This is Apologetics: an Argument from Science

What is apologetics?

Is Christian faith the enemy of science? This is a common objection to biblical Christianity, but is there any weight to it?

If Christianity’s teaching about man and nature is true, then our senses are designed by our Creator to correspond to the world around us, and scientific inquiry is possible. If not, then there is no corresponding design and we have no reason to trust our sensory intake, and therefore no reason to trust in science.

Christian faith is not the enemy of science. On the contrary, science actually needs the Christian message to be true for its own survival. If you want to believe in science, you must presuppose the Christian faith. Yet the Christian faith doesn’t end with the creation narrative in Genesis. It is revealed in 66 books (together called the Bible) with one central message. And the urgent call of the Christian faith is this:

“…having overlooked the times of ignorance, God now commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has set a day when he is going to judge the world in righteousness by the man he has appointed. He has provided proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead” (Paul the Apostle, Acts 17:30-31).

That judge, and the only Savior and Lord, is Jesus. By believing in science but rejecting Jesus, you are actually sinning against the Creator who gave you life–and a lifetime of sinning against God earns the “wages” of an eternity of death. The Creator’s gift for sinners, however, is that he sent his into the world he created, to take the death his people had earned in their place.

Science is an incredible gift from God, yet it is a gift that points beyond itself to the God revealed in the Bible. We have all sinned against him, and we all must get to the point where we turn from our sin and trust ourselves to his Son. Repent and trust in him today, and your Creator will give you new life that lasts forever.

^This is apologetics.

Further study:

Why Does God Allow the Devil to Live? (and a Couple Other Good Questions)

A friend of mine posted these questions, which her children had asked her, on Facebook today.  They were such good questions, and they struck me as the kind of questions people are asking at every age–certainly not just in childhood. I humbly submitted my response (which were written for kids, mind you), and I share that now with you.

The questions:

  • Why did God just not send Satan to death?
  • Why didn’t God just restart the world?
  • God knew that Satan was going to keep doing bad stuff so why didn’t He just put him in a cage or something?
  • Why did God create Satan if He knew he’d do bad things?

My response:

The Bible answers these questions, but not always exactly in the way we would like! There are three perspectives the Bible offers to the question.

First, God is God, and His ways are not our ways. We know He is good, but He is also WAY smarter than we are (obviously! He’s GOD!). Romans 9:20 says “But who are you, a mere man, to talk back to God?” In other words, at some point we just have to trust Him, that He knows what He’s doing!

Second, God is so GOOD, that He has a plan to make everything work out for good. He has already planned it out ahead of time. He has even planned it so that, when bad people or spirits (like the devil) choose to do evil things, God makes those bad things work out for good in the end. That’s pretty amazing, right? Romans 8:28 says that, “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” In Genesis 50:20, Joseph tells his brothers (who had been super evil to him), “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good!” The worst thing that ever happened was when the Son of God, who had NEVER done ANYTHING wrong, was killed. Satan probably thought he had won–that he had beaten God! But God used that terrible sin to save all His people! The joke’s on the devil, because Jesus wins every time!

Third, we can have peace about these questions, the more we get to know Jesus. In Philippians 4:7, God tells us that “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” The more we live with God, trusting in Jesus, following the Holy Spirit who lives inside God’s children, the better we feel about life, and God’s control over the world. The Bible says (in Romans 1:17) that the righteousness of God is revealed in the Gospel (the good news about Jesus) “from faith for faith.” In other words, when we trust in Jesus, God gives us His Holy Spirit who helps us trust in Jesus more and more and more.

So to summarize it…

  1. God knows what He’s doing… even though we don’t!
  2. God’s plan is not just to make a good world, but to bring about a good world in which good completely wins the victory over evil. God will bring every bad thing that the evil devil does around for good. Take that, Devil!
  3. God will help you understand and trust Him more and more–even when you don’t totally get it, because He’s always with you!

Does the Trinity Matter in Apologetics?

The truth that God is Triune (“God is Three, God is One”) was not something I had previously given much thought to in doing apologetics. However, at a time when many Christian apologists are trying to convince non-believers of “bare theism,” I have now come to see that the Doctrine of the Trinity is absolutely vital to the defense of the Christian faith.

