Faith’s Joy Depends on the Historical Incarnation of Jesus

1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life—

2 the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us—

3 that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.

4 And these things we write to you that your joy may be full.

Nelson, Thomas (2009-02-18). Holy Bible, New King James Version (NKJV) (p. 1178). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

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John wanted to assure his readers that the historical incarnation of Jesus was historical truth. Historicity is the bulwark of faith. In history, real knowledge exists. Someone lived, accomplished certain things, and then died. It is knowledge that can be verified. There were eye witnesses, and they spoke of what they saw. Faith draws upon knowledge, for there cannot be faith in non-existence. Genuine faith could not be placed in that which does not exists, because that which does not exists could not be brought to mind toward which one would claim, “I believe.”

From the outset, John established that faith pointed to what he saw, heard, and handled. He heard Jesus speak. He saw Jesus move among the people, healing some and speaking to others. John touched Jesus and knew He was real. He was witness not only to Jesus’ life but also to His death and resurrection. His writing showed that he trusted what he saw and heard. One might argue, “Isn’t faith that which is in the unseen.” Yes, but it is also in evidence of what one sees. The writer of the Hebrews letter writes,

“By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of the things which are visible” (Hebrews 11:3). The world around us stands out visible to our eyes. Why then do we need faith? Observation is one thing, but understanding is quite a different matter. Both lend to faith. However, the understanding receives enlightenment through faith. That which one observes supplies evidence just as much as that which one does not see. We do not see words, and a deaf person does not hear them, nor can a blind person read them. However, their lack of hearing, reading, or touching does not at all discount their existence. How then does one know such words exists? Another brings the evidence of the reality of those words. It is valid for one to introduce evidence to another.

The hope, joy, and faith of John’s audience of his letter depended on the historical fact of Jesus and His death and resurrection. All that Jesus did and spoke was as true as the most recent events of the past. It was just as certain the accounts of the US presidential lines, the various wars in which the US fought, and yesterday’s news.

John gave witness that they [the apostles and others who knew and followed Jesus] heard, saw, and touched the living Jesus. Jesus, the Son of God, came in the flesh, lived among fallen humanity, suffered persecution and opposition, was executed, and rose again from the dead. John had earlier written of these events in his gospel.  Now he sets this very truth out as foundational when he writes to his audience. Since Jesus was who he said he was, that claim and historical fact makes all the difference for all who believe Him. That belief acts as an anchor of allegiance to Him as Lord of all.

There are different types and levels of allegiances. Many pledge allegiance to a political party, and that causes them to rally for that party through time and money regardless sometimes of the candidate. For many, the platform for that party are simply benchmarks for society as a whole and are the drawing card for allegiance. Nothing calls individuals to absolute obedience to them. They simply hold them as what the party stands for and can be changed for the next election cycle. They may not be burned into the minds and hearts of all who pledge allegiance to the party. It is allegiance to a non-personal. People can hold differing opinions and interpretations of the elements of this non-personal platform and still give allegiance to it.

Many pledge allegiance to a nation and the flag that represents that nation. The Constitution also stands as a standard for that nation. Yet, the Constitution’s interpreters can read into or skew the meaning of this Constitution to mean other than what the original writer meant until this document becomes meaningless. The pledge to the Constitution becomes a pledge to a generalized form in which the content becomes lost or changed over time as people go about living their lives as though it does not exist until the rights the Constitution bestows are removed. Then people get up in arms that a group or person stands in their way between them and that form. Their complaint is about the form and not so much their commitment to its contents.

The interesting thing about giving allegiance to a nation or a document as the Constitution is that a ruthless dictator can rule the nation while spewing out propaganda for gaining allegiance of the people. Germany was a good example during World War II. The document could also contain lies lacking any attachment to reality. Giving allegiance to such a national leader or document is giving allegiance to that which is false. Yes, people can give allegiance to something false or false knowledge, something not grounded in truth or evidence. Such an allegiance has occurred numerous times in history. Consider the false Greek and Roman gods without history or reality. Deceit undergirds this allegiance. The proprietors of the temple of Diana in Ephesus is a stellar example of profitable deceit. People deceive without giving evidence or verification of their claims.

However, John carries allegiance well beyond a party or document. Rather, he points to a living person and not some impersonal entity like a political party or document. Since an allegiance is to a person, it takes on a far different dimension. It is true that people give allegiance to other people. However, such an allegiance frequently takes on an external commitment. They give up their material goods and time to become involved in some sort of membership or group the person to whom they give allegiance represents. Jesus calls for an allegiance that is greater and deeper than the external. It is one that involves internal motives, thoughts and intents, feeling and desire, and behaviors untouched by a mere man. Following Jesus calls for an allegiance that renders internal change of all we are for expressing a new way of life.

