Greg talks about how to know if one truly believes, if Christians can easily remain friends with Non-Christians, what the top 3 or 4 apologetics challenges these days are for American Christians, if Melinda got her door fixed, and how to start an Apologetics Small Group.
- How does one know that they really believe, How do you know you are believing. Thank you.
- Can Christians easily remain friends with Non-Christians?
- What are the top 3 or 4 apologetics challenges these days for American Christians?
- Did Melinda get her door fixed?
- I want to start an Apologetics Small Group at my church for all who are interested. Any suggestions?
Melinda: Welcome to the STRask Podcast. That’s #strask. This is the short podcast – I keep Greg on a timer – about ethics, value, and religion. This is Melinda the Enforcer with Greg Koukl. Hi, Greg.
Greg: Hi. You seem like you’re in a cheerful mood today.
Melinda: I guess so.
Greg: A bit out of the ordinary.
Melinda: Oh, sorry.
Greg: But I’m glad since we’re confined in this tight space that you’re cheerful right now.
Melinda: Well, if my bad moods are consistently when you’re around, maybe there’s a correlation there – or causation, not just correlation.
Melinda: The program is short as opposed to the other program. It’s got short answers. Same questions. Short answers. You can submit your questions going to Twitter and using #strask. That’s how we find your questions on there.
Anything we should talk about before we get to the questions?
Greg: Can’t think of anything.
Melinda: Okay. Well, let’s just get started then.
Melinda: First question comes from Jay Odermit. “How does one know that they really believe? How do you know you are saved?”
Greg: Well, this is a hard question to answer in some ways because there are object developments and there are subject developments. Usually the reason this question is asked by a person is because they’re not matching up. There are object developments where we have a promise from God. “What must I do to be saved,” the jailer asked of Paul in Acts 13 or so. Paul said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, trust in him, and you will be saved.” A person who fulfills the requirement gets the benefit. If we put our trust in Christ for the things that he needs to do for us, which is to forgive us of our sin, then we get what we’re trusting him for. This is God’s promise. There is an objective promise that is offered.
Now, there’s some qualifiers. You got to get the right Jesus, not the Jesus who’s a created being. That wouldn’t be the Jesus of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. It wouldn’t be the Jesus of the LDS. It wouldn’t be the Jesus of other groups that are on the margin like that, but if it’s the classical Jesus, the word of God who became flesh and dwelt among us, the one who is the creator of all things, according to what John says in the first... If you get Jesus right and you surrender yourself to him and put your trust in him, then you will get that which he offers you. That’s the promise of God and it’s secured by the promise of God. That’s the object development. There are lots of verses that talk about this.
Then, there’s also a subject development. There is this, “I don’t feel saved. Now what?” Sometimes we ought to feel saved, it seems to me, because Paul says in Romans chapter 8 that the Holy Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God. There is a subject development that normally is there in some measure. Being a subject development, this is something that comes and goes. I mean, feelings are up and down. Sometimes you feel saved and sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you feel God is close and sometimes you don’t. Actually, the sense of the absence of God is famously a difficulty for Christians. It is the hiddenness of God, the ancients and the classicists called it. It is not unusual for Christians to lose a subject of sense of the presence of God, especially when going through dark times. This is when we have to go back to the promise, the object development.
The other element that is mentioned in scripture as an evidence of our salvation has to do with the way we live our lives. That is, if we are living our lives just like everybody else is living their lives, everybody else here who does not know Christ, then we are probably going to the place everybody else is going to. Now, this is my paraphrase of Paul’s discussion of Romans 8, where he contrasts living in the flesh and living in the spirit. A lot of times we think about living in the flesh, that means really, really bad. Well, the way he describes it there, it seems like just living like everybody else is. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. They set their minds on the things of the flesh. He says, “You are not in the flesh if indeed the spirit of God dwells in you. If the spirit of God dwells in you, then you are putting to death the deeds of the flesh.” That is, there is evidence in your life that you are on a different trajectory.
In my own life, when I have occasionally asked this question, those are the things that I look at.
Melinda: That’s the end. We don’t know how you answer it.
Greg: Sorry. No, I go back to those three things. I have a promise from God and even when I don’t feel like a Christian, I can bank on the promise of God. Secondly, there are times when I have an awareness that the Holy Spirit is in me. If I’m living my life like hell, then I’m probably going there. I want to make sure, and I read this today, Paul was talking to Timothy in 1 Timothy. He said, “Make in a certain sense more sure your calling. You will ensure salvation for yourself and not just yourself but also those who you preach to.” The way that we live our lives is part of the assurance that we have as Christians.
