Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Why This Jesus?

In the last entry, “Which Jesus?” we looked at the heresy which claims that it’s the name of Jesus that matters, not His actual identity. In other words, it doesn’t matter who you believe Jesus is or was, it only matters that you believe in someone called “Jesus.”
I referenced an article which showed alarming statistics about American Christendom’s view of Jesus (including the belief that He was a sinner), and then I made the following statement:
Whenever someone claims to believe in Jesus, it might be wise to ask, “Which Jesus? Why Him?”
The previous entry then went on to address the first question. Today’s entry will look at the second.
Why Him?
"Behind Door Number Three" by Anyjazz65
Why should people believe in the Jesus of the Bible, and not the Jesus of the New Age, or the Islamic version, or the Mormon version, or the Jehovah’s Witness version? If the above-referenced Barna statistics are accurate, many of America’s self-described Christians don’t take the Bible seriously enough to even use it as their source of information about who Jesus is.
Why should people believe in our Jesus, the one the Bible teaches?
I can almost hear the reply coming back, “Because He’s the true one, that’s why!”
I know, I know, and that works just fine when you’re talking to people who are already convinced of the truth. But it falls flat on the ears of those who are not convinced. My question is on behalf of those people, the outsiders, the ones who need a good reason to believe in the true Jesus Christ. What can we offer? On what can we base our appeal?
Can we appeal to tradition, to upbringing? Do we want “insiders” to stay true to Biblical teachings just because they were raised that way? Then how do we justify asking people who were raised in other faiths to convert to ours? Clearly, if we try to convert outsiders, then we don’t really believe that being raised in a faith is a good enough reason to be loyal to it.
Do we want people to accept the truth of the Biblical account because there are so many wonderful proofs of the historical and prophetic accuracy of the Word? Well…there’s nothing wrong with winning someone’s mind with a good argument. I’m very grateful for solid Biblical apologetics. But while convincing the mind may be important and helpful, I don’t believe it is sufficient. What happens when someone comes along with a better-sounding argument? Do we want people to be tossed to and fro with every new scientific theory or religious whim that can be presented convincingly?
On what can we base our appeal for their faith? Should we fall back on the “Cover all your bases” approach to enlightened self-interest, the fire-escape theology which says, “Hey, if I’m wrong, no harm done to me, but if you’re wrong, you’re going to burn in Hell, so you might as well play it safe and…” (Here the witness usually inserts some act that he wants the other to perform, such as repeating a prayer.) We can’t appeal to true faith with such an argument, since by definition those who are using “Jesus” to cover First Base are doubtless using others to cover Second, Third, and Home. Besides, every religion out there can use the same argument right back at us. The Jehovah’s Witnesses may not have a Hell to threaten us with, but they can tell us that we’ll be annihilated and miss out on Paradise Earth if we don’t believe in their version of things. The New Ager can threaten us with a loss of pleasure and power in this life, and a less-desirable reincarnation. I can’t really imagine a weaker appeal than the “just do it to be on the safe side” approach…especially since true saving faith can’t spring from it.
Ok, so let me ask you. Why do you believe in the Jesus of the Bible?
If it’s your tradition, that’s wonderful…but is that the only reason? What if you’d been raised some other way? Would you be just as loyal to that way, because your faith is just something handed down like old clothes?
Have evidences in science or convincing religious outlines led you to believe? Great! But do you feel a sick twisting in your gut when someone makes a logically appealing argument for another path? Could you be wrong? How do you know you’ve heard the best argument out there?
Or are you just trying to do whatever you can do to buy up fire insurance for the next life? Do you have a policy with someone named “Jesus?” Is that what faith means to you? How many other policies do you have? If this is the only one, do you find yourself wistfully hoping it will do the trick for you? What’s holding you back from buying more policies elsewhere?
Is it pride? Is there something in your soul that rises up in anger if someone dares to imply that you could be wrong? Is your faith in your own inherent “rightness” more than in Christ?
Why do you believe in the Jesus of the Bible?
Are you squirming now?
Or are you smiling?
