Issues That Make Christians Squirm
ISSUES THAT MAKE CHRISTIANS SQUIRM!
By Grantley Morris
This entire text is copyright, 1996. It is not to be sold and it may not be copied in whole or in part without citing the author's name and the following internet addresses: http://net.simplenet.com/hot/ A full version is also available in simplified English at http://net.simplenet.com/hot/wwe.htm
Australian spelling is used. If you wish to change this to the spelling of your own nation, run this through an appropriate spell checker.
OVERVIEW: Topics touched include money, ecology, war, racism, sexism, homophobia, pain and suffering, science, genetics, politics, atheism, hypocrisy, escapism, Hinduism, Hare Krishnas, vegetarianism, near‑death experiences (NDEs) and hell. The focus, however, is on facts, arguments and scandals that give Bible believers nightmares.
1 If there really were a God of love, the innocent wouldn't suffer
2 There is no God
3 Who made God?
4 God, if he existed, would be impersonal
5 I hate God
6 If God made us, our moral failings are God's fault
7 What's in it for me?
8 Science has crippled Christianity
9 Pleasant near‑death experiences of non‑Christians disprove Christianity
10 A God of love wouldn't send me to hell
11 I don't need God
12 Christianity is a crutch
13 The church is full of hypocrites
14 Christian superstars are after money
15 I'm answerable to no one
16 Christians support environmental vandalism
17 Christians are bigoted, racist, sexist and homophobic
18 Religion has sparked wars and exploitation
19 Christians have a low and negative view of humanity
20 It doesn't matter what you believe as long as you're sincere
21 There are so many religions: how could anyone know which is right?
22 Even Hare Krishnas are more Christian than Christians!
23 The Bible contradicts itself
24 Christianity is on the decline
25 Christianity is out of date
26 To become a genuine Christian is almost impossible
27 I'm not convinced
28 I'll think about it
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
I enrolled at university for the specific purpose of examining areas of contention concerning Christianity, with an emphasis upon philosophy, psychology, history, and evolution. My Bachelor of Arts Honours Psychology research project compared Christians with non‑Christians.
After graduation I went to Asia, where I interviewed a Filipino faith healer and spent a year engaged in almost non‑stop religious discussions. Upon returning, I embarked on further studies on this widely misunderstood subject.
Even before publishing on the net, my writings were read in English in 156 countries and translated into more languages than I could keep track of.
When not writing or surfing the net, my favourite pastime is hiking in the Australian bush, creeping up to shy emus, kangaroos, koalas, echidnas, etc. (while trying to side‑step snakes).
I'd like to say I'm single, good looking and rich, but only one of the three is true!
Another web site by the same author: http://net.simplenet.com/dove/
1. IF THERE REALLY WERE A GOD OF LOVE, THE INNOCENT WOULDN'T SUFFER
Brilliant minds have reached this conclusion. It's a time‑bomb set to explode in Christians' faces the moment they encounter personal tragedy.
To confront those who believe in a loving God we should first understand them. Let's reduce their assertions to a few words.
Incredibly, Christians claim that only one innocent ever suffered! Few of us can face reality, they assert, unless Jesus cleanses our our deeply suppressed but dirty conscience. They argue that only after that spiritual miracle dare we relax our frantic attempts to conceal and excuse and push from our minds the extent of our depravity. They say it is a devastating experience to have one's supposed goodness exposed by God's blinding purity. With every shred of pride within them shrieking in protest, Christians feel driven to a crushing conclusion: the moral gap between them and a serial killer is invisible, compared to the terrifying expanse separating even their best efforts from the infallible holiness of God. They even argue that there is a sense in which babies are morally corrupt! (See appendix at the end of this paper)
No clever argument, however, and no supposed spiritual experience can hide one unavoidable fact: a holy God would yearn to wipe out every cause of pain. And if he eradicated everyone who has ever caused pain by selfishness, cheating, lying, gossiping or hurtful remarks, who would be left?
'Suffering is God's fault!' we sneer, conveniently forgetting times our anger, greed and lies hurt others. Naturally, there is a degree of hurt we deem excusable, and for some suspicious reason the hurt we have inflicted happens to fall within the standard we arbitrarily set. It is like failing an exam and then moving the passmark to make our score look good. A holy God could not be partner to such hypocrisy. To wipe out some people who cause suffering and spare you and me would make God guilty of gross injustice. We have each added to humanity's shame. If there is a God of love, the people he loves and longs to place in an pain‑free world are the very ones who cause humanity's suffering.
We will soon move on, but this question of innocence is central to the question of suffering. We are so far from being innocent that we owe our very existence to sin. If, for example, we traced our family tree far enough, we would probably each find an ancestor born as a result of sin ‑ rape, unlawful incest, a despised pregnancy, and the like.
Then, having consigned everyone to the sin bin, believers back flip, seizing the pretentious assertions of a man renowned for humility. Christ claimed an existence independent of human ancestry. (John 8:56‑59; 17:5) If true, and if he subsequently lived a perfect life, he alone could be innocent in every conceivable sense. And we know this man suffered.
He appeared as the uniquely perfect human who preached impossibly high standards, claimed they were God's requirements and actually lived them. Turning the cheek, loving his enemies, just as he had preached, he yielded to abuse and torture, somehow absorbing within his mangled body the horrific consequences of all humanity's sin.
Humanity can boast one perfect Person. (See appendix at the end of this paper.) We killed him. Yet our only Innocent gladly suffered the injustice to free the guilty from suffering eternal justice. In this cataclysmic exchange, the Innocent and the guilty traded places, making it spiritually legal for his suffering to end your suffering. As incredible as it seems, this has ushered us to the brink of a new world where the longing deep within us will be met ‑ deceit, abuse, and hurtful actions will be swallowed by goodness; misery will dissolve in endless joy.
But temporary earthly pain continues for a wonderful reason. A paradise of harmony, trust, openness and love would quickly spoil if just one of its citizens acted remotely like we presently behave. To enter a perfect world without shattering its perfection, would require a personality transformation more radical than ever seen on earth. Through Jesus' intervention, God can perfrom this miracle and make us fit for such a world, but he won't abuse us by forcing a personality change upon us against our will. We must be willing to let God take our pet sins from us and, in his unlimited wisdom and love, rule every part of our lives.
Humanity quivers on the brink of extinction, mesmerised by sin like serpent's prey. Each moment that God suppresses his explosive urge to extinguish evil, is a moment in which billions of us have yet another chance to come to our senses and let Jesus deliver us from our infatuation with sin. But the end of this period of grace is hurtling toward us. Soon all suffering will cease. All wrongdoing will be destroyed, along with everyone still caught in its deadly embrace.
2. THERE IS NO GOD
To see the logic of leaving God out of the equation, consider this:
Frog + Princess's kiss = Handsome Prince (fairy tale)
Frog + Chance + Millions of years = Handsome Prince (science)
By definition, no one knows what lies outside their tiny circle of knowledge. To claim you know there is no God is to claim you have exhaustively searched every part of every universe and dimension with an infallibly accurate method of detecting every non‑physical entity that could possibly exist. The claim that God has taken the initiative and chosen to reveal himself to some people is not nearly as unbelievable.
Don't be like a blind person trying to convince himself that because he has never seen, everyone else claiming to see must be mistaken. In the realm beyond your present experience amazing things could dwell ‑ even a God poised to shatter your insensibility to him.
Are you ready for the most daring adventure? Try saying this:
God, I would like you to show me if you exist. If you are God, you are so superior to me that I cannot put demands on you. Anything you choose to show me must be on your terms ‑ your time and your method. I can understand you not showing yourself to people who have little desire to know you. I will demonstrate my genuineness by at least reading the material presented here, looking for clues that might help open me to your revelation. And why should you bother revealing yourself to someone who would continue to ignore you anyway? If you show me there is a God who made me and wants the best for me, I will give you your rightful place as God of my life by obeying and trusting your love and wisdom.
That prayer opens the most exciting possibilities in the cosmos.
3. WHO MADE GOD?
Everyone is forced to conclude that there has always been something in existence, whether it be gas, God or a full‑blown universe. Every physical thing we have ever observed tends to degenerate. There is even a scientific law ‑ the second law of thermodynamics ‑ that states this. So whatever has always existed must be radically different from anything we have ever seen ‑ like God, for instance.
