On The Question
A few years ago, while people were still signing up for my Old Testament class at our local Community College, I received some friendly warnings concerning a lady named Minerva who had registered for the course. "She will drive you up the wall with her questions," they told me.
Little did those people know that I longed for just that sort of person to be in my classes. Questions are like mortar in the wall of education, and Minervaís class would be very much indebted to her for her contribution in holding the class together. When Minervaís class was under way, however, I soon discovered why Minerva was persona non grata in certain Bible study groups. It was because she dared to ask . . . The Question! If there is anything that intimidates believers who donít yet know their heavenly Father, it is The Question.
"The Question" enters into the mind of every person who thinks on divine matters, yet many fear to voice it, or even ponder upon it for long at a time. Actually, it is the Spirit of the Lord that causes this penetrating question to arise in a personís heart, because God wants us to know His wonderful answer.
If you are fainthearted, you may want to turn back now, because I am about to print "The Question" right here, right now, in public, right before your eyes! You may want to call your spouse, or a friend, or even your pastor, so that you won't be alone when you read "The Question". Are you ready? Are you sitting down? Hold on! Here is "The Question"!
How do those who believe in Jesus know for certain that they, and they alone, have found the only way to eternal life?
When Minerva dared to ask The Question during one of our Bible classes, it caused a discernable tenseness to fill the air. No one moved. Why, you'd think that she had intruded into the forbidden "most holy" room of the temple!
"How do we know," she asked, "that the Japanese are wrong in their religion, or that the way of Buddha is not acceptable to God, or that God didn't speak to Mohammed and show him a way for His people, just as acceptable as the way Jesus taught?"
Yes, now I clearly understood why some concerned believers warned me about Minerva. Now I could clearly see why they were so irritated by her. Oh, how she must have put a damper on some prayer meetings by asking . . . The Question! You should know, by the way, that Minerva was completely sincere in her asking. To her beautifully sincere mind, there could be no harm in asking the people of the Lord to help her to understand how she could really know Jesus was Lord of all. It is, after all, a perfectly reasonable desire to want to know for sure if you are worshiping God the right way.
Far from being harmful, there is great benefit to be had by asking The Question of the Lordís people, but because many of God's children do not know the proper response to The Question, they often become indignant or exasperated with the one who dares to ask it, putting on a thin disguise of righteous indignation when it is asked, as if the questioner is contaminating their holy ears with a unholy question. This typical reaction to The Question has a chilling effect upon honest and inquisitive minds--an intimidation against tough inquiry. And it leaves a wrong impression of God, as if He can't stand up to serious examination. But God longs for an honest soul to come to Him and ask, seek, and knock on His door with sincere, tough questions. It was the Lord, you will remember, who implored men to reason with him (Isa. 1:18), not vice-versa. It was the Lord, in Malachi 3:10, who challenged man by saying, "Prove Me."
God is pleased to have sincere and tough questions asked of Him, and when believers discourage people from asking such questions, it can only be because they don't know God and His truth well enough to answer it plainly, and are ashamed to admit it.
But what is the truth? What is Godís answer to . . . The Question? Here are some of the phony answers usually given to the few who dare to ask believers The Question:
First, it is often said that one must simply "take it by faith" and assume they are being told the truth about God. But this is a counsel of despair. The Question being asked is really just another way of saying, "How do I know that this is the truth about God?" Surely, there is a better answer than "Believe me because I am believable." Or, to say it another way, "Take it by faith that you are supposed to take it by faith." This is an ungodly, nonsensical response to a sincere question. The notion that the person being taught must "take by faith" what another teaches is unscriptural; it is not the way of Jesus. To "take by faith" what somebody else says is how one becomes a Buddhist, or a Muslim, or a Sikh, or anything else of earth; it is not how one becomes a child of God.
Secondly, to say that an empty tomb near Jerusalem proves that Jesus has risen from the dead, as some often teach, trivializes the faith of Christ, for it is starkly clear that there is not a person on this earth who knows whether or not the tomb men claim was Jesus' burial site is really the one in which he was buried. And even if it was his actual burial place, how can we know he literally arose, and not that thieves or wild animals, or even his disciples, carried away his corpse (as his disciples in their own time were falsely accused of doing)?
Thirdly, to respond to The Question by saying that the Bible proves that our gospel is the only way is what lawyers call "begging the question." The very question is, "how do we know the Bible is true?" We prove nothing by telling people that the Bible is true because it says that it is true. The Koran, Islam's "holy book", also claims to be true. The Mormon's "Book of Mormon" claims to be true. What, for the person seeking to know which claims are legitimate, separates the gospel of Jesus Christ from other ways of serving the Creator?
The apostle Peter spoke directly to the point when he addressed the Sanhedrine in Jerusalem, a council of Jewish elders that was trying him on charges of teaching heresy. Peter said, "The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree. Him hath God exalted with His right hand to be a Prince and a Savior, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses of these things, and so is the holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him" (Acts 5:30-32).
Yes, Peter was a witness, just as he said he was. But Peter is gone. James and John were also witnesses, but they are also gone. Matthew, Mark, Luke, Andrew, Thomas . . . all gone. But the other Witness, the holy Spirit, is still here and is being given to every person who comes to God through Jesus Christ. The holy Spirit baptism, with the evidence of speaking in tongues, is Godís answer-the only unassailable answer-to The Question. It is Godís response to manís most earnest, heartfelt cries to know which way is right.
