PART 1: GOD AND THE BIBLE

Bible

Hi there, and welcome to the Foundations for Faith Series!

If you want to build an amazing building, you first need to dig deep and build some strong foundations. If you want your life to be amazing, you need to dig deep and build foundations of faith that will set you up to live the life that God has planned for you.

We’re going to look at some big themes – like God… the Bible… salvation… the Church… spiritual growth – and eternal matters of heaven and hell. But we’re going to do our best not to get “heavy” – although there are some big questions we need to ask, we’re going to try and keep things as simple and practical as possible.

GOD

All matters of faith begin with God – so this is where we’ll start digging.

Let’s start with a fundamental question:  

IS GOD REAL?

Our physical senses like sight, touch and sound aren’t very good at registering God’s presence.  So some would deny his existence – because they cannot sense him. Yet many others – myself included – are experiencing him first-hand. How do we explain this?

  • Is God hiding from some of us?
  • Or are some of us just looking in the wrong places?

Paul, the church leader who wrote a lot of our New Testament content, wrote this to the young church in Rome:

“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.   For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.” [Romans 1:20-21 NIV]

What Paul is saying is that God is invisible, but he is not hiding!  When you look at the natural world around you, it points to its creator.  It is far too amazing to have “just happened”!

The scientific community now use the term “intelligent design” to describe this. Whatever we examine, from outer space to sub-atomic physics, we find remarkable order, process and sophistication that speaks of a designer. As a motor car speaks of a car-maker, the world we live in speaks of a creator – God.

Other thinkers have offered more reasons to believe – two others are:

The Cosmological Argument – this argument essentially observes the law of “cause and effect”.  We can see that every “effect” has a “cause”; so ultimately there must be a “first cause” – God.

The Argument of Conscience – deep down, we all have a sense of right and wrong – we may argue about the details of exactly what is right and what is wrong, but we nevertheless feel some things are morally right and others are wrong.  We also feel some obligation to be and to do good – so we feel guilt when we do what we believe is wrong.  There is another “voice” – a “higher voice” that sometimes contradicts our personal desires and logical thoughts (e.g. when we feel compelled to make personal sacrifices).  This conscience could be regarded as the voice of God in our inner being.

Beyond these arguments, there is also the fundamental matter of the spiritual realm. If we deny the spiritual realm, then we effectively wall out our means of engaging with God, because he is spirit. Paul expressed the problem like this:

What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words.  The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. [1 Corinthians 2:12-14 NIV]

This may sound arrogant – but it is really a statement of reality: we cannot directly engage the spiritual realm through non-spiritual means.  Our physical senses only allow us to discern the evidence – for example, gazing at creation or witnessing a miracle.

A lot of  trouble started when clever minds came up with clever ways of explaining God away – for example, Darwin’s theory of evolution. Please hear a serious challenge here: some of these arguments appear to be highly scientific (and as such we are properly impressed, even intimidated) – but ultimately they are founded in BELIEF – that God does not exist.

On this topic, you may be interested to know that science and faith are not historically opponents; it is a relatively recent claim that unbelief or atheism is “scientific” and belief “unscientific”. Ironically, atheism is a belief system!

If you would like to read more on the subject, two great resources are The Case for a Creator by Lee Stroebel and Mere Christianity by CS Lewis (Both authors were originally atheists, but their pursuit for truth led them to faith!)

This is a big question for some – I hope these points will help!

Our next big question is – DO WE MATTER TO GOD?  Or: IS GOD RELATIONAL?

I think most of us would agree that there has been a breakdown of relationship between God and man. A good question to ask then, is who is hiding from who?  Is God hiding from us or are we hiding from God?

Let’s read some passages from the Bible and see what we learn. [If you have questions about whether you can believe all of the Bible, please “hang in there” with me for just a little longer – we’ll cover that later in the second part of this session.]

In Genesis we read of the first interaction between God and man after man chose to disobey God:

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, ‘Where are you?’      [Genesis 3:8-9 NIV]

The relationship had been disrupted, but notice that it is man who hides and God who seeks!

Matthew records a poignant moment as Jesus cries out in distress over the broken relationship:

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”    [Matthew 23:37 NIV]

Ultimately, we must surely look at the cross of Christ. Jesus came to earth to restore the broken relationship. God came to man. God provided a bridge for man to cross over the chasm between them.

And God offers more than forgiveness, he offers a father-child relationship! Listen to John 1:12 (NIV):

Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…

One last verse – from Hebrews 11:6 NIV:

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

These texts paint a clear picture: God seeks – and he seeks relationship with us. If we stop hiding and start seeking, we WILL find him!

This is a truth that will transform your life! You see, when we merely believe that God exists we can become religious; when we realise that we matter to God personally, we begin a journey of relationship!

Please don’t settle for religion! God invites you to grow into a spectacular relationship with him as your Father!

It would be wrong to speak about God and not say something of what he is like.  As you get to know him, you will find that

GOD IS AWESOME!!

