5. CommissionRelated Media
Commissioned to be disciple-makers
Jesus Followers Become Disciple-Makers
Christianity is Christ! It is not a lifestyle, not rules of conduct, and not a society whose members were initiated by the sprinkling or covering of water. It is about Christ and our relationship with him.
Jesus Christ calls us to a new life, clothes us with himself, commissions us with a purpose, and empowers us to fulfill that purpose—to follow him as his disciples and to live for him as disciple-makers.
Jesus calls us to a new life — A 20th century Bible teacher put it this way:
He gave His life for you so He could give His life to you, so He could live His life through you. (Major Ian Thomas)
Paul described this relationship in Galatians 2:20,
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Jesus clothes us with Himself — Galatians 3:27 says that we are clothed with Christ. God sees Jesus when he looks on us. We are in him; that is our new identity. We become the walking talking, visible representatives of the invisible God.
Jesus commissions us with a purpose — Actually, it is a two-fold purpose. The first part is to follow him as his disciples. In John 12:26, Jesus said, “whoever serves me must follow me.” And, we are to live for him as disciple-makers. Before returning to heaven after his resurrection, Jesus said to His followers:
“Then Jesus came up and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and MAKE DISCIPLES of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,” (Matthew 28:18-19)
When Jesus gave that command to his followers to go and make disciples, it was not to ordained preachers, hired church staff or mission organizations. He spoke those words to average, every day kind of people like you and I are. Jesus commissions us with a purpose: to follow him as his disciples and to live for him as disciple-makers.
Jesus empowers us to fulfill that purpose — He empowers us through the Holy Spirit present in our lives.
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses…” (Acts 1:8)
“Now to him who by the power that is working within us is able to do far beyond all that we ask or think, …” (Ephesians 3:20)
Our response is to live dependently on his power…by faith. You and I can be disciple-makers not because we are so great or smart, not because we have been a Christian for a long time or know the Bible well. Who makes us able to do what he asks us to do? Jesus! We are simply to obey him and trust his Spirit in us to work through us. Being a little scared is a good thing because we will rely on Jesus more.
The bottom line is this: Jesus followers become disciple-makers.
Think About It:
What do you think Jesus’ commission to you as a disciple-maker would look like in your life?
What Is a Disciple-Maker?
It is always good to understand the terms we use. So, let’s define three terms and use a recent movie to illustrate them.
Disciple — A disciple is an active follower or learner. A disciple studies the teachings of another person whom they respect and applies those teachings to her life.
Discipleship — Discipleship is the normal process for Christians to get established and grow in their faith. That would include small groups whether Bible studies, moms groups, or general fellowship groups. This is traditional discipleship. It has a tendency to be inward-focused on how much I as a believer am growing in my faith.
Disciple-Making — Disciplemaking is the full process of trusting in Christ, choosing to follow him and grow in him while at the same time being equipped to reach new people for Christ, build them up in the faith, and help them reach their peers. It is outward-focused. That is full discipleship.
Discipleship is incomplete without disciple-making. We tend to cut off the second half and call it discipleship. Jesus didn’t leave that option open to us.
Here’s the illustration:
The movie Julie & Julia portrays the young woman Julie Powell becoming a disciple of master chef Julia Child through Julia’s cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Julie studies the recipes and follows the procedures. As a result, she experiences the joy of cooking and eating delicious food as Julia has taught her through a book. She wears her apron and pearls like Julia. Towards the end, one realizes that Julie got to know Julia Child “personally” though they never met. That is traditional discipleship.
Julie Powell didn’t keep her good cooking to herself, though. She wrote a blog about her cooking, bringing others along with her and introducing them to Julia Child and her book. Then, Julie wrote a book about her experience. Soon, a movie came along. How many women do you think bought that book and started cooking through it because of Julie’s influence?
While Julie Powell was following Julia Child as a disciple, she was engaging others and introducing them to Julia and sharing what she was learning with her readers so that they were being taught how to cook that way. That’s disciple-making.
The point is Julie was a follower and a disciple-maker at the same time. That’s what Jesus calls each of us to do. Small groups are great fishing pools for fulfilling this purpose. You, as a small group leader, have the opportunity to pursue disciple-making as you minister to the women of your small group, and you can encourage them to become disciple-makers as well. Let’s see what this would look like.
Think About It:
How long have you been a disciple of Jesus? Why did you decide to follow him?
In what ways have you helped others to also know Jesus and follow him?
Small Groups Are Fishing Pools for New Disciples
Small groups attract new Christians as well as those who have been believers for years but have never been discipled. Even non-Christians are attracted to small groups because they are seeking truth and/or fellowship. This is true for Bible studies, mothers’ groups, or other small groups. What a great opportunity to help someone grow in her relationship with Jesus and in his truth!
“Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, arrived in Ephesus. He was an eloquent speaker, well versed in the scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and with great enthusiasm he spoke and taught accurately the facts about Jesus, although he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak out fearlessly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained the way of God to him more accurately.” (Acts 18:24-26)
This is a great example of someone in leadership listening to what is being shared in a group setting, realizing that the person sharing is lacking some beneficial information, and personally discipling that person so he can influence others more effectively. How important do you think it was that the couple invited Apollos to a private place for discussion?!
Think About It:
What did someone use to establish you as a new believer?
Since your group may contain mature Christians with lots of Bible knowledge alongside those who have limited Christian understanding, it is very important that you do two things in an intentional and relational way:
1. Pay attention — Do not assume that woman sitting next to you in your Bible study group knows who she is in Christ. Listen to what she says. She may not even be a believer yet. She may be a new believer. She may be a long-time believer who has never been discipled and feels ignorant compared to others. What if her answer reveals she doesn’t know the truth? Maybe she is leaving blanks because she doesn’t know how to do a study or can’t figure out how to answer the question. Many Bible studies are written using one particular translation so the question wording often reflects that. If she doesn’t use the same translation, she may not know how to get the answer. So…
2. Come alongside her — If you catch that she’s new to Bible study, church, and/or doesn’t know much, invite her somewhere to visit—maybe in your home as Priscilla and Aquila did or any place where you can be together and have enough quiet to discuss. Find out what her background is, what she already knows, and what she’d like to know. If she’s interested in meeting with you one-on-one to get more established in her faith, agree on a first time to get together. Be intentional and relational.
- If she is just new to Bible study, help her work through 1-2 Bible study lessons until she feels more comfortable with the process.
- If she is a new Christian who doesn’t know much yet, walk her through a new believers study such as Graceful Beginnings: New Believers Guide (available at ) or other books designed for new believers. (See for some other selections.) This will give her roots in the Christian faith.
- If she has been a Christian for years but was never discipled, take her through Graceful Living (available at . This will firmly establish her in her identity in Christ, Christ’s finished work on the cross, what the resurrection means for her now, and how to live by the Spirit.
- You can customize what you’ll cover with her by asking, “What do you already know? What do you want to know? What do you know about Christ? Do you know your identity in Christ? What do you know about living by the Spirit? Many people in our churches don’t know what that is.