4. GOD, IF HE EXISTED, WOULD BE IMPERSONAL
On the pretext of having a high view of God, people sometimes end up portraying God as sub‑human ‑ an impersonal force more akin to a machine or gravity than the Creator of us all. The secret attraction of this presumption is that it is easier to ignore a nebulous force than a God who thinks and feels and judges. If we can feel and love, our Maker can do all that ‑ and more. If to some of us God seems impersonal, it suggests not the shallowness of God's nature but the shallowness of our relationship with him. God is warm. His standards are granite. His heart is soft.
5. I HATE GOD
You might have every reason to hate the person you think God to be, but is that 'God' real? Your anger feels justified. We can understand infinite wisdom, however, no more than a babe understands its mother. What if your resentment towards God is like that of a desperately sick child who bites his doctor, imagining the caring doctor to be the cause of his torment, rather than his only hope of recovery? What a tragedy if you let the simple fact that you don't have infinite IQ rob you of your greatest source of comfort.
No one in a lifetime has been so spurned, so misunderstood, so much hated without cause as God is every moment of every day by millions of people, each of whom he loves more than we could conceive. No one is touched as deeply by humanity's anguish as its Creator. No one is as aware of suffering humanity as God is, and no one loves with the intensity that God loves. And your pain intensifies his pain. God weeps.
Even when the cause seems beyond human influence, all heartache can be traced not to God's will, but to rebellion against God's will. Many things are murky or unknown to us ‑ the view from eternity, the non‑physical realm, the intricate chain reaction set off from person to person and generation to generation whenever anything happens. Relative to the all‑knowing Lord, we are as short‑sighted as King Midas, who wanted everything he touched to turn to gold. We have no idea of the full consequences of our wishes coming true.
We vainly pit our puny intellect against the Infinite Mind, using brain cells he gave us to try to out‑think him. If God's ways don't always make sense to us it merely confirms that our combined brainpower couldn't light a single galaxy. And too often we confuse a good life with a soft life. Too often virtue slips in our priorities. Of necessity, God's love must be like that of a wise parent, focusing on long‑term good, even at the price of tearing his own heart by infuriating the tiny minds of people he loves. His goal is the highest good for all humanity, not some short‑term gain that fizzles or ends up robbing others.
Although we can gain a little insight into God's wisdom, were all our attempts to fail utterly, we have the security of knowing that our sorrow plunges a knife into the heart of the all‑powerful Lord. That's the ultimate proof that secreted within the stupendous intellect of Almighty God is an ingenious, love‑filled reason for allowing it.
6. IF GOD MADE US, OUR MORAL FAILINGS ARE GOD'S FAULT
In other words, if we disobey God, it's God's fault.
If you object to God giving you the right to grieve him, then reject that right. Ask God to control you as a master controls a slave. Then let Jesus wipe clean your slate and spiritually remake you. Everyone will benefit.
NO LOVING GOD WOULD LET A BYSTANDER BE MAIMED BY A DRUNK DRIVER
What alternative can you suggest? If God enslaved the human will, squelching wrongdoing by forcibly preventing us from indulging in our favourite sins, we'd be the first to shake our fists at him.
It would be the height of hypocrisy to dare criticise God for not always interfering when tragedy looms. Time after time we have each proved by our actions that we don't want his love and wisdom cramping our style.
A God of love wants the whole world to operate in love, but could you force someone to love you? An involuntary act can have no moral value. It's slavery. Where would the virtue be in any action if it were impossible not to be virtuous? All of life would become meaningless.
We say there is no hell and set new records in suicide rates. We call Christian morality old‑fashioned and suddenly it's old‑fashioned not to know the latest AIDS statistics. We fill our hospitals with bodies ravaged by promiscuity and substance abuse. Try calculating even the dollar cost of divorce, fraud, laziness, irresponsible driving, theft, vandalism, prisons, judicial system, and police. One wonders how our economy has survived this long. Incalculable misery is inevitable whenever God's laws are regarded as oppressive restrictions rather than loving expressions of divine wisdom.
We spurn God's laws, hurt each other, and then have the audacity to blame God for the resulting disaster. All suffering can be tracked back to human wrong‑doing ‑ not necessarily the action of anyone presently alive, but to someone's deliberate disregard of God and his ways. (There is even a human link to natural disasters, explained later.) And why didn't God strike that person dead before others could be hurt? Because to be fair he should do the same to you and me.
Many of us would go to any lengths ‑ even to accusing our Judge of injustice ‑ in an unconscious attempt to push the spotlight away from the recesses of a dirty conscience. If only we could smear God, narrowing the gap between his goodness and our shabby behaviour, we'd feel better.
Only a maniac or an ego‑maniac would dare demand justice from God. Though we are too trapped in our own dirt to have a hope of seeing ourselves as we really are, if we could remove ourselves a little, we would realise we all stand guilty before a holy God. We have each added to humanity's pain.
But there must be a Day of reckoning. All evil must be removed. Even the self‑righteous have been demanding it for millennia, though they have no idea what they are asking. Our response before that awesome moment will determine whether we'll be around to enjoy an evil‑free environment.
The suffering of humanity's only innocent (Jesus) blazed the way for the removal of all suffering and when he re‑visits this planet he will complete his mission. But how, without unprincipled favouritism, could he eradicate all evil without destroying you and me? Only by us letting him wrench our darling sins from us, and trusting him to have taken their horrific consequences upon himself. Then we will be spared and no one can accuse God of injustice or favouritism. He has borne the penalty himself.
ANOTHER ANGLE ON TRAGEDIES: The rantings of arm‑chair philosophers differ markedly from the findings of people with the deepest experience of both God and suffering. St Paul, one of the most qualified persons ever to broach this subject, discovered that no tragedy could 'separate us from the love of God.' (Romans 8:35‑39) For nearly 2,000 years this hard‑won insight has been put to the test by the torment of thousands of Christian martyrs who have agonised in triumph, rejoicing in the goodness of God.
WHAT MAKES PAUL SUCH AN EXPERT?
He really knew God. This one‑time violent opponent of Christianity was bright, but as every agnostic knows, when it comes to contacting the Almighty, intelligence helps no more than one's bank balance. (Luke 10:21; Mark 10:15; 1 Corinthians 1:19‑29) The apostle Paul's interaction with God makes the spiritual experience of this world's geniuses shrivel to insignificance. (Acts 9:1‑24; 13:7‑12; 14:8‑11; 28:3‑6; Romans 15:18‑19; 1 Corinthians 2:4‑5; 11:1; 2 Corinthians 12:1‑10; Galatians 1:10‑20; 2:1‑2,6‑7; Philippians 1:21; 2 Timothy 1:3)
Few people have endured such torment. He was slandered, betrayed, flogged, stoned, imprisoned and shipwrecked with devastating frequency. (1 Corinthians 4:11‑13; 2 Corinthians 11:23‑29)
Paul's grasp of the purest love completes his credentials as an authority on the relationship between God's love and suffering. (1 Corinthians 13) He was unmoved by soppy emotionalism or other sham forms of love.
Though you spurn every Christian on the planet, you cannot dismiss this saint of a man. And he discovered that the reality of suffering cannot diminish the infinitude of God's powerful love.
This enlightenment did not come cheaply to Paul, and he realised it could not be passed on by words alone. (Ephesians 3:17‑19) Intense experience, prayer, and intimacy with God is a common price.
Include all types of affliction, and it is no exaggeration to say that literally millions of people have suffered without it diminishing their devotion to Jesus. On the contrary, they insist it was God's comfort, love and inspiration that empowered them to endure.
It was once claimed that by the laws of aerodynamics bumble‑bees cannot fly. But people who know bumble‑bees could not be hoodwinked. A scientific explanation might elude them, but they know bumble‑bees fly. Similarly, people who really know God, even those who have suffered as much as is humanly possible, know what they know: God's love is as mind‑boggling as his power. Gaining insight in this matter might not be scientifically satisfying, but it is truth proven by cold reality.
'When you know God,' breathed a Nazi concentration camp inmate, 'you don't need to know why.' The hearts of thousands leap in agreement.
7. WHAT'S IN IT FOR ME?
You are right to reject a religion that's a list of dos and don'ts, or a gathering of dour‑faced, self‑righteous Bible thumpers. Jesus would reject it too. Anything Jesus is involved in is vibrant, liberating, compassionate, powerful and supernatural.
People dismiss Christianity on the basis of an outsider's glance, like a little girl‑hating boy certain he will always detest lovemaking. Knowing Jesus is more wonderful than the uninitiated could dream.
