Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Christian Confidence is Offensive but Necessary

The three Jewish magistrates administering in Babylon refused to bow down and worship the statue of King Nebuchadnezzar and were accused before the King of this capital offense:

• But there are some Jews whom you have set over the affairs of the province of Babylon--Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego--who pay no attention to you, O king. They neither serve your gods nor worship the image of gold you have set up." (Daniel 3:12)

The King then offered them one last opportunity to do homage before his statue to avoid being cast into a “fiery furnace.” However, they courageously responded,

• Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up." (Daniel 3:16-18)

Such courage depended upon a clear knowledge of and a confidence in their God. However, it’s this very type of knowledge and confidence that is being so widely rejected today. While some insist that they aren’t possible, others attack doctrinal certainty as arrogant, unattractive, imperialistic and dismissive of other religious beliefs.

I’d like to argue that these challenges are illogical, unbiblical, and dismissive of the high view of personhood our God wants us to have.

DISMISSING CERTITUDE IS ILLOGICAL: In order to dismiss certainty, the skeptic needs to make a statement of certainty. For instance, one otherwise competent theologian stated, “We can’t be certain about those very important spiritual and moral issues.” However, in order to dismiss Christian certainty, he had to make a statement of certainty – “We can’t be certain!” If we can’t be certain about such matters, how can he state so strongly that he is certain that “we can’t be certain.”

This incoherence is not a matter of wording. It is a necessary byproduct of trying to dismiss certainty. Others call themselves “Christian Agnostics,” claiming “You really can’t know if the Bible is God’s Word!” Here too, they are denying certainty with a statement of certainty – “You can’t know” – thereby contradicting themselves.

Nor can the multi-culturalist complain that our Christian certainty represents an unacceptable judgment of others. In making such an assessment, they too are judging! Nor can they claim that it’s offensive without being “offensive” themselves! Nor can they charge us with “arrogance” without being arrogant and dogmatic themselves.

CERTAINTY IS BIBLICAL: The Bible says a lot about certainty and the need for it:

• John 17:8 For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with CERTAINTY that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me.

• Luke 1:3-4 Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the CERTAINTY of the things you have been taught.

• Col. 2:2-3 My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of COMPLETE UNDERSTANDING, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

• Ephes. 5:5 For of this you can be SURE: No immoral, impure or greedy person--such a man is an idolater--has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.

• 1 Tim. 3:13 Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great ASSURANCE in their faith in Christ Jesus.

• Hebrews 3:14 We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the CONFIDENCE we had at first.

CERTAINTY OR CONFIDENCE IS NECESSARY AND PERSONALLY ENHANCING: The three Hebrew administrators couldn’t have lived courageously without confidence in their God. Nor can we live courageously and coherently without the confidence that our faith imparts to us. The Book of Hebrews gives us a condensed set of portraits of the power arising from the assurance of faith:

• Through faith [they] conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again. Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. (Hebrews 11:33-36)

This doesn’t mean that assurance comes without blood, sweat and tears. It had eluded me for half of my life in Christ. I must confess that it would have been easier to have been a postmodern Christian and dismissed the hope that assurance was possible. Instead, I had been tormented by thinking that it was possible, while it seemed that there was nothing I could do to obtain it. This made me feel like a second-rate Christian. However, God is faithful, who eventually brought me to a place of peace and confidence, although it required confronting my various doubts.

Assurance may be delayed because our Savior is producing fruit as we painfully trod through the “valley of the shadow of death.” It was in this barren desert that I was coerced to learn to just blindly trust in Him and to resort to His Word. God will also withhold assurance if we have areas in our lives that we haven’t committed to Him (1 Tim. 3:13; 1 John 4:16-18). However, it’s something that we need to seek and cry out for. However, if we don’t think it possible, we won’t cry out for it and probably won’t receive it.

Paul writes of the “riches of assured understanding” (Col. 2:2). I experienced these riches when the truth that I belong to God came crashing home to me (Gal. 2:20; 1 Cor. 6:19-20). As His possession, I was Scripturally assured He would love and take care of me. I also became rich in knowing that He “works all things together for good” (Romans 8:28) on my behalf. Knowing these things gave me courage and a confidence I had never before experienced. Even if I screw up, He has a purpose for it. Even if I die, I go to be with the greatest love of my life. Self-contempt was banished by the light of my Jesus’ love, who promised He would never give up on me.

Of course, this assurance requires me to live for Him, but this is something I enthusiastically do.

THE OFFENSE OF ASSURANCE: If I were to tell guests at a posh cocktail party about an experience that I had had with a goddess or even how faith in Christ worked for me, the guests would smile approvingly. However, if I declared that Christ is the truth, and that no one comes to God apart from Him (John 14:6), their reaction would be hostile. They would feel that I have no right to tell them what is truth.

The truth makes claims upon our lives; experiences don’t. Truth judges, while we can exercise freedom over the way we interpret our experiences. Jesus explained that He was hated because He revealed the truth about people (John 7:7). Nothing is more threatening to us than to be exposed for who we really are, as Jesus stated:

• This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. (John 3:19-20)

In addition to the offense of the light, Jesus sets the bar high – perfection Himself (1 Peter 1:15-16)! The only way that we can tolerate this perfect standard in light of our grievous failures is through the assurance of His love and forgiveness (1 John 1:9). Before I was brought into this assurance, I lived in darkness, defensively justifying myself. Now He is my defense!

Christ eliminates all of our crutches – all of our sources of self-importance and self-righteousness – declaring us “sinners” and Himself the only answer. His assertions contradict all of our attempts at finding meaning or salvation down other avenues. It prompts us to say, “That’s so narrow, judgmental and dismissive of others.” However, this position is also judgmental! Besides, if He really is our Creator and Redeemer, He is in a position to make such judgments.

Perhaps a safer refuge against Christ is this: “No one can really know.” At first, such a refuge might seem liberating. Many have confidently informed me that atheism brought them freedom. Indeed, if uncertainty is our reality, then there is no absolute standard that can judge us. We’re therefore free to choice whatever lifestyle feels right.

Uncertainty might even feel moral. It forbids us from judging others. If there are no clear standards by which to judge, then we have to be welcoming of all people and all theirs behaviors. That’s OK as long as they are acting morally, but things can suddenly change, and we find ourselves with no means to cope. Besides, if we are honest with ourselves, we have to acknowledge that we are still very judgmental.

Also, uncertainty will not enable us to endure the fires. Nor will it give us enough light to emerge from the darkness of confusion.

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