Think About It:
Why is it important to come alongside someone in your group who is struggling or lacking truth in her life rather than assuming she will “catch up” just by being in the group?
3. Encourage mature group members to do the same. If you have several mature believers in the group and several new believers, encourage the mature Christians to pay attention and come alongside at least one younger believer in the group. Follow the same procedures as above. Encourage the women to be doing this outside the group as well with those in their sphere of influence who need to be more firmly established in their faith.
What about those who come to your group who are not yet believers?
Be Ready to Share Christ with Unbelievers
As you pay attention to your group members, you should recognize those who have yet to trust Christ.
“But they [believers] overcame him [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony…” (Revelation 12:11)
This verse tells us that we have two very powerful tools to introduce others to Jesus that cannot be stopped. We have the gospel facts (the blood of the lamb) and the story of our own experience validating the power of the gospel. People can reject the facts of the gospel and even its logic, but it is very hard to argue with someone about her experience of the gospel.
Every Jesus follower needs to have these two tools to fulfill your purpose — 1) a way to share the gospel facts and 2) a readiness to share your own story. That’s intentionally partnering with the Holy Spirit in bringing others to Christ.
Think About It:
If you were saved as a teen or adult, what was life like without Jesus?
What triggered your need for him?
What did God use to draw you to himself?
Learn to Share the Gospel Message
There are different ways to share the gospel—4 spiritual laws, the bridge diagram, Romans road, and others. Hopefully, your church or organization will offer you training in how to share the gospel relationally. If training is not offered, you can ask others and find out what’s available in your area and when. Ask your ministry coordinator for help.
Find a presentation that works for you and practice it until you know it well. The idea is that when the opportunity comes up in conversation, you will be ready to share the gospel without stressing about remembering the “details.” Gather the members of your small group together to get trained along with you. It’s more fun to do in a group, and it is more likely to be done!
Here are two ideas:
Evantell.org — You can go online to to watch the online training videos available there. This follows the good news/bad news approach. The training gives you opportunity to introduce your own illustrations including those from your own faith story. (See the next section for ways to work on your faith story.)
John 3:16 — This familiar verse is often referred to as the Gospel in a nutshell. Using four simple elements, you can introduce someone to Jesus in a concise way. Open with, “Has anyone introduced you to Jesus so you could know Him? May I?”
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (NIV)
- God is real. He loves you with an unconditional, never-ending love. “For God loves you ________ (name) so much…” He created you to have a relationship with Him. But, we can’t experience this loving personal relationship because of sin in our lives. Sin is disobeying God. It puts a barrier between us and a holy God. No matter how hard you try, you cannot be good enough on your own to overcome this sin barrier. The penalty for sin is death. But God’s love had a plan…
- “God gave His one and only Son” Jesus – to live as a human without sin and then to take the penalty for our sin on himself when he died on the cross. He was buried as a dead man then raised from the dead to be alive again. He did this so that our sins could be forgiven.
We Believe God’s Love
- “Whoever believes in Him” – Faith is trust. God asks that we trust in His plan, admit our sin and desire for a relationship with Him. Accept what Jesus did on the cross for us out of love.
We Receive What God Gave
- “Shall not perish but have eternal life” – Everyone dies and ends up somewhere. To perish means to die separated from God and His love for you. Eternal life means you can enjoy a forever family relationship with God and promise of living securely with Him now and after your life on earth ends.
- When offered a gift you want, you take it and say thank you. It’s forever yours. Is there anything keeping you from trusting in Jesus right now? Lead them in a short prayer. Prayer is simply talking to God. If you are unsure about how to pray or what to say, you can say something like this:
"Lord Jesus, I believe you are the Son of God. Thank you for dying on the cross for my sins. Please forgive my sins and give me the gift of eternal life. I ask you into my life and heart to be my Savior. I want to serve you always."
Be sure to meet with her afterwards to walk her through a new believers guide such as Graceful Beginnings: New Believers Guide. See above for information. Introduce her to the group as their new sister in Christ. Lead a celebration of her new life.
Learn to Share Your Faith Story
Once called “testimonies,” the more friendly term is “faith stories.” Be ready to share YOUR faith story with the women in your group—either one-on-one or in the small group setting—whenever appropriate.
Prepare Your Own Faith Story
Now, I am hearing the hesitation out there. Are you unconvinced that your story matters? Do you think your story is boring, not sensational enough? Jesus Christ died for you so he could give his life to you so he could live his life through you. It’s his story in your life. Only you know it. Share it. If grew up in the church and stayed faithful to Jesus for the most part until now, you have the story every parent of young children wants to hear. What influenced you to stay faithful?
2. Consider simple statements or questions you could include in conversation that could lead into sharing your story. Then, be ready for openings in the conversation where you can share simple statements of what God has done in your life. Give her a peak into the life you have in Christ. Create curiosity for more.
Here are some transitions from common topics about which people are already passionate:
- Corruption, evil and sin – “in the end, I find that though I am not guilty of that particular sin, I am just as guilty as…”
- Community – “Part of why I am so passionate about authentic community is because we are created by God to live in real community, first of all with him…”
- Family – “I am so glad God cares more about my family than even I do. What would I do without him helping me to…?”
Think About It:
What are some conversation starters to stimulate meaningful conversation that might reveal a woman’s heart and give you a chance to invite it somewhere?
Encourage Group Members to Share Their Faith Stories
Suggest all the women in the group work on their faith stories. Direct them to the worksheets mentioned above or any other outline you may already by using.
Give opportunity for each to share for 5 minutes during group time, or plan a group get together over dinner or dessert where there is plenty of time for each one to share her story.
Prepare Future Leaders
Identify the woman in your group who demonstrates a greater level of spiritual interest and commitment to your group who might also be challenged to become a small group leader herself. You, in essence, help her develop as a leader who is capable of ministering to others.
- Give her some responsibility within the group and watch what she does.
- Challenge her to reach out to at least one other member of the group in the ways described above for disciple-making.
- Pray for her regularly.
- Enjoy your new relationship and leave the results up to the Holy Spirit!
Think About It:
Why would developing future leaders be important for a ministry? Has someone done this for you?
You Can Do This – By Faith
You can become a disciple-maker as Jesus commissioned you to be — by faith:
- In your personal life and already-existing church life. Disciple-making is a lifestyle, not a program. It’s investing your life in THE purpose.
- At any age or stage of life — teens and college students, senior adults, singles, married, widowed, moms, and empty-nesters. Someone around you needs to know Jesus or needs to know him better.
- Along any stage of your Christian growth. Just beginning or doing it for years. Give yourself permission to not know all the answers first. No one does anyway!
- Because whatever Jesus calls us to do, he empowers us to do through his Spirit. Say "yes" and jump in with both feet!
For more information about Disciple-Making, and especially the Disciple-Making Pathway training, visit my website at . Consider hosting a Disciple-Making Pathway training at your church so that all your small group leaders will be onboard with their commission as DISCIPLE-MAKERS for Jesus!