All yearning is a yearning for Jesus, discovered someone enjoying the ultimate adventure. The love, excitement, challenge, fulfilment and understanding we crave are found in the One who made us.
Jesus likened the Christian spiritual experience to buried treasure. Millions walk passed it, never suspecting the wonders that lie below the surface. Anyone who makes the discovery, however, would eagerly trade for it everything they had previously treasured, like trading trinkets for truckloads of diamonds.
To attempt description of the benefits of spiritual union with Jesus sounds as hollow and self‑centred as listing receiving a gold ring as a benefit of marrying the most wonderful person. It's like dissecting the most exquisite, priceless flower and offering the individual parts to the highest bidder. Moreover, it sounds like hype ‑ just too good to be believable. This is to be expected. We were made to enjoy the God who made us, so it is hardly surprising that a relationship with him will fulfil our deepest longing. Nevertheless, it still sounds too good to be true.
Here's a few of the consequences of being united to the One we were made for:
* A brand new start in life.
* Involvement in the greatest conceivable good. Reaching your highest potential. Finding and fulfilling your reason for being born. Living life to the full.
* The thrill of knowing you can now achieve things of eternal significance.
* Being at peace with God. No longer running from reality.
* The excitement of living life on the edge, as God takes you beyond what you are humanly capable of.
* The lifelong opportunity to love and thank the Giver of every good and beautiful thing everyone has ever enjoyed.
* A life that is highly demanding and challenging, with the greatest power in existence willing you and empowering you to achieve.
* The freedom to look in the mirror and know that no matter what your past, you are now pure in the eyes of the holy God.
* Divine power to love the unlovable, to break destructive habits, to resist peer pressure and to control such weaknesses as temper, greed, and selfishness.
* Knowing that God is working within you and in your circumstances to make you more and more like Jesus.
* Being on the winning side ‑ the obvious consequence of having in your life the God of infinite power and infinite wisdom.
* The ultimate security of knowing you are forever loved and that nothing ‑ not even death ‑ can rob you of its endless joys.
* The knowledge that you are of the greatest importance to the most important Person in the universe.
* Having as your best friend the Person who not only sympathises but knows your every weakness and triumph, your every thought, your every experience since the moment of your conception, your darkest secret, your fondest dream, and is committed to you with unswerving devotion.
* Answers to prayer.
* Entry into the spiritual dimension. Supernatural dreams, visions, miracles, angelic visitations and other amazing spiritual experiences are possibilities.
* Joy and peace and fulfilment, each of which are so far beyond what anything else offers that it defies description.
* Deliverance from the endless torment of hell.
* Not even all God's incomparable gifts, however, reach the ecstasy of enjoying and knowing intimately the most exciting Person in the universe. He is so special that falling in love with God is the inevitable consequence of truly knowing him.
8. SCIENCE HAS CRIPPLED CHRISTIANITY
No one imagines that an all‑powerful God would be incapable of using processes or unable to control vast numbers of intricate, seemingly insignificant events. Early Christians deprived of modern science were as aware as today's generation that a baby's conception gives every appearance of resulting from chance and human whim. This has never embarrassed Christians, as if the development of a foetus from the joining of two cells demolished the fact that the resulting life is a work of God, or that God is unable to bring good even out of anti‑God behaviour such as rape.
With an act of God there are two levels of explanation, one of which science can contribute to. Consider, for instance, when Jesus told a man to stretch out his withered hand and it immediately healed. (Luke 6:6,10) Scientists might describe what took place within that man's hand in terms of multiplication of cells, suddenly improved blood flow, etc. Such an explanation, though accurate, would miss an entire dimension to this event: the hand was restored at Jesus' word.
It is as if science lets us examine a masterpiece with an electron microscope (and such a view can be of value), whereas the Bible empowers us to see the big picture, enabling us to grasp the divine meaning and purpose of that masterpiece we call life.
A DIFFERENT VIEW: One has only to consider weapons of mass destruction, brainwashing techniques, and electronic invasion of privacy to realise that scientific advance has only heightened our age‑old dilemma: human nature. For our most fundamental problem, Jesus is the only answer.
And technology has not changed the fact of death. Not only did Jesus make the brazen claim to have brought to humanity the secret of eternal life, the proof that he actually conquered death in his own body is so compelling that it has floored modern doubters. After his horrific death, Jesus appeared alive; eating, cooking, being handled, displaying mortal wounds to sceptics, conversing with friends while hiking kilometres. Hundreds saw him. (1 Corinthians 15:3‑7; Acts 1:3‑4; Luke 24:13‑43; John 20:24‑21:14) More recently, highly skilled opponents of Christianity who sifted the evidence for the sole purpose of exposing Jesus' resurrection as a hoax or hallucination or misunderstanding have been so confounded by what they uncovered as to publicly declare that Jesus rose from the dead. As one would not expect the evidence to be this powerful, I recommend you investigate it yourself. A good place to start is Evidence that Demand a Verdict, Volume 1, edited by Josh McDowell, published by Campus Crusade for Christ,
Arrowhead Springs, CA.
9. PLEASANT NEAR‑DEATH EXPERIENCES OF NON‑CHRISTIANS DISPROVE CHRISTIANITY
Most reports of pleasant near‑death experiences mention an encounter with a being who radiates love. No impersonal God could love. That God is a person who loves even his enemies is a uniquely Christian concept.
These reports also seem to contradict such non‑Christian beliefs as karma, reincarnation, and that the ultimate destination of humans is to lose their individuality in nirvana.
The Bible does not exclude the possibility that on the other side of the grave non‑Christians might have a few moments in pleasant surrounds before being ushered into a strikingly different abode. It says that before being hurled into the lake of fire, non‑Christians will be brought before God's throne. Presumably, this is located in a beautiful, heavenly place. (Revelation 20:11‑12)
The Bible says that because non‑Christians do not enjoy the spiritual transformation and protection that only Jesus can provide, they are particularly vulnerable to spiritual deception. They are subject to the interference of the Evil One, who masquerades as an angel of light. (2 Corinthians 4:4; 11:14‑15; John 8:44) This renders their near‑death experiences highly suspect.
YOU CAN'T FOOL ALL THE PEOPLE: Dr. Maurice Rawlings was desperately trying to save a postman's life. The patient, in between times of clinical death, kept screaming that he had been in hell and pleading with the reluctant doctor to lead him in prayer. The postman's encounter with hell was so convincing that even the doctor's scepticism vanished. The man survived the ordeal and became a Christian. He could recall the prayer and viewing his body from a distance, and yet he could remember nothing of his hellish experience. Apparently, it was so horrific that his mind had suppressed it.
Researchers find that about 80% of resuscitated patients report nothing. (Who would boast about being sent to a place of shame and torment?) Researchers are therefore forced to examine a highly unrepresentative sample, and, human nature being what it is, an unknown proportion of even these would be lying. Prior to Dr. Rawlings, researchers had not personally resuscitated patients. They were content to interview people who had more time to repress unpleasant experiences. Rawlings found that interviewing people immediately after resuscitation produced as many reports of bad experiences as good ones. In the case of suicide attempts, 85% of those resuscitated reported being glad to be alive. Every account Rawlings has collected from such people has been 'hellish'.
The doctor records another man's experience after his heart stopped beating. It ended up being so horrendous that the patient was certain he had been to hell. It brought about his conversion to Christianity. Yet the first part of his experience was blissful ‑ floating above his body, feeling happy, at peace and free from pain. Had he been resuscitated at that point, his impression of life after death would have been vastly different. A number of people have reported the initially non‑threatening light at the tunnel's end turning into hellfire.
Many people are so biased against the existence of hellish experiences that Dr. Rawlings himself has been misquoted in a way that suggested all after‑death experiences are pleasant. He is often instructed before appearing on TV talk shows not to mention hell.
10. A GOD OF LOVE WOULDN'T SEND ME TO HELL
'Life is a great surprise,' observed Vladimir Nobokov, 'I do not see why death should not be an even greater one.'
Hell is God reluctantly granting non‑Christians their wish.
Ultimately, life and every desirable thing comes from the God who created every molecule that we see, feel, enjoy and misuse. Even sin's fickle pleasure, that elusive shadow of the real thing seized while defying him, is possible only because the Son of God lovingly created his haters with the ability to experience pleasure.
Non‑Christians push Jesus aside, yet in his extravagant love Jesus keeps giving and giving. They don't want him meddling in their lives, but he keeps forcing himself upon them, showering them with gifts of life and pleasure. In hell they finally get their way. To be granted separation from the Source of every good and beautiful thing, however, is a terrifying prospect.
