You’ve Got Questions: If God Made the Universe, Then Who Made God?

You’ve Got Questions: If God Made the Universe, Then Who Made God?

A common argument from atheists and skeptics is that if all things need a cause, then God must also need a cause. The conclusion is that if God needed a cause, then God is not God (and if God is not God, then of course there is no God). Everyone knows that something does not come from nothing. So, if God is a “something,” then He must have a cause, right? The question is tricky because it sneaks in the false assumption that God came from somewhere and then asks where that might be. The answer is that the question does not even make sense. It is like asking, “What does blue smell like?” Blue is not in the category of things that have a smell, so the question itself is flawed. In the same way, God is not in the category of things that are created or caused. God is uncaused and uncreated—He simply exists. Scripture attests, “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God” (Psalm 90:2).

In addition, we know that from nothing, nothing comes. So, if there were ever a time when there was absolutely nothing in existence, then nothing would have ever come into existence. But things do exist. Therefore, since there could never have been absolutely nothing, something had to have always been in existence. That ever-existing thing is a Being that the Scripture calls God. God is the uncaused Being that caused everything else to come into existence. God is the uncreated Creator who created the universe and everything in it.

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You’ve Got Questions: What Happens if a Christian Dies by Suicide?

You’ve Got Questions: What Happens if a Christian Dies by Suicide?

It is a sad fact that some Christians have committed suicide. Adding to the tragedy is the false teaching that committing suicide automatically consigns one to hell. Many believe that a Christian who commits suicide will not be saved. This teaching is not supported in the Bible. Scripture teaches that, from the moment we truly believe in Christ, we are guaranteed eternal life. According to the Bible, Christians can know beyond any doubt that they possess eternal life (1 John 5:13). Nothing can separate a Christian from God’s love (Romans 8:38–39). No “created thing” can separate a Christian from God’s love, and even a Christian who commits suicide is a “created thing”; therefore, not even suicide can separate a Christian from God’s love. Jesus died for all of our sins, and if a true Christian, in a time of spiritual attack and weakness, dies by suicide, his sin is still covered by the blood of Christ.

Suicide is not what determines whether a person goes to heaven or not. Only by trusting in Christ for salvation are you guaranteed entrance into heaven. You must be justified by faith in Christ. “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13). Of course, if the unsaved person commits suicide, all he has done is expedite his journey straight into hell. There is no way to sugar coat that truth. But will that unsaved person go to hell because he committed suicide? No. The reason for his going to hell isn’t because he committed the act, but because he is an unsaved sinner. Sin is what separates us from God. We are “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1), “children of wrath,” and enemies of God; hostile to God.

Suicide is not the “unforgivable sin” as many say, but those who take the sacred name of Christ upon their lips dare not contemplate it. Our lives belong to God and He alone has the prerogative to bring them to an end. In the very words of God, “See now that I myself am he! There is no god besides me. I put to death and I bring to life, I have wounded and I will heal, and no one can deliver out of my hand” (Deut. 32:39 NIV, emphasis mine). The Bible views suicide as equal to murder, which is what it is—self-murder. God is the only one who is to decide when and how a person should die. We should say with the psalmist, “My times are in your hands” (Psalm 31:15). God is the giver of life. He gives, and He takes away (Job 1:21). Suicide, the taking of one’s own life, is ungodly because it rejects God’s gift of life. No man or woman should presume to take God’s authority upon themselves to end his or her own life.

Characters in the Bible

In addition, the Bible mentions six specific people who died by suicide: Abimelech (Judges 9:54), Saul (1 Samuel 31:4), Saul’s armor-bearer (1 Samuel 31:4–6), Ahithophel (2 Samuel 17:23), Zimri (1 Kings 16:18), and Judas (Matthew 27:5). Five of these men were noted for their wickedness (the exception is Saul’s armor-bearer—nothing is said of his character). Some consider Samson’s death an instance of suicide, because he knew his actions would lead to his death (Judges 16:26–31), but Samson’s goal was to kill Philistines, not himself.

