Thoughts on Apologetics and Journeys of Faith 2

Because the atheist does not believe that the real God even exists…in a contemporary Christian apologetics public debate…the tug-of-war on the Christian side is to pull the issues up into the realm of belief where the evidences are valid and amenable to serious evaluation…versus the atheist side attempting to pull the issues down into the zone of human invented religious fiction…where the Christian arguments are by definition thereby downgraded to have no validity or truth-value.

This describes the huge gap between belief and unbelief…a gap which in itself defies an explanation of having an origin deriving from a humanly invented literary fiction…a gap of separation being far too novel and complex for human imagination…and way beyond any motivation for humanistic creative invention.

Some typical examples of issues argued in public debates are: the hypocrisy of institutionalized Christianity in the historical past when it overlaps into “religion” that produces un-Christ like religious intolerance…the seeming difficulty in explaining the presence of evil and suffering in a God-created world…whether or not the multi-verse or many-worlds hypothesis is a plausible, random-chance, substitute explanation for the obvious intelligent design we observe in the fine-tuning of the natural world…the reliability of the Old and New Testament texts as ancient documents…and the historical validity of the gospel records of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

These and other important issues belong to a group of typical and repetitive topics that…due to change and progress over time…have arisen from within the skeptical and anti-theistic portion of the zone of worldly conventional normalcy and thinking (1 Cor. 2:6-12)…where, by definition, these secularized questions…being ordinary, commonplace, and non-supernatural…occupy the zone of unbelief where atheists, agnostics, and skeptics live and think.

But arguably the centermost human issue at the heart of reality…the displacement of our ways with God’s higher ways…which enables God-sovereignty to become actualized in people’s lives…as portrayed throughout the Bible and as a reality in the lives of tens of millions of Spirit-born Christians today…including this writer…is entirely missed by religious skeptics…and more importantly is avoided at all costs by Satan.

Atheists and skeptics cannot see the displacement element within biblical journeys of faith…first because their starting worldview bias of unbelief so thoroughly blinds them they cannot see the data…and second this concept does not exist anywhere within the wide expanse of worldly conventional normalcy and thinking…to draw meaningful comparisons with.

This is why the concept of biblical faith…of God displacing our ways with His ways according to the cross of Christ that creates the gap described in Hebrews 11:1 of biblical faith to actualize in space and time…falls outside of the field of comparative religious studies.

The starting premise of comparative religious studies is that all religions have a humanistic origin…that all religions are man-made mythology…that gods are humanly created gods…and thus can fall within the zone of worldly conventional normalcy and thinking…and are thereby accessible to study, research, comparison, and critical analysis.

But the key point I want to make here is that Satan does not want to get anywhere near this central biblical concept of the inducement of God-sovereignty into people’s lives by means of the displacement of our ways with God’s higher ways…this uniquely inexplicable transition from worldly conventional self-sovereignty to unconventional God-sovereignty…that is built into every narrative story of faith in the Bible…and every born-again salvation experience today.

Satan will not attack this exclusively biblical concept outright and directly…because he does not want it discussed and debated out in the open. 

This is an element of cunning malice and diabolical deception that has yet to be fully unearthed and articulated within the apologetics arena…because it will not originate from the direction of philosophical atheism to be responded to in the historically “normal” way in the Christian apologetics reactive mode.

This specific argument for the existence of God and the truthfulness of the Bible…must originate from within Christian experience and theology.  It cannot possibly come from within worldly conventional normalcy and thinking…because it does not exist there.

There are basically two halves to the cross.

Salvation by grace through faith…through the blood of Christ shed on the cross…being the first half…is the open door into the second half…a divinely composed journey of faith for new covenant Christians (Jer. 31:31-34; Jn. 14:6).

Ephesians 6:12 tells us that “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”

Satan has been working to prevent people from entering into the kingdom of God…for thousands of years…through the use of cunningly deceptive arguments and the most alluring enticements of worldly wealth, power, and fame (Mt. 4:8-9; Mk. 8:36).

But Satan also does not want the second half of the cross…the displacement of our ways with God’s ways…out there in open debate for public consideration.

