Observations on life; particularly spiritual

Posts tagged “Gospel

Testing Islam

indonesian-campaign-400pxIndonesia’s reputation for religious tolerance is expected be tested at the blasphemy trial of Jakarta’s Christian Governor Basuki Purnama (Ahok). Blasphemy is speaking irreverently of God or sacred things. Apparently Ahok told voters that they were being misled by Islamic clerics who said Muslims were not permitted to vote for a Christian. This remark sparked inaccurate reports that Ahok had criticized the Koran, not the clerics. Mass protests followed as conservative Muslims campaigned for Ahok’s jailing. Blasphemy is a criminal offense in Indonesia and punishable by up to five years in prison.
(Postscript: In May 2017, Ahok was sentenced to two years in prison for blasphemy against Islam. The sentence was harsher than what prosecutors had asked for – two years’ probation on a lesser charge, which would have spared him prison time. Ahok’s conviction and imprisonment reignited fears that the country’s secular government could be hijacked by Islamic extremists).

It is estimated that about 25% of the world’s population is Muslim. This increases to over 90% in the Middle East and North Africa. The Islamic faith is monotheistic like Judaism and Christianity. But do Muslims worship the same God as Jews and Christians?

True or false?

The Bible contains three clear tests for determining whether a belief, teaching or philosophy is true or false. To be true it must pass each of the three tests.

The Jesus test

This test states that, “Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist … This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood” (1 Jn. 4:2-3, 6NIV). The question to be answered in this test is: What does it say about Jesus Christ? Is it consistent with Christ’s unique birth, divine and human nature, sinless life, sacrificial death, resurrection, and second coming (1 Jn. 4:1-3)?

The gospel test

The Bible warns about those promoting a different gospel, “If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!” (Gal.1:9). The question to be answered in this test is: What is its gospel? In other words: what is the core belief or hope? The Bible says that the root cause of all our problems is that everyone has sinned and fallen short of God’s requirements—resulting in death. The only means of rescue is salvation by repentance of sin and faith in the work of Christ. ‘Different gospels’ are those that differ from this. They either add to it or take away from it. There is a warning against adding to or taking away from the words of the Bible (Rev. 22:18-19).

The fruit test

Jesus Christ warned, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them” (Mt. 7:15-20). The question to be answered in this test is: What kind of fruit is evident? In other words, what type of attitudes and behavior does it encourage? Is the divine nature or the sinful nature most evident (Gal. 5:19-23)?

I have previously summarized Islam and Islamic prayer. These tests will now be used to assess the Islamic faith.

Testing the Islamic faith

The Jesus test

Jesus is mentioned in 93 verses of the Quran. But what do Muslims believe about Jesus Christ? See Appendix A: “What Muslims think about Jesus?” In summary, they believe that:
– Jesus was a Muslim prophet.
– He had a miraculous birth.
– He performed many miracles.
– He wasn’t crucified or resurrected.
– He wasn’t God or the son of God.
– He announced the coming of Muhammad.
– He will return in the end times to help bring the world to its end.

Islam clearly fails the Jesus test. The Islamic Jesus is different to the Biblical Jesus. The main shortcomings are a failure to acknowledge Christ’s divinity and His sacrificial death (crucifixion) and resurrection. This means that Muslims reject the climatic part of the Bible when God solves the problem of humanity’s sinfulness. He does this by sending His only Son Jesus to the earth as a substitute to take the punishment that we all deserve.

The Islamic view of Jesus lies between two extremes. The Jews rejected Jesus as a prophet, while the Christians considered Him to be the Son of God and worship Him as such. The Islamic claim that Jesus was not executed by crucifixion is without any historical support. One of the things that all the early sources agree on is Jesus’ crucifixion.

But is Allah like God the Father? They are similar in being omnipotent, omniscient, creator, and sustainer. But there is a major difference: Allah didn’t send Jesus to die for our sins. So Allah isn’t the God of the Bible.

The gospel test

The Quran mentions Paradise and Hell as future destinies for humanity. But how do Muslims believe one gets to Paradise instead of Hell? See Appendix B: “What Muslims think about Salvation” In summary, they believe that:
– Allah sent prophets to show us the right way of living.
– Salvation is possible through belief/faith in Allah and good works, including keeping the five acts of worship (pillars of Islam).
– The essential belief/faith is that “There is no God but Allah” and “Muhammad is God’s Prophet”.
– On the day of judgment, if a Muslim’s good works outweigh their bad ones and if Allah wills it, they may be forgiven of all their sins and then enter into Paradise. So salvation is based on Allah’s grace/mercy and a Muslim’s good works.

This is different to what Christians believe about salvation. The Bible teaches that salvation is by God’s grace alone: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith … not of works” (Eph. 2:8-9). The Christian gospel may be summarized as: “Because of His infinite mercy, God sent His Son (Jesus) to earth to save people so they could live right. He was the sacrifice which would permit God to blot out all our sins, and enable us to be clean so that we could dwell eternally with our holy God. Jesus died for the sins of humanity”. But Islam teaches that faith in Allah alone is not enough for salvation. It is a religion of salvation by works because it combines a Muslim’s works with Allah’s grace/mercy.

Christ’s substitutionary death is the core of a Christian’s salvation. But Muslims deny that Jesus came to this earth with the purpose of sacrificing himself for the sin of humanity, freeing them from its burden.

A Muslim’s salvation is never guaranteed. There is no assurance of going to Paradise, regardless of how devout they may be. They must do good works and hope that at judgment day Allah will grant favor. By contrast, the Christian’s salvation is sure and confident. God’s promises are never broken, and we can rely on scripture when it declares that faith in Jesus saves (Acts 16:31) and we can rest confidently in this assurance (1 Jn. 5:13). Our forgiveness and salvation are completely based on the work of Christ on the cross (1 Pet. 2:24) and not on any of our deeds because we have a sinful nature (Rom. 7:18).

