Friday, May 30, 2014

*The Bible's Claims About Itself

It is almost impossible for a Christian to have a meeting of minds with an atheist on any subject anywhere in the neighborhood of religion. As soon as the "conversation" moves to the source of the Christian's belief, the Bible, the atheist summarily rejects what the Christian says. In an incredulous voice, he will say something like, "You're telling me that you believe what you read in a book that is thousands of years old over the findings of modern science?" When the Christian answers, "Of course!" the atheist will ask, "Why?"

The only proper response is, "Because it is the Word of God," and the conversation can logically go no further. The determined atheist will accept no argument based on Scripture, and the faithful Christian will accept nothing that contradicts it. The conversation must end unresolved and unsatisfying—unless God Himself intervenes to open the atheist's mind or the unprepared Christian withers under the other's arguments.

In one sense, Christianity begins and ends with the Bible. All we truly know about God is found in its pages, as it is the only permanent record of God's revelation of Himself to mankind. In it, we find all of our instruction on doctrine, law, and morality. It reveals the standards by which human beings can live in harmony. It shows the miserable depths of man's depravity and the incomparable heights of his potential—and how God can take him from the former to the latter. In reality, a converted Christian bases every aspect of life on the words written in it.

Billions have seen the need to own this book we call the Holy Bible. It continues year after year to be the world's bestselling book, and millions of free copies are distributed around the globe. One would think that, with the Bible so accessible, humanity's moral fiber would be strong, but just the opposite is true. What a paradox! A major key to successful and abundant life lies in our hands, yet most reject it as quaint, outdated, and invalid for our times! The fact is, few people really study it, much less believe it. When polled, many give it lip-service, but increasingly, people do not consider it authoritative—it is just another possibility among many.

Accepting the Bible on faith may be noble, but God instructs us through the apostle Paul, "Test all things; hold fast what is good" (I Thessalonians 5:21). We must challenge the Bible to verify its claims, and conversely, we must take up the challenge to put its instructions to the test in our lives. We must make proving God's Word a personal matter that will forever erase all doubts about its validity. This takes time and work. It also takes the inspiration of God's Holy Spirit to open our minds to its richness and truth (I Corinthians 2:6-16John 14:16-17, 26; 16:13-14). Only then can we really understand and believe.

New Bible students are struck by the Bible's authoritative claims about itself. For instance, Paul writes in II Timothy 3:16, "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God." The phrase "inspiration of God" is in Greek theopneustos, literally "God-breathed." Scripture, then, is a direct product of God's mind and being. The words "all Scripture" (pasa graphe) can be rendered "every text," "every scripture," "the whole scripture," "all the writings," etc., meaning the whole canon of Scripture. In other words, nothing crept into the Bible that God did not want there, and conversely, nothing He wanted to be in it has been left out.

This is backed up by II Peter 1:21: ". . . for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit." God employed His Spirit to inspire His servants, the prophets and apostles. At some point, they wrote down what God had revealed through them, passing His Word on to successive generations.

Hebrews 1:1-2 informs us that God's inspiration occurred in a number of ways: "God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets has in these last days spoken to us by His Son." God is not limited to revealing Himself in any one manner. Sometimes, He spoke directly (see Genesis 12:716:7Exodus 3:2; etc.). At other times, He spoke in visions and dreams (see Isaiah 1:1Ezekiel 1:1Daniel 2:1, 19Acts 10:10; Revelation 1:10; etc.). He once even spoke through a donkey (Numbers 22:28)! On one occasion, He spoke through the casting of lots (Acts 1:23-26), much as He did through the Urim and Thummim to Israel (Numbers 27:21).

Most importantly, He spoke through His Son, Jesus Christ, who came to reveal the Father (see John 1:1814:7-1117:25-26). He is uniquely qualified to speak for God because, as the apostle John describes Him in John 1:1-2, 14, 17, He is God! As the Word (Greek logos), He is the Spokesman for God, communicating to humanity, and specifically to His people, the will of God and the way to live in a relationship with Him.

Since He came to reveal the Father, Jesus must have been the God Being that the Israelites worshipped in Old Testament times, who spoke to them and led them. In this vein, John 1:3 specifically claims that the Word is also the Creator (see also Colossians 1:16Ephesians 3:9). The Being, then, who made all that exists is the same One who inspired the words of Scripture! Since we owe our existence to Him, we also owe obedience to His Word in our Bibles.

As for its content, the Bible claims that it provides truth to humanity. Jesus Himself says in His great prayer to His Father on the night He was arrested, "Your word is truth" (John 17:17). This an echo of Psalm 119:160: "The entirety of Your word is truth, and every one of Your righteous judgments endures forever." God considers every word He speaks or inspires to be true. It is His guarantee that we receive only the best instruction from Him. In fact, He would not be God if He spoke anything other than the truth (Numbers 23:19Titus 1:2Hebrews 6:18).

The Bible also claims, "Every word of God is pure" (Proverbs 30:5). David writes in Psalm 12:6, "The words of the Lord are pure words, like silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times" (see Psalm 19:8119:140). The Hebrew word behind "pure" means "tested," "refined," or "proven of the highest quality." Our God has given us only the best information to propel us along the path to His Kingdom. We can take great confidence in that.

Jesus comments on the authority of Scripture in Matthew 5:18: "For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled." The jot (iota) and the tittle (keraia, "little horn" or "point") are the smallest parts of written Hebrew. Christ was so sure of Scripture that He claimed that all of it would be fulfilled—down to the minutest parts. He affirms in John 10:35 that "the Scripture cannot be broken," which means its authority cannot be "loosened," "unbound," "destroyed," "annulled," or "taken away." Our Lord and Savior says that no one can diminish the authority of God's Word!

