Tag Archives: faith

What Is Faith – Part 4

Last week we saw where faith came from and how it works.

  • Faith comes from the “internal instigation” of the Holy Spirit.
  • What Jesus called a new birth.
  • What we also call regeneration of the heart.

 

Faith plays out through a series of events – some virtually simultaneous in occurrence.

  • Call – through a drawing of the Holy Spirit and the speaking of the Gospel.
  • Regeneration – the work of the Holy Spirit.
  • Conversion – a combination of faith and repentance.

 

Today, I want us to finish up with an apologetic of faith.

  • I want to deal with the following question.
  • Is faith rational?

 

 

Christian Epistemology:

To get started, we have to see what Christian epistemology looks like.

  • Epistemology is the study of how we come to know what we know.
  • What is knowledge, and what is its source, and why is it reliable.

 

Alvin Plantinga describes Christian epistemology this way:

  • All humans have a “sensus divinitatis” – sense of divinity.
  • This is “a kind of faculty (like sight or hearing)”.
  • It is a “belief-producing faculty…designed and created by God”.

 

“The purpose of the [sense of divinity] is to enable us to have true beliefs about God”.

  • “Under the right conditions” our sense of divinity comes to true beliefs about God, the Gospel and reliability of Scripture.
  • The right conditions are the internal instigation of the Holy Spirit.

 

Christian beliefs are triggered by and arise out of circumstances.

  • These circumstances would be the “ordo salutis” stuff we spoke of last week.
  • All the stuff God is doing in us through the Holy Spirit.

 

So given the call and regeneration stuff, we just find ourselves believing in God.

  • It seems right to do so.
  • In fact, outside of the Holy Spirit’s work we would not choose these beliefs.

 

This is crucial for the rationality of Christian epistemology.

  • We believe because of the actions of an outside agent.
  • Our belief does not originate in our “stuff”.

 

Plantinga puts it this way:

“These beliefs do not come to the Christian just by way of memory, perception, reason, testimony, the sensus divinitatis, or any other of the cognitive faculties or processes with which we human beings were originally created; they come instead by way of the work of the Holy Spirit, who gets us to accept, causes us to see the truth of these great truths of the gospel. These beliefs don’t come just by way of the normal operation of our natural faculties; they are a supernatural gift” – Alvin Plantinga.

 

So, then, we have seen what a Christian epistemology looks like.

  • And no doubt, there are clearly some presuppositions in play here.
  • A couple of them are that God exists and that He has revealed Himself in Scripture.
  • More on these later*.

 

 

Anatomy of Irrational Belief:

Now we need to see what an irrational belief might look like.

 

Philosophers suggest that a belief is irrational if (Alvin Plantinga):

  • (1) It is produced by cognitive faculties that malfunction.
  • (2) It is produced by a cognitive process aimed at producing something other than true beliefs.

 

I would have to add a third supposed criteria often used by the lazy or unsophisticated.

  • (3) A belief is irrational because it is emotionally troubling or distasteful.
  • This is a rhetorical appeal to emotions to portray a belief as absurd or even hateful.

 

An example of the first:

  • This would be a cognitive faculty that has been physically or chemically damaged.
  • It also could be one that is “blinded by ambition” or “blinded by loyalty” – Plantinga.
  • “You can also be blinded by covetousness, love, fear, lust, anger, pride, grief, social pressure, and a thousand other things” – Alvin Plantinga.

 

An example of the second:

  • This would be a cognitive process that forms beliefs whose aim isn’t truth but to…
  • Contribute to survival.
    • Plantinga is well known for lodging this argument against Evolutionary Naturalism.
  • Provide peace of mind.
  • Provide some psychological well-being.

 

An example of the third:

  • Belief “A” is irrational because it is unfair, intolerant, or objectionable.

 

Implication:

All of this means that for one to criticize a belief producing system as irrational it must be shown:

  • That the cognitive faculties used to produce it are malfunctioning.
  • That the cognitive process used to produce it isn’t aimed at producing true beliefs.

 

We have already seen that in Christian epistemology:

  • There is a cognitive faculty called the “divine sense” that when acted upon by the Holy Spirit produces belief in the Christian God.
  • And that this “divine sense” is designed by God to produce true beliefs about Himself.
  • So, on its face, Christian epistemology is not irrational.

 

 

Presuppositions:

Now lets go back to the presuppositions behind a Christian epistemology.

  • At a minimum they are that God exists and that He has revealed Himself in Scripture.

 

So, here is the thing!

  • Anyone who makes knowledge claims does so having already assumed the truth of certain presuppositions.

 

The most obvious of these is an appeal to the past or experience as indicators of:

  • The reliability of our reason.
  • And the uniformity of the laws of nature.

 

For example:

  • I know it to be factually true right now that Norfolk is east of Suffolk.
  • Why – because I was in Norfolk on Friday and to get there, I drove east.
  • I know it to be factually true that when I strike a golf ball with my putter, the ball will stop.
  • Why – because I just saw this repeatedly happen yesterday.
  • I know it to be factually true that I have a Prius.
  • Why – because I remember driving it this morning.

 

In all of these examples, things are assumed without being accounted for or explained.

  • Specifically, everyone believes the world will act uniformly today because it did so in the past.

 

In other words, that which was true yesterday is true today.

  • What “east” was yesterday will be what it is tomorrow.
  • Friction and energy depletion will work tomorrow the same way they did yesterday.

 

About these presuppositions, Alvin Plantinga says:

“And what about the very idea of past occasions, or more generally what about the very idea of a past? I certainly believe that indeed there has been a past; but where can I find a good argument for the conclusion that there really has been a past? The whole development of modern philosophy from Descartes to Hume really shows that there is no good argument from what is self-evident [the assumption of a past] to propositions of this sort [that there really has been a past]” – Alvin Plantinga.