It would seem the Islamic system of salvation is more a reward than grace. Faith in God alone saves a Christian (Rom. 5:17, 19), but faith in Allah alone isn’t sufficient to save a Muslim. The problem with being saved by God’s grace and human works is that human works are never sufficient to please God. God is infinite and holy. How can we finite sinners ever hope to please God by our deeds? By the way, works do have a place in the life of a Christian, but only as evidence of a pre-existing faith (Jas 2:18).

Islam is also different to Judaism where the death of a sacrificial animal dealt with one’s sin. And one of the characteristics of God was a Redeemer who delivered and rescued His people from Egypt. There are no substitutionary sacrifices or redeemers in the Islamic faith.

So, Islam fails the gospel test.

The fruit test

It’s difficult to assess attitudes and behavior objectively. I have just visited Morocco and France. Cultural and religious pressure makes it difficult to be Christians in these countries. About 1% of the people in Morocco are Christians and most of these are foreigners. And less than 1% of the French are evangelical Christians.

There seems to be a lack of religious freedom in Morocco. I was unable to find a Christian church anywhere near where I was staying in Casablanca (a city of about 4 million people). Attempting to convert a Muslim to another religion is punishable with up to three years imprisonment and a substantial fine. And Moroccan Christians have to meet secretly in houses. They are not free to worship at a Christian church. Whereas in Lyon (a city of 500,000) there were several evangelical churches nearby. Also, although some Moroccan stores had Christmas decorations, there were no depictions of the nativity. There is no freedom for Moroccan Christians to practice their faith in Morocco or to organize a Christian celebration. Yet in Australia (where ~2% are Moslem), all Muslims are free to worship at an Islamic mosque.

There also seems to be a lack of individual freedom and joy in Islam. It’s a demanding religion that doesn’t tolerate independent thinking or probing questions,which is supported by the prohibition on translating the Quran into other languages. There are many man-made rules created by Muslim imams (who lead Sunni Moslems in prayer) for circumstances that aren’t mentioned in the Quran, which can result in legalism and coercion. In contrast, the word “joy” appears frequently in the Old and New Testaments.

Islam also makes a habit of demanding and complaining in order to insist that others view the world in the way that they do. The blasphemy trial of the Christian Governor in Indonesia is an example of this. In 2011, all Islamic nations had criminal laws on blasphemy. And thousands of people in these nations have been arrested and punished for blasphemy of Islam. In some Muslim countries Christians live in fear because of what a careless word or a false accusation might lead to. Is blasphemy a criminal offense in any non-Moslem country? Have any blasphemy trials been held recently in these countries? Have you ever heard of Christians trialing those who criticize Jesus or the Bible for blasphemy?

What type of attitudes and behavior do you think the Islamic faith encourages?

Results of the tests

So the Islamic faith fails the Jesus Test and the Gospel Test and the results of the Fruit Test are debatable. This means it’s a false teaching, which isn’t consistent with the overall message of the Bible.

Discussion

Islam regards itself, not as a subsequent faith to Judaism and Christianity, but as the primordial religion. They believe that the Biblical prophets were all Muslims. They also believe that in the generations after Jesus’ departure from this world, his teachings were distorted and he was elevated to the status of God. Six centuries later, with the coming of Prophet Muhammad, the truth about Jesus Christ was finally retold and preserved eternally in the last book of divine revelation, the Quran. Furthermore, many of the laws of Moses, which Jesus followed, were revived in their pure and unadulterated form and implemented in the divinely prescribed way of life known as Islam.

The Biblical narratives are rich with historical details, many confirmed by archaeology. They cover more than a thousand years, and reveal a long process of technological and cultural development. In contrast the Quran’s sacred history is devoid of archaeological support. Its fragmentary and disjointed stories offer no authentic reflection of historical cultures. No place name from ancient Israel is mentioned, not even Jerusalem. Many of the supposed historical events reported in the Quran have no independent verification. And many Quranic stories can be traced to Jewish and Christian folktales and other apocryphal literature.

There is a fundamental difference between Christian attitudes to the Jewish scriptures and Islamic attitudes to the Bible. Christians accept the Hebrew scriptures as authentic. They were the scriptures of Jesus the apostles and the early church. In contrast Islam’s treatment of the Bible is one of complete disregard. Although it purports to ‘verify’ all earlier prophetic revelation, the Quran is oblivious to the real contents of the Bible. The claim that Christians and Jews deliberately corrupted their scriptures is made without evidence, and this only serves to cover up the Quran’s historical inadequacies.

Islam is characterized by many laws and salvation through good works. In this aspect, it is like the Old Testament. It’s like an Arabic version of the Old Testament that also mentions Jesus. But the new covenant (of Christianity) is superior to the old ones (the laws of Moses and the laws of Islam).

So Islam is a retrograde religion. It’s like the false teachers at Galatia who were putting Christians back under the law of Moses. In the book of Galatians Paul opposed these false teachers and stressed that good works are not a condition of salvation, but a fruit of it. The false teachers were zealous because they wanted a following and they enslaved people with rules and regulations (Gal. 4:17-31). Islam is like Ishmael who was born into slavery. But Jesus can set us free from the need to slavishly following such rules and regulations (Gal. 5:1).