Melinda: I wonder if a way of answering this is kind of by asking another question because I think maybe sometimes people asking this, “How do I know I’m really saved,” they want to check that they’re not deluding themselves. I think maybe a question is, “Am I continuing to grow and improve in living under God’s authority?” We’re not going to do that 100% but, “Am I continuing to improve in that? Under God’s authority, objectively and in his revelation. Am I coming under God’s authority of what he’s revealed to me, not worshiping and believing in a god of my own making, a Jesus of my own making because I don’t like some of the things he says? Am I subjecting my beliefs to what he’s revealed and then also in my own life, is my life the way I live it, coming under his authority? Am I obeying him?”
Greg: Right. Obedience is in the scripture. A means by which we can secure our own assurance. We have assurance of the promise. I just mentioned one passage in 1 Peter, I think. He talks about certain virtues that we’re to give ourselves to developing. If these things are growing in you, then this is also another... I don’t remember exactly how he words it, but this is another source of our confidence. It isn’t, as you pointed out, a works-based salvation. That’s not the point at all. The point is, the way I put it with Romans 8, is trajectory. Paul describes two different trajectories. You’re on a trajectory according to the flesh or you’re on a trajectory according to the spirit. Being on the fleshly trajectory doesn’t mean you’re the worst person in the world. You could be a really nice person. There are all kinds of nice people that are going to hell because they are going to be held responsible for their sins regardless of how nice they happen to be on other things. There are all kinds of sinners that are going to Heaven. In fact, everyone that’s going to Heaven is a sinner and continues to sin. That is their sin in our lives. We’re not giving into it because we’re not on that trajectory. We are working with the spirit to put to death the deeds of the body, as Paul puts it there.
I draw confidence from the trajectory that I’m on as an indicative, as an evidence of the Holy Spirit being in my life, being the one who has regenerated me and who cleanses me moment by moment.
If I could take a moment to read one other verse, it’s in the end of Titus. I love the way Paul puts this at the end of Titus because he puts these things kind of in juxtaposition to each other. Where’s Titus? Just before Hebrews. He says, “But when the kindness of God, our savior, and his love for mankind appeared, he saved us.” Okay. There’s the order. “Not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to his mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit whom he poured upon us richly through Christ Jesus, our savior, so that being justified by his grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” Boy, lots of mercy grace stuff there in those verses. Then he says, “This is a trustworthy statement and concerning these things, I want you to speak confidently so that those who have believed God,” and benefited by the work that God just did, that he described, “will be careful to engage in good deeds. These things are good and profitable for men.” The good deeds are good and profitable after salvation is secured for us by the grace of God, not before.
Melinda: Next question comes from yaseneimiyagi on Twitter. Devon is his first name. “Can Christians easily remain friends with non-Christians?”
Greg: Sure. I think it’s obvious that they can because they have. I’m sure many people who are listening know of friends they have that are people they’re close to and they love dearly. They may be family members. They may be coworkers. Even though they don’t share the deepest things, conviction of Christ, there is some special kind of communion that believers have, even believers that don’t know each other very well. There’s a filial, a substantive filial relationship, family relationship, in virtue of the spirit. Even so, we can have very close friendships with non-Christians. I don’t see why not. Some people are married to non-Christians and they still have close... Pardon me?
Melinda: That doesn’t mean they’re friends.
Greg: Yes, that’s true. Let me qualify that. Some people are married to non-Christians who they’re great friends with. So there.
Melinda: Next question from...
Greg: That was only a minute. Can I kind of save the three minutes from the last one?
Melinda: No, because you went over like four minutes on the last one.
Greg: Well, you did a lot of talking then too.
Melinda: Not four minutes’ worth.
Greg: All right.
Melinda: Next question comes from ohiocoastee on Twitter. “What are the top three or four apologetic challenges these days for American Christians?”
Greg: Well, that depends on what they mean by that. To paraphrase a Colombo question, they could mean, “What are the challenges that are confronting Christians that have to do with the defense of the gospel,” or they could mean, “What are the current challenges that are not being answered well by Christians because they’re toughies?” The second question, let me back up and put it this way. There are virtually nothing that has been raised as a challenge in the last 100 years or before that that hasn’t been given a thorough... No, let me put it this way. There hasn’t been any challenges raised that in the last 100 years has not been given a thorough, solid, good reasonable answer regarding. I say the last 100 years because a lot of things in philosophy have developed and science has developed and history has developed. We’ve learned a lot more. We’ve discovered a lot more. We are more capable of making an effective defense regarding the challenges. It isn’t like we can’t answer the questions.