Furthermore, many people in Scripture felt deep despair in life. Solomon, in his pursuit of pleasure, reached the point where he “hated life” (Ecclesiastes 2:17). Elijah was fearful and depressed and yearned for death (1 Kings 19:4). Jonah was so angry at God that he wished to die (Jonah 4:8). Even the apostle Paul and his missionary companions at one point “were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself” (2 Corinthians 1:8). However, none of these men committed suicide. Solomon learned to “fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). Elijah was comforted by an angel, allowed to rest, and given a new commission. Jonah received admonition and rebuke from God. Paul learned that, although the pressure he faced was beyond his ability to endure, the Lord can bear all things: “This happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:9).

Conclusion

In conclusion, suicide is a sin. It is not the “greatest” sin—it is no worse than other evils, in terms of how God sees it, and it does not determine whether or not a person goes to hell. However, suicide definitely has a deep and lasting impact on those left behind. The painful scars left by a suicide do not heal easily. May God grant His grace to each one who is facing trials today (Psalm 67:1). May God grant the psalmist’s perspective to each one who is facing trials today: “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God” (Psalm 43:5).

You’ve Got Questions: What are the Different Views on the Inspiration of the Bible (and Which One is Correct)?

You’ve Got Questions: What are the Different Views on the Inspiration of the Bible (and Which One is Correct)?

Everyone who claims the name “Christian” must believe that the Scriptures are inspired by God (2 Tim. 3:16). Yet, a wide variety of meanings are attached to the word “inspired.” There are four main views on the inspiration of the Bible:

1. Neo-Orthodox Theory. This view holds that God is utterly transcendent; that is, He is absolutely different from us and far beyond our comprehension (see What is the Incomprehensibility of God?). We can only know something about him if He reveals Himself to us, as He did in Jesus Christ. Neo-Orthodoxy asserts that the Bible is a witness to the Word of God or contains the Word of God. According to this view, as people of biblical times experienced God, they recorded their encounters the best they could. Sometimes their reports contained paradoxes or even errors, but their descriptions nonetheless help other understand God better. And as others experience God through these accounts, the accounts become God’s Word all over again.

Evaluation

Neo-Orthodoxy does have a high view of God. However, the Bible claims to be more than simply a witness to the Word of God. It testifies that it is God’s Word (2 Tim. 3:16-17). The Bible also claims that as God revealed Himself, people inspired by the Holy Spirit recorded His message (2 Peter 1:20-21). They could do so because God accommodated Himself to their limited understanding. Neo-Orthodoxy, thus fails to provide an adequate explanation for all the biblical evidence, and should be rejected entirely.

2. Dictation Theory. This view, as the term implies, suggests God simply dictated the Bible to human scribes. God chose certain individuals to record His Word and gave them the exact words He wanted. The writers wrote only what God dictated to them. This view is generally rejected by most, but has been suggested by segments of conservative Christianity.

Evaluation

Scripture does suggest that sometimes God may have communicated a precise, word-for-word message to human authors (Jer. 26:2; Rev. 2:1, 8). At other times, He allowed writers to express their own personalities as they wrote (Gal. 1:6; 3:1; Phil. 1:3, 4, 8). Still, the Holy Spirit ensured the finished work accurately communicated God’s intention. Thus, the dictation theory does not account for all the biblical evidence and is therefore inadequate as a theory of inspiration and should thus, be rejected entirely.

3. Limited Inspiration Theory. This view holds that God inspired the thoughts of the biblical writers, but not necessarily the words they chose. God guided the writers, but He gave them the freedom to express His thoughts in their own ways. Because the writers had this freedom, the historical details they wrote may contain errors. However, the Holy Spirit protected the doctrinal portions of Scripture from any error to safeguard God’s message of salvation.