Some Muslims are zealous and devout, but salvation is dependent on the object of one’s zeal and devotion and not on the zeal itself. Their focus/object is the teaching of Muhammad and the Quran, which we have shown to be false. Like Judah in Jeremiah’s time, Muslims are “trusting in deceptive words” (Jer. 7:8). In Judah’s case the deceptive words spoken by the false prophets was that God wouldn’t destroy Jerusalem because He wouldn’t allow the Jewish temple to be destroyed. This superstitious belief was stated repetitively, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord” (Jer. 7:4), which reminds me of the repetitive nature of Islamic prayer. But repetition doesn’t increase the truthfulness of a statement. In Islam’s case, the deceptive words were spoken by Muhammad who was a false prophet. Because of false prophets, Judah followed “other gods” (Jer. 7:9) apart from the real God, while because of Muhammad, Muslims follow the “other god” of Allah.

Muslims also claim that Christians believe in three Gods: Father God, mother Mary, and son Jesus. And they say the trinity is polytheistic. This isn’t true. Mary wasn’t divine. And the Bible says that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three aspects of one God. So, Christianity is monotheistic.   

Summary

We have tested Islam against three tests from the Bible. It clearly failed two tests (about Jesus and the gospel) and the results of the third test are debatable. This means it’s a false teaching, which isn’t consistent with the message of the Bible. So Muslims don’t worship the same God as Christians.

Appendix A: What Muslims think about Jesus

According to Islamic tradition, the main Muslim prophets were: Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad. Jesus was a precursor to Muhammad. Jesus announced the coming of Muhammad. They claim this is also mentioned in the New Testament – “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you” (Jn. 14:16-17).

Jesus was one of the greatest messengers (prophets) to humanity. He was created miraculously like Adam with no parents. His mother was a virgin named Mary (but this doesn’t mean that he was the son of God). He performed many miracles. He will return in the end times to help bring the world to its end.

Jesus wasn’t crucified. For Jesus to die on the cross would have meant the triumph of his executioners; but the Quran asserts that they undoubtedly failed. Jesus wasn’t resurrected – it was spiritual, not physical. The Quran says that the original biblical message has been distorted or corrupted over time.

Jesus is not divine. He’s not God or the son of God. The miracles of Jesus and the Quranic titles attributed to Jesus demonstrate the power of Allah rather than the divinity of Jesus—the same power behind the message of all prophets.

Islam regards all prophets, including Jesus, to be mortal human beings who were righteous messengers of Allah. They view Muhammad as the perfect man, not Jesus.

Appendix B What Muslims think about Salvation

Salvation is defined to be the saving and deliverance of people from sin and its consequences. It’s difficult to determine what Muslims think about salvation, because individual statements don’t always cover all the general beliefs that are held on this topic. The following is compiled from a range of sources.

The core belief of Islam is: “There is no God but Allah” and “Muhammad is God’s Prophet”. Allah gave this teaching to Muhammad. In this way, he showed Muslims how to live. This belief is an essential part of the Islamic faith.

The Quran teaches the necessity of both belief/faith in Allah and good works for salvation. The good works include doing honorable deeds plus keeping the five “pillars” of Islam: witness (“There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet”), ritual prayers five times daily, giving money to charity, fasting during Ramadan, and a pilgrimage to Mecca.  On the day of judgment Allah will have a set of scales to weigh one’s good deeds against their bad deeds. Salvation is achieved by having more “good” deeds on account than “bad” ones, thus hoping to win Allah’s favor. And if Allah wills it, they may be forgiven of all their sins and then enter Paradise. So salvation is based on Allah’s grace/mercy and the Muslim’s good works.

Islam teaches that on the Day of Judgment every person will be resurrected and will be accountable to God for their every word and deed. Consequently, a practicing Muslim is always striving to be righteous while hoping and praying for Allah’s acceptance and grace. Salvation is only through belief and practice.

Islam stresses the notion that God can forgive all sins, if a person truly repents and then refrains from repeating it. God does not need any blood sacrifice for that, let alone descend in the form of man himself and die for everyone’s sins (like Christians believe). Rather, God’s mercy extends to all creatures, believers and disbelievers alike.

Written, December 2016

Also see: Basic Islam
Islamic prayer
Monolingual Islam
Testing Hinduism
Testing Buddhism
Recognizing false teachers

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Good news and bad news

good & bad news 400pxEvery day we experience good news and bad news. Life is a mixture of both. But the news media often gives us more bad news than good news. Did you know that the Bible contains both good news and bad news?

The main message in the New Testament is called the “gospel”, which means “good news”. It’s good news about bad news. To understand it we need to understand the bad news first.

In the beginning of time, God made everything. It was very good. Everything was as God intended and people were in harmony with God. It was good news at the start.

But it didn’t stay that way very long because the first people rebelled against God. Their rebellion affected all God’s creation causing suffering, problems, disease and death. Things were no longer as God intended and people weren’t in harmony with God. That’s bad news. It’s our greatest problem.

So we live in a world that has been influenced by both good and bad news.

Jesus came to bring good news once again. To right the wrongs and solve the problems. But He does this in two stages and we live between them, between His first visit to earth and His second visit. He is the central theme of the gospel (or good news). The verses of Scripture that mention “Jesus” or “Christ” and “gospel” or “good news” are about Christ’s death, resurrection, glory (His second visit), His promise (of eternal life), the peace He brings, the fact that He can replace death with life and immortality, and His judgment of our lives.

That’s the message of the Bible. It’s the whole gospel. It’s not a human idea, but it’s God’s idea (Gal. 1:11).

The Bible says that the gospel is “the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16NIV). This power comes from God when people repent by turning towards God. God has already done His part, but we can only experience it if we do our part. It’s of no value to those who don’t accept it (Heb. 4:2).