Satan cannot attack the displacement element that opens up the context for God-sovereignty to actualize in people’s lives…arguably one of the key components in a biblical journey of faith…in open debate coming from the zone of philosophical atheism as has been typical in the past…because this concept does not exist anywhere in worldly conventional normalcy and thinking.

            Acknowledging its existence indirectly validates and highlights its divine origin.

By bringing the displacement element in the biblical narrative stories of faith into the discussion…this focuses upon and elevates this issue into the realm of those topics worthy to be debated.

It cannot be brought lower…reduced down into the horizontal zone of worldly conventional thinking…without giving away the clear inference of its divine origin…because nothing in worldly conventional normalcy and thinking relates to this unique concept.

Thoughts on Apologetics and Journeys of Faith 1

“But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentile, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.”                                             (Jas. 3:17)

In the contemporary Christian apologetics debate…about the reasonableness of faith and the existence of God…the questions raised and the answers given in response…are both equally brilliant and well-articulated.  They represent the highest and the best of human thinking, knowledge, research, reasoning, and argumentation.

But the program of Christian apologetics…as brilliantly persuasive as it is…is partially the product of responses to criticisms and objections originating out of philosophical atheism over the past four to five-hundred years…coming up to current issues in today’s modern times…as we should expect.

The formulation of the systematic Christian apologetics argument has been partially reactive…ably constructed piece-by-piece in response to criticisms about the existence of God and the truthfulness of the Bible…criticisms originating naturally and historically from the atheist viewpoint out of the Scientific Revolution, the Doctrine of Progress stemming from the two Industrial Revolutions, and the enormous,  thought-provoking, beneficially progressive advances that have been made in the political, economic, social, and cultural structures of modern societies.

Modern Christians actually owe a debt of gratitude to atheists and skeptical critics of the Bible…in a counter-intuitive sort of way…like Joseph might owe a debt of gratitude in the big-picture graciousness of hindsight…toward his half-brothers selling him to slave-traders bound for Egypt…adverse starting circumstances which God then used to turn around the story originally meant for evil…into a brilliant new story shaped and channeled over time by God…into the life of Joseph the ruling governor of Egypt…for the highest good (Gen. 45:3-8).

Atheists and skeptical critics have raised the issues that have forced Christian theologians, Christian scholars, and Christian experts in other fields like science, philosophy, and history…over the past recent centuries…to focus and think hard about the credibility, reliability, and authority of the Bible and its message.

But the subtle problem here is that in the reactive mode…in the defensive position of responding to criticisms and objections raised by atheists and skeptics…the starting point of many of the issues debated within this context…land within what I call in this book the realm of worldly conventional normalcy and thinking…confined within the large zone of normal human experience, inquiry, and investigative research…thereby limited by definition to the normalcy of worldly conventional thinking.

When placed on a vertical, graduated graph-line of goodness and light…these limited topics of inquiry and analysis coming from the zone of worldly conventional normalcy and thinking…position themselves lower in elevation on the vertical graph-line of goodness and light…compared to the goodness and light entailed within the biblical narrative stories of faith.

The biblical narrative stories of faith actualize from God’s perspective the whole point of true religion: a personal, joint-venture relationship with Him…by definition a supernaturally composed and initiated relationshipby divine intention and rational necessity positioned higher-up on the graph-line continuum of goodness and light…above commonplace, everyday experiences of conventionally normal life.  

The biblical narrative stories of faith define the real truth about God.

The biblical narrative stories of faith distinguish and separate themselves from the human invented fertility faiths of ancient religious practices and rituals…named after the “gods” of the forces of nature that ancient people aimed to appease and to placate…in their precarious struggle for survival…in an attempt to understand and to control these mysterious and unpredictable natural forces that affected their material and economic destinies.

This is a fundamental area where the biblical narrative stories of faith differentiate themselves as having a divine origin from God-ward to humans…rather than man-invented from us-ward to God.

Because the biblical narrative stories of faith do not incorporate the materialistic goals and aspirations of the American Dream…ancient or modern…they distance themselves at the outset by the worldly unconventional concept of highly specific and detailed life-scripts that displace our ways with God’s higher ways and thoughts…transcending above the everyday concerns of survival and reproduction (Mt. 6:31-33).

This is the diametric opposite of petitioning and appealing to the deities of wind, rain, storms, and mountains for protection, stability, and fertility in farming, raising herds of cattle and sheep, and producing large families of sons and daughters.

