Saturday, February 18, 2017

Can salvation be lost?

Is it possible to be saved, then later turn away from God and lose one’s salvation?  This can be a hot topic and even Christians weigh in on opposite sides of this issue.  Some Biblical verses seem to indicate a Christian can lose his or her salvation.  Some people today believe in eternal security, not necessarily because they have researched the issue in the Bible, but because it sounds more appealing.  That’s not a good method for understanding theology, so let’s look at what the Bible says.

Some of the passages in the Bible that seem to indicate salvation can be lost:
·         “Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God's kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off.” (Romans 11:22)
·         “if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first.” (2 Peter 2:20)
·         “I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:27)

Maybe not?
Other Biblical passages seem to indicate salvation is assured:
·         "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:27-28)
·         “He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)
·         “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

The Bible seems to support both sides of this issue.  Let’s dig deeper to gain a better understanding.

What about those who fall away?
Many people who read the sixth chapter of Hebrews become concerned they may not be able to return to God.  It states, concerning those who have once been enlightened, “and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame” (Hebrews 6:6).  Another verse that seems to corroborate this idea is Hebrews 10:26, which explains, “if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins”.  These seem to indicate believers can lose their salvation.  This is definitely one of the more troubling passages in the Bible.  As the Oracle said to Neo, “It’s a pickle, no doubt about it.”  Those of the Calvinist persuasion are convinced a person cannot lose their salvation:  Those destined for eternal life will experience irresistible grace and those destined for perdition will never be saved.  Arminians, on the other hand, hold to the position that we have the free will to reject God’s salvation even if we had previously accepted it, and vice versa.  As with any Bible passage, Hebrews 6:6 needs to be understood in context. 

A key point in understanding this chapter is recognizing the audience.  Since the book of Hebrews was obviously written to a Jewish audience (hence the book title), this passage may be referring to those who first believed in Jesus Christ for salvation, then returned to Judaism and the regulations found therein.  Rather than reading these verses in isolation, the context of the first five chapters of Hebrews discusses in some detail the status of Jesus Christ as our high priest.  The concepts of the animal sacrificial system and Sabbath rest practiced by the Jews under the old covenant are fulfilled and perfected in Jesus Christ.  Now, if we read Hebrews 6:6 with that backdrop, we can gain a fuller understanding of this verse.  In fact, Paul encountered a similar problem of Jews reverting to the old covenant in Galatia.  He writes, “I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ for a different gospel” (Galatians 1:6) and “did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?” (Galatians 3:2).  Those who have entered into salvation through grace under the new covenant are warned not to return to the old, which was only a foreshadowing anyway (Colossians 2:17).  This is exactly the point the writer of Hebrews is making in chapter 10, when he states:
“For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near” (Hebrews 10:1).

What about King Saul?
When Saul was first called by God to be king of Israel, and after the prophet Samuel anointed Saul, he told Saul:
“the Spirit of the Lord will come upon you mightily, and you shall prophesy with them and be changed into another man” (1 Samuel 10:6)
Then, we are told:
“God changed his heart; and all those signs came about on that day.   When they came to the hill there, behold, a group of prophets met him; and the Spirit of God came upon him mightily, so that he prophesied among them” (v. 9-10).
Though there is no Biblical verse that explicitly states Saul was “saved”, and being able to prophesy does not necessarily mean a person is saved (Matthew 7:21-23), it appears he was accepted by God.  Furthermore, because the Spirit of God came upon him, we can be fairly confident King Saul was saved. 

But, later in his life, Saul disobeyed God and was rejected by God.  The prophet Samuel (in an appearance from the grave) told Saul:
“The Lord has done accordingly as He spoke through me; for the Lord has torn the kingdom out of your hand and given it to your neighbor, to David.  As you did not obey the Lord and did not execute His fierce wrath on Amalek, so the Lord has done this thing to you this day” (1 Samuel 28:17-18).
The key question is whether King Saul lost his relationship with God and was no longer saved. 

