Category Archives: Basics Of Faith

Do those who reject the gospel understand what they are rejecting?

Rejection of the gospel isn’t necessarily conscious rejection of Christ. Some people reject the gospel because they misunderstand it or because it has been misrepresented to them. This is partly why Jesus, Paul, Peter, and other biblical authors warned so strongly against hypocrisy and causing a truth-seeker to despair (Matthew 18:6; 1 Corinthians 8:9).

But if you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to have a large millstone tied around your neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea. (Matthew 18:6)

But you must be careful so that your freedom does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble. (1 Corinthians 8:9)

Scripture implies that rejection of the good news of Jesus Christ is often the result of ignorance and misunderstanding rather than conscious evil intent. Jesus doesn’t refer to unbelievers as “snakes,” “dogs,” “jackals,” or “scorpions,” but as “sheep” (Matthew 9:36; Luke 15:4; Isaiah 53:6; 1 Peter 2:25). We can assume that the image of “sheep” (known for harmlessness and herd instinct) was chosen for a reason. Scripture also refers to unbelievers as “ignorant” and “wayward people” (Hebrews 5:1–2), “poor,” “oppressed,” “blind,” and “captives” (Isaiah 61:1; Luke 4:18).

Even when the gospel hasn’t been misrepresented, a world marked by disease, competition, and violence makes the gospel sound improbable to many people (1 Corinthians 1:18–25). Harsh life experiences make us wonder how a loving God can be in charge. Even Hebrew believers who lived in the time before God “made all of this plain to us by the appearing of Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 1:10), had an ambivalent view. They believed their departed loved ones were at peace with God in some sense, but considered them unable to join in the joyous worship of the Lord’s people in the same way as when they were living (Psalm 88:10; 115:17; Isaiah 38:18; Ecclesiastes 9:3–6).

Jesus knew the obstacles to faith and understood His role in revealing God’s love to us. We should pattern our response to the lost on His compassion.

Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. (1 Timothy 1:13 NIV).

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Can anyone prove that Jesus rose from the dead?

There is a big difference between presenting historical evidence for an event and actually proving it. Unlike the components of scientific experiments, historical events are so complicated that they can never be reproduced. So unless someone invents a time machine that allows us to travel back in the past to observe things as they were actually occurring, we will never be able to “prove” exactly what occurred in the past.

On the other hand, although absolute proof is impossible, historical evidence is often strong enough for a high degree of certainty.[1] But even a compelling level of probability requires faith. This is a key point in respect to historical evidence for such an unusual event as Jesus’s resurrection. The resurrection of a dead man is so far removed from the shared experience of most people that historical evidence—even extremely strong evidence—is not the same as scientific proof. To act as though evidence is “proof” will only alienate genuine truth-seekers. Yet, because of the tremendous amount of evidence for Jesus’s resurrection, belief is also far from a blind leap of faith.[2]

Followers of Jesus should remain mindful of the role our basic assumptions play in what we believe about Jesus’s resurrection. If we believe that a personal God purposely created the universe and revealed himself in history, we will be strongly inclined to believe Jesus’s resurrection actually occurred. By contrast, someone with an atheistic assumption that the world is governed entirely by chance and time will be more likely to disbelieve the resurrection account of Jesus.

This is why faith in Jesus’s resurrection is based as much in the heart as in the mind; as much in confidence in the meaningfulness of existence as in the quality of historical evidence (Hebrews 11:1–6). Someone must believe in the possibility of a supernatural Creator and a meaningful universe to follow the historical evidence for Jesus’s resurrection to its logical conclusions. (John 14:1; Psalm 43:5).[3]

[1] For example, few historians question that Julius Caesar wrote an account of his military campaigns in Gaul and Britain (The Gallic Wars) and was assassinated on March 15, 44 bc. Similarly, few historians question that Jesus was a Galilean Jew who established a reputation as a prophet, teacher, and healer, and died by crucifixion in his early to mid-30s by the order of Roman prefect Pontius Pilate.

[2] Thousands of books and articles have been written offering detailed evidence that Jesus’s resurrection really did occur. The Resurrection of the Son of God by N. T. Wright is one of the best. (See article, Did Jesus rise from the dead?)

[3] God’s personal nature is analogous to human personality only in a limited sense. Because the Lord is infinite, the qualities of his personality as far transcend ours as his knowledge transcends our knowledge. C. S. Lewis used the term “suprapersonal” in reference to God’s personal nature.

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Did Jesus rise from the dead?

Every question deserves consideration. But some questions are foundational to all the rest.

The resurrection of Jesus is one of these foundational questions. Did he really rise from the dead? The answer has huge implications for the way we set our goals or find meaning in life. The apostle Paul wrote:

“(I)f Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15:17–19 ESV)

Documents written during the lifetime of witnesses to his resurrection described the events that preceded and followed it. Jewish law required Jesus’s body to be properly buried. His enemies took precautions to assure it wouldn’t be stolen (Matthew 27:62–66). Yet according to detailed accounts in the Gospels, Jesus’s tomb was empty on Sunday morning. Had Jesus’s enemies been able, they would have produced his body to refute claims of his resurrection.

It is remarkable that women were the first to visit the tomb, a fact that wouldn’t have been mentioned if the account were “invented.”[1] The next witnesses were disciples who had abandoned Jesus when he was arrested. Then there are fascinating details, like the description of his body wrappings in the grave.[2]

On the morning of Jesus’s resurrection and during the following days and weeks many witnesses reported personal encounters with him (Luke 24; John 20–21). In fact, 55 days later, Peter proclaimed Jesus’s resurrection to thousands of Jewish pilgrims in the vicinity of the Temple. In letters written just 20 to 25 years later, Paul affirmed the Gospel accounts, noting that Jesus appeared to his brother James, to all the rest of the apostles (1 Corinthians 15:3–8), and to an assembled group of over 500 men and women. Many of those witnesses were still alive when Paul made his claim.