Let us return to the Hebrews passage a moment. Observations of the world about us gives evidence that it came about some time in the past. How one understands what one observes depends on one’s interpretation of what one observes and how that interpretation agrees with reality. Since we are far removed from the origins of existence, all we can do is attempt to propose hypotheses and try our best to test them with the best tools available, which are better than those 200 years ago but probably inferior to those in 200 years from now. Nobody saw existence come about. That eliminates observation. Even then, much about origins is speculation and requires some sort of faith that whatever first thrust the elements of what exists also existed. Many scientists simply claim they do not know the origins of existence. The writer of Hebrews offers a starting point. All that we see did not come about from that which is visible. That is, all that began to exist did not give rise to that which began to exist. Rather, that invisible God created all that began to exist. Faith is required for both views of how things began to exist. However, the Hebrew writer claims that the invisible God as Creator is far more credible than the starting point of the visible giving rise to the visible or eternal matter.

The same thing holds true with John’s message. He wrote his opening statement based on living testimony (evidence), “That which was from the beginning” (1:1). If Jesus was from the beginning, as John claims from the mouth of Jesus Himself, would such first-hand evidence be more credible than drawing conclusions from lack of observation?

If all Jesus said was true, and John recorded what He said, would it not make sense to give allegiance to such personal first-hand knowledge, especially when Jesus supported this knowledge through His resurrection from the dead? The opening paragraph of John lays the foundation for this new way of life by setting forth the person to whom all allegiances are rendered. With this foundation established on a person, John can then set forth the argument that true allegiance assumes the same depth of personal allegiance as Jesus had with His Father, which John illustrates specifically as he works out throughout his entire letter of 1 John the substance of this allegiance to Jesus.

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God the Creator or God the Created?

“You thought that I was altogether like you” (Psalm 50:21).

The psalmist identifies the greatest sin of humanity – idolatry.  Idolatry is turning God the Creator into God the created.  It is men and women creating God in the image of humanity – limited in all ways, angry, arrogant, impatient, jealous, and so on.  Estrangement from God over time due to rebellion from Him lends to people viewing the created order as somehow resembling the image of God.  The psalmist claims that this estrangement begins in the mind with disordered thoughts.  It is natural for us to think this way in our rebellion from God.  In fact, the greater the distance humanity is from God, the more individuals shake off the truth of God and form Him into the image of the creature.  Idolatry has no bounds in its creativity.  It takes that which exist in the created order and converts it into a god.  In doing so, certain consequences occur.

Love turns into hatred, and embracing God becomes rejection. Raising up other gods demonstrates hatred for God’s instruction, especially the first of the 10 Commandments,

“You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3).

This instruction is not simply something in writing but the instruction of humanity’s design – created in the image of God.  If men and women are created in God’s image, then we bear the image of the one and only true God.  No other gods exist, for they are fictions risen from the minds of individuals.  Since God is righteous (50:6), His imprint of righteousness is on everyone.  It is an objective imprint that God stamps as good because it is the essence of His being and character; that is, He is internally consistent and faithful with all He is.  God is good and love and righteousness and truth.  Therefore, there is an objective good and rightness, and it resides in God.

Just as we create gods from that which exists in the created order, we think we can create our own good and rightness and make it our own truth.  When each person does this, goodness and rightness multiply by as many people that exist, and each person does what it right in one’s own eyes.  We develop our own “truth” after we have rejected God and the truth that He is.  We view ourselves righteous in our own eyes and claim, “Your truth may not be the same as my truth” and live in that fantasy world.  This is one of the major consequences of rejecting God’s instruction.  We take a path contrary to the way God created us – His design for our lives.  The world is a sad commentary of everyone doing what is right in one’s eyes.  Paul the Apostle gives a list of consequences that results from this action:

“Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies †among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due. And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful” (Romans 1:22-29).

The above is a vicious cycle of destruction, a destruction arising from a lie and rejection of the one true God.

However, the psalmist claims another way,

“Whoever offers praise glorifies Me; And to him who orders his conduct aright I will show the salvation of God” (Psalm 50:23).

Praising God turns negatives and the cycle of destruction into life – eternal life.  Praise accepts God and His way for us.  It returns the good and brings order back to us.  God restores that good within us by faith in Him in recognizing Him as both God the Creator and Redeemer and rejects a god created in the image of a replica that exist in our minds.

