As I complete a course in Apologetics, I am reflecting on the points of criticism I’ve had to examine concerning the gospel. I‘ve come to realize that my study is not complete and that there is much more to learn. I am not fully equipped to engage in any advanced form of intellectual argument for the existence of the historical Jesus and God. However, I sense that I am not alone. I have the feeling that many like me are content to believe the gospel accounts and the words of our Lord and yet are frustrated at times in our ability to speak with any one concerning our risen Savior and the promise of eternal communion with Him. Perhaps at this time of year, when most of the world is enamored by the Christmas story we have a window of opportunity to speak truth and take advantage of it as much as or more so than our critics.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of the most controversial arguments for the existence of God. It appears that the strategic and passionate attempts to refute Jesus and His resurrection at Christmas and Easter is due to the eternal consequences of our response to the premise, “If the resurrection of Christ is true then God exist”. There is no end to the skeptics’ claim of the un-reliability of scripture and the gospel accounts, the denial of the historicity of Jesus and the lack of evidence otherwise. I am sure that those paying attention are aware of the many post and repost of articles critical of Jesus, the many airings and re-airings of documentaries of the same, and a new generation of skeptics creating memes, tweets, blogs and mini you tube documentaries lambasting Christian faith and proclaiming a new paradigm of reason and logic.
It is no wonder then that many like me are sometimes overwhelmed and discouraged. It is at these times the Holy Spirit does His work and reaffirms the words of our Lord. Though many deny Him and conclude with arrogance that the Christian has nothing to stand on, His word restores my mind and encourages my soul and I realize once more that I am standing on the solid rock of Christ. These words of scripture in particular come to mind.
“Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20: 28-29)
Christians know the story of Thomas the one who doubted. We are surrounded by the same spirit of doubting. The Holy Spirit helps us respond appropriately. There is a puzzling sense of sadness mixed with encouragement to know that some unrepentant hearts cannot be changed by me or even one that rose from the dead.
“ ‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’ ” (Luke 16: 30-31)
The sadness comes from knowing that regardless of efforts made by man or the testimony of the risen Lord one may still reject mercy and grace found in the justice of God in Jesus Christ. The encouragement comes from knowing that the outcome is the balance of freewill and the sovereignty of our Lord. The only prerequisite for me to enjoy this encouragement is for me to stand and deliver.
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time ,(1 Cor 15: 3-6)
In an enlightening essay by by John Hendryx called “Monergism vs. Synergism” you will find a brilliant explanation of the work of the Holy Spirit. Please do not neglect the scriptural references in defense of “Monergism” the doctrinal position of Augustine and the Reformers. Hendryx writes:
“Repentance and faith can only be exercised by a soul after, and in immediate consequence of, its regeneration by the Holy Spirit (1 John 5:1; Acts 16:14b; Acts 13:48; John 10:24-26; Ezekiel 36:26-27; John 6:37; John 1:13; 1 Cor. 4:7; 1 Cor. 15:10; Jas. 1:17; John 3:27). From this we must conclude that mere rational arguments are not enough to save anyone. In our evangelism (as believers) we are “partners” with the Holy Spirit, heralding the gospel and exerting ourselves for their salvation but in complete dependence on the Spirit to do the actual converting. We pray because we believe God can actually renew our rebellious hearts. If natural men could deliver themselves then there would be no need to pray for them.”
What shall we make of this? How does this square with free will? I understand that I am walking into deeper water here and may be totally above my head but currently this is what I believe. It is true that God would rather that no one perish. However, God will not intervene to subvert His own design of free will. Our freewill is to choose what we desire most. In our fallen nature our desires are at enmity with God.The Holy Spirit changes our nature at regeneration to desire God.
“ So faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ.” (Romans 10:17)
What is my prayer then? John Piper writes in “The Sovereignty of God and Prayer”;
My prayer for unbelievers is that God will do for them what he did for Lydia: He opened her heart so that she gave heed to what Paul said (Acts 16:14).
I encourage you as you pray for your loved ones this Christmas to take the words of Peter to heart:
“worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it. But do this in a gentle and respectful way. Keep your conscience clear. Then if people speak against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong to Christ. Remember, it is better to suffer for doing good, if that is what God wants, than to suffer for doing wrong!” (1 Peter 3:15-17)
If you wish to be ready to confront skeptics among your family and friends and offer them the hope you have, pray and be ready to respond. Abide in His word and understand the arguments you will confront from the secularist. I recommend two books that will launch you into a passionate study of reasons for your hope in Christ that will make sense to the skeptic who is sincerely willing to listen and understand.
The first book is the one I was assigned for the Apologetic course – “Thinking? Answering Life’s Five Biggest Questions ” by Andy Steiger.
The other book, destined to become a classic of Apologetic literature, is “ I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be an Atheist” by Norman Geisler and Frank Turek.
You may even like to consider taking the Apologetics course at http://www.apologeticscanada.com/
Whichever path you choose to strengthen your reason and confidence, I am certain you will be inspired and encouraged to stand firm upon the solid rock!
Finally be blessed by the following words – read them out loud, slowly, with boldness, for encouragement – and as a prayer in the first person to know His power. God Bless you all this Christmas!
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls. (1Peter 1:3-9)
Hendryx, John. Monergism vs Synergism
Piper, John. “The Sovereignty of God and Prayer” – Jan 1 1976