Is This A Contradiction?
This Live Q&A is hosted by Pastor Lance Ralston.
Do Luke 14:26 and 1 John 3:10 contradict each other? What should we do to follow Jesus?
Luke 14:26 – If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.
1 John 3:10 – In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother.
These two verses present an apparent contradiction, though not a real contradiction. Before we deal with those verses, I want to take a moment to talk about the larger issue of contradictions in the Bible, which is a frequent point brought up by skeptics and critics.
Last week, I got an email from someone asking how to answer a comment by a critic. Here is the contradiction: “The original Bible was compiled of writings gathered 1700 years ago by the Catholic hierarchy. There have been 30,000 changes in the Bible, along with 1000 contradictions, in order to control the masses.” Now, nothing in that statement is true, not a thing. The person who said it probably assumes that it’s true, not because they have any real proof, but because they heard it from another skeptic and took it as fact. Many arguments used by unbelievers have no basis in reality and have already been answered, but they depend on people not knowing the answers and not knowing the truth. In dealing with this kind of thing over the years, I have found that most skeptics accept as fact anything that seems to undercut Christianity, without checking to see if it’s true, while at the same time demanding endless proof for the supports of the faith, and even then, refusing to admit that it’s true.
Now, without getting into detail about all the absurdities of this critic’s remark, the Bible was not compiled 1700 years ago by the Catholic hierarchy. That’s simply a restatement of a long-refuted falsehood that, in the early fourth century, Emperor Constantine and 300 bishops of the church council at Nicaea established the books of the Bible. That’s wrong on two accounts. The Council of Nicaea met to deal with a heresy called Arianism. The council said nothing about the books of the Bible. Furthermore, there was no Catholic church hierarchy in the early fourth century.
The story of the formation of what’s called the canon of Scripture, the accepted books of the Bible, is a fascinating tale. When honestly engaged, it leads to great confidence that we have the inspired, inerrant Word of God today. The books of the Old Testament were, of course, already settled by the third century BCE, while the New Testament canon was finally closed at the Council of Carthage in 397. Now, I realize that seems late. But it’s important to realize that the 27 books which the council settled on had already been accepted as the standard for a long time. For example, the Muratorian Canon was written in 170 AD, and it lists the 27 books of the New Testament as the standard for the Christian faith and practice. By the time of the Council of Carthage, 200 years after that, church leaders felt an obligation to simply say that the books which ought to be in the New Testament were a settled issue. You see, they knew that time had run out on being able to apply the exacting criteria which much earlier church leaders had used for deciding what books were legitimate.
As for the 30,000 changes to the Bible, I don’t even know what that means. There’s simply no documentation for that. Scripture hasn’t changed, as the Dead Sea Scrolls made clear concerning the Old Testament when they were discovered in the 1950s. As for changes to the New Testament, that is simply not true. There have been no changes. Yes, there have been translations into dozens of other languages from the Koine or common Greek of the first century, when they were originally penned, but no changes to the actual content. The number of 30,000 is just made up out of thin air.
As for 1000 contradictions in the Bible, not only are there not 1000; there aren’t any real contradictions in Scripture. Yes, there are some apparent or seeming contradictions which are cleared up by a careful examination of the text. A contradiction is a statement of conflicting facts that cannot both exist at the same time. For example, if I say that yesterday at 3pm, I was physically both in and not in Los Angeles, California, that would be a contradiction. In the normal use of the words, both could not be true at the same time. Either I was or I wasn’t in LA, but it couldn’t be both at the same time.
On the other hand, an apparent or alleged contradiction exists when a careful look at what is said reveals that both statements could be true. There are several of these in the Bible. Some present more of a challenge than others. For instance, how many angels were at Jesus’ tomb after the Resurrection? Well, Matthew and Mark’s gospels mention one angel, while Luke’s gospel says that there were two. That seems like a contradiction until we take a closer look at all three accounts. Matthew and Mark don’t say there was only one angel, just that there was an angel who spoke to the women who went to the tomb early Sunday morning. Luke says the women saw two angels. So, a little consideration of the three passages clears things up. There were two angels, but only one of them spoke. If Matthew and Mark had said that there was only one angel, or Luke had said that there were two and not one, well, then we’d have a problem. I could give more examples of alleged contradictions in the Bible. Instead, let me recommend a book entitled, “When Critics Ask” by Norman Geisler. Many books have been written to help sort out these Bible difficulties.