Evaluation

The Bible is used for doctrine (2 Tim. 3:16), but the historical records of the Bible are absolutely vital for the doctrinal parts of the Bible to be confirmed. An actual historical Adam is central to Paul’s argument in Romans 5:12-21. Jesus’ words in Matthew 12:41 imply that the book of Jonah is not merely a parable; rather, a real historical prophet named Jonah who actually preached to the Ninevites. Now, most Bible students recognize that there are statements in Scripture that are hard to reconcile. But is the best solution to admit error? If God allowed for error in His Word in Genesis 1, why would I consider believing that John 3:16 is true also? This view is therefore inadequate as a theory of inspiration, and should be rejected.

4. Verbal Plenary Theory. Like the other views, verbal plenary inspiration asserts the Holy Spirit interacted with human writers to produce the Bible. Verbal refers to the words of Scripture. Verbal inspiration means God’s inspiration extends to the very words the writers chose, but it is not the same as the dictation theory. The writers could have chosen other words, and God often allowed them the freedom to express their own personalities as they wrote. But the Holy Spirit so guided the process that the words they chose accurately conveyed the meaning God intended. Plenary means “full” or “complete.” Plenary inspiration asserts that God’s inspiration extends to all of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation. God guided the writers no less when they recorded the historical details than when they discussed doctrinal matters.

Evaluation

The verbal plenary inspiration view seems to deal best with all the biblical evidence. It recognizes the human element in Scripture, and allows that different writers wrote in different ways. But it also affirms the Holy Spirit as the Bible’s ultimate Author. The Spirit of God prompted human authors to communicate God’s message of love and salvation to a world that desperately needed it.

Implications of Verbal Plenary Inspiration

If the Word of God is indeed, dually authored as the verbal plenary inspiration view asserts, several implications are true for the way we approach the Bible:

First, it means the Bible is trustworthy. We can trust it to provide reliable information. It provides many insights into the history of God’s people and also describes God’s plan for the world and for our lives. It reveals life’s highest meaning and purpose, and tells us how to become all God wants us to be.

Second, verbal plenary inspiration means the Bible is authoritative. Because it is God’s Word, it speaks with God’s authority. It calls us to read it, to understand its meaning, and to submit to it. And it remains God’s truth whether or not we choose to submit.

Recommended Resources: Encountering the Old Testament and 40 Questions About Interpreting the Bible

You’ve Got Questions: Who Wrote the Bible—Humans or God?

You’ve Got Questions: Who Wrote the Bible—Humans or God?

There is a popular saying about the Bible: “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.” That’s one of my favorite sayings, but if God “wrote” the Bible, why does Paul say in his letter to Philemon, “I, Paul, write this with my own hand” (Philem. 19)? Or, at the end of the gospel of John, we read, “This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down” (John 21:24 NIV)? So who did write the Bible—humans or God?

Views on the Inspiration of Scripture

To answer the questions about the authorship of the Bible, we must look at the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture. Everyone who claims the name “Christian” must believe that the Scriptures are inspired by God. Yet, a wide variety of meanings are attached to the word “inspired.” There are four main views on the inspiration of the Bible:

  1. Neo-Orthodox Theory. This view holds that God is utterly transcendent; that is, He is absolutely different from us and far beyond our comprehension (see What is the Incomprehensibility of God?). We can only know something about him if He reveals Himself to us, as He did in Jesus Christ. Neo-Orthodoxy asserts that the Bible is a witness to the Word of God or contains the Word of God. According to this view, as people of biblical times experienced God, they recorded their encounters the best they could. Sometimes their reports contained paradoxes or even errors, but their descriptions nonetheless help other understand God better. And as others experience God through these accounts, the accounts become God’s Word all over again.

Evaluation

Neo-Orthodoxy does have a high view of God. However, the Bible claims to be more than simply a witness to the Word of God. It testifies that it is God’s Word (2 Tim. 3:16-17). The Bible also claims that as God revealed Himself, people inspired by the Holy Spirit recorded His message (2 Peter 1:20-21). They could do so because God accommodated Himself to their limited understanding. Neo-Orthodoxy, thus fails to provide an adequate explanation for all the biblical evidence, and should be rejected entirely.