I came to this conclusion while researching and writing one of my Capstone papers (like a Master’s thesis) for Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, which addressed the question, “What is the role of the Trinity in John Frame’s Apologetics?”

In the paper, I dig into the writings of John Frame (in my opinion, one of the most important theologian-philosophers doing work today) and his unique contribution to the world of theology, namely triperspectivalism. Don’t know what that is? You aren’t alone. It’s unfamiliar to many, but incredibly important, and incredibly cool once you find out how it works. I submit this paper as a resource for thinking about doing apologetics in a more biblical way.

Access the white paper at the Resources tab or here.

Read more by Dr. Frame here.

What About Those Who Don’t Believe in God?

As I prepare for tomorrow’s message on the book of Jonah–the man who was plunged into the abyss, into the belly of a giant fish, and returned after three days–one concept has really shocked me. In this incredible (though not un-credible) story, there are two groups of people who become worshipers of the Lord, namely the polytheist sailors and the wicked citizens of Nineveh, who had previously been the furthest thing from believers. And yet, it is clear from the story that God actually expected their worship. He deserved it. They owed Him worship.

There is no sense, from Scripture, that worship of the Lord is something optional, or that God only certain people to worship Him, or that He only wants to be known, glorified and enjoyed by people who currently adhere to a particular religion.

God is the God of everyone He has created. And He has created everyone. He is even the God of those who don’t believe in Him. (Or at least, they claim to believe in Him. Whether anyone can truly be an atheist is an issue for another time. Spoiler alert: they can’t.)

These theme of the universality of God’s worship-worthiness continues on into the New Testament, in which Jesus is said to be the Savior, not only of certain people, but of the whole world (see 1 John 2:2 and 4:14). That is to say, there is only one God, and One who goes between God and man, to make peace between us.

Like the pagan sailors and the Ninevites in the book of Jonah, you, me, and everyone we know owe our allegiance to the one true God.

This is difficult, because there are many religious systems out there claiming to be true, and insofar as they deny the Gospel, they are therefore all wrong (see the recent controversy with Senator Bernie Sanders and presidential appointee).

However, it is also wonderful news (the word Gospel means “good news”), because there is a sure way to God. There aren’t multiple ways, but that’s okay, because there aren’t multiple gods. There is only one. And He has given us a way. That way is through faith in Jesus (John 1:12).

This Gospel is the message that Christians must take to our family, friends and neighbors: there is one true God. He made us, and we owe Him everything. We’ve been refusing Him the worship He deserves, and we’ve earned His punishment (that’s why God sent Jonah to Nineveh in the first place!). Rescue from that punishment comes through faith in the one who was plunged into the abyss of death and returned to the land of the living after three days. Not Jonah, but Jesus. Do you know Him? Whom will you tell?

On Being Prepared to Defend Your Faith

In the Bible, God instructs his people to be prepared at all times to give a response, whenever anyone asks us about the hope that we have.

Most followers of Jesus have probably heard that command, yet how many of us are confident that we could, at the drop of the proverbial hat, feel ready to give an adequate defense of the Christian message?

A few months back, I was asked to create a resource that will answer the biggest objections and questions that people have about the Christian faith. If you know anything about me, you know that one of my main passions in life is tackling the tough questions–I do not always have the answers, but it’s a real thrill tracking them down. And I happen to be a believer that, as God’s breathed-out word (2 Tim. 3:16-17), the Bible has the answers contained within it; any resource like this is going to direct folks right back to Scripture. So the thought of creating a resource that would defend Christianity against the toughest objections out there, and encourage my friends at Park to get deeper into the Bible, was really exciting to me. It was exciting to the other Park pastors as well–and a couple of them actually had enough margin in their schedules (a small miracle to be sure, given that many are husbands and dads–and all are incredibly busy) to be able to come alongside me on the project.

This initiative will certainly be aimed at non-believers who have real questions and objections, but it will also be for equipping Christ-followers to obey that command that we all know, but most of us never quite feel ready for: defending the faith.