But now back to the question, “Do Luke 14:26 and 1 John 3:10 contradict each other? What should we do to follow Jesus?”
Luke 14:26 – If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.
1 John 3:10 – In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother.
These two verses seem to present a contradiction until we dig a little deeper. This is a classic case where context is crucial. In Luke 14, Jesus speaks to the need of counting the cost of being His disciple. Being a follower of Christ is going to cost everything, even our own lives. In fact, in the next verse, He says, “Whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:27).
Now, I’m sure you know that a cross was an implement of execution, and dead people can’t follow Jesus. Jesus is obviously speaking metaphorically. He means that we must die to self. Putting Luke 14:26-27 together, we realize that Jesus is saying that being a disciple means that our relationship with Him reigns supreme, so much so that all other relationships are cast in different light, even our relationship with ourselves. Therefore, of course our relationship with parents and siblings is going to be affected. Our love for and devotion to Jesus is so far above and beyond any of those relationships, that in comparison our attitude toward other relationships is like hate. By the way, this kind of hyperbolic contrast was a common figure of speech among Jews in the first century. We may not speak that way today, but they did.
This wasn’t the only thing that Jesus had to say on the subject of love. In giving some final instructions to His disciples, He says this in John 15:12: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” And again, five verses later in John 15:17, He says, “These things I command you, that you love one another.”
I assume that the second part of our question, “What should we do to follow Jesus?” was meant in the light of these verses in Luke and 1 John. So, what does following Jesus mean – it is hating or loving our family? We’ve clarified what Jesus meant by hate, that it does not mean we are to loathe our family, but that we’re to seal our devotion to Jesus so tightly that no other relationship competes with or weakens it. It means we do what Jesus says to do. And His command is that we love others. In other words, our love for Jesus compels us to love others. We love others because He tells us to, not just because they’re our parents, or siblings, or friends. We love even strangers and our enemies because Jesus tells us to do so. Loving Jesus is lived out by loving others.
No one understood this better than the apostle John, who wrote this in 1 John 4:7-8, 11-12, 16b: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God, and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.”
The evidence that we really love God, who we can’t see, is loving and serving those who we can see. We are to follow Jesus through a devotion to Him which moves us to love and to serve others. Obviously, a lot more could be said about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. But as it relates to those verses in Luke 14, and 1 John 3, I think that pretty well covers it.
In John it says the Pharisees took up stones to stone Him. Where were these stones & what was the process?
What was the process of stoning in the days of Jesus? It seems several times that the Pharisees gathered up stones and prepare to stone Him. Were these stones just around the temple in case they were needed? Or did they go to a certain place to stone people?
That’s a great question. From my study and research on the execution of stoning, here’s what they would typically do. They would take the condemned person to a high place, some kind of a cliff, of which there are many around Israel. They would throw the guilty person off, so that when they landed, they would be dazed, or a limb would be broken, and they would not be able to run away. Then the people would stand on the top of the cliff from which the condemned had just been thrown, and from that vantage point, their stones would have greater effect because of the pull of gravity. They would take up stones large enough to require two hands to use, lift them over their heads, and then rain them down on the dazed person below. That was the primary form of stoning.
But we do read about the Pharisees, Jesus’ opponents and enemies, taking up stones while He was in the Temple. Of course, there wasn’t any cliff where they could take Jesus and throw Him off of there. So, the question is, where did they get the stones in the Temple? When we think about the Temple, we envision it in the way things are set up today. Not long ago, I took a trip to Israel, and we went up to onto the Temple Mount. Of course, the Temple is not there now. Some Muslim buildings are there instead, including the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque. There is also a huge pavement set there.
Back in the ancient world, in the first century, they didn’t have everything covered in cement and concrete like we do today. Yes, there was a pavement in the Temple. But there were also plenty of places where plants were growing, and rocks were ubiquitous. They were everywhere. Today, when we see rocks lying around, we think something is out of place, because of the way that we design our landscaping and so on. But that’s just not the way it was in the ancient world. They didn’t wonder why rocks were sitting around, or ask “How did these get here?” They were just part of the scenery, part of the landscape. So, there would have been rocks on the Temple Mount which could have been used for stoning.