2. Dictation Theory. This view, as the term implies, suggests God simply dictated the Bible to human scribes. God chose certain individuals to record His Word and gave them the exact words He wanted. The writers wrote only what God dictated to them. This view is generally rejected by most, but has been suggested by segments of conservative Christianity.

Evaluation

Scripture does suggest that sometimes God may have communicated a precise, word-for-word message to human authors (Jer. 26:2; Rev. 2:1, 8). At other times, He allowed writers to express their own personalities as they wrote (Gal. 1:6; 3:1; Phil. 1:3, 4, 8). Still, the Holy Spirit ensured the finished work accurately communicated God’s intention. Thus, the dictation theory does not account for all the biblical evidence and is therefore inadequate as a theory of inspiration and should thus, be rejected entirely.

3. Limited Inspiration Theory. This view holds that God inspired the thoughts of the biblical writers, but not necessarily the words they chose. God guided the writers, but He gave them the freedom to express His thoughts in their own ways. Because the writers had this freedom, the historical details they wrote may contain errors. However, the Holy Spirit protected the doctrinal portions of Scripture from any error to safeguard God’s message of salvation.

Evaluation

The Bible is used for doctrine (2 Tim. 3:16), but the historical records of the Bible are absolutely vital for the doctrinal parts of the Bible to be confirmed. An actual historical Adam is central to Paul’s argument in Romans 5:12-21. Jesus’ words in Matthew 12:41 imply that the book of Jonah is not merely a parable; rather, a real historical prophet named Jonah who actually preached to the Ninevites. Now, most Bible students recognize that there are statements in Scripture that are hard to reconcile. But is the best solution to admit error? If God allowed for error in His Word in Genesis 1, why would I consider believing that John 3:16 is true also? This view is therefore inadequate as a theory of inspiration, and should be rejected.

4. Verbal Plenary Theory. Like the other views, verbal plenary inspiration asserts the Holy Spirit interacted with human writers to produce the Bible. Verbal refers to the words of Scripture. Verbal inspiration means God’s inspiration extends to the very words the writers chose, but it is not the same as the dictation theory. The writers could have chosen other words, and God often allowed them the freedom to express their own personalities as they wrote. But the Holy Spirit so guided the process that the words they chose accurately conveyed the meaning God intended. Plenary means “full” or “complete.” Plenary inspiration asserts that God’s inspiration extends to all of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation. God guided the writers no less when they recorded the historical details than when they discussed doctrinal matters.

Evaluation

The verbal plenary inspiration view seems to deal best with all the biblical evidence. It recognizes the human element in Scripture, and allows that different writers wrote in different ways. But it also affirms the Holy Spirit as the Bible’s ultimate Author. The Spirit of God prompted human authors to communicate God’s message of love and salvation to a world that desperately needed it.

Implications of Verbal Plenary Inspiration

If the Word of God is indeed, dually authored as the verbal plenary inspiration view asserts, a few implications are true for the way we approach the Bible:

  1. First, it means the Bible is trustworthy. We can trust it to provide reliable information. It provides many insights into the history of God’s people and also describes God’s plan for the world and for our lives. It reveals life’s highest meaning and purpose, and tells us how to become all God wants us to be.
  2. Second, verbal plenary inspiration means the Bible is authoritative. Because it is God’s Word, it speaks with God’s authority. It calls us to read it, to understand its meaning, and to submit to it. And it remains God’s truth whether or not we choose to submit.
Recommended Resources: Encountering the Old Testament and 40 Questions About Interpreting the Bible

Remember Your Creator

“Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”” (Ecclesiastes 12:1).

Solomon is the author of Ecclesiastes, that great wisdom book. There are many things in the book of Ecclesiastes that are very much worth examining and applying to our lives. But as he winds down this great book and brings it to a close, one of the most important of them all is found here 12:1.