The idea that the Canaanite goddess of fertility Astarte…known to the ancient Jews as Ashtoreth (1 Ki. 11:5), or Baal (Nu. 22:41)…chief of the fertility gods in ancient Canaan, or Marduk…chief god of the ancient Babylonian religion, or Diana of Ephesus (Acts 19:35) in the New Testament first-century…would live perfect moral lives to qualify themselves to be the atoning, substitutional sacrifice for the sins of mankind…and enter into a human body to accomplish this…is outside of human contemplation.

The biblical narrative stories of faith hit the center of the bulls-eye target of purpose and meaning in life…precisely because they radically cut-across-the-grain of the basic human motivation to appease the gods of nature for self-survival…through the control of the natural environment…storms, floods, agricultural crops, marauding beasts, birds, and insects, and invading armies of enemy peoples.

This is a timeless, universal motivation that fuels the attempt to appeal to and to appease the gods of the forces of nature…for our success and well-being.

That this same motivational drive permeates the modern Christian church should come as no great surprise.

Many people attend Christian churches today with the express purpose of petitioning the God of the Bible for His help in the very similar and common pursuit of the ancient religionists…to control their environment and secure stability in their lives.

This is evidenced in the modern phenomenon of the “prosperity gospel” of “name-it and claim-it” regarding materialistic covetousness…that has invaded Christendom in recent years…being a corruption of the commendable Protestant ethic of the virtue of hard-work in our chosen profession (1 Th. 4:11-12).

What this all tells me is that there is an unbridgeable gulf between human-invented fertility religions from us-ward toward God…aimed at securing our goals and aspirations according to self-sovereignty…crafted through ignorance and guesswork…in contrast to the biblical narrative stories of faith…clearly exhibiting the directional origin from God-ward to us…having the inconceivably unconventional trajectory of innovative life-scripts that displace our ways with the transcendent, higher ways and thoughts of God (Isa. 55:8-9).

Public Debates 2

I want to attempt in this essay to articulate what it is about the nature of skeptical unbelief that can boil-down and decompose into the self-interest of autonomous individualism…the life apart from God lived in self-sovereignty…that is the core ideology of worldly conventional normalcy and thinking…and conversely…what is so critically important about the nature of faith and trust in the God of the Bible…that places such a high value in connecting personally with God within the biblical narrative stories of faith…that demonstrate biblical faith in action…which is the fundamental characteristic of the Bible…the underlying issue of the existence of God debated in public forums.

I would like here to build and expand upon what has already been said in the previous essays…on the delicate balance between belief and unbelief.

After Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead…it is succinctly and brilliantly recorded in John 11:45-48:

45 Then many of the Jews which came to Mary, and had seen the things which Jesus did, believed on him.

46 But some of them went their ways to the Pharisees, and told them what things Jesus had done.

47 Then gathered the chief priests and the Pharisees a council, and said, What do we? for this man doeth many miracles.

48 If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation.

This narrative story of Jesus…leading up to His rejection and crucifixion…tells us that there was no overlapping middle-ground between letting Jesus “thus alone”…or the huge extreme on the other side of the spectrum of accusing Jesus of the capital offences of blasphemy before the Jewish Sanhedrin court and political treason before the Roman authorities…resulting in His execution on the cross.

Were these religious leaders acting for the good of the nation of Israel in removing Jesus from the scene…or were they acting out of the most worldly, self-centered self-interest?

Like the scriptural example of the resurrected Jesus not walking down Main Street and into the Temple…even though Jesus moved freely and openly amongst these religious leaders during His time of public ministry…sharing His message and outreach to them as well as to the general populace…Jesus does not appear to compromise in the slightest regarding the components of faith and trust in Him.

Jesus gives not the slightest hint of surrendering His status and position as the Son of God and eternal King in order to reach a common-ground conciliation regarding self-sovereignty versus God-sovereignty…of giving-in on principle to these religious leaders in the biblically critical point of self-governance as opposed to God-governance (Jn. 5:36-47)…even though…and by God’s deliberate intention…this principled stand leads to the cross of Calvary.

This tells us that the importance of the components of faith and trust within a personal relationship…are non-negotiable elements that reside at the peak…the pinnacle…the apex of moral reasoning and righteous character.