What is your position on the validity of a pre-70 AD writing of Revelation? It seems to me that a lot of what John wrote happened in the first century.
That’s a great question. This deals with a teaching regarding eschatology or end time things called Preterism. Preterists believe that virtually everything foretold in the book of Revelation, except for the very last chapters, was fulfilled before 70 AD and the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. They take the visions which John had in Revelation and find some kind of fulfillment for them in historical events, most typically the Roman conquest of Israel in the first century between 68-72 AD.
Here’s the problem with that. I hold to the futurist view, which means I believe that most of the book of Revelation will be fulfilled in end time events which are yet to occur, and that John had visions of those things and described them in terminology that would have been understandable in the first century. That is also the view of the Enduring Word ministry here, including David Guzik, Miles DeBenedictis, and Chuck Musselwhite. We’re futurists.
But the preterist view believes that most of the book of Revelation was fulfilled by 70 AD. You have to take the visions John had in the book of Revelation and spiritualize them to a great degree in order to make them fit events which happened in 70 AD and before. I’ll give you an example. At one point, John says that a quarter of the world’s population will die because of the plagues that come upon the earth. A bit later in Revelation, because of the results of another plague, another one of the judgments of God, a third of the world’s population will die. If you put those numbers together, a total of over half of the world’s population will be wiped out by the judgments of God and the plagues of that are described in the book of Revelation. How do you find a fulfillment of that in the events that happened in Israel in 70 AD? You would have to spiritualize those things to an extent that they don’t make sense anymore. The words can’t line up.
Because of this, preterists believe that John had to have written the book of Revelation before 70 AD, because they say it prophesies the events that happened in 70 AD. But historically, we know that John wrote the book of Revelation in probably the early 90s AD, and not before 70 AD. Here’s why we know this. In Revelation 1, John writes that he had been sentenced to the island of Patmos under the reign of Domitian. Domitian was a Roman emperor that lived in the 90s AD. He wasn’t an emperor in 68 or 70 AD. So historically, the setting for Revelation is not in 68-70 AD, when they say that he wrote it. It was written closer to 90-91 AD, and that’s pretty historically clear. There are some very smart Preterists, but they really have to work to make the text promote their view on the end times.
Why did Jesus ask the lame man at the pool, “Do you want to be made well?” (John 5:6)
John 5:6 – When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to be made well?”
It seems obvious that he wants to be better. Of course, that’s why he’s at the pool. If you remember the story, he’s been lying there for years waiting for the stirring of the water. It was believed that an angel came down and stirred up the water. When that happened, the first person into the water got healed. But this man is lame, and many other people are also waiting for the moving of the water so they can jump in. Somebody always beats him. By this time, he’s been there waiting for a long time.
So, Jesus asked a question which seems like a no-brainer, “Hey, do you want to get better? Do you want to be healed?” Notice the man’s answer. He says, “Someone always beats me into the water.” Isn’t that interesting? We would expect him to say, “Yeah, that’s why I’m here.” But instead, he comes up with an excuse. Jesus is dealing with something that’s deeper than just the surface appearance. The guy is therein that place to be healed. But his reply may indicate something that was going on in the man’s heart, which of course, Jesus saw. He’s drilling down on that.
If a person has been dealing with an issue for a long time, but is not making progress and overcoming it, they can get to the point where they just resign themselves to it. They become so habituated to their lifestyle, their behavior, and their identity as being broken and needing healing, that maybe outwardly they would say, “Well, yeah, I want to get better.” But when it comes down to it, they’re not willing to do what it would take to get better. They’ve accustomed themselves to their brokenness.
I think we see this with a lot of people today. They know that they could be saved. They know that Jesus is the answer to their problems, but they’re so used to their lifestyle, to their brokenness, to their sin. They know it’s not good. They know that they should not be doing it. But they rationalize, “I’ve been doing it so long,” and they end up identifying with their spiritual lameness.
Jesus asked this man, “Do you want to get better?” because it gives the man an opportunity to stop and think about what he’s looking for. Through his own reply, he realizes he’s got an excuse. “Well, yeah, but somebody always gets in ahead of me.” Now he has to confront that as an excuse.
And Jesus meets him in that, and He heals the guy. Not only did Jesus heal him from his lameness and physical weakness. I think Jesus healed him of something even more important: his spiritual weakness, his spiritual disability. He was identifying himself as lame and perpetually lame. Jesus liberated him from the physical ailment as well as the spiritual ailment.
I think it’s a good question that we can all ask ourselves, even those of us who are believers that follow Jesus. All of us have some kind of spiritual lameness, something that the Holy Spirit is working on. 2 Corinthians 3 tells us that as we walk with God, we are led from glory to glory. We are being led into deeper experiences of God’s truth and grace and mercy. As time goes by, we see more and more about ourselves. When we see those ugly things which we realize we have accommodated ourselves to, God says, “Do you want to get better?” And we have to ask the question, “Do I? Do I really want to get better?” And the answer is that once we’ve seen what God has for us, and how much better life is when we yield completely to Him in total surrender, then we say yes. But sometimes the Spirit has to first ask us the question, “Do you really want to get better?”
If God already knows which people will inherit the kingdom of God, why are others born and allowed to suffer?
If God already knows which amongst all people will inherit the kingdom of God, why are others born and thus allowed to suffer?
What a profound question. It’s one of the reasons why some skeptics and critics reject the gospel and the Christian faith. It’s a form of the question, “If God is all-loving and all-powerful, why is there evil in the world?” That is a deep philosophical question which we can deal with another time. Let’s deal with this aspect of that question.
Since God knows ahead of time who is going to be saved, and who is not, why does God allow people to be born who are going to reject Him and end up in eternal torment? Well, there isn’t a simple answer to that. It’s a deeply philosophical and theological question. Let me attempt as simple an answer as I can.
God gave human beings the power to choose. He created us in His image. Part of that image means having the ability to make real choices. The ultimate goal is a love relationship with God. God created us in His image so that we could have a real relationship with Him, and that relationship has to be freely chosen. We have to be free to choose it or not. And we know what happened: Adam and Eve chose to turn away from that relationship. We call it “the Fall.”
God does not take away our power of choice, because it’s all about love. And love has to be free. If it is free, it has the power to say no, to choose not to love, and to choose not to be in relationship. Had God only made people who would be saved, He would in effect be denying the choice of those that would not. I realize that may not be a very satisfying answer, but it is the truth.
What does God do with a man and woman who have a sexual relationship? It’s their choice to do that. And that sexual contact has the potential to generate a new life. What is God to do? Should He stop the fertilization of that egg because the person who comes from that will eventually reject Him and end up in hell? He would in effect be taking away the choice of the people who are committing that act.
Furthermore, there have to be consequences for our choices, or the choices aren’t real. Let me use an example. A person picks up a gun loaded with a bullet, aims it at another person, and pull the trigger. The bullet comes out of the front of the gun and goes towards the person. Because God is all powerful, He could snatch the bullet out of the air. But if He does that, what has He just done to the person who made the choice to pull the trigger, knowing that that bullet was going to kill someone? You see, that choice no longer has a consequence. Consequently, a real choice has not been made.
We can’t even imagine a world like that, where, because God is all-loving and all-powerful, He does not allow the consequences of free choices. They would no longer be free or choices because they don’t really do anything that we would deem evil or wrong or bad as a consequence.
God’s perspective on the totality of eternity is much larger and greater than ours. All of us have personal experience of something that seems bad at the moment and ends up turning out good. And vice versa, we’ve all experienced something which seems good at the moment and ends up turning out bad. God knows from the beginning, even before the choices are made, what the consequences of those choices are going to be. And because He has created us as humans to be free and to make real choices that have real consequences, He honors that. Otherwise, we’re not really human. For Him to preempt our choices and remove the consequences of our free actions, we wouldn’t be human anymore.
So, there will be people in Heaven and people in Hell. When all is said and done, and we see the justice of God, we will say that God was just and perfect in His decisions from beginning to end. Right now, from our perspective, it may be a little bit difficult to see how that works out. But from the perspective of eternity, knowing that God is all-good, all-loving, all-powerful, and perfectly just, we will come to that place and say, “He is holy, He is righteous, He is just, in all that He has done.” And for those whose lives will end in eternal torment in Hell, that was their choice. I think it was CS Lewis who said that those who end up in Hell won’t be in Hell, wishing they were in heaven. Think about that. Why? Because what makes Heaven Heaven is God. And what these people throughout their life have chosen is, “I don’t want God. I want nothing to do with Him. I don’t want to answer to Him. I don’t want Him messing with my life and my choices.” So, the ultimate result of that choice is that they get eternity with what they wanted: existence without God. No one in hell wishes they were in Heaven. Now, they might wish they weren’t in Hell. But they don’t wish they were in Heaven. Because Heaven is where God is, and they don’t want God. It’s a sobering thought.
Can you speak on the baptism of the Holy Spirit?
I’m sure most of our readers are aware that there is some controversy among believers concerning the baptism of the Holy Spirit. There are those who would say that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is salvation, that when you are born again, you are baptized in the Holy Spirit. Others would say that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is an experience with the Holy Spirit that comes subsequent to salvation, after being saved. I hold to the second opinion, and I know that my fellow board members (Miles, Chuck, and David) are of that opinion as well. We believe that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is a subsequent experience to salvation.
Maybe the clearest demonstration of that in Scripture is after Jesus was resurrected. He appeared to the disciples, and He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” That word receive is an imperative, a command, and it’s in the present tense, so it means right now. Jesus is breathing on them, because wind, breath, and spirit are all the same word in Greek (pneuma). The idea of the Spirit is that the Spirit is invisible, but you see the effect of the Spirit in His movement on people. It’s like the wind. You don’t see the wind, but you can see its effect. You know the wind is blowing because the leaves on the trees are moving. It’s the same way with the Spirit. We can’t see the Spirit, but we can see the movement of the Spirit by what happens in people’s lives.
So, Jesus breathes on them as kind of an object lesson, while no doubt also literally imparting the Holy Spirit to them, because He is the one who gives the Holy Spirit. And then He says, “Receive the Holy Spirit” so they know what’s happening. And notice this. Right after this happens, it says in Luke’s gospel that He opened their understanding, and then showed them how all of the Old Testament Scriptures pointed to Himself. Isn’t that interesting?
Up to this point in the narrative of the gospels, the disciples were so often clueless when Jesus was teaching them. Jesus would say things like, “Hey, guys, don’t you get what I’m saying? This is simple stuff.” And then He would go on and elaborate, and they would nod in agreement, but you knew they weren’t really getting it. That’s why He said the same things over and over again, because it took a while for them to grasp these truths. Why was that? Because they didn’t have the Holy Spirit yet.
Earlier in John’s gospel, in speaking of the Holy Spirit who would come to them after the Resurrection, Jesus says, “The Holy Spirit has been with you, but will be in you.” In John 20:22, as Jesus breathes on them, and they receive the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit comes to live in them. How do we know that? Because Luke 24:45 says that He opened their understanding, and they finally understood the Word of God, the Scriptures, and how they spoke of Him.
In 1 Corinthians 2, the Apostle Paul says that the natural man does not understand the things of the Spirit of God, because they are spiritually discerned. This is why people who aren’t born again can read the Bible, but it’s just gibberish to them and they don’t really get it. They may understand the technical or straightforward meaning of the words, but they don’t understand the spiritual truths that are being communicated in the Scriptures. But I have heard many believers give their testimony and say, “I read the Bible and it didn’t make any sense to me, but then I was born again, and the Bible became like a new book.” That’s because we have the Holy Spirit now. As Jesus said, the Spirit is with you but later He will be in you. And after the Resurrection, the Spirit comes within them.
In Acts 1, as Jesus was preparing to ascend into Heaven from the Mount of Olives, remember what He said to the disciples who were gathered there with Him. He said, “Return to Jerusalem, and wait until the promise of the Father has come upon you.” Notice He uses a different preposition. He has already said that the Holy Spirit is with you, then that He will be in you (which was proved by their understanding of the Scriptures), and now He says that the Holy Spirit will come upon you. We read in Acts 2 that on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with other tongues and became powerful witnesses of Him there in Jerusalem, and eventually also to Judea, Samaria, and continuing on to the ends of the earth.
So, we see that they were born again on that Resurrection Sunday evening, when Jesus breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” We know they were born again because they finally understood the Scriptures. But there was this other experience with the Holy Spirit which came later, on the day of Pentecost, as the Holy Spirit came upon them in power. That explains the baptism of the Holy Spirit. And Jesus said that this is to be normative.
Let’s make sure we’re not separating Christians into two groups, those who have been baptized in the Holy Spirit and those who haven’t. We should all be baptized in the Holy Spirit, as Paul says in Ephesians 5:18, “Be constantly being filled with the Holy Spirit.” That’s normative. It’s what all of us should be seeking and experiencing. And you aren’t baptized with the Holy Spirit once. There’s an initial experience of being baptized in the Holy Spirit, but then it should be normative that we are constantly being filled with the Holy Spirit. And then we walk in the Spirit. That is how, as Jesus says, “Power will come upon you, and you shall be witnesses of Me.” It happens as we are walking in the Spirit. As the Spirit constantly fills us, we show forth the life of Christ, as our own lives have been redeemed and transformed by the presence of Christ.
What are your thoughts on the Johannine Comma issue?
Hello Pastor Lance, I love your podcast, especially the series of episodes about Rabban Sauma. What are your thoughts on the Johannine Comma issue?
To listen to Lance Ralston’s Church History podcasts about Rabban Sauma, visit Communio Sanctorum.
Great question. As evangelicals, we have a very high regard for the Bible. We believe that it is the inspired and inerrant Word of God. But that does not mean that we don’t recognize that there are some manuscript challenges. Let’s remember, we don’t have the autographs, the original manuscripts written by the Apostles. We don’t have those. We have copies of copies of copies. But some of those copies are very early, so the distance in time between the originals and the copies that we have is a very short period of time.
The Johannine comma is a statement found in 1 John 5:7b-8a which makes an overt mention of the Trinity. There’s a lot of controversy on this passage, because earliest manuscripts of 1 John do not include this verse. It is the single place in the New Testament about which we can say with real confidence that John himself did not write that. It was originally a scribal note that was written in the margin of the epistle, but at some point, someone moved it from the margin into the text as they were copying the manuscript. They placed it right after a verse that says pretty much the same thing. But we know from the documentation of earlier manuscripts, even manuscripts considered to be inspired, that this section was not originally included, and it doesn’t appear until later copies were made.
Therefore, we can say with real confidence that it should not be there, and that it does not really belong in the text. Actually, I think it’s one of those things that gives even greater credence to our belief and support and confidence in the veracity of the New Testament manuscripts and documents, that just this one specific verse should not be included. We have great confidence that John did not include that in his in his original epistle.
It is a great verse for supporting the Trinity. But you know, if you take that verse out, it doesn’t do anything in changing the Bible’s doctrine on the Trinity. The Trinity is found in many other places. Throughout the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, there are three persons who claim to be God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They all make claims that can only be applied to them. So, either one or two are lying (which is not likely), or it’s true, which means that there are three persons who make up the one God.
Some people call reformed theology or Calvinism heretical. What is heresy according to the Bible?
I’m in a Reformed church. I believe the five points of TULIP to be soundly biblical. Some people call reformed theology or Calvinism heretical. What is heresy according to the Bible?
I won’t dive into the whole Calvinism versus Arminianism versus traditionalism debate. Let’s narrow it down to your specific question.
What does the Bible mean by heresy? Nowhere in the Bible do we find a definition of heresy. The root word from which it comes means to divide. Heresy would be a deviation from the essentials of the faith. I’m sure most of you have heard the phrase, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.” There are going to be differences of opinion on issues that are not necessary for us to be saved. Earlier we were dealing with the issue of the baptism the Holy Spirit. People can just disagree on that. Christians do. People who are saved disagree on that. Brilliant people lined up on both sides of that issue. So that’s not essential.
But there are certain things which must be believed in order to have genuine faith in Jesus. That would include the deity of Christ, because if Jesus wasn’t God, then He could not have died for our sins. If He was only man, He would be a sinner, so when He died, He would only be dying for His own sins. For Him to be sinless would be impossible if He was only human. So, we must believe in the deity of Christ.
Let’s move on to other essentials. We must believe that His death on the cross provides the atoning sacrifice for our sins, that His death fully pays for our sins, and that we cannot work to earn God’s favor. Salvation is a gift which we receive by faith in Jesus, that He is God, and that He died for our sins. You see, it isn’t just faith. It isn’t just believing something or anything that you want. It isn’t the presence of really believing something that saves us. No, it’s faith in something specific. That’s what constitutes the essentials, that Jesus is God, that Jesus died for our sins, and that He rose again from the dead, proving that His death has paid for our sins.
If Jesus had not risen from the dead, He’d still be dead. And that means He would still be, in effect, paying for our sins. This is why the resurrection is absolutely essential. You can’t be born again, be saved, and not believe that Jesus rose from the dead. It’s not possible. The resurrection proves that our sins have been paid for, and that our faith has real substance and content in what Christ did.
Another thing that we must believe in is the ascension of Christ, that He ascended into heaven. The ascension of Christ back to Heaven, to be seated at the Father’s right hand, is proof that the Father has accepted Him and His work. Because ultimately, God the Father is the judge. He’s the one who determines whether the atoning sacrifice of Christ can account for those who put their faith in Christ.
There are some other essentials. Heresy would be to disagree with any one of those essentials. All those essentials must be believed in order to be saved.
Now, a person who first comes to faith in Christ may not understand all the nuances. I know I didn’t. I bet most people listening right now did not understand all the nuances of the theology when they were first saved, but they came to understand or are coming to understand. All they knew was that they were sinners because the Holy Spirit was convicting them. They heard the message that Jesus died for our sins, and He rose again from the dead to give us new life and to justify us before God. Believing that, they were born again.
As we grow in our faith, we grow in our knowledge of Christ and what He’s done, and in doctrine and theology. We begin to understand how it all works. That’s why it is so important to be in a good Bible-teaching and Bible-believing church, so that you can learn these things. The more you learn about what Christ has done, about who He is, and what He continues to do in us by the Holy Spirit, the deeper our relationship grows.
It’s like a marriage. You get to know somebody, you’re attracted to them, you get married, and then marriage is about growing in your knowledge of your mate. Over the years, you become more intimate as you get to know each other better. And in that process, you get to know yourself better as well. As you’re getting to know the other person better, you’re actually learning stuff about yourself, and you’re seeing things that need to change.
It’s the same thing in our relationship with Christ. As we grow in our relationship with Him and our knowledge of Him, it starts to reveal stuff about ourselves. Actually, the Holy Spirit is revealing those things so that we can bring them to Christ. And He who is the Savior can save us from them. The work of Christ in salvation isn’t just something He did,it’s something He does, and something ultimately He will do when He brings us into glory.
Heresy is a deviation from any of the essentials that are required in order to be born again in order to be saved.
As born-again Christians, does our eternal life begin only after death, or are we already living in our eternal life now, here on earth?
When does eternal life begin? That’s such a great question. It’s one I love preaching on. Eternal life begins the moment you’re born again. Eternal life doesn’t just refer to endless life. It refers to a quality of life as well. It is a newlife. That’s why, as Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”
We have a new life and that life, which is eternal, begins at the moment that we’re born again. For that reason, we are to grow in truth and grace. We are to experience Christ in this life that He’s given to us and begin to experience the reality of eternal life now.
Think back to the early church and the transformation which took place in those first disciples. The great hallmark of their lives was their love. Let’s not forget who those first Christians were. They were Jews. And as Jews, they were highly moral people. They endeavored to keep the Ten Commandments; those were very important to them. The Ten Commandments were their mandate for living. So, they were an incredibly moral people. At least, outwardly they appeared that way. When they became Christians, the people around them would not have noticed a tremendous moral difference in them.
So, what was the difference? What was the real distinction between these followers of Jesus and their Jewish peers? It was the love they had for each other. It was so remarkable, that even when the officials were putting the pressure on them and persecuting them, they were winning people to faith in Christ.
Throughout the first three centuries of the church, believers were being persecuted. And persecution got steadily worse after the earliest days of the church, as it began to move out into the Gentile world. The church became officially persecuted, and yet it kept growing. Why? Because of the quality of the lives of those who had come to faith in Christ. There was a difference. It was a different way to live, literally. And the people around them saw that and said, “I know that becoming a Christian could result in me losing my job, losing my family, losing my friends, or losing my life. But what I’m seeing in this person who has become a Christian, is of greater attraction to me than survival.” That’s amazing.
Eternal life begins the moment we’re born again. We enter into the fullness of our awareness of the reality of God, when the veil between this world and the spiritual is removed, that happens with our death. That is why death has really changed its meaning for the Christian. That’s why in the New Testament, death is referred to oftentimes as sleep. The body stops working, and the spirit goes to be with the Lord, but the day is coming when the spirit and a new body will be reunited. So, death takes on a new meaning for the believer. As Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:8, to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.