Category Archives: Basics Of Faith

If Jesus was God Incarnate, Did God Die on the Cross?

A basic doctrinal truth held by all orthodox Christians—including Catholics and evangelicals—is that in Jesus Christ God became incarnate in human flesh (Matthew 1:16-25; John 1:14; John 20:26-29; Romans 8:3; Philippians 2:4-8; 1 Timothy 3:16; Hebrews 10:5).

Even though Scripture clearly describes the passion of Jesus Christ, many Christians are unwilling to acknowledge that the divine Son of God suffered and died for our sins. While they affirm that Jesus Christ was truly one human/divine person, they say it was only Christ’s human nature—not His divine nature—that suffered and died.

But if God was truly incarnate in Jesus Christ, how could only Jesus’ human nature suffer the agony, separation, and death described in the Gospels? If only Christ’s human nature experienced suffering, agony, spiritual and physical death, how can we speak of a true incarnation; and how can we be assured of the infinite value of His suffering and death on our behalf?

The Bible makes it clear that we could not be saved if Christ Himself hadn’t borne our sins on the cross (2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 3:13; Hebrews 9:28). In AD 325, the Council of Nicaea strongly affirmed the deity of Jesus Christ, realizing that our salvation depends upon the incarnation. If Jesus Christ were not both truly God and truly man, His death couldn’t atone for our sin. Only God would be capable of the infinite sacrifice necessary to the sins of the world. (See the ATQ articles, Is it necessary to have a clear understanding of Jesus Christ’s deity in order to be saved? and How can it be morally right for Jesus Christ to die for our sins?)

One of the most fearful truths taught in Scripture is that physical death is not the greatest evil. The greatest evil is “the second death” (Rev. 21:8). Spiritual death is the second death. It is separation from God.

What Jesus dreaded when He said “Let this cup pass from Me” (Matthew 26:39) could not have been merely death by crucifixion. Other martyrs have faced equally horrible deaths with composure. Nor could it be a premature death in Gethsemane at the hands of the devil. Our Lord said that this cup came from God—“Shall I not drink the cup which My Father has given Me?” (John 18:11). Moreover, Jesus expressly declared that He wouldn’t die until He voluntarily laid down His life. He said, “I lay down my life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again” (John 10:17-18).

Scripture makes it clear that the Son of God suffered most when He was experiencing separation from the Father. This “cup” is the agony of hell Jesus had to endure on the cross. It was the experience of God’s wrath, as in Psalm 75:8, “For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup, and the wine is red; it is fully mixed, and He pours it out; surely its dregs shall all the wicked of the earth drain and drink down.” On the cross, God made His Son “who knew no sin to be sin for us” (2 Cor. 5:21). He poured upon Jesus Christ His wrath against all sin, causing Him to endure the desolation of hell. This sense of abandonment began to sweep over Jesus in Gethsemane. On the cross, it finally caused Him to cry out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matt. 27:46). The cup that Jesus dreaded, therefore, was the abandonment by God, which makes hell, hell.

Although most classical theologians taught that Jesus Christ suffered only in His human nature, a distinguished minority, including Ignatius of Antioch, Tertullian, Martin Luther, A. H. Strong, Jurgen Moltmann, and D. A. Carson, disagree. Charles Wesley wrote:

And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Savior’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain?
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
Amazing love! How can it be
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

’Tis mystery all: th’ Immortal dies!
Who can explore His strange design?
In vain the firstborn seraph tries
To sound the depths of love divine.
’Tis mercy all! Let earth adore,
Let angel minds inquire no more.
’Tis mercy all! Let earth adore;
Let angel minds inquire no more.

He left His Father’s throne above,
So free, so infinite His grace!
Emptied Himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam’s helpless race.
’Tis mercy all, immense and free,
For O my God, it found out me!
’Tis mercy all, immense and free,
For O my God, it found out me!

Scripture itself speaks of God’s capacity to suffer (e.g., Judg. 10:16; Jer. 31:20; Hos. 11:8). Isn’t it presumptuous to assume that the Creator knows less of suffering and emotion than His creatures.