 

In other words, the past, and thus our experience, cannot be shown to be objectively real.

  • Yet, even though they are unaccounted for, they are a starting point for trusting our reason.

 

Circular Reason:

These types of unaccounted for assumptions lead to circular reasoning.

“All chains of argumentation, especially over matters of ultimate personal importance, trace back to and depend upon starting points which are taken to be self-evidencing; thus circularity in debate will be unavoidable” – Greg Bahnsen.

 

For example, as we have just seen:

  • We use reason informed by past experience – a past that is assumed as self-evident – to conclude that reason is reliable.
  • So we are using our reason to argue for the reliability of our reason.

 

Atheist David Hume concedes:

  • “When it is asked, What is the nature of all our reasonings concerning matter of fact? the proper answer seems to be, that they are founded on the relation of cause and effect. When again it is asked, What is the foundation of all our reasonings and conclusions concerning that relation? it may be replied in one word, Experience. But if we still carry on our sifting humour, and ask, What is the foundation of all conclusions from experience? this implies a new question, which may be of more difficult solution and explication” – David Hume.
  • He understands the problem of using reason to assume reason.

 

As we said earlier, a Christian epistemology has the same problem.

  • We assume the existence of God, and that He has revealed Himself in the Bible.
  • We use the Christian Bible to argue our Christian epistemology.
  • See note at bottom for more on circular reasoning*.

 

At this point, Greg Bahnsen says we must do the following.

“At this level of conflict with the unbeliever the Christian must ask, what actually is the unquestionable and self-evidencing presupposition? Between believer and unbeliever, who actually has the most certain starting point for reasoning and experience? What is that presuppositional starting point? Here the Christian apologist, defending his ultimate presuppositions, must be prepared to argue the impossibility of the contrary—that is, to argue that the philosophic perspective of the unbeliever destroys meaning, intelligence, and the very possibility of knowledge, while the Christian faith provides the only framework and conditions for intelligible experience and rational certainty. The apologist must contend that the true starting point of thought cannot be other than God and His revealed word, for no reasoning is possible apart from that ultimate authority. Here and only here does one find the genuinely unquestionable starting point” – Greg Bahnsen.

 

In other words, the only way to account for the reliability of reason is if Christian epistemology is true.

  • Without a transcendent, objective source of knowledge all reasoning is irrational.
  • This is because there is no way to account for it objectively.

 

 

Irrational Faith:

Understanding all of this, we can now look at some common objections to the rationality of Christian beliefs.

  • As we do, we will see if we can identify the problem with each approach.

 

(1) God of the Gaps

  • Christian faith may have been rational before the advent of modern science – but no longer.
  • Science has demonstrated that it can provide empirical evidence for why things are the way they are.
  • Locusts don’t swarm due to the judgment of God, but because of a “build-up of serotonin”.
  • Crops don’t flourish because God has shown favor, but because the right combination of water and nutrients were introduced.

 

Is this using objection 1, objection 2, objection 3 or a combination of them all?

  • Is it successful?
  • What unproven presuppositions lie behind this accusation?

 

(2) Religious Pluralism

  • The numbers of religious traditions that claim to know the truth are enormous.
  • It seems unlikely that one is any better than the others.
  • Nor does it make sense that a cognitive process aimed at supposedly producing true beliefs would produce so many beliefs at odds with each other.

 

Is this using objection 1, objection 2, objection 3 or a combination of them all?

  • Is it successful?
  • What unproven presuppositions lie behind this accusation?

 

(3) Intellectually Arrogant

  • It is arrogant, narrow-minded and intolerant to think that you have stumbled upon the truth.
  • Not to mention, this implies that those who disagree with you are somehow intellectually inferior.
  • “William Cantwell Smith: ‘except at the cost of insensitivity or delinquency, it is morally not possible actually to go out into the world and say to devout, intelligent, fellow human beings: ‘. . . we believe that we know God and we are right; you believe that you know God and you are totally wrong’” – Alvin Plantinga.

 

Is this using objection 1, objection 2, objection 3 or a combination of them all?

  • Is it successful?
  • What unproven presuppositions lie behind this accusation?

 

(4) Evidence Deficient

  • There simply isn’t any good empirical evidence that Christian truth claims are tenable.
  • Supernatural truth claims can’t be tested.
  • Even if they are true – there is no way to know them to be so.

 

Is this using objection 1, objection 2, objection 3 or a combination of them all?

  • Is it successful?
  • What unproven presuppositions lie behind this accusation?

 

(5) Wish-Fulfillment

  • “These [religious beliefs], which are given out as teachings, are not precipitates of experience or end-results of thinking: they are illusions, fulfillments of the oldest, strongest and most urgent wishes of mankind. The secret of their strength lies in the strength of those wishes. As we already know, the terrifying impressions of helplessness in childhood aroused the need for protection — for protection through love — which was provided by the father; and the recognition that this helplessness lasts throughout life made it necessary to cling to the existence of a father, but this time a more powerful one. Thus the benevolent rule of a divine Providence allays our fear of the dangers of life; the establishment of a moral world-order ensures the fulfillment of the demands of justice, which have so often remained unfulfilled in human civilization; and the prolongation of earthly existence in a future life provides the local and temporal framework in which these wish-fulfillments shall take place” – Alvin Plantinga (quoting Sigmund Freud).

 

Is this using objection 1, objection 2, objection 3 or a combination of them all?

  • Is it successful?
  • What unproven presuppositions lie behind this accusation?

 

Plantinga sees wish-fulfillment as the most persuasive argument against the rationality of Christian beliefs.

  • Even so, he dispatches it quite easily.

 

He does so as follows:

  • The claim, he says, is that “there is a failure of rational faculties to work as they should”.
  • The malfunction is wish-fulfillment.
  • The false belief is God.

 

But, Christian epistemology “stands Freud and Marx on their heads” – Plantinga.