Paul writes about the faith component in a relationship with God…in Hebrews 11:6…”But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.”

Skeptical unbelief cannot enter into a biblical-quality journey of faith today, following the leading of Jesus Christ…through communication in the Spirit through the Holy Spirit (Jn. 16:13)…because the atheist does not believe at the outset that God even exists.

The atheist is no more likely to pick up their cross to follow Jesus…than they are to enter into a contractual business agreement with a fictitious and non-existent person.

This explains in part the inability in Christian versus atheist public debates of reaching a common middle-ground of overlapping engagement on the issues…or any semblance of an overwhelming resolution to the specific topic being debated…because the fundamental natures of the worldviews of belief and unbelief are so far apart…they themselves in relation to each other are non-overlapping.

This explains in part why the two people debating the issues in a Christian apologetics public debate…often appear to be talking past one another…each person capably presenting their side but being miles apart in terms of finding common ground.

The contention in this essay is that this reality is by the deliberate and creative intention of God…in order to expose through the dimensions of time and space the un-admirable and non-commendable outcomes of going our own way (Isa. 53:6) both in this current life and in the eternal heavens where God is King and Ruler.

The combination of the delicate balance between belief and unbelief…with the complete absence of a happy center between the two opposing sides of belief and unbelief…having a huge hole between these two worldviews…cannot plausibly be the product of human literary invention.

This cannot be over-stated.

Finally, once a person gets past the huge gulf between unbelief and belief…and enters into faith in Jesus Christ the Son of God as our Savior and the Lord of our lives…the equally important question then arises as to why faith is often so difficult and that it must be “tested” and refined within a God-composed adventure of faith life-script (Jas. 1:2-4; 1 Pet. 1:7)…as previewed for us today in the biblical narrative stories of faith.

Once a person is spiritually born-again (Jn. 3:1-21) and receives salvation and eternal life…the journey is just beginning as the new believer steps into their God-composed journey of faith…designed individually and specifically for them…to create a context of life events and circumstances that will produce a personal relationship with God…based upon mutual faith and trust in each other…God-ward toward us…and us-ward toward God.

The delicate balance between belief and unbelief takes us up to the pinnacle of moral reasoning…because mutual faith and trust are critical components within personal relationships.

Going our own way in autonomous rebellion is at the heart of the temptation of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden…Satan in the spiritual form of a talking serpent calling into question the faithfulness and trustworthiness of God’s character in His setting of parameters of do’s and don’ts regarding the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil…slandering God by inferring that God’s motivations were suspect.

Atheists and skeptical critics can choke on the idea of a past angel of God…Satan… transforming himself into the spiritual/holographic form of a beautiful serpent possessing enticing speech…but the issues at stake in this classic confrontation in the Garden of Eden are simply too profound and way too complex in their spot-on application to human nature…to be the mere product of human literary fiction writing…to be mythology…in the composition of the first book of Genesis in the Hebrew Bible…our modern Old Testament…in ancient times around 1,450 B.C.

This delicate balance between belief and unbelief…makes a subtle case for the divine origin of the Bible and of Christianity…because this issue of faith and trust…that goes both ways between people and God…is the central through-line of the biblical narrative stories of faith…which is inaccessible and incomprehensible to people choosing to be skeptical unbelievers living in self-sovereignty…but which is the priceless gift of God to believers through the blood of Jesus shed on the cross…prophesied in Jeremiah 31:31-34 to occur for new covenant Christians…knowing God personally from the least to the greatest.

Public Debates 1

When a world-renowned atheist comes into a public debate with an equally well-known and respected Christian apologist…to debate topics such as Does God Exist?…or Is God Great?…or Is God a Delusion?…the atheist enters into the debate auditorium thinking they can win…and whether they actually win or lose the debate…they leave still thinking they are right.

The idea that the issues in these public debates cannot arrive at a conclusive ending…cannot be so overwhelmingly convincing one way or the other towards a consensus conclusion…for the audience listening to the debate…as well as for the two antagonists…in an absolute resolution to the specific topic being debated…in my opinion is not only an amazing reality worthy of further thoughtful analysis…but in a subtle and counter-intuitive way is itself a positive evidence for the theistic viewpoint.