A DIFFERENT VIEW: In the western world the concept of a God of love pops up so often that we forget the source of this notion. The only way of truly knowing that God is love is through the revelation of Jesus and the Bible, both of which lovingly and emphatically warn of hell's grim reality.
11. I DON'T NEED GOD
People sometimes say they don't need love. They hope it's a sign of strength. Sadly, all it indicates is a fear of getting hurt, and the result is a hollow life. Asserting that we don't need Jesus is similar, and even more tragic.
No one could survive a millisecond without God. He holds the entire universe together, including every atom in your body. You are like a delicate fish in an aquarium blissfully unaware of its dependence because it thinks it is simply the nature of food to suddenly appear everyday and that water quality, temperature and aeration take care of themselves. For years you have acted like a parasite, sucking everything you can from the Creator and more or less treating him as if he doesn't exist. God in his kindness has let you abuse his generosity, giving you time to come to your senses. Your time, however, is running out.
You might survive a month without eating (but who would want to?). To live for years, however, you must have food. You might survive a hundred years without surrendering to God (though it would be a tragic waste). But to live forever, you must yield to Jesus.
12. CHRISTIANITY IS A CRUTCH
Well hop over here and let's discuss it.
More than a crutch, it is a whole new set of legs. A living relationship with Jesus makes everything else look like a crutch. It's power to face problems head on. The transformation is like a machine with nearly dead batteries being plugged into a new power source.
Jesus fills the unfillable hole within us. He makes us whole. He meets our deepest needs. As pianos were made to be played, we were made for Jesus. He alone releases our full potential.
Everything anyone has ever enjoyed springs from God's creative genius and generosity. Like babies, non‑Christians take everything from God and in the height of selfishness give their Maker not so much as a thankyou in return. To become a Christian is to come of age. It is to take up your responsibilities with the One to whom you owe everything.
Until we face our spiritual inadequacy, we are shutting our eyes to reality, like dungeon dwellers recoiling from sunlight; like burns victims smashing mirrors. (John 3:19) Christians are very ordinary people who dared confront the spiritual need the rest of us fearfully suppress. Through Jesus they somehow found the courage to push against the torrent of popular opinion and say good‑bye to their favourite sins and the stranglehold of almost life‑long habits. They put their life on the line and to their surprise found the warm presence of God.
13. THE CHURCH IS FULL OF HYPOCRITES
Many people imagine they despise Christianity when they are merely rejecting aspects of 'Churchianity' that Jesus himself would reject.
Jesus denounced religious hypocrites. So if hypocrisy turns your stomach, you might be Christlike, but to make this claim stick you must have Jesus' attitude to hypocrites: he forgave them.
People can deeply hurt us, and if they happen to call themselves Christians it could turn us off Jesus for life. Emotionally, this is perfectly understandable, though of course it pales under the light of rational thought. If Jesus' extraordinary claims are true, however, this matter is more important than life itself. The consequences of ignoring him are too catastrophic and the implications of responding to him are too stupendous to let emotions swindle us.
A major theme in Jesus' teaching (it's even in the Lord's prayer) is that we can enjoy the wondrous transformation that God's forgiveness brings, only to the degree that we are willing to forgive people who have hurt us. (Matthew 6:12,14‑15; 18:21‑35; Mark 11:25‑26) Jumping over the moon would be easier than forgiving some people, but if we come to Christ with sincerity, he will work the miracle of liberating us from the bondage of bitterness and empower us to forgive the unforgivable.
A DIFFERENT VIEW: Hypocrites are people who claim to be morally better than they really are. Authentic Christians claim to be so bad that they deserve to be sentenced to hell forever. Are you saying they are even worse than that?
Christians are people who consider themselves such moral failures that they have come to Jesus for help and forgiveness. Making it spiritually depends not on how popular or nice we are, but how much we want God to rule our life and change us. Whether it be through quirks of nature or upbringing or whatever, becoming likeable is harder for some of us. What matters most, however, is not where we are now, but where we are headed. Though they may have started far behind many non‑Christians, people who have opened their lives to Jesus, have commenced a spiritual journey that will end in divine moral perfection in the next life. This, they insist, will not result from their own efforts, but from an utterly undeserved miracle of God ‑ a miracle freely available to anyone who dares ask Jesus for it.
Not realising that genuine Christians have such a low view of their own morality, we attack them. What drives us to despise Christians is not unkindness so much as a desperate attempt to drown the shrieks of our own conscience. A favourite, rarely conscious, technique to silence a suppressed but nagging conscience is to muddy the name of anyone who might give the appearance of being morally better than us.
ANOTHER RESPONSE: Would you criticise hospitals for being filled with sick people? When Christ walked this planet, one of the most frequent criticisms he faced was that sinners were drawn to him like drought‑stricken animals to water. Not all the unsavoury characters milling around Jesus let him deliver them from their sin‑sickness, but they sensed that in him was something their aching consciences desperately needed.
Jesus chose his twelve disciples and loved them unreservedly, knowing that one of his supposedly closest friends, Judas, was such a hypocrite that he would arrange Jesus' murder. The presence of the ultimate hypocrite in the midst of that inner circle has not prevented millions of people throughout the ages from becoming devoted Christians. Moreover, the leading disciple ‑ Peter ‑ was also a hypocrite. He vowed he would remain true to Jesus no matter what, and within hours he swore he didn't know Jesus. Years later the apostle Paul accused Peter to his face of further hypocrisy. (Galatians 2:11‑14) But Paul and other Christians were made of stronger stuff than to try using the failings of key Christians as an excuse for wavering in their own devotion to Christ. If you let a hypocrite stand between you and God, observed someone, guess who is closer to God!
YET ANOTHER RESPONSE: The embarrassing thing about denouncing hypocrisy is that it is equally hypocritical to condemn those who do not follow the teachings of Christ if you do not follow the teachings of Christ yourself. And one of his most fundamental teachings is that we should take our critical eyes off the sin of others and concentrate on our own chronic need for Jesus' forgiveness. (Matthew 7:1‑5; Luke 6:37; 18:11‑14)
14. CHRISTIAN SUPERSTARS ARE AFTER MONEY
Although it is disturbingly easy to misjudge people's motives, my guess is that many people become doctors for the money. If I were sick, however, I wouldn't risk death just to make a point!
A DIFFERENT VIEW: Deny, if you must, thousands of martyrs throughout history so unselfishly devout that they gave up everything for Christ, even their last drop of blood. Were everyone a fraud, you would still have no excuse for not becoming the Christian you expect others to be.
You know you are not accountable before God for the actions of others. You are accountable, however, for your own actions ‑ and especially for your response to Christ's offer to die in your place.
15. I'M ANSWERABLE TO NO ONE
There is no such monstrosity as a self‑made person. We did not decide to be born and we can't even design our offspring's fingerprints. The One who made everything owns everything. Every molecule in your body and everything you have stuffed in your pockets ‑ everything you have ever used and abused ‑ belongs to God. And to him you must give account. And judgment will be on his terms, not ours.
With accountability comes dignity. To treat us as not responsible for our actions would be to treat us as sub‑human.
16. CHRISTIANS SUPPORT ENVIRONMENTAL VANDALISM
Jesus taught that a common sparrow ‑ just one of millions ‑ does not escape God's attention. In addition, he emphasised that a single human is of greater value still. (Luke 12:6‑7,24; Matthew 12:11‑12) Jesus exalted people, never lowering them to the level of animals. So Christians love nature and yet, unlike many eastern religions, they would never allow unchecked rat plagues to cause human starvation and spread disease. Jesus brings things into perfect balance.
A heightened appreciation of nature is a common bi‑product of Christian conversion. Christians delight in nature because it is the handiwork of the God they adore. The loss of a single species is the loss of a unique manifestation of God's creative genius.
I've seen childish scribble displayed in the work places of proud parents. Love turned into a treasured work of art, scrawls that many people would trash. Nature undergoes a similar upgrade when seen through the eyes of Christians.
Non‑Christian religions are so little understood in the Western world that it is not commonly realised that in stark contrast to Christianity many religions teach that everything physical is an illusion, and others claim that everything physical is evil. And, of course, atheists see nature as the product of mindless chance. Why go to pains to preserve an accident or an illusion or something evil? And godless philosophy teaches that advance comes through survival of the fittest (ie the extinction of the less fit). If for millions of years so much good has come from mere chance and from the strong displacing the weak, why suddenly change the rules?