  • “It is really the unbeliever who displays epistemic malfunction; failing to believe in God is a result of some kind of dysfunction of the sensus divinitatis” – Alvin Plantinga.

 

He goes on to say:

  • “According to St. Paul, it is unbelief that is a result of dysfunction, or brokenness, failure to function properly, or impedance of rational faculties. Unbelief, he says, is a result of sin; it originates in an effort, as Romans 1 puts it, to ‘suppress the truth in unrighteousness.’”

 

And even more fun is this:

  • “Indeed, unbelief can also be seen as resulting from wish-fulfillment — a result of the desire to live in a world without God, a world in which there is no one to whom I owe worship and obedience” – Plantinga.

 

But wait…there is more!

  • It might be that wish-fulfillment does produce many false beliefs.
  • But, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t produce the one true belief it is aimed at producing – belief in God.

 

 

Conclusion:

Christian beliefs are not irrational any more than it is to believe in the past.

  • We could theoretically be wrong, but we are not irrational.

 

The only legitimate objection to Christian belief would be to show that our presuppositions are wrong.

  • Specifically, that the Christian God doesn’t exist and/or that He did not reveal Himself in Scripture.

 

The problem here, of course, is that there are just as many logically sound arguments for belief in the personal God of the Bible as there are against such a belief.

  • So ultimately, we always end up back at our presuppositions.

 

And as Greg Bahnsen said earlier, we argue for the “impossibility of the contrary”.

  • Without God as the source of an objective, transcendent knowledge, and without Him providing adequate reasoning apparatus to “know” this knowledge, there is no meaningful reasoning about knowledge.

 

For as Scripture says:

  • Colossians 2:2–3 (ESV) — 2 that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
  • Proverbs 2:6 (ESV) — 6 For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding;
  • Job 38:36 (ESV) — 36 Who has put wisdom in the inward parts or given understanding to the mind?
  • Isaiah 55:9 (ESV) — 9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
  • Colossians 1:15–17 (ESV) — 15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

 

 

*A further word about circular reasoning:

“Indeed, it is the case, as many will be quick to point out, that this presuppositional method of apologetics assumes the truth of Scripture in order to argue for the truth of Scripture. Such is unavoidable when ultimate truths are being debated. However, such is not damaging, for it is not a flat circle in which one reasons (i.e., “the Bible is true because the Bible is true”). Rather, the Christian apologist simply recognizes that the ultimate truth—that which is more pervasive, fundamental, and necessary—is such that it cannot be argued independently of the preconditions inherent in it. One must presuppose the truth of God’s revelation in order to reason at all—even when reasoning about God’s revelation. The fact that the apologist presupposes the word of God in order to carry on a discussion or debate about the veracity of that word does not nullify his argument, but rather illustrates it” – Greg Bahnsen.

 

 

Genesis 1 – In The Beginning – Moses’ Message

Introduction to Genesis 1-3 Study:

The ultimate goal in our handling of Genesis 1-3 is to try and determine what Moses intended to convey to the reader – his big picture, his forest, Moses’ message.

  • We will work our way there a little bit at a time over the coming weeks.
  • Today’s longer handling is the exception.

 

Somewhat atypically, we will study Genesis by looking at the trees first and not the forest.

  • And by trees I mean the words – the text itself.

 

As we embark on this journey through the trees…

  • We will see that the text doesn’t say things we thought it did.
  • Or that it says things we weren’t aware of.

 

Along the way we will contend with scholarly approaches to Genesis 1-3.

  • How Genesis relates to science.
  • The historicity of Genesis.
  • Etc., etc., etc.

 

Admittedly, we will focus mainly on John Sailhamer and John Walton’s approaches.

  • We will certainly cite others as well – Bruce Waltke, John Currid, Hugh Ross, et al.

 

Importantly, we will go to the deep well of Scripture itself.

  • We need to see how other Biblical writers saw Genesis 1-3.
  • These inspired writers need to be heard.
  • What they say and don’t say about Genesis 1-3 will take us a long way.

 

Controversy Caution:

Many interpretations of Genesis 1-3 are rife with controversy.

  • Sometimes, with good reason and with bad, dividing lines are arbitrarily drawn.

“The first chapter of Genesis lies at the heart of our understanding of what the Bible communicates about God as Creator. Though simple in the majesty of its expression and the power of its scope, the chapter is anything but transparent. It is regrettable that an account of such beauty has become such a bloodied battleground, but that is indeed the case” – John Walton.

 

“Even among those who take Genesis 1 as God’s Word and as a true statement of the facts, there remain significant differences of opinion about what the text actually says. We must never forget that good and godly people can find themselves on opposite sides of basic questions about these chapters” – John Sailhamer.

 

Taking these statements under advisement we can forge ahead into the trees.

  • I would like to say with no baggage, but that is pretty much impossible.

 

Moses’ Message:

But first…

  • I want us to be aware of something quite significant.
  • The creation story does not stand alone.
  • Moses wrote it as part of a larger story contained in the Pentateuch.
  • Though it may tell us scientific relatable facts, his approach was certainly informed, for the most part, by Israel’s story – God, God’s people, and God’s future as N.T. Wright would say – not modern scientific concerns.

 

It is important to point this out so that we don’t lose sight of Moses’ message.

  • A message that was certainly not centered on the scientific concerns of Biologos or Ken Ham or Hugh Ross or Peter Enns or us.

 

To further drive this point home, we need to look at some possible examples of Moses’ message in the creation story.

  • Certainly some speculation will be involved, but the point will be made.

 

 

Moses’ Message Intro:

When Moses wrote the Pentateuch (including Genesis) he presumably already knew the creation story, the flood story, the call of Abraham, the story of Joseph, etc.