What are the questions, though, that are the biggest ones? Number one, right now, is the issue of homosexuality. It is an issue because if we are faithful to Christ, then we have to be faithful to the things that the word of God delivers to us are right and wrong. We cannot celebrate something that God calls evil. Our culture is demanding that we celebrate that which God calls evil, and homosexuality. It’s demanding it in lots of different ways and same sex marriage is just the most recent iteration. If we say no to that, and I don’t mean that we’re always looking for a fight on the issue of homosexuality, but if we are willing to simply stand our ground and not go along with the crowd on this, the culture is going to make us pay. Bare minimum, we’re going to be made to look like narrow-minded troublemakers, unpleasant and bigoted, and you know all the names that people call us nowadays. That’s a price we’re going to have to pay. Since there are a lot of people who claim to be Christians not willing to pay that price, they are faltering. The demand for the apologetic side is to persuade followers of Christ that this is what God’s word says about these things, and to encourage them not to fold under pressure and give in because they don’t want to be called names. That’s the first big issue.
The second big issue is religious pluralism, which is a subset of relativism. It’s relativism applied to religion, the idea that there is a variety of religions in the world today that nice people follow sincerely and who are you to say that your view is correct. They’re all just as good. That’s kind of the approach. Well, that can’t be our approach though many Christians have adopted that. It can’t be our approach because that is not the biblical approach. The minute we take that approach, we lose our message. Our message is people are dying without the antidote, the only antidote that can save them from that which they’re suffering and that the guilt of sin and the wrath that will come to them for their own rebellion against God. There’s an antidote and that’s Jesus. We have to learn how to be able to defend that, to speak it clearly, and then explain the sensibility of such a thing.
Those are two things.
Melinda: Maybe he’ll write it again just to get the other two. I was just thinking...
Greg: The problem of evil is also huge.
Melinda: Don’t cheat. I was also just thinking the thing those two have in common is having the courage to stand on what the word of God teaches and not buckle to peer pressure and cultural pressure.
Greg: Yes. Confidence for every Christian. Clear thinking for every challenge. Courage and grace for every encounter. That’s our vision at Stand to Reason and we realize the importance of instilling that in people.
Melinda: I was thinking the other day about very often the approach, for like the last ten years or so, the approach of many atheists is to ridicule Christianity and religion in general, but Christianity because they think it’s intellectually inferior and it doesn’t even deserve a substantive answer. I was thinking how so often, and I’m not saying all atheist objections and not all atheists, but so often these days what the atheists will focus on are trivial things like talking snakes and breeding goats by raising a certain stick up or something like that.
Melinda: Right. Whatever – possibly even some more substantive ones – but whatever Bible difficulties there might be. I was just thinking though, and this is not my original thought, I’ve heard it from others, but I was just applying it to this. If God created the universe and if Jesus raised himself from the dead, then all those other things are totally plausible. It really comes back to some of the very fundamental, not letting ourselves be pulled off track and try to answer these myriad of minor things and maybe also some more substantive things. It comes back to a lot of very basic apologetic questions.
Greg: Yeah. These issues that you just mentioned, these are not substantive issues. The talking snake is not the core of it. The goats thing is not the core of it. Even if we dismiss that and said, “Forget about it. We’re not going to die on that hill,” the real issues still need to be answered. Your point is very important. I don’t want people to miss it. It’s one that I’m developing on the book that I’m writing called Credo. That is, you can’t assess the Christian worldview from within inside a naturalistic worldview. You can’t assess our truth claims based on the way you think reality is. That is dictated by your worldview. If you’re a naturalist, you don’t think miracles happen. That’s not because of some trenchant argument that you can produce that miracles are impossible, it’s just what you’ve chosen not to believe. When miracles show up in the Bible, it doesn’t do any good for you to say, “I don’t believe miracles happen so that’s stupid,” because you’re assessing the Christian worldview from inside of your worldview. You have to take the Christian worldview... I should say based on the assumptions of your worldview, not what’s proven in your worldview. That’s what they do all the time. They think they’re doing something meaningful and they’re not doing anything at all meaningful.
Melinda: Right. But also Christians should not allow themselves to be dragged basically off topic all the time or don’t get all upset if you can’t answer even a legitimate question. Sometimes if you know some of the basics and really what it comes down to is every individual facing the true God. If God exists, he can create the universe and he can raise a man from the dead. If that man is Jesus, he can raise himself from the dead.
Greg: That’s right.
Melinda: Sometimes if you get back to just some fundamental things, those are the things that are going to have to come across, you can weed away all the other objections, legitimate or not, but that’s what they’re going to have to come down to to face God and submit their lives to him.