Memory

First Solomon tells his readers to remember. Memory is a wonderful gift from God, and without it, life would be impossible. We depend on our memory a lot more than we think. You depend on what you learned and remembered from English class to understand how to read what I have posted here. You depend on your memory to understand the meaning of words, because you were taught them at a certain age. I remember how to speak to you about these things because of my memory, both of how to speak (because I was taught) and how to interpret and present Scripture (because I was taught).  I remember reading the book of Ecclesiastes a few months ago. I remember how important it is to observe passages of Scripture. Without my memory of these things, living, speaking, anything at all, would be impossible.

God has (by His common grace) given mankind the wonderful ability to remember. Sometimes memory is awakened by nostalgia, or a picture book that we look at. But usually our memory is working subconsciously—without us really knowing. Other times, again, it takes effort to memorize. Solomon here tells his readers to remember—this is an action, and a command.

Who to Remember

Solomon doesn’t just tell them to remember how to live or how to think or how to work, but to remember the Creator. If memory of earthly things are literally enabling us to live life as we know it, how much more should memory of God be of greater worth to us?

There’s actually quite a few passages of Scripture that command us to remember God. “You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day” (Deuteronomy 8:18). In Nehemiah when the Jews were getting prepared to fight a great battle, “And I looked and arose and said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes” (Nehemiah 4:14). The Psalmist says, “When I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night” (Psalm 63:3), and again in Psalm 119:55, “I remember your name in the night, O LORD, and keep your law.”

When You Are Young

These commands to remember God are for different reasons in the passages stated above, but when does Solomon say it is best to remember God? “In the days of your youth.” According to Solomon, these readers (who are young people) are to remember their Creator in the days of their youth.

Studies show that our habits are developed when we are young (ask any adult how hard it is to break free from a bad habit!). If you start smoking when you are a teen, chances are you will be smoking when you are an adult. It is not even arguable today that your youth and teen years are the most important years of your life. And that’s why Solomon commands his readers to remember their Creator in the days of their youth. Remember Him “before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them.” Your days as a youth: It’s when you discover who you are. It’s when you discover what life is really all about. And these years are truly vital. They are your:

1. Energetic Years

When you are young, you have the most energy. Why would you wait until you are pegging out, and running down before you serve God? Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen some grannies who can move faster than a Corvette when they see that candles are on sale in Wal-Mart. But when we are young, that is when our mind is developing, that is when our bodies are the most strong and muscular, that is when our minds are sharp and. God deserves our most active and healthy years. Remember God in your energetic years.

2. Sensitive Years

Studies also show that more people become Christians when they are young than they do when they are middle aged or older. A great reason for that is because our youthful years are our sensitive years. When you are young, that is when you are most sensitive to the things going on around you and the different issues that you are facing. As you get older, you get a bit callous. You get used to the things going on around you. What better time to remember God than when you are most sensitive? Remember God in your sensitive years. 

3. Teachable Years

You learn more when you are young than any other period of life. Your brain is developing and when you are young, you are the most teachable. Allow God to teach you His ways and His thoughts through the Word of God while you are the most teachable. Remember God in your teachable years.

4. Dangerous Years

Living as a teenager is like living in a minefield. We experience hormones, temptations, peer pressure, the drive to feel accepted, testosterone, etc. None of us go through our teenage years without making mistakes of some kind. Maybe we experimented with drugs of some kind, maybe we got more sexual than we should have, or maybe we just blew up on someone because they looked at us the wrong way. Remember God in your dangerous years.

How to Remember God

During these best years, what are some practical steps that you can take to remember God?

  • Get to know God: Study God’s Word. Listen to good sermons, read good books, and study the Bible. Your brain is never in neutral-mode. You are always thinking about something. Fill your mind with the things of God revealed in the Word of God. What better way to remember your Creator than to think constantly His thoughts which are revealed in the Bible?
  • Join with your Creator’s friends: Find other Christians who love Christ and love His Word and build friendships with them. When you are around someone long enough, they begin to rub off on you; what better way to remember your Creator than to constantly surround yourself with the people whom He has redeemed?

