The Faith part 7
Where Do We Go From Here?
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
February 22, 2009



This morning we’re completing our seven-week journey through this message series called “The Faith.” Over the course of this series, here on Sundays and through the week in our LIFE Groups, we’ve explored several of the foundational beliefs that have been held by all Christ-followers in all places at all times. Through the centuries our culture have changed, our styles of worship have changed, our context has changed… there are lots of things that have changed and that’s fine. But these foundational beliefs have been consistent since the beginning. These are the non-negotiables for orthodox Christianity.

We started out by discovering how Christianity is not just a set of beliefs or a code of conduct… and it’s not even just a relationship with Jesus Christ. It’s a complete worldview that affects everything you say, think and do. We talked about the basic understanding that “God is”… that He exists regardless of how we may feel at any particular point of time. I watched an episode of Grey’s Anatomy recently where one character asked another character if they believed in God. And the response was, “Sometimes.” Well, God’s existence is not dependent on our feelings at any given time. He’s the transcendent God who exists whether I think He exists or not.

We also talked about the nature of this God – how He’s one God with one nature, but has three centers of personhood. We know these three persons as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. And we saw how this is not a contradiction at all, but is a perfectly valid and reasonable explanation of God as revealed to us.

And we talked about how God has spoken… He has spoken through Creation, through our conscience, and through His Word, the Bible. We’ve talked about the reliability of the Bible… that despite all the people who attack it and try to disprove it, time and time again the Bible proves itself to be accurate historically and sound theologically. It speaks to the human experience, it inspires us, and it shows us the way to find forgiveness and hope and life and God Himself.

I am personally amazed at how it has been passed down through the centuries with such care and consistency. We’ve talked before about how there is simply no other book of antiquity that even comes close to the textual integrity of the Bible.

And remember, the Bible is not just one book; it’s a collecting of 66 books written over the span of 1400 years by 40 different authors in three different languages. And yet it conveys a consistent message of redemption from the first page to the last without contradiction. Really, it’s incredible.

We’ve also talked about the reality of absolute truth. We live in a time when everything seems to be subjective and relative… whatever you want to believe is right for you. But if there is absolute truth, then it is true regardless of what you might believe. Absolute truth is truth for everyone at all times, even if a person may choose to deny it or it doesn’t fit their preferences.

When I was in high school, I had a teacher who was a member of the “Flat Earth Society.” That’s a group of people who still maintain that the earth is not round; it’s flat. That’s what this teacher believed was true. But was he right? I mean, that’s what he believed – couldn’t the earth be round for me and flat for him? Or is one belief true and the other belief false? That’s the nature of absolute truth.

When Nate was born, what if I came in here that Sunday, told you we had a baby, and you asked what we had. What if I responded, “Well, I say it’s a boy, but Shera says it’s a girl. And who am I to argue? What she thinks is right is right for her.” How ridiculous is that? (And poor Nate!) There are some things that are true even if nobody believes them, and there are things that are false even if everyone believes them.

In the Bible you find all kinds of claims to absolute truth. Such as…

1 John 5:11-12 (NLT)
And this is what God has testified: He has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have God’s Son does not have life.

Acts 4:11-12 (NLT)
“For Jesus is the one referred to in the Scriptures… There is salvation in no one else! There is no other name in all of heaven for people to call on to save them.”

Those kinds of statements cannot be true for some people and false for others. Either it’s completely true for all people everywhere at all times, or it’s a complete fraud and we’re just wasting our time here this morning. But don’t believe the garbage that Jesus is the way to salvation for some people, and others find a different way. That option is simply not left available for us.

So if it is true that Jesus really is the one and only way to God the Father and eternal life, then no other way will do no matter how much you believe in it. I mean, you can be completely sincere in your beliefs, and that’s great. But understand this…

You can be sincere, and be sincerely wrong.