Four Steps to Inductive Bible StudyRelated Media
Setting the context: “ABCs”
- Author — Who wrote the passage?
- Background — When did the author live? In what culture?
- Context — How does the passage fit in with what comes before and after it?
What does the passage say? (Observation)
- Pray for the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Read and reread the passage. Read it in another version of the Bible if available.
- Gather all sorts of facts like an investigative reporter. Ask questions to help you observe the facts: Who? What happened? What was taught? When? Where? How? Why? This is where you see and discover what the author is saying.
- Locate and mark any key words, repeated words or phrases, and commands.
What does it mean? (Interpretation)
- What is the author’s intent in this passage? What is one principle or lesson the writer/God was trying to communicate? What was he saying to the people of his day? What would they have understood?
- Look at other scriptures that relate to the passage. These are usually found in the margins of Bibles or in footnotes. What do other verses say about this thought or idea?
- Use Bible study helps to get a clearer meaning of the passage as needed: commentaries, Bible dictionaries, concordances, Vine’s Expository Dictionary or a Bible study guide for the text, subject, or person your studying. Use a dictionary to define any unfamiliar terms or ideas.
- Pray for the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Why do you think God put this in the Bible?
How does the principle apply to one specific area of my life? (Application)
- What is the Holy Spirit saying to me in this passage? Ask Him.
- What is one way I can apply the heart of this passage to my life?
- What will I do differently because of what I’ve learned?
This information is taken from:
1. What Is Inductive Bible Study? by Bill Cook, http://www.geocities.com/Heartland/Valley/6135/inductive2.htm
2. Walk This Way? The Book of Mark, Irving Bible Church, pages 73-75, 207.
3. Effective Personal Bible Study by Mike Messerli, Crossroads Bible Church.
God, Evolution, and Morality, Part IRelated Media
Part I (Click Here for Part II)
The billboards read: “No God? No Problem. Be Good for Goodness’ Sake,” and “Are You Good without God? Millions Are.” The point was clear: Morality in no way depends on belief in God. And why should it?
Atheists can be good, too. New atheist Christopher Hitchens regularly challenged his religious opponents to suggest a single act of goodness they could perform that he, the atheist, could not accomplish with equal success.
The campaign is intended as a broadside against a central evidence for God, the moral argument, classically one of four cornerstones for the case for God’s existence.1 Put most simply, if there is no God, there is no morality. However, morality exists. Therefore, God exists.2
Note, by the way, that objective morality is the issue here. Clearly, no God is necessary for the make-me-up morality of relativism. Universal moral obligations, however, require transcendent grounding. That’s the argument.
An About Face
Atheists, at least until recently, have characteristically agreed with the first premise: No God, no morality. Fine. They understood the calculus and were willing to live with the consequences. Indeed, Jeremy Rifkin sees the silver lining of atheism’s moral nihilism and rejoices:
We no longer feel ourselves to be guests in someone else’s home….No set of pre-existing cosmic rules.…It is our creation now. We make the rules. We are responsible for nothing outside ourselves. We are the kingdom, and the power, and the glory.3
Times have changed.
While 20th century British atheist, A. J. Ayer, dismissed moral judgments as meaningless grunts of emotion (“emotivism,” 4 he called it), the new atheists want to occupy the high moral ground.
In my 2010 national radio debate with American atheist Michael Shermer, the Skeptic magazine editor repeatedly denied he was a relativist and insisted that evolution was adequate to explain morality. New atheist Christopher Hitchens’s position was the same. Natural selection and social contract were sufficient to make sense of his objective ethics.
Oddly, while much of the culture shifts increasingly towards relativism (“It’s wrong to push your morality on others,” “Who are you to judge?”), there’s a trend in atheism moving in the opposite direction.
And for good reason. Support for subjective morality means surrendering the most rhetorically appealing argument against God: evil. Indeed, in a relativistic realm, Richard Dawkins would be denied his famous flourish against the Bible’s God in The God Delusion:
The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty, ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.5
Clearly, to Dawkins, God is not just “unpleasant,” but wicked. The professor is not simply emoting, but judging. That requires a real morality, not merely a morality-according-to-me.
Can’t a materialistic scheme do this, though? Can’t natural selection acting on genetic mutation produce substantive ethics? Surely, right and wrong are obvious to most people, even “godless” ones. Mere belief in the Divine doesn’t seem to add anything. Morality helps us, as a species, get our genes into the next generation. Nature selects the survivors. Moral genes win. Simple.
Two thoughts, quickly.
First, it’s tempting for evolutionists to think that any trait conferring reproductive advantage must have evolved. They tell a natural selection story, wave their Darwinian wand, and the conversation is over. This is dangerously close to being circular. Simply telling a tale about, say, the survival benefits of altruism is not enough. Exactly how does this work? How does a mechanistic process produce a moral obligation? In what sense is goodness or badness a physical quality? Genes might determine behavior, but how do they determine beliefs about behavior when it comes to right and wrong?
Second, the materialist account of morality starts with the assumption that the truth of evolution—in the technical, neo-Darwinian-synthesis sense—is unassailable.6 However, in the last decade even nonreligious thinkers have raised serious doubts about the program’s actual capabilities.
A host of secularists are having significant misgivings, and for good reason. In 2008, a group of evolutionary biologists, now known as the “Altenberg 16,” met in Austria “united in their conviction that the neo-Darwinian synthesis had run its course and that new evolutionary mechanisms were needed to explain the origin of biological form.”7 Noted philosopher Thomas Nagel, himself a committed atheist, stunned the academic world with his recent book, Mind and Cosmos—Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False.8
Let’s set those issues aside for now, though. I want to look at a different problem: Even if Darwinism were true—even if “good” and “bad” somehow identified genetically transferable, physical traits—evolution still could not account for objective morality (“Good for goodness’ sake”), not even in principle.
To defend this claim, however, I must be clear on terms. It makes no sense to try to explain morality unless we’re clear on what kind of morality we have in mind. In common parlance, there are two varieties: subjective and objective. When it comes to the question of God, evolution, and morality, the difference is critical. But what, exactly is that difference?
In the Mind or in the Matter?
When I tutor students on objective truth, I start with a statement, then ask two questions. I make a dramatic display of placing a pen on the podium, then say, “The pen is on the podium.” Next, I ask if the assertion is true. When the students nod, I ask the critical question: “What makes the statement true?”
Hands shoot up. “Because I see it there,” one student says. But if you didn’t see it, I ask, wouldn’t it still be true that the pen is on the podium? Seeing might help you know the statement is true, but it isn’t what makes it true.
“Because I believe it,” offers another. If you stopped believing, I challenge, would the pen disappear? No. And would believing really hard make a pen materialize atop an empty podium? Probably not.
“The thing that makes the statement ‘The pen is on the podium’ a true statement,” I tell them, “is a pen, and a podium, and the former resting on the latter. It doesn’t matter if anyone sees it. It doesn’t matter if anyone believes it. It doesn’t matter what anyone thinks at all. It is completely independent of any subject’s thoughts—a ‘subject’ here being any person or any group of people. It is, in other words, completely mind independent.”