By Faith We Understand… (Part 2)

By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God…” (Hebrews 11:3)

Understanding is an essential for coming to terms with the world about us and its purpose and meaning.  The material world is not just some set of molecules comprising mass in different forms.  Rather, behind the world exists the living God, the Creator of all that exists.  A worldview gives shape to our understanding of all existence, and a variety of world views exist.  However, in essence, all world views can be reduced to two: 1) one by which the Creator gives rise, and 2) one that humanity envisions and shapes in the imagination.

The second of these comes in many forms, but these forms arise from a different source – humanity.  Humanity shapes as many world views as there are individuals and communities imagining them, nuanced into the claim “Your truth may not be my truth.”  This claim gives birth to each person creating what is right in his or her own eyes.  Who is to question a person’s understanding if the god in their imagination gives rise to it?  In essence, a worldview from this perspective is like rolling dice.  Whatever comes up is that person’s slant on life, and there is no one truth that dictates that slant except the one with the dice.  If a person does not like the numbers that appear the first time, she rolls them again until she sees the numbers she likes.  Such activity is random like one who continues to search for a slice on life appealing to the person.  Once found, it satisfies for a season until another roll of the dice serves up something better.  Chance is the name of the game for reaching an understanding of the real world.  That is, that individual assigns meaning and understanding to the dice roll or passively accepts the dice roll from another such as with a cult.  There is no divine fiat.  Rather, if any deity created the worlds, such a deity is much like the Deists who wounds up creation and then steps back and watches what His living creatures will do with it: cultivate it or blow it up.

Then there is the understanding of science fiction.  The deities of these world views arise from the imagination and also include a claim of no deity at all or the individual as divine.  From the world views beginning with humanity arise the understanding that the source ranges from some sort of deity creating to evolution.  Science fiction also brings with it aliens arriving from another planet and populating the earth.  Consequently, whatever individuals can imagine springs forth a worldview.  This worldview spawns aliens and war of the worlds, beings intent on destroying everyone else’s worldview and imposing their own, much like what happens in the real world.  Therefore, a tension exists between two major world views within this scenario.  That tension is between war and utopia.  In both cases, the outcome appears to be the same: the imposition of a dominate worldview onto the masses much like the “War of the Worlds” and Thomas Moore’s “Utopia” in which all things are regulated.  One expresses treachery while the other seems benevolent.  However, the results are the same: the control of others through the imposition of the controller’s worldview.  They rest on fiction divorced from reality.  Humanism spawns all of these understandings.

The first cited worldview arises from the Creator who is distinct and separate from creation.  One might ask, “Is the Christian and biblically based God not any different from any other deity (or non-deity) described above?”  One major difference exists that makes God distinct and different from all others.  As noted above, He is distinct from creation and thereby separate from the imaginations of those in the created order who imagine all sorts of gods, even themselves as divine.  He is not the creation of imagination or physical or material in nature.  He is the Creator of all that exists.

Albert Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary wrote,

Christianity brings the world a distinctive understanding of time, history, and the meaning of life. The Christian worldview contributes an understanding of the universe and all it contains that points us far beyond mere materialism and frees us from the intellectual imprisonment of naturalism. Christians understand that the world—including the material world—is dignified by the very fact that God has created it”  (Mohler, Albert, “Intellectual Discipleship: Following Christ with Minds, Bible Study Tools.com, http://bit.ly/1pElrQt.)

In other words, the material world constrains our understanding, because it does not have the guide of true biblical faith – the faith that sets focus on the “substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1-2).  Genuine faith does not set its sights on the material world but on the unseen reality of God who is separate and distinct from the created order.  He is not a benevolent dictator, a deity that leaves His creation alone, or a monster who oppresses people.  Rather, He is a God of love who faithfully commits Himself to our care and not as Mohler states of rulers alienated from Him,

Christians come to understand that idolatry and self-aggrandizement are the temptations that come to any regime” (Mohler, Intellectual Discipleship).

Since God created us, He knows us intimately and is aware of our alienation from Him and the limitations of our created state.  Consequently, He shared His love with us through Jesus Christ’s death on the cross to reconcile us from this alienation, not only with Him but with others and the world in which we live.  This alienation brought factions and war as well as the destructive activity toward our environment.  By faith, we understand His loving care and the claim He has on our lives, a claim to set us right with Him and ultimately to bring a halt to self-destruction.

Copyright (c) 2014, Action Faith Books Press.  All rights reserved.  Not to be used without expressed written permission.