Environmental protection makes so much sense that many non‑Christians leap on board without even noticing that it clashes with their basic beliefs. Christianity, however, has these beliefs at its heart. Followers of Jesus reject greed and the 'might is right' mentality. They stress the protection of the weaker and the defenceless, and they exalt the physical realm, insisting that it is good and that nature is as much a work of God as our own souls. The Bible opens with God giving humanity the responsibility to look after nature. (Genesis 2:15) And it indicates that nature is so important that the final result of the death Jesus suffered will not only be the salvation of every person who will accept it, but the restoration of nature. (Romans 8:19‑23)
Environmental and humanitarian issues show Christian beliefs fitting reality so well that even non‑Christians often end up contradicting their own basic beliefs and acting as if they believe Christianity is right.
The spiritual side of ecological problems: Our crime rate and our ecological crisis are different manifestations of the same problem.
Humanity, being in conflict with the Creator, is in conflict with the Creator's work ‑ nature. Humanity's rejection of God has rendered nature our rival instead of a faithful servant.
In his human perfection Jesus displayed authority over nature. He rode an unbroken donkey, calmed a storm, made a fig tree wither up, commanded miraculous catches of fish, etc. (Matthew 8:23‑27; 17:27; 21:19‑21; Luke 5:4‑9; 19:30,35; John 21:5‑6) He ruled by command, not harshness. By this, Christ demonstrated the way in which humanity should have ruled everything on earth. (Hebrews 2:8‑9)
Humanity's delegated authority over nature hinged on humanity's submission to God, the ultimate authority. If humanity had obeyed God, nature would have obeyed humanity. To understand the tragedy, consider the power of a policeman. While he is submitted to his superiors, people obey him. But if he committed an offence and were ejected from the police force, people would ignore his orders. To make them obey he would have to resort to violence. From that fateful day when Adam severed humanity's holy link with Creator God, he and his descendants ‑ like the disgraced policeman in our illustration ‑ could only rule by violence. People kill grubs, flies, weeds and so on. Like an abused child, nature writhes in agony at the hands of its sinful overlords. If its oppressors are out of control, little wonder that nature is often out of control.
Although individuals can, through Christ, restore the shattered union with the Lord of creation, God in his patience still allows people to reject him and so nature's woes continue. This will end when Christ returns, abolishes all evil, and renews nature (our own bodies included). Then unhappiness will vanish, along with everyone opposed to Christ's rule. (Romans 8:18‑23; 2 Peter 3:9‑13)
That anyone could do this seems incredible until we discover the real identity of the person whose arrival on our planet split earth's calendars in two. Though renowned for his humility, he professed to be humanity's only hope. His outrageous claims incited thousands. And he backed his words by returning bodily from the dead.
This matter is too vital to let someone else do your thinking. Examine Jesus' inexplicably perfect life and see if you don't conclude he is the eternal Son of God through whom and for whom all creation was originally made. (Colossians 1:16‑17)
17. CHRISTIANS ARE BIGOTED, RACIST, SEXIST AND HOMOPHOBIC
'There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.' (Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:11) Bible verses like that are still shaking and shaping the world after 2,000 years. It is not merely that the Bible was 20 centuries ahead of its time, it was the Bible that at certain points in history pushed and dragged our western world to its present point of tolerance.
Christianity is the world's greatest leveller. In Jesus' presence, everyone, regardless of muscle, talent, achievement, IQ, education, wealth, professional status, social class, ethnicity, colour, physical attractiveness, assertiveness, gender, age, habits, health, sexual preference and moral accomplishment, stands equally able to receive Christ's purity, status with God and free entry to heaven. Genuine followers of Jesus have always insisted that the foetus, the infirmed, the elderly, the demented, the criminal, the depraved, the alcoholic and the saint are all equally precious to God.
Various revivals of biblical Christianity and the efforts of Christians like Wilberforce, the earl of Shaftesbury and William Booth (to give just some nineteenth century examples), have caused certain Christian principles, such as the equal value of all people, to gain such popularity that they have become the accepted norm in the western world. Except for history buffs with a firm grasp of the events of 2,000 years, few of us realise that even anti‑Christians such a Marxists and Bible‑burning feminists have (often unconsciously) incorporated aspects of Christianity in their ideologies. For example, the non‑Christian Mahatma Gandhi, famous for his non‑violence and opposition to the entrenched prejudice of the Hindu caste system, was consciously influenced by the teaching of Jesus Christ. (See, for example, Gandhi's book Non‑Violence in Peace and War, 1949, vol. 2, ch. 166) Most of the people Gandhi inspired, however, would have been less aware that they were absorbing Christian principles.
A DIFFERENT VIEW: Every day all over the world cruel manipulation takes place by people deceitfully using the word 'love'. The result is much cynicism, hurt and distrust. Yet the counterfeit never invalidates the genuine. Just as unscrupulous people have discovered the exploitive power of the word 'love,' some have discovered the word 'Jesus'. But people only counterfeit things of value.
18. RELIGION HAS SPARKED WARS AND EXPLOITATION
The same could be said for politics, but politics cannot be eliminated from society; we can only try to find the right political formula. Neither can we eliminate our religious need; we can only find the right religion. A good start would be to find one committed to a leader who said, 'Blessed are the peacemakers ... love your enemies ... bless those who curse you ... turn the other cheek ...'
When looking for the cause of war, try greed, selfishness, pride, hate, unforgiveness.
A DIFFERENT VIEW: If you assume that killing and exploitation are wrong, you have unconsciously appropriated Christian values. If, as atheistic evolutionists teach, advancement comes through the survival of the fittest, why not let war take its natural course? Dig into many non‑Christian religions and you will discover the teaching that all things are one ‑ including good and evil. Why work for justice if nothing ‑ exploitation included ‑ is evil? It is Christianity that provides the rational basis for pursuing justice and peace. It makes so much sense that non‑Christians often end up sidestepping the logical implications of their own beliefs. They tack Christian values on to their anti‑Christian base, like trying to graft rose buds on to plastic roots.
19. CHRISTIANS HAVE A LOW AND NEGATIVE VIEW OF HUMANITY
As demonstrated by their views about abortion and euthanasia, Christians regard human life as sacred. In contrast to secular society, they don't see people as the result of an accident in a primeval swamp, or the meaningless product of human lust. They see the lowliest of us as bearing the image of God himself; made by him and the focus of his love. They believe God values us so highly that he wants to enjoy us for all eternity, and that he has spared nothing to make this possible.
Yet the Bible fits everyday reality. Christians are not surprised that tiny children, tenderly loved and nurtured in the best homes, are naughty. They never imagined that dishonesty would be limited to the poor or the uneducated or those with inadequate diet. They don't fall for the enticing trap of pointing the accusing finger at others and letting themselves off the hook. They believe we are all equally guilty and all equally able to attain moral perfection through Christ.
A DIFFERENT VIEW: If we are as good as we like to think we are, we would flock to the best person there has ever been, Jesus Christ. Deep down, however, we suspect the worst about ourselves and flee from it like people refusing cancer checks, even though early diagnosis brings life, not death. Anyone who admits the need for it, can be instantly accredited with the moral purity of Jesus, receive divine moral power and, in the next life, be made morally perfect.
20. IT DOESN'T MATTER WHAT YOU BELIEVE AS LONG AS YOU'RE SINCERE
What if you believe . . .
* all you need for sky diving is a good umbrella
* plumbers have better cures for constipation than doctors
* red traffic lights mean 'go'.
In the physical world, what you believe is critical. And the same God made the spiritual realm.
Try telling a victim of Hinduism that it doesn't matter what you believe. Especially before Christian influence gained momentum in India, millions of Hindus sincerely believed that:
* baby girls should be drowned in the Ganges so they can be reincarnated as boys
* surviving widows should be cremated alive with their deceased husbands
* the gross discrimination and prejudice of the Hindu caste system should be enforced
* it is better not to relieve human suffering because that would be interfering with people's karma.
'It doesn't matter what you believe,' is the despairing cry of people whose beliefs have never brought them to spiritual reality. They are like people who have never won in their life, consoling themselves with the platitude that it doesn't matter whether you win or lose. They are like people so out of touch that they answer multiple choice exams by guesswork and assume everyone else must do the same.
A DIFFERENT VIEW: Find people who claim that sincerity is all that matters and try applying that logic to something they are passionate about, such as racism, rape, cruelty to animals, environmental vandalism, nuclear warfare, banning abortion. Suddenly they get hot under the collar. Suddenly it matters very much what you believe.
