Category Archives: Basics Of Faith

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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Are doubts a sign of a weak faith?

I’m a believer—a Christian. I’m a “lifer” and an insider. I was born into a Christian home. I have Christian parents. I’ve gone to church all my life.

I’m also a doubter.

Over the years I’ve had many troubling questions: How do I know God exists? Can I be sure Christianity is right? How can there be an all-loving and all-powerful God when there is so much evil in the world? Can I really trust that the Bible is true?

For most of my life I’ve walked in a place of doubt-plagued faith. And while I’ve never stopped believing, I have stopped pretending that I have all the answers. I’ve come to believe that not all doubt is an enemy of faith. Sincere doubts can be an indispensable part of each person’s faith journey.

If we never doubt, we never question. If we never question, we never change. And if we never change, we never grow.

Just before I graduated from seminary, I had a conversation with my 80-year-old grandfather that changed how I think about doubt.

Poppaw had called to congratulate me on my upcoming graduation. He asked about the kids. I asked if he had been fishing. He talked about getting the old boat in the river. And then the conversation took an unexpected turn.

“Son [my grandfather called me son], I need to ask you a question.” He paused. “Can I trust the Bible? I mean, does the Bible I read in English say the same thing as the original Bible says?”

Up until this point I thought my doubts were a sign that my faith was weak. Frankly, that was part of my reason for going to seminary in the first place. I thought if I could just accumulate enough information, then all my doubts would be crushed under the weight of overwhelming information. But at the end of his faith journey here was Poppaw—one of the most faithful Christ-followers I have ever known—struggling to believe despite his doubt.

That day I began to wonder if I had misdiagnosed the problem. Maybe my doubts weren’t the problem. Maybe they were part of the solution.

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Does the Bible say that the gift of speaking in tongues will cease?

Yes. The Bible says that the spiritual gift of tongues (or languages) will cease. What is not so clear from the Scriptures is when this particular gift did or will stop.

Many Christians believe that this gift was given to authenticate the gospel and that the gift of tongues stopped after the apostles’ death and the completion of the New Testament documents. People who hold this belief are called cessationists because they teach that the miraculous gifts including tongues have ceased. On the other side of the debate are the continuationists who believe that the miraculous gifts have continued and are at least theoretically possible today.

The passage each side struggles with is 1 Corinthians 13:8.

Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages [in tongues] and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever! Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! But when the time of perfection comes, these partial things will become useless.[1]

The primary question interpreters fight to answer is what the “perfect time” is that Paul is talking about. While the vast majority of pastors and theologians agree that the gift of tongues will pass away “when the time of perfection comes,” they don’t always agree on what inaugurates this time of perfection.

Those who believe that miraculous gifts stopped in the first century generally argue that the time of perfection began when the New Testament documents were completed. When the canon was closed, there was no longer any need for the miraculous gift of tongues.

On the other hand, those who believe that the miraculous gifts continued after the first century generally understand the time of perfection as Christ’s second coming. They teach that when Christ finally and fully reigns as king of the new heaven and new earth, all need for spiritual gifts like tongues, prophecy, and special knowledge will pass away. But until that time, God the Holy Spirit will use the gift of tongues as He sees fit.

[1] Tyndale House Publishers. (2007). Holy Bible: New Living Translation (3rd ed.) (1 Co 13:8–10). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.

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What does the Bible say about speaking in tongues?

The Scriptures only mention the miraculous gift of tongues-speaking in a handful of places — six, to be exact. But from these six passages, three in the book of Acts and three in the book of 1 Corinthians, it seems clear that tongues-speaking was a regular and important practice in the life of the early church.

In the first century, speaking in tongues often accompanied the initial giving of the Holy Spirit to a particular people group. We see this in Acts 2, where people from all over the world had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover feast. This diverse and multilingual group was amazed when the apostles, all uneducated men from Galilee, began preaching the good news of Jesus. Instead of hearing the message in Aramaic (the common trade language of the day), each listener heard the gospel in their native language. The gift of tongues is also seen as confirmation that the Gentile (non-Jewish) believers in Caesarea[1] and the disciples of John the baptizer in Ephesus[2] had received the Holy Spirit.

In addition to these descriptive passages in Acts, we also know that the church in Corinth practiced speaking in tongues well into the last half of the first century.[3]

The passages in Acts are descriptive. They tell us what happened. The passages in 1 Corinthians are prescriptive — telling us how the gift should be practiced.