  • As we said, the story of God, God’s people and God’s future.
  • If so, he was looking at God’s creation through the lens of what God had already done on behalf of Israel.
    • How could he not?
  • And as with the Apostle Paul, for example, part of this “lens” was the nature and context of his call by God.

 

Thinking this way begs the question about Moses’ “beginning”.

  • Moses’ story, like the universe’s story and Israel’s story had a beginning.

 

Moses’ “beginning”:

  • Exodus 3:2–6 (ESV) — 2 And the angel of the Lord [Yahweh] appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. 3 And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” 4 When the Lord [Yahweh] saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” 5 Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” 6 And he said, “I am the God [Elohim] of your father, the God [Elohim] of Abraham, the God [Elohim] of Isaac, and the God [Elohim} of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God [Elohim].

 

I suggest a connection can be made between creation as Moses’ tells it, and the context of his call by God.

  • Without Moses’ “beginning” we presumably would not have the Pentateuch – including Genesis.
  • And this connection might reveal a few of Moses’ messages.

 

 

1) Moses’ Message (and context) – A Theodicy?

How does this connection suggest a theodicy?

 

The God that created (bara) the heavens and earth is the God that revealed Himself to Moses in the midst of Israel’s captivity and slavery in Exodus 3.

  • An Israel who was seeking deliverance from slavery and the fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant with the giving of the Promised Land.
  • An Israel waiting for the serpents head to be crushed.
  • An Israel anticipating fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant.

 

Now how strange is that?

  • Moses, a slave, in the captivity of a pagan power, is extolling the power of God as Creator and the goodness of His creation.
  • In the midst of these circumstances (including 40 years of wandering) He identifies “Elohim” as Creator in Gen. 1:1 – not the competing Egyptian or Mesopotamian gods of creation.

 

So, what kind of God allows His people to end up in slavery serving other “gods” or sets them free only to wander in the desert?

  • An answer is found in the creation story.

 

It may look bleak now, but the Creator God is a God of action in history.

  • God is always “hovering” and moving purposely in history.
  • He is always calling people out for His purposes.
  • He is always moving His story forward.

 

The point?

  • In spite of God’s people being enslaved, there is purpose in the midst of it, and hope for its end.
  • Since creation, God has been purposely moving the story of His people and their future forward.
  • So Moses and Israel can trust that God has a purpose for their slavery and he will act to deliver Israel.
  • After all, look how far Israel has come since creation and the fall.
  • And from Moses’ perspective, look what God did with him.

 

 

2) Moses’ Message (and context) – Purposeful Relationship?

How does the connection to Moses’ “beginning” suggest purposeful relationship?

 

We need to notice something so obvious in verse 1 we tend to pass right over it.

  • Who created the “heavens and the earth”?
  • The obvious answer is God.
  • But was it God “Yahweh” or God “Elohim”?

 

Interestingly, it is “Elohim” instead of “Yahweh” in Genesis 1:1.

  • This is the very name God used for himself when He called Moses.
  •  “I am the God [Elohim] of your father, the God [Elohim] of Abraham, the God [Elohim] of Isaac, and the God [Elohim} of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God [Elohim].

 

God’s use of this name for Himself in His call of Moses has a special flavor.

  • In Moses’ call, it is used in context of relationship, call, and covenant with the fathers of Israel.
  • It is relational.

 

So it might be that implicit in the use of “Elohim” in Genesis 1:1 is Moses’ first hand understanding that God is a relationship God.

  • This is how God revealed Himself to Moses – the “Elohim” of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
  • Moses connects the God who created with the God who calls and covenants.
  • “Elohim” creates – “Elohim” calls and relates
  • They are the very same God.

 

The point?

  • For Moses, the God who creates is the God who relates to His people.
  • Moses knows this first hand.
  • The “Elohim” of Genesis 1:1 is also the “Elohim” of Abraham and Moses.
  • He is the purposeful relationship God.

 

BTW – God’s relational action in history is part of the larger Gospel message.

 

There is one more potential candidate for a Moses message unrelated to his call.

 

3) Moses’ Message – A Polemic?

Given the ANE relationship between primordial waters, chaos and creation, one can’t help but think Moses has something to say about competing claims of creation.

  • Specifically the creation stories of Mesopotamia and Egypt.

 

Some, of course, argue that the Genesis story is an untrue myth dependent upon these other stories.

  • John Currid (and really everybody) readily acknowledges the parallels between the Hebrew creation story and it neighbors.
  • He asks, “What are we to surmise regarding the relationship between Genesis 1– 2 and mythic ancient Near Eastern cosmogonic tales?” – John Currid.
  • He argues that, “the differences are monumental and are so striking that they cannot be explained by a simple Hebrew cleansing of [ANE] myth” – John Currid.

 

Currid suggests that given the following:

“In regard to the very nature of the creator, all societies of the ancient Near East, save the Hebrews, were polytheists. The gods themselves were immanent, that is, personified in various powers and elements of the universe. These gods were not omnipotent but were restricted in power to the capacity of the natural elements they personified” – John Currid.

 

That Moses, by way of a polemic, is drawing our attention to a massive contrast:

“To the contrary, the God of the Hebrews is presented as transcendent, that is, set apart from the cosmos. He works within the universe, but he is not part of it. The universe is God’s creation, but it is not God. The God of Israel, moreover, does not act humanly by reflecting the flaws of human nature. Mankind is created in his image and not the other way around. He is pure, just, righteous, and true. Yahweh is holy and wholly other – John Currid.

 

Moses’ purposeful relational “Elohim” created and fully controlled the “waters” and everything else.

  • The waters weren’t an eternal chaos or a god from which creation had to be wrestled.
  • “The water at creation (1:2) is certainly no deity, and it is not God’s foe that needs to be vanquished. It is mere putty in the hands of the Creator. There is no war between Yahweh and the gods of chaos in order to bring about creation. Yahweh is sovereign, and all the elements of creation are at his beck and call” – John Currid.