More details will follow. However, in the meantime, maybe your interest in defending the faith has been piqued. If that’s the case, I want to recommend the blog of another Settecase–my brother Parker. Parker has been tackling some of the toughest questions and objections against the Christian faith for awhile now, and he does it well. You can also check out my older blog, with the unfortunate title, “Don’t Forget to Think.” And one final recommendation: go get The Reason for God, by Timothy Keller, right now. Read it and re-read it, then hand it off to a friend (maybe that one friend or coworker with all the objections about God that you never quite know how to answer). You will be glad you did.

Every follower of Jesus needs to be able to obey the command to be prepared to defend his or her faith. The steps we take today can prepare you to better do that tomorrow. Happy preparing!

Why Does God Allow Evil In The World?

This topic has come up a  couple times in recent days, so I wanted to just bang out a few thoughts on it.

What follows is not a full, scholarly treatment on Problem of Evil (in any of its various philosophical formulations). However, I hope it might be helpful to you, the next time someone poses this question to you.

I’m happy to get any feedback on this–and certainly let me know if you are able to use it in a spiritual conversation!

Why does the all-powerful, perfectly good God allow evil in the world? 

  1. God is good and the ultimate standard for what can be defined as good. Without God, there is no way of accounting for good.

    And evil is the opposite of good, so there is no way to account for evil if you don’t already know what good is.

    Therefore, unless you believe in God (as He has revealed Himself in the Bible) you can’t say anything meaningful about evil. So we have to start there.

  2. If God allows evil to happen in the world (and He does), then there must be a good reason behind it. The perfectly-good God of the universe is working all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28-30).

    In this world or any other, evil can never ultimately “win.”

  3. God does allow evil–both natural “evil” and evil committed by evil beings (humans and evil spirits). We see this in Scripture and in life.
  4. There are biblical examples of God intending and even predestining evil people to freely commit evil actions, in order that God’s surpassing goodness might be worked out in the end. For examples, consider Joseph’s brothers selling him into slavery (explained in Genesis 50:20) and the betrayal and crucifixion of Jesus (explained in Acts 1:16-17; 4:27-28).

    God is not the author of evil–He is light, and there is no darkness in Him (1 John 1:5). However, He is sovereign over everyone and everything, the righteous and the wicked, and He is free to use it all according to His good purposes. He uses good people to make good decisions and bring about in good outcomes (often far better than was even intended!); He also uses evil people to make sinful decisions and result in (ultimately) good outcomes. How incredibly frustrating that must be for the devil! All his evil schemes keep being turned around against him to bring about good in the end!

    Take, for example, the worst sin that was ever committed. The unjust torture and crucifixion of the only perfect man to ever live–God Himself in the flesh–turned out to be part of God’s plan to carry out the greatest rescue act in history.

    Every time the Lord does this, the good He brings about far surpasses the evil that was worked, which, while still being authentically wrong, pales in comparison to the glorious greatness of God’s goodness.

  5. To keep from making this any longer, let’s summarize: God allows evil in the world, in order to demonstrate that He is so good that even evil cannot upset His good, pleasing and perfect will.
  6. When the redemption of Jesus becomes a reality in your life, He gives you a completely new perspective on the evil in the world and in your life. Jesus gives you the Holy Spirit to be with you and comfort you during your suffering.

    Even in your hour of death, He will be there to strengthen you and to welcome you into Christ’s kingdom, where evil is finally overcome and only goodness remains. Again, the worst thing becomes the best thing. That’s how incredibly good God is.

Trying to Do It Yourself?

The Bible says that God is the one who brings good out of evil and calamity in the world. However, if you are like me, you naturally like to be the one in control. You would rather shape and direct your own life, but you and I cannot possibly work everything out for good. That is a God-sized task, and we can only get that from Him. And the Bible says we can only get to Him through Jesus (John 14:6).

If you don’t yet know Jesus, you can meet Him right now! Repent–give up trying to bring about your own good in your life (how’s that been working for you anyway?), and trust in Him. Claim Jesus as Lord and believe that God raised Him from the dead (the ultimate good-out-of-evil story), and He will save you (Romans 10:9-11).