This again dives right into the complexity and integrated coherence of information question…regarding its origin and source…being clearly too complicated for material particles and fields of energy to produce…and way too complicated for human literary invention to conceive of…or to set in motion a program of the delicate balance in the area of belief and unbelief…that could stand the test of time for literally thousands of years.

From the Christian perspective…this superbly ingenious reality of the delicate balance between belief and unbelief…has a divine origin at least as ancient as the existence of “the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8)…allowed to actualize into human experience through divine foresight and foreknowledge…and adjusted and fine-tuned over the course of human history…for the highest and best reasons imaginable…at the pinnacle of moral reasoning.

It is not a blundering miscalculation…it is not a glaring oversight by God the Father, Jesus the Son of God, and the Holy Spirit…to not make the most of the resurrection of Jesus by having Him walk openly down the middle of Main Street in Jerusalem and straight into the Temple…on Tuesday or Wednesday of the first week following His resurrection.

This would be a golden opportunity to empirically demonstrate the divine status of Jesus Christ as Messiah and Savior…beyond any debatable doubt in the future.

Yet instead God skillfully moderates and calibrates the extent of the physical appearances of the risen Jesus…so as to leave just enough of a personal witness of His resurrection and Godhood to inaugurate and sustain the exponential growth of the early Christian church…and for His followers to write the New Testament…yet at the same time enables the space for the unbelief of the religious elites and a portion of the populace in Israel…to continue in skeptical unbelief in Jesus Christ…as Messiah…that coalesced and solidified in the Jewish community and in the secular Gentile world in the first-century…and is still debated up to this day.

That this delicate balance between belief and unbelief would continue down the centuries to our current time…with brilliant antagonists squaring off in public debate today over the very question that Jesus posed to His disciples two thousand years ago: “Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?” (Mt. 16:13) coupled with the follow-up question: “But whom say ye that I am?” (Mt. 16:15)…which from the Christian viewpoint are arguably the two most important questions in all of history…still out there and fully in play…and in the opinion of this writer defies humanistic explanation as to the precise longevity of this delicate balance.

Daniel 12:9-10 tells us that this delicate balance of belief and unbelief will continue to the end of time on this earth:

9 And he said, Go thy way, Daniel: for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end.

10 Many shall be purified, and made white, and tried; but the wicked shall do wickedly: and none of the wicked shall understand; but the wise shall understand.

In Matthew 24:14 Jesus says: “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all of the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come”…by which we can infer that the world at the end of time is still in need of evangelical persuasion…that the world is still on the fence in terms of the delicate balance between belief and unbelief…as to who Jesus Christ is.

Revelation 12:11 gives us a window into the high cost of discipleship in the last days in fulfilling this calling to take the gospel of the kingdom to all of the world…before the end: “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the power of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.”

The fundamental divide that partially explains skeptical unbelief…is that atheists think that Christianity is a man-made religion.  Skeptical unbelief universally downgrades all religions into the horizontally flat category of fictionally created gods and mythologies.

This overarching mindset creates an impassible gulf…an unreachable chasm to cross from skeptical unbelief to belief…because the starting premise for the atheist is that the Bible is an elaborate fiction concocted out of the religious imagination of men…which then renders all of the tenets of the Bible…even the cross and salvation through the blood of Jesus Christ…as being mute, insignificant, and untrue.

The starting premise of atheism…that there is no God…thereby undermines the credibility of the Bible at the outset…creating this non-overlapping separation between the two worldviews that prevents a “meeting of the minds” between atheists and Christian apologists in debate…because no meaningful dialogue can occur when atheists think the arguments and evidences of the opposing side are universally invalid to begin with.

The Thief on the Cross 2

The scriptural arguments…for and against eternal security…have already been written and fill entire books.

But for the purposes of this book…the biblical narrative stories of faith are the God-designed vehicles that actualize the context of events…wherein our souls are measured.”

This is an apologetic argument for the divine origin of the Bible.

The events and circumstances of the narrative stories of faith recorded in the Bible…unlike any other form or genre of human literature…measure our souls on the basis of our faith and relationship with God.

Our souls are not only measured by courage in battle, or the resilience to bounce back from numerous defeats to accomplish greatness, or by an epiphany that changes us from being a crass, self-centered person to becoming a loving person through character growth…the theme of countless books, plays, and movies.