So, let’s remember the whole gospel story. Why it’s good news about bad news. This is important because many people don’t know about the early history of our earth and humanity given in the Bible.

Written, July 2015


What is the Christian “good news”?

Good news 400pxRecently I heard someone say that all our problems would be solved if we followed the Golden Rule: “Treat others as you would like them to treat you”. It was their key to harmonious and peaceful relationships. Whereas the Bible says that the good news about Jesus Christ is the key to solving our problems and restoring our relationships.

The Pope’s recent exhortation to the Roman Catholic church “On the proclamation of the gospel in today’s world” encouraged them to spread the message of the gospel; the good news about Jesus Christ. But the exhortation makes some claims about Mary the mother of Jesus Christ that are inconsistent with the Bible. Is the different teaching with regard to Mary significant? Is it syncretism (the combination of different or opposing forms of belief or practice)? Is the Pope teaching a different gospel to the Bible’s gospel (Gal. 1:6-9)?

The Bible’s “good news”

The word “gospel” is the translation of a Greek word that means “good news” (Strongs #2098) and the word “evangelist” is the translation of a Greek word that means “a preacher of good news” (Strongs #2099). Paul summarised the Biblical gospel, “Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved … 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. 15:1-4NIV). He said that Christ’s death and resurrection is the key to solving our problems.

The Bible says that the root cause of all our problems is that everyone has sinned – resulting in separation from God and eternal punishment (Rom. 3:23; 6:23). The only means of rescue is salvation by faith in Christ (Eph. 2:8, 9). In the beginning of time, God created a perfect world where there was no sin.  But this world changed and there was disease, suffering, decay and death after Adam and Eve sinned. Now we all inherit this sinfulness. Because sin separates us from God, we are excluded from heaven. But God planned to rescue us from our sinful ways by sending His Son, Jesus Christ, to earth to fix the relationship between us and God. Jesus took the punishment for sin that we deserve by dying for us so that those who accept the rescue plan can live with Him eternally in heaven. Jesus also summarised the Biblical gospel, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16). The “good news” is also summarized in the Postscript.

The characters involved today in the good news of salvation for humanity are:

  • God the Father planned it.
  • Jesus Christ obeyed the plan.
  • Missionaries and preachers communicate the message from the Bible (Rom. 10:14-17).
  • The Holy Spirit empowers the messengers, convinces people of their sinfulness and need of salvation, and empowers them to repent and turn to Christ in faith (Jn. 16:8; 1 Cor. 2:4-5; Ti. 3:5).

Mary has no role at all—she is not mentioned in the Bible after the church commenced on the day of Pentecost.

A different “good news”

Paul was astonished when the Galatians turned “to a different gospel – which is really no gospel at all” (Gal. 1:6-7). He states that false teachers were “trying to pervert the gospel of Christ” and should be “eternally condemned” (Gal. 1:7-9). These strong words are repeated to emphasize their importance.

A “different gospel” differs from the Bible’s good news. It either adds to it or takes away from it, and Revelation warns against this tampering with aspects of the Gospel (ch. 22:18-19; 1:5; 4:11; 21:1-22:6). For example, the Pharisees and Sadducees added extra rules and regulations to the true gospel (Mt. 16:5-12). This gospel says there are things you must do to get saved and stay saved. Paul rebuked Peter in Galatia because he was “not acting in line with the truth of the gospel” (Gal. 2:14).

The Pope’s “good news”

Although the Pope’s exhortation addresses “the proclamation of the gospel”, it is difficult to determine his understanding of the gospel from this document. He says “Christians have a duty to proclaim the gospel” (p. 14), but doesn’t explain the gospel very well. For example, “Before all else, the gospel invites us to respond to the God of love who saves us, to see God in others and to go forth from ourselves to seek the good of others “ (p. 34). How are we to respond? ­He mentions preachers “bringing Jesus” to others (p. 85). What do they preach? There is little mention of sin, confession and repentance in the exhortation (Lk. 15:7; p. 14-15).

The best statements on the gospel in the exhortation are:

  • “Those who ac­cept his (Jesus’) offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness” (p.3).
  • “The Gospel, radiant with the glory of Christ’s cross, constantly invites us to rejoice” (p.6).
  • “The heart of its message will always be the same: the God who revealed his immense love in the crucified and risen Christ” (p.10).
  • The missionary mandate of Jesus is quoted, “go and make disciples” (Mt 28:19-20; p. 19).
  • “In this basic core, what shines forth is the beauty of the saving love of God made mani­fest in Jesus Christ who died and rose from the dead” (p. 31-32).
  • “Let us go forth to offer everyone the life of Jesus Christ” (p.41).
  • “Evangelization as the joyful, patient and progressive preaching of the saving death and resurrection of Jesus Christ must be your absolute priority” (p. 89)
  • “Witness to the saving love of the Lord” (p. 98).
  • “Bring the love of Jesus to others” (p. 103).
  • “But al­ways keeping in mind the fundamental message: the personal love of God who became man, who gave himself up for us, who is living and who offers us his salvation and his friendship” (p. 103).
  • In a sermon “the Lord, more than his minis­ter, will be the centre of attention” (2 Cor. 4:5; p. 110).

However, “Journeying together to shrines” is given as an example of evangelization (p. 101) and the exhortation concludes with a section on “Mary, the Mother of evangelization” (p. 211-217). This is a great concern because as Mary is no longer alive on earth, she has nothing to do with evangelization today. Instead her body has decayed to dust and her soul and spirit are with the Lord in heaven. She is not “Jesus’ gift to his people” (p. 211) and not the “Star of the new evangelization” (p.214) and not the one to pray to for help “to proclaim the good news of Jesus” (p.216).