Want to know more? Looking for more resources to use in spiritual conversations? Got Bible questions? Drop me a line: jsettecase@parkcommunitychurch.org.

How Did Jesus Argue?

Jesus was a master of apologetics (what John Frame calls “the theological discipline that defends the truth of the Christian message). Of course, He is the Master of everything, so it makes sense that He would defend truth in a masterful way. In the New Testament, there are many examples of Jesus engaging with His opponents in apologetical discussions. A brilliant example of this is found in Mark 3:22-30:

The scribes who had come down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul in Him!” and, “He drives out demons by the ruler of the demons!”

So He summoned them and spoke to them in parables: “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan rebels against himself and is divided, he cannot stand but is finished!

“On the other hand, no one can enter a strong man’s house and rob his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he will rob his house. I assure you: People will be forgiven for all sins[b] and whatever blasphemies they may blaspheme. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”because they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.”

In this encounter with his perennial opponents, Jesus is engaging in presuppositional apologetics. He begins with a claim of theirs–it happens to be common ground they both agree with–that a demon has been cast out of someone.
Then Jesus hits them with a one-two punch. First He goes on offense: “Answer a fool according to his foolishness, or he’ll become wise in his own eyes” (Prov. 26:4). Then He plays defense: “Don’t answer a fool according to his foolishness or you’ll be like him yourself” (Prov. 26:4).

(vv. 23-26) Offense

Jesus goes on the offense against their argument. Jesus steps into their worldview for the sake of argument and shows them that their reasoning is self-refuting and therefore necessarily false.
His argument:
  1. If I were possessed by Beelzeboul, then I would be working for Satan’s kingdom.
  2. If I am casting out demons, then I am working against Satan’s kingdom.
  3. If I am casting out demons by Beelzeboul, then I would be working for and against Satan’s kingdom.
That is logically incoherent and self-refuting. It is necessarily false. (Side note: this shows that the scribes could not actually believe this in any kind of rational way. Jesus is betraying their heart commitments. They couldn’t really believe that Jesus was working for Satan, but because they refused to believe in Him, they were forced to accept an obvious, irrational falsehood. This is what inevitably happens to all non-biblical world views.)
I suppose they could have argued back, “Well then Satan is obviously stupidly working against himself!” But this is refuted by considering that their whole argument was based on the craftiness of Satan’s strategy. So is Satan being crafty or stupid? Jesus implicitly says (as one commentator has pointed out), “Satan is evil, but he is not stupid.” This would have been accepted by all.

(v. 27) Defense

Jesus defends the truth. Jesus refuses to accept their presupposition (that He is not the divine Messiah), and demonstrates that the only possible correct view is that He is more powerful than Satan. The only one more powerful than Satan is God. The scribes believed this. Therefore Jesus is forcing them, by their own worldview, to admit that He is God. Of course, this entails that they owe Him their allegiance and faith. But the only way around that is to deny what they already claim to believe. Look at their options:
  1. They could argue that a demon was not really cast out–but the exorcism was so obvious that this would turn them into radically skeptic anti-supernaturalists–not even an option in that culture, and surely this would disqualify them from being scribes!
  2. They could argue that a mere man could possibly cast out demons without God’s approval and power–but this too would force them to abandon their pretense of a biblical worldview, disqualifying them from being scribes.
  3. They could admit that Jesus actually is the Messiah sent from God, operating in God’s power, and actually is God (because He’s claimed divine attributes and clearly has God’s approval for doing so), and is casting out demons by God’s power and authority.
What they cannot argue is that Jesus was casting out demons by the “ruler of the demons.” Jesus has brilliantly taken that option away from them and masterfully backed them into an inescapable corner.
It’s interesting that, after Jesus speaks, we don’t hear from the scribes again in this exchange. After all, what could they say? Their argument and lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God has been destroyed, and their thoughts have been taken captive to obey Christ, the Master Apologist.

