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Do Atheists Believe in Just One Less God Than Christians?

Article contributed by Cold Case Christianity
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As an atheist, I used to challenge my Christian friends with a common objection heard across the Internet today. Although my formulation of the objection differed from time to time, it was a lot like the popular statement attributed to Stephen F. Roberts:

“I contend we are both atheists, I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”

My point was simple: All of us are atheists to some degree if you really think about it; we just disagree about which gods we reject. Christians are atheistic in their attitude toward, Zeus, Poseidon, Lakshmi, Vishnu, Cheonjiwang, Na Tuk Kong, Achamán, Huixtocihuatl and thousands of other historic gods. When asked, Christians typically offer the same reasons for rejecting these other “deities” that I would have offered for rejecting the God of Christianity. So (as I often claimed), if my believing friends simply approached Yahweh in the same way they approached other mythologies, they would inevitably take the final step toward rationality and reject all false gods.

This objection is still popular. I hear it (or read it) frequently in my efforts to make the case for Christianity now that I’m a believer. While there are certainly several valid responses, I’d like to offer one from my experience as a detective and case maker. I think it provides a brief, but rhetorically powerful rejoinder to this misguided, iconic objection.

In every criminal trial, a jury is asked to evaluate the actions of one defendant related to a particular crime. While there are millions of other people in the world who could have committed the crime under consideration (and indeed, millions of these people were actually available to commit the crime), only one has been charged. If the jury becomes convinced this defendant is the perpetrator, they will convict him based on their beliefs. They will convict the accused even though they havent examined the actions (or nature) of millions of other potential suspects. They’ll render a verdict based on the evidence related to this defendant, in spite of the fact they may be ignorant of the history or actions of several million alternatives. If the evidence is persuasive, the jurors will become true believers in the guilt of this man or woman, even as they reject millions of other options.

As Christians, we are just like the jurors on that trial. We make a decision about Jesus on the basis of the evidence related to Jesus, not the fact there may be many alternative candidates offered by others. If the evidence is persuasive, we can reach our decision in good conscience, even if we are completely unfamiliar with other possibilities. Christianity makes claims of exclusivity; if Christianity is true, all other claims about God are false. If the evidence supporting Christianity is convincing to us as the jury, we need look no further. In the end, our decision will be based on the strength (or weakness) of the case for Christianity, just like the decisions made by jurors related to a particular defendant must be based on the strength (or weakness) of the evidence. At the end of a trail, juries are “unbelievers” when it comes to every other potential suspect, because the evidence confirming the guilt of their particular defendant was sufficient. In a similar way, we can be confident “unbelievers” when it comes to every other potential god because the evidence for Christianity is more than sufficient.

Related Topics: Apologetics, World Religions, Worldview

Lesson 47: Terrible Words from the Loving Savior (John 8:21-29)

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March 9, 2014

Thomas Fuller (cited by C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David [Baker], 4:328) said, “You cannot repent too soon, because you do not know how soon it may be too late.” As long as you’re alive and mentally competent, you have the opportunity to believe in Christ for eternal salvation. But the second you die, it’s too late—you’ll be lost forever.

That’s not just my opinion, but something the loving Savior says over and over to warn us to believe in Him while there is still time. Three times in our text (8:21, twice in v. 24) He warns the Pharisees that they will die in their sins. This means that they will face God’s judgment for their sins. But Christ’s final warning contains a word of invitation and hope (8:24b), “For unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.” (He is not in the original; it was added by the translators.) The invitation is, if you will believe that I am the Lord, who I claim to be, you will not die in your sins.

And so it’s crucial that we understand clearly who Jesus claimed to be and that we believe in Him before we die and face God’s eternal judgment. Our text tells us:

To go to heaven, believe the truth about yourself and the truth about Jesus while there is still time.

Jesus is interacting with the Pharisees at the end of the Feast of Tabernacles. At that feast, in conjunction with a ceremony that commemorated the water that God provided for Israel in the wilderness, He has claimed to be able to give living water that flows out of the innermost being of those who believe in Him (7:37-38). In conjunction with a lamp-lighting ceremony that remembered God’s presence in the pillar of cloud and fire in the wilderness, Jesus has claimed to be the light of the world and promised that the one who follows Him will not walk in the darkness, but will have the light of life (8:12). These were astounding claims that you can’t just shrug off. They grab you by the lapels and demand that you respond.

But, sadly, the Pharisees responded with hostile challenges, not with faith in Jesus. In 8:13, they claimed that His testimony about Himself was not valid. In 8:19, they sneered, “Where is Your Father?” which was probably a slur about the rumor that Jesus’ mother conceived Him before she was married. In our text, they continue throwing out comments that reflect their hardened hearts. But, rather than trying to take the speck out of the Pharisees’ eyes, we need to take the logs out of our eyes by recognizing that by virtue of our fallen nature, we’re just like them. Thus …

1. To go to heaven, recognize your true condition before God as a sinner.

In 8:19, Jesus pointed out the root problem with the Pharisees: “You know neither Me nor My Father; if you knew Me, you would know My Father also.” This is the root problem with the entire human race: We’re born as sinners, alienated from God. We don’t know Him or the one He sent to bear our sins on the cross. We have no idea of the holiness of God, who is a consuming fire (Heb. 12:29), who dwells in unapproachable light (1 Tim. 6:16). And, since we don’t know how holy God is, we don’t see how sinful we are. Rather than comparing ourselves with the holy God, we compare ourselves with people who are outwardly more wicked than we are, so we think we’re not so bad.

But we’re using the wrong measuring stick! Jesus draws a line between Himself and the Pharisees by saying (8:21), “I go away, and you will seek Me, and you will die in your sin; where I am going, you cannot come.” He was going back to the Father in heaven and they would not and could not go there as long as they remained in their proud self-righteousness.

But they mistook His words, saying (8:22), probably in a deliberate put-down, “Surely He will not kill Himself, will He, since He says, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come’?” The Jews thought that a person who killed himself would go to the worst place in hell (Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John [Eerdmans], p. 446). So they may have been saying, “Well, if He kills Himself and goes to hell, at least we won’t have to listen to Him there, since we’ll be in heaven!” But they were sadly mistaken. Jesus came from heaven and was returning to heaven, but in their sinful condition, they would never see heaven.

So Jesus continues (8:23), “You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world.” There is a humanly unbridgeable chasm between the holy God in heaven and all of us who were born in sin on this earth. We can try to compile good deeds to bridge the chasm, but that’s doomed to fail. All our good deeds are like filthy rags in God’s sight (Isa. 64:6). And all the good deeds in the world cannot pay for all the sins that we’ve committed. Just a single sin would be enough to condemn us to hell, but we’ve all piled up thousands of sins. To go to heaven, we first have to recognize our true condition before the holy God as rebellious sinners.

Furthermore, our sinful condition has rendered us blind to spiritual truth unless the Lord opens our eyes to see. John explains (8:27), “They did not realize that He had been speaking to them about the Father.” You would think that Jesus had made this point pretty clearly back in 5:18-47, where the Jews knew that by calling God His own Father, Jesus was making Himself equal with God. The only way that I can explain John’s comment in 8:27 is by Paul’s comment in 2 Corinthians 4:4, “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (See, also, 1 Cor. 2:14.)

Jesus will go on to explain to the disciples (John 16:8) that one role of the Holy Spirit is to convict the world of sin. The word “convict” means “to convince,” as a lawyer convinces a jury of his case. Before we will turn from our sin and trust in Christ as our Savior, we have to be convinced that we are sinners who cannot save ourselves. So to go to heaven, we must believe the truth about ourselves, that we are guilty sinners before the holy God.

2. To go to heaven, believe in Jesus as He is revealed in Scripture.

As I’ve often said, the crucial question in all of life is Jesus’ question to the twelve (Matt. 16:15), “Who do you say that I am?” There is no more important question in the world! Everything about your eternal destiny depends on believing the right answer to that question. Here, the Jews ask (8:25), “Who are You?” But before we yell, “Yay, they’re finally asking the right question!” we need to understand that they were not asking the question sincerely, with a desire to know the truth about Jesus. Rather, their question could rightly be translated (according to several commentators), “Who do you think you are to tell us that we will die in our sins?” They were challenging Jesus, not seeking to know the truth about Him.

Jesus’ reply (8:25) is difficult to translate, but the sense is probably either a statement (ESV), “Just what I have been telling you from the beginning,” or a rhetorical question (NASB), “What have I been saying to you from the beginning?” Their problem was not that they had not heard what Jesus was saying from day one of His public ministry, but that they didn’t believe Him. Our text contains four important truths about Jesus that we must believe if we want to go to heaven:

A. Believe in Jesus as the eternal God, sent to earth by the Father.

As Jesus said in 8:14, “I know where I came from and where I am going.” In 8:23 He asserts that His origin is from above, not from this world. He repeatedly emphasizes (8:16, 18, 26, 29) that He came to earth because He was sent by the Father. And, He says (8:24), “unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.” He repeats (8:28), “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He….”