Notice in Samuel’s indictment of Saul, he never stated Saul was no longer saved or anything to that effect.  Obviously, God was angry with Saul and removed him as King.  But, look at what Samuel says in the next verse:
“Moreover the Lord will also give over Israel along with you into the hands of the Philistines, therefore tomorrow you and your sons will be with me” (v. 19).
Samuel had died by this time; he was indicating Saul would also be dead the next day.  But, he did not say Saul would be in Gehenna (hell) but with him (Samuel).  God terminated Saul’s life early, but the Bible does not indicate Saul lost his eternal life with God. 

What about Judas?
Did Judas lose his salvation?  Was Judas saved?  In Luke 9, we read:
“And He (Jesus) called the twelve together, and gave them power and authority over all the demons and to heal diseases.  And He sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to perform healing”, then “they began going throughout the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere” (v. 6).
Judas Iscariot was obviously with this group, since Jesus sent “the twelve”.  If Judas was with Jesus, preached the gospel, and was given authority to heal, do those actions mean he was saved?  If so, did Judas later lose his standing with God when, at the end of his life, he betrayed Jesus (Luke 22:48) and committed suicide (Matthew 27:5)?   

The Bible gives no indication that Judas was ever saved.  He is mentioned on a number of occasions in the four gospel accounts as being one of the twelve disciples, spending time with Jesus, and participating in the activities with the other disciples.  Even when Jesus spoke of a betrayer in their midst at the last supper, no one apparently suspected Judas.  To all outward appearances, he was a believer.  However, he never truly became a follower of Jesus in his heart.  Biblical references of Judas portray him as a traitor (Luke 6:16), betrayer of Jesus (Mark 14:10), entered by Satan (Luke 22:3), predicted in the Old Testament as a traitor (Psalm 41:9), a thief (John 12:6), and a devil (John 6:70-71).  Judas never was saved and therefore never lost his salvation. 

To ask if someone can lose salvation, it is critical to ask how salvation is attained in the first place.  Is it through adherence to the commandments?  No, it is not by works, but completely by faith (Ephesians 2:8-9).  So, if we cannot gain salvation by good behavior, it is reasonable to suppose we cannot lose it through misbehavior.  Paul states that we are “sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26) and “a man is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Romans 3:28).  King Saul did not lose his salvation because he did not obey God.  His disobedience cost him severely in this life, which is a lesson we should definitely heed today.  However, he did not lose eternal life.  On the other hand, Judas did not lose his salvation because he never had it.  Though he appeared to be a follower of Christ on the outside, his heart never was with Jesus. If we believe in the Son of God, we can know we have eternal life (1 John 5:13).     

[Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible.]

Recommended reading:

Geisler, Norman, and Thomas Howe, When Critics Ask, Wheaton, IL:  Victor Books, 1992.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Can I be saved more than once?

Is it possible to be saved more than one time?  Can we be baptized or born again - again?  What if I received Jesus as my Savior years ago, but fell away? 

Many sacrifices, many times
Prior to the time of Jesus, sins were forgiven based on numerous and continual animal sacrifices.  The book of Leviticus provides very detailed instructions for God’s people to offer sacrifices for sin.  When anyone failed to perfectly follow the Lord’s commandments, it was necessary for blood to be shed for one’s atonement.  However, even that did not completely remove sins, as the Bible states:
“Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins” (Hebrews 10:11). 
However, when Jesus offered Himself as a sacrifice, this act was completely sufficient to remove all sins.  As John informs, Jesus “appeared in order to take away sins” (1 John 3:5).    

One sacrifice, one time
The Bible informs us that Jesus Christ did not:
“enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. Then Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of Himself.  Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him” (Hebrew 9:25-28). 
The Bible is clear that we do not return to offer sacrifices again and again to receive forgiveness for our sins, but Jesus Christ died once for all time.

We can know we are saved
When many people are asked if they will be admitted to heaven after death, they answer, “I hope so” or “I think so”.  Fortunately, we can know for certain in this life that we have eternal life.  The Bible states:
“He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.  I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:11). 
We don’t have to hope we have eternal life, we can know.