 

The point?

  • The purposeful relational “Elohim” who calls out His people, and is sovereign over their circumstances is also the one true God who made everything.
  • The ONE God that delivered Israel and parted the Red Sea is the ONE God who created the waters and controls them as He sees fit.
  • He has no equal.

 

After all, look at these two examples of God’s revelation to, and action on behalf of, Israel and Moses.

  • Deuteronomy 6:4 (ESV) — 4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.
  • Exodus 14:21–22 (ESV) — 21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. 22 And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.

 

It seems rather unlikely that, as Moses wrote the creation story, his experiences of God’s purposeful work in history, and God’s revelation to Moses about His nature were not integrally part of the fabric of the Genesis creation account.

  • They surely helped provide the grid on which Moses could make sense of such a Creator God.
  • A God so unlike the gods of his oppressors.

 

*I am aware of the various authorship theories concerning the Pentateuch. I take the view of John Sailhamer as outlined in his book The Meaning of the Pentateuch.

 

James 2:14-26 – Works of Faith

An English schoolteacher was in Switzerland visiting a school where she would soon be employed.

  • While there, the schoolmaster showed her several rooms near the school that she could rent.
  • Upon her return to England, she remembered not seeing “W.C.’s” near any of the rooms.
    • “W.C.” is short for Water Closet – a bathroom.
  • She sent a letter to the schoolmaster asking if the rooms had “W.C.’s” nearby.

 

The schoolmaster, thinking “W.C.” was the Wayside Chapel, wrote her back the following letter:

Dear Madam:

 

I take great comfort in informing you that a “W.C.” is situated nine miles from the house in the corner of a beautiful grove of pine trees, surrounded by lovely grounds. It is capable of holding 229 people, and it is open on Sundays and Thursdays only. As there are a great many people expected during the summer months, I would suggest that you come early, although there is usually plenty of standing room. This is an unfortunate situation, particularly if you are in the habit of going regularly. You will no doubt be glad to hear that a good many bring their lunch and make a day of it, while others, who can’t afford to go by car, arrive just in time. I would especially advise your ladyship to go on Thursdays when there is an organ accompanist. The acoustics are excellent and even the most delicate sounds can be heard everywhere. It may interest you to know that my daughter was married in the “W.C.” and it was there that she met her husband. I can remember the rush there was for seats. There were ten people to a seat usually reserved for one, and it was wonderful to see the expression on their faces.
 

The newest attraction is a bell, donated by a wealthy resident of the district, which rings every time a person enters. A Bazaar is to be held to raise money for plush seats for all, since the people believe it is a long felt want. My wife is rather delicate so she can’t go regularly: it is almost a year since she went last. Naturally it pains her not to be able to go more often. I shall be delighted to reserve the best seat for you, if you wish, where you will be seen by all. For the children there is a special time so that they will not disturb the elders.
 

Hoping to have been of some service to you, I remain,

 
Sincerely, The Schoolmaster

 

1) DEFINING OUR TERMS

 

Like “W.C.”, our text uses some words that need defining or mass confusion will ensue.

  • Look at James as England and Paul as Switzerland.
  • They use the same words and, in this case, mean different things.
  • Four words we need to look are:
    • Works – Faith – “that faith” – Justified

 

As we define these words, we hope to accomplish the following:

  • (1) Unpack the text itself and get at its meaning
  • (2) Reconcile James and Paul
  • (3) Figure out the “so what”.

 

Works:

The BDAG, WSNTDICT, and commentaries tell us the following –

  • In the context of James 2, “works” (ergon) means “that which displays itself in activity of any kind, deed, action”.
  • And we are told these are works “springing from faith”.

 

So, “works” for James is –

  • The deeds and actions that display faith.

 

So what is this faith being displayed?

 

Faith:

As most of us know, “faith” carries with it the idea of “to believe in” and “to trust in”.

  • Biblically, of course, the belief and trust comes from the heart and is put in Jesus Christ.

 

Importantly, this trust in Christ also entails:

  • A submission to Him, and the facts and implications of the Gospel.
  • This is called Lordship Salvation.

 

Some examples:

  • Jesus is Lord.
  • We are sinners in need of salvation.
  • We fall short of God’s glory.
  • Jesus is exalted to the right hand of God.

 

Faith as “heart submission” to Christ and the facts of the Gospel appears all through the NT.

  • Romans 10:9-10 (ESV) — 9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord [Gospel Fact that demands submission] and believe in your heart [trust and submission] that God raised him from the dead [Gospel Fact], you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes [trust and submission] and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses [what? – the facts of the Gospel] and is saved.
  • 1 Peter 1:3 (ESV) — 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again [from which we trust and submit] to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead [Gospel Fact],
  • John 20:31 (ESV) — 31 but these [Gospel Facts] are written so that you may believe [trust and submission] that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God [Gospel Fact], and that by believing [trusting and submitting] you may have life in his name.
  • 1 John 5:20 (ESV) — 20 And we know that the Son of God has come [Gospel Fact] and has given us understanding [a heart thing – disposition of the will], so that we may know him who is true [Gospel Fact]; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life [Gospel Fact].

 

Works and Faith together:

We can now put these two definitions together to get a full picture of James’ use of “works”.

  • Works are the deeds and actions that display our trusting in and submission to Jesus Christ.

 

I think right away this brings clarity to where James is headed.

  • To paraphrase James 2:14 –
  • What good is it, my brothers, if someone has faith but does not have deeds and actions that display his trust and submission to Jesus Christ?

 

“That Faith”:

James goes on to ask if a faith without works, “that faith”, can save him (vs. 14).

  • Or to put another way –
  • Can a faith that does not have deeds and actions that display trust and submission to Christ save?
  • The answer to the question is no, it can’t.

 

He goes on to show us why “that faith” is powerless to save.