By Faith We Understand…

The first example the writer of the the letter to the Hebrews gives is creation.  The author declares,

By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible” (Hebrews 11:3).

Creation is an obvious starting point for faith because of the impossibility of creation’s observation.  Only God was present and created everything that came into being.  No one saw Him do it.  The author also wanted to insure that he included all existence within the realm of faith and that faith has its roots in history and God’s activity in the real world. Consequently, faith excludes myth, legend, some sort of leap, feeling, mysticism, and all that is seen

Is creation not in what we see?  Are we then to exclude creation as evidence for the unseen God? No. It is one thing to accept creation as evidence for the Creator.  It is an entirely another thing to place faith in this evidence.  Acknowledgement of the Creator does not save anyone. Along with such an acknowledgement must come faith in the Redeemer, Jesus Christ. Jesus is God’s special revelation, Mediator, and the sole object of faith for salvation.  Creation is not the object of faith and means of our understanding of God or Redeemer in Christ.

When God created man and woman and placed them in Eden, He spoke directly to them and gave them direction for living and relating to Him in the form of specific commands.  His word guided them.  In their innocent state, they understood that God created all things, including them.  He told them so, and they believed Him.  He also gave Adam the task to give names to the different animals He created.  When God gave Adam a spouse, one like himself as to his humanity, but different from him as to his form, he also named her, “She shall be called woman” (Genesis 2:23).

When Adam and Eve rebelled against God, they lost their innocence and with it alienation from God that passed through them to their offspring and their children’s offspring through all subsequent generations.  Eventually, the understanding that God created the world’s and humanity became alien as distance from God grew.  Humanity’s eyes turned inward and toward creation as the distinction between the Creator and creation blurred.  Humanity lost sight of the unseen God, and individuals relied on what they could see.  Faith in God eluded them as they turned to the created order for deities.  Eventually, certain people rose up and declared that what exists simply popped out of nowhere, always existed, or other gods created them.  Their understanding of the material world was that the universe evolved and the visible arose from the visible rather than from the invisible and unseen God.

When some surfaced the possibility of a god, they exclaimed, “What god? Your god or mine?  That animal is divine as is that tree and rock.  Let us create our gods from them.”  Gods multiplied as humanity also created images like himself from wood and stone – the visible creating the visible.  Humanity moved such a distance from the unseen God that the destructive forces of his alienation compelled him to shape visible images for his god.  Rebellion from God destroyed faith in the Creator and obliterated humanity’s understanding of the source of creation, including all individuals dwelling on the earth.

Other forms of theism arose, such as polytheism, atheism, and all other forms of idolatry arising from the minds of men and women.  These forms of theism gave them a new understanding and paradigm of the source of all things.  They arose from the visible rather than from the invisible God.  The Big Bang eventually replaced God and spread a materialistic philosophy and religion throughout the earth.  That is, the visible created the visible.  Many individuals begin to understand God as an unseen entity as an unknown (agnosticism).  They then claimed, “We cannot trust that anything unseen acted as the source of the material world.”

Individuals begin relying on observation and the senses behind such observation according to this new theistic paradigm.  This new paradigm also made room for a negation called atheism, which leads to a complete denial of any deity.  Such form renders a new way of viewing the world about us.  Spirituality no longer arises from the unseen God but from whatever individuals make it to be.  Men and women are no longer considered living beings from the breath of God but an evolved existence from a primordial state of slime to a state of material consciousness.  Then we die and disintegrate back into material chemicals shrouded in dirt and mud.

Such is the hopeless state of humanity’s alienation.  It make understanding rudderless, aimlessly wandering across the seas of shifting philosophies transcending the centuries and morphing into greater senses of a lost sense of purpose.  It possess no faith except in the finite and corruptible imaginations of individuals.  Faith is whatever one wants it to be with no substance or evidence to which the author of the letter of the Hebrews points.

However, that is not the case with those who trust the God of the Bible.  We gain knowledge from understanding, and that understanding arises from faith in God.  God reveals Himself to us.  With that revelation He also imparts understanding.  Revelation precedes true knowledge.  Knowledge precedes trust (“Nothing But the Gospel: Can We be Saved Through Creation, Other Religions, or Human Philosophy? by Floyd Talbot, Action Faith Books Press, 2014, p. 163).  God imparts the understanding that He created all that exists.  Additionally, faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ leads us to our Creator and Redeemer as well as eternal life with Him.  By faith we understand that He sent His Son into the world to reconcile us back to our Creator and God so that we can have a living relationship with Him now and forever.  This is the gospel, the good news that confronts our alienation from others, the world, and God.