Testimony like this seems impossible to explain if Jesus’s resurrection didn’t occur. Why were friends who had abandoned him and hid from the authorities when he was arrested suddenly willing to risk their lives by testifying that he was still alive? No matter how absurd their claims seemed, early Christians were ready to confirm their faith in Jesus’s death and resurrection in the face of persecution and death (1 Corinthians 1:20–25).[3]

False messiahs preceded and followed Jesus’ life and ministry. Their credibility ended with their deaths. There is no historical precedent or parallel for such faith in the resurrection of a man who had died.

[1] At the time the Gospels were written, there was a strong prejudice against women as witnesses. They were viewed as too emotional and irrational to be reliable. This prejudice was so strong that women were generally not admissible as witnesses in Jewish courts.

[2] The folded head cloth in John 20:7 is itself an amazing piece of evidence, as described by William Barclay: “For the moment Peter was only amazed at the empty tomb; but then things began to happen in John’s mind. If someone had removed Jesus’ body, if tomb-robbers had been at work, why should they leave the grave clothes? And then something else struck John—the grave clothes were not disheveled and disarranged; they were lying there still in their folds—that is what the Greek means—the clothes for the body where the body had been; the napkin where the head had lain. The whole point of the description is that the grave clothes did not look as if they had been put off or taken off; they were lying there in their regular folds as if the body of Jesus had simply evaporated out of them and left them lying. The sight suddenly penetrated to John’s mind; he realized that had happened—and he believed. It was not what John read in scripture which convinced him that Jesus had risen; it was what with his own eyes he saw.” (The Gospel of John, Vol. 2)


[3] One of the many New Testament scholars who have been convinced by the historical evidence for Jesus’s resurrection, N. T. Wright, wrote a book that describes, among other things, the serious problems that arise when one tries to explain early Christian faith on the basis of visions and hallucinations. This is his summary of the evidence: “Historical argument alone cannot force anyone to believe that Jesus was raised from the dead; but historical argument is remarkably good at clearing away the undergrowth behind which skepticisms of various sorts have been hiding. The proposal that Jesus was bodily raised from the dead possesses unrivalled power to explain the historical data at the heart of early Christianity.” (The Resurrection of the Son of God, p. 718)


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Do those who reject Jesus really understand what they are rejecting?

Let’s face it. Jesus has been badly misrepresented by both friends and enemies. In the centuries following his ministry, his enemies described him as a sorcerer and false prophet. His followers, on the other hand, misapplied his teachings in ways that would have been deeply offensive to him. It really isn’t surprising that when people reject Jesus today, they are usually rejecting a misrepresentation of him.

Even those of us who follow Jesus have moments of doubt. There are times when we are so oppressed by the suffering, injustice, and chaos we see in the world around us that it is hard to believe his description of God as a loving “heavenly Father” is really true.

Jesus himself understood the difficulty of faith. In Matthew 8 he was surprised at the faith of a Roman centurion and noted that he hadn’t yet met even one of his fellow Jews who had such faith. He was painfully aware of the superficiality of the faith of his closest disciples and friends and wasn’t surprised when they all abandoned him at the time of his arrest (Matthew 26:56). Even after Jesus had met with a number of his disciples after his resurrection, Thomas refused to believe Jesus was alive until he saw him for himself. Jesus said, “You have believed because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me” (John 20:29).

In his teaching, Jesus made it clear that most unbelievers are not his enemies. He described them with the metaphor of “sheep” (Matthew 9:36; Luke 15:4). His listeners were familiar with the harmlessness, helplessness, and herd instinct of sheep. Scripture also refers to unbelievers as “ignorant” and “wayward people” (Hebrews 5:1–2), “poor,” “oppressed,” “blind,” and “captives” (Isaiah 61:1; Luke 4:18). Jesus used much harsher terminology (“serpents”; “whitewashed tombs”) to describe the self-righteous religious hypocrites who genuinely hated him and rejected the Truth he represented (Matthew 23). But even some within this group of hardcore enemies, like the apostle Paul, rejected him out of ignorance (1 Timothy 1:13).

So it’s pretty clear that we sometimes find it hard to believe in Jesus, even if deep down we really want to. It’s a good thing he is who he is because he loves us. He understands our struggle for faith.

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Are some sins more wrong than others?

Many of us have a tendency to judge certain sins as worse than others. We say, “I have my struggles, but at least I don’t struggle with that.”

Surely some attitudes and behaviors carry the potential for greater, far-reaching consequences than others. But that does not make one set of sins worse than another. The New Testament calls us to take all sin seriously:

Yes indeed, it is good when you obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you favor some people over others, you are committing a sin. You are guilty of breaking the law. (James 2:8–9 nlt)

James, the author of these words, does not seem to be setting up a hierarchy of sins. He wrote to people who were guilty of such things as favoring the rich over the poor,[1] and he is confronting the self-righteous attitudes of those who don’t feel they have sinned enough to need God’s grace. He told his readers that this kind of thinking is not only prideful but also self-deceiving. Everyone sins and needs God’s grace.

The mercy of God is not just for those who commit obvious and heinous kinds of sin. A person who doesn’t murder or commit adultery but shows partiality to the rich while ignoring the poor is a lawbreaker, too.

Sin is a struggle for all of us. And none of us have reason to feel superior to those who sin in ways we don’t. Most of all, let us never forget that our gracious God longs to extend His hand of mercy to all.

[1] James 2:1-4

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