The quality of life-script events that will measure our souls at the apex…at the zenith…of moral reasoning and decision-making regarding our relationship with God…can only originate from God.

The thief on the cross could never have orchestrated the cascade of events that placed him that fateful Friday on a cross of execution alongside Jesus Christ the Son of God…with the opportunity to go along with the crowd in verbally mocking Jesus (Lk. 23:35-39)…or amazingly for the first and only time in his life…to discover the power, conviction, courage, and liberated audacity to resist the peer pressure in the moment…and to instead proclaim publicly through the Holy Spirit a faith in the God/man Jesus crucified alongside him…to his fellow thief and to any and all others standing around the crosses and listening…that would pass the test of saving faith for time eternal (Lk. 23:43).

On that fateful day…and over a few short hours…the soul of the thief on the cross was measured…and found brilliantly passing the test for salvation…according to God’s terms and standards.

The point I want to make here is monumental in its importance.

We need God-composed journey of faith life-scripts to actualize for us a context of life-events wherein our souls are measured…precisely so that we can succeed on God’s terms and by His standards…and not through the futility of good-works and self-realization according to our ways (Isa. 55:8-9).

This is the record of the biblical narrative stories of faith…including this incredibly inspiring story of the thief on the cross.

Choosing amongst the smorgasbord buffet of the wants and aspirations of worldly conventional normalcy and thinking…a great education, a good job, high salary, good marriage, a big house, luxury automobile, European vacation, a stock portfolio, good health, and sending our kids to Harvard or Oxford…will not measure our souls in the way that the life-scripts of Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Peter, Paul, and the thief on the cross…were measured.

The thief on the cross could not have orchestrated the events that led to his salvation that day…any more than Abraham could have orchestrated his life-script of faith…any more than Paul could have orchestrated the events that led to him becoming the premier Christian evangelical missionary to the first-century Greco-Roman world.

The grand irony here…that is far beyond the contemplative imagination of human literary invention…is that the Pharisees, Sadducees, lawyers, and scribes standing around and mocking Jesus on the cross…who attempted to self-craft “perfect lives” according to their way (Mt. 6:2, 5; 9:12-13; 10:33; 11:16-19; 15:7-9)…end up unknowingly killing Jesus their Passover Lamb of God sacrifice for sin (1 Cor. 2:8).

The grand irony is that the one person who obtained on that day on Calvary Hill the assurance of the eternal security of salvation…for the short but priceless few hours from sometime around mid-morning to when he died at dusk that late afternoon…was the thief on the cross alongside Jesus.

There are two massive takeaways from this dramatic scene taking place in Jerusalem in the first-century.

Imagine in our mind’s eye the religious elites standing around the three crosses…mocking Jesus…the Roman soldiers who carried out the execution nearby…the women disciples of Jesus including His mother at the base of His cross weeping over what has occurred…and the two thieves crucified on each side of Jesus.

The first massive takeaway from this scene is the huge gulf between the two opposing outcomes of going our own way in self-sovereignty…in contrast to God-sovereignty.

Jesus is the perfect, blemish-free Passover Lamb of God sacrifice for sin.  To qualify to be the atonement for sin…Jesus must be perfect.  A flawed sacrifice…in terms of moral performance in life…would be unacceptable.  Wealth, popularity, and political influence are not qualifiers in this Passover Lamb of God sacrifice for sin.

The problem of human sin…is the precise target homed-in on by the blemish-free moral life of Jesus Christ…perfectly lived according to a life-script composed by God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son of God, and the Holy Spirit.

The perfect life and the perfect life-script of Jesus…lead to the cross on Calvary Hill.

But trying to be perfect…our way…as demonstrated by the religious elites mocking Jesus…leads to placing Jesus on the cross.  These two outcomes could not be more diametrically opposite.

The second massive takeaway from this scene on Calvary Hill two thousand years ago…is that the thief on the cross…immovably stuck there and not going anywhere or able to do anything…secular or religious in the slightest way…surprisingly and unexpectedly experiences that fateful day in his life the “joy unspeakable and full of glory” assurance of the eternal security of salvation for the otherwise physically agonizing hours he spends being executed by Roman crucifixion…through the sure words of promise spoken to him by Jesus the Son of God being crucified alongside him.