What if I don’t feel like I’m saved anymore?
The Bible informs that, as believers, “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).  We live not by how we feel, but by faith (assurance, belief) in God’s word.  Does this mean I can live however I want and God will still forgive and accept me?  The Apostle Paul answers this by saying, “Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?  May it never be!” (Romans 6:15)  Anyone who believes this demonstrates that they do not understand salvation.  Sin is so destructive and evil that God’s Son willingly suffered a horrible death to conquer sin.  Sin is the cause of evil in the world.  Why would anyone who accepts Him as Savior desire to return to sin?  But, sometimes we do, because of addictions or just plain stupidity.

It is important to confess our sins to God, but we do not lose that position as a child of God because we sin, as John points out:
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin and if anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 1:9, 2:1).
Notice that John uses the term “children”, not unbelievers.  It is evident that he expects children to sin on occasion, but remain in the family.  

What if I fell away from God?
Once you are saved (Acts 16:31) and becomes a child of God (John 1:12), your name is written in heaven (Luke 10:20).  It is possible to move away from the Lord by our own volition, as Jesus illustrated in Luke 15.  Intentionally leaving his father, the “son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country” (Luke 15:13).  After the son had partied hard and tried what the world had to offer (sounds like many of us), he realized he had made a big mistake by leaving his father.  Then, Jesus gave us a template to use in this situation, in which the son said, "Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son” (v. 21).  As we know from the story, the father’s response was to immediately accept the son back into the family.  He said, “this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found” (v. 24).  The son did not need to reapply for sonship, he simply needed to return to his father, admit his wrongs, and resume his former position. 

What does it mean to be a child of God?
The Bible states, “to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).  Galatians 3:26 states, “you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.”  This is not intended to exclude women, but in the first century, sons were entitled to more inheritance rights from their father because daughters were normally married into other families.  The Bible states “there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).  Once we become a child of God, we may be disciplined (Hebrews 12:7), but remain in the family.  Jesus said:
“I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of my hand.  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand” (John 10:27-29).
Once we have come into the family of God through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, we are children of God.  Now, it is up to us to believe it and live like children of God.

[Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible.]

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Is the Holy Spirit God?

Who is the Holy Spirit?  What is the holy spirit?  Is the Holy Spirit a person?  Some cults misrepresent the nature of the Holy Spirit and many people are not sure exactly what or who the Spirit of God is.  Genesis 1:2 states, “the Spirit of God was moving over the waters.”  Some have translated spirit here as “active force” indicating the spirit is an impersonal force, perhaps something like electricity or the force of gravity.  What does the Bible say about the Spirit of God? 

The Hebrew word used in the Old Testament for Spirit is ruach, from the word ruah (Strong’s 7307), used more than 340 times in the Bible.  The word means “breath, wind; by extension: spirit, mind, heart,” and is translated 227 times as spirit, 81 as wind, 27 as breath, and a few similar meanings.[1]  In the New Testament, the Greek word pneuma (Strong’s 4151) is translated 345 times as spirit.  The same word can also be translated as, “wind, breath, things which are commonly perceived as having no material substance; by extension: spirit, heart, mind”[2]

Filled with the Holy Spirit
Is the Holy Spirit a person or a force like the wind?  One Biblical example some use in an attempt to demonstrate that the Spirit is an inanimate force is Ephesians 5:18.  How can we be filled with a person as believers are instructed in Biblical passages such as Ephesians 5:18, in which we are instructed, “do not get drunk with wine…but be filled with the Spirit.”  In this verse, wine is a parallel of spirit, and wine is certainly not a person.  To further make this point, other verses in the Old and New Testaments speak of being filled with the Spirit.  In fact, in at least one instance, many people were filled with the Spirit simultaneously.  Acts 2:4 states that about 120 people in the upper room were “all filled with the Holy Spirit”.  How can that be possible if the Spirit is a personal being? 

Filled with God, filled with Christ
Other verses in the Bible speak of being filled with God Himself (Ephesians 3:19), with the word for God being theos (Strong’s 2316), the most common Greek word for God, used 1152 times in the New Testament.  Similarly, Jesus Christ is referred to as “Him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:23) and Ephesians 4:10 states that Christ “might fill all things”.  So, if God and Christ may fill believers and all things, and they are intelligent beings, then being filled with the Holy Spirit does not eliminate the possibility that the Spirit is also an intelligent being. 