Remember your Creator in the days of your youth.

You’ve Got Questions: Can I Know God?

You’ve Got Questions: Can I Know God?

The Bible teaches that God is knowable. While God can never be exhaustively understood, He can be known truly, personally, and sufficiently. God is personal, has definite characteristics, and has personally revealed Himself so that He can be truly known. The multiplication of grace and peace in our lives is dependent on knowing God (2 Peter 1:2-3), and this knowledge provides sufficient resources for life and for becoming the people God wants us to be.

Knowledge of God in Christ should be our greatest delight (Jeremiah 9:23-24; 1 Cor. 2:2; Gal. 6:14). It is the basis of attaining eternal life (John 17:3); it is at the heart of life in the new covenant (Heb. 8:11-12); it was Paul’s primary goal (Phil. 3:10); and it leads to godly love (1 John 4:7-8). God will never be known absolutely, but we can know things about Him that are absolutely true, so much that we can be willing to live and die for those beliefs. God has provided knowledge of Himself that is personal, relational, and sufficient for fruitful, faithful, godly living. No one will ever be able to say he lacked the necessary revelation to know God and to start living as God intends.

What are the implications of the knowability of God? Well, God’s personal and sufficient revelation of Himself should foster solid conviction among believers. We need not to live in ambiguity and uncertainty about who God is and what He demands of His creatures. This increasing influence of Eastern religions on the West, certain postmodern views of truth, and religious pluralism all emphasize God’s incomprehensibility so much that He is eventually made to seem unknowable. It then becomes impossible to say anything definitively true or false about Him, and people then think that the only heresy is claiming that there is heresy at all! On the contrary, because of His gracious revelation and illumination, God can indeed be known. God’s knowability should lead to eager, diligent, devoted study of God’s Word so we can understand Him as He has revealed Himself and avoid any false view of God that will dishonor Him. We should never grow apathetic in seeking to know God because we are in fact able and equipped to know Him and please Him with our lives.

You’ve Got Questions: What is the Incomprehensibility of God?

You’ve Got Questions: What is the Incomprehensibility of God?

Scripture teaches that we can have a true and personal knowledge of God, but this does not mean we will ever understand Him exhaustively. The Bible is clear that God is ultimately incomprehensible to us; that is, we can never fully comprehend His whole being. The following passages show this:

“Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable.” (Psalm 145:3 ESV)

“Behold, these are but the outskirts of his ways, and how small a whisper do we hear of him! But the thunder of his power who can understand?” (Job 26:14 ESV)

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9 ESV)

“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” (Romans 11:33-34 ESV)

Others are Job 42:1-6; Psalm 139:6, 17-18; 147:5; Isaiah 57:15; 1 Corinthians 2:10-11; 1 Timothy 6:13-15). These verses teach that not only is God’s whole being incomprehensible but each of His attributes–His greatness, power, thoughts, ways, wisdom, and judgments–are well beyond human ability to fathom fully. Not only can we never know everything there is to know about God, we can never know everything there is to know about even one aspect of God’s character or work.

Why is God Incomprehensible? The main reasons for God’s incomprehensibility are: (1) God is infinite and His creatures are finite. By definition, creatures depend on their Creator for their very existence and are limited in all aspects. Yet God is without limitations in every quality He possesses. This Creator/creature, infinite/finite gap will always exist. (2) The perfect unity of God’s attributes is far beyond the realm of human experience. God’s love, wrath, grace, justice, holiness, patience, and jealousy are continually functioning in a perfectly integrated yet infinitely complex way. (3) The effects of sin on the minds of fallen humans also greatly inhibit the ability to know God. The tendency of fallen creatures is to distort, pervert, and confuse truth and to use, or rather abuse, it for selfish ends rather than for God’s glory (Rom. 1:18-26). (4) A final reason God can never be fully known is that in His sovereign wisdom God has chosen not to reveal some things: “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deut. 29:29). Many would label it unloving for God to decide to withhold some information from His people. Yet, as with all good fathers, God’s wisdom leads Him to refrain from answering all the questions His children ask Him, and this contributes to His incomprehensibility.

