We can truly say with Paul, "I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day" (2 Tim:1:12). All we who love Christ deeply talk with Him constantly; He is our Lord, dearest friend and Savior. We have authenticated His Word over and over in its archaeological, historical, internal, external and prophetic proofs and in its witness to our conscience. Times without number we have experienced the fulfillment of its promises to us in our daily lives. Nothing could ever justifiably shake our trust in Him.
Yet even some Christians are plagued with doubts and in need of encouragement from other believers through God's Word. There are non-Christians, too, who sincerely seek answers to legitimate questions. They ask us for solid reasons for our faith, and we must be "ready always to give an answer" (1 Pt 3:15).
Most troubling to many is the problem of evil. The outrageous malevolence and cruelty we see daily in the news brings unspeakable agony of mind, body and soul and should break the hardest heart. What unbearable tragedies Adam's having eaten of the forbidden fruit continues to produce each day! If God is good, why any evil and suffering?
This seeming enigma divides even evangelicals. Some say it is not for us to ask—but what do we tell those seeking answers? Others say that God could stop all evil and suffering but it does not please Him to do so: it is a manifestation of His grace that He saves anyone.
But His Word says that He "is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works" (Ps:145:9). Should we not seek answers from His Word?
God invites us to reason from His Word (Isa:1:18). Let us reason about these questions. It is unreasonable that sin and suffering could be the will of God who "is love" (1 Jn:4:8)! He commands us to meet the needs of everyone we can, to love even our enemies—yet He doesn't love and meet the needs of suffering humanity? Impossible! God calls Israel's sin and idolatry "this abominable thing that I hate" (Jer:44:4). How could anything that God hates ever be His will, much less be caused by Him?
The unspeakable wickedness of mankind in Noah's day "grieved [God] at his heart" (Gen:6:6). Evil is not God's will, or it could not grieve Him. Evil is the will of evildoers. Then why does God allow it? That can only be because He sovereignly gave man the right to choose whether to love or hate, to do good or evil, to obey His laws written in every conscience, or to disobey. Without that ability to choose we could not obey the first commandment, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart" (Deut 6:5; Mat:22:37)—nor could we love one another.
Heart? That word expresses a common understanding: "I promise with all my heart...." To end sin would take a change of man's heart. How could God change man's heart without destroying his right to choose? The door to evil opened by Adam's faithless rebellion could only be closed by faith: "...if thou shalt...believe in thine heart...thou shalt be saved" (Rom:10:9).
To stop evil, God was going to wipe everyone from the face of the earth. "But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord" (Gen:6:8)—otherwise none of us would be here. Grace? Would God look the other way and ignore Noah's sin? "Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid" (Rom:6:1,2). That would turn "the grace of our God into lasciviousness" (Jude 4). God's grace does not corrupt His own justice.
If the power of choice had opened the door to sin, could that door ever be closed while the ability to choose remained? Couldn't those who chose to believe change their minds? Wouldn't heaven itself be in danger if the redeemed still had the power of choice? A rebellion led by Lucifer eons ago had taken place in God's very presence. Why not again?
How could our salvation be made eternally secure? Does our ultimate destiny depend, finally, upon our continued faithfulness? If so, wouldn't we be able to boast that we were in heaven, or at least remaining there, due to our own efforts? In fact, Christ keeps us secure (Jn:10:27-30).
Some Christians teach that salvation and security cannot be by faith or we could boast of our having believed. But faith is not a work: "...by grace...not of works" (Eph:2:8-9); "...that worketh not, but believeth..." (Rom:4:5). Nor do we have any alternative: "he that believeth not God hath made him a liar" (1 Jn:5:10); "whatsoever is not of faith is sin" (Rom:14:23). Christ is our life (Col:3:4).
In the Old Testament we have the patterns, pictures and promises of the redemption that would be accomplished in the New Testament. The Bible could be proved to be the Word of God simply on the basis of the consistency, all through its pages, of God's plan of redemption. This was presented over a period of 1,600 years by 40 inspired authors most of whom lived in different times and cultures and never met one another to compare what they said. Thus Paul preached "the gospel of God (which he had promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures)..." (Rom:1:1-2).
Why an Old and New Testament? Because Israel, to whom the first testament (or covenant), was given, broke it even before Moses descended from Mt. Sinai, where God had written His Ten Commandments on the tablets of stone. That is why Moses smashed the tablets in anger (Ex 32:1-19). Nor could anyone keep the first covenant, which required perfect obedience. We have all broken it. A new covenant was needed.
For rebelling against God, Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden, bringing death upon themselves and all their descendants (Rom:5:12). They lost the glory that had clothed them upon their creation (Rom:3:23), becoming "naked"—not just physically but morally and spiritually. God shed the first blood to provide Adam and Eve with a physical covering of skins (Gen:3:21). That first animal sacrifice initiated a system of blood sacrifices as a temporary spiritual covering for believers.
God made it clear that "without the shedding of blood there is no remission" (Heb:9:22) of sins. Obediently, Abel sacrificed lambs from his flock while his brother Cain offered to God the harvest his own efforts produced in his field. God accepted Abel and rejected Cain. In jealous anger Cain killed his brother. This first murder issued from a religious quarrel which has never ended. Ever since, the Abels who approach God on His terms have been persecuted and killed by the Cains who practice a religion of works and rituals.