Baptized with the Holy Spirit
Some people state that, since we are baptized with the Holy Spirit, He cannot be a personal being.  For example, John the Baptist stated, “I baptize you with water”.  Then, he said Jesus “will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matthew 3:11).  Since water and fire (inanimate things) are compared with the Holy Spirit, the spirit must also be an inanimate thing.  What is a response to this assertion?  First, this is non sequitur faulty reasoning:  Simply because A leads to B and A also leads to C does not necessarily indicate that B an C are of the same type.  Second, in Romans 6:3, baptism is associated with Jesus Christ (intelligent being) and death (not an intelligent being), by stating, “all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death”.  Using the same logic, we could compare “Christ Jesus” to “his death”, which would not make sense.  Furthermore, since this same verse states that we can be baptized into Christ, who is an intelligent being, then being baptized into the Holy Spirit could also mean that the Spirit is an intelligent being. 

The Holy Spirit has no name
Some reason that, if the Spirit of God is a real person, he/it would have a name.  For example, the Son has a name (Jesus) and the Father has a name (Yahweh, Elohim, etc.).  It is interesting to note that the Spirit is never given a name in the Bible.  However, God typically uses names in the Bible, for Himself and others, not so much as meaningless identifiers like a social security number, but as character traits.  For example, the name Jesus (Hebrew, Joshua and Greek, Iesous) means “Yahweh saves”.  God referred to Himself as “I am who I am” (Exodus 3:14).  In the Old Testament, the word elohim (Strong’s 0430) is translated as God 2250 times.  However, the word can mean, “mighty one, great one, judge”[3], which is not so much a name as a description or title.  There are a number of other titles for God, indicating he refers to Himself more descriptively, rather than by name.  Furthermore, other spirits mentioned in the Bible are not always referred to by name, but by description, such as evil spirits.  Some spirits are called evil without being given a name, so another spirit is called Holy, without being given a name.    

Is the Holy Spirit a force?
Some people reason that, because the Hebrew and Greek words translated as spirit can also be translated as inanimate things, such as breath or wind, so the spirit of God is also an inanimate thing.  However, the Bible clearly indicates that the Holy Spirit is a person, not a force.  The Spirit of God is described in the Bible as having attributes of personality, such as emotions, a will, and a mind.  The Bible also portrays the Holy Spirit as acting in ways that only a person would.  Some examples of these include the following:
·         The Holy Spirit can be lied to.  Peter asked Ananias, “why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit” (Acts 5:3).  It does not make sense to say someone can lie to the wind or another inanimate thing.
·         The Holy Spirit knows things, therefore has cognitive abilities associated with an intelligent mind.  Paul informs that, “the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 2:11).
·         The Holy Spirit has emotions and can be grieved.  Paul advises believers:  “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God” (Ephesians 4:30).  Only a person with emotions can be grieved.
·         The Holy Spirit acts and wills.  Inanimate things can do neither.  The Bible states, “one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills” (1 Corinthians 12:11).
·         The Holy Spirit teaches.  Jesus said, “the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you” (John 14:26).  An impersonal force does not teach.  A second point we can take from this verse is that the Holy Spirit is separate from God the Father and Jesus Christ.  Jesus speaks of the Spirit and the Father sends the Spirit. 
·         The Holy Spirit speaks and issues commands.  Acts 8:29 informs that “the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go up and join this chariot.’"
·         The Holy Spirit guides.  Romans 8:14 states, “all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.”  A person can lead another person, but an impersonal force does not lead a person. 
·         The Holy Spirit testifies.  Jesus said, “the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me” (John 14:26).  Jesus continued by saying of His disciples, “you will testify also” (John 14:27).  Only intelligent beings testify (as in a court of law) as do the disciples and the Holy Spirit.   
·         The Holy Spirit directs people.  Acts 13:4 states of Barnabas and Saul, “being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia and from there they sailed to Cyprus.”
·         The Holy Spirit helps and intercedes for believers.  Paul informs that, “the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us” (Romans 8:26).  Jesus Christ is also described in the Bible as interceding for believers (Romans 8:34 and Hebrews 7:25).

The Holy Spirit is somewhat of an enigma in the Bible.  However, the Spirit of God is clearly and unmistakably described in the Bible as an intelligent being and part of the Trinity.