If we incorrectly believe that we can lose our salvation…this opens the door ever so slightly for self-achieved good-works and self-realization to creep in as the sustaining justification for maintaining our salvation.

The story of the thief on the cross…composed and orchestrated by God Himself…totally outside the contemplative imagination of human literary invention…tells us our salvation…that is based upon faith in Jesus Christ…in this divinely illustrated case of the thief on the cross…is eternally secure.

The Thief on the Cross 1

The story of the thief on the cross recorded in Luke 23:39-43 is the minimum baseline example given to us in the New Testament gospels…that defines faith plus our good-works for salvation…that will pass the test of fire (Jn. 6:28-29; 1 Cor. 3:13; 1 Pet. 1:7).

This baseline example is illustrated through an actual event in history…spread-out over the short interval of a few hours…rather than a doctrinal concept given to us in explanatory…expository words alone.

This baseline standard for measuring salvation is given to us by no less an authority than Jesus Christ Himself…the Passover Lamb of God atoning sacrifice for sin…at the precise moments of that sacrifice…and from the very instrument…the cross on Calvary Hill…that procured our salvation.

This condemned thief is not coming down off the cross to start a positive, God-composed journey of faith life-script for the remaining years of his life.  His wrists and feet are immovably pinned by long metal spikes to the wooden cross-beams of Roman crucifixion.  He will die there in a few more hours.  There is no time left to do anything good or bad from that moment forward…in any major way.

The thief on the cross at that moment in time…has nothing by way of reformed, future good-works to offer to God on behalf of his salvation…to qualify himself before God.  There is no second chance for him to come down off the cross with the promise to live a better life going forward.

Yet when Jesus says to the thief on the cross…crucified alongside Him and sharing His fate that eventful Friday in history: “Today shalt thou be with me in paradise”…this thief can then confidently take this promise “to the bank.”  He can “bet the farm on it”…in utter and complete assurance.

This is not just the word of a great prophet…declaring a future event.  This promise comes from Jesus Christ the divine Son of God…the very Word of God in the flesh.

The thief on the cross can rest in the inner peace and assurance of eternal salvation for the remaining few hours he has on this earth…from the extremely privileged position of observing the exemplary character of Jesus Christ the Son of God in action…dying next to him as the Passover Lamb of God for the sins of the world.

I believe this real-life example…spelled-out for us through an action event recorded in the Bible…resolves the controversial theological issue of the eternal security of our salvation while we are still in this life and engaged in our journey of faith…by combining in this specific example both ends of a short time-interval defined as biblical faith in Hebrews 11:1…”the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”…in this salvation story of the last final hours of the thief on the cross.

A fundamental problem here with the general biblical interpretation…believed by some people today…that we can lose our salvation…is that Jesus at that moment in time…is telling the thief that later that same day he will be with Jesus in His kingdom.

Jesus…as the divine Son of God…either possesses Himself…or is perfectly exercising through God the Father…timeless foresight.

In my opinion…the part that confuses the issue of eternal security is the seemingly incoherent blend of a God who exists in a timeless environment…and human beings that live in the four dimensions of time and space.

These two things do not appear on the surface…at first glance…to easily mix.  But both these realities…God’s timeless existence and our lives spread-out within the forward march of the God-created dimension of time…are absolutely essential for developing confidence in the wisdom and leadership of God…and our placing trust in a God-composed journey of faith for our lives…that have this Hebrews 11:1 risk-element of elongated and stretched-out time.

Our future actualized promise of salvation…the “evidence of things not seen” regarding eternal life…does not occur yet in this current lifetime.  This culminating event occurs at our resurrection…at the last trumpet sound…at the great Judgment Day and our entrance into heaven.

This is what introduces an element of confusion…which in actuality is instead another strong apologetic evidence for the existence of God and the truth of the Bible.

This interval of time…the gap in practical, lived experience between where we are now and where we need to get to…this unique feature of biblical faith as defined by Hebrews 11:1…is an inseparable part of the storyline of every positive person in their biblical-quality journey of faith life-scripts…whether we are Moses, David, or the thief on the cross.