Well, we moved on from that and we talked about how everything God created was good, including the Free Will that He gave to humanity. But we used that Free Will to rebel against Him. Ultimately, that’s what sin is: it’s rebellion against God and the ways of God. We sinned, and that sin has corrupted all of Creation. And the end result of that sinfulness for us is hopelessness, suffering, distress, and death.

But then we talked about God’s solution to the corruption of sin… the Incarnation, the crucifixion and the resurrection. We explained how God looked at our hopeless condition, saw that we couldn’t do anything about it, so He decided to do something about it. So He entered into His own creation as the baby Jesus, the event we still celebrate today as Christmas. He grew up among us, He taught us, performed miracles, proclaimed the Kingdom of God… But then there was a conspiracy and He was falsely accused and sentenced to death. And He died a very painful death on a cross. And He allowed all that to happen so that He could pay the penalty that we deserved for our rebellion. He sacrificed Himself so we could be forgiven. That was the only way that God’s standards of Justice and Mercy could both be met. Justice and Mercy met on the Cross.

But that wasn’t the end of the story, because on the third day after the crucifixion, Jesus rose from the dead. And that might sound like a story from ancient mythology, but at various times here at Sunrise we’ve seen that there is evidence that it really happened.
  • You have the testimony of the witnesses… not just a few fishermen, but hundreds of people who saw Jesus – many at the same time – and they talked with Him and even touched Him after the resurrection.
  • You have the 27 individually written books which have since been compiled into our New Testament. These books were all written in the first century by some of these witnesses to the resurrected Jesus and based on eyewitness accounts, with some of the passages dating back to within a decade of the actual events, and some of the quotes traced back to within 18 months of the resurrection… far too early for any legends to arise.
  • Then you have the empty tomb, and the inability of the Jewish and Roman authorities to produce a body and disprove the resurrection, although they desperately wanted to. Modern science and historical thought has no valid alternative for explaining the empty tomb other that the resurrection.
  • And then there was the incredible transformation of the disciples themselves, from a scared collection of people who scattered in fear at the crucifixion, to the courageous group who emerged to change the world and who went to their deaths proclaiming that the resurrection really happened.
  • And there’s the personal experience that billions of people, including many of us here, have had with the resurrected Jesus. We know that He has risen because we’ve experienced Him for ourselves.

So that’s the resurrection. And then we talk about the ascension… how Jesus after the resurrection spent time with His followers but then returned to Heaven. And someday He will come back again. We don’t know when that will be, but He will return. In the meantime, He has established His Church as a peaceful occupying force to expand His Kingdom on earth. The Church is not a building or an organization; it’s the people of God. It’s the Body of Christ. It’s the community of Christ-followers around the world. And we need to be about the business of carrying on His work, serving God by serving others, and spreading His message of love and forgiveness and salvation to those around us and around the globe.

We also talked about the salvation that is available to us and to every person on the planet. And we talked about how there absolutely nothing we can do to earn it. We can do all kinds of good deeds and be a good neighbour and care for the poor, but it will never be enough. Because when God judges us, He doesn’t measure us by comparing us to each other. He measures us by His own perfect standard of holiness. And by that measure, we all fail miserably.

So salvation is not offered to us as something to earn; it is a free gift of God’s grace that we receive by faith. We are made right with God not because of who we are or anything we ca do; we’re made right with God because of who Jesus is and what He has done for us on the cross.


So that’s whirlwind tour of the past six weeks. We’ve talked about all of that and more.

And what I want to talk about for the rest of our time this morning is, where do we go from here? How do we know what is true and what is false? How do we tell the difference between truth and error? How do we make sure that what we believe is right really is right? I mean, none of us wants to be deceived by lies, do we? We all want to know the truth. How can we make that happen?

Because let me tell you, there are lots of people who will make conflicting claims. And unless you know what you believe, and more importantly why you believe it, you won’t be able to tell the difference whether what they are telling you is right or wrong.