[Biblical quotations are from the NASB version.]

Selected Bibliography
Geisler, Norman and Ron Rhodes, Correcting the Cults, Grand Rapids, MI:  Baker Books, 1997.
Rhodes, Ron, Reasoning from the Scriptures with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Eugene, OR:  Harvest House Publishers, 1993.

[1] James Strong, John Kohlenberger, and James Swanson, The Strongest Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan, 2001), 1565.
[2] Ibid., 1637.
[3] Ibid., 1472.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Why does God not answer some prayers?

How many people have said or thought, “I prayed for something, but God did not answer”?  This has been a stumbling block for many who have attempted to begin or grow in a relationship with God, but feel like God let them down.  Jesus said, “Whatever you ask in my name, that will I do” (John 14:13).  So, why did God not answer my prayer?  Below are some of the reasons God does not seem to answer prayers. 

We must believe and have faith in God that He will answer the prayer.  “But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord” (James 1:6-7).  Jesus said, “if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, 'Be taken up and cast into the sea,' it will happen.  And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive” (Matthew 21:21-22).

The name of Jesus
We must pray to God the Father, in the name of Jesus, as we saw in John 14:13.  However, this should not be interpreted formulaically.  Simply by saying the right words, whether they are “in the name of Jesus”, or “Hail Mary full of grace” or “abracadabra” will not automatically guarantee a positive result with God.  We must first have a relationship with Him and answered prayers are an outgrowth of that relationship.  A key principle of Biblical interpretation is that individual verses must be understood in the backdrop of the entirety of scripture.  There is more to having prayers answered than believing and speaking in Jesus’ name.

We must pray with the proper motives.  James, the brother of Jesus, stated, “You ask, and receive not, because you ask amiss, that you may consume it upon your lusts” (James 4:3).  It is important that we always seriously consider the reason we are asking.  Praying for God to make me rich, famous, or successful to feed my own ego and hedonistic tendencies would seem to fall under the purview of this verse.  Prayer for a legitimate need is certainly acceptable, as the word states, “my God will supply all your needs” (Philippians 4:19).     

Stumbling blocks to prayer
Some issues come between us and God which interfere with having prayers answered.  “If I regard wickedness in my heart, the Lord will not hear”, Psalm 66:18 states.  Isaiah similarly stated, “your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear” (Isaiah 59:2).  We are also informed that God will not converse with those who harbor sin:  “these men have set up their idols in their hearts and have put right before their faces the stumbling block of their iniquity.  Should I be consulted by them at all?” (Ezekiel 14:3)  Refusing to turn from unrepentant sin will hinder our prayers.  But, given the fact that most of us sin with disappointing consistency, how can anyone have prayers answered? 

Fortunately, John informs concerning those sins committed after salvation, “if anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1).  The writer of Hebrews addresses this also by saying, “we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.  Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:15-16).  None of us is perfect, but when we do sin, we need to repent and confess that sin to God to continue in relationship with Him.  Then, our prayers will be heard. 

Delayed answer
Sometimes God does answer the prayer affirmatively, and the answer is coming, but not immediately.  A glimpse into the spirit world was given to us when Daniel prayed to God.  An angel came to Daniel and said, “"Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them.  But the prince of the Persian kingdom (an angel of darkness) resisted me 21 days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia” (Daniel 10:12-14).  God had sent the answer to Daniel, but the response took time due to delays in the spirit realm.  In another example, God said to Abraham,"look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them" and He said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’  Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:5-6).  But, Abraham had to wait 25 years for his first son to be born.  Sometimes we need to be patient and wait for God’s timing.      

What is God’s will?
If I pray for something that is not within His will, I cannot expect to receive what I ask.  We are informed by John that, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us” (1 John 5:14).  How do we know His will?  If it’s in the Bible, then it is His will.  The Bible states that it is God’s will for all to be saved.  God does not wish for “any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9) and if someone repents, their sins will be wiped away (Acts 3:19).  So, if someone offers a prayer of repentance to God, that person can be assured according to His word, God will save him and wipe away his sins. 