This is an object lesson on the meaning of objective truth. If the “truth maker”—the condition that makes the statement true—is something about the object itself, then the truth is an objective truth, that is, the statement accurately fits some feature of the world “out there,”9 regardless of anyone’s opinion about it.
By contrast, think of my daughter, Eva, at five years old, amusing herself with a book beyond her reading ability. As she tells the tale, out tumbles the dramatic details. She turns each page at proper intervals, yet her yarn bears no resemblance to anything on the page. It’s purely a product of her own imagination. The story is in her head, not in the book.
Put another way, the “truth” spoken is in the subject (Eva), not in the object (Fancy Nancy). It is mind dependent (a five-year-old mind, in this case). Therefore, it is a subjective, or relative, truth.
Real Bad or Feel Bad?
These same distinctions apply in exactly the same way to morality. It’s the difference between real bad and merely feel bad.
Moral objectivism is the view that moral claims are like the statement, “The pen is on the podium.” Philosophers call this “moral realism” because moral qualities are as real as the pen, though not physical. The “truth maker” is an objective fact, not a subjective feeling.
So, for example, when an objectivist says, “Rape is wrong,” he means to be describing rape itself, not merely his own belief, feeling, opinion, point of view, or preference about rape.10 In objectivism, something about the object (an action, in this case) makes the moral statement true. If rape actually is wrong, it’s because of something about rape, not something about a person, his culture, or his genetic conditioning. Objective moral truth is mind independent.
By contrast, moral relativism is like little Eva’s story. The “facts” are only in her head, not in the world. No act is bad in itself. The words “evil,” “wicked,” or “wrong” (or “good,” “virtuous,” or “noble,” for that matter), never actually describe behavior or circumstances. Rather, they describe a judgment in the mind of a subject—an individual or a group—who has either expressed a preference or felt an emotion.
In relativism, the subject—her beliefs, tastes, or preferences—is the “truth maker.”11 In a relativistic world, then, no belief can actually be false. Instead, it is true for the person who holds it. It is true for her, even though it might not be true for others who have different beliefs. That’s because in relativism moral truth is mind dependent.
Moral relativism is also called “moral non-realism” because moral statements do not describe real properties of actions. Transcendent, objective, moral obligations are fictions. Behaviors can be distasteful (individuals dislike them), or taboo (cultures forbid them), but they cannot be wrong in any ultimate sense. Rape is only wrong if someone believes it so, not because anything is questionable about the act itself.
Put most precisely, objective morality is when the words “moral” or “immoral” describe an act, not someone’s opinion about the act. It is mind independent, matching some feature of the external world. Nothing inside a subject’s mind makes moral claims true.
Subjective, relativistic morality does not describe acts, but beliefs. It is mind dependent, tied to the opinion or belief of an individual or group. Nothing outside a subject’s mind makes moral claims true.
In an objective statement, moral facts make a claim true. In a subjective claim, a subject’s moral feelings make the claim true. In moral realism, morality is a property of behaviors. In moral non-realism, morality is a property of subjects. They are beliefs subjects hold, not properties objects have.
Objectivism is the view that morality is like gravity. Relativism is the view that morality is like golf. The facts of physics are features of the world, not a matter of personal whim, individual taste, or cultural convention. Golf, on the other hand, is man-made. The rules are up to us.
Notice, I am not here saying objectivists are correct and relativists are incorrect. I am simply clarifying the differences between the two. I am defining terms, not defending a view.
But why all this tedium about definitions?
Explaining the Explanation
It is axiomatic that for an explanation to be a good one, it must explain what needs explaining. If evolution is capable of explaining one kind of thing, and morality turns out to be something else, then the evolutionary explanation fails. The critical question is this: Does the kind of morality evolution is capable of accounting for fit the morality that actually needs to be explained?
Atheists say that purely natural processes are adequate to produce the kind of morality central to the moral argument for God—objective morality, goodness for its own sake, in their words.
Relativistic morality is utterly useless to this task. Only a successful Darwinian account of moral realism will succeed. Nothing else will do. That’s the crux. Can evolution rise to this task? Let’s see.
The Blind Moral Maker
Most of us know the basic Darwinian story. Simply put, natural selection chooses among genetic variations (mutations), selecting those traits best suited for survival and reproduction. This process mimics design so well, Richard Dawkins famously dubbed it “the blind watchmaker.”
In Descent of Man, Darwin argued that every human faculty—including the moral one—is the result of the same mindless process that governs all the rest—the blind moral maker, if you will. Note atheistic philosopher and committed Darwinist, Michael Ruse: “We are genetically determined to believe that we ought to help each other.”12 My radio debate opponent, Michael Shermer, explains:
Evolution generated the moral sentiments out of a need for a system to maximize the benefits of living in small bands and tribes. Evolution created and culture honed moral principles out of an additional need to curb the passions of the body and mind. And culture, primarily through organized religion, codified those principles into moral rules and precepts.13
By a moral sense, I mean a moral feeling or emotion generated by actions….These moral emotions probably evolved out of behaviors that were reinforced as being bad either for the individual or for the group.14
The codification of moral principles out of the psychology of moral traits evolved as a form of social control to ensure the survival of individuals within groups and the survival of human groups themselves.15
Moral sentiments…evolved primarily through the force of natural selection operating on individuals and secondarily through the force of group selection operating on populations.16
Shermer identifies two factors he thinks form “moral sentiments,” or “moral feelings,” in humans: moral traits determined genetically by evolution, and codes enforced culturally for the good of the group—a combination of nature and nurture.17 This is a standard evolutionary characterization of the naturalistic origins of morality.18
I want you to think very carefully about the implications this Darwinian explanation of morality has for our question about goodness and God. Atheists want to undermine the force of the moral argument for theism by accounting for morality in purely naturalistic terms. No God needed. The morality evolutionists must explain to successfully parry the moral argument, though, is objective morality since it’s the only kind of morality relevant to the argument. As I said earlier, relativism won’t do.
Recall that objective morality (moral realism) is mind independent, based on facts outside the subject, the object being the truth-maker, while relativistic subjective morality (moral non-realism) is mind dependent, based on feelings or beliefs inside a subject (an individual or cultural group), the subject being the truth-maker.
So here’s my question: What kind of morality did Shermer describe in his Darwinian account above, objective or subjective? Note the phrases “moral sentiments,” “moral feeling or emotion,” “the psychology of moral traits,” and ethics that “culture…honed…and codified.” In each case Shermer describes a morality that is mind dependent, grounded on feelings in the subject, with the subject being the truth-maker. Relativism, in other words.19
Atheists like Shermer and Hitchens claim to be objectivists (and seem convinced they are), yet consistently ground their “morality” in entirely subjectivist ways. Michael Ruse, however, is not so confused: “Ultimately, morality is an illusion put in place by our genes to make us social facilitators.” 20 He explains:
Substantive ethics, claims like “Love your neighbor as yourself,” are simply psychological beliefs put in place by natural selection in order to maintain and improve our reproductive fitness. There is nothing more in them than that…. We could easily have evolved a completely different moral system from that which we have .21 [emphasis added].