The translators have added “He” to complete Jesus’ “I am” statement. The legitimate sense may be, “I am who I claim to be,” or “I am the Messiah.” But given the Jewish audience, and especially the Pharisees, who knew the Old Testament well, Jesus was probably referring to the “I am” statements of Yahweh in Isaiah 40-55, which in turn allude to God’s disclosure of His name to Moses (Exod. 3:14), “I am who I am.” (See D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John [Eerdmans/Apollos], pp. 343-344.) So Jesus was probably saying, “Unless you believe that I am the Lord God, you will die in your sins.”

In Isaiah 41:4, God says, “I, the Lord, am the first, and with the last. I am He.” The Greek LXX translates “I am He” with “ego eimi,” the same Greek phrase that Jesus uses in John 8:24 & 28. In Isaiah 43:10, the Lord says, “‘You are My witnesses,’ declares the Lord, ‘and My servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe Me and understand that I am He. Before Me there was no God formed, and there will be none after Me.’” (It’s more than ironic that the Jehovah’s Witnesses take their name from Isaiah 43:10, but deny the deity of Jesus. They fail to see that, in part, Jesus bases His claim to be God on it!)

Then in Isaiah 43:13 the Lord adds, “Even from eternity I am He, and there is none who can deliver out of My hand; I act and who can reverse it?” In Isaiah 48:12, the Lord says, “Listen to Me, O Jacob, even Israel whom I called; I am He, I am the first, I am also the last.” (In Revelation 1:17 & 2:8, Jesus claims to be the first and the last, a clear assertion of His deity.)

So when Jesus tells the Pharisees, who knew Isaiah well, “I am He,” using the same phrase that the Lord repeatedly uses in Isaiah, He was claiming to be the eternal God. Yet at the same time, here and throughout John’s Gospel, He frequently distinguishes Himself from the Father. He makes it clear that the Father sent Him to this earth to be our Savior. To believe in a “Jesus” who is not God in human flesh will not get you to heaven. As Bishop Moule once said (source unknown), “A Savior not quite God is a bridge broken at the farther end.”

B. Believe that Jesus lived a sinless life in total dependence on the Father.

In John 8:29, Jesus makes another astounding claim that no one else can legitimately make: “And He who sent Me is with Me; He has not left Me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him.” In a similar vein, Jesus asks these same critics (8:46), “Which of you convicts Me of sin?” No one, not even Jesus’ enemies, could convict Him of sin because as a man He always lived in total dependence on the Father, being obedient to His will. If Jesus had sinned, then His death could not have atoned for others, because He would have had to pay for His own sin. He was the Lamb of God, without spot or blemish, who alone could take away the sins of the world (John 1:29).

C. Believe that Jesus was lifted up on the cross to die as the substitute for your sins.

In John 8:21, Jesus again (7:33-34) tells the Jews that He is going away and that they will not be able to come where He is going. He’s referring to His upcoming death, when He would willingly lay down His life for His sheep. Then in 8:28, Jesus tells them, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me.” “Lift up” also refers to His upcoming death on the cross (3:14; 12:32).

John intends some irony here, in that the verb usually means “to exalt.” To be put on the cross as a public spectacle was the most degrading and humiliating thing that could happen to a man. But the cross above all else revealed Jesus’ glory. The night before He was crucified, Jesus prayed (17:1), “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You.” The cross reveals the holiness and justice of God, who cannot allow any sinners to go unpunished. But it also reveals His abundant love and mercy, in that through the death of His Son, He can save sinners and clothe them with Jesus’ righteousness.

Satan hates the cross and is always trying to distort its meaning or eradicate it from any teaching about how a person gets to heaven. But any teaching that diminishes or denies the centrality of the substitutionary death of Christ on the cross for our sins is heretical to the core. To teach that Jesus died as an example of love is correct; but if it stops there, it’s heretical. He is the greatest example of love that the world has ever known. But you can try all your life to imitate His example of love and you will still go to hell when you die if you have not trusted in His death for your sins.

The same thing applies to trying to get to heaven by good works. If we can get to heaven by our good works, then Jesus didn’t have to die on the cross for our sins. Or if we can get to heaven by combining our works with His death on the cross, it still diminishes the centrality of the cross and allows sinners to share His glory, which can never be. Paul wrote Galatians to combat the Judaizers, who claimed to believe in Christ, but argued that you must also add keeping the Law of Moses to faith in Christ to be saved. But Paul called their view a different gospel which is not a gospel and said that they would be damned for believing it (Gal. 1:6-9).

Thus to go to heaven, we must believe that Jesus is the eternal God, sent to earth by the Father; that He lived a sinless life in total dependence on the Father; and that He was lifted up on the cross to die as the substitute for our sins. Also,

D. Believe that Jesus was raised from the dead and ascended into heaven.

Jesus knew that He would soon die on the cross, but He also knew that that wasn’t the end of things. Rather, He would be returning to the Father in heaven (8:21, 22). This anticipates both His bodily resurrection from the dead and His ascension into heaven. Believing in Jesus’ bodily resurrection and ascension is absolutely essential to saving faith. As Paul argues (1 Cor. 15:14, 17), “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain, your faith also is vain…. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.”

God has given much evidence that Jesus was raised from the dead. There was the empty tomb. If Jesus’ body was still in the tomb, His enemies gladly would have taken people there and refuted the disciples’ claims that He was risen. There were the many independent eyewitnesses, who saw Jesus alive in different settings. There is the fact of the changed lives of the witnesses, who did not expect the resurrection and were fearful and depressed after the crucifixion. But they went on boldly to proclaim the resurrection, even when it cost them their lives.

So, if you don’t want to die in your sins and face God’s judgment, or to put it positively, if you want to go to heaven, you must first recognize your true condition before God as a sinner. Also, you must believe in Jesus as He is revealed in Scripture. But there is one other crucial matter:

3. To go to heaven, believe in Jesus while there is still time.

The loving Savior says some terrible, terrifying words (8:21): “I go away, and you will seek Me, and will die in your sin; where I am going, you cannot come.” Then in 8:28 He says, “When you lift up the son of Man, then you will know that I am He ….” The implication of these words is not that these religious leaders would seek Jesus after His death and come to know Him through saving faith, but rather that they would seek Him and know Him too late. The door of mercy would be shut because they had rejected the Light of the world when He was with them.

So while Jesus appealed to them to believe in Him (8:24), He was also warning them that even though they would seek Him later, they would still die in their sin, which is to face judgment and eternal punishment in hell. So I think He means that they would seek Him and come to know Him when it was too late, at the judgment. In the story of the rich man and Lazarus, the rich man in hell cried out to Abraham in heaven for mercy and relief from his suffering. But Abraham tells him (Luke 16:26), “Between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.” Those in hell now want to go to heaven, but it’s too late!

Also, it’s possible to harden your heart against the light that God has given you to the point where you cross a line in this life and you can’t go back. Like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal, when he later sought for repentance with tears, he could not find it (Heb. 12:17). You ask, “Where is that line?” That’s like asking, “How close to the edge of the Grand Canyon can I go without falling over?” That’s a bad question! You don’t want to find out the answer. If you don’t want to fall over, stay back from the edge!

Jesus told the story of the ten virgins who were waiting for the bridegroom. Five were wise, but five were foolish. The wise virgins had prepared for the event and had plenty of oil, but the foolish virgins did not have enough oil. While they were away buying more oil, the bridegroom came and took the five wise virgins into the wedding feast. But when the foolish virgins came later, they were shut out. Jesus’ application was (Matt. 25:13), “Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day or the hour.”

Also, it’s possible to seek Christ now, but for the wrong reasons. Maybe you want some blessing or you want to get out of a crisis, so you start going to church, praying, and trying to reform your life so that God will give you what you’re after. But you aren’t seeking salvation because you know that you’re a guilty sinner who has offended the holy God. You aren’t seeking Christ because He is the eternal God who took on human flesh to die for your sins. And so after your crisis blows over or you figure out how to get what you’re after, you go back to your old ways.

But to go to heaven—to not die in your sins—you must see yourself as a sinner deserving of hell and believe in Jesus Christ as He is revealed in Scripture while you still have time. That time is now!

Conclusion

Some may think that it’s unloving to talk about hell and judgment. But if the words of Jesus are true, then the most loving thing anyone can do is to warn you to flee from the wrath to come. Frances Quarles wrote (cited by C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David [Baker], 4:328, English updated), “He that has promised pardon on our repentance has not promised to preserve our lives till we repent.” Or, to repeat Thomas Fuller’s wise words (ibid.), “You cannot repent too soon, because you do not know how soon it may be too late.”

Application Questions

  1. What is the “unpardonable sin” (Matt. 12:31-32)? Is it possible for a person to harden his heart so far that he can’t repent? When does one cross that line?
  2. How much knowledge of who Jesus is does a person need to believe for salvation? Can’t much of that knowledge come later?
  3. What’s the difference between believing in Jesus to get you out of a crisis or to solve a problem and believing in Jesus to save you from your sins? Why is this an important distinction?
  4. Some argue that a God of love won’t send anyone to hell. They use verses like Col. 1:20 to argue that eventually everyone will be reconciled to Christ. How would you answer them?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2014, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Christology, Heaven, Soteriology (Salvation)

Lesson 48: True Freedom (John 8:30-36)

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March 16, 2014

As Americans, we value freedom. Our nation was founded on the principle of “liberty and justice for all.” Our First Amendment guarantees freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom to assemble, and freedom to petition the government for redress. While our freedom of religion is under assault today more than ever before, it is the foundation of our nation.