Perhaps the assumption that Jesus Christ’s divine nature couldn’t experience suffering and death is based on faulty reasoning rather than Scripture and reality. Any argument used against Jesus Christ’s divine nature experiencing death can be applied against the incarnation itself. How could the eternal God be incarnate in a time-bound, finite man? How could the eternal God set aside His omnipotence and omniscience? We don’t doubt these things, so why should we doubt that in some sense the second person of the Trinity suffered and died on the cross of Calvary?

While we raise these questions, we acknowledge the need for humility No one should assume they have an absolute answer to this question any more than they can pretend to understand the Trinity or the incarnation.

 

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If a Christian Believer is Already Saved, Why is Ongoing Repentance Necessary?

Jesus linked repentance with salvation (Matthew 4:17; Luke 13:3; 17:3).

In Acts 2:38, the term repentance includes the element of faith. Paul in Ephesus preached turning “to God in repentance” and “faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21). Repentance is an ingredient of faith. It is a change of mind that involves both a negative aspect (a turning from sin) and a positive one (a turning to God). On Mars Hill, Paul declared that God “commands all people everywhere to repent, because He has fixed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by a Man whom He has appointed; and of this He has given assurance to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31 ESV).

Even the most mature Christian harbors unconscious sin (Proverbs 20:9; Isaiah 53:6; 1 John 1:8) and will be corrected by the Holy Spirit as hidden sin is brought to the surface. When Christians come to the realization that they have been committing serious sins, there are two reasons they should repent. The first is to express the genuineness of their faith. (A person who is unwilling to renounce continuing, conscious, serious sin may not be a genuine believer.) The second reason is to maintain a close relationship with their Father in heaven.

As Judge, God declared us pardoned and accepted into His family when we put our trust in Jesus. But as God’s children, we can remain in close fellowship to Him only when we daily acknowledge our sins and ask His help in overcoming them. Jesus said that a person who has been bathed doesn’t need another bath; his only need is to have his feet washed.

Jesus . . . rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. Then He came to Simon Peter. And Peter said to Him, “Lord, are You washing my feet?” Jesus answered and said to him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this.” Peter said to Him, “You shall never wash my feet!” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.” For He knew who would betray Him; therefore He said, “You are not all clean” (John 13:3-11 NKJV).

The bath of which Jesus spoke is that once-for-all, complete cleansing received at salvation. Foot washing symbolizes the family forgiveness maintained by daily repentance and confession.

First John 1:9 declares, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (NKJV). By practicing the words of this verse, we enjoy our relationship with our heavenly Father and we grow in likeness to Him. The daily cleansing we receive through repentance and confession will also make us less vulnerable to temptation and readier to do His will.

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Do the Same Kinds of Prophets Exist Today as did in Biblical Times?

While all Christians have the ability to prophesy in the sense of speaking forth the truth, there was a group of church leaders in the apostolic church who functioned uniquely as prophets. These were apparently next to the apostles in the order of authority within the church (1 Corinthians 12:28-29 ; Ephesians 4:11). The function of the prophets was to edify, console, and exhort (Acts 15:32;1 Corinthians 14:3).

There are no prophets today in the same sense as there were under the old covenant and in the apostolic church. Before the canon of Scripture was complete, God used prophets to maintain order and teach correct doctrine. After the canon was completed, however, prophecy began to be more of a problem within the church than a help. Eventually, the office of prophet died out completely except among heretical groups such as the Montanists.

Today, however, a prophetic word can be spoken in the church in the sense that God’s Word can be proclaimed based on Scripture and the leading of the Holy Spirit. But there will be no new revelations that will supplant or contradict God’s written Word.

According to 1 Corinthians 14, there are two tests that must be passed by any supposedly prophetic statement. First, verse 29 states that after two or three speak a prophetic message, the others are to “judge” (NKJV) or “weigh carefully what is said” (NIV). In other words, the prophetic message must not disagree with the knowledge of God’s Word and of truth held by the other members of the assembly. Second, verses 37 and 38 demonstrate that just as the apostle Paul submitted his words to the examination of the Corinthians on the basis of their knowledge of the Word of God, any prophecy that is given must be judged by the standard of the truth already known to the church of Christ. In other words, no completely new truth would be revealed, but rather the prophet would expound and explain truths already accepted and recognized by God’s people.

