for God to exist – that there is not even the slightest possibility that He exists. The most controversial premise in this argument for philosophers who specialise in modal logic is premise 1. All the other premises (2-5) are just conclusions drawn from premise 1 and the rules of modal logic.
These arguments give a very strong cumulative case for the existence of God. Something that you might notice about these arguments is that there are premises in all of them that some people might not accept; either because they don’t want to accept the conclusion of the argument, or because they haven’t really heard or considered any evidence that might make them accept the premises. What we would do when sharing these arguments with people is also share the evidence that makes us believe the premises in them are true; and therefore, that the argument is true.
To these arguments about God’s existence we can add arguments for the truth of Christianity in particular.
Historicity of Jesus’ death and resurrection
Perhaps the most important argument we could add would be the argument for the historicity of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The minimal facts that we can bring to this argument, facts that are agreed upon by almost universally amongst historians (including Atheists, Jews and Muslims) who have seriously studied the historical Jesus are:
1. Jesus died by crucifixion.
2. That His tomb was found.
3.. That His disciples sincerely believed that they meet with the bodily resurrected Jesus and were transformed into bold proclaimers of His resurrection; facing death rather than recanting on that belief.
Establishing these historical facts does not require the assumption that the Bible is perfectly infallible or perfectly preserved, so the critic can’t dismiss them using that retort. Further, all of them enjoy evidence in addition to that in the Bible text. The best explanation that can account for all three facts simultaneously is that Jesus did indeed die and rise again. All other explanations fail to account for all three facts, and the only real reason to prefer these explanations is an a priori exclusion of a miracle as an explanation – that is deciding that a miracle is impossible before even looking at any of the evidence. But indeed the Christian gospel is based upon actual historical events witnessed and recorded for us in the Bible. As Peter wrote, “we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Pt. 1:16). The authors saw what happened and faithfully wrote down what they saw because it was such an important thing to share.
Reliability of the Bible
Furthermore, we can add the overwhelming evidence we have for the reliability of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments. For example:
– Its books were written very close to the events they record (some places within two years of the resurrection and all within the lifetime of the disciples).
– They are not corrupted by legendary developments.
– They have been extremely well preserved and transmitted.
These arguments and evidence are just some of the ways we can go about showing that Christianity is true and that we have a rational foundation for our faith. They also give us the comfort of adding to our knowledge that Christianity is true which comes primarily by the inner witness of the Holy Spirit.
Not by sight
The final appeal the skeptic might make to accuse of following our faith blindly comes from the Bible itself. For example, “we live by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). And, “faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Heb. 11:1). This seems to be blind faith.
However, in both these verses, the context is our eagerly awaiting our future life with Christ, given that we know with such certainty (plerophoria) of the resurrection of Christ. And how good it is that the future we are faithfully waiting for is not based on “blind faith” but is a future we trust in with a solid, rational foundation.
Lessons for us
Now we have looked at what faith is and seen that it is not blind, how does this apply to our day-to-day lives?
Firstly, sometimes we have doubts. Or sometimes we may find it hard to answer every question someone critical of Christianity asks of us. But we don’t need to let these things trouble us, because our faith is supported by good reasons and evidence. So, as Paul writes: “thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15: 57-58). And Peter said, “we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty” (2 Pt. 1:16).
Secondly, often in life we, or the people we love, encounter tough times. Bad things happen. We suffer. We struggle. And very often we don’t clearly know why or what the purpose is. But we can trust God through this. We know that our faith is based on something that is sure and we have God’s promise that, “in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28).
Because our faith is not blind and we have good reasons to be confident in what we believe, we can confidently take God at His word. We can look forward to what is coming, “‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev. 21:4). And, we can trust that “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6).
And thirdly, sometimes when a person hears the gospel message, the only thing keeping them from accepted it is the fear that they are making a blind leap into something that they don’t really know if they can trust. And by being able to show that our faith has a strong firm rational foundation, we can show them it’s not a blind leap into the dark, but a short step onto more firm ground. And that can lead them to accept the gospel.
Let’s be thankful that our faith is not blind.
This blogpost was sourced from a presentation by Dr Tom Murphy (a chemist) titled, “Is faith blind?”.
Written, November 2018