Although the Pope rejects syn­cretism (the combination of different or opposing forms of belief or practice) with the followers of non-Christian religions (p. 187), he accepts scyncretism between the Bible and extra-Biblical teachings on Mary.

Does it matter?

Paul said that the gospel advanced when he was imprisoned in Philippi: “Because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear. It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice” (Phil. 1:14-18).

Those that preached Christ out of envy, rivalry and selfish ambition had the right message but the wrong motives. But Paul rejoiced because the gospel message they preached was true. When the Pope preaches about Christ, the message is true, but when He introduces Mary as an essential part of evangelization and Christianity, the message is jeopardized. Paul rejoiced when the message was true, but he rebuked when it was false (Gal. 2:14). So we can rejoice when the Pope and the Roman Catholics preach about Christ, but we should rebuke them when they are “not acting in line with the truth of the gospel” with regard to Mary (Gal. 2:14).

Conclusion

So the gospel message in the Pope’s exhortation contains a combination of truth and error. In this sense it is different to the Bible’s gospel (Gal. 1:6-9). The main error is the inclusion of Mary as an essential part of Christianity. Although God can use the truth, people can be deceived by this error. This false teaching about Mary is a significant addition to the Bible’s message (Rev. 22:18-19). It is syncretism (the fusion of different or opposing forms of belief or practice).

When we proclaim the good news about Jesus Christ, let’s remember it’s all about Jesus, and not Mary.

Postscript – Summary of the “good news”

God loves you and wants you to have a full and satisfying life:

  • “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16).
  • “I (Jesus) have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (Jn. 10:10).

We are separated from God because we all disobey God, and so we can’t know and experience His love or have a full and satisfying life:

  • “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).
  • “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).

The only way to be free from the sin that separates us from God is Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ died on a cross to take the punishment for our sin. Jesus’ death and resurrection made it possible to remove our separation from God:

  • “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).
  • “Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn. 14:6).

We must personally invite Jesus to come into our lives and take charge:

  • “To all who did receive Him (Jesus), to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God” (Jn. 1:12).
  •  “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).

Here’s how to respond to the “good news”:

  • Admit that you are a sinner.
  • Believe that Jesus Christ loves you so much He died for you so you can be close to God.
  • Change your mind about sin—be willing to break your sinful habits and build good habits by obeying God’s word, the Bible. The Bible calls this “repentance”. It’s a 180 degree turn towards God.
  • Ask God to live in you through His Spirit, to forgive you for the sinful things you have done and take charge of your life.

Written, January 2014

Also see – What does the Bible say about Mary the mother of Jesus?


Recognizing False Teachers

There are a lot of religions for people to follow today. Eastern religions are spreading all over the world. Extreme cults (that lead to tragedies such as the mass suicides of the Branch Davidians in Texas and Heaven’s Gate in California) continue to appear. Other more established cults continue to spread their message by door-to-door canvassing. And then there are numerous spin-offs from established denominations, that over-emphasize one aspect of biblical truth at the expense of all others.

While false teachers seem to characterize these religions, the Bible says, “Beware of false prophets” (Mt. 7:15 NIV), because they can also appear in any church. They are also referred to as “false teachers” and “false apostles.” All of them will be called “false teachers” in this series.

False teachers are mentioned somehow in all except two of the 27 books in the New Testament. For example, Christ warned against the Pharisees and Sadducees in the Gospels. The Book of Acts tells us of false teachers who promoted idolatry, occult practices and Jewish traditions. In the Epistles, many verses warn of false teachers within the Church, including two whole books, Galatians and Jude. And much of Romans urges believers to turn away from Jewish legalism.

Deceivers

The most common word used to describe false teachers is that they are deceivers, who lead people astray. They distort the truth in order to draw followers after themselves (Acts 20:30), and make them zealous for their cause (Gal. 4:17). False teachers can leave a trail of destruction, like savage wolves among sheep (Acts 20:29). They can also bring teachings from demons (1 Tim. 4:1).

Paul reminded those in Ephesus daily for three years to “be on your guard” against false teachers (Acts 20:31). The Bible indicates that the best defense against false teachers is to become mature in the Christian faith.

A Sign Of Maturity

The immature are “tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming” (Eph. 4:14). They are blown off course like a sail boat in a storm. However, the mature are not deceived or blown off course because they “have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (Heb. 5:14).

The Three Tests

It is important to evaluate those that promote a new or different teaching. In fact, all teachers should be tested “to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 Jn. 4:1). In a more general sense, believers should “test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil” (1 Th. 5:21-22).

The church at Ephesus must have heeded Paul’s warning, as it was commended: “I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false” (Rev. 2:2).

There are three clear tests for recognizing false teachers: the Jesus Test, the Gospel Test and the Fruit Test.

The Jesus Test

The Jesus Test for distinguishing good from evil states that, “Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist … This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood” (1 Jn. 4:2,3,6).

Similarly, the Bible also asks, “Who is the liar? It is the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist – he denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also” (1 Jn. 2:22-23). Such people do not agree with what the Bible says about Jesus Christ (2 Jn. 7; Jude 4).

In Matthew 16:13-16, Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say I am?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” This conversation occurred after Christ warned the disciples of the false teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

So, the question to be answered in the Jesus Test is this: Who is Jesus Christ? False teachers deny that Christ is the divine Son of God, believing him to be nothing more than a great teacher. Some of those who fail the Jesus Test are: Animist, Baha’i, Buddhist, Christian Scientist, Hare Krishna, Hindu, Jehovah’s Witness, Humanist, practicing Jew, Mormon, Muslim, New Ager, occult worshiper and Scientologist. All these groups worship physical things or follow false beliefs (Rom. 1:23,25; Col. 2:8; 1 Tim. 6:20). Christians believe that Christ is divine and human (Jn. 1:14; 10:30; Phil. 2:5-8), sinless (Heb. 4:15), eternal (Jn. 17:24), and the Creator (Col.1:16). Jesus is truly unique.