We could devote an entire course to the nature of God and still struggle to do him justice – he is that awesome!  For now, let me whet your appetite by listing some of his amazing characteristics:

God is Self-existent – Nothing created God, He has life in Himself (John 5:26).

God is Self-sufficient – God doesn’t need anything He created, He is perfect (Ps. 50:12).

God is Omnipresent – God is everywhere (Ps. 139:7-12).

God is Omnipotent – God can do anything he wishes, He is almighty (Ps. 115:3).

God is Omniscient – God knows everything there is to know (Ps. 139:1-6).

God is Spirit – he is not restricted by the seen world (John 4:24).

God is Infinite – God has no limit in time, space or attribute (Isa. 40:28).

God is Immortal – God fills all time and cannot end/die (Deut. 33:27).

God is Transcendent – God is above and superior to all of creation (Isa. 55:8-9).

God is Immanent – God is close to all of creation (Ps. 145:18).

God is Sovereign – God is the absolute Ruler and has absolute authority (1 Tim. 6:15)

God is Holy –  he is absolute moral purity and perfection (Lev. 19:2).

God is Righteous – God is just; it is the outworking of His holiness (Rev. 19:11).

God is Love – This is the defining attribute of God’s Person (1 John 4:8).

God is Gracious – That God desires and works for the good of mankind (Ex. 34:6-7).

God is Good – The outworking of His love and goodness (Jas. 1:17).

God is Truth – God is the source and measure of all truth (John 14:6).

God is Constant – God is immutable, He is neither growing/maturing nor changeable (Mal. 3:6).

God is Faithful – Constant in His love and to His Word (2 Tim. 2:13).

God is Free – God is independent of His creation and never forced or obligated by it or circumstances (Isa. 40:13-14).

God is Glorious – Beauty, splendour, majesty, honour and renown (Ps. 29:2)

When talking about God’s attributes, it is important to note that he is all these in perfection at the same time.  There is no contradiction; he is Perfect Love and he is, at the same time, Perfect Judge.

Now – back to the point that God is relational:

We can know about God intellectually by studying his attributes, and to do so is very helpful.  But we will never know God in a better and more personal way than through worship,  prayer and  responding appropriately to these attributes.  Intellectual knowledge of God without experiential knowledge of Him is craziness!

Recommended reading on the subject:

Knowledge of the Holy – A.W. Tozer;

The Attributes of God – A.W. Pink

 

THE BIBLE

OK, we’ve spent some time considering God; now we’re going to consider “God’s Book” – the Bible. By now you may have noticed that most of this course content is from the Bible. Its our primary point of reference. But not everyone values the Bible like you may!  Some question its accuracy and reliability.  Others question its authority.  And when something in the Bible offends you, you may even begin to ask some questions!

So let’s ask some pertinent questions about the Bible:

Q1: WHY SHOULD WE TRUST THE BIBLE?

There are a number of really good reasons; here are some:

1. There is Compelling Historical & Archaeological Evidence

Much of the Bible is confirmed by other written histories – for example, the records of Josephus – and by archaeological evidence. Sometimes Bible history precedes archaeological discovery – for example, it was said that the Hittite Empire could not have existed because there was no archaeological evidence of it – but in 1906, evidence was discovered.

In 1958, Donald Wiseman, an archaeologist and Professor of Assyriology at the University of London estimated that there were more than 25,000 discoveries that had confirmed the truthfulness of the Bible.

2. It has a superior “Manuscript Testimony”

Academics rate ancient literature in terms of the age of the earliest copy available, and the number of ancient copies available. Among ancient Greek/Latin literature, Homer’s The Iliad ranks next to the New Testament in possessing the greatest “manuscript testimony”. But the New Testament is far superior in all respects:

The Iliad was written around 900 BC and the earliest copy is dated around 400 BC – the “age” is therefore about 500 years. 643 copies have been found.

The New Testament was written from 40-100 AD and the earliest copy is dated 125 AD – the age is therefore about 25 years.  Over 24 000 copies have been found!

Another key implication of the age of the New Testament documents is that eyewitnesses were still alive when they were written.

3. It has Prophetic Accuracy

There are hundreds of prophecies in the Bible that were made – in some cases hundreds of years before they were fulfilled – with too much specific detail to be mere coincidence. For example, Daniel 11 reads like a history of the 300 years that followed Daniel’s lifetime. He also predicted the succession of four great world powers: Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome (Daniel 2 & 7). The precision of these prophecies has led some critics to say that Daniel had to be written “after the fact”!

Another example is Isaiah 53 – written 700 years before Christ and describing the crucifixion with remarkable accuracy.

Maths professor Peter Stoner (Science Speaks [Moody Press], pp.101-107)  took just eight of the prophecies that Christ fulfilled and calculated conservatively that the odds of these prophecies being fulfilled in one man just by chance would be one in 10 to the 17th power (1 with 17 0’s after it)!