John the Baptist told everyone that when the Christ came, they would know him by a special sign. Do you remember what that sign of the Messiah was, according to John? The color of his skin? His seamless robe? The halo around his head? By the number of followers he would have? By what? What was the one mark that would prove who was anointed by God to be "King of kings and Lord of lords"? It wasnít Jesus' miracles, for Israel had already experienced miracle-workers in her midst, such as Elijah and Elisha. It wasnít his prophecies; Israel had prophets for over a thousand years before Christ. What was the special sign by which Jesus would prove that he was Israelís Messiah, the Savior of the world? John himself told us what it was:
"John answered, saying unto them all, `I indeed baptize you with water, but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose. He shall baptize you with the holy Ghost and fire.í"
Thankfully, the Father has not left us to our own opinions as to who was truly sent by Him to save those who will believe, repent, and obey. He sent His Spirit as proof, His personal testimony, that He "hath made that same Jesus . . . both Lord and Christ" (Acts 2:36).
"It is the Spirit that beareth witness," John wrote, "because the Spirit is truth" (1Jn. 5:6). If a man does not believe this Witness that God gave concerning His Son, wrote John, then such a man is, in effect, calling God a liar "because he believeth not the record that God gave of His Son" (1Jn. 5:10).
Muslims may claim that God gave them a "Bible", but did He? Where is Godís Witness of it? The holy Ghost is not given in the name of Mohammed. Hindu worshipers may claim to have Scriptures that are holy, but has the Almighty ever baptized anyone with His holy Spirit in the name of one of their gods? Of course not. The washing away of sins that comes with the holy Spirit baptism, comes only in the name of Jesus, Godís son.
The same day that Jesus was miraculously carried up into heaven by the power of God, he told his disciples to wait in Jerusalem "for the promise of the Father, which ye have heard of me. For John truly baptized with water, but ye shall be baptized with the holy Ghost not many days hence" (Acts 1:4-5). A week or so later, "they were all in one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the holy Ghost, and began to speak in tongues, as the spirit gave them utterance."
The baptism of the holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues is the "baptism" of the Spirit, the credentials of Christ. It is the thing that sets the way of the Lord apart from every false way, including the religion of Christianity.
"Wherefore," the apostle Paul wrote, "tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe [because believers are the ones speaking in tongues], but to them that believe not" (1Cor. 14:22). Speaking in tongues shows the way of eternal life for those who are honestly searching for it. It is Godís answer to their question.
God did not intend for the gospel of His Son to be like all the religions of the earth, religions which depend upon men believing men. The way of God is the holy Ghost way, and it requires men to believe God, repent of sin, and obey Him. Those who dare to ask The Question, wondering if the Bible is true, are not left with nothing but manís opinion of it. God Himself has given us conclusive proof. As the author of Hebrews pointed out, "It is witnessed that he [Jesus] liveth" (7:8).
Wrote Paul, "When I came to you, I came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God . . . and my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God" (1Cor. 2:1,4).
Again, to the saints in Thessalonica Paul wrote, "Our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the holy Ghost, and in much assurance."
Islam is a "word only" religion, because God does not bear any witness to it. Buddhism is a "word only" religion. God has given no sign of approval. Christianity is also a "word only" religion, because it denies the only answer to The Question. Godís answer to The Question, the holy Spirit baptism, is the only proof that the gospel of Jesus is the only one that will save. My friends, avoid at all costs any religion without the holy Ghost power. Religion without the holy Ghost is false religion, regardless of the flowery titles that men give to their organizations. Men naming their religion "Christianity" does not mean that it has anything whatsoever to do with Christ.
In the Old Testament Law, two witnesses were required in order for a matter to be legally confirmed. Even Jesus said, "If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true" (Jn. 5:31). He knew that the Father's witness was the one that confirmed the truth of a matter. "Every way of a man is right in his own eyes," Solomon wisely observed, "but the Lord pondereth the hearts"(Pro. 21:2). "If we receive the witness of men," said John, "the witness of God is greater"(1Jn. 5:9). To whose witness are we trusting our souls?
Jesus described the way of the gospel that was to be preached as a working together of the human and the divine witnesses (Jn. 15:26-27): "When the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me. And ye also shall bear witness."
Now, let me ask you . . . The Question. How do you know that you are right with God? Has God set his seal of approval upon your faith by giving you the holy Ghost? Or is what you believe about yourself the only witness you have? There are plenty of ministers who take it upon themselves to tell others that they are right with God. But what has God said? Where is His infallible witness? Many a soul has been persuaded to believe that they are right with God. But may I ask, "Persuaded by whom", or "by what"? A minister? Not good enough. How do you know the minister knows what he is talking about? The Scriptures? Not good enough. Jesus condemned those who trust in the Scriptures for their hope of eternal life. "In them ye think ye have eternal life," he said, "but they are they which testify of me" (Jn. 5:39).
You'll find plenty of pastors who will tell you that your faith is pleasing to God, even if God has not yet given you His holy Spirit. Indeed, many will tell you that the witness of God was for another time and another place. If you are satisfied with the witness of men, you'll listen to them, and you will die with them.
How do you know they are right when they tell you that you are? By the Bible? But what is the proof that you understand it rightly? Let me exhort you to seek the Lord's favor instead of the opinions of men, and seek not the Bible, precious as it is, but seek rather its Author.
The Question which Minerva kept asking, which so irritated those who didn't know the answer, should be asked a thousand times more frequently than it is. She found the answer, as Jesus promised that she would, even though some ostracized her for asking, and seeking, and knocking on the door of heaven. A few weeks after our class ended, she visited me with the news. She had done what the Bible says to do. She had gone to Jesus rather than to men and had found the confirmation of her faith, the confirmation that honest faith desires.
The Question is, "How do I know the way of Jesus is the only right way?" And Godís answer is that He gives the baptism of the holy Ghost to people who believe in the true Messiah. That is Godís answer, and it is so perfect and fulfilling that we donít need another one.