The Bible presents many proofs of its validity and authority; what we have seen so far only scratches the surface. The most convincing and most lasting proof, however, resides in the relationship we build and foster with God. In a way, we can say that our proving of Scripture extends throughout our Christian lives as we see God in action, working in and through us to bring us into His Kingdom. The real proof is in the doing.

Friday, May 23, 2014

*How Human Nature Came to Be

Just this month, a longtime California politician, State Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), who is charged with gun trafficking and corruption for allegedly accepting bribes, suggested that money for political campaigns should come from state coffers because "money just simply corrupts." He went on to explain: "I think there's that old adage, power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. It's just human nature. After a while, you kind of feel that you deserve, you know, all the perks of office, because you've suffered so much, you've given up so much. You should have all of those kinds of trappings." So much for ethics.

In one sense, he is correct: Human nature—the fundamental dispositions and characteristics of human beings—is highly susceptible to corruption. We tend to be selfish, self-centered, and self-aggrandizing. We habitually follow behaviors and opportunities that promote or benefit us without thought to how they may affect others. Everyone covets what others have. Most will lie to deflect hurt or blame. Some will steal to line their pockets. A few will take another person's life to protect their self-interests. As David writes in Psalm 14:3, speaking of "the children of men," humanity, "They have together become corrupt; there is none who does good, no, not one."

Why is human nature so corrupt? Why is it so widespread? How did it come to be? Did God create it this way?

God did indeed create mankind, forming Adam "of the dust of the ground, and breath[ing] into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being" (Genesis 2:7). Job 32:8 informs us that "the breath of the Almighty gives him understanding," meaning that, not only did God give us life, but He also gave us intellect and faculties for language, logic, creativity, forethought, and many other cognitive abilities. However, the Creation account also records, "God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good" (Genesis 1:31). The nature God created in man was originally, not just "good," but "very good." It was not corrupt.

When they were created, then, Adam and his wife Eve had pure minds. Certainly, as fleshly beings, they had physical drives that tend to pull in a selfish direction—drives to feed themselves, protect themselves, etc. They were innocent, however, in their pursuit to satisfy these drives. While in this state, God gave them a couple of very specific commands: to tend and keep the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:15), but not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil upon pain of death (verse 17).

Their idyllic, innocent life ended with the temptation of Eve by the cunning serpent (Genesis 3:1-5), who was God's—and now humanity's—great adversary, Satan the Devil, in disguise (Revelation 12:9). God reveals the Devil's origin in Isaiah 14:12-15 and Ezekiel 28:12-17: He was created as a marvelous and powerful angel, a cherub who covered God's throne with his wings, yet whose ambition and pride "corrupted his wisdom" and led him to attempt to attack God's throne and usurp His authority over all creation. As mighty as this archangel was, no mere creature can defeat God, so the Almighty cast this now-fallen angel down to earth in ruin, along with one-third of his fellows whom he had persuaded to his cause (Revelation 12:4). It was this being, speaking through a serpent, who was "in Eden, the garden of God" (Ezekiel 28:13), intent on corrupting God's newest creatures before they could even begin following God‘s way of life.

The serpent immediately sowed doubt and confusion in Eve's mind by questioning God's command. As she fumbled through her reply, he accused God of deceit, saying, "You will not surely die" (Genesis 3:4), if she ate the forbidden fruit. Then he threw his ace, as it were, contradicting God, urging her that just the opposite would happen: ". . . in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil" (verse 5).

Satan played the oldest trick in the book, stroking her vanity to desire to be equal with God through disobedience, and she ate of the fruit. Though not deceived (I Timothy 2:14), Adam weakly followed his wife's lead into sin. In this moment, carnal human nature—what all human beings now possess—was created.

Human nature generally follows the course that it took with Eve, as explained in Genesis 3:7: The fruit of the forbidden tree looked good, she desired to eat it, and she saw how it could benefit her, so she partook of it despite God's command. The apostle John calls this "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life" in I John 2:16, commenting that it is "not of the Father but is of the world." The apostle Paul reminds us of sin's penalty: "The wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23), just as God had warned them.

The deed was done; they could not "unbite" the fruit. They had chosen to follow the lies of Satan rather than the commands of God, and the course of this world was set. God sent them out of Eden, blocking their way back should they ever desire to return to take of the Tree of Life and live eternally in sin (Genesis 3:22-24). Because of their rebellion, God let humanity go its own way, as Paul explains in Romans 1:28: "And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting."

Now all of humanity, except for those few whom God calls to redeem (John 6:44), are open to the selfish and rebellious attitudes of Satan the Devil, "the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others" (Ephesians 2:2-3). Because human beings have a spirit, they are able to "tune in" to the spirit broadcast by the Adversary, and without the resistance that only God's Holy Spirit can offer, all fall under its influence without exception. As they continue to listen to it as they grow up, it becomes their nature, a miniature copy of Satan's.

However, if we have been called, accepted Jesus Christ as Savior, and pledged ourselves to Him for His use through baptism, Paul writes, "Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God" (I Corinthians 2:12). Redemption through Christ is the only cure for corrupt human nature, and even then it takes a lifetime to learn to resist the pulls of that nature and instead do God's will (Galatians 5:16-25James 4:7-10). It can be done, for Jesus Himself said, "With God all things are possible" (Matthew 19:26).