Application for us

When we face challenges in spiritual conversations we may (must!) follow the Lord’s example.
  1. Go on the offense. Demonstrate that our conversation partner “can’t get there from here.” Their worldview doesn’t lead them to where they want to go, and in fact it refutes itself.
  2. Defend the truth. Show that the biblical teaching is the only possible way to get there.
For example, a man who says God can’t exist because evil exists, has no way of accounting for a meaningful definition of evil according to his worldview. However, the Bible not only accounts for evil but also provides a solution for it in the Gospel, which they have an obligation to hear and obey (believe).
In this passage, Jesus teaches important truth about His identity as the God-Man Messiah, also on blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, but He also gives us a template for handling challenges and objections in spiritual conversations.

A Christian Perspective on Morality

Last Wednesday I had a fun time moderating a lively discussion on the subject of morality as part of my monthly MeetUp series, “Ask A Pastor (Far Northwest Side Spiritual Discussions).”

Before we opened up the floor to questions and discussion, I gave a brief talk on the topic. Here are the notes I taught from, unedited (which means my sources aren’t cited, and it’s really formatted better for speaking than reading. Please don’t tell Larry Mroczek, my junior year Honors English teacher).

Morality Talk – Let’s discuss right and wrong!

Biblically, morality comes from God.

God’s moral proclamation is not an arbitrary decree, nor is it a higher standard. Rather, the Bible teaches, “Be Holy, because I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16).

At creation, God gave Adam one command: “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”

Notice that God did not have to command the man not to murder, not to steal, or even how to practice religion correctly. There was one command, and it was a simple one. Really, the command amounted to this: “Respect God and obey what God says.” This is what is summarized as the “whole duty of man” in Ecclesiastes 12:13, “Fear God and keep his commandments.”

If you know the story, you know Adam did not keep God’s commandment. He was tempted by his wife, Eve, who had been tempted by the devil. Adam sinned, and his sin we now refer to as “The Fall.” Immediately after Adam sinned, God brought the earth under a curse, but the worst curse was for the devil. In Genesis 3:15, God promised that one of Eve’s offspring would destroy the devil, even though in the process the offspring would himself be fatally wounded. So God promised a self-sacrificing Savior at the dawn of human history. It is significant that this promise comes even before any of the moral codes God would soon give humanity.

The next moral code the Lord gave was to Noah, in Genesis 9, allowed the eating of meat, forbade eating meat with blood, prohibited murder, and gave a mandate for human reproduction.

After this, God began to establish a special relationship with a certain genealogical line of people, who were descended from Noah, through the biblical patriarch Abraham. It was with Abraham’s descendants, through his son Isaac and grandson Israel, that God established what we now refer to as the “Old Covenant.”

The Old Covenant was a legal-theological system based on conditional promises God gave to the nation of Israel, through the prophet Moses. If Israel kept their end of the bargain, they would receive life and blessings (Deuteronomy 30:19), but if they disobeyed God’s law, they would receive curse and exile from the Promised Land (Leviticus 26:33).

At the heart of the Old Covenant were the Ten Commandments.

During the period in which the Old Covenant was still in effect, God began to make more promises to humanity, building on the original promise of salvation, that he had given to Adam and Eve back in the beginning. He promised that an era would come in which every member of the people of God would know God and live morally—because from a biblical perspective, morality and relationship with God are bound up together. So in Jeremiah 31:33-34, the Lord describes the coming “New Covenant” era, saying, “’I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,’ declares the LORD, ‘for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.’”

Now in the meantime, developments in moral philosophy were being made outside of Israel. Every society has always had some kind of moral code of laws—many of which paralleled the kind of morality God gave to Israel. This is explained in that God gave all human beings a conscience; in Romans 2:14-15 the Bible says that “…when Gentiles, who do not have the Law [of Moses], do by nature what the Law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the Law, since they show that the work of the Law is written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts either accusing or defending them.”

What is also interesting is that two things take place: first, Israel does disobey God and break the Old Covenant, and they are exiled and dispersed. Yet, during that period, in which the Babylon Empire reigned supreme, we find that many non-Jewish societies made radical advancements in their moral philosophy.

According to Christian Scripture, the Hebrew Scriptures (“the Law and the Prophets”) hang on the two commandments, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind,” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” That second principle, loving one’s neighbor as one loves one’s self, spread to non-Jewish societies during the time of the Jewish exile.