Greg: Well put.
Melinda: Next question comes from a very insightful and thoughtful person, Stewart Smith. “Did Melinda get her door fixed?” Now, if you recall, last month...
Greg: Oh my goodness. Okay. Go ahead.
Melinda: Last month, I asked Greg for my Christmas present that I had a couple doors that needed some, nothing major, but the doorjamb needed some adjusting and Greg has the tools and the capability of doing this. I do a lot of things around my house myself but this is something I need a little help with and so I asked if that could be my Christmas present. Many people remember many, many years ago Greg said for my Christmas present he would make me a breadboard to replace the breadboard in my kitchen.
Greg: What ever happened to forgiven and forgotten? It’s just like...
Melinda: I’ve forgiven you, but it’s just amusing.
Greg: You haven’t forgotten.
Melinda: This is a breadboard that slides into the cabinetry and we had our kitchen cabinets refaced at that time. The one they replaced it with was just very awkward and unusable. Greg said he would make this for me, because as many of you know, he’s a carpenter and a very good one and he’s got all kinds of cool tools in his very neat workshop.
Greg: I made the coolest breadboard.
Melinda: You made a great breadboard eight years later because I had the cabinets refaced in 2004 and I was just looking at the pictures. I got that breadboard three years ago.
Melinda: Many people know that in fact, the pieces of my breadboard were used in a video a few years ago, about four years ago. The pieces that had been sitting there...
Greg: I actually built it. It wasn’t just sliding into the slot. I built a whole carriage on the inside in there.
Melinda: I cried when you installed it. I love it. Just the point is that was a present...
Greg: It was worth waiting for, as you know.
Melinda: Yeah, but I don’t know the wait was a necessary part of the gift.
Greg: That was eight years.
Melinda: The question is, “Melinda asked for something else for Christmas...”
Greg: Right, right, right. If I get it within the next year, I’m way ahead of the other game. That’s the way I look at it. It’s not going to take that long. No, but see we just had a lot of holidays and you live an hour away from my house.
Melinda: But on the way to the office.
Greg: Well, I didn’t mention that. We’re not going to get into that detail.
Melinda: Well, your daughter’s spending the night at my house this weekend. You’re coming to pick her up.
Greg: That’s a good point. I got to come pick her up on Sunday morning. Maybe I can…
Melinda: Stewart Smith will ask again next week. He’s coming to my house.
Greg: Oh, man. The pressure. I can’t take it.
Melinda: Oh, poor baby. Right now, the answer’s no.
Greg: Correct. The correct answer to the question is no. I have not fixed it yet.
Melinda: Stewart obviously has some past knowledge of our history to be able ask this question.
Greg: All right.
Melinda: Next question.
Greg: Oh, there’s more. Okay.
Melinda: Yeah, since that one was so unsatisfying.
Greg: That was that insightful question.
Melinda: Yes. Next question, last question of the program, comes from texasmoonshine on Twitter, might want to meet him sometime. “I want to start an apologetics...” I got an answer for this. “I want to start up an apologetics small group at my church for all those who are interested. Any suggestions?” One, bring out your moonshine.
Greg: You might change your name.
Melinda: No, bring out your moonshine. Invite people over.
Greg: The best suggestion I can offer is the one I offer at the end of the Tactics book. There, I say, “You can’t start a fire with wet wood, you have to start with dry tinder.”
Melinda: Don’t spill your moonshine.
Greg: Don’t spill your moonshine on the wood.
Melinda: Although that would start a fire.
Greg: Well, moonshine is flammable. Depends what you’re drinking, I guess.
The idea is the first thing to do is find the dry tinder, which is the people of kindred spirit in your local church community.
Melinda: Even if it’s one or two. That’s a start.
Greg: Could be just two, a handful. Start with the people who are interested. Then, the way the illustration goes, you start with the dry tinder and when you get the dry tinder burning, it sometimes dries out some other wood. It may be that as you guys are doing your thing and making yourself available to other people and maybe there’s some visibility of the pursuit and you say, “Look, we’re a group that does this. We’re exploring some of these issues. We’re able to answer questions,” and JP Moreland makes this recommendation in his fine book, Loving Your God With All Your Mind.
Melinda: Which has a lot of practical suggestions about doing this within your congregation.
Greg: Exactly, exactly. One of those is make yourselves available to your local church as people who can find the answers and answers the questions, whatever.
Melinda: Humbly. Sometimes we’re perceived as being know-it-alls, arrogant, knowing better than everybody.
Greg: Can’t imagine why.