People apply this lack of logic only to things they could hardly care less about. Those who say all that matters is sincerity would like to include themselves among the sincere. Instead, they prove they have no sincere religious conviction. They are simply mouthing a lazy, potentially fatal excuse for avoiding life's most important decision.
The genuinely sincere, would make seeking God their top priority. Instead, we bury our head in a thousand other activities and lame excuses for not confronting life's most critical issue. We are like little children who have run away from home ‑ hungry, tired and in danger, yet still hiding for fear of what mummy might do if she found us. The reality is that God longs to take us up in his arms, forgive us, and give us a life of fulfilment and challenge beyond our wildest hopes.
ALL RELIGIONS ARE MUCH THE SAME
That's what many religions teach, so you have nothing to lose by ignoring them and concentrating on Jesus, who declared that if you don't surrender to him, you have everything to lose. (John 14:6; Acts 4:10‑12) You and I are simply not in a position to claim to know more about spiritual reality than the greatest religious teacher earth has seen ‑ Jesus. He upheld the Scriptures which insist that all other religions offend God. (Deuteronomy 32:16‑20; Matthew 5:17‑19)
To the casual observer, wild mushrooms are all much the same and who cares anyhow? But when there is nothing else to eat, it becomes rather important whether the variety you choose is poisonous. And if you eat nothing for weeks, indecision becomes as deadly as the worse decision.
New Agers and others mutilate all the unique features of Jesus' teaching, distorting Christianity into a form of eastern religion and surprise, surprise, when comparing this grotesque perversion with other religions, it begins to look as if 'all religions are much the same.'
A DIFFERENT VIEW: To ignore glaring differences between religions might seem broad‑minded. In reality it is about as conceited and narrow as a person could get. To assert that all religions are essentially the same would be to claim you are smarter than each of the billions of people who see the distinctive features of their religion as critical. You would be asserting that even though you are not an expert in their religion you know they are wrong ‑ you know their religion is really no different. Jesus made Godlike claims of this magnitude but he backed them up by living a perfect life, walking on water, calming a storm, multiplying bread and fish, healing people born blind or deaf or crippled, rising from the dead, transforming believers for 2,000 years, and so on.
ANOTHER RESPONSE: One of the Bible's most basic teachings is that followers of other religions have been enticed by deceptive spirits who are utterly opposed to the God who created us and loves us. (Romans 1:18‑23; 1 Corinthians 10:20; 2 Thessalonians 2:9‑12; 1 Timothy 4:1) Even the first two of the ten commandments ‑ have no other gods, make no idols ‑ show that God regards it as a grave offence to become involved in other religions. (Exodus 20:3‑4) No matter how similar non‑Christian religions are, their truths are laced with errors that entice their devout followers away from the true God. We despise this biblical revelation because it forces us to make a decision about religion. And it sounds narrow‑minded, but Jesus affirmed that the way to God is narrow, and that few people go that way. (Matthew 7:14) Anyone really sincere, however, will seek truth no matter how unpalatable it seems.
To sit on the fence is a marvellous position. From the top of the fence you can look in any direction and watch life pass you by.
21. THERE ARE SO MANY RELIGIONS: HOW COULD ANYONE KNOW WHICH IS RIGHT?
Most religions say Jesus was a great teacher or prophet. So focus on that great teacher. Until you do, God will remain a blur.
Suppose I was off‑colour and two eminent doctors examined me. Dr A's diagnosis was that I had a life‑threatening illness, but treatment X would cure me. Dr B said it was only a cold and treatment Y would cure me. Dr A's more drastic diagnosis doesn't in itself mean he is right, but it means I'd be a fool not to give higher priority to checking out his claims.
Consider a worst‑case scenario. Suppose another religion were right and instead of following that religion, I became a Christian. Most religions would say the Christian life is reaonably moral. So, according to them, although I would miss top spot, my life after death would be fairly comfortable. A few claim that if I ignored their religion, after death I'll cease to exist. I can handle that. Some say I'd get another chance through reincarnation. That's not too bad. But with Jesus it's different. If he is right and I ignore him, the consequences are unthinkable. Christ warned that only if I receive into my life the benefits of his agonising death, can I avoid an eternity of torment in hell. (Matthew 20:28, 25:32‑34,41,46) You're gambling with eternity. Improve your odds by giving priority to weighing Jesus' claims.
A DIFFERENT VIEW: To determine if Jesus' teaching is from God requires divine insight. Whether God grants a person this spiritual understanding hinges on a single factor. That critical factor, said Jesus, is your willingness to obey God. (John 7:17) Why should God bother to open your eyes to spiritual truth if you are unwilling to respond to that truth? Yet few of us are prepared to pay that price. It involves a willingness to relinquish our hopes and dreams for the future, to forego our pet sins and anything else God may ask. Such abandonment seems crazy until we consider who God is. The God who made and sustains the entire universe is the source of all knowledge, moral goodness and love. That means he is good, he is trustworthy, he has our best interest at heart, he is wiser than us and he loves us more than we love ourselves. Obeying God is the smartest thing anyone could ever do. Until we acknowledge this and are willing to obey God, we obviously don't want God in our lives. (We might want him as our slave
, or as a curiosity, but not as God.) If so, why should God waste time giving us the spiritual discernment to know whether Jesus is the only way to God? Until we rectify this we will remain spiritually confused, subject to the deceptive powers of anti‑God influences, unable to determine which religion is right.
22. EVEN HARE KRISHNAS ARE MORE CHRISTIAN THAN CHRISTIANS!
Most Christians eat killed animals but, as Hare Krishnas point out, Jesus said 'Thou shalt not kill.' More accurately, Jesus said, 'You have heard that people in the past were told, "Thou shalt not kill ..."' (Matthew 5:21) Jesus was quoting from the Old Testament (Exodus 20:13) ‑ the book he loved and frequently cited and affirmed to be the unique revelation of God. (Matthew 5:17‑19; 22:29‑32; 26:31; Luke 4:4‑12; 16:31;22:37; 24:44‑47; John 6:45) Over and over, that book records God commanding his people to eat the meat of sacrificial animals. (Exodus 12:3‑8,24; Deuteronomy 12:20‑22,27‑28; 27: 7‑10) And the more holy people (priests) were required to eat even more meat. (Leviticus 7:14‑16,30‑34; 8:30‑31; 10:16‑18; Deuteronomy 18:1‑3) In fact, under Old Testament law, no vegetarian could belong to the people of God. (Numbers 9:11‑13) (The point of animal sacrifice is that God was instilling the notion that an innocent must die for human sins. Ultimately, the innocent who dies for human sin must be human. That'
s where Jesus fits in.) By quoting and exalting the book that emphasises eating meat, Jesus was clearly speaking against murder ‑ the killing of people, not animals.
'Eat whatever is set before you,' Jesus ordered his disciples, knowing that their hosts, being Jewish, would be meat eaters. (Luke 10:1,5‑7) Jesus spoke approvingly of a man who slaughtered a cow for a feast. In fact, he likened that man to God. (Luke 15:10,22‑23) Christ ate meals hosted by all sorts of people. (Mark 14:3; Luke 5:27‑30; 7:36; 11:37; 14:1; 15:2) Even in a nation of meat eaters his unrestricted diet caused a stir. (Luke 5:33; 7:33‑34) He helped catch fish, (Matthew 17:27; Luke 5:4‑9; John 21:5‑8) cooked fish, (John 21:9‑13) fed it to people, (Mark 6:41‑43; 8:7‑8) and ate it himself (Luke 24:41‑43). He also ate the Passover meal in which the main dish was lamb. (Luke 22:7‑8,15)
Followers of Jesus are not offended that their Saviour ate meat because they know that, contrary to the claims of many religions, there is no spiritual link between animals and people. There is no such thing as reincarnation.
Yet Hare Krishnas, flying in the face of all the facts, misrepresent Jesus as supporting their views about animal life. This exposes the unfortunate lengths to which such religions will sometimes go to deceive.
23. THE BIBLE CONTRADICTS ITSELF
Most of these claims are blatantly spurious. We must recognise, however, that truth is complex.
I was told early in my schooling that water conducts electricity. 'That's why,' declared my teacher, 'you should be careful about water on laundry floors.' Years later I was taught that water does not conduct electricity, it is only the impurities in water that allow conduction. Still later I learnt that water does conduct electricity, it is just that it does not conduct it very much. Truth is indeed complex, and in the Bible God has entrusted us with spiritual truth in all its complexity.