As a Darwinist, Ruse explicitly rejects objectivism, labeling his view, appropriately, “moral nihilism” and “moral non-realism.” 22 In this, he is being doggedly (and refreshingly) consistent. Indeed, he adds, even one’s conviction that morality is objective is part of evolution’s clever deceit.23
Consider, in support, Robert Wright’s characterization of evolutionary morality in The Moral Animal:
The conscience doesn't make us feel bad the way hunger feels bad, or good the way sex feels good. It makes us feel as if we have done something that's wrong or something that's right. Guilty or not guilty. It is amazing that a process as amoral and crassly pragmatic as natural selection could design a mental organ that makes us feel as if we're in touch with higher truth. Truly a shameless ploy.24 [emphasis mine]
I’m not denying here that evolution can account for the “shameless ploy” of our sense of morality (though I am deeply skeptical). That’s a different issue. I’m arguing that if it does, it can only give subjective morality, not objective.
Matter in Motion
But there’s a second problem.
Darwinism is a strictly material process by definition—as one put it, “clumps of matter following the laws of physics.”25 How can a completely materialistic process (natural selection acting on genetic variations)—even if true—produce genuine, objective moral obligations? How can a mere reshuffling of molecules cause an immaterial moral principle to spontaneously spring into existence and somehow attach itself to behaviors? It can’t.
Behaviors are physical, but whether any behavior is morally good or bad is not in its chemistry or physics. Right and wrong, virtue and vice, values and obligations, are not material things.
No Darwinian process can make rape wrong. It can only—even in principle—make people think rape is wrong. Indeed, no biological process can tell us anything about the morality of rape at all.
Darwin, No Exit
These are intractable problems for evolutionists. The difficulties are so deep, it’s impossible for them to rescue their moral project.
No, Darwin will not help the atheist here. Since evolution is a materialistic process, it can only produce physical merchandise. No stirring and recombining of molecules over time will ever cause a moral fact to pop into existence in the immaterial realm.
At best, Darwinism might account for behaviors or beliefs human beings falsely label objectively “moral” because nature’s deception accomplishes some evolutionary purpose. But it is deception, nonetheless. Evolution might be able to explain subjective moral feelings. It can never explain objective moral obligations. It can never make an act wrong in itself.
This is a fatal challenge. On a Darwinian view, there can be no such thing as “goodness for its own sake”—goodness for the inherent good of goodness—because “good” can only exist in the evolution-deluded minds of its subjects, and that’s relativism.
The moral argument for God stands. Darwinism can’t touch it.
In Part II, I will discuss the “grounding” problem, address Sam Harris’s approach to objective morality without God, and answer Christopher Hitchens’s claim that atheists can do any good thing a theist can do.
This was Part I of a II part series on God, Evolution, and Morality. For Part II, Click Here.
1 The other three are the cosmological, teleological (design), and ontological arguments.
2 This form of argument is called modus tollens.
3 Jeremy Rifkin, Algeny: A New Word—A New World (New York: Viking Press, 1983), 244.
4 A. J. Ayer, "Emotivism," published in Louis Pojman, Ethical Theory (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1995), 416.
5 Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006), 31.
6 Philosopher Michael Ruse begins his naturalistic account of morality with, “The matter of scientific fact with which I start this discussion is that evolution is true.” R. Keith Loftin, ed. God and Morality—Four Views (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2012), 54.
7 Stephen C. Meyer, Darwin’s Doubt (New York: HarperCollins, 2013), 292.
8 Thomas Nagel, Mind and Cosmos (New York: Oxford University Press: 2012).
9 This is called the “correspondence” view of truth.
10 He may have beliefs, feelings, etc., about rape, but that’s not what he’s describing.
11 Moral relativism, then, is a kind of subjectivism since judgments of right and wrong are completely up to the subject—the individual person or group—to decide.
12 Loftin, 60.
13 Michael Shermer, The Science of Good and Evil (New York: Holt, 2004), 149.
14 Ibid., 56.
15 Ibid., 64.
16 Ibid., 19.
17 Curiously, these are two entirely distinct processes: an event cause (mechanistic, evolutionary forces acting on the genetic code), and an agent cause (cultural norms—a type of human intelligent design).
18 Though some evolutionists focus solely on the genetic contribution.
19 Clearly, there can be objective criteria for, say, human flourishing, but that is not the same as objective morality. If human flourishing is itself an objective moral good, that must be established separately.
20 Loftin, 69.
21 Ibid., 65.
23 Ibid., 68.
24Robert Wright, The Moral Animal (New York: Pantheon Books, 1994), 212.
25 James Anderson, What’s Your World View? (Wheaton: Crossway, 2014), 69.
2. We Don't Lose Hope (1 Peter 1:3-12)Related Media
1 Peter: Suffering Precedes Glory (part 2 of 10)
Hope is an important ingredient in life. Suffering would be practically intolerable without it. God knew this, of course. So He gave us the gift of hope. Hope is present in us when life is relatively comfortable. But hope is essential when life offers us its worst. During those deep valleys we cling to it in desperation. We rest on God's promises of a better future where our unfading inheritance awaits us. This enables us to experience joy even when we suffer. Because of God's gracious provision, we don't lose hope.
How to Respond to Claims Jesus Is a “Copycat Savior”
With the rise in popularity of movies like and , skeptical objections to the historicity of Jesus sometimes take the form of comparisons between Jesus and ancient mythologies preceding Him. Skeptics highlight similarities between Jesus and Horus, Mithras, Osiris or other ancient examples of “dying and rising” saviors. How should we, as Christians, respond to such objections?
1. Expose the False Claims:
Close scrutiny of pre-Christian mythologies reveals they are less similar to the story of Jesus Christ than critics claim. The gods of mythology were not as Jesus was born to Mary, they did not live a life that was similar to Jesus in detail, they did not hold the titles attributed to Jesus, and they were not resurrected in a manner remotely similar to the resurrection of Christ. Primitive mythologies simply fail to resemble the Biblical account of Jesus when they are examined closely. Expose the false claims of those who say Jesus was copied from prior mythologies.
2. Expose the Errant Strategy:
Critics typically from the mythological attributes of a variety of pagan gods and exaggerate the alleged similarities to construct a profile vaguely similar to Jesus. They search for singular similarities to the Christ of the Bible and then assemble these similarities from a variety of gods spanning the centuries and originating in geographically diverse regions (as if the 1st Century creators of the Jesus story would have access to these mythologies in the first place). Given this strategy, nearly any person from history can be said to be a recreation of preceding characters, either fictitious or historical. There is no single prior mythology significantly similar to Jesus. Expose the selective strategy of those who say Jesus was copied from prior mythologies.