But, what if my request is not in the Bible?  For example, someone may pray for God to help make a decision concerning whom to marry or what job to take.  This is where the separation is made between God’s general will (written for all persons in the Bible) and His specific will (for each of our individual lives).  In these types of cases, He promises to give us wisdom if we ask for it and do not doubt.  We are informed in James 1:5-6, “if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.  But he must ask in faith without any doubting”.  An important point here is that we should not normally look only to one scripture verse for a conclusive answer.  For example, God will give wisdom if we ask in faith, but we may receive that wisdom from others.  Proverbs 15:22 informs that, “without consultation, plans are frustrated, but with many counselors they succeed.”

Relationship with God
As we develop our relationship with God, we increase our ability to discern His will for our lives.  Jesus said, “"If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15:7).  In John 16:26-27, Jesus told His disciples, “In that day (after the resurrection) you will ask in my name. I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf.  No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.”  Do these verses apply to all people?  No, Jesus is speaking to His followers.  If we are followers of Jesus today, these words apply to us.  We can still abide in Him through His word, Spirit, and prayer.

What is God’s purpose?
Here’s a key question we must ask:  What is God’s purpose in my life?  Is it His responsibility to give me a comfortable life?  If something does not go my way, am I justified in blaming God?  Is it God’s job to sit inside the lamp and, whenever I rub it, He pops out to grant my wish?  Unfortunately, many drop out of relationship with God because of misguided expectations.  He stated through the prophet, “I am God and there is no one like me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, my purpose will be established and I will accomplish all My good pleasure” (Isaiah 46:9-10).  God did not say He would establish my purpose, but His.  It is vitally important that we align our purpose in life with His.  It may difficult for us to hear, but God does not live to serve us.  We live to serve Him.  Our primary motivation in life should always be as Paul said, “whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).  If that is our motivation in prayer – and in life – God will accomplish some great things through our prayers.

[Scripture references are from the New American Standard Bible.]

Monday, February 13, 2017

What is the ontological argument?

Ontology is the study of being and the Ontological Argument is an a priori metaphysical argument regarding the nature of God’s existence.  It is a purely rationalistic argument, not based in observation or empiricism.  This argument is first known to have been developed in writing by Anselm (1033-1109) in his ProslogiumAnselm was a Benedictine monk and Archbishop of Canterbury.  He stated regarding God, “if that being can be even conceived to be, it must exist in reality.  For that than which a greater is inconceivable cannot be conceived except as without beginning.  But whatever can be conceived to exist, and does not exist, can be conceived to exist through a beginning.  Hence what can be conceived to exist, but does not exist, is not the being than which a greater cannot be conceived.  Therefore, if such a being can be conceived to exist, necessarily it does exist”.[1] 

Another way to state Anselm’s argument is like this:  Nothing greater than God can be thought (in the mind).  If God does not exist, then something greater could be thought, because existing and being thought is greater than being thought alone.  Therefore, God must exist.  Other proponents of the Ontological Argument are Alvin Plantinga (1932- ) and Rene Descartes (1596-1650), who used a form of this in his Meditations.  Critics include Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274), David Hume (1711-1776), and Immanuel Kant (1724-1804).      

Objections to the Ontological Argument
A number of philosophers have criticized the ontological argument, one of the first being Gaunilo, a monk who was a contemporary of Anselm.  Gaunilo proposed the notion of the perfect island, which is that than which no greater island can be conceived.  If it does not exist, then it is not a greater island than that which can be conceived, because being conceived and existing is greater than being conceived without existing.  Therefore, he said, the island must exist.  One can insert almost anything in place of the island and use the same argument.  Anselm responded to Gaunilo in the Proslogium with the contention that the argument works only for God, because “God’s existence is uniquely a necessary existence”.[2]  Because God is a perfect and necessary being, it is not possible for Him to not exist.  Descartes used a similar argument to refute critics who stated that conceptual existence does not require actual existence.  Descartes, using a rationalist argument, stated that it is a logical necessity to affirm the essential nature of a concept.  For example, the essential nature of a triangle is to have three sides.  He then reasoned that it is clearly perceived that existence is the essence of a necessary existent.  Hence, God must exist.[3]  Of course, one must prove the premise here of a being that necessarily exists.  A criticism of Descartes’ argument was that he did not prove that God’s existence is not logically impossible. 