The Gospel Test

Besides believing in a different Jesus, the Bible also states that false teachers promote a different gospel: “For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted … such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ” (2 Cor. 11:4,13).

To the Galatians, Paul writes: “I am astonished that you are … turning to a different gospel – which is really no gospel at all” (Gal. 1:6-7). He then states that these false teachers were “trying to pervert the gospel of Christ” and should be “eternally condemned” (Gal. 1:7-9). These strong words are repeated to emphasize their importance.

So, the question to be answered in this test is: What is their gospel? The Bible says that the root cause of all our problems is that everyone has sinned and fallen short of God’s requirements – resulting in death (Rom. 3:23; 6:23). The only means of rescue is salvation by faith in Christ (Eph. 2:8,9). “Different gospels” do not present this truth. They either add to it or take away from it, and Revelation warns against this tampering with aspects of the Gospel (ch. 22:18-19; 1:5; 4:11; 21:1-22:6).

A “different gospel” may also deceive by using words similar to the true gospel, but giving them different meanings. Three examples are the works gospel, the pleasure gospel and the greed gospel.

The works gospel adds extra requirements to the true gospel, such as the rules and regulations of the Pharisees and Sadducees (Mt. 16:5-12). Simply put, it says there are things you must do to get saved and stay saved.

Followers of the pleasure gospel “never stop sinning” and entice others by “appealing to the lustful desires of the sinful human nature,” while they are “slaves of depravity” (2 Pet. 2:13-22). They “change the grace of our God into a license for immorality” (Jude 4).

Those caught up in the greed gospel “think that godliness is a means to financial gain,” despite the warning that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” that causes people to “wander from the faith” and “pierce themselves with many griefs” (1 Tim. 6:5,10). Examples of the greed gospel would be the “health” and “wealth” gospels so prevalent today.

The Fruit Test

It is God’s will that we be fruitful. Jesus said “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing … I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last” (Jn. 15:5,16).

Jesus warned, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them” (Mt. 7:15,16,20). He also said, “Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briars. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks” (Lk. 6:44-45).

So, the question of this test is: What kind of fruit is evident? Is the divine nature or the sinful nature most evident? The former is characterized by the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. The sinful nature may involve idolatry, sexual immorality, selfish ambition, pride and dissension (Gal. 5:19-23).

A related question would be: Is there evidence of spiritual growth? For example, in another book that deals with false teachers, John writes, “It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded us” (2 Jn. 4).

It can be seen that the three tests get at the core of Christianity. If we use them to distinguish good and evil, then there are two possibilities, a pass or a failure. The consequences of these are now considered in turn.

Those That Fail The Tests

False teachers within the Church are a serious issue because they lead to divisions rather than unity (Rom. 16:17; Ti. 3:10; Jude 19). The biblical response is to warn them twice and then “have nothing to do with them” (Ti. 3:10). For example, at Galatia Paul resisted false teachers by not giving in to them for a moment and standing firm against them (Gal. 2:5; 5:1). He also opposed Peter, a fellow-worker, to his face when Peter failed the gospel test (Gal. 2:11-13). The reason for this is that false teachings can spread as yeast works through a batch of dough (1 Cor. 5: 6-7; Gal. 5:9).

False teachers within the Church should be confronted (Ti. 1:13; Rev. 2:2), in order to silence them and stop their influence on other believers (1 Tim. 1:3; Ti. 1:11). If they do not cease, they should be expelled in order to avoid contaminating the local church (Rom. 16:17; Gal. 4:30; 1 Tim. 4:7; 2 Tim. 2:21). This also applies to those practicing sexual immorality (1 Cor. 5:1-13). It is the method to be followed when contending for the faith (Jude 3). Elders are responsible for this – they are to be on their guard and protect the church as a shepherd protects the sheep (Acts 20:28-31). They should not ignore false teachers, hoping they will go away.

We should not welcome or help false teachers from outside the church, as this causes us to share in their wicked work (2 Jn. 10-11). This is consistent with keeping ourselves from idols (1 Cor. 10:14; 1 Jn. 5:21). We should also “have nothing to do with them” (2 Tim. 3:5). In all situations involving false teachers we must remember this warning: “Do not be misled: Bad company corrupts good character” (1 Cor. 15:33).

Those That Pass The Tests

We need to make sure we correctly identify those that pass the Jesus Test, the Gospel Test and the Fruit Test. For example, John told Jesus, “we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.” Jesus replied, “Do not stop him. No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us” (Mk. 9:38-40). The disciples were rebuked for using the wrong test. Likewise, we should be careful not to use the wrong test when assessing other believers. It would be wrong to treat other believers as false teachers, just because they are “not one of us.”

It is interesting to note that the Lord told Peter in Corinth, “I have many people in this city” (Acts 18:10). Likewise, God has people in every town and nation, and we should not be afraid to associate with people who pass the tests, otherwise we become like Peter in Galatians 2. If God accepts them, we should too (Acts 10:34-35; Rom. 15:7).

Testing Ourselves

Finally, we should test ourselves: “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you – unless, of course, you fail the test?” (2 Cor. 13:5).

Do we live as though Jesus is God? Do we add to or take away from the gospel of salvation by faith in Christ? Do we drift into different gospels such as that of works, pleasure or greed? What sort of fruit is evident? Is there spiritual growth?