3. Expose the Common Cultural Expectations:
Many alleged similarities are extremely general in nature and would be . The primitive cultures who were interested in God's nature reasoned He would have the ability to perform miracles, teach humans and form disciples. These are universal expectations failing to invalidate the historicity of Jesus. As Paul recognized on Mars Hill (Acts 17:22-31), men thought deeply about the nature of God prior to His arrival as Jesus. Sometimes they imagined the details correctly, sometimes they didn't. Expose the common cultural expectations of ancient people groups to those who say Jesus was copied from prior mythologies.
4. Expose the Unlikely Approach Being Offered:
It is unreasonable to believe Christian conspirators would create a story designed to convince Jewish believers Jesus was God by inserting pagan mythological elements into the narrative. Judaism is a uniquely monotheistic religion, and the God of Judaism provides strict prohibitions against the worship of pagan gods. It is unreasonable to think the New Testament authors would utilize pagan mythology in an attempt to influence adherents of Judaism. Expose the unlikely nature of this claim by those who say Jesus was copied from prior mythologies.
5. Expose the Reliable Nature of the Gospel Eyewitness Accounts:
There are sufficient reasons to believe the history of Jesus is reliable, even if there are marginal similarities between Jesus and pagan mythologies. The evidence for the , the corroboration of their claims (both internally and ), the , and the on the part of their authors provides sufficient reason to believe they accurately describe the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Prior mythologies were not written, nor were they intended to be considered, as true history; the Biblical account of Jesus is a reliable historical record. Expose the reliable nature of the Gospels to those who say Jesus was copied from prior mythologies.
Take the time to study the truth about alleged similarities between Jesus and ancient pre-Christian mythologies of “rising and dying” saviors. Claims of similarities are extremely exaggerated and based on the selective promotion of the common expectations of cultures contemplating the nature of God. The ancient Jewish audience of the Gospel authors would never have accepted such claims, and the reliable nature of the Gospels can be established beyond reasonable doubt.
Bible Story of God Leadership Institutes
BSOG Leadership Institutes
This Bible storying and storytelling Institute has been developed for laity as well as established pastors and leaders who desire to learn practical techniques and strategies for Bible teaching and telling. Studies remind us that 70% of the world population either has literacy issues or prefers learning the Bible through auditory approaches, i.e., storytelling.
This institute empashsizes not only a storytelling approach but teaching God’s Word though a chronological system of stories that not only tells the stories of God but tells and teaches the Story of God, the Bible, so that the listener and learner fully understands God’s story and plan for mankind.
This program has been taught in three U.S. colleges and universities, as well as at Millar College of the Bible in Saskatchewan, Canada, The Bible College of Malaysia, and the Asia Pacific Nazarene Theological Seminary in addition to dozens of world locations through mission organizations and other ministry projects.
Each class is 1 ½ - 2 hours and are offered according to the host church or organization’s schedule and location. Classes can be provided individually or in one program over a full day.
Relational Training – Small Group Break-Out Approach
This training uses two major approaches that may be different from other training formats; a tag team teaching approach and a small group break-out hands-on application process. This is what we call “relational training,” as unlike other training formats this encourages those in the training classes opportunities to share their thinking and processing the course content with others “during” the training rather than reflecting or debriefing at a later time.
In relational training each person in the class brings to the discussion a wealth of information, perspectives and input from their own past experiences and backgrounds.
You will also find in this seminar program a major reduction on media supportive technology and extensive printed material. This is also intentional and in many settings advanced teaching technology is not always readily available and one of the purposes of this training is for it to be duplicable and expandable. That means those who have taken these classes would be very capable of serving on a training team and teaching this same content to others at a later time.
In order for this to occur, this seminar cannot depend on technology or extensive printed material that could possibly need translation and printing or equipment that others may not have. The content must stand alone as much as possible as a training unit that can easily be duplicated and retaught by others.
Hosting a Leadership Institute
BSOG offers this institute free for use by churches, ministries and international missions. Orientation of the institute content by one of the BSOG instructors, if desired, is available for expenses only of the instructor to train prospective mission teams and others. Currently there are several BSOG trainers available in the U.S. and Canada. BSOG trainers can also be involved in a church or mission organization mission initiatives on request and accompany teams, also for expenses only.
Kurt Jarvis, Founder
2. Chronological Bible Storying and Storytelling InstituteRelated Media
Chronological Bible Storying and Storytelling Institute
Session 1: Chronological Bible Storying
Session 2: Bible Storytelling
Session 3: Bible Storytelling Techniques
Session 4: Team Bible Story Preparation
Session 5: Bible Storytelling Presentations
3. Children’s Ministry Leadership InstituteRelated Media
Children’s Ministry Leadership
1. Ministry Resources Bible
2. Spiritual Formation
3. Individual Characteristics & Personalities
4. How Memory Works
5. Bible Teaching for Mixed Ages and Abilities
6. Multi-sensory Teaching
7. Bible Teaching Ideas
8 Intro to Chronological Bible Storying
9. Bible Storytelling Techniques
10. Ministry Master planning & Program Planning
1. Bible Story of God Leadership Institutes 1-2Related Media
Bible Story of God Leadership InstituteCourse Outline
This leadership course is intended to serve as a hands-on, practical applied training program that gives both foundations of ministry as well as the practical applied of teaching ideas and resources that leaders and teachers can use in almost any country and culture. The training sessions include hands-on ideas and resources that teachers, workers and leaders can make and use immediately in their church programming. In most situations, material is available in the country where the training takes place. The teaching sessions are all also developed in a format with as much reduced text as possible so that student outlines that require translation can be kept to a minimum.Section 1
Session 1: The Marks of a Leader and Personalities
Session 2: Basic Bible Doctrine
Session 3: Chronological Bible Storying
Session 4: Faith Development & Teaching Salvation
Session 5: Bible Teaching Ideas
Session 6: Learning Styles – Age Level Characteristics
Session 7 Bible Memory & Bible Memory Activities
Session 8: Developing a Creative Bible Lesson
Session 9: Ministry Master-planning
Session 10: The Discipled Leader
Lesson 53: The Blind See, but the Seeing are Blind (John 9:35-41)Related Media
May 4, 2014
We’ve all heard “good news, bad news” jokes. Here are a couple aimed at me as a pastor (from cybersalt.org):
Good News: The Women’s Guild voted to send you a get-well card.
Bad News: The vote passed 31-30.
Good News: Church attendance rose dramatically the last three weeks.
Bad News: You were on vacation.
Our text gives us good news and bad news, but it’s not a joke. It’s deadly serious! The best possible news is: Jesus! The worst possible news is: Jesus! For many, Jesus is good news because He opens their blind eyes and gives them eternal life. For many others, Jesus is bad news because they reject His gift of sight and they will face eternal judgment (see 1 Pet. 2:6-8 for the same truth).
In other words, Jesus always divides people into one of two camps: Those who believe in Him for salvation receive eternal life; those who reject Him are hardened in unbelief and face eventual eternal punishment (Matt. 25:46). There is no third category. So, be very careful how you respond to Jesus!