  • (1) “that faith” Knows the Gospel facts and creeds – “God is one” for example
    • Something even demons know and fear (vs. 19)
  • (2) But “that faith” has no works.
    • In other words, “that faith” does not have deeds and actions that display trust and submission to Christ.

 

Therefore it isn’t saving faith.

  • It is all words and no action.

 

That Faith” – A Serious Problem:

This “that faith” without works is so offensive to James and the integrity of the body of believers that James describes it as follows:

  1. That Faith w/o works is of no “good” (vs. 14-16)
    1. Like telling the hungry and naked to “be warmed and filled” (vs. 16)
  2. That Faith w/o works “is dead” (vss. 17, 26)
    1. Like a body with no spirit is dead, so “that faith” is dead (vs. 26)
  3. That Faith “apart from works” is useless (vs. 20)
    1. So useless that to insist it is useful is to be the fool (vs. 20) 

 

“For James, [that faith] means a bogus kind of faith, mere intellectual agreement without a genuine personal trust in Christ that bears fruit in one’s life” – Grant Osborne.

 

PET PEEVE – this text is not citing a problem with knowledge, but with the heart.

  • This text is not an excuse to be intellectually lazy with God’s word and theology.
  • It is not extolling the merits of action over knowledge.
  • They go together – inseparably.
  • Knowledge of God and His word planted in a submitting and trusting heart will produce fruit!

 

Justified:

James then goes on to argue that justification is dependent on whether we possess a faith that works or “that faith”.

  • This sounds somewhat scandalous.

 

Three times James says a person is “justified by works”.

  • James 2:24 (ESV) — 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.
    • This is an apparent contradiction of Paul’s teaching.
    • For Paul says in Romans 3:20 & Galatians 2:16, “by works of the law no human being will be justified”.

 

Paraphrase 2:24 for clarity:

  • A person is justified by the deeds and actions that display our trusting in and submission to Christ and not by “that faith”, which lacks trust and submission, having only knowledge.

 

Doing this, we see that James’ use of justification is referring not to the act of salvation itself.

  • It is referring to the “deeds and actions that display” a salvation we already have.
    • Deeds and actions that display we have already trusted in and submitted to Christ.

 

We know this not only from the meaning of the words.

  • But because this is precisely the argument James makes when he talks about Abraham and Rahab.

 

James affirms that Abraham was declared righteous by his faith alone (vs. 23).

  • James 2:23 (ESV) — 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God.

 

Yet, James says, we know Abraham’s faith was real because Abraham’s “faith was completed by his works” (vs. 22).

  • How? – His actions with Isaac demonstrated his trust and submission to God.
    • This is what James meant when he said, “I will show you my faith by my works” (vs. 18).
  • Abraham had a real faith because he actually trusted God with the future of Isaac – part of the promised offspring of Israel.

 

And in Rahab’s case, James points out the same thing (vs. 25).

  • Rahab’s trust and submission to Yahweh were made known by her works.
  • She aided Joshua’s spies – hid them and sent them out her window to safety.

 

James and Paul:

Contrast James’ justification with Paul’s use of “justification”.

  • When Paul speaks of justification he speaks of being declared righteous by God based on Jesus’ perfect obedience and atoning sacrifice.
  • Paul speaks of salvation itself.

 

In other words:

  • Paul’s angle – Whose works make us righteous in God’s sight?
    • Not ours, Christ’s.
  • James’ angle – Whose works demonstrate that we are righteous in God’s sight?
    • Our works.

 

For this reason, both James and Paul would agree with the following:

  • “We are saved by faith alone, but not by the faith that is alone” – Paul Mizzi.
  • “Faith is always obedient faith. Salvation by faith does not negate the necessity and importance of works” – John MacArthur.

 

Works of Faith and Us:

Abraham’s faith with works jeopardized the future of his promised offspring.

  • Rahab’s put her in danger of being found a traitor – probably a risk to her livelihood and life.

 

It is interesting that both of James’ examples of works of faith are sacrificial in nature.

  • The works display a willingness to jeopardize life, comfort and future.

 

For this reason, I always hesitate to list do’s and don’t’s.

  • We might see a list in Scripture and check it off in a legalistic fashion.
  • “I have no trouble with anger”; “I have no trouble with quarreling”; “I feed the hungry”; etc.

 

What we need to do is search our hearts for things we do struggle with – for example:

  • Idolatry of Comfort
  • Idolatry of Routine
  • Struggles with self-denial
  • Struggles with renewing the mind
  • Lack of right worship

 

The works of faith called for in your life may or may not be the same as the Christians to whom James is writing.

 

 

2) SO WHAT

 

What is the Point?

  • Why is it so important for James to teach us about “that faith” versus a faith with works?

 

(1) The first point of importance is obvious (from James 1 and 2) –

  • Christianity w/o works of faith is “worthless”, “dead” “no good”, and “useless”.
  • It contains “filthiness” and “rampant wickedness”.
  • It is “unstable”.
  • It does not “produce the righteousness of God”.
    • It does not emulate His character.

 

And as a result of such a faith, those to whom James is writing, “have become ‘double-minded,’ wavering between God and the world (1:8; 4:8)” – Grant Osborne.

  • A “double-minded” church that wavers is an ineffective and dying church.

 

The second point of importance is less obvious, but fundamentally more important.

 

James tells the church he is writing so that they are not to be deceived by their desires.

  • Desires lead to sin and death (James 1:15-16).
  • But, he says, instead of from our desires, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father” (James 1:17).

 

(2) So the second important point has to do with origins.

  • Like “every good gift” comes from God, works of faith are powered by God.
  • Works of faith are possible because we are in Christ.

Since faith unites to Christ it cannot be lifeless. It works through love (Galatians 5:6). It seeks to do all the ‘good works, which God prepared beforehand’ for us (Ephesians 2:10) – Paul Mizzi.