If you find yourself described in one of the “shakier” reasons for faith above, please don’t push your concerns away. They could be the best things that have ever happened to you. The Lord is calling you to seek Him, so let your response be, “Your face, Lord, I will seek (Ps. 27:8). He is wonderfully good to those who seek Him (Lam. 3:25), and He will be found by those who seek Him wholeheartedly (Jer. 29:13). Immerse yourself in His Word. Ask Him to grant you a heart that hungers and thirsts for Him, that is possessed by Him, sealed by Him as His very own. Ask Him to make you new, and to give you a heart that loves Him. If you don’t sense His answer right away, keep asking, keep seeking, keep knocking (Matt. 7:7). His delays always have a good purpose, and His timing will eventually show itself beautiful (Ecc. 3:11). Hope in Him, because He will not always hide His face (Isa. 8:17). Know this: we are always seeking. Either we are seeking Him, or we are seeking idols. So no matter what, keep seeking Him!
If you were smiling through my probing questions, I know why.
You believe because of His Spirit in you. You know Him. You sense Him. You love Him. He convicts you of sin, convicts you of righteousness, and convicts you of judgment (John 16:8). He pours the love of God into your heart (Rom. 5:5). He is God’s “Seal of Ownership” on you (2 Co. 1:21-22 NIV), and He testifies to you that you belong to God (Rom. 8:16). These things aren’t mere points of doctrine to you. You know His touch.
New scientific theories, new clever-sounding arguments, new heresies cannot move you. You don’t appeal primarily to tradition, to intellectualism, to superstition, or to pride for your confidence. Those things may factor in, but they aren’t your main focus. You simply can’t help knowing the Spirit is there, just like you can’t help knowing there is air in your lungs.
You can say along with Martin Luther, “Here I stand, I can do no other.” Your feet are planted on the rock, because you can’t deny that it is under your soles. You remember how it felt to flounder on sinking sand, and you know that Jesus is the Mighty One who put you on the solid ground. Let all Hell be unleashed against you, and though your feelings may sway, and your confidence may have seasons of weakness, your overall conviction will stand firm. Why? Because you’re so strong? No, because it is God who makes us stand firm in Christ (2 Co. 1:21 NIV). You certainly do feel your own shakiness, but you also feel His omnipotence. And so you stand.
And it shows. (I’m telling you this, brother or sister, because you probably aren’t aware of how much and how often you affect others for Christ. Because it’s Him working through you, you aren’t self-conscious about it.) Others see Him in you, which is far more valuable than if they could just see you. The good works which you do are different from those untouched by the Spirit. You impact lives with something they may not even be able to name.
Help them name it. Help them name Him.
How? To go back to our previous question, to what will you appeal?
But of course that’s the wrong question, isn’t it? God forbid that we should try to manipulate others, trying to do in our flesh what only the Spirit can do. We don’t appeal to a thing, we appeal to Him. We may use whatever tools God leads us to use in any given situation, whether apologetics, or reasoning, or whatever. But if salvation is a miraculous work of the Spirit (and it is!), then we must first and foremost pray for Him to speak through us, and share Him with our lives and our words. Tell them who He really is. Tell them what He’s done for you. Tell them of a salvation that’s for here and now, not just for the future. Ask them if they have any sins that they hate, and if they’ve longed to be free. Those who are still in love with their sin will mock, but you will not have failed because of it. You will have succeeded, because in obedience to Christ you will have sown a seed that another may water. (If you lead an unrepentant person in a “prayer of salvation,” then you will have failed, because there’s no salvation without repentance.)
Others will listen to your witness, because the divine Gardener has been tilling up the soil of their hearts. Because you are speaking the Way, the Truth, and the Life to them, your words will resonate with the work that the Spirit is doing in them. You may not be saying anything fancy or impressive, but in cultivated soil the truth will take root. The Spirit will make sure it does.
Do not fret over your “inability to witness.” A witness is one who speaks of what they’ve seen, what they’ve heard, what they know. If you truly know Him, you can be His witness. If you truly love Him, others will be drawn to Him as well. If you are truly led by Him, then those who are also feeling His pull will recognize the direction you’re heading.
Do not fear, child of God. Just walk and talk in simple faith and obedience. God will use your witness in ways you may not know until you stand with Him in glory.
If the Spirit of Jesus
is shining through you,
Others will trust
in the true Jesus, too.


Ed said...

Betsy: Thanks again for making me think and be reassured by the Word. Keep up the good challenges for us.

Laurie M. said...

Such a comforting and encouraging post. All the years I was a practicing hypocrite it was for almost all those "other reasons". I would shake in my boots to hear contrary arguments and was afraid of science. Now all those things are secondary to me. The only thing that has the capacity now to shake my faith is my own sin. When I find myself sinning I think, "O Lord, how could I do such a thing if I'm really yours." I think you know the sort of thing. But if I sin, He really is faithful and just to forgive me my sins and cleanse me from all unrighteousness!

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