A form of it reached Egypt between 2040 – 1650 B.C.—roughly corresponding the time when Israel were slaves in Egypt. But it was really primitive “Do to the doer to make him do.” It was just what we call the “law of reciprocity.”

Moses received it in around 1500 B.C.

But around the time of the Jewish Exile in Babylon, between ~597 B.C. and 538 B.C., we see nations under Babylonian rule adopting this Jewish morality. China, India, Greece, Persia and Rome all picked it up.

It was during that period that the Medo-Persian Empire conquered Babylon, and Darius (b. 550 B.C.) issued the decree that, “…all the peoples, nations and men of every language who were living in all the land…in all the dominion of my kingdom men are to fear and tremble before the God of Daniel.

The western end of the empire was Greece. The eastern end was India.

Buddhism was founded in India in the low 500s, B.C.

Confucius wrote around 500 B.C.

Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics was written in 350 B.C.

So it has been proposed that these moral advancements owe their development in part to the influence of Jewish morality on the Babylonian/Medo-Persian empire (which later became the Greek, and eventually the Roman Empire.*

So in the non-Jewish world, you have approximations of biblical morality—though never, or rarely, the heartfelt conviction over sin that is seen in the Psalms, for example—but the revealed morality from God is limited to the Hebrew Scriptures, that is, the Old Testament.

After a period of four centuries of silence, Jesus is born in the town of Bethlehem to a virgin girl, fulfilling further prophecies (Micah 5:2; Isaiah 7:14) about the coming Savior, that God had previously promised back in Genesis.

Jesus completely transcends and transforms morality in a way that is analogous to the great moral shift that took place around the Sixth Century B.C., but far greater than that shift.

The highest moral principle of Jesus is not, “Love God and love your neighbor as yourself,” but rather He says, “A new commandment I give to you that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”

Well, if you follow the rest of the story of Jesus’ life, you discover exactly what “as I have loved you” really means. Jesus lay down his life for his people. That model of self-sacrificing love becomes the new norm for the morality of the people of God. So when the Apostle John summarizes how to live in a loving way, He says, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (1 John 3:16). Indeed, there can be no higher moral principle than this one—a fact that Jesus points out in John 15:13, when he teaches, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”

Of course, Christian morality does not limit itself to love only for fellow Christians. Rather, believers are commanded to, “love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).

Along with the command to love, Jesus gives many other moral imperatives—which echo some of the same morality of the Ten Commandments—recall, they had been at the heart of the Old Covenant—but which reflect the higher love to which Jesus’ followers (in the New Covenant era) are called. Rather than simply prohibiting adultery, Jesus prohibits lust. Rather than just murder, Jesus prohibits hatred and insult. In Matthew 5-7, Jesus lays out a moral code for his followers that is far beyond anything developed prior to that time, whether Jewish or Gentile.

So Christian morality is inseparable from Jesus—and it is only through unity with him that a person can actually live a truly moral life, according to God’s standard.

If you continue to follow the development of moral progress in the world after the time of Christ, what do you see? You see followers of Jesus fighting disease and plague while Roman pagans flee the cities. You see women gaining previously-unheard-of rights. You see Christians fighting against and ending slavery, which had been enshrined in human civilizations for all of history. You see the Church inventing the concept of hospitals and colleges, making huge advancements in art and music and education. Even the concept of childhood owes its existence to Christianity. That’s right, an article came out last year called, “How Christianity invented Children,”[1] explaining how Jesus’ attitude toward children revolutionized the ancient world, leading up to the modern time.

Christian morality is bound up with the person of Jesus. He is the best revelation of God’s moral character (Hebrews 1:1-2). He is the Creator of our world, and has the best understanding of how moral agents are to interact within it (John 1:1-3). He is also the ultimate human representative (Romans 5).

The moral bar he raises is actually an impossible standard to keep. But the Bible provides a solution for this. When Jesus died on the cross, he took all the moral failure of his people on Himself (2 Corinthians 5:21). In place of our moral failure (Romans 3:23), God attributes to followers of Jesus the moral perfection of Jesus Himself, and God gives the Holy Spirit to those same people, to empower them to live according to Jesus’ standard. Perfectly? No. But joyfully. Is it a struggle sometimes? Yes! But it is a struggle the follower of Jesus will ultimately win, by God’s grace.