Throughout this series, we’ve mentioned some of the leading atheists (or anti-theists) that are prominent in the world today. And they’ve written some best-sellers like…

[PowerPoint]

Christopher Hitchen’s “God Is Not Great”
Sam Harris’ “Letter to a Christian Nation”
Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion”
Bart Ehrman’s “Misquoting Jesus”

And these books are relentless in their attack on the belief in God and on believers themselves. And even though you may never read one of these books, I would guarantee you that most of us here this morning know people who are reading books like these.

Take “The God Delusion” for example. It came out in 2006 and was on the New York Times’ Best-sellers list for 51 weeks. When it first came out, I decided I would read it for myself. So I put my name down to reserve it at the library because, well, I wasn’t going to actually pay good money for it and send Dawkins a royalty.

If I remember correctly, there were about 70 people on the waiting list ahead of me and it took months before I got hold of it. And when I finally read it, I was able to recognize that his arguments just don’t hold water. But I was only able to recognize that because I know what I believe and why I believe it.

A while back, I made a purchase from Amazon.ca. And if you’ve ever ordered anything there, then you know that as soon as you add something to your shopping cart they suggest a few other books that they think you might be interested in. Well, this is the screen I saw…
[PowerPoint – “Top Sellers” – The God Delusion, God Is Not Great, & The Secret]

Now, you may not be reading books like these, but people you know are. And they are going to be deceived by the lies presented in these books and they may even convince you of them unless you know what you believe and why you believe it.

So that brings us to your notes this morning. Here’s what I would suggest you do to prepare…


To Know What Is True and Avoid What Is False…

1.    Desire to Discover the Truth

Don’t be satisfied with just kind of unconsciously going through life. Desire to discover the Truth.

[VIDEO – A Few Good Men – “You Can’t Handle the Truth” scene]

Let me tell you, you can handle the Truth and you need to handle the Truth. You’ve got to desire it. Otherwise, you’re setting yourself up for disaster.

Proverbs 15:14 (NLT)
A wise person is hungry for truth, while the fool feeds on trash.

Now, what do I mean when I talk about Truth? I’m talking about the Truth of who we are, where we come from, and why we’re here, Truth of who God is and how He relates to humanity, Truth about how to receive forgiveness and salvation, Truth about what it means to have a Christian worldview… that kind of thing. But you know, it’s amazing to me how many people are completely oblivious and apathetic about truth in general, and this kind of Truth in particular. Truth that, if it really is true, has tremendous repercussions for them right now and throughout eternity. Some people act as if they really don’t care, and maybe they don’t. But if what I believe is true really is true, then there will be dire consequences for their apathy.

And I don’t say that to scare people or force them to agree with me; I say it to urge them to seek the Truth for themselves. They don’t have to take my word for it, but seek to discover the Truth. Nurture a desire to know the Truth. Jesus said…

Matthew 7:7-8 (NLT)
“Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”

Ask, seek and knock. Desire to discover the Truth.

Now, one of the things you will discover when you begin to seek Truth is that there are many different and conflicting claims to Truth. Everyone claims that what they believe to be true really is true, and everyone else is wrong. So how do you handle all the differing opinions and conflicting beliefs? Well, you…


2.    Investigate and Evaluate

God gave you the ability to think. And He gave it to you for a reason. He doesn’t expect you to turn off your brains when it comes to matters of faith and belief. He wants you to use your brain. He wants you to engage your intellect. He wants you to exercise your reasoning abilities. Jesus Himself said…

Mark 4:24 (NIV)
“Consider carefully what you hear…”

Underline the word, “consider.” That means, “Think about it. Test it. Is it really true?” Jesus is saying, “You’ve heard me; now think about what I’ve said. Does it sound reasonable to you? Does it resonate with you? Does it sound true? Then what are you going to do about it?”

Or how about the apostle Paul? Paul was an educated man. He was a scholar. And he was able to show people the validity of who Jesus is. You can see examples of that all through the Book of Acts and throughout his letters. To the Thessalonian Church he wrote…

1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 (NIV)
Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.