4. It has Proven Accuracy of Reproduction

Hebrew scribes were fanatical about transcribing the Scriptures accurately and had rigorous checking processes.  The effectiveness of their efforts was demonstrated by the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the 1940’s, the oldest existing copy of any Old Testament writings were the Masoretic Text dated around 916 AD.  When the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, a complete copy of Isaiah was found.  Its date was 125 BC.  The difference in dates between the oldest copy and the newly discovered Isaiah document was 1000 years.  The documents proved to be 95% textually identical.  The 5 percent that was different were mainly misspellings of words and did not constitute any threat to the content or reliability of the text (remember that language usage changes over time).

5. It has Remarkable Consistency

The Bible is more of a library than a book – it is a collection of 66 documents written by different authors over a period of more than 1,500 years. Yet clear, consistent themes run throughout the Bible.  The human authors could not have collaborated as many lived at different times – the conspiracy must be God’s!

Finally – and a very compelling reason –

6. Jesus said it’s true (Old Testament)

Jesus affirmed as historically true some of the most disputed passages of the Old Testament, including the creation (Matt 19:4-6), the flood (Matt 24:37-39) and Jonah (Matt 12:40).In Matthew 5:18 Jesus said, “For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”  In other words, it’s all true!

Six strong reasons to believe that the Bible is trustworthy! Which leads us to a “so what question” – if we can trust the Bible, is it just an accurate book or does it impact our lives? In other words:

DOES THE BIBLE CARRY AUTHORITY?

I would say a resounding “yes!” – for two big reasons:

Reason 1. Jesus ascribed absolute authority to the Bible

Teaching his disciples, Jesus made these statements about what we would call the Old Testament (recorded in In Matthew 5:17 & 18):

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them.  For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”

Although Jesus’ teaching seemed revolutionary to some, it was completely grounded in Scripture.  His mission was not his own; he came to fulfil and accomplish what was promised and required of him in the Scriptures. When Jesus was tempted by the devil, his answer to each temptation came from Scripture – preceded by the words “IT IS WRITTEN”. Scripture says it, that settles it!

Similarly, when Jesus was challenged by the Saducees about resurrection of the dead, his response recorded in Matthew 22:31-32 (NIV) was:

“But about the resurrection of the dead – have you not read what God said to you , “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” ? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”

Jesus had an absolute conviction not only of the reliability of Scripture, but also of its authority.  I recommend that we confidently follow him in this!

Reason 2. The Bible itself unashamedly claims authority

There is a consistent claim of authority throughout Scripture itself. The most obvious is when we read the words of prophets, they constantly used the expression: “This is what the LORD says…”

Paul writing to Timothy, a young church leader, makes a powerful statement of authority  (2 Timothy 3:16 (NIV)):

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness…”

In other words, God is the originator of Scripture – that gives it BIG authority!

So – the Bible is trustworthy and authoritative. If this is the case, we would be CRAZY not to read it and put what we read into practice!!

So the last question we will consider is not “should I read the Bible” – that’s a “no-brainer” – but:

HOW DO I GET GOING READING THE BIBLE?

2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NIV) is our big motivator and it has some practical implications:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

1. Read the Bible EXPECTANTLY – expect God to speak to you though it

If we are reading what God has breathed, we should surely expect him to speak to us as we read!  This is a vital mindset – don’t read as a ritual or as a good thing to do, read to hear what God is saying to you!

2. Read the Bible REGULARLY

If the Bible equips for “every good work”, it has constant applicability.  It’s not just relevant on Sunday, but every day!  It speaks into your daily life, your relationships, your work, your struggles… everything!  So make Bible reading a normal part of your daily routine – let God breathe on you daily!

3. Read the Bible PERSISTENTLY

As humans, we can be fickle – our moods change from day to day (some more often!).  Some days you will be more motivated than other days.  Some books are harder to read than others.  We therefore need to “push through” at times.  Don’t wait for the hard days to decide though – decide now that you will persist!  Remember, this is God speaking!

4. Read the Bible SYSTEMATICALLY

The Bible is a very big book – and it is all useful – so it is easy to miss some parts out!  If you don’t have the discipline to read systematically, a reading plan will keep you from getting stuck and get you to read more than your favourite books/passages!

5. Read the Bible COMPLETELY

You may start off with a small reading plan (e.g. John, Acts and Romans), but set your sights on reading the entire Bible.  Why miss out on anything God has said?

6. Read the Bible REVERENTLY

When we remember that we are reading what God has breathed, we will read with reverence, humility and submissiveness.   This is much more that a religious book – God is speaking!

A quick word on Reading Plans:

There are many reading plans available, in print, on the internet and on mobile applications.

If you are new to Bible reading, consider a relatively short reading plan such as the “21-day challenge” (read one chapter of John’s gospel every day).  This will not only take you through your first book of the Bible; it will also get you into a routine of daily reading.

If you are already reading the Bible, consider a bigger challenge such as a one-year “read-the-whole-Bible” challenge.

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