Wrong Emphasis

The Bible contains all the principles we need to live the Christian life. Yet it is possible to over-emphasize minor parts of the Bible and under-emphasize major parts. It is wrong to build a major theology from a Bible passage taken out of context. For example, there are numerous verses in the New Testament about loving one another – a major part of the Christian faith (Jn. 15:17) – while there are only a few about speaking in tongues. It would be wrong to act as though speaking in tongues was a more important issue than loving one another. As has often been said, we should never major in the minors!

Published, July – September 1998

Also see: Environmentalism: Idolatry or Stewardship?
In six days
Testing Islam


Boats and bicycles

How are you travelling?

During a visit to the Netherlands I was amazed at the number of boats and bicycles throughout the country. The boats and bicycles are used for transport and recreation. Many of the boats sail along a network canals. Others are house boats. One company combines the two modes of transport by offering bicycle tours with overnight accommodation on a barge.

The word “nether” means “lower”. The Netherlands as the name suggests is a low-lying country. Almost half of the land is below sea level. Elsewhere, the elevation rarely exceeds 50 meters (or 160 feet). Vaalserberg near the border with Belgium and Germany is the nations highest point at 321 meters (or 1053 feet) above sea level. Yet it is only 25 kilometers (or 16 miles) from canals near the Maas river.

Boats

Boating is a way of life to the Dutch. There are numerous canals, rivers and lakes and some locks between waterways at different heights. The total length of the navigable canals is approximately 7,000 kilometers (or 4,350 miles). Some canals are elevated to carry boats above the freeway. Two wonderful cruising areas are the Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht region and the lake region of Friesland in the north.

In the New Testament we read that Jesus and His disciples travelled in boats, while Paul travelled in ships. The most dramatic voyages in the bible are Jonah’s towards Tarshish and Paul’s to Rome (Jon. 1:1-2:10; Acts 27:1-14). A violent storm arose on both occasions and the ship threatened to break up. The sailors were afraid and they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship (Jon. 1:5; Acts 27:18). Due to miraculous circumstances no lives were lost.

Jonah and Paul were both sent to the headquarters of an empire; Ninevah, the Assyrian capital, and Rome, the Roman capital. Jonah was running away from God by travelling in the opposite direction to God’s command (Jon. 1:2-3). Paul was obeying God (Acts 23:11). This reminds me we are all travelling in the journey of life. Which direction are you going? If you are going in the wrong direction, are you willing to acknowledge this and turn to God like Jonah?

Bicycles

There are approximately 18 million bicycles in the Netherlands, which is more than one per person. Bicycles can go along narrow alleys and other places where other motor vehicles can’t. They can also be taken on trains and ridden in the city and in the countryside. This reminds me of the parable of the great banquet, which is an illustration of the gospel message being spread across the world (Lk. 14:16-24).

After the original invitations to the banquet were rejected, the invitation went to whoever could be found from the “streets and alleys of the town” and the “roads and country lanes” (vv. 21, 23NIV). This includes all kinds of thoroughfares. It is like the pattern of evangelism, which includes people in all kinds of places—“you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). “Jerusalem” was the city they were in at the time and the chief city in Judea. “Judea” was the surrounding region that had a large Jewish population. “Samaria” was an adjacent region that had no dealings with the Jews. “The ends of the earth” at that time was the known world around the Mediterranean Sea. This is the pattern of evangelism that was followed by the early church—firstly Jerusalem (Acts 1:1-7:60), then surrounding and adjacent regions (Acts 8:1-9:31), and then more distant lands (Acts 9:32- 28:31). It shows that evangelism should begin in your neighbourhood and extend across the globe. So, let’s take the gospel whenever and wherever we travel, on bike, boat or some other way!

Written, January 2003


Encouragement For Difficult Times

After the apostle Paul rescued a slave girl from demon possession, her owners realized that they could no longer make money from her fortune telling. So, they seized Paul and Silas and accused them before the magistrates (Acts 16:16-24). A crowd joined in this attack and Paul and Silas were stripped, flogged and thrown into the inner prison. This disappointing and painful situation could easily lead to depression and disillusionment. How did Paul and Silas react? Luke records: “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them” (Acts 16:25 NIV). In a seemingly hopeless situation, they sang praises to God. Where did their joy and encouragement come from?

God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are the sources of encouragement for the believer (Acts 9:31; Rom. 15:5; 2 Th. 2:16-17). This kind of encouragement is not something we have, but something we get from God. The Greek words translated “encourage” and “encouragement” in the New Testament are paraklesis and parakaleo. The most common ways to get encouragement are to meditate on certain Scriptures, on the gospel message of salvation through Jesus Christ, on Christ’s return and on our Christian faith shared with other believers.

The Scriptures
The Bible is encouraging because it is God’s special message to humanity. Paul wrote, “Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4). This means that the Scriptures are encouraging, and following them brings hope into our lives.

Paul taught that a local church was to be led by a group of elders (Ti. 1:5-9). One qualification of an elder was that “he must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it” (Ti. 1:9). The “trustworthy message” that was taught by Jesus Christ, Paul and the other apostles has been recorded in the Bible. An elder encourages the congregation by teaching and following the sound doctrines of the Bible, the truths of Scripture.

After urging the believers to “stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter,” Paul wrote, “May our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who loved us and by His grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word” (2 Th. 2:15-17). Also, prophets brought the message from God before the New Testament was available in a written form; and their messages “encouraged” the believers (1 Cor. 14:3,31).

The Gospel Message
The gospel is encouraging because it is the key to forgiveness of sins and eternal life. When the synagogue rulers said to Paul and Barnabas, “If you have a message of encouragement for the people, please speak,” Paul preached the gospel (Acts 13:15). He began with the Old Testament and concluded with, “I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you” (Acts 13:16-41). The gospel of Jesus Christ is always encouraging.

Paul described his mission this way: “My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ” (Col. 2:2). Here we see that encouragement is linked to an understanding that all believers are part of the Church (Col. 1:26-27). Paul also wrote, “We sent Timothy … God’s fellow worker in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith” (1 Th. 3:2).

Christians “may be greatly encouraged” because they “have fled to take hold of the hope offered to them” in the gospel (Heb. 6:18). In this image they are fleeing to heaven from a world bound for judgment.

Christ’s Return
The return of Christ to bring all His followers into heaven is encouraging because it means an end of the sorrow, suffering and disappointment of this sinful world. Believers are commanded to encourage each other with the fact that they “will be with the Lord forever” (1 Th. 4:18). The promise of Christ’s return so believers “may live together with Him” is a great encouragement (1 Th. 5:10-11). In view of Christ’s return and the resurrection of the dead, believers should “meet together” to “encourage one another” (Heb. 10:25).

Our Faith
The Christian faith is encouraging because it is the practical demonstration of living according to the Bible, the gospel and Christ’s return. Paul longed to visit the believers in Rome so they could be “mutually encouraged by each other’s faith” (Rom. 1:11-12). The encouragement here is from each other’s faith, not any external circumstances. He also wrote, “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus” (Rom. 15:5). Here, encouragement and unity are associated with following the Lord. Paul was also encouraged when he heard about the faith of the believers at Thessalonica (1 Th. 3:7). Likewise, John had “great joy” when told about believers who continued to “walk in the truth” (3 Jn. 3-4).

Daily Encouragement
Let’s be encouraged by God’s promises in the Scriptures, in the good news of salvation, in Christ’s return and in the faith we share with other believers. These are all linked, with the gospel being the core message conveyed by the Scriptures and Christ’s return being the hope of the gospel. It’s interesting that these facts do not depend on our circumstances, but in fact bring encouragement amidst struggles and suffering.

Also, let’s “encourage one another daily” in the faith so we will not be “hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (Heb. 3:13). We are told to use these same means to encourage others (2 Cor. 1:4). Those with the gift of encouragement should exercise their gift amongst believers (Rom. 12:8). It seems as though Barnabas had this gift as his name meant “son of encouragement” and he encouraged the church at Antioch (Acts 4:36; 11:22-23).

When life is difficult, remember Paul and Silas in prison. Don’t follow your feelings or seek encouragement only from circumstances, as you soon will be disappointed. Don’t forsake the Lord when life gets tough. Instead, encourage yourself and others by remembering all that God has done.

Published, April 2008


Why read the Bible?

The word “Bible” comes from the Greek word for “the books,” while the word “Scripture” comes from Latin and refers to “writings.” The Bible is a selective history of God’s dealings with mankind between creation and the first century AD. It is a collection of 66 books and letters that have a remarkable unity; they were written over a period of at least 1,500 years by 40 men of the Jewish and Christian faiths.

The Bible is called “the Word of God” (1 Th. 2:13 NIV) because the writers “spoke from God” and wrote the words that God gave them (2 Pet. 1:20-21). It is God’s letter (or book) to us. In the original language, “all Scripture is God-breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16).

The two chief doctrines in the Bible are “the Law” and “the Gospel.” In the Law God tells man what to do and what not to do. The chief purpose of the Law is to show us our sin, which is worthy of God’s eternal punishment. The Gospel tells us the good news of our salvation in Jesus Christ. The word “Gospel” is an old English word that means “good news.” The purpose of the Gospel is to show us our Savior, Jesus Christ and bring us to faith in Him.

The Bible reveals the secret of eternal life; it contains “words of eternal life” that can change our eternal destiny from hell to heaven (Jn. 6:68). The Bible inspires faith in Jesus (Rom. 10:17); it was written so that we may believe and trust in Jesus Christ as the Son of God (Jn. 20:30-31; 2 Tim. 3:15).

Furthermore, the Bible is the most reliable source of spiritual growth, encouragement, lessons on life, and a healthy mind (Acts 20:32; Rom. 15:4; 2 Pet. 3:1-2). It was also written to provide guidelines for our corporate activities as the Church and warnings on inappropriate behavior for Christians (1 Cor. 4:14; 10:11; 1 Tim. 3:14-15).

The entire Bible is “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” so that each believer “may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). It teaches us about God and His purpose, and directs us into a way of life that is pleasing to God and rewarding if we obey Him. We should examine it (Acts 17:11), memorize it (Dt. 6:6-9; Ps. 119:11), and read it (1 Tim. 4:12-13). As our body is built from the food we eat, our mind is built from the thoughts we assimilate. We should do what the Bible says (Jas. 1:22-24) because it is to be obeyed (Mt. 7:24).

The Bible illuminates like a light that helps us to see and understand (Ps. 119:105). It is also like a seed that has life and grows (Lk. 8:11), and a sword that helps in our battle against Satan (Lk. 4:1-13; Eph. 6:17; Heb. 4:12). These illustrations show the importance of the Bible; it is more than just another book. For example, there was a revival when the Scriptures were rediscovered after being lost for over 50 years. King Josiah had the people pledge to obey them; they stopped idolatry, reinstated the Passover and got rid of mediums and spiritists (2 Ki. 22:8-23:25; 2 Chr. 34:11-35:19).

So, to answer this question in brief, we read the Bible because it is unique – it is a life-saving, life-changing book – the most important book we will ever read.

Published, September 2006