  • And works that are powered by Christ WILLproduce the righteousness of God” (1:20).

 

Only those with genuine faith can deny self, and jeopardize future and comfort for Christ’s sake.

  • For in Christ, we are no longer slaves to sin and self.

 

Additionally, because works of faith point to the believer’s Union with Christ, they glorify God.

  • Abraham’s trusting God with his promised offspring, Isaac, points to:
    • God’s character
    • God’s covenant faithfulness
    • God’s love
    • God’s power to raise Isaac from the dead if need be.

 

A Final Thought:

An implication of James’ teaching is that faith without works is, in fact, a negation of the works of Christ!

 

 

John 20:24-29 – Biblical Belief

John 20:24–29 (ESV) — 24 Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” 26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

 

 

Introduction:

not with them” (vs. 24)

  • When Jesus first appeared to the disciples, Thomas was absent.
  • We don’t know why.
  • But that makes little difference to an important principle revealed here.
  • Whether for good reason or bad, when we are absent from the fellowship of our Church, we will miss out on the blessings of fellowship.

 

We have seen the Lord” (vs. 25)

  • When Thomas got the report from the other disciples his response is hardly surprising.
  • Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe” (vs. 25).
  • We need to remember that as a second-Temple Jew, Thomas had no category of a risen Messiah or one person rising ahead of everyone else.
  • The other disciples and Mary Magdalene were no better.
  • They “got it” when they saw the risen Jesus just like Thomas did.

 

Interestingly, his statement sounds a lot like the post-modern skeptics of our day.

  • “If God exists, why is He hidden?”
  • “Surely, if He wanted me to believe in Him, He need only show Himself”
  • But, does seeing a resurrected Jesus mean you will trust in Him as Savior?

 

John then tells us that “eight days later” Jesus made His second appearance to the disciples (vs. 26).

  • This time, “Thomas was with them” (vs. 26).
  • And as before, “although the doors were locked” (vs. 26), Jesus just sort of appeared.
  • And as before, He said “Peace be with you” (vs. 26).
  • A dead, buried and risen Messiah says, “Peace be with you”.
  • You got think this is loaded with all sorts of meaning!

 

John then brings us to the moment that was set up in verse 24 – an encounter between Thomas and Jesus.

  • Jesus, as He did with Nathanael in John 1, reveals He knows what the disciples thought and said even when He wasn’t there.
  • And he doesn’t scold Thomas.
  • In fact, we need to keep in mind that, “but for the fact that Thomas and the other apostles saw the incarnate Christ there would have been no Christian faith at all” – D.A. Carson.
  • So, Jesus lovingly says to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe” (vs. 27).

 

John doesn’t make clear if Thomas actually did touch Jesus.

  • But John does make clear what Thomas said.
  • In response to Jesus’ words Thomas said, “My Lord and my God!” (vs. 28).
  • This is well known as the strongest confession of Jesus’ identity in the Gospels.
  • Even more so than Peter’s, Matthew 16:16 (ESV) — 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
  • And to this response Jesus replied, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (vs. 29).

 

It is this last exchange into which we will dive deeper.

 

 

1) MY LORD AND MY GOD

 

At a minimum, before Easter, the disciples believed at least two things about Jesus’ identity.

  • (1) The disciples believed Jesus to be “a prophet mighty in deed” (Luke 24:19).
  • (2) They also believed Jesus to be the Messiah, the “King of the Jews”, “the Lord’s anointed, the promised redeemer” – N.T. Wright.

 

With Jesus’ resurrection these two views would have been solidified.

“The first and most obvious conclusion which the disciples would have drawn, as soon as they came to believe that Jesus of Nazareth had been bodily raised from the dead, was that he was indeed the prophet mighty in word and deed, and that he was, more particularly, Israel’s Messiah. This would not be because they had already believed that the Messiah, when he came, would be raised from the dead, but because the Jesus they knew had been tried and executed as Messiah, and this extraordinary and unexpected event (as it seemed to them) had apparently reversed the verdicts of both the Jewish and the Roman courts” – N.T. Wright.

 

But, from this, how did Thomas arrive at the fact that Jesus was “Kyrios” and “Theos” – Lord and God?

 

Kyrios:

“Kyrios” carries with it the idea of being Master or King over a particular realm.

  • “The concept of lordship combines the two elements of power and authority” – TDNT.
  • It also carries with it the idea of ownership.
  • And it is worth noting that the LXX uses “Kyrios” for the Hebrew “Yahweh”.

 

The realm that is in view here, it must be noted, is all of creation.

  • This includes those creatures who claim to be lord themselves.
  • In other words, to call Jesus “Kyrios” means He is “the world’s true lord” – N.T. Wright.

 

Importantly, identifying Jesus as “Kyrios” is more than the radical theological claim that He is “Yahweh”, the God of the OT, the God of Israel.

  • It is also an “in your face” political statement to all those who think they are in power.
  • Jesus is “Kyrios” of the Jews and the Romans!

 

So how did Thomas arrive at this conclusion?

 

The Jews and the Romans crucified Him as the Messiah, the King of the Jews.

  • Jesus’ words, signs and self title, “Son of Man”, all indicated that He did see Himself as the Messiah.
  • His disciples saw Him as Messiah.
  • And by His resurrection, the Father exalted Him to the throne where He, in fact, assumed His place as the Messiah, the King of the Jews and the Romans.

 

This was His vindication.

  • He was mocked by creation, but the Creator had the last word.
  • This is why the most quoted or alluded to OT verse in the NT is Psalm 110:1.
  • Psalm 110:1 (ESV) — 1 The Lord says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”
  • Colossians 3:1 (ESV) — 1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.