Political freedom is a wonderful thing, but spiritual freedom is even better, because you can experience it no matter what sort of government you live under. And true spiritual freedom lasts forever. But what is it? John Piper (“You Will Know the Truth and the Truth Will Set You Free,” on DesiringGod.org) describes true freedom: “You are fully free when you have the desire, the ability, and the opportunity to do what will leave you with no regrets forever.” He explains,

If you don't have the desire to do a thing, you are not fully free to do it. Oh, you may muster the will power to do what you don’t want to do, but nobody calls that full freedom…. And if you have the desire to do something, but no ability to do it, you are not free to do it. And if you have the desire and the ability to do something, but no opportunity to do it, you are not free to do it. And if you have the desire to do something, and the ability to do it, and the opportunity to do it, but it destroys you in the end, you are not fully free—not free indeed.

He illustrates this with an example of skydiving. Say you want to experience the thrill of the freedom of skydiving, but on the way to the airport you have an accident and can’t get there. You lack the freedom of opportunity. Or, suppose you get there, but you didn’t take the required class, so you don’t know how to operate your parachute. You lack the freedom of ability. Or, you get to the airport, you took the classes, and you go up in the plane. But when they open the door and you look down, you’re paralyzed with fear. You lack the freedom of desire, so you don’t jump.

But there’s one last requirement for true freedom. Suppose you get to the airport (freedom of opportunity), you took the classes (freedom of ability), and you go up in the plane, look out the door, and can’t wait to jump (freedom of desire). So you jump and are enjoying the freedom of falling through the air. But your parachute is defective and you’re going to smash into the ground. You are not truly free because what you’re doing is going to destroy you. To go back to his definition: “You are fully free when you have the desire, the ability, and the opportunity to do what will leave you with no regrets forever.”

So, how do we get that kind of freedom spiritually? The Jews with whom Jesus was speaking in our text thought that they were spiritually free through their descent from Abraham (8:33): “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never yet been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, ‘You will become free’?” Jesus explains that even though they don’t see it, they are actually enslaved to sin. He shows them (and us) the way to true spiritual freedom:

True freedom comes from knowing Christ through genuine faith and abiding in His word.

Jesus gives these arrogant Jews both a warning and an invitation. After stating that they are slaves to sin (8:34), He gives the warning (8:35), “The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever.” He means, “As descendants of Abraham, you’re in God’s household, but because of sin, you’re in His household as slaves, not as true sons. Slaves don’t enjoy the full privileges of sons. Slaves can be expelled from the household at any time, especially if they’re not faithful. You’re currently enjoying the privileges of being in God’s household, but you could lose this status if you continue in your sinful ways.”

Since they had mentioned Abraham, the story of Ishmael, the son of Hagar the slave, is behind verse 35. When Ishmael taunted Isaac, Abraham was forced to expel him from his household. The Jews who were threatening to kill Jesus (8:37, 40) were in danger of losing the privileges of being in God’s household (Rom. 9:4-5). But Jesus didn’t leave them with a warning only. He gave them an invitation (8:36), “So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” He’s saying, “Come to Me; I will give you true freedom.”

1. It’s possible to have a superficial, false faith in Christ that does not save from sin.

John 8:30 tells us, “As He spoke these things, many came to believe in Him.” Verse 31 states that Jesus was addressing the following comments to the Jews who had believed Him. So you would think that these people had come to know Christ through faith. But as the dialogue continues through the chapter, we learn that not only were they slaves of sin (8:34), also they were seeking to kill Jesus (8:37, 40); God was not their Father (8:42); in fact, they were children of the devil (8:44); they accused Jesus of having a demon (8:48); they were liars (8:55); and they attempted to kill Jesus (8:59). So why does John say that these Jews believed in Jesus?

Some have tried to resolve this by saying that 8:30-31 speaks about true believers, while “they” in 8:33 refers to the hostile Jews that we encountered earlier in the chapter. But the text does not indicate that there is a change of subject. Others argue that there is a difference in meaning between the Greek construction used with the verb “to believe” (in 8:31), but this distinction doesn’t hold up in other places (D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John [Eerdmans/Apollos], pp. 346-347). Other solutions have been proposed.

The best interpretation is that the “believers” in 8:30, 31 are like those back in 2:23, who believed in Jesus after seeing some of His miracles, but Jesus didn’t entrust Himself to them, because He knew that their faith was superficial. We saw that same false faith in 6:60, when many of Jesus’ disciples turned away from Him after He said some difficult things that they didn’t like. False faith is implied in 8:31, where Jesus says that if they continue in His word, they are truly His disciples. And so we should conclude that it’s possible to have a superficial, false faith in Christ that does not save from sin.

Other New Testament texts support this view. Jesus’ parable of the sower (Luke 8:5-15) mentions the seed that was sown on the rocky, thin soil. These people received the word with joy, but they had no root. They believed for a while, but in a time of temptation or trial, they fell away. The same was true of the seed sown among the thorny ground. Eventually the thorns choked out the word, so that it did not bear fruit. We see the same thing in the warning passages in Hebrews (6:4-8; 10:26-31) and in John’s mention of the false teachers who went out from the church, but never were genuine believers (1 John 2:19). Paul mentions false apostles who disguise themselves as workers of righteousness (2 Cor. 11:13-15).

I’ve seen the same thing many times, even with some who have served for a while in some capacity in the church. Perhaps they came to faith at a time when many of their friends were professing faith in Christ. It was the cool thing to do. Or, maybe they came to Jesus because they were told that He would give them some blessing or solve some difficult problem that they were wrestling with. But when things didn’t go as they had hoped, they fell away. Some now even deny the faith that they once professed.

How can we know that our own faith is genuine? I’ll say more about that in a moment, but for now, note two marks of false faith that we see in these “believing unbelievers”:

A. Those with false faith do not recognize their own slavery to sin.

After Jesus tells them (8:32), “And you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free,” they react defensively by asserting that they are Abraham’s descendants and they have never been enslaved to anyone. They couldn’t be referring to political slavery, since the nation had been enslaved in Egypt for 400 years, plus to many other foreign powers, such as Babylon, Greece, and (as they spoke) Rome. So they must mean that they were spiritually free and, as Jews, always had been free.

But they were blind to their self-righteousness and spiritual pride. Their religion was externally impressive, but their hearts were far from God (Mark 7:6-7). In Matthew 23:27-28, Jesus, who knew their hearts, reams them out: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” They thought that they were righteous, but their sin deceived them so that they didn’t see their own slavery to sin.

As I said last week, the starting point for going to heaven is to recognize that you are a guilty sinner in God’s sight. If you think that you’re good enough to go to heaven, or that by adding a few more good deeds, you’ll merit eternal life, you don’t understand God’s absolute holiness and justice. If our good deeds could get us into heaven, then Christ did not need to die on the cross. Invariably, those with false faith do not see their own slavery to sin. They brush it off by thinking that they just have a few faults.

B. Those with false faith are trusting in their own righteousness or religion to save them, not in Christ alone.

These Jews were trusting in their religious heritage as descendants of Abraham to put them in right standing with God. John the Baptist had already hit them with this when he called them to repentance (Matt. 3:9): “And do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father’; for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham.” If you think that going to church or going through religious rituals or giving money or any religious activity will commend you to God, you do not have genuine saving faith in Christ. You aren’t truly free spiritually. False faith does not save from sin.

2. True freedom comes from knowing Christ through genuine faith, which means to continue in His word.

In 8:31, Jesus says, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine.” The mark of genuine faith is not just mental or verbal profession that you believe in Christ. The mark of true faith is to continue (or, “abide”) in Jesus’ word. This is not the condition for getting saved; rather, it’s an evidence that you are truly saved. It’s the evidence that your faith in Christ is genuine. So, we need to understand what Christ’s word is and what it means to continue or abide in it.

A. Christ’s word is the same as God’s Word.

Christ’s word is everything that He taught, summed up in all that He is and all that He did for us on the cross. Jesus said that all of Scripture speaks of Him, His suffering, and the glory to follow (Luke 24:25-27, 44-46). Jesus told the Jews (John 5:38-39), “You do not have His word abiding in you, for you do not believe Him whom He sent. You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me.”

To continue in Christ’s word implies that you first started in His word. The starting point for saving faith is when you recognize from God’s Word that you’re a sinner and that Christ died to pay the penalty for your sin. God saves you when you stop trusting in your own good works and instead rely totally on what Jesus did for you on the cross and believe that God raised Jesus from the dead. Christ’s word is the same as God’s Word. The central message of God’s Word is how we can be reconciled to God through faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection.

B. To continue in Christ’s word means to be at home in His word and to obey it continually.

“Continue” translates the Greek word that the NASB translates as “abide” (15:4, 6, 7, 10). It means to dwell or be at home in God’s Word. You don’t just visit the Word as an occasional guest. You move in and live there. You wake up there and you return there every night. The Word shapes your worldview. It governs and guides your thinking, your attitudes, your speech, and your behavior. There isn’t any area of your life that is not subject to God’s Word or influenced by it. Continuing or abiding obviously implies time spent in the Word over the long haul.