The New Bible Dictionary summarizes the purpose of New Testament prophecy in this way:

It is in this sense that the apostle urged the church of his day, and would urge us also, to desire earnestly to prophesy: not to desire the notoriety of doctrinal innovators, but to contend earnestly for the truth once for all delivered to the saints.

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Can Someone Be Forgiven if They Commit the Same Sin Again After Confessing and Repenting it?

No one who asks God for forgiveness can be confident that they won’t commit the same sin again. In fact, our natures are so contaminated by sin that we often do. When Peter asked Jesus whether we are obligated to forgive a person who sins against us seven times (Peter’s “seven times” more than doubled the rabbinic prescription), Jesus said: “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:22 NKJV).

Jesus made it clear that God’s primary concern is not mere outward behavior, but the condition of the heart Matthew 23:25-26; Mark 7:5-9; Luke 11:42-44; Luke 11:42-44. Therefore the sincerity of the confession is what counts.

Unfortunately, we can be sincere in our repentance and confession and still fall into sin again. Because believers continue to be influenced by the “flesh”—the fallen aspect of their personalities—in this world they are incapable of perfect sincerity. At times they are more vulnerable to temptation than at other times. With the passage of time, the strong awareness of evil and the ugliness of sin that brought us to repentence often fades.

Sincere confession of sin is a heartfelt acknowledgment that our sin is wrong, that we don’t want to continue in it, and that we are ready to exert ourselves—under the guidance of the Holy Spirit—to resist it. God doesn’t expect perfection, because none of us are capable of achieving it, but He does expect sincerity.

Sin is highly addictive, and when we’re not on our guard we can easily succumb to the false sense of relief we experience when we surrender to our compulsions. We need to be aware of sin’s addictive nature. Like someone who is attempting to quit smoking or drinking, the worst thing we can do is to give up on our desire to change or believe we can never change, even though we relapse in moments of weakness.

As we experience increasing freedom from sin, we will experience an increasing awareness of evil and understand more deeply how sin carries its own penalty. Each time genuine believers relapse into sin, they will experience more conviction and a more painful awareness of sin’s destructiveness. Each time they repent and confess their sins, they will be purer, stronger, and less likely to relapse.

Of course, some sins are so serious that even sincere repentance can’t erase their earthly consequences. Sins like murder and adultery can be forgiven by God in the ultimate sense and by fellow Christians in the sense of hoping for a sinner’s restoration, but the damage such sins inflict usually cannot be undone in this life, and consequences such as imprisonment or divorce may be unavoidable.

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Will We Still be Married in Heaven?

Jesus made it clear that no one will be married in heaven: “At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven” (Matthew 22:30 NIV).

But this doesn’t mean that we won’t know each other or will cease cherishing our earthly relationship. The rich man recognized Lazarus in Abraham’s bosom, even though he was in a different place and separated by a “great gulf” (Luke 16:19-31 NKJV). The disciples recognized Moses and Elijah at the transfiguration, even though these two men had lived many centuries before (Matthew 17:1-5). Finally, we recall the striking promise made by our Lord to the repentant thief in Luke 23:43, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with Me in paradise” (NIV).

The apostle Paul said we will have more knowledge in heaven than we have now (1 Corinthians 13:12). This implies that we will know and recognize people more fully in heaven than here on earth. He also said it was “far better” to depart and to be with Christ than to remain in the body on earth (2 Corinthians 5:6-8; Philippians 1:22-23).

In all of these passages, heaven is depicted as a place of greater experience than we now know on earth and a place where we will have more knowledge and understanding. This would lead us to believe that we will recognize other members of our family, even though we will not live in family units. Instead, all believers in this age will be united in the bride of Christ and in fellowship with our Savior as the heavenly Bridegroom (Ephesians 5:22-33; Revelation 19:7,9).