Here are just a few of the instructions the apostle Paul gives to the church at Corinth about the gift of tongues and its use:

  • The gift of tongues is one gift among many and not everyone will receive it.[4]
  • If the gift of tongues, or any other spiritual gift, is practiced apart from love it is worthless.[5]
  • It, along with the gifts of prophecy and knowledge, will eventually pass away.[6]
  • Possessing the gift of tongues should be a cause for humility, not pride.[7]
  • It should not be forbidden, but practiced in a way that draws the hearers toward Christ.[8]
  • There must be an interpreter present if the gift is used publicly; if not, then the speaker should remain quiet and speak to themselves and God.[9]
  • It must be practiced in an orderly and decent manner.[10]

Many things are unclear regarding the spiritual gift of tongues, and there is a great deal of disagreement among Christians regarding it as a legitimate practice for our day. But what seems abundantly clear from the Scriptures is that when God gave this good gift on the day of Pentecost, he gave it for a good purpose—to expand the gospel. It demonstrated his power to restore what was confused at Babel[11] and foreshadow the final restoration of all things.

After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. And they were shouting with a great roar, “Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne and from the Lamb!”[12] (emphasis added)

[1] Acts 10:46

[2] Acts 19:1–6

[3] 1 Corinthians 12:1–14:40

[4] 1 Corinthians 12:10, 28 & 30

[5] 1 Corinthians 13:1 & 8; 14:1

[6] 1 Corinthians 13:8

[7] 1 Corinthians 14:1–5

[8] 1 Corinthians 14:6–25 & 39

[9] 1 Corinthians 14:26–28

[10] 1 Corinthians 14:40

[11] Genesis 11:1–9

[12] Revelation 7:9–10

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Was Jesus’ body buried?

In recent years, a few New Testament scholars[1] have suggested that after Jesus was crucified his body may not have been buried as described in the Gospels. They conjecture that his body was likely buried in an unmarked grave or simply thrown on the ground to be devoured by scavengers. While it is true that the bodies of some crucified people were thrown into mass graves, the evidence surrounding Jesus’ death does not support the speculation that his body would have been discarded in this manner. Along with the testimony of first-hand witnesses preserved in the Gospel accounts, there are many other significant reasons to assume Jesus’ body would have been buried.

After Jesus was crucified, Jewish leaders were bound by their own customs and religious law to provide a proper burial for him. Regardless of their personal hostility towards Jesus, they couldn’t ignore issues of ritual purity without damaging their own credibility and authority as guardians and defenders of Jewish tradition. Josephus, the most important Jewish historian of the period, wrote: “The Jews are so careful about funeral rites that even malefactors (criminals) who have been sentenced to crucifixion are taken down and buried before sunset.”[2] The Temple Scroll from that time period discovered at Qumran[3] specifically calls for the burial of crucified Jews.

John 19:31-34 confirms these ritual purity concerns by noting that the Jews asked the Romans to facilitate the deaths of the crucified so that they wouldn’t be hanging on the cross on the Sabbath.[4]All four Gospels confirm that Joseph of Arimathea took custody of Jesus’ body and provided an honorable burial.[5]

Pilate had already experienced sufficient conflict with the Jews and would have been hesitant to unnecessarily offend them. The heightened nationalism and explosive political climate of early first century Palestine would have made it extremely unlikely that any Roman governor would violate Jewish sensitivities by leaving the body of a crucified Jew on a cross on the eve of the Passover. The same concern with Jewish opinion that made Pilate willing to execute Jesus in spite of personal reservations,[6] would have made him unlikely to leave Jesus’ body on the cross on a holy day at the symbolic center of Jewish society.

[1] Two well-known scholars are Jesus Seminar member and former Catholic priest John Dominic Crossan and University of North Carolina professor and author Dr. Bart Ehrman.

[2] Also see Against Apion 2.211

[3] The region in southern Israel where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found.

[4] Archaeological evidence confirms the precedent of crucified Jews receiving proper burial: “We actually possess archaeological evidence from the time of Jesus that confirms the claims we find in Phil, Josephus, the New Testament, and early rabbinic literature, to the effect that executed persons, including victims of crucifixion, were probably buried.

“The discovery in 1968 of an ossuary (ossuary no. 4 in Tomb1, at Giv’at ha-mMivtar) of a Jewish man named Yehohanan, who had obviously been crucified, provides archeological evidence and insight into how Jesus himself may have been crucified. The ossuary and its contents date to the late 20s CE, that is during the administration of Pilate, the very Roman governor who condemned Jesus to the cross. The remains of an iron spike (11.5 cm in length) are plainly seen still encrusted in the right heel bone. Those who took down the body of Yehohanan apparently were unable to remove the spike, with the result that a piece of wood (from an oak tree) remained affixed to the spike. Later, the skeletal remains of the body—spike, fragment of wood, and all—were placed in the ossuary.” (p. 54, How God Became Jesus)

[5] Matthew 27:57; Mark 15:43; Luke 23:51; John 19:38

[6] Matthew 27:11-26

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