Are you abiding in God’s Word? Do you “live” there? Are you comfortable there? Do you know its rooms? Do you enjoy its many amenities that are for your blessing? Do you seek to obey it? Let me suggest a radical idea that could transform your life: Turn off your TV, computer, and phone for between one half to one hour each day and spend the time reading, meditating on, and memorizing God’s Word with the prayer that you might know Christ better. God’s promise in Joshua 1:8 applies to us: “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.”

We’ve seen that it’s possible to have false faith that does not save. True freedom comes from knowing Christ through genuine faith, which means to continue in His word.

3. Christ’s word is the truth that truly sets us free when we abide in it.

Rather than being a slave of sin (8:34), “you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (8:32). “So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” So, how does abiding in Christ’s word of truth set us free?

A. Abiding in Christ’s word sets us free from spiritual ignorance.

Jesus emphasizes truth in this dialogue (8:32 [2x], 40, 44 [2x], 45, 46), which refers especially to saving truth. Those who do not know God are in spiritual darkness (Eph. 4:18). They cannot understand the things of the Spirit of God (1 Cor. 2:14). They do not know why they’re on earth or what will happen after they die. But when we come to know the truth through knowing Christ, all the riches of God’s grace are opened to us (1 Cor. 2:9-10; Col. 2:2-3).

This is illustrated even in the natural realm: truth liberates, but ignorance keeps people in bondage. A person who can read is much freer than an illiterate person. He is free to study medicine or law or finance or whatever field interests him. But the illiterate person is severely restricted in what he can do.

In the same way, spiritual ignorance keeps a person from knowing the living and true God and from being conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. Ignorance cuts a person off from enjoying the many blessings that are ours in Him. Abiding in Christ’s word opens the treasure chest and frees us to enjoy Him.

B. Abiding in Christ’s word sets us free from slavery to sin.

This is the primary focus of Jesus’ words (8:34), “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin.” Jesus does not mean that committing a single act of sin enslaves a person (although one sin is the first step to slavery), but rather that a person who continues in sin is under its domination (Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John [Eerdmans], p. 458). But as we abide in Christ’s word, we can experience consistent victory over sin, beginning on the thought level (where all sin begins).

Note that religion can’t free a person from slavery to sin. These Jews were as religious as they could be and yet Jesus asserts that they were slaves to sin. They were trying to kill the sinless Son of God, but they thought that they were spiritually free! The first step to being free from sin is to recognize your slavery to it.

True spiritual freedom is not the freedom to sin, but the freedom not to sin. Let me illustrate how abiding in Christ’s word sets you free from slavery to sin. Say that a young man from a pagan, immoral background becomes a Christian, but he doesn’t know what the Bible says about how to resist temptation. He still feeds his mind on gross TV shows and movies where couples quickly jump into bed. So he has professed faith in Christ, but he hasn’t learned to abide in Christ’s word. Meanwhile, a cute girl where he works flirts with him every day. She invites him over to her apartment where he yields to her advances. Soon, he’s living the same way he used to live, in slavery to sin.

But take the same young man and say that after he trusts in Christ he begins to abide daily in God’s Word. He reads the Word often and begins to memorize key verses. He listens to sound preaching of the Word. In the process, he reads the story of Joseph and how he resisted the advances of Potiphar’s wife, even though he could have found many excuses for yielding.  He learns from Joseph’s Godward focus when he says (Gen. 39:9), “How then could I do this great evil and sin against God?”

He also reads the Book of Proverbs, with its many plain warnings about the dangers of sexual sins. He reads Jesus’ warnings about lust beginning in the heart (Matt. 5:27-30). He memorizes Paul’s warning (1 Cor. 6:18), “Flee immorality,” and the promise in 1 Corinthians 10:13, “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” So when the young woman at work acts seductively toward him, he is able to resist and remain pure. Abiding in the Word set him free from his former slavery to sin.

You can apply this to any sin: anger, jealousy, bitterness, drunkenness, selfishness, or whatever. If you abide in God’s Word, you will be freed from bondage to those sins. If you do not abide in the Word, you will be enslaved to various sins.

C. Abiding in Christ’s word sets us free to serve others in love.

Paul wrote (Gal. 5:13), “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” Before we were saved, we lived to serve ourselves. We indulged the flesh, thinking that it would satisfy. But Christ saved us and set us free from selfishness so that we can serve others in love. As Jesus said (Mark 10:44-45), “Whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

Conclusion

Let’s come back to John Piper’s description of true freedom: “You are fully free when you have the desire, the ability, and the opportunity to do what will leave you with no regrets forever.” When you truly believe in Christ, He gives you the desire to please Him who lavished His grace upon you. He gives you the ability to obey Him as you walk in the Spirit who lives in you. He gives you opportunities daily to say no to sin and selfishness and to serve others in love. And you will dwell with Jesus in heaven forever, with no regrets that you left your life of sin to follow Him.

That’s the true freedom that comes from knowing Christ through genuine faith and abiding in His word! If you’re still a slave of sin, Jesus offers you true freedom: “If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (8:36).

Application Questions

  1. Besides abiding in Christ’s word, what are some other marks of genuine saving faith? (Check out 1 John for starters.)
  2. Can genuine Christians be defeated by sin? (See Romans 7.) Can a defeated Christian have genuine assurance of salvation?
  3. Some teach that there is a difference between being a believer in Christ and a disciple of Christ (a higher commitment). Why is this a false distinction? Support your answer with Scripture.
  4. A professing Christian tells you that God’s commandments restrict our freedom and that we’re free from the law. How would you answer him?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2014, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Bibliology (The Written Word), Christian Life, Faith, Hamartiology (Sin), Soteriology (Salvation), Spiritual Life

Lesson 49: True and False Children of God (John 8:37-47)

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March 23, 2014

Some of the scariest verses in the Bible are Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:21-23:

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’”

Here are people who call Jesus “Lord.” They have served Him in some impressive ways by prophesying, casting out demons, and performing miracles in His name. And yet they will be turned away from heaven at the judgment because they were false children of God, as revealed by their lawless lifestyles. Since you and I will dwell forever in either heaven or hell, you want to make absolutely sure that you are a true child of God, headed for heaven, and not a false child of God, who will spend eternity in hell.

The dialogue in our text follows John 8:30-31, where we saw that although many professed faith in Christ, it was not genuine, saving faith. This is first seen in 8:33, where it becomes clear that these “believers” were trusting their Jewish lineage for right standing with God. They mistakenly thought that being Jewish by birth automatically made them spiritually free. But Jesus said that actually they were slaves of sin. Only those who abided (“continued”) in His Word were truly His disciples. In 8:34-36, Jesus dealt with their claim to be spiritually free by showing them that they were only free if He set them free. Now He deals with their claim to be children of Abraham by showing that their claim was false as seen in their deeds. Their murderous intentions toward Jesus revealed that they were not children of God, as they thought, but of the devil.

Jesus is teaching here what He taught elsewhere, that conduct stems from one’s nature. Good trees produce good fruit; bad trees produce bad fruit. Children of God produce good deeds; children of the devil produce bad deeds. But it’s not quite so easy to tell which are which, because often bad trees seem to us to produce good fruit. For example, we see many people who are not believers in Jesus Christ, but they’re “good” people. They’re caring and kind. They give generously to charitable foundations that help the needy. They’re the type of people that you want to have as neighbors. And, on the other hand, there are some who sure seem to be children of God, and yet they do some horrible things that sometimes even land them in prison.

Only God knows what is in human hearts, so we always have to be a bit tentative when determining whether someone else is a true or false child of God. And sometimes we don’t even know our own hearts! We fluctuate in our desires from loving God to loving this world (which are mutually exclusive, 1 John 2:15). So to the best of our ability, we need to apply the tests that we see in our text, first to ourselves; and then, with a bit more hesitation, to others whom we are trying to help spiritually. The principle is:

False children of God follow Satan and his evil deeds because they have not been born of God;
true children of God love Jesus and obey His Word because they have been born of God.

The text reveals a number of characteristics of both false and true children of God:

1. False children of God think that they’re following God, but they’re actually following Satan and his evil deeds because they have not been born of God.

What makes this dialogue scary is that these Jews who were actually children of the devil were very religious people who professed to believe in Jesus. In other words, they weren’t raw pagans, avowed atheists, Muslim terrorists, or Hindu idolaters. These people professed to believe in the God of Abraham and outwardly they were zealous for their religion. But Jesus plainly tells them that they were deceived. They actually were in Satan’s camp. And so we who profess to be Christians and perhaps even are zealous about our faith need to think carefully through these five characteristics to make sure that we’re not deceiving ourselves!

A. False children of God count on their religion to put them in good standing with God.

This theme is repeated here so that we don’t miss it. In 8:33, they tell Jesus, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never yet been enslaved to anyone.” In 8:37, Jesus acknowledges that they were Abraham’s descendants physically, but He contends that they were not Abraham’s descendants spiritually. But they still repeat (8:39), “Abraham is our father.” When Jesus points out (8:39b-41a) that their deeds were not in line with Abraham’s, but indicated a different father, they retort (8:41b), “We were not born of fornication; we have one Father: God.”