And he wrote to the Church in Corinth, from the Message paraphrase of the Bible…

1 Corinthians 14:20 (MSG)
To be perfectly frank, I'm getting exasperated with your infantile thinking. How long before you grow up and use your head—your adult head? … Only mature and well-exercised intelligence can save you from falling into gullibility.

You know, there’s an idea going around these days that in order to believe in God you have to just accept what you’re told, you can’t think critically, and you just have to have a blind faith. Basically, this idea says that in order to believe in God you just have to believe, regardless of the facts.

But as a believer, I do not have a blind faith. The truth is, faith has its reasons. And there is plenty of evidence that supports my faith in God… in creation, in the resurrection, in the Bible, in philosophy, in personal experience. There’s the ontological argument, the cosmological argument, there’s the moral argument… Oh, there will be things I’ll never fully understand. But my faith does not go against logic; it goes beyond logic. It sees where the evidence points and goes in that direction.

So you’ve got to investigate what claims are out there, and you’ve got to evaluate whether those claims are true or not (and if they even matter). You’ve got to reason it out. You’ve got to ask questions and see what makes sense of the facts.

You may remember we did this with The DaVinci Code. We did it again when we talked about Oprah’s Internet classes on spirituality. We’ll do it again when the movie Angels & Demons comes out this May. We often do that here at Sunrise… we evaluate which claims to Truth are actually true and which are false. And we learn to recognize the difference.

And really, this is where a lot of people fail. They hear some kind of a claim to truth… maybe from a friend, or in a book, or from one of those talking heads on TV, or even from a pastor. And then they accept those claims without really checking them out. Without considering the credibility of the source. Without seeing what kind of historical or archaeological or scientific or logical support there is for them.

Now, I should say that your faith should not be based solely on the evidence from science, history, philosophy or archaeology. Because there are always new discoveries that change our understandings in those areas. Your first and greatest basis for your faith should be the witness of the Holy Spirit to your spirit. Ultimately, it’s the Holy Spirit who leads you to salvation and gives you the assurance of that salvation. And He provides you with a consistent, non-changing witness so that your faith can be secure.

But you need to understand also that God also gave you the ability to think and reason things out. He doesn’t expect you to abandon that ability when you place your faith in Him; He expects you to use it to the full. As a Christ-follower, you don’t have to be afraid of facts. You don’t have to be afraid of questions. You don’t have to be afraid of scientific discovery. Because really, all of those ultimately support faith in God.


3.    Immerse yourself in the Truth

In the New Testament, the apostle Paul put it this way…

Philippians 4:8 (CEV)
Finally, my friends, keep your minds on whatever is true, pure, right, holy, friendly, and proper. Don't ever stop thinking about what is truly worthwhile and worthy of praise.

So basically, he’s saying “Immerse yourself in the truth.” Why? Because the best way to discern what is false is to know what is true.

If I were to argue that 2 plus 2 equals 5, what would you say? Well, first you might say I’m an idiot, but I’m not here to argue that this morning. But next you might tell me that I’m wrong… that it’s not true. But how do you know it’s not true? Because you know what really is true.

It’s not so much that you doubt that 2 plus 2 equal 5; it’s more that you’re confident that 2 plus 2 equals 4. And you’re confident of that because years ago you studied it and you learned it and it’s been proven to be true time and time again.

Your best protection against lies is the truth. And the more you know and understand the truth, the more prepared you will be. And what is the truth? Well, Jesus claimed to be “The way, the TRUTH and the life.” And He also said this…

John 8:31-32 (NIV)
Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

So immerse yourself in the Truth. Learn all you can about Jesus. Get to know Him. Study His Word. Because when you do that… when you become very familiar with what is True… it becomes easy for you to identify what is not so true.