Scripture leads us to believe that we will enjoy such a state of wonderful intimacy with our glorified brothers and sisters that there will no longer be a need for the exclusive relationships that protect us from loneliness and despair in a fallen world. This does not mean, of course, that we will not know and share a perfect love with those with whom we have been especially intimate in our earthly lives. However, all of the joys and ecstasy of marital and family love will be far surpassed by the joys of perfect intimacy and trust in heaven.

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Does Teaching the Doctrine of Eternal Security Encourage People to Believe They are Saved?

It’s true that some people are self-satisfied and insensitive about the sin in their lives. Such persons may misuse the doctrine of eternal security to justify a false sense of security. On the other hand, there are those who are oppressed by an overly active conscience, sincerely wondering whether sin in their lives reveals a lack of saving faith. These persons can be rightly comforted knowing that salvation depends entirely on our acceptance of what Christ has done for us, rather than on what we have done for him.

Many Bible passages underline the reality of our security as believers in Jesus Christ: John 10:28-30; Romans 8:29-39; 1 Corinthians 3:15; Ephesians 1:13; Ephesians 4:20; Jude 24.There must be a reason.

The doctrine of eternal security is taught in Scripture, but it should only comfort true Christians who are earnestly concerned with living faithfully for Jesus Christ. Professing Christians living sinfully without remorse shouldn’t assume that their profession of faith guarantees their salvation. Banking on a past “decision” can be dangerous. They need to be reminded that if their present lifestyle is out of keeping with their profession, they are either not true children of God or are living in a manner inconsistent with who they are and with what God has done for them. If they are genuinely saved and continue in sin, God will bring corrective influences into their lives (Proverbs 3:12; Hebrews 12:6; Revelation 3:19).

Professing Christians need to seriously consider the consequences of living in a manner that is inconsistent with their commitment. Even if they believe in eternal security, their continuing sin could be an indication that they never were truly converted. If they are children of God, continuing to sin will result in correction that according to the Scriptures can result in either physical death or a painful condition designed to lovingly bring them to their senses (Psalm 89:31-32; 1 Corinthians 11:29-30; Hebrews 12:5-11).

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What Does Jesus’ Life Reveal About How to Treat Unbelievers?

Jesus’ entire adult life was characterized by a deep concern for the spiritual condition of the nonbeliever. He saw them as desperately lost, and His heart was broken because of that. His compassionate purpose for their well-being was deep-rooted, and He showed this concern specifically in the way He met them where they lived, fed them, taught them, and healed them (Matthew 9:9-11; Mark 1:33-34; 6:30-42; Luke 5:1-11).

The example Jesus set for us is to build relationships with people who don’t know Him. When we meet a person who has not yet experienced God’s saving grace, we are to have the heart of Jesus and extend a helping hand at their point of need. If they are thirsty, we can give them a cup of water; if they’re hungry, we can feed them (Matthew 25:35-40).

Let’s not forget that Jesus came to our rescue when we were lost. So now, out of gratitude and love, we can find opportunities to do what we can to help others who are separated from God. Isolating ourselves from sinners misses the point of sharing the good news of Jesus, and it feeds into a self-righteous attitude.

Nonbelievers are spiritually sick (like we were), and they need saving faith in Jesus. They need His love, forgiveness, mercy, and grace. And it’s important to remember that the only difference between a believer and a nonbeliever is the condition of the heart. He who has a redeemed heart should be broken over the one who has the sin-sick heart. Matthew 9:10-13 reads,

“While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and ‘sinners’ came and ate with Him and His disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked His disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and “sinners”?’ On hearing this, Jesus said, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’   ”

We won’t be much good to the spiritually sick, however, if we ignore our own spiritual health. Just like getting enough rest, exercise, and nutritional food will help build strong physical bodies, meditating on God’s Word, praying, and listening to God will strengthen our spiritual lives. It’s equally important to make sure our closest friends are Christians who encourage us in the faith. It matters who we spend most of our time with, because friends can either make us stronger or bring us down (1 Corinthians 15:33).

I think it’s clear that we, in countless ways and opportunities, can and should reach out to non-Christian people. We can show them love by offering them a meal, a job, or friendship, and most importantly, we can introduce them to Jesus, the Savior of our souls.

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Did God Create Evil?