We come to the conclusion of the story of Jesus healing the man who was born blind. As we’ve seen, this miracle, which Jesus performed on the Sabbath, caused a division among the Pharisees: Some said (9:16), “This man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath.” But others argued, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” The prevailing group were those that contended that Jesus was not from God, who in a few months succeeded in crucifying Him. They couldn’t refute the reasoning of the blind man, so they threw him out of the temple (9:34). Our text picks up the story when Jesus found the rejected man and asked him a crucial question, bringing him to solid faith. The story concludes by contrasting the blind man’s faith with the hard hearts of the unbelieving Pharisees. The lesson is:
Jesus came to give sight to the spiritually blind, but also to bring those who think they see without Him to judgment.
To quote Jesus (9:39), “For judgment I came into this world, so that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind.” Our text falls into two sections: (1) The blind see (9:35-38); (2) The seeing are blind (9:39-41).
1. The blind see: Jesus came to give sight to the spiritually blind (9:35-38).
Jesus heard that the Jewish leaders had kicked this man out of the temple, which was a serious matter in that society. His neighbors would have shunned him out of fear of having the religious police target them. Although now the man was physically able to work for the first time in his life, no one would hire a man who had been excommunicated by the religious authorities. Probably many in the marketplace would also refuse to do business with such an outcast. But it was at this time, perhaps as he was standing in bewilderment outside the temple precincts, that Jesus found him and asked him the most important question in the world (9:35), “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” (The KJV and NJKV read, “Son of God”; but “Son of Man” is almost certainly the original text.) These verses contain five important lessons:
A. Jesus takes the initiative by seeking those who are blind.
“Finding him” (9:35) implies that Jesus was looking for him. Jesus said (Luke 19:10), “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” The religious crowd had rejected this poor man. He was an outcast from society. But at that very moment, Jesus went looking for him and brought him to solid faith by asking, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” The former blind man asked (9:36), “Who is He, Sir, that I may believe in Him?” (The same Greek word may be translated either “sir” or “Lord,” depending on the context. In 9:36, the blind man does not yet know Jesus as Lord, so it should be translated, “sir.” In 9:38, he recognizes Jesus as the Lord who opened his eyes, so there it should be translated, “Lord.”). Jesus’ reply must have thrilled his soul (9:37): “You have both seen Him, and He is the one who is talking with you.” The man had not yet seen very many people, but now he saw Jesus and he recognized his voice as that of the man who had healed him. And so he instantly believed in Jesus.
The Bible repeatedly stresses that if you believe in Jesus, it’s not because you came up with the idea first and went looking for Him. Rather, God chose you in Him before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4). He sought you when you were dead in your trespasses and sins and granted saving faith to you as His gracious gift (Eph. 2:1-9). Thus our salvation is “to the praise of the glory of His grace” (Eph. 1:6). If you chose Him by your own free will, then you can share the glory for your salvation. But if He chose you apart from anything meritorious in you, then He gets all the glory (see 1 Cor. 1:26-31).
B. Jesus alone has the power to open blind eyes.
Opening blind eyes is a God-thing (Ps. 146:8). As the former blind man pointed out to the Pharisees (John 9:32-33), “Since the beginning of time it has never been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, He could do nothing.” As Jesus’ dialogue with the Pharisees at the end of this chapter shows, this miracle was also a parable about salvation. Just as opening the eyes of one born blind is something that only God can do, so saving a soul is something that only God can do. It takes His mighty power to impart new life to those who are spiritually dead in their sins.
While (as we’ll see in a moment) to be saved, sinners must believe in Jesus, they cannot believe simply by exercising their own will power. As John 1:12-13 states, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”
Or, to use the blindness and light metaphor (2 Cor. 4:4, 6), Satan “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.” Then, how can we gain spiritual sight? Paul continues, “For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” Just as God’s power spoke light into existence, so His power opens blind eyes when He saves a soul.
C. To move from spiritual blindness to sight, admit that you’re blind.
Of course, the man who was born blind had no problem admitting that he could not see. That was obvious. But the proud Pharisees thought that they were the only ones in Israel with spiritual sight. They imply this when they railed against the former blind man (9:34), “You were born entirely in sins, and are you teaching us?” And they imply it in their sarcastic question to Jesus (9:40), “We are not blind too, are we?” But Jesus replied (9:41), “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.” In other words, if they would have admitted their blindness, Jesus would have healed them by forgiving their sins. But since they insisted that they could see, they remained in their sins.
One of the main things that keeps people from gaining spiritual sight is that they refuse to admit that they’re blind. They think that they’re good enough to qualify for heaven. They may admit that they need a little boost from God. But they minimize their sins. They won’t admit that they’re totally blind and that they don’t just need bifocals; they need sight! As the old hymn, “Rock of Ages,” put it:
Not the labors of my hands can fulfill Thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know, could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone; Thou must save and Thou alone.
So, to move from spiritual blindness to sight, admit that you’re blind.
D. To move from spiritual blindness to sight, believe in Jesus for who He is.
Jesus’ question to this formerly blind man is the most important question you can ever answer: “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” You must answer that question, either now or at the judgment, when it will be too late. Your eternal destiny hinges on answering that question rightly: “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” To answer it rightly, answer these three questions:
1) Who is the Son of Man?
The former blind man asked Jesus (9:36), “Who is He, Sir, that I may believe in Him?” That question parallels Jesus’ question to the twelve (Matt. 16:15), “Who do you say that I am?” It’s the most important question in all of life to answer correctly. Faith is only as good as its object. If you believe in a false Jesus, you cannot be saved, any more than if you believed in an idol. So this question is crucial so that you believe in Jesus for who He is.
The title “Son of Man” is used over 80 times in the Gospels, including 12 times in the Gospel of John, plus four other times in the New Testament (The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible [Zondervan], ed. by Merrill Tenney, 4:203, 5:485-486). It almost always occurs on the lips of Jesus referring to Himself. It was not an accepted or widely used messianic designation in Jesus’ day. He may have used it because it avoided the political overtones that “Messiah” carried at that time. It was a way of alluding to and yet veiling His messiahship. It shows Him to be the representative man, the last Adam, and thus has nuances of humanity in it.
But it also has overtones of deity, stemming from Daniel 7:13-14, where the Son of Man receives an everlasting kingdom where all people serve Him. At Jesus’ trial, the high priest commanded (Matt. 26:63), “I adjure You by the living God, that You tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus replied, alluding to Daniel 7 (26:64), “You have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.” In John’s Gospel, the term is always associated either with Christ’s heavenly glory or with the salvation He came to bring.
D. A. Carson (The Gospel According to John [Eerdmans/Apollos], p. 376) argues that in light of John’s usage of the term, “Jesus is inviting the man to put his trust in the one who is the revelation of God to man…. Jesus himself is the Word incarnate, the one who uniquely reveals God.” Carson also points out that the term in John is connected with Jesus’ role as judge (5:27), which relates to John 9:39-41.