Melinda: Humbly be available as a resource.
Greg: It helps if you have more to be humble about than I do.
Melinda: Just go on.
Greg: Like the guy who said, “No, I’m not very humble, but I don’t have much to be humble about.” No, you’re right. You have the right attitude, you go with your hat in your hand, you’re there to serve the local body. Find the people that are the dry tinder interested in what you’re interested in and then set up a meeting, an occasional meeting, maybe once a week for the next ten weeks. Just kind of let it run its course for that period of time. Don’t demand a year’s commitment out of people or anything like that but say, “We’re going to cover some material. We’re going to go over some...”
Melinda: Read a book together.
Greg: Maybe read a book together. The Tactics book for example. “We’re going to watch a video. We’re going to do TrueU,” that we sell here and is also available through Focus on the Family. Stephen Meyer, the teacher for those segments. There’s lots of material that’s available. We produce some of it. Other people produce some. Just get something that can be the focus of those first meetings and then just do a trial run. That’s the way to do it, I suspect.
Melinda: I think you offer yourself as a resource, you want to use your skills and your gifts, your interests, for the congregation... If you don’t get asked immediately, I have a feeling as time goes by and the way our society’s going, a lot of pastors and congregations who don’t necessarily think there’s a lot of practical content to apologetics, are going to suddenly remember you made that offer. The challenges are coming to us now. You can’t hide from it. You can’t just raise your family. You can’t just have a congregation and try to avoid some of these things. They’re all around us and they’re coming at us. They’re going to know you’re there. I think more and more pastors and people in congregations are going to be coming, those in the congregation they know are interested in apologetics and saying, “Gosh, we need some help on some of these topics.”
Greg: Yeah, plus it’s a responsibility to spiritual leadership. I read in Titus where Titus is assigned to establish elders in certain areas and Paul says to teach them not to teach these strange doctrines and odd things, he said, because there are people going around that are spreading difficulty and they must be silenced. They’re teaching things that are not consistent with sound doctrine. There are different aspects of apologetics. There’s the one where you’re defending against the non-Christian who says Christianity isn’t true. You’re giving positive evidences and you’re answering challenges like that. But then there are also theological challenges that go through churches as well. Church leadership is obliged to know how to deal with those to protect the flock. This is what a lot of church leaders are not capable of doing. The number one thing right now, I mentioned it earlier, is the homosexuality issue. This has doctrinal content and churches need to be up to speed on that. We have great material on that and that’s another thing that they need to be able to do.
Melinda: This is not like challenging pastors or criticizing them or anything. This is one of the points JP Moreland also makes in the book Loving God. It is not possible for a single leader of a church to have all the skills and knowledge necessary to train that church. That’s why there’s a body there and there’s other people with teaching skills and all kinds of other skills that you can call on under the pastoral and elder leadership to share what they know to train other people.
Greg: We are there to serve them.
Melinda: When you start a group, you want to do something at your church, that’s the attitude you want to have.
Before we say goodbye, I just want to mention at the end of last year, December, we had a challenge going. We had a number of donors who had given already and set a challenge for other donors to support Stand to Reason and just wanted to report that the challenge was met and exceeded. It was a great December. God provided through his people. STR is very well set this year to start strong and move ahead with all of our plans and our goals.
Greg: We are so thankful for all the people who stepped up to the challenge and for those who provided the challenge money and for those who stepped up to the challenge.
Melinda: People are so generous. I mean, even like when we get a $5 check, I know that’s a lot of money for some people. People are extremely generous.
Melinda: We’re very thankful that people in their giving plans and in the end of the month and the end of the year decided that they want to include STR in their giving plans.
Greg: A lot more strategic partners...
Melinda: Are monthly pledge people.
Greg: Yeah. In the last two weeks, last week actually, a lot of people climbed on board. That warms my heart because that’s the lifeblood, financially, of our organization. I said in the end of year video, many have watched that, I said we are committed this next year to those three statements in our mission. That is, confidence for every Christian, clear thinking for every challenge, and courage and grace for every encounter. That’s what we’re going to be about this year.
Melinda: Thank you all for helping us meet that challenge so we can meet the challenges of this year of ministry and training. That’s it for this week. This is actually I think the longest Ask STR podcast we’ve done so far. 30 minutes.
Greg: You talk so much, Melinda.
Melinda: Oh, yeah. That’s the problem. That’s all for this week. You can send us your questions on Twitter. Use #strask. That’s the name of the podcast. It’s posted new episodes every Monday in all the usual places, iTunes, STR.org, and the STR app. I’m Melinda the Enforcer with Greg Koukl. Bye bye.