If we believe that God created a perfect world and He is sovereign, where did evil come from? There are some people who believe that His sovereign control includes the creation of evil, and they base their conclusion on the words of Isaiah 45:7. In that verse, God says, “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil” (KJV).

In order to understand what God was saying through the prophet Isaiah, we need to look at the words used in the text of Isaiah 45:7 . Hebrew words often have a wide variety of meanings, depending on the immediate context in which the word is used. The job of the translator is to accurately select the best modern English word that is closest to the meaning of the word used in the original Hebrew manuscripts.

The fact that ra’ is contrasted to shalom, the Hebrew word for peace, helps to give parameters to the meaning of ra’. Shalom, again, is a rich word with broad meaning. Depending on the context, shalom can be translated “peace,” “well-being,” “welfare,” “prosperity,” “safe,” “health,” and “peaceable.” in Isaiah 45:7 makes it evident that different translators interpreted the context of Isaiah 45 in different ways. Five different English translations are compared below.

I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things (KJV).

I form the light, and create darkness, I make peace, and create calamity; I, the Lord, do all these things (NKJV).

I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things (NIV).

The One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the Lord who does all these (NASB).

I form light and create darkness, I make weal and create woe, I am the Lord, who does all these things (RSV).

The Hebrew term ra’ has a broad spectrum of meanings. It can mean “wickedness,” “mischief,” “bad,” “trouble,” “hurt,” “sore,” “affliction,” “ill,” “adversity,” “harm,” “grievous,” and “sad.” Thus, as with the interpretation of any word, it is the immediate context that dictates the exact nuance of the word to be translated into English.

The fact that ra’ is contrasted to shalom, the Hebrew word for peace, helps to give parameters to the meaning of ra’. Shalom, again, is a rich word with broad meaning. Depending on the context, shalom can be translated “peace,” “well-being,” “welfare,” “prosperity,” “safe,” “health,” and “peaceable.”

The context of Isaiah 45:7 is a profound declaration of God’s total sovereignty over the affairs of men. God’s stunning revelation that Cyrus, the totalitarian ruler of Persia, was being chosen by Him to be “His anointed” ( Isaiah 45:1 ), the deliverer of the nation of Israel, was shocking to Isaiah’s readers. This is especially true given God’s clear denunciation of idolatry in the immediately preceding context ( Isaiah 44:6-23 ). The irony of this passage is that God reveals how He intends to use a pagan, idol-worshiping dictator like Cyrus to return His people Israel to the land from which they had been deposed by the Babylonian despot, Nebuchadnezzar.

In summing up the gamut of His awesome character and unpredictable ways (see also Isaiah 55:8-9 ), God declares:

I am the Lord, and there is no other; apart from Me there is no God. I will strengthen you, though you have not acknowledged Me, so that from the rising of the sun to the place of its setting men may know there is none besides Me. I am the Lord, and there is no other. I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things (Isaiah 45:5-7 NIV).

This is the signature exclamation of the only sovereign potentate of the universe: “I did this!” From the beginning to the end, from light to darkness, from prosperity to disaster, all are the work of His hands. God uses even the most wicked and evil exploits of this world to bring about His glory and divine purposes. That is what is so awesome about God. Only He can take the most wicked, evil, and self-serving intentions and make good come out of them (see also Romans 8:28 ).

Does God create evil? Certainly not. If He was the author of evil, then He certainly would not be a good God that is worthy of worship and praise, much less trusted to have our well-being in mind. The idea of a good God creating His own enemy and the object of His wrath seems inconceivable. It would be inconsistent for a good God to mastermind the idea of evil, will it into existence, and still be considered a good God.

Rather, God created man in His image with the freedom to choose. With this freedom came the opportunity to rebel against Him. Man did rebel ( Genesis 3 ), and the rest is history. The annals of human history chronicle how God uses everything — even the chaos of this world — to bring about His glory and purposes. Those purposes include our growth in becoming more Christlike.

What’s the point of Isaiah 45:7? God reveals His almighty and awesome character to us so we can relax with the confidence that comes from knowing, even in the most dark, desperate, and discouraging times in our lives, God is up to something good for us all the time.

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