Whether our destiny-of-faith moment in history spans years, months, or a few short hours on the cross alongside Jesus the Passover Lamb of God of Isaiah 53…like this thief…the surety of our salvation is not dependent upon any specific duration of time…or more importantly is not dependent upon our performance over that period of time…because with a timeless God having divine foreknowledge…there is no future earthly span of time that conditionally determines our salvation…years, months, or hours.

The simplistic yet powerful lesson of the thief on the cross…is that he cannot “mess-up” his salvation during his remaining few hours…this short interval of Hebrews 11:1 time remaining for him…the brief entirety of his faith-journey…on his cross of execution alongside Jesus…as the sky overhead darkens and the earth rumbles that Friday afternoon.

Why…because the promise of the assurance of eternal salvation…comes from the mouth of the divine Son of God…Jesus Christ of Nazareth…from the cross…in the very act of being the Passover sacrifice for sin.  Jesus that moment on the cross…either has Himself or is exercising from God the Father…divine timeless foresight.

This pivotal moment in time and the dramatic circumstances of this historic event…could not be more definitive and decisive on the topic of eternal security.

That Jesus Christ our eternal Savior and King…and this remarkable human thief on the cross having no merit or achievements to argue on his behalf for salvation…should come together in this moment in history…is not an accident (Isa. 53:12).

The promise of entering shortly into paradise…coming from the timeless foresight of Jesus Christ the Passover Lamb of God sacrifice for the sins of the world…while He is suffering and dying on the cross…to the thief also suffering and dying alongside Him…is an iron-clad, irrevocable, unalterable event that cannot change within the span of a few short hours…for both Jesus and the thief on their respective crosses.

The word of God is sure…not only because it is based on the high-quality of His character…but also because it is timeless.

This is a product of the timeless nature of God (Isa. 46:9-10)…and the functional nature of the limitations of time and space that God created for us…so that we might experience and discover the knowledge of good and evil…not in split-second, instantaneous flashes of time…but spread-out over longer intervals of time…sometimes only hours as in the case of the thief on the cross…as expressed in Hebrews 11:1 and as so beautifully told in Luke 23:39-43.

Bible Studies 101

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.”                                                     (Jas. 1:17)

Another typical approach of skeptics and critics to separate the God of the Old Testament from the God of the New Testament…to attempt to divide-and-conquer…to muddy the water regarding the real truth about God…is to point out clearly amoral actions in the Old Testament…and then incorrectly imply that the Bible’s honest recording of bad human behavior is tantamount to endorsing such behavior.

Anyone taking Bible Studies 101 as a general elective from the Religious Studies Department in a college or university will quickly learn the standard biblical interpretation concept…that merely because the Bible records an action does not mean it endorses that action.

Bible critics cite the examples of some bad decisions made by Abraham, some huge moral failures in David’s life, the obvious moral outrage involving the Levite and the concubine in Judges 19, among other examples, as flagrant cases of the moral shortcomings of some key biblical actors…impugning the overall character of the Old Testament and thereby the God of the Old Testament…Jehovah…as if God should only select and call already upright and perfect people.

The mistake made here by skeptics and critics is fundamental…and has no application in an argument for or against the existence of the God of the biblical Old Testament.

The Bible honestly identifies and records the shortcomings of mankind…even in the lives of the people of faith…which the Bible calls sin.

Abraham is called the father of faith, not the father of righteousness.  The biblical record of human redemptive history is not whitewashed or sugar-coated with the false pride of the modern nonsense of “I’m okay, you’re okay.”

We all have the free-will capacity to make choices that can potentially produce a great amount of good…and conversely to make choices that can produce a great amount of evil and suffering.

The Bible faces the reality of good and evil head-on with foursquare honesty…not electing to sweep under the rug the faults and failures in human life…precisely because the Bible boldly and unapologetically has the one right answer…the solution… to the problem all of us face…which is sin.

A God-composed journey of faith life-script is divinely designed to produce genuine character growth.  Nowhere in the biblical narrative stories of faith is perfection of performance assumed or expected out of these real-life human actors, except in the singular sin-free life of Jesus Christ the Son of God.

I cannot think of a more down-to-earth, hard-boiled, realistic approach to human nature than the honest portrayal of people on their journey from purposeless, under-performing self-autonomy…to becoming new, improved people within their uniquely predestined, God-composed journeys of faith.