So the correct answer to “Who is the Son of Man?” is, “He is the eternal Word who took on human flesh and offered Himself as the sacrifice for our sins (John 1:14, 18; 3:13; 12:23, 32, 34). He is risen from the dead and one day He will judge all the living and the dead (5:27). He is the one in whom we must believe.
2) What does it mean to believe in Him?
In a nutshell, it means to trust Jesus to do what He promised to do. He told the woman at the well that if she asked, He would give her living water (4:10). She asked and He gave! He told the royal official whose son was sick (4:50), “Go, your son lives.” He believed Jesus and left for home and found his son healed. Here, He told the blind man to go to the Pool of Siloam and wash. He went and washed and came away seeing. Jesus promises to give eternal life to whoever believes in Him (3:16). To believe in Him means that you stop believing in your own good works as the way to heaven (as the Pharisees did). To believe in Him means to admit that you’re a sinner and to trust that His death on the cross will atone for all of your sins. Trust Him as you would trust a doctor by taking the prescribed medicine. But there’s a third question that you need to answer to move from spiritual blindness to sight:
3) Do I believe in Him?
This blind man had obeyed Jesus implicitly by going to the pool and washing. He miraculously experienced having his eyes opened. He had borne witness before the hostile Sanhedrin to the point that they kicked him out of the temple. But he still needed to answer this question: “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
So, don’t take the question for granted! You may think, “I grew up in the church. I’ve always believed in Jesus.” But, do you trust in Him personally as your only hope for heaven? Perhaps you have always tried to obey the Bible’s teaching and lead a moral life. Great, but do you believe in Jesus as your Savior from your sin? Maybe you’ve even preached the gospel to others. Charles Spurgeon (Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit [Pilgrim Publications], 36:232) tells of a preacher he knew who got saved while preaching his own sermon! Finally, a saved person in the congregation recognized the change that had come about during the sermon and he cried, “The parson’s converted. Hallelujah!” Everyone broke out in cries of praise and they all joined in singing the doxology! So each of us needs to answer the question, “Do I believe in Jesus?”
But, how can you know if your belief is genuine? After all, we’ve seen several instances in John where people professed faith in Jesus, but it wasn’t genuine saving faith. There are other signs of new life in Christ, but this former blind man reveals these:
E. When you truly believe in Jesus, you gain spiritual sight, confess Jesus as Lord, and bow before Him in worship.
He was blind, but now he saw (9:25). He testified of Jesus as Lord as best as he knew how to these intimidating Jewish leaders. As I mentioned, the Greek word in 9:38 should be translated, “Lord, I believe.” He confessed Jesus as Lord. And, he bowed before Him in worship. At this point, he may not have fully understood that Jesus was God manifest in the flesh. But he was giving Jesus far more honor than one would give to an ordinary man or even to a prophet (John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries [Baker], p. 389). Carson (p. 377) says that while it is not clear that he was yet addressing Jesus as “my Lord and my God,” as Thomas did after the resurrection, it is likely that he was “offering obeisance to Jesus as the redeemer from God, the revealer of God.”
Can you say, “One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see”? Do you openly confess Jesus as your Lord? Do you bow before Him in worship, not just outwardly, but in spirit and in truth (4:24), and not just on Sundays, but all through the week? Those are some of the marks of genuine saving faith.
But, sadly, the story does not end there, with the blind man seeing. It goes on to warn us by showing that there are some who think they see, but they’re really blind:
2. The seeing blind: Jesus came to bring those who think they see without Him to judgment (9:39-41).
While the blind man illustrates those who progress in faith to the point of worship, the Pharisees show us that some regress irretrievably in unbelief to the point of judgment. Jesus has already warned them (8:21, 24) that unless they believed in Him, they would die in their sins. Now, He says (9:39), “For judgment I came into this world, so that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind.” When they sarcastically retort, “We are not blind too, are we?” Jesus answers (9:41), “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.” Briefly, note three things:
A. To stay in spiritual blindness, insist that you see on your own and thus have no need for the Savior.
As we’ve seen, the way to see is to admit that you’re blind. Jesus is in the business of opening blind eyes. But if you assert that you see quite well without Jesus, then He will leave you in your blindness. In other words, pride keeps you from grace. God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble (1 Pet. 5:5).
B. To stay in spiritual blindness, reject the gift of sight that Jesus offers to you.
Verse 41 is a gracious offer of salvation: “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.” Jesus is saying, “If you would admit your blindness, I would heal you and you would not come into judgment. But your stubborn rejection of Me keeps you in your sins.” Rejecting the light that God graciously gives leads to further hardening and judgment.
C. The result of rejecting spiritual sight is to be hardened in unbelief that culminates in eternal judgment.
There is a scary principle in the Bible: If you reject the light that God graciously gives you, He will confirm your rejection and leave you in your blindness. In Matthew 13, the disciples ask Jesus why He spoke to the people in parables. He responds (13:14-15) by citing the prophecy of Isaiah 6:9:
“In their case the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled, which says,
‘You will keep on hearing, but will not understand;
You will keep on seeing, but will not perceive;
For the heart of this people has become dull,
With their ears they scarcely hear,
And they have closed their eyes,
Otherwise they would see with their eyes,
Hear with their ears,
And understand with their heart and return,
And I would heal them.’”
This means that the way you respond to the question, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” has huge consequences! If you shrug your shoulders and say, “I don’t know,” or “I don’t care,” or “I’ll think about it later,” you’re closing your eyes to the light that God is offering you. He is not obligated to give you any more light. If you keep on rejecting His gracious offer of salvation, you may keep on hearing without understanding and keep on seeing without perceiving. Your heart may grow dull and you may die in your sins, only to face eternal judgment.
Maybe you’re wondering, “How can Jesus say here, ‘For judgment I came into this world,’ when John 3:17 states, “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world would be saved through Him”? If you keep reading John 3:18-21, the concept of judgment is implicit in Jesus’ coming, although it wasn’t His primary purpose for coming. John 3:18-19 states, “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.”
The purpose of the sun is to give light, but light by its very nature casts shadows. Jesus’ coming as the Light of the world means that the shadow of judgment is necessarily cast on those who reject Him. So by His very nature Jesus divides all people into two camps. Some allow the light to expose their sin and ask Jesus to cleanse them and give them sight. Others hate the light because they love their sin. They reject Jesus and come under His judgment.
So Jesus is either good news or bad news for you, and I assure you, He is no joke! Your eternal destiny hinges on your response to Jesus’ question, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” Join the former blind man by responding, “Lord, I believe.” And fall at His feet in worship!
- Some argue that we should not bring up judgment or hell when we share the gospel, but only focus on God’s love. Is this biblical? Why/why not?
- Why is self-righteousness one of the greatest hindrances to believing in Christ? How can we help such people see their sin?
- Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons claim to believe in Jesus as Savior and Lord. Why is their faith not saving faith?
- Gaining spiritual sight, confessing Jesus as Lord, and worshiping Him are three evidences of genuine saving faith. What are some others (give biblical references)?
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)