Kant’s critique
Kant probably offered the most valid critique of this argument by basically stating that it is an illogical transition to take the notion of a perfect being from the realm of thought to that of reality.  Kant reasoned that existence is not a predicate of someone or something and is not part of the essence.  It adds nothing to the essence of God if he exists.  The concept of God remains the same and no new predicate is added to the conception of God with the addition of existence.  This would merely posit or affirm the existence of God with His predicates.  The real adds nothing to the possible.  For example, God’s omnipotence is part of His essence and nothing would be added to His omnipotence if He actually existed.  In the same way, one hundred possible dollars does not increase in value if it is real:  The value of the possible is $100 and the value of the real is $100.  Whether or not it actually exists does not change the value.  So, for Anselm to say that existence increases the value of the object conceived is an invalid logical step, according to Kant.

A Necessary Being
It appears the best hope for overcoming Kant’s objections lies in the understanding of a necessary being.  If it can be demonstrated that it is necessary for there to be an uncreated creator or an unmoved mover, the argument would be validated.  However, by doing this we would have moved out of the a priori ontological reasoning to an a posteriori cosmological argument.  In other words, to assert that there must be something or someone who caused the first cause is to permit the underlying premise that there are observable causes.  This moves the argument from the purely mental and rational to the empirical and phenomenological.  Plantinga offered an argument that appears to overcome the objections of Kant and others.  It is a bit long to reproduce here, but is well-reasoned and relies on a seeming undeniable premise that something exists.  At any rate, the ontological argument appears somewhat insufficient to conclusively argue for God’s existence, whatever type of god that may be. 

So, where to go from here?
After sorting through the varieties of this argument and corresponding criticisms, what does it mean?  Many people in the 21st century think of God, with a myriad of different ideas concerning his existence and nature, but very few probably ever consider the ontological argument.  So, is it little more than mere philosophical musings?  Possibly.  The ontological argument is interesting to ponder, but likely not sufficient to convince anyone one way or the other.  There are other more convincing reasons and evidences for God’s existence which are mentioned in different sections on this website.  The most compelling by far is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, all of which are reliable historical facts. 

Selected Bibliography:
Geisler, Norman, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Grand Rapids, MI:  Baker Book House Company, 1999.
Kreeft, Peter, and Ronald Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics, Downers Grove, IL:  InterVarsity Press, 1994.

[All Biblical quotations are from the NASB version.]

[1] Anselm, Proslogium, translated by Sidney Norton Deane (Chicago, IL:  The Open Court Publishing Company, 1903), 154.
[2] Richardson, Alan, and John Bowden, editors, The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Theology (:  Westminster John Knox Press, 1983), 415.
[3] Geisler, Norman, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids, MI:  Baker Books, 1999), 556.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Does God exist? (part 2)

III. The Moral Argument

Simply put, this argument states that since there is an objective moral law, there must be a moral lawgiver.  There are valid reasons the connection can be made between the objective moral law and the lawgiver.  For example, all different human cultures throughout different time periods and even different religions have developed similar standards regarding absolutes of right and wrong.  For example, robbery, fraud, murder, and other similar offenses are considered wrong in all cultures in all time periods of human existence.  Of course, there are disagreements on some issues, but a comparison of criminal law codes across different nations today reveals significant similarity.  Burglary, assault, and bank robbery are universally considered to be criminal behaviors.  The moral argument may seem to be vulnerable to attack on the basis of a few actions that are considered to be criminal in some locations, but not others.  For example, smoking marijuana is legal in Amsterdam.  Certainly, there are variations regarding acceptable behavior, but every human being knows there are some things which are just plain wrong.  Some simple examples show the strength of the moral argument.  If I break into a man’s home, beat him, then assault his wife or daughter, that would be considered wrong in any culture at any time.  If I steal something that belongs to another person, that would be considered wrong at any time in any culture.  The considerable agreement of unacceptable actions indicates a higher standard than simple human consensus.  If there was no higher moral law than human consensus, how could anyone condemn the Nazi murder of six million Jews or slavery or racism?  Why is this so?  If morality is simply made up by each person or society, then people could decide that anything is acceptable and not feel any pangs of conscience.  But, we do have a conscience.  As Romans 2:14-15 states, “For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them.”  Because there is a higher moral law, there must be an external source for this law.  One may also add here that, because this moral law is only understood by sentient beings, there must be an intelligent source for the law.  There must exist a moral lawgiver, also known as God.