So what about people who do not follow Jesus?

Can an atheist or non-Christian act in a moral way? Yes and no.

True morality, according to the Bible, is grounded in knowing God and loving him. Non-believers can approximate morality by doing moral things, yet if, in doing so, they are rejecting God, that cannot truly be moral.

Moreover, when a non-believer acts morally, he is actually being inconsistent. This is because, without God and the Bible, there is no way to ground morality in any kind of objective way.

So you have to ask yourself: Has God spoken about morality?

If not, then someone has to decide what is right and what is wrong. Who’s going to do that? It would have to be someone with comprehensive knowledge of the moral universe, in order to lay down any kind of absolutes. None of us possess that quality!

But then, maybe morality is subjective—varying from person to person or from culture to culture? This boils down to there being no morality at all. At least, it becomes impossible to differentiate between moral systems that are correct and ones that are incorrect.

John Frame, a theologian, asks this question, “How do you adjudicate between two different moral frameworks that sit before you, that each believe its morality is superior to the other person’s?”

James White, a Christian apologist, has pointed out, that the reality of the world is such that not every worldview actually desires peace and getting along. Ravi Zacharias, a Christian philosopher, has said this too: some people believe that they would “get along” much better without you in the picture!

How do we differentiate between these various worldviews? The Bible is the morally-infallible norm by which we do this.

So let’s say you answer, “Yes, God has spoken.” And there are moral standards that apply across the board.

Well then, are those moral standards found in the God of the Bible, as revealed in the Bible? If not, then how do we decide?

It boils down to something we have talked about a lot: presuppositions. When you presuppose the Bible to be true—that is, when you start with that assumption—you can make sense of the moral universe in which we live. When you start with anything else, you run into contradictions and self-referential incoherence.

To conclude: there are many moral systems out there in the world, but they ultimately boil down to two options: morality based on the perfect nature of God, or morality based finally on my ever-changing self and my own best judgments. With the radical, self-sacrificial love that Jesus calls us to live out, it ought to be plain to us which one is based on God’s character. Christian morality is not something any mere human could come up with, but it is something God calls each of us to.

The Bible says that, “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For He has set a day when He will judge the world with justice by the Man He has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31).

In other words, one day God will judge each of us by his perfect standard, which is his Son Jesus. Those who are his followers will have our sins forgiven and His moral perfection credited to us. Those who reject God’s offer will be judged according to the Standard. Will your life demonstrate that you loved God or hated Him? Your eternal destiny will reflect that!

So that is my best attempt to (somewhat) briefly explain Christian morality to you. Now, what questions do you have for me?

[1] http://theweek.com/articles/551027/how-christianity-invented-children

*I first heard of this theory from Derek Webster, lead pastor of Grace Pointe Church in Naperville, Illinois, while I worked there between 2013 and 2016.

My Recent MeetUp Teaching Plan On The Subject, “Meaning: What Makes Life Worth Living?”

For those who might be interested, here’s the teaching plan I wrote up, to facilitate a recent “Ask A Pastor” MeetUp (if you use this or any part of it, please properly attribute it–and let me know!)

Ask a Pastor MeetUp #3: Meaning Talk

“Absolutely futility. Everything is futile.” –King Solomon

“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” –Jesus

  • Ice Breaker: (state your name, then) name something you have no interest in.
  • What makes life worth living?

People I asked said:

  • “Family. God and family” (Tony, age 50, baby on the way).
  • “Family and my girlfriend” (Zladko, Starbucks patron).
  • “People I love, pursuing my passions, and standing up for worthy causes (Max, aspiring actor).”
  • “Worship. This life is temporary. But working to be perfect is easier said than done” (Omar, barista, Muslim).
  • “Family” (Andrea, fiancée).
  • “Experiences and how they shape me” (Josh, barista, depression-overcomer).
  • “The pursuit of happiness” (Nathan, musician, manufacturer, friend).