24. CHRISTIANITY IS ON THE DECLINE
In 1430 one in 99 of the world's population were Christians.
In 1790 one in 49
In 1940 one in 32
In 1970 one in 19
In 1980 one in 16
In 1983 one in 13
In 1986 one in 11
In 1994 one in 10
In the period 1934‑1994, the number of Christians in the world increased by 1300 percent (from 40 million to 540 million in the last 60 years), while the world's population grew only 400 percent.
Worldwide, authentic conversions to genuine Christianity (as contrasted
with nominal Christianity) are snowballing to such a degree that space
allows just a few highlights.
In our century, Communism pronounced the death sentence upon Christianity. In so many parts of eastern Europe where the atheistic experiment was relentlessly and violently enforced, Communism is in deep trouble and Christianity is thriving.
In Communist China, in the face of sometimes terrifying Government opposition, people are committing themselves to a spiritual relationship with Jesus Christ at a rate averaging about 28,000 new converts a day. This is happening in the home of yin and yang and other anti‑Christian concepts and practices admired by New Agers. In this nation steeped for thousands of years in non‑Christian religion, then mercilessly indoctrinated into atheism, so many millions of Chinese have turned their back on all that and become born again Christians that it is now thought the figure totals a staggering 100 million Chinese. For that many million to take such a step in an environment hostile both to religion and to anything thought to be foreign, they must have discovered something very real and powerful.
Over the last few decades, South Koreans have been flocking to Jesus by the millions. In response, the UN has officially reclassified as a Christian nation this one‑time Buddhist stronghold.
Worldwide, people are surrendering their lives to Jesus at an astounding average of nearly a million converts per week.
On the decline? You must be joking! It is estimated that of every genuine Christian since the first century, 70% came to Christ after 1900. Of these, 70% had their life‑transforming encounter with Jesus since World War II. And of them, 70% became Christians in the last 4‑5 years.
A DIFFERENT VIEW: The Bible affirms that at the name of Jesus every human and god and demon and force will bow. Jesus' position of head of the universe was confirmed by what happened to his blood drained corpse, entombed, tied up with cloth, weighed down with spices, its vital organs ripped apart by a spear. That mutilated carcase sprang to life again. And his uniqueness has been put to the test by missionaries penetrating every conceivable religion with the power of Jesus and by Christian converts from all manner of beliefs who through Christ have been delivered from atheism, Satanism, demon possession, curses, bondage to lust, drugs, alcohol and so on.
25. CHRISTIANITY IS OUT OF DATE
Ancient Greeks believed the world was round. In the third century BC Eratosthenes even calculated the earth's circumference. Yet this belief eventually fell out of favour and remained unpopular for centuries until scientific advance rendered the belief fashionable again. But fashion never changed the shape of the earth. Neither can fashion change our spiritual need.
Christianity is no passing fad. It has stood the test of time. In fact, it is gaining popularity like never before.
Jesus' teaching is unfashionable in the sense that interplanetary travel is unfashionable. If, however, by old‑fashioned we mean that which is crude and outclassed, Jesus' teaching renders modern society old‑fashioned. Modern views, no matter how desperately we cling to them, have been superseded.
The morality of Jesus was so far ahead of its time that 2,000 years after Jesus brought it to this planet, modern society is still no closer to attaining it. 'Go the extra mile ... bless those who curse you ... Judge not ... It is more blessed to give than to receive ...'
Present day morality, with its crude focus upon observable behaviour rather than heart attitude, is hopelessly primitive and out of touch with reality. Consider these examples:
'Anything's OK as long as you don't hurt anyone,' says a man who wouldn't dream of injuring his wife, and devastates her by cheating on her.
Multitudes call the seduction of a married person 'love'. Seduction ravishes its victims at the deepest level, debauching them so completely as to make them willing partners in immorality. Even the hideous crime of rape leaves its unconsenting victims morally chaste.
People teach their children to say thankyou and they themselves never thank the God who gives them everything they have ever enjoyed. They pride themselves on paying off their debts and spurn the God to whom they owe everything.
What differentiates most of us from criminals is not morality but cowardice (fear of getting caught, of incurring the disapproval of others, etc.) or lack of opportunity (not knowing how to commit the perfect crime, or not holding a gun at our weakest moment), yet we hold our head high in a society that clings to outdated morality.
26. TO BECOME A GENUINE CHRISTIAN IS ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE
1. The standards required of a Christian are beyond me
Everyone who has missed the distinctive feature of Christianity feels this way. Non‑Christian religions require their followers to reach a certain standard, but to become a Christian is to acknowledge that none of us can meet God's requirements. Jesus has done it for us. To become a Christian is to abandon faith in one's own moral power and to put your faith in Jesus' ability.
If you were drowning, would you refuse the help of lifeguards because you are not good enough at swimming? It's precisely because you are not good enough that you need to be saved. And everyone who lets Jesus save them is a Christian.
A DIFFERENT VIEW: People claiming inability to become a Christian usually think they are demeaning only themselves. What they are really asserting, however, is that Jesus is an inadequate Saviour. Upon realising how ridiculous that is, they yield to Jesus and let him transform their lives.
2. It costs too much to become a Christian
Offer me an ice cream for $500 and I'd refuse. It costs too much. Offer me a brand new car for $500 and I'd think it so cheap that there must be a catch. It's not the cost that's the real issue, it's what's on offer. The cost of becoming a Christian is so enormous that it is exceeded only by the benefits. Nevertheless, the rewards are so immense that the cost shrivels to insignificance.
The wonderful thing about becoming a Christian is that you never do it alone. You are entering into partnership with the One for whom nothing is impossible. He is always with you to comfort, encourage, strengthen, liberate, protect and to shower you with compensations for what you have left behind. Try as you may, you can sacrifice nothing for God. The most you can do is exchange fleeting pleasure for eternal joy. That's not a sacrifice. It's an investment.
God is a giver, not a taker. What he desires is like a perfect marriage. In every way we benefit from his proposal and God gets the raw end. But God is love. He wants this holy union more than we can imagine. Don't break his heart by holding back.
True marriage costs. It involves total commitment of all that you have and all that you are. It is believing in someone so completely that you entrust your entire being to that person for life. The Lord is eager to be that devoted to you, but for marriage to work, the commitment must be mutual.
If a street kid married a millionaire, she would get his riches and he would get her debts. He would be tarred with her shame and she would gain his honour. For this to happen, she must turn from rival relationships and bind herself and her meagre possessions to this man in marriage. Everything he has would become hers, provided she lets everything she has become his.
Similarly, if we entrust to God everything we have ‑ our time, abilities, relationships and possessions ‑ he will reciprocate, embracing us with divine extravagance. We hand our depravity to Jesus, relinquishing even our fondest sin. It becomes his. That's what killed him. In return, Jesus' sinless perfection envelops us, enabling us to be on intimate terms with the Holy God. (2 Corinthians 5:21) The culmination of this divine exchange of holiness for depravity will be seen when all evil is finally wiped off this planet ‑ we will be spared and no one can accuse God of injustice or favouritism. He has borne the penalty himself.
In entering this love pact, we give God the right to do whatever he likes with our assets, but the Owner of the universe makes his riches available to us. (Philippians 4:19) We trade our talents, for his unlimited power; our attempts to run our lives, for his unrivalled wisdom. We give him our time on earth and he gives us eternity.
The following prayer corresponds to wedding vows in which you promise to love, honour and obey the Lord, thus making him your God. In turn, the King of kings makes you worthy of spiritual fusion with him and pledges to devote himself unreservedly to you. If the following accurately describes your feelings, you can make it your prayer by reading it to God.
It's hard to admit how sinful I've been. I have caused you grief, yet you sent your Son who gave his life and defeated death to secure my pardon. (Romans 4:24‑25; 6:4‑5; 1 Corinthians 15:3‑8,14,17; Colossians 2:12; 1 Peter 1:3)
You have given yourself totally for me and I long to reciprocate. In response to your overwhelming love, I dedicate all I have to loving you. I yield to your loving protection and guidance. I surrender my sins to you, renouncing even those things that entice me. And in exchange I receive your pardon and purity and your empowerment to live a life worthy of you.
Thank you that we have now commenced a union that not even death can break.
The Lord of heaven and earth knows your secret thoughts. (Hebrews 4:13) If you prayed the entire prayer honestly, you have entered a new spiritual realm. That's hard to believe. Everything seems the same. But not from heaven's perspective. The spiritual contract is sealed.