4.    Be ready to give a reasonable response

Read this verse from the New Testament book of 1st Peter aloud with me…

1 Peter 3:15 (NIV)
Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.

And let me say this: the response “Because I said so” is not a valid response. When someone questions why you believe what you believe and you answer, “You just have to have faith”, that is not really a good answer. There are real answers you can give that make a whole lot more sense. Including saying, “I don’t know. Let me check it out and get back to you.”

And do you know who really benefits if you know how to respond to questions people may have? You do. You’ll find that you’re a whole lot more confident that what you believe to be true really is true, and you’ll become much more secure in your faith.

Now, I’ve already talked about some of the books that are popular right now that attack Christ-followers and the Christian faith. At the end of your notes you see a selection of books that you can look at to see that there are reasonable responses to the criticisms. I’ve also included a list of websites, which is the same list I gave you when we started this series. And you can find lots of articles and videos and podcasts to check out there.

[PowerPoint – Upcoming LIFE Groups]

Beyond that, in just a couple weeks, we’re going to be starting two LIFE Groups that will deal with issues like these… discovering truth and learning to defend it. One of them will be hosted by Harvey and Sandra on Monday nights, entitled The Truth Project. They took some training for this series last year, and from what I’ve seen it’s some excellent stuff.

And then on Wednesdays, we’re going to start a series at our place that I’m calling “God On the iPod (Series 1): Faith Has Its Reasons”. I’m going to compile some of the audio and video files that I’ve been listening to online, you’ll be able to listen to one of them that week, and then we’ll get together to discuss it. And we’ll aim to take a reasonable look at our faith and learn to defend it.

Harvey and Sandra’s Group will start March the 9th, and mine will start March the 11th. And you’ll be hearing more about these LIFE Groups over the next couple of weeks.


And just one more things that I want to mention quickly.


5.    Stay true to what is True

In other words, guard what you accept as Truth. Watch that you don’t be led astray by lies. Paul told his young apprentice Timothy…

1 Timothy 4:16 (NIV)
Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.

Watch your life and doctrine closely. Don’t allow for any lies to enter into your beliefs. Be alert and ready at all times.

Colossians 2:8 (NLT)
Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ.


Now, as we finish up this series, let me just say this. A lot of you here this morning have young children. And I’m right there with you. And it would seem wise to me that as our children grow, we should be sitting down with them and discussing these sorts of things. Because they’re going to be facing opposition. There are going to be people who tell them that faith in God is a crutch for those who can’t handle life, that it’s intellectual suicide, that it’s intolerant, that it’s all a big scam… they’re going to hear those kinds of things that are blatantly false but are popular today. And unless our kids have some kind of foundation before then, those kinds of attacks can be devastating.

And I’m not talking about brainwashing your kids. I’m talking about teaching them to think. Teaching them to look for real answers. Letting them understand that most attacks on the Christian faith have no basis other than ignorance. And even the attacks with some substance have a reasonable response.

Your kids cannot inherit your faith. They need to decide for themselves. And what they’re going to hear in schools and from friends and when they get to university is a lot of confusion about the Christian faith and who Jesus is. And they’re going to be faced with what the apostle Paul called “high sounding nonsense” that sounds convincing but really is meaningless. So help them with that. Sit down with them and talk about these kinds of things.

Now let’s pray.


Bonus Books:
“The End of Reason” by Ravi Zacharias, a response to Sam Harris’ “Letter to a Christian Nation”
“The Dawkins Delusion?” by Alister and Joanna McGrath, a response to Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion”
“Misquoting Truth” by Timothy Paul Jones, a response to Bart Ehrman’s “Misquoting Jesus”
“What’s So Great About Christianity?” by Dinesh D’Souza, a response to Christopher Hitchens’ “God Is Not Great”

Websites (with articles, videos and/or podcasts):
www.Apologetics.com
www.LeeStrobel.com
www.ReasonableFaith.com
www.Breakpoint.org
www.RZIM.com

 

 

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