 

Speaking on how Jesus’ resurrection and exaltation confirmed Jesus’ identity, N.T. Wright says:

“The New Testament writers draw on all these to express the point that…they had reached by other means: that Jesus was the Messiah; that he was therefore the world’s true lord; that the creator God had exalted him as such, sharing with him his own throne and unique sovereignty; and that he was therefore to be seen as kyrios. And kyrios meant not only ‘lord of the world’, in the sense that he was the human being now at the helm of the universe, the one to whom every knee, including that of Caesar, must bow, but also ‘the one who makes present and visible what the Old Testament said about YHWH himself” – N.T. Wright.

 

I think John captures Thomas revelation in his opening chapter.

  • John 1:18 (ESV) — 18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.

 

Theos:

“Theos” is Greek for “God”.

  • The Hebrew equivalent is usually “El”.
  • This proclamation of Thomas goes “hand in glove” with “Kyrios”.
  • The “whats” and “whys” from above apply here.

 

But, importantly, it profoundly links Jesus’ identity to God in the flesh.

  • It is a proclamation that Jesus is God incarnate.
  • And even better, that the Jesus standing before Thomas is the risen God incarnate.
  • John 1:1 (ESV) — 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
  • John 1:14 (ESV) — 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

 

One other significant thing to consider here is:

  • In Thomas, we have a second-Temple, monotheistic Jew claiming that the person, Jesus, is God.
  • In other words, as a result of resurrection, we have a Jew speaking in Trinitarian language.
  • We can add this to all the resurrection mutations that must be accounted for by historians.

 

 

2) SEEING AND BELIEVING

 

We mentioned that Jesus said to Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (vs. 29).

  • I want to be sure we understand what Jesus is NOT saying.

 

First, as we stated earlier, the reason we have Christianity and all its Jewish mutations is because the disciples and Paul actually saw the risen Jesus Christ in person.

  • Remember, 1 Corinthians 15 begins with the early Christian resurrection creed that cites the list of eyewitnesses that saw the risen Jesus Christ.
  • So, yes, they believed Jesus was “Kyrios” and “Theos” because they saw Him bodily standing in front of them after He had been crucified and buried.
    • Not discounting, of course, that the Holy Spirit had provided them with new hearts to “hear” and “see” this truth.
  • This physically seeing Jesus is necessary and fundamental to the birth of Christianity.

 

But, seeing the risen Jesus is a one-off event.

  • So what about the rest of us?
  • Our belief is based upon the historical testimony of the eyewitnesses (Thomas, Peter, Paul, etc.) as revealed in Scripture.
    • Not discounting, of course, that the Holy Spirit has regenerated our hearts thereby enabling us to respond with belief to this testimony.

 

So Jesus is not saying that a “seeing” belief, in this case, is not as real as a “non-seeing” belief.

  • And Jesus is not saying that because we haven’t seen, our belief has no object.
  • In other words, He is not saying that our faith is a blind faith.

 

Blind Faith – A Common Mistake:

A blind faith is just wishful thinking.

  • It is, as Greg Koukl says, irrationally hoping that thin ice will support your weight.
  • It is a faith that pretends it can exist when contrary to the facts.
  • This is not the faith Jesus is describing.
  • This is not the faith of the Bible.

 

Too many people think the opposite of faith is knowledge – such as Thomas’ need to see Jesus for himself.

  • They think that this type of belief does not require faith and so it is not as “good”.
  • This is false, false, false.
  • The opposite of faith is unbelief, not knowledge.

 

Can we have more faith?

 

And to speak of having “more” faith makes no sense unless your faith is a blind faith.

  • I fell through the ice because I just didn’t have enough faith that thin ice would hold me up.
  • I just need to have more faith that something that is not true will be true.

 

The NT never speaks of faith in this way (that I could find).

  • You will not find the command to have “more” faith.
  • A Biblical faith is qualitative not quantitative.
  • A Biblical faith is milk or meat not less or more.

 

Biblical Faith – Just the Facts:

A Biblical faith is traditionally described as consisting of knowledge, assent and trust.

  • We can rationally determine that a Biblical claim is legit – we can know it.
  • We can then assent or accept this knowledge in our minds as the truth, and thus authoritative over the pretenders to the truth and over our own lives.
  • And then we can trust in it with full assurance that it will deliver what it says it will.

 

Another way to look at Biblical faith is that “to have an object of our faith” is Biblical faith.

  • And, of course, the object of our faith is Jesus Christ and all the things we can learn about Him.
  • And the quality of our faith is related to the truth of the object of our faith and what we know about this object.
  • So, if the object of our faith is found to be false, our faith is false.
  • Remember, Paul said that if Jesus did not rise from the dead, we need to move on.

 

But a blind faith will continue on in ignorant bliss, completely detached from the truth.

 

A text from John gives us a beautiful picture of Biblical faith.

  • John 2:23–25 (ESV) — 23 Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. 24 But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25 and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.

 

We need to know here that “entrust” is actually the exact same word translated as “believed” in verse 23.

  • In fact, it is the exact same word used for “believed” in our John 20:29 text.

 

So in this text, Jesus demonstrates a belief/trust (pisteuo) that is firmly based on knowledge, assent and trust.

  • The object of Jesus’ belief/trust would be the “many” who “believed in his name”.
  • However, Jesus knows something of this object.
  • He knows this because He, “knew all people”.
  • And the thing that He knows is “what was in man”.
  • So because Jesus knows something of the object that is problematic, He cannot assent to it.
  • He therefore will not trust in the object – the “many”.
  • No matter how much Jesus may love them, He cannot blindly “entrust himself to them” – or literally, He cannot “believe in them”.

 

Our faith, Biblical faith, is the very same!

 

BTW – Hebrews 11:1 makes clear that our faith is also wrapped up in what will happen, not just what has happened.

  • We can trust in the future promises made by the object of our faith – Jesus!
  • This is related to why Paul connects the resurrection of Jesus with ours.
  • If ours doesn’t happen, then Jesus’ didn’t happen.