IV. The Argument from Desire

Every desire we have corresponds with something or some way that can satisfy the desire.  For example, physical desires such as hunger, thirst, and sleepiness can be met with food, drink, and sleep.  Even non-essential physical desires, such as those associated with drug use and sex, have objects that can fulfill those desires.  Non-physical desires, such as for power, love, revenge, friendship, and others, are all capable of being met.  This does not mean they will be met or that it is proper to meet them, but it is possible.  Because some desires humans have cannot be met by anything on earth, and since all desires correspond with something that can satisfy them, there must be something beyond this life.  Throughout history, humans have consistently exhibited a desire to know God and the spirit world.  Though many different ideas of God’s nature have been conceived, there is a universal desire among people to know what else is out there beyond this life and beyond this world.  People have varying levels of inquisitiveness of the supernatural, but everyone at some time wonders, “Is this life all there is?”  Because we all have a desire to know God (in some form), there must be a real God.  Because we all desire to live beyond this life, there must be another life after death, since all desires correspond with something real that can meet the desire.   

C. S. Lewis explained this argument by saying, “Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists.  A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food.  A duckling wants to swim:  well, there is such a thing as water.  Men feel sexual desire:  well, there is such a thing as sex.  If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.  If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it that does not prove that the universe is a fraud.  Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.”[1] 

Someone may offer the rebuttal that they desire to see a unicorn or a round square or travel to another galaxy.  Since these things are impossible, one could say it is not necessary that God exists or there is life after death.  In response to this, it may be stated that these types of desires are simply absurd extrapolations from things that already exist.  Besides, no one really wants to see a round square, this is merely a statement made for the sake of argument.  However, the desire to know and please God is very real, particularly if we look at the things people have done in the name of pleasing God:  building pyramids to offer human sacrifices, burning heretics at the stake, and flying airplanes into buildings.  The intent here is not to bash other religions, but to make the point that people throughout history and even today have been very serious about their desire for God and the afterlife.  We humans sometimes inappropriately seek fulfillment:  overeating, spiritual perversions, and looking for love in all the wrong places.  This does not mean the desires themselves are inherently wrong.  Desires for water, food, sex, and love are not wrong if met appropriately.  The desire to know God and life after death is valid and good.  The Bible indicates that God himself has placed this desire in us:  “He has also set eternity in their heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11).  

The real issue?
The purpose of this blog is to discover the truth about God. Many people are honestly open-minded and willing to accept the truth when you find it.  Congratulations and welcome to the site.  Others, unfortunately, use the claim that there is no god or that god is unknowable as a smokescreen for the real issue.  What is the real issue?  My unwillingness to accept the fact that, if I believe in God, I know I will need to change the way I live.  So, because I don’t want to give up (insert sin of choice), I attempt to deny the existence of God; while in my heart, I know He’s there.  The sad thing about this reasoning is that, whatever God wishes us to give up is destructive anyway and God will replace it with things that are much better.  It is incredibly illogical to hold on to my pet sin when God is offering to give me everything!  As Paul said more eloquently, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)

Selected Bibliography:
Behe, Michael, Darwin’s Black Box, New York, NY:  The Free Press, 1996.
Gonzalez, Guillermo, and Jay Richards, The Privileged Planet, Washington, DC:  Regnery Publishing, 2004.
Kreeft, Peter, and Ronald Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics, Downers Grove, IL:  InterVarsity Press, 1994.
Lewis, C. S., Mere Christianity, New York, NY:  MacMillan Publishing Company, 1943.
Rana, Fazale, and Hugh Ross, Origins of Life, Colorado Springs, CO:  NavPress, 2004.
Strobel, Lee, The Case for a Creator, Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan, 2004.

[All Biblical quotations are from the NASB version.]

[1] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York, NY:  MacMillan Publishing Company, 1943), 120.