The proof rests not in your feelings (such as whether you feel guilty or happy), but in the integrity of the Holy One. He has given his word (in the Bible) that whoever turns from sin and looks to Jesus for cleansing, has a radically new destiny. (John 3:36; 6:37; 14:6; Acts 4:12; Romans 6:11‑18; Philippians 3:8,9; Colossians 1:20‑22) God is no liar!
27. I'M NOT CONVINCED
Our desperate need is not for clever arguments but for a powerful encounter with the living God. (1 Corinthians 4:20) And we need not more dramatic signs from heaven, but to act on what we already know.
The door to spiritual understanding is not human explanation, but supernatural revelation. It swings not on mind games but on a willingness to surrender our stubborn will to One who knows better than us. (John 7:17; 2 Corinthians 3:14‑16; 4:3‑4; 1 Corinthians 2:4‑16; Luke 10:21)
Draw near to God and he will draw near to you, promises the Bible. (James 4:8) Until we respond to the light we already have, God is unlikely to squander further enlightenment upon us.
With insincere excuses we might even fool ourselves, but not the One who knows everything. We don't decide how much evidence we need: God does. Neither do we have the final say as to when God will lose patience with us.
Right now God is offering the greatest conceivable experience with endless benefits. It's our one hope and Scripture says he could withdraw it at any moment. (Romans 2:3‑6; 2 Peter 3:9‑11; Jeremiah 11:10‑11) If only you knew, you would unashamedly beg for what Jesus offers.
It is understandable that you have a few doubts ‑ this is all so new to you ‑ but every moment you let a little doubt immobilise you, is an enormous risk. The stakes are so mind boggling that Christians are often reluctant to tell it as it is for fear of being labelled scaremongers. I, too, balk at it, but it is the plain teaching of Jesus that your need is desperate. The uncertainty of life and the reality of hell makes the time you remain undecided the equivalent of hugging a bomb that could explode at any moment.
A DIFFERENT VIEW: Your reasons for not becoming a Christian may be more flimsy that you realise. Years ago, psychologists carefully explained to smokers the danger of smoking. They discovered that those who continued to smoke reported enjoying smoking more than before. Apparently, the discrepancy between their behaviour and what they knew they should do, forced their minds to exaggerate the pleasures of smoking. Likewise, a reluctance to become a Christian could subject people to psychological pressures that distort their perception of the benefits or logic of remaining spiritually divorced from Jesus.
28. I'LL THINK ABOUT IT
Good. If you are caught in a burning building, however, merely thinking about escaping will not bring you to safety. What is needed is not just thought, but action. The cold reality is that you are not guaranteed the next heartbeat. Do what you can now.
It is no use thinking, 'I'll enjoy my sin for as long as I can and when I'm old I will say I'm sorry.' Do you really think you could fool God? Such a ploy proves you want your own selfish way, not heaven.
A DIFFERENT VIEW: Scripture declares that our thinking on otherworldly matters will remain foggy until undergoing the spiritual transformation that only Jesus offers. Agree to be rid of your sin, just as Jesus agreed to be smeared with your sin. Trust God to treat you as being as sinless as Jesus, just as God treated the crucified Christ as being as sinful as you. Spiritually ‑ not necessarily consciously ‑ you will be instantly transformed. You then have the rest of eternity to think about it, pondering the marvellous implications of what has happened to you and rejoicing in its endless benefits.
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Appendix 1: Are babies innocent?
In Australia, seemingly innocent rabbits are pests because their ancestors did something contrary to nature: they became inhabitants of the Australian bush. Though cute, it is inevitable that as a baby feral rabbit matures it will damage the ecology. Likewise, claim Christians, when we were born we, too, were adorable and too weak and too dumb to sin, the darling of God's heart, but it was inevitable that we would contribute to this world's suffering ‑ lying, cheating, slandering, etc ‑ the moment we gained the strength and intellect to do it. That's because our ancestors abused their God‑given responsibilities. There's no point blaming them or God, the argument goes. Had our ancestors been removed before genetically transmitting their predisposition to wrongdoing, we would never have been born.
Appendix 2: Was Jesus Uniquely Perfect?
Do not miss the significance of the many Scripture references cited below. These are primary historical documents of a reliability seldom seen in the realm of ancient history, written by (Eg 2 Peter 1:16) or heavily dependent upon (Luke 1:1‑4) eyewitnesses. And note the natural bias of the witnesses. They were utterly convinced of the sinfulness of every human. (1 John 1:8,10; Romans 3:9,10,23) This was a basic tenant of not just the early Christians, but of the Jewish religion that had been drilled into most of them almost from birth. (1 Kings 8:46; Job 15:14; Psalms 130:3; 143:2; Ecclesiastes 7:20; Isaiah 53:6; Jeremiah 17:9) Yet still they came to the staggering conclusion that Jesus was sinless.
General ‑ When appealing to the common knowledge of non‑Christians, Peter could speak confidently of the good Jesus had done. (Acts 10:36‑38)
Jesus' religious opponents ‑ The only charge they could make stick was that he made claims no normal man could make.
Pilate ‑ John 19:4‑14; Matthew 27: 23‑24
Pilate's wife ‑ Matthew 27:19
Jesus' betrayer ‑ Matthew 27:4
Jesus' executioner ‑ Matthew 27:54; Luke 23:47
The thief crucified with Jesus ‑ Luke 23:41
A demon ‑ Mark 1:23‑24
People who knew Jesus intimately:
John the Baptist ‑ Matthew 3:13‑17
John the apostle ‑ John 1:14; 1 John 2:29; 3:5
Peter ‑ Luke 5:8; Acts 3:14; 1 Peter 1:19; 2:22; 3:18
Early Christian witnesses ‑ Hebrews 4.15; 7:26; 9:14 2 Corinthians 5:21
Jesus' own mother and brother believed in him ‑ Acts 1:14; Galatians 1:19
Jesus' own testimony ‑ John 5:30,36; 7:18; 8:29; 10:32,38; 14:11, 30‑31; 15:24 Don't dismiss this. The more godly people are, the more conscious they are of their sinfulness. (Cf Ephesians 3:8; 1 Timothy 1:15) Jesus stands out as a stark exception to this rule. 'Who can accuse me of sin?' he dared ask a hostile crowd. (John 8:46)
An angel ‑ Luke 1:35
Foreseen by Old Testament prophets ‑ Isaiah 53:9,11; Jeremiah 23:5; Zechariah 9:9
It is sometimes thought that Jesus must have sinned for one of the following reasons:
Jesus cursed a fig tree ‑ If Jesus swore because of the tree we would have reason to question his character. The word 'cursed' is clearly not used in this sense, however, because all he did was to say to the tree, 'You will never bear fruit again.' (Matthew 21:19)
Jesus got angry at the temple money changers ‑ The disciples' immediate reaction is revealing. Jesus' action reminded them of a relevant Scripture and they saw the event as proof of Jesus' godliness ‑ that he was moved by the things that move God. (John 2:15‑17; Psalm 69:9) From beginning to end, the Bible is filled with references to God's anger. (Eg Exodus 15:7; Deuteronomy 9:7‑8; Ezekiel 7:19; Romans 2:5; Revelation 16:1) Christians have always made a distinction between righteous anger and selfish anger. There was nothing impulsive about Jesus' action. He displayed complete self‑control. He went to the temple, looked around, and left because it was late. The next day he drove out the temple workers. (Mark 11:11,15) To see if any selfish anger resided within Jesus, examine his response when he was cruelly and unjustly executed. 'Forgive them,' was his cry.
Jesus dishonoured his mother by adressing her as 'woman' ‑ Most modern Bible translations use expressions like 'dear lady,' but even these seem artificial. The Good News Bible does not even try to translate it. There is, in fact, no exact English equivalent for the word that is in the original text. 'A term of endearment and respect' is one Greek scholar's description of the word. We have only to examine one of the contexts to see the accuracy of this description. Jesus used this term of address in the tenderest of moments. He was on the cross dying in agony. His heart‑broken, probably widowed, mother, soon to be bereft of her son, was looking on, and Jesus was making final arrangements for his most loving disciple to look after her for the rest of her life. (John 19:26‑27)
Conclusion: Distance in time and culture, a superficial look at a text and an unfamiliarity with biblical morality can momentarily throw us, but a more careful examination affirms that Jesus was uniquely without sin.
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