In heaven, God’s incomprehensibility will no doubt be lessened when the effects of sin no longer ravage minds and when He will most likely share some of His secrets. However, God will always be infinite and humans will always be finite, so He will always be beyond human ability to know exhaustively.

What are the implications of God’s incomprehensibility? Well, because God can never be fully known, those who seek to know God should be deeply humbled in the process, realizing that they will always have more to learn. The appropriate response to God is a heart of wonder and awe in light of His incomprehensible greatness! God’s incomprehensibility also means that beliefs can be held with firm conviction even though they may be filled with inexplicable mystery. The Trinity and other core teachings of the Bible are profoundly mysterious; believing them requires that you have a robust affirmation of the incomprehensibility of God.

You’ve Got Questions: Is Justification by Faith or by Works?

You’ve Got Questions: Does James’ Teaching About Faith and Works Contradict Paul’s Teaching About Faith and Works?

When climbing from lowlands to mountaintops, one must often pass through clouds. While ascending to the peak, sight soon becomes fogged. When you enter a layer of clouds, it helps to have a guide to help you avoid loose rocks that you can’t see as you try to get the best views of the mountaintop. I hope that this article will serve as a guide to clarification regarding the compatibility of the teachings of Paul and James about faith and works. If you’ve studied the Scriptures for long, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. We often receive questions along the lines of “Explain how these verses do not contradict!” or “Look, here is an error in the Bible!” If you are troubled in answering your skeptics or just desiring clarity from theses passages of Scripture, I pray that you are helped by the information presented here. I want you to get the best view of the mountaintop of truth that is evident in these passages.

The Obstacle in Our Journey

The obstacle that we have approached in our journey of Bible study is this: Does James’ teaching on faith and works contradict Paul’s teaching on faith and works? To answer this question it is important to understand that there are difficult passages of Scripture. There are verses that appear to contradict each other. We must remember that the Bible was written by approximately 40 different authors over a period of around 1500 years. Each writer wrote with a different style, from a different perspective, to a different audience, for a different purpose. We should expect some minor differences. However, a difference is not a contradiction. It is only an error if there is absolutely no conceivable way the verses or passages can be reconciled.

James writes in his letter “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone” (2:24; out of context), while Paul writes to the Romans “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (3:28; also out of context). Some see an apparent contradiction by saying that Paul is teaching salvation by faith alone and James is teaching salvation by faith plus works. This apparent problem is solved just by examining the contexts of the passages.

The Clouds Dissipate

To begin, let’s look at an earlier verse where this concept began: “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?” (James 2:21 ESV). On the surface, James may seem to contradict Paul. Paul denies that Abraham was “justified by works” (Rom. 4:2), arguing from Genesis 15:6 that Abraham’s faith was “counted to him as righteousness” (Rom. 4:3). However, James’ assertion in this verse (that “Abraham [was]. . . justified by works”) is based not on Genesis 15:6 but on Genesis 22:9-10, where (many years later) Abraham began to offer Isaac as a sacrifice. Thus, James apparently has a different sense of the word “justify” in view here, as evidenced by the different Scripture passages, and the different events in Abraham’s life, to which James and Paul refer. The primary way in which Paul uses the word “justify” emphasizes the sense of being declared righteous by God through faith, on the basis of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice (Rom. 3:24–26), whereas the primary way that James uses the word “justify” here in James 2:21 seems to emphasize the way in which works demonstrate that someone has been justified, as evidenced by the good works that the person does (see Matt. 12:33–37).