THE OPTIONS

  1. Love (Sex/Romance/Family/Friends)
    • Why it’s good
      • Man & woman created for relationship, marriage, sex (Genesis 2:18)
      • Family is God’s plan for godly children (Mal. 2:15)
      • Friendship is a gift from God (Prov. 17:17)
    • Why it’s not enough
      • Makes life meaningless apart from romance
      • Puts too much pressure on other, imperfect humans (Jerry Maguire effect)
      • Leads to fear of loss and control, manipulaion
  1. Wealth (Money, possessions, retirement)
    • Why its good
      • We are created with needs for food, shelter, etc. (fruit in garden of Eden, clothes after the Fall)
      • Gives ability to share (Hebrews 13:16)
    • Why it’s not enough
      • Practically it doesn’t work—false promise of security
      • Love of money is a root of evil
      • Makes meaning contingent on possessions—inaccessible for the poor. Who’s going to say that poor people have less meaningful lives!
  1. Success (Legacy; Personal sense of fulfillment; American Dream; Approval from others)
    • Why it’s good
      • We’re created for work, mission, quest.
      • “Do all to the glory of God”—we should seek to do our best at all times.
    • Why it’s not enough
      • Become a slave to work, when it is ultimate.
      • Work is not meant to be an end in itself.
      • Self-promotion, leads to fear, frustration, manipulation—self-focused striving.
  1. Power (Political power, promotion, personal influence)
    • Why it’s good
      • Government instituted by God (Romans 13) to protect innocent and punish evil.
      • Positive influence is a gift from God (“discipleship”—teaching others to live for God)
    • Why it’s not enough
      • Some may never have access to it.
      • When sought for its own sake, it leads to corruption, etc.
      • In its worst forms, inevitably leads to tyranny.
  1. Religion
    • Why it’s good
      • We’re created for worship and obedience (Ecclesiastes 12)
      • Has a positive effect on the individual and society (12 houses of worship in Philadelphia added $50M to their area).
    • Why it’s not enough
      • Impossible to know if you’ve done enough
      • Leads to pride, self-focus, because based on performance
      • Leads to oppression, fear, control, coercion.


These options come down to rejecting our Creator and taking the reins ourselves. A (temporary) life lived that way, in this world, inevitably leads to a (forever) death in the next world
(Revelation 21:8; Matthew 25:46; 2 Thessalonians 1:9; Matthew 13:50; Mark 9:43….).

THE BIBLE’S ANSWER:

A restored and right relationship with God, through His Son Jesus Christ, gives meaning to all of life.

  • Glorify God: 1 Corinthians 10:31
  • Know God: John 10:10
  • Obey God: Ecclesiastes 12
  • Bring others to God (Matthew 28:18-20)

Knowing Jesus ties everything else together:

  • Love:
    1. “We love because He first loved us.”
    2. Love based on Jesus’ sacrificial death for His people
  • Wealth:
    1. Treasure in heaven that can’t be lost, destroyed, or stolen
    2. Greatest treasure is knowing God
    3. Needs met in community (Church)
    1. “Glory, honor and immortality.”
    2. Running the race, fighting the good fight. Winning the prize.
  • Power
    1. Think clearly about human government (don’t put all your eggs in that basket!)
    2. Trust in God’s designed outcome, whoever is president.
    3. Freed from personal striving for more and more influence/fame.
  • Religion
    1. Flows from gratitude and future hope, rather than oppressive and uncertain obligation.
    2. Based on personal relationship rather than impersonal law.
    3. Actually effective, and it pleases God—“The righteous shall live by faith.”

How to be reconciled to God:

  • John 14:6 – “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
  • Matthew 11:28 – “Come to me all who are weary and heavy-burdened, and I will give you rest.”
  • In short, “repent” and believe” in Jesus.
    • Acknowledge that Jesus is Lord (and you’re not!) and Savior (again, not you).
    • Believe that God raised Him from the dead (in other words… the Gospel is true).
    • “Lose your life” for His sake, and you will find real life. Matthew 16:25.

“He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” –Jim Eliot.

*****

For further reading: