Monday, May 14, 2018

How do I Know Christianity is the Right Way?

By David Bonebright

How do I know Christianity is the right way? I remember my reaction when I first heard that question. I don't remember specifically how old I was, probably in high school. I was dumfounded! This was not a question I had ever considered. I grew up in a Christian home where my parents and church taught me out of the Bible. I accepted by faith that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, and any other belief system that did not lead through Jesus Christ to get to God was wrong. Even though I knew that not everybody believed the same as I did, I was not adequately prepared to answer the question or debate my beliefs. My answer, I stammered, "It just is." The follow-up question led to my second answer, "I just know."

Going on three decades later, my answer is still pretty much the same. It just is, and I just know! I can answer it now without the shakiness and what appeared to be lack of confidence in my voice. Don't let my lack of apologetics skills in my youth fool you. My faith was strong. Any lack of confidence I had in those days was in my own ability to prepare an argument as that fateful question revealed. The simplicity of my answer does not do much to explain our position as Christians to an unbelieving world, so I have prepared a much longer answer. My long answer leads me right back to my simple answer, which I can say boldly and confidently.  

We know that God is real. If you're asking this question, it is most likely that you already have a belief in some sort of deity. An atheist is not as likely to ask a question about which path is the right one to take, considering that an atheist is least likely to involve a belief in God on his journey. If an atheist does ask this question, it is most likely going to be in attempt to trip up the believer and instill doubt. Answer the question anyway, by explaining the first part, and most likely the most important part of our belief. God is real. 

How do we know God is real? We are created in God's image with an inborn knowledge of His existence. "We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10, KJV)." The apostle Paul also explains in Romans 1 that God has given evidence of His existence through His creation and His intrinsic design. That is why isolated societies who have never heard of Christianity find something to worship. That is also why God used the first two of the Ten Commandments to warn us against worshipping anything that is not God Himself. He also has warned us many times throughout the entire Bible, both testaments, against worshipping idols, false gods, creatures, and other created things. A lack of belief, such as atheism, is a learned trait. It is not a natural inborn belief. A hardened belief that there is no God is possibly learned through studies, philosophical examples, and rebellious searching. The Bible has referred to those who say in their hearts, "there is no God," as fools (Psalm 14:1) and that those who profess wisdom outside of God's true wisdom have become truly foolish (Romans 1:22).  

God's creation clearly identifies His existence. The majesty and beauty of His handiwork gives obvious evidence that the world, universe, and all things, including living beings, were created, and there is obvious intelligent design. Like a painter leaves an autograph on a masterpiece, God has definitely inscribed His name on His masterpiece. Based on the world around us, when it comes time to meet God face to face, those who spent their lifetime in disbelief will be left without excuse (Romans 1:20).

We know that Jesus is God's Son and is God in the flesh. This information is as important to Christianity as belief in God. The eternal existence, birth, life, death, resurrection, and current presence of Jesus Christ separates Christianity from all other religions. How can I say that so boldly? Other religions have human figures who walked the earth and did things that are vitally important to their religious faith. How do I know that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, as John reported in his gospel (John 14:6)?

We can start by looking at His existence, which was well-verified by secular history as well as Scriptures. But so what? So was Mohammed. (Interestingly, Jesus was also an important character mentioned in the Q'uran, but that's not where I'm going with this.) Jesus was the only person in history for whom the calendar was reset. His life was well-established, and His death was well-documented.  He obviously existed, but how does that make him God? Jesus claimed to be the Son of God. He also claimed to be God. "Before Abraham was, I am" (John 8:58) and "I and the Father are one" (John 10:30) are just two of many quotes where Jesus made His claims abundantly clear. That should put to rest unbelievers' notion that Jesus never claimed to be God. Jesus was not "just a good man." He was who He claimed to be. "Good men" do not claim to be something they are not. 

What does that prove? Throughout history people have claimed to be God or a form of deity. Jesus was the only man who lived a perfect, sinless life on earth. Jesus kept every "jot and tittle" of the ancient Mosaic law, a feat which was impossible for everybody else. During His trial, Pontius Pilate even declared His innocence before famously washing his hands, and one of the thieves on the cross recognized that Jesus was hanging next to him without any guilt. This was a feat that Jesus needed to accomplish for our salvation. Jesus needed to be the perfect sacrifice for us in order to save us from our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Without the shedding of Jesus' perfect blood there is no remission of sin (Hebrews 9:22).
Jesus fulfilled every prophecy written in the Old Testament about Him:  His birth, His life, His death, etc. These prophecies were written at minimum 400 years before Jesus was born of a virgin in Bethlehem. I would encourage anybody to read through the entire Old Testament and underline everything prophetic about Jesus' life. Just about every aspect of Jesus' life is foretold. There are well over 100, maybe closer to 150 prophecies about Jesus, and He fulfilled them all. The mathematical probability of that statement is impossible! Sure, He knew the Scripture, and He could have willfully fulfilled some of them. But a man cannot control where he is born, who his parents are, whether or not his bones will be broken, or specifics on how he will die (I'm not going to argue about suicide). There is no way that Jesus, as just a man, could fulfill them all. And yet, He did!

The Bible identifies Jesus Christ as God. I will discuss the legitimacy of the Bible later. 

Jesus' sacrificial death was well-documented. I originally was not going to elaborate on this point, because His death is well established through secular history as well as Scriptures. It is understood that Jesus was executed and died, but there are some who question where and when He died. It is clear by biblical account that He died while hanging on the cross between two thieves. The Roman soldiers broke the legs of the thieves so they would asphyxiate by hanging their entire body weight on their lungs and die more quickly. But when they got to Jesus, they saw that He was already dead, so they did not break His legs. These soldiers performed many executions and had seen many people die, so they knew what a dead body looks like. But just to be sure, one of them pierced His side with a spear. Blood and water gushed out separately. Now, I'm not a doctor, but I have bled many times. I've also seen a number of dead bodies and know what lividity is. Your blood and water only separate after you are dead. 

Even if Jesus had hung there in some sort of comatose state with the appearance of death that fooled some of the most expert executioners, only to awaken three days later in a tomb, how would He have been able to gain enough strength in spite of His excessive blood loss to push a very large stone away from the threshold of the tomb? And how was He able to stagger past a bunch of armed guards whose very lives depended on securing the tomb? How far would He have been able walk down the road before He collapsed from complete exhaustion and died? There is clear and adequate medical and historical evidence that Jesus in fact died on the cross and lay in the tomb dead.  
Jesus' resurrection is well-verified. I have heard speculation that Jesus' body was tossed in a large pit where the bodies of the poor, homeless or unclaimed were tossed, which would explain the empty tomb. This theory does not take into account Joseph of Arimathea desiring the body to be placed in his family's tomb or the seal placed on the tomb. Also, the armed guards outside the tomb are well-reported. Their function was to keep Jesus' disciples from excavating the body and making outlandish claims of resurrection, but all of Jesus' disciples (with the exception of Judas Iscariot) went into hiding. Honest secular historical accounts of Jesus' burial support Scriptural history. 

After Jesus' resurrection, He spent forty days on earth with His disciples. He was not a ghost, as I've heard some claim. He was also not a hallucination, considering how many people would have had the exact hallucination. He ate meals with His disciples, the first being a fish with Peter on the shore. Ghosts don't eat. Hallucinations can be annoying inside of Disneyland's Haunted Mansion, but they don't do much else. Jesus lived in society and was recognized by people as Jesus of Nazareth, appearing before more than 500 people at one time! He can be verified through the witnesses of people who spent time with Him after His crucifixion.
After the forty days, Jesus ascended into heaven. This act was witnessed by about 200 people.  The ascension of Jesus Christ is more verified than Paul Revere's ride or Benjamin Franklin using a kite to discover electricity. Both those acts are accepted and believed based on assumption, and I also believe they happened. But where's the witness verification? There are many historical occurrences that are accepted with less verification than the ascension of Jesus Christ.
We know the Bible is God's Word. We know the Bible is the inspired Word of God, as Paul stated in a letter to Timothy (2 Timothy  3:16). The word inspired means "God-breathed," and we know the Holy Spirit is the true Author of the Bible. But come on, now! I could write a book and say that it is truth and it is inspired. Many have. What makes the Bible different from their books? 

The Bible was written by about 40 different men over the span of 1500 years.  The writers were not the authors, but scribes, writing what the Holy Spirit told them to. All of these men had extremely various walks of life, from farmers, shepherds, fishermen to doctors, lawyers, high counselors, priests and kings.  They also lived in extremely different times and environments. Yet their message remained consistent. I could not get 40 similar men in a room today and get them to write a story unbeknownst to each other and have it match at all! The Bible's perfection is too great to be coincidental. 

The Bible is without error or contradiction. Detractors have attempted to find contradictions in the inspired Word of God for centuries. Some have been deceptive in finding what they believe they could pass of as a true contradiction, only to have it fall apart with just a little research within the Scriptures themselves. The Bible is a very complex book, and it is possible you can find what you believe to be a contradiction. Often, just keep reading, and what you thought was a contradiction will be cleared up for you. The Bible does not contradict itself, but it complements itself, supplements itself, and verifies itself.  
The Bible is meant to be read in its entirety, with everything in context. As I've said earlier, the Bible is a very complex book, and if you spot-read or pull things out of context, you will not get the adequate intended message of God to us. Spot-reading and pulling things out of context is how many skeptics have come up with what they believe, or want others to believe, are contradictions. That is why it is so important for Christians to not only know the Bible, but to know how to defend the faith with apologetics. I have found a webpage, Apologetics Press, as a good resource to help Christians defend the Bible. But that is not meant to substitute for personal Bible study. As Christians, we should know biblical doctrine.  

The Bible has been verified through external verification. Archaeological findings match the biblical account of history. To this day, now even more than ever, archaeologists are finding more and more ancient artifacts that verify events and times recorded in the Bible. They have also found numerous manuscripts of ancient Scripture that match today's versions of the Bible. The Bible was originally written in at least two different now dead languages. Scribes were notoriously meticulous in copying the Scriptures, being very careful to preserve the Word. Modern translations can be found all over the world in many different languages, all derived from the original manuscripts. There are many more manuscripts found of the Bible than any other work of literature in history.  

Today we have a large number of versions, which has led some to question the legitimacy and accuracy of the Bible. Why do we need so many versions? How can we trust one over the other, and how do we know they all say the same thing? Throughout my life, I have studied the Bible out of three different versions. (I count the King James and the New King James as the same, even though there's a slight difference. One is newer.) In today's technical world it is even easier to study out of multiple versions of the Bible at the same time! All the versions say the same thing. The fact that so many versions have branched out and yet tell the same exact story does not discredit the Bible. If anything, it strengthens it, solidifies it, emboldens it!

The Bible has survived through fierce opposition. It is easily the most contested book in history. Writing this, I was reminded that about two decades ago a small group opposed the book The Catcher in the Rye. Mel Gibson's movie Conspiracy Theory probably didn't help matters. I thought, if we wanted to eradicate that book off the face of the earth, we could. It will never come to that. The Catcher in the Rye is a silly book (I admit I've never read it), J.D. Salinger did not die for our sins, and God did not promise his mother that her seed would crush the serpent's head. (I'm aware that was Eve, but for the purposes of my illustration, you get the point.)  But since the Bible is not a silly book, and Jesus Christ did in fact die for our sins, and the Bible perfectly gives us His message, the same forces that could easily snuff out Salinger's masterpiece have attempted to rid the world of the Bible and have failed. 

The Bible has survived multiple attempts at eradication. In ancient Rome, the Dark Ages, or in totalitarian governmental takeovers throughout history and even some places today, the Bible was and is outlawed.  Printing presses suspected of biblical use were destroyed, book stores burned, livelihoods ruined, and anybody who possessed a copy of the Bible was executed. Sometimes their executions were quite gruesome and horrific. Yet people of faith still managed to preserve the Word of God, often risking their own lives to do so. Once, atheist philosopher Voltaire smugly stated the Bible would be completely wiped from the earth by the turn of the century (1900, I believe). Today, his house is owned by a company that prints and stores Bibles. Our God has a sense of humor!

Even today, in the most free country on the planet, a country that was founded on religious freedom, the largest state in that country is attempting to restrict the sale of Bibles. Here in California, we have been ignoring God for too long.  Christians have been silent on too many issues, effectively allowing the salt to lose its savor. So now the Bible is once again under fire in a country where this is supposed to be unheard of. As shocking as that seems, and as concerned as I am, I trust in God. I am also hopeful, because I know God's will is going to be done. Throughout history, the Bible has not just survived where it is most opposed, but it has thrived! If nothing else, this should wake some of us up.

Quite a few religions believe in God, have a belief in a man called Jesus, and identify the Bible as a book of Scriptures. So what sets Christianity apart? How can I know it is the right one? I think some clarification is needed. The term Christianity is often used as a broad term, and certain religions usually of the West fall under the umbrella of "Christianity." However, true Christianity is following Jesus, the Christ that we find in the pages of the Bible. The first people called Christians were Jesus' disciples after they had founded a church in Antioch (Acts 11). You may find after reading this that some of the religions referred to as "Christian" are only referred to as such in name.

If you take all the religions of the world they can be divided into two categories. The first kind I'll discuss is works-based religion. A large majority of the world's religions fall under works-based belief. It is a natural tendency to believe that works are required to gain salvation, favor, or reward from a deistic being in a form of afterlife or higher spiritual plane. Every other system in life is works-based. Your grades in school are works-based, in spite of how ridiculous the curve might be. Your promotions are based on your works. Whether you start over another competitor on your sports team is works-based. It just seems natural that you would be required to do certain tasks to earn afterlife benefits.  
Works-based religions assume that man is generally good. Man is good enough to save himself from his own sins and he has the ability to do so. No real faith in God is required - just faith in your beliefs that your behavior is good enough. The problem is there is no way for sure you can know you are good enough based on your works. Various clergy in works-based religions have been heard saying, "I hope I'm good enough," or "I hope to be in heaven someday."  If anybody should know, it should be the clergy!

The second type of religions are faith-based. Very few "religions" fall under faith-based religion. All that do are under the umbrella of Christianity. (Like I said earlier, not all "Christian" religions are faith-based.) Faith-based religions require nothing of man to earn salvation other than belief (Titus 3:5). Salvation is obtained by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone (Ephesians 2:8-9), and it is not earned by works. If you confess with your mouth and believe in your heart that Jesus is Lord, you will be saved. Both a confession and belief in your heart are necessary for salvation (Romans 10:9-10). "With your heart you believe unto righteousness, and with your mouth confession is made unto salvation!" Those who call upon the Lord will be saved! (Romans 10:13). 

Faith-based religions teach that man is not good (Romans 3:10). In fact, man is bad (Jeremiah 17:9) and we are sinners! (Rom 3:23). (Instead, read all of chapter 3…or the whole book of Romans.) We fall severely short of God's glory and are unable to save ourselves. Romans 6:23 says "for the wages of our sin is death!" Fortunately that verse continues. We do not earn salvation. "The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." And I've already discussed what Jesus has done so we can obtain our gift! There is no amount of penance you can do for salvation. Works has its place in Christianity, as stated in James. But it is not necessary for salvation. 

Based on the totality of all the factors I've already discussed, I must conclude that true Christianity is the only way. The existence of God has been well established long before I wrote this paper. It is possible you could read this paper and others like it and still not believe in God. Not all will believe, and there might be nothing I can do to convince you otherwise. I wrote this paper to explain how I know God exists, and the path He has chosen for us is the right one.
The existence and current disposition of Jesus Christ has also been well established. I discussed the historical existence of Christ and the verifications of His actions, but I did not really go into detail about the precious gift that He provided for mankind and the sacrifice He made to give us that gift. Jesus, as the Son of God, did not have to assume the lowly life of a man and die a humiliating death on the cross. That was not even the worst of it! As a perfect man who knew no sin, He voluntarily took on all the sin of the world and pay for it. Could you imagine being completely pure and then getting covered with something as vile, wretched and disgusting as sin? As the ancient sacrificial lambs were merely a symbol of what Jesus was to do, Jesus' pure blood had to be shed for the remission of our, not His, but our sins. We deserve to be on that cross, not Him. Even if we were on that cross, shedding our sinful blood would be worthless and would not cleanse us from all unrighteousness. We owe Jesus a huge debt, one which we could never ever pay! But thanks be to God for His gift. If Jesus had chosen not to die on the cross, we would all be condemned to death first, and then eternity in separation from God.  

The Bible is a miracle book. Yes, let me repeat that.  he Bible is a miracle. I believe that for reasons I've already explained. There is no other book like it. I'll elaborate. Other religious books that claim to be Scripture were written by one person over the course of one lifetime. Yet, there are contradictions and mistakes in those other books. That claim is not disputed, most likely because those books are not nearly as hotly contested as the Bible.  

It takes faith to believe in God and in the elements and doctrine of Christianity. I can acknowledge that. I can also see where a lack of faith can hinder our non-believing friends from believing what we believe. But what non-believers cannot honestly deny is that Christianity has dramatically changed lives. So what? I mean, sure, other religions have had converts, other religions have done good things, and other religions have seen people turn over a new leaf. To the secular world, Christianity could have its place, "if that's what works for you."  What is so special about the changed lives in Christianity?  What sets them apart?
Let's start by looking at the Twelve Disciples. With the obvious exception of Judas Iscariot, the remaining eleven who had seen Jesus firsthand throughout His three years of ministry had their lives dramatically changed. If you recall, most went into hiding as Jesus was executed. Peter, the most brash and vocal of them, even denied Christ three times. These men, once the closest to Jesus of anybody on the planet, believed it was over, and if possible, were going to resume their lives from before they began following Jesus. What changed within these men to cause them to turn the world upside down for Jesus Christ and start the first church? They had received power from the Holy Spirit, as Jesus had promised them (Acts 1:8). All eleven of these men, who virtually were societal nobodies until following Jesus gave them a temporary social status, were prepared to die a martyr's death in service of our Lord and Savior. Ten of them were executed in manners unthinkable in today's society. The one who remained, John, would not die during his tortuous execution, so they exiled him to the desolate island of Patmos.  

Paul, a.k.a Saul, joined with the eleven apostles and was a key figure in zealously preaching the Word and founding the church. He also was inspired by God to write most of the New Testament. Where did Paul come from? He was a Pharisee, a member of the Sanhedrin, and he was zealously and aggressively attempting to snuff out the early church and imprison, if not kill, Christians wherever he could find them. What caused his change? The Bible reports that he was on the road to Damascus (Acts 9) when he met Jesus. Only Paul saw Him. His travelling companions did not. The experience left him blind for three days, something his travelling companions could not ignore. But something more happened to him that day than just blindness.  

The late, great Chuck Colson credits the disciples for his belief in Christ. Chuck Colson was a key figure in the Watergate scandal and later did prison time for his involvement. He said about the disciples that their testimony was enough for him to believe what they said about Jesus. Colson had been surrounded by the most brilliant political minds of that day, in contrast to the disciples who were just ordinary men. The brilliant men with whom Colson associated could not keep their stories straight, and their case fell apart. Such a huge contrast to the disciples, who were so emboldened after what happened that, not only did they stick to their story, they loudly proclaimed it! According to Chuck Colson, you don't put your life on the line for a lie.  

What about some of the obvious changes visible today? I have already mentioned Chuck Colson, who accepted Christ at some point before going to prison. After serving a minimal sentence (he probably could have avoided prison time, but he willingly went) he emerged and founded Prison Fellowship Ministries. He could have established a pretty lucrative law firm and lived a pretty easy life, but instead felt led by God to serve. There are many former prison inmates whose lives have been changed because something changed inside of Chuck Colson. 

Josh McDowell always considered himself an agnostic during the early stages of his life. At one point, McDowell attempted to disprove Christianity.  During his investigation, McDowell found compelling, overwhelming evidence for the reliability of the Christian faith (Josh McDowell Ministry webpage). Today he has become a very well-known apologist for the Christian faith. His evidence compelled him to write Evidence That Demands a Verdict. He has also written a number of other works. There are many Christian apologists whose lives had been changed because something changed inside of Josh McDowell.

Lee Stroebel was a newspaper reporter. He was a very shrewd investigator with a keen eye for fact and a sharp ability to ask the right questions. He was also a very devout atheist. But when his wife came to a saving knowledge of Christ, Stroebel angrily set out to disprove Christianity once and for all! He investigated as far as he could and interviewed everybody he could think of. Stroebel interviewed scientists, paleontologists, archaeologists, historians, medical doctors, even clergy. Ultimately, just like what happened to McDowell, all the evidence pointed Stroebel right back to Christ. Stroebel made a profession of faith in Christ. He wrote the book, The Case for Christ, and other books to substantiate his belief in Christ. (Admittedly, some of Stroebel's work might have subconsciously found its way into this paper!)

There are plenty of other public examples of changed lives I could probably cite, given enough research. Just speculating - our current President? At this point, he might be too soon to call. The Bible says we shall know them by their fruits (Matthew 7:16-20). But we have all seen people within our normal walks of life whose lives have been changed dramatically and for the good, whose changes could be tied to Christianity.  

Every single Christian out there has seen a change in their very lives. I accepted Christ at the age of 5. Before that, I was immersed deeply in a life of sin. I am so thankful that Jesus rescued me from a life without God and gave me hope. Yes, I joke, because how deep into sin could a five year-old fall? A five year-old whose parents continuously witnessed to him (by their lives) and took him to church. But really, how far is my joke from the truth? Everybody sins, and any sin leads to separation from God. Everybody needs salvation from their sins. Yes, the change in an older convert's life, somebody who had a chance to "sin more," or have more visible sins to be forgiven would be more obvious. But change did happen none-the-less. Even though regrettably I still sin, and I find temporary pleasure in it, I am not drawn to it. I am not a slave to it. In fact, I detest it, I want to repel it! Much like Paul, as he stated in Romans 7. 

I realize using my own internal experience as proof can be risky because everybody has his own personal experiences. Everybody is free to interpret personal experiences as he sees fit. The non-believer could say the derelict on the corner also has his own experiences and has seen his own path to salvation. But my experience is proof to me. From my salvation, to every time the power of the Holy Spirit has come upon me, and any other experiences that I know were the result of God, I can declare my faith boldly!  

I have said before that it takes faith to be a Christian. It takes faith to believe in God, to believe that Jesus is His son and is also God, and to believe He died in our place and rose again. I realize a non-believer could review all the evidence and still not have enough faith to believe. But for me, it is so much more than just faith. God is real! Jesus lives! God gave us a book which is indisputable as His Word! Those three statements are so true that to me, it would take more faith for me to believe in anything other than God.  

How do I know that Christianity is the right way? I have explained exactly why I believe. I have cited articulable facts to support why I believe. I have used Scripture, which is the most important source, to explain my belief. I have also used sources from fellow believers. I have prepared my long answer to explain our position as Christians to an unbelieving world. In writing this, I am brought back to the same conclusion I had at the beginning. It just is, and I just know!

1 comment:

I welcome your comments. However, since this is a blog rather than an open forum, I will determine what is and what is not posted. All comments, especially anonymous comments, will be scrutinized carefully. I will not post comments that contain profanity or are negative toward the Scriptures, God, Christianity in general, Christian schools, or the United States of America. I also will not post comments that are nothing more than generally uninformed or absurd opinions. In addition, I will not post comments that are totally irrelevant to the subject being discussed. Finally, I will not post comments that are commercial advertisements or advertisements for religious organizations which are in conflict with my biblical convictions.