There could be a couple of things behind that comment. It could be a subtle slur against Jesus’ birth, alluding to the fact that His mother conceived Him out of wedlock. Rumors about Mary’s pregnancy with Jesus had circulated for decades. So the Jews may be putting Jesus down by saying, “You’re illegitimate because Your mother was immoral, but we’re not!” Or, it could be an assertion that they were not like Gentile idolaters. Often idolatry in the Old Testament is described as spiritual adultery. So the Jews’ retort here could mean, “We were not born like idolatrous Gentiles; rather, as Jews, God is our Father.”

But however you take it, it’s clear that these Jews were counting on their Jewish heritage and religion to put them in right standing with God. The apostle Paul did the same thing when he was a Pharisee. He boasted in his Jewish credentials (Phil. 3:4-6). But after God saved him, he counted all of that as loss. He wrote (Rom. 2:28-29), “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.” And (Gal. 3:7), “Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham.”

It’s a great blessing to be born to Christian parents and reared in the church, as I was. But that blessing increases your accountability to respond to the light that you’ve been given. Your religious upbringing will do you no good and will only increase your culpability on judgment day if you do not respond to the gospel with repentance for your sins and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

B. False children of God are deceived into thinking that they are children of God, while their actions actually show them to be children of the devil.

These Jews claimed that Abraham and God were their spiritual fathers (8:39, 41), but they were blind as to who their real spiritual father was, namely, the devil! In reply to their contention that Abraham was their father, Jesus said (8:39, 40), “If you are Abraham’s children, do the deeds of Abraham. But as it is, you are seeking to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God; this Abraham did not do.” Then, in response to their claim that God was their Father, Jesus replies (8:42), “If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and have come from God, for I have not even come on My own initiative, but He sent Me.”

So they were claiming to be devoted followers of their religion, but at the same time they were trying to kill God’s unique Son, whom He sent to earth for their salvation. Their actions revealed their true nature, that they were children of the devil.

Jesus goes on (8:44) to explain that Satan is both a murderer from the beginning and the father of lies. He murdered the entire human race by lying to Eve about what God had said. As such, he is the author of all the murders and lies ever since that tragic incident in the Garden. Since these Jews were seeking to murder Jesus (8:37, 40) and since they were liars (8:55), they were reflecting their true nature as children of the devil. As they say, “He’s a chip off the old block.” Or, “Like father, like son.” But tragically, these Jews didn’t see how deceived they were. They thought that they were the righteous ones and that Jesus was the liar and deceiver.

Here’s the hard question that each of us needs to ask ourselves, so that we don’t end up being deceived: “Whose child do my actions reveal me to be?” There are far more tests than the two in verse 44, but take them: Do you have murderous intents for others? You say, “Whew, I’m off the hook on that one! I don’t want to kill anyone!” But not so fast! Jesus said (Matt. 5:21-22):

“You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.”

Whoa! If you’re an angry person, you need to get radical in eliminating that sin from your life or at the very least, it indicates that the devil has gotten a foothold in your life (Eph. 4:26-27). At worst, it indicates that you may not be a true child of God. But in either case, anger is not a “minor fault.” It’s a major sin!

Or, take the other test in verse 44: Lying. Jesus says of Satan, “[He] does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” Are you committed to being a truthful person, or do you bend the truth when it’s to your advantage? Do you put on a “Christian” front so that you look good at church, but you actually live in violation of God’s Word at home or when you’re in private? Hypocrisy is lying. Being truthful is a mark of God’s true children, but lying is a mark of the devil’s children.

C. False children of God seek to eliminate Christ and His Word from their lives because they don’t want to hear the truth about their sin.

These Jews were seeking to kill Jesus because His Word had no place in them (8:37). Jesus tells them further (8:40), “But as it is, you are seeking to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God; this Abraham did not do.” In 8:45, Jesus adds, “But because I speak the truth, you do not believe Me.” The truth threatened them because it exposed their sinful hearts. Rather than believing the truth and repenting of their sin, they were trying to eliminate the messenger.

Again, keep in mind that we’re not talking here about atheists or agnostics. We’re talking about outwardly religious people. In modern terms, they were active church members, some of whom served on the governing board. Some were even ministers. So you have to ask, “How do professing Christians today try to eliminate Christ and His Word from their lives?”

Some liberal “Christians” do it by undermining the authority and inerrancy of Scripture. It often starts by rejecting the early chapters of Genesis as history so that they can accommodate evolution. It moves on to eliminating the miracles in the Bible as mythical stories. Then they distance themselves from the parts of the Bible that don’t align with our modern “enlightened” understanding of things. For example, they argue that the biblical roles for men and women are culturally antiquated and not binding on us today. They argue that the Bible’s view of homosexuality is “homophobic.” The overarching virtue in the Bible is love and tolerance for everyone, so we can’t condemn as wrong any behavior or belief, no matter how unbiblical it may be.

But, it’s easy to throw stones at the liberals and ignore how we as evangelicals may be eliminating Christ and His Word from our lives because we don’t want to hear the truth about our sin. One way we do it is simply by neglecting the Word. We don’t read it and seek to obey it. We’re ignorant of what it says because we haven’t taken the time to read and meditate on it.

Another way that we eliminate or at least dilute Christ and His Word from our lives is by mixing it with worldly ideas, such as modern psychotherapy. The widespread self-esteem teaching flooded into the church, not because it was discovered in the Bible, but because it came in through worldly psychologists, such as Carl Rogers. It flies in the face of biblical teaching on humility and it serves to build our pride, which is the root of all sins.

Another way that we eliminate or dilute Christ’s Word so that we can do what we want, rather than what God commands, is by putting other “revelations” alongside the Word, which in effect supersede the Word. I’ve heard Christians say that God told them that it was okay for them to marry an unbeliever. A Christian man once told me that God had told him that he could divorce his wife. A charismatic pastor was separated from his wife, but the elders of his church had not asked him to step down. When I asked why they had not done this, one of the elders replied, “The Lord hasn’t told us to do that.” I persisted, “But the Lord has told you to do it. He told you in 1 Timothy 3.” But he kept saying, “No, the Lord hasn’t told us to do that.” So unbiblical “revelations” take precedence over God’s Word, allowing us to do what we want when it isn’t convenient or easy to do what God commands.

D. False children of God attack or look down on those who convict them of sin.

This is behind the Jews’ comment (8:41), “We were not born of fornication; we have one Father: God.” As I said, that either was a slur against Jesus so that they didn’t have to listen to Him, or it was a derogatory remark about Gentile idolatry. But either way, it diverted the issue from their need to confront their own sin by pointing at others and their supposed faults. Invariably, false believers do not let God’s Word confront their sins (John 3:19-21). True believers allow the light of God’s Word to expose their sins so that they can turn from them and grow in holiness.

E. False children of God are not able to understand or obey Jesus’ Word because they are not born of God.

This gets to the root of their problem. It comes up twice here. In 8:43, Jesus asks, “Why do you not understand what I am saying?” He answers His own question, “It is because you cannot hear My word.” He does not say, “You do not hear My word,” but rather, “You cannot hear My word.” The Greek word refers to inability. They lacked the spiritual ability to hear Jesus’ word, which primarily means, to obey it. Then, in 8:46 He asks, “Which of you convicts Me of sin? If I speak truth, why do you not believe Me?” Then He again answers His own question (8:47), “He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God.” In other words, they were not born of God.

The Bible is clear that because of sin, unbelievers cannot do anything pleasing toward God (Rom. 8:8). They are unable to understand the gospel or other spiritual truth (2 Cor. 4:4; 1 Cor. 2:14). And yet, God holds them responsible for their unbelief (Acts 2:23). If you say, “That’s not fair,” then you’re contending against the Sovereign of the universe! Be careful! Rather than rail against Him, cry out to Him for mercy! “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom. 10:13). But when you get saved, remember (1 Cor. 1:30), “But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus ….” The reason that false children of God follow Satan and his evil deeds is because they have not been born of God.

2. True children of God love Jesus and obey His Word because they have been born of God.

Briefly, here are four marks of true children of God:

A. True children of God give God’s Word the primary place in their lives.

This is the converse of what Jesus said about these false believers (8:37), “My word has no place in you.” The word translated “no place” can mean, “My word makes no progress in you.” Or, as we saw in 8:31, they did not continue in Jesus’ word, which is the mark of His true disciples. As I said last week, continuing or abiding in Jesus’ Word is the key to experiencing consistent victory over sin. True children of God can say with the psalmist (Ps. 119:11), “Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You.”

B. True children of God obey God’s Word.

Jesus says (8:47), “He who is of God hears the words of God; …” “Hears” does not mean just hearing the words audibly; the Pharisees did that. Rather, it means to hear so as to obey. In 8:39, Jesus says that if they were Abraham’s true children, they would do the deeds of Abraham. Abraham was noted both for believing God so that he was justified by faith (Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4:3); and obeying God, which demonstrated that his faith was genuine (Gen. 26:5; James 2:21-23). As John says (1 John 2:3), “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.” Is your life marked by obedience to God’s Word?