It should have been clear to all that "it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins" (Heb:10:4). The very fact that these sacrifices had to be repeated proved their inadequacy. They were only a picture of the One of whom John the Baptist would one day declare, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" (Jn:1:29). God would become a man through a virgin birth to pay, in our place, the penalty for sin demanded by His infinite justice. He alone could pay that debt.
Tragically, multitudes have clung to that picture, perverted it and rejected its fulfillment in Christ. Millions of nature-worshiping pagans, not only in primitive societies but living in modern cities, continue today to offer plants and animals in secret ceremonies and some even offer human sacrifices to appease nature or their gods. Pagan groups within the American armed forces have their own chaplains. All the world's religions (including those falsely claiming to be Christian) are allied against biblical Christianity.
Years ago in the visitor center at the Mormon temple in Salt Lake City the guide brought us to a bronze statue depicting an ancient altar with a man and a woman, clothed in animal skins, kneeling on either side. The altar held an offering of fruits, vegetables and wheat, while at its base, very much alive, reclined a lamb. "This is Adam and Eve," said the guide, "presenting an offering to God." I asked, "Why have they rejected Abel's offering and are presenting Cain's?" The guide seemed confused and promised to check with Church leaders. Shortly thereafter this piece of bronze was removed. Mormon "communion" is bread and water, not the wine that speaks of Christ's blood shed for our sins.
Redemption would come through a "chosen people" (Dan:11:15), the Jews, who would flagrantly disobey God, be despised by all mankind, and despise and reject the Savior whom God would send to them. They would therefore display God's grace, mercy, love and forgiveness—and His justice—as no others could. In them would be fully demonstrated that salvation is by grace, not of works or merit, and is for whosoever will believe.
In rejecting and crucifying Jesus, both Jews and Gentiles helped to fulfill God's plan: "For they...because they knew him not, nor yet the voices of the prophets...have fulfilled them in condemning him....But God raised him from the dead....And we declare unto you glad tidings...the promise which was made unto the fathers, God hath fulfilled...[and] through this man...all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses" (Acts:13:26-39).
In this sermon Paul tied the New Testament gospel to Old Testament pictures and prophecies. It was the model Paul himself followed everywhere and it should be ours today. Our faith in Christ is solidly based upon the entire Bible: "according to the scriptures" (1 Cor:15:1-4).
The tower of Babel (Gen:11:1-9) was the rejection of God's offer of salvation in the attempt to climb to heaven on steps of man's making. Every cult, human religion and false "Christian" sect have this in common: man's attempt to appease God by works and rituals—from paganism's potions and candles to Catholicism's transubstantiation and scapulars.
Millions of Roman Catholic faithful still wear the brown scapular of "Our Lady of Mt. Carmel," with its printed promise that "anyone who dies clothed in this [scapular] shall not suffer eternal fire; and...they shall be saved." Pope John Paul II has worn one since childhood. Mormons wear an undergarment with Masonic markings to aid their salvation. For both Catholics and Mormons, Christ's sacrifice is deemed insufficient.
There is a deadly mixture of truth and error within many professing Christian denominations. Catholics, Calvinists and Lutherans trust in Christ and His sacrifice on the cross, plus infant baptism, for the new birth and cleansing from sin. They also disregard the prohibition against drinking "any manner of blood" (Lev:7:27; 17:10; Acts:15:20).
Catholics believe that their priests change the physical bread and wine of communion into the literal body and blood of Christ so that their Eucharist is the continual offering of Christ—in spite of the fact that "Christ was once offered...after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God...there is no more offering for sin" (Heb:9:25-10:18).
Though rejecting transubstantiation, Lutherans claim that Christ is physically present and eaten in these elements. They believe that "in the Sacrament forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given...."1 Calvinists deny the real presence, but claim that through these elements they partake of the physical body and blood of Christ and "nourish [their] spiritual life...the body of Christ is the only food to invigorate and keep alive the soul...the same is spiritually bestowed by the blood of Christ...."2
A teaching is growing within the church that salvation is only for a select group for whom alone Christ died. However, the patterns, pictures and promises in the Old Testament offered salvation to all who would believe. This was unquestionably true of the Passover, Day of Atonement, and Levitical sacrifices. None were limited to an "elect."
"All...were under the cloud...all passed through the sea...[and] did all eat the same spiritual meat;...and did all drink the same spiritual drink....that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ" (1 Cor:10:1-4). When Isaiah said, "All we like sheep have gone astray," surely by all he didn't mean some of Israel. Likewise, when he followed that statement with "but the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all," it could only mean that the coming Messiah would pay the penalty for the sins of all. All Israel was offered deliverance from the serpent's poison through looking in faith to the bronze serpent lifted up on the pole (Num:21:8). And Christ made a direct connection between that event and His sacrifice for the sins of the world (Jn:3:14,15).
The sacrifices were offered for all Israel, yet this did not guarantee that all Israel would be saved. Salvation was offered to all; it was up to each person to accept or reject it: "but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it" (Heb:4:2). Tragically, salvation was both offered and available (as it is today through the gospel) to many who are now in hell through unbelief.
God said, "I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me" (Isa:1:2); "All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people" (Rom:10:21). Stephen indicted the rabbis and all Israel with these words: "ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye" (Acts:7:51).
The angel proclaimed "good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people..." (Lk 2:10). We have good news to announce to every person (Mk 16:15). All who receive Christ in faith are born again by God's Spirit (Jn:1:12,13) as children of God into His own family (Gal:3:26). Our hope is in the One who is able to present us "faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy" (Jude 24). Indeed, "faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it" (1 Thes:5:24). TBC