With that biblical concept in mind, some clouds have hopefully dissipated as we now look at the verse in question. “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone” (2:24). James again seems at first to contradict Paul’s teaching that one is justified by faith alone (Rom. 3:28), but the two are compatible. For James, “faith alone” means a bogus kind of faith, a mere intellectual agreement without a genuine personal trust in Christ that bears fruit in one’s life. Recall how the “demons believe—and shudder” (2:19). He is arguing that simple mental assent to the Christian faith does not save anyone. The faith that saves, as both Paul and James both affirm, embraces the truth of the gospel and acts accordingly. Therefore, the conclusion drawn is that James, in agreement with Paul, argues that true faith is never alone: it always produces works (Eph. 2:10).

I have heard it said well before that Paul is emphasizing the purpose of faith: to bring salvation. While James is emphasizing the results of faith: a changed life. Paul expects just as much of a changed life as James does: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). James and Paul do not disagree in their teaching regarding salvation. They approach the same subject from different perspectives. Paul simply emphasized that justification is by faith alone while James put emphasis on the fact that genuine faith in Christ produces good works.

Keep Digging and Digging

The Bible is a book that is not merely for reading. It is a book for studying so that it can be applied. Through careful study in the contexts of our passages above, the answer is discovered. If vigorous study of the Word is neglected, then it is like swallowing food without chewing and then spitting it back out again—no nutritional value is gained by it. The Bible is God’s Word. As such, it is as binding as the laws of nature. We can ignore it, but we do so to our own detriment, just as we would if we ignored the law of gravity. It cannot be emphasized strongly enough just how important the Bible is to our lives! Studying the Bible can be compared to mining for gold. If we make little effort and merely “sift through the pebbles in a stream,” we will only find a little gold dust. But the more we make an effort to really dig into it, the more reward we will gain for our effort. “I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word” (Psalm 119:16).

Devotion: Get Over It and Move On

“And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord” (Acts 15:39-40 ESV)

Remember playing Tug of War as a child? The game consists of a rope, two teams, and a marker dividing the teams. The object of the game is to pull your opposing team over the marker. In this Scripture passage, Paul and Barnabas were in a kind of personal “tug of war” as they made plans for another missionary journey. Barnabas wanted to take Mark, but Paul was still upset at Mark for deserting them on their previous journey. As a result, Paul and Barnabas went their separate ways. Barnabas took Mark with him while Paul chose Silas to join him. Though they had their differences, the missionary work was not hindered.

As long as we are on this earth we will have conflicts with people, even within the church. The question comes, “Will we let conflict disrupt our mission?” We must not elevate personal offenses or preferences over the Great Commission. A point comes when we need to drop the “rope,” get over our differences, and move on to do the work.

Prayer: “Father, may I be faithful to your mission, get over personal offenses, and move on in my service to You.”

Taken from: Jenna Fleming, Open Windows: A Guide for Personal Devotions. Sept. 24

Devotion: Exhort One Another Daily

“But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13 ESV).

Consider what you would need to climb a mountain. First, you need a partner who gives and responds to clear commands. You both must know and say the same commands and use the same terminology in voicing commands. When the climber yells, “Rope!” his partner needs to know that he is tossing down a rope and avoid getting hit by it.

Our Christian walk together is much like mountain climbing. We journey through rough terrain at times, and offer encouragement to one another to endure to the end. The writer of Hebrews reminds Christians that our faith cannot be lost. However, we are urged to exhort one another in Christ, so that our hearts will not become hardened by sin. When we see someone struggling, we need to help him or her so that he or she does not become ensnared by sin.

Who is your mountain climbing partner in your Christian walk? Accountability is essential to growing in personal holiness. You mutually exhort one another on the journey so that you may come to the end of it blessed and encouraged.

Suggested Prayer: “Father, help me find someone to journey with in the faith for mutual exhortation.”

Taken from: Jenna Fleming, Open Windows: A Guide for Personal Devotions. Sept. 21