Friday, December 10, 2004

Why I Believe Christian Faith is True, Part 2

[I apologize for being tardy in the delivery of this essay.]

On Thursday, I began this series by saying that the first reason I believe that Christian faith is true, that is, a true pathway to God, is its uniqueness. The Judeo-Christian faith of the Bible is the only religious belief system in the world that says that a relationship with God or a state of holiness is a gift from God, accessible to those with faith in Christ. (This is what the Bible calls grace, a word which in the Greek of the New Testament, is related to our word for charity.)

This unique perspective, so out of step with the teachings of other religions, either means Christian faith is completely right or totally off the mark.

But there's a second reason I believe that Christian faith is true. It's this: Jesus Himself. The truth or falsehood of Christian faith rises or falls on Jesus and the Christian belief that Jesus is God in the flesh. And that is a huge, risky claim. Can Jesus bear the weight of that sort of trust?

Let's consider the claims Jesus made for Himself.

He claimed to be the definitive means by which people can know and experience God. He said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. If you know Me, you will know My Father also..." (John 14:6-7) (see also: John 3:16)

He claimed the authority to forgive sin, a power that belongs to God alone (Mark 2:7). In Matthew, we read: "But Jesus, perceiving their thoughts, said, 'Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier to say, "Your sins are forgiven," or to say, "Stand up and walk"? But so that you may know that the Son of Man [a way Jesus typically referred to Himself] has authority on earth to forgive sins'--and then said to the paralytic--'Stand up, take your bed and go to your home.' And he stood up and went to his home..." (Matthew 9:5-8)

He claimed to be the very reflection of God Himself. This is what the phrase Son of God means, not some genetic descendancy. Matthew records, "He [Jesus] said to them, 'But who do you say that I am?' Simon Peter answered, 'You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.' And Jesus answered him, 'Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father in heaven...'" (Matthew 16:15-17)

Jesus' actions also spoke volumes. Among the miraculous signs He performed were healing the sick, feeding the hungry, and even raising the dead. Not even Jesus' most vociferous enemies denied that He said and did these things. Their objections to Jesus weren't based on the facts surrounding these actions.

Religious authorities objected to Jesus because, by insisting that God was accessible to all people who simply believed in Him, He threatened to diminish their power over people. Jesus freed people from guilt-based religion so that they can enjoy a grace-based relationship with God!

Political authorities objected to Jesus because they saw His Lordship as a threat to their power over people's lives. A follower of Christ will voluntarily acquiesce to governmental authority for the common good. But if that authority asks a Jesus-Follower to violate conscience, dishonoring God or harming a neighbor, the Jesus-Follower will bow to Christ's authority as supreme.

Ordinary people objected to Jesus because, after using miraculous signs to point to His deity (His God-ness), Jesus refused to wield His power in trite or self-serving ways.

In John 6, for example, Jesus miraculously fed more than 5000 people with a few fish and scraps of bread. But instead of causing them to worship Jesus as God, they wanted to trivialize Him, forcing Him to become an earthly king who would, maybe, put a chicken in every pot and a Porsche in every garage. So insatiable was their appetite for the things they though Jesus would give them if they, in effect, elected Him as their president, that even after Jesus went across the Sea of Galilee, they tracked Him down. Jesus upbraided the crowd, telling them, "Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for Me, not because [in My feeding you] you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves..." (John 6:26)

And in Luke 4, you can read about Jesus being tempted by the Devil in the wilderness. Once again, bread comes into play. The Devil demanded that Jesus prove Himself:

"If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread." Jesus answered him, "It is written, 'One does not live by bread alone.'" (Luke 4:3) Jesus was so secure in Who He was, that He refused to be pushed into performing party tricks to prove Himself.

Jesus allowed people to worship Him! You find instances of that in a number of New Testament passages: Matthew 2:11, Matthew 14:33, Matthew 28:17, and John 9:38.

And if you like blunt talk, consider this statement by Jesus: "The Father and I are one." (Jesus speaking, John 10:30)

The point is that Jesus claimed to be God. In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis, the one-time atheist turned Christian, professor, and author of The Chronicles of Narnia, among other works, speaks of the religious faith of the ancient Jews. The Jews claimed that through people like Moses and Ruth and David, through patriarchs (like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob), through prophets (like Isaiah, Elijah, Jeremiah, and others), and others, God revealed Himself and His intentions for the world. God even revealed that one day He would act decisively through an Anointed One (Messiah in the Hebrew and Christ in the Greek) to erase the power of sin and death over people's lives the world over. That Anointed One was to be spring from the Jews (or Hebrews or Israelites), God's chosen people. Centuries passed as God forged His people to be faithful. Lewis writes:
The comes the real shock. Among these Jews there suddenly turns up a man who goes about talking as if He was God. He claims to forgive sins. He says He has always existed. He says He is coming to judge the world at the end of time. Now let us get this clear. Among Pantheists, like the Indians, anyone might say he was a part of God, or one with God: there would be nothing very odd about it. But this man, since He was a Jew, could not mean that kind of God. God, in their language, meant the Being outside the world, who had made it and was infinitely different from anything else. And when you have grasped that, you will see that what this man said was, quite simply, the most shocking thing that has ever been uttered by human lips.
Lewis goes on to deal in some detail with the shocking nature of another claim made by Jesus: that He could forgive sins. "In the mouth of any speaker who is not God," Lewis says, "these words would imply what I can only regard as a silliness and conceit unrivalled by any other character in history." But, Lewis points out, not even Jesus' enemies accused Him of silliness and conceit. And he observes: "Christ says that He is 'humble and meek' and we believe Him; not noticing that, if He were merely a man, humility and meekness are the very last characteristics we could attribute to some of His sayings."

I hope you will excuse this rather lengthy quoting from Lewis. But no one ever expressed himself better and what he says next is the crux of the matter addressed here today: the reliability of Jesus as the rock on which to place the weight of one's eternal existence. Writes Lewis:
I am trying here to prevent anyone from saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him [Jesus]: '"I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God." That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic--on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg--or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must take your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.
Why do I believe that Christian faith is true?

I believe it first of all, because of its uniqueness.

I also believe it because of Jesus. In spite of His outrageous claim to be God, capable of doing those things that only God can do, He clearly was neither a lunatic or a liar. He must be God. Having concluded that to be so, the very least I owe Him is my attention, if not my allegiance.

In the next post of this series, I'll address what Jesus has done to make me believe that I should follow Him.

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