C. True children of God love Jesus.

Jesus says (8:42), “If God were your Father, you would love Me ….” Jesus repeatedly asked Peter when He restored him after his denials (21:16), “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Paul shows the importance of this (1 Cor. 16:22), “If anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be accursed.” Love is a commitment to seek the highest good of the one loved. Love for Christ is a commitment to seek His glory through all that I do. It certainly involves my feelings, in that I am most happy when I see my Lord most glorified. But the basis of biblical love isn’t feelings, but the commitment to seek His highest good. Have you made that commitment? Do you love Jesus enough to forsake your sin?

D. True children of God love Jesus and obey His Word because they have been born of God.

As we saw, at the heart of why false children of God are not able to understand or obey Jesus’ Word is that they are not of God. The flip side of this is (8:47), “He who is of God hears the words of God; …” Being “of God” means being “born of God” through the new birth. The reason that we now love Jesus and obey His Word is that we have a new nature. The Spirit of God dwells in us and opens up to us the treasures of God’s Word (1 Cor. 2:9-10). So it’s the reality of the new birth that distinguishes the true children of God from the false.

Conclusion

In 2 Corinthians 13:5, Paul writes, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?” It’s possible to go too far and become overly introspective, so I don’t want anyone to do that. But it’s also possible to go glibly through life, assuming that you’re a true child of God because you go through the outward motions of Christianity, while your heart is far from God (Mark 7:6). It would be utterly tragic to hear the Lord say (Matt. 7:23), “I never knew you, depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.” Make sure that you’re a true child of God!

Application Questions

  1. Some evangelism approaches encourage you to give assurance of salvation to a person who just prayed to receive Christ. In light of these tests, is this wise? Why/why not?
  2. Are there any marks of false converts that you need to deal with personally? What is your plan for doing this?
  3. What are some other marks of the new birth than those mentioned here? Cite Scriptures.
  4. How can you sensitively use these tests to help others without becoming judgmental?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2014, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Faith, Hamartiology (Sin), Satanology, Soteriology (Salvation)

How Can You Trust Christianity Is True When There Are So Many Unanswered Questions?

Article contributed by Cold Case Christianity
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As a Christian, I have many unanswered questions. The more I study the Christian worldview, the larger my list seems to grow. While essential truths are easier to identify from scripture, there are many non-essential (and more ambiguous) features of Christianity. The unfathomable aspects of God’s nature typically leave us in awe and without adequate explanation. To make matters worse, the ancient claims and historical details described in the New Testament are sometimes too remote to accurately verify. As a result, I’m often left with questions in places where I would rather have clarity and evidential certainty. How can we trust Christianity is true when there are so many unanswered questions?

After a long career as a cold-case detective, I’ve learned to get comfortable with unanswered questions. In fact, I’ve never investigated or presented a case to a jury that wasn’t plagued with a number of mysteries. As much as I wish it wasn’t so, there is no such thing as a perfect case; every case has unanswered questions. In fact, when we seat a jury for a criminal trial, we often ask the prospective jurors if they are going to be comfortable making a decision without complete information. If potential jurors can’t envision themselves making a decision unless they can remove every possible doubt (and answer every possible question), we’ll do our best to make sure they don’t serve on our panel. Every case is imperfect; there are no cases devoid of unanswered questions. Every juror is asked to make a decision, even though the evidential case will be less than complete. As detectives and prosecutors, we do our best to be thorough and present enough evidence so jurors can arrive at the most reasonable inference. But, if you need “beyond a possible doubt,” rather than “beyond a reasonable doubt,” you’re not ready to sit on a jury. The standard of proof is “beyond a reasonable doubt” for a good reason; no case is evidentially complete; no case maker can eliminate every possible reservation.

Christians, like jurors, need to get comfortable with unanswered questions. Every worldview has them. As an atheist, I struggled to answer a number of critical questions from my materialistic, naturalistic worldview: How did the universe originate? Why does the universe appear fine-tuned? How did life begin in the universe? Why does biology appear designed? How did our immaterial minds emerge from the material universe? How can I explain free will and objective moral truth? As a philosophical naturalist, my answers to these questions were little more than subjective speculation. My worldview was incomplete at the most foundational level. I had many unanswered questions, yet hung on to my atheistic perspective in spite of these mysteries. Every one of us clings to a worldview for which we have less than complete information. Every one of us has a series of unanswered questions.

As a theist and as a Christian, I am far more comfortable with my unanswered questions than I used to be as an atheist. My questions are fewer and less foundational. They are related more to non-essential issues than critical, core claims. The evidence I have points me in a given direction, and the gap between what I have and what I would like is much shorter than it used to be. All of us have to step out from the end of an evidence trail to a place of decision. That step across our unanswered questions is sometimes called a “leap of faith”. As a Christian, I don’t have to leap blindly and jump all that far. Yes, I still have questions, but I have more than enough evidence to make a reasonable decision. I’ve come to trust Christianity is true, even with a few unanswered questions.

Related Topics: Apologetics, Faith, Theology Proper (God), Worldview

13. God Conquers Misguided Faith (Judges 17:1-18:26, Micah)

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Judges: A Drifting People, A Delivering God (part thirteen)

There are a number of ways our faith can be misguided. Believing in the wrong god and believing wrongly about the right God may not be that different. In the book of Judges, everyone does what is right in their own eyes. That includes serving and worshipping God on their own terms rather than His. We do the same thing today when we cannot support our understanding of God from the Scriptures. When we claim we serve the God of the Bible but rely on our own intuition to determine how to live, we exhibit a misguided faith similar to the Israelites in Judges. Is your faith baseless, or grounded in God's Word?

Related Topics: Christian Life, Faith, Spiritual Life

14. God Conquers Cultural Conformity (Judges 19:1-20:11)

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Judges: A Drifting People, A Delivering God (part fourteen)

In Judges 19, we encounter another chapter where God's name does not appear. This godless chapter records the results of Israel's long, slow drift away from the Lord. Instead of remaining faithful to their covenant-keeping God in the Promised Land, the Israelites have chosen to adopt the gods and the godless practices of their culture. They look no different than the world. We should heed this chapter's warning, lest today's church succeed in her attempt to look like the world for the sake of relevance.

Related Topics: Christian Life, Cultural Issues, Failure, Issues in Church Leadership/Ministry, Spiritual Life

Lesson 50: Challenging Jesus (John 8:48-59)

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March 30, 2013

Rudolf Virchow (1821-1902) was a German pathologist and politician (interesting combination!) who openly opposed the German chancellor, Otto von Bismarck. On one occasion, Bismarck was so enraged at Virchow that he challenged him to a duel. Virchow replied, “As the challenged party, I have the choice of weapons and I choose these.” He held up two large and apparently identical sausages. “One of these,” he continued, “is infected with deadly germs. The other is perfectly sound. Let His Excellency decide which one he wishes to eat, and I will eat the other.”

Almost immediately the message came back that the chancellor had decided to laugh off the duel. (The Little, Brown Book of Anecdotes, ed. by Clifton Fadiman [Little, Brown, & Co.], p. 565.) The moral of that story is that if you’re going to challenge someone, you had better know your opponent and know when to drop the challenge before you lose more than face.

In John 8, the Pharisees have been challenging Jesus ever since He proclaimed (8:12), “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.” They contended that His testimony about Himself was not true (8:13). They sneeringly asked (8:19), “Where is Your Father?” After Jesus told them that they would die in their sins, they scoffed (8:25, giving the sense of the Greek), “Who do you think you are?”

After Jesus told them that the truth would make them free, they retorted that they were Abraham’s descendants and had never been enslaved to anyone (8:32-33). After Jesus countered by saying that their deeds showed that Abraham was not their father, they again sneered (8:41), “We were not born of fornication; we have one Father: God.” Jesus responded (8:44) by telling them that their real father was the devil, who is a murderer and liar. The reason that they could not hear God’s word through Jesus was that they were not of God (8:47).

Well, if you can’t win the argument, you can always attack your opponent. That’s what these Jewish leaders did (8:48), “Do we not rightly say that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” After Jesus replies to these insults with an explanation, a warning, and an invitation (8:49-51), they repeat the challenge with more conviction (8:52), “Now we know that You have a demon.”

They can’t believe that Jesus would claim to be greater than Abraham. They ask again (8:53), “Whom do You make Yourself out to be?” Jesus counters by claiming that He is far greater than Abraham, who rejoiced to see His day (8:56). Then He goes further and claims to be the eternal God (8:58): “Before Abraham was born, I am.” By this time, the Jews had heard enough. They picked up stones to kill Jesus. But, since Jesus’ hour had not come, He hid Himself and went out of the Temple. Their challenge to Jesus had failed. That’s an inviolable principle to always keep in mind: challenges to Jesus always fail!

If you challenge Jesus you will lose, but if you keep His word you have His sure promise of eternal life.

Jesus and His Word still challenge those who oppose Him. He also challenges His followers when they’re out of line. The crucial thing is how you respond when Jesus challenges you. Do you get defensive and hostile, as these Jews did? The result of that response was that Jesus left them to die in their sins (8:21, 24, 59). That’s a terrible place to be! But, Jesus says (8:51), “If anyone keeps My word he will never see death.” To state it another way, you will have eternal life. So let’s learn from these hard-hearted Jews not to challenge Jesus when He challenges us!

1. When you challenge Jesus, you lose.

It’s a fight that you don’t want to pick! And yet, people still do it. It’s like getting in the ring with a world champion boxer. You’ll get knocked out!

A. There are different ways to challenge Jesus.

1) Some challenge Jesus in bold, blasphemous ways.

These Jews resorted to name-calling and blasphemy when they said (8:48), “Do we not say rightly that You are a Samaritan and have a demon?” For a Jew to call someone a Samaritan was a degrading put-down. It was both a racial and a religious slur. The Jews despised the Samaritans, whom they considered half-breeds and heretics. They would often walk miles out of their way if they were traveling from Jerusalem to Galilee just to avoid contaminating their feet with Samaritan dust. Jesus chose not to respond to that charge, perhaps because He did not want to implicitly support their racism by insisting that He was not a Samaritan.

But He did respond calmly to their more blasphemous charge that He had a demon (8:49): “I do not have a demon; but I honor My Father, and you dishonor Me.” Dishonoring Jesus is a serious matter, because as He said (John 5:22-23), “For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son, so that all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.” To dishonor Jesus is to dishonor the eternal Sovereign of the universe! It is to dishonor the One before whom you will stand one day for eternal judgment! If you’re going to court on a charge for which you could be executed, it’s not wise to spit in the judge’s face! But that’s what the person who dishonors Jesus is doing!

Jesus replies with a warning and a gracious invitation. The warning is (8:50), “But I do not seek My glory; there is one who seeks and judges.” God the Father seeks Jesus’ glory and He will ultimately judge all who reject His Son. But then Jesus issues an invitation (8:51), “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he will never see death.” I’ll say more about that in a moment, but for now note the abundant grace of our Lord. Rather than striking dead on the spot these arrogant Jewish leaders, who should have recognized Jesus as their Messiah, Jesus promises eternal life to any of them who would keep His word. But they respond with more blasphemy (8:52-53),

“Now we know that You have a demon. Abraham died, and the prophets also; and You say, ‘If anyone keeps My word, he will never taste of death.’ Surely You are not greater than our father Abraham, who died? The prophets died too; whom do You make Yourself out to be?”

Then, after Jesus’ clear claim to be the eternal God (8:59), they picked up stones to kill Him. It never occurred to them that His claims might be true. Because they challenged Jesus rather than believed in Him, they would die in their sins.

Those who challenge Jesus in bold, blasphemous ways often die in their sins. There are exceptions, like the apostle Paul, so that there is hope for all. But the Lord had to deal with Paul in a pretty forceful way, knocking him to the ground and blinding him for a few days, to bring him to salvation. With King Herod Agrippa, who blasphemously allowed people to attribute divinity to him, God directed His angel to strike him so that he was eaten by worms and died (Acts 12:23). It’s safe to say that challenging the Lord of the universe is not a wise thing to do!

2) Others challenge Jesus by ignoring Him and shrugging off His invitation to salvation.

This is probably the most common response to Jesus and His claims: People just ignore Him and go on about their lives as if He didn’t exist and as if He had not died so that they could have eternal life. They would say that they don’t have anything against Jesus. He was probably a good man who helped a lot of people. But they have other more “important” things to tend to. Like those in Jesus’ parable who were invited to the feast, some beg off because they have just bought a piece of land and need to go look at it. Others just bought some new oxen (in our day, a new car) and need to go try them out. Another just married a wife and can’t come (Luke 14:17-20). But they all dishonored the host and missed out on his banquet.

So, any rejection of Jesus and His claims, whether a bold, blasphemous challenge or a quiet, polite excuse from those who ignore Him and move on with their own agendas, is a serious matter. Here’s why:

B. The result of challenging Jesus is that He leaves you to die and face judgment.

Jesus warns (8:50), God is the judge of all that dishonor His Son. Leon Morris comments (The Gospel According to John [Eerdmans], p. 468), “Jesus’ hearers may act as though they are supreme and dispense justice. Actually they are men under judgment.” Ironically, although the Jews sought Jesus’ death and finally succeeded in killing Him, this brought His greatest glory. You cannot win if you oppose God. He uses even the wicked to accomplish His sovereign plan and then He judges them for what they did (Acts 4:27-28; cf. Habakkuk). Those who crucified Jesus only brought about God’s predestined purpose. Then they faced judgment for their horrible crime.

John 8:59 states, “Therefore they picked up stones to throw at Him, but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple.” We don’t know whether this was a miraculous hiding or whether Jesus simply blended in with the crowd. But I do know that it’s always tragic when Jesus hides Himself from you and leaves you to die in your sins. Jesus left the temple, where these Jews purported to worship God. This reminds us of Ezekiel’s vision, when the glory of the Lord left the temple (Ezek. 10:18, 11:22-23). The Jews had their religion, but they didn’t have God’s glory. To have religion without the Lord of glory is to have nothing. Whether you challenge Jesus boldly as a blasphemer or subtly by ignoring Him, the final result will be that He will leave you to die in your sins and face judgment. When you challenge Jesus, you lose!

But, even to these blasphemers, who should have known better, Jesus issues a gracious invitation. He still does that. It applies to you if you will respond:

2. When you keep Jesus’ word, you have His sure promise of eternal life.

Rather than face God in judgment (8:50), Jesus extends this gracious promise:

A. Jesus promises that whoever keeps His word will never see death.

John 8:51: “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he will never see death.” “Truly, truly,” means, “Listen up! This is really, really important!” The one speaking is the eternal Word who became flesh. The promise extends to all (“anyone”). It would be a ludicrous promise on the lips of anyone other than the Lord God: “If anyone keeps My word he will never see death.”

In typical fashion, the Jews understand Jesus in earthly, physical terms, pointing out that both Abraham and all the prophets died (8:53): “Surely You are not greater than our father Abraham, who died? The prophets died too; whom do You make Yourself out to be?”

John again is using irony. His readers know that Jesus is far greater than Abraham, as He Himself will state in 8:58. If the Jews’ question about whom Jesus made Himself out to be had been asked sincerely from seeking hearts, it would have been valid. But as it is, it misses the point that both Jesus and John’s Gospel have been making. D. A. Carson puts it (The Gospel According to John [Eerdmans/Apollos], p. 356), “Jesus does not make himself or exalt himself to be anything. Far from it: he is the most obedient and dependent of men, uniquely submissive to his Father.”

But, what does Jesus’ promise mean?

1) Jesus’ promise means that the one who keeps His word will have eternal life and not face judgment.

If the Jews truly had been seeking to know if Jesus was who He claimed to be, they would have asked for clarification. Instead, they confirm their charge that He had a demon (8:52). Jesus here means the same thing that He said in 5:24, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.” He repeats the same truth to Martha in 11:25-26, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”

Obviously, all people die physically. Jesus died; all the apostles died. In human history, the only men never to die were Enoch and Elijah. The believers who are living when Jesus returns will not die (1 Thess. 4:15-17). But other than that, all people, including believers, face physical death. But believers are kept from the second death, which is to spend eternity separated from God in the lake of fire (Rev. 20:14). Believing in Christ means that we will not come into judgment, but have passed out of death into eternal life.

2) The condition of Jesus’ promise is that we keep His word.

What does that mean? Does it mean that if you ever disobey Jesus, you do not have eternal life and will face judgment for your sins? If so, there won’t be anyone in heaven, because we all sin (1 John 1:8)! Rather, Jesus means the same thing as He said in 8:31, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine.” He said that in response to the Jews who professed to believe in Him, but (as the subsequent dialogue shows) did not truly believe in Him. Jesus wasn’t describing the condition for becoming His disciples, but rather the result of genuinely believing in Him. Those who truly believe in Him abide in or keep His word. It doesn’t refer to perfection, but to direction. The new direction of a person who truly believes in Christ is to keep His word.

C. H. Spurgeon (Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit [Pilgrim Publications], 36:566-568) developed several characteristics of the one who keeps Christ’s words. He has close dealing with Christ. He hears what Christ says and clings to it. He accepts Christ’s doctrine. Whatever Christ teaches is the truth. He trusts Christ’s promises, especially the promise that whoever believes in Him has eternal life. And, he obeys Christ’s precepts. Jesus promises that the one who does these things has eternal life.

But, how do we know that Jesus’ promise is true?

B. Jesus’ many claims secure His promise that the one who keeps His word will never see death.

We’ve already seen that Jesus claimed that whoever keeps His word will not see death. There is no middle ground with a claim like that. Either Jesus is deluded and you should not trust Him, or He is God and you had better trust Him. Here are 5 more claims:

1) Jesus claims to honor His Father and seek His glory.

John 8:49-50: “Jesus answered, ‘I do not have a demon; but I honor My Father, and you dishonor Me. But I do not seek My glory; there is One who seeks and judges.’” Jesus is here identifying Himself closely with the Father so that He seeks the Father’s glory and the Father seeks Jesus’ glory. John Calvin (Calvin’s Commentaries [Baker], p. 355) paraphrases Jesus’ statement here, “I claim nothing for myself which does not tend to the glory of God; for his majesty shines in me, his power and authority dwells in me; and therefore, when you treat me so disdainfully, you pour contempt on God himself.” You have to decide: Was Jesus deluded or lying, or was He uniquely one with the Father, so that they could promote each other’s glory?

2) Jesus claims that the Father seeks His glory.

John 8:54: “Jesus answered, ‘If I glorify Myself, My glory is nothing; it is My Father who glorifies Me, of whom you say, “He is our God.”’” Jesus is saying that if He were just promoting Himself, His claims would be invalid. But when the Father glorifies the Son, if we oppose the Son we oppose God Himself.

3) Jesus claims to know the Father and keep His word.

Although these Jewish leaders claim that God is their God, Jesus plainly tells them the truth (8:55): “And you have not come to know Him, but I know Him; and if I say that I do not know Him, I will be a liar like you, but I do know Him and keep His word.” Jesus calls them liars for claiming to know God. By way of contrast, Jesus claims both to know the Father and to keep His word. He could authoritatively tell them that they did not know God because He knew what was in every heart (2:25). And, as Jesus has just claimed in 8:46, He keeps God’s word perfectly. No one could convict Him of sin. Was He deluded or did He speak the truth?

4) Jesus claims that Abraham rejoiced to see His day.

John 8:56: “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.” Jesus’ “day” refers to the time of His incarnation and the whole of His work (Morris, p. 471). It probably also refers to His coming day, when He will judge the world in righteousness (Acts 17:31). The Jews responded with incredulity (8:57): “You are not yet fifty years old, and You have seen Abraham?” They were not suggesting that Jesus looked like He was fifty. Rather, they were just picking a round number that obviously was older than Jesus (who was in His mid-thirties) and asking, “How can a man who isn’t even fifty claim to have seen a man who lived 2,000 years ago?” Notice, also, that Jesus did not claim to have seen Abraham (although He saw and talked with him; Gen. 18:13, 17, 20). Rather, He said that Abraham saw His day.

Scholars debate what that refers to. I think that it refers to all of the revelation that God granted to Abraham regarding the coming Messiah and His death on the cross. God promised to bless all nations through Abraham’s seed and that kings would come forth from Sarah’s womb (Gen. 12:1-3; 17:16-17). When Abraham met the mysterious Melchizedek, the priest of God Most High, who gave him bread and wine (Gen. 14:18), God could have revealed to Abraham something of the coming priest according to the order of Melchizedek (Heb. 7). On Mount Moriah, where God told Abraham to sacrifice the son of the promise, He provided the ram as a substitute (Gen. 22). God showed Abraham there how His own Son would be the sacrifice for sins, but also how He would be raised from the dead (Heb. 11:17-19).

Note in passing that if with Abraham you see Christ’s first day, when He came as the offering for sinners, and rejoice in it, you will rejoice to see His second day, when He comes in power and glory to judge the earth. But if you have not rejoiced in His first day, His second day will be a day of dread and gloom for you.

5) Jesus claims to be God.

John 8:58: “Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.” Jesus did not merely say, “Before Abraham was born, I was.” That would point to His preexistence, but not to His eternity. But rather, He says that before Abraham was born, He was continuously in existence. He was claiming to be eternal. Also, the Jews instantly recognized “I am” as a reference to the name of God given to Moses at the burning bush (Exod. 3:14). Since the penalty for blasphemy was stoning, the Jews picked up stones to kill Jesus. But His hour had not come, so He left them.

The point is, Jesus’ claims are so radical that either He was a deluded crazy man, or He was who He claimed to be. And His claims are backed up by the many Scriptures that He fulfilled, by His sinless life, by His many miracles, and by His resurrection from the dead. Thus we can rely on His promise that whoever keeps His word will never see death.

Conclusion

You face the same choice these Jews faced: Either Jesus was a blasphemer or He is God. He could not have been just a good man. If you challenge Jesus by shrugging off His claims, you will lose big time. If you bow before Him as the Lord God and obey His word, you will see the day of His coming and be glad.

Application Questions

  1. What are some specific ways that Christians challenge Jesus?
  2. How should a believer view death? Is it to be dreaded and put off at all costs? When should believers stop medical treatment and go be with the Lord?
  3. Just as Abraham rejoiced to see Jesus’ coming day, so we can rejoice to see the day of His second coming. How can we cultivate that hope? What difference should it make in our lives?
  4. Why is Jesus’ claim in 8:58 clearly a claim to deity? How could you use this in witnessing to a member of a cult?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2014, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Soteriology (Salvation), Spiritual Life

Graceful Beginnings: New Believers Guide

“Begin your new life in Christ with confidence and joy!”

Hooray! Someone shared the good news of the gospel with you. You recognized your need, you wanted this good news for yourself, and you accepted it by faith in Christ. You began a new life, one based on a relationship with Jesus Christ and filled with treasure that is yours to know and experience. So, go ahead. Delve into your spiritual riches and experience the kind of life your God has prepared for you. Begin your new life in Christ with confidence and joy!

Related Topics: Basics for Christians, Christian Life, Spiritual Life

Using This Study Guide

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Graceful Beginnings: New Believers Guide is a series of lessons specifically designed for the new Christian in mind—whether new to the Christian faith in general or new in understanding what one might have only heard about previously. The lessons are basic, introducing the new believer to her God and his way of approaching life in simple terms that can be easily understood. Just as a newborn baby needs to know the love and trustworthiness of her parents, the newborn Christian needs to know and experience the love and trustworthiness of her God.

The seven lessons are:

  • Lesson 1: Beginning Your New Life in Christ
  • Lesson 2: The Focus of Your New Life - Christ
  • Lesson 3: Your New Power Source - God’s Spirit
  • Lesson 4: Prayer - Living in the Father’s Love
  • Lesson 5: Your New Life in Community
  • Lesson 6: A New Life of Obedience
  • Lesson 7: Sharing Your New Life with Others

The Bible verses used in this study are from the NET Bible® unless otherwise indicated.

How to Use in One-to-One Discipling Relationships

Graceful Beginnings emphasizes that Christianity is Christ. It’s all about a relationship with him. The lessons encourage the young Christian to appreciate and enjoy this new relationship with Jesus Christ that is filled with treasure for her to know and experience. Help her to delve into her spiritual riches and to experience the kind of life our God has prepared for us all.

Understanding and appreciating our rich treasure is best done in a one-to-one discipling relationship. A mature Christian, one farther along in her walk with Christ, should be the discipler, meeting with the new believers (disciples)—individually or as a small group (2-4).

Each lesson of Graceful Beginnings consists of two parts:

1) “Together Lesson” for the discipler to work through with the new believer at a weekly session, and

2) “Personal Discovery Guide” for the new believer to work through on her own during the week between sessions.

At the end of the seven lessons, plan a time to get together and share each other’s faith stories (worked on during Lesson 7’s Personal Discovery Guide).

How to Use as an Individual Study

Though designed for one-to-one discipling settings, anyone can go through this study on his or her own. One suggested way to do this is to spend one day going through the “Together Lesson” then follow the “Personal Discovery Guide” during the next 6-7 days. If you have questions about anything you are reading or learning, please ask another Christian you know and trust or email me with your questions.

Guidelines for One-to-One “Together Lessons”

1. Make sure both the discipler and each new believer have a copy of Graceful Beginnings.  

2. Agree to a definite starting and stopping time. Keep to that time, if possible. Expect the discipling “Together Lessons” to take about 60 minutes, depending upon discussion.

3. Make sure that each of you has a modern translation of the Bible to use.  

4. Begin and end with prayer. As you enjoy your instructional time together, give yourselves freedom to address any questions that came up during the week. As questions come up during the discipling lesson, choose to address them if relevant or plan to address them at a later time.

5. It is not necessary that you write answers to the discussion questions while working through each discipling lesson. However, you should read the teaching material and all the Bible passages. Each new believer needs to know where to find these in her own Bible for future reference. Then, give some thought to each of the discussion questions/issues.

6. Make sure you stay in the Scriptures. That is your authority because that is God’s Word.

7. At the end of the “Together Time,” introduce the Personal Discovery Guide that follows the lesson.

8. Reinforce the transferability of these lessons. Both of you can use them with any future disciples God brings into your lives.

9. Enjoy your time together getting to know one another in the Lord. Rejoice in the truths you share together!

Memorizing Bible Verses Together

Help the new believer to begin memorizing Bible verses each week (included in the Personal Discovery Guide). We recommend that you both memorize the verses during the week. The verses printed in Graceful Beginnings are from the NET Bible®. You may each choose to memorize the verse from your Bible rather than what is given. That is perfectly okay. The point is to begin a habit of memorizing Scripture.

The 7 memory verses associated with the lessons are:

Memory Verse 1

“For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Memory Verse 2

“But these are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:31)

Memory Verse 3

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)

Memory Verse 4

“Therefore let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace whenever we need help.” (Hebrews 4:16)

Memory Verse 5

“I give you a new commandment – to love one another. Jut as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. Everyone will know by this that you are my disciples – if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)

Memory Verse 6

“I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So the life I now live in the body, I live because of the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. ” (Galatians 2:20)

Memory Verse 7

“But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?” (Romans 10:14 New Living Translation)

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