“If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how shall you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” (John 3:12)
Over the years, in theological debates between liberals and conservatives, I recall hearing some say, “The Bible is not a book of science and never was meant to be. It is not a history book, in the same way it’s not a cook book or a travel guide. It is reliable in terms of spiritual matters, but should not be expected to get the other things right.”
On the surface, that sounds reasonable enough. Anyone who has read the Bible with discernment admits there are places in Scripture that challenge our understanding as we try to reconcile its teaching with other things we (ahem) “know to be true.” (This would include the Creation, Noah’s Flood, miracles of one type or the other, and of course, the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection.)
Is it possible to accept Scripture when it speaks of salvation, forgiveness, and eternal life but reject it on lesser matters?
The Lord Jesus, in His conversation with Nicodemus, closes that door and removes that option. He tells this “ruler of the Jews” three things:
1) I know what I’m talking about. (3:11) (I read that and smile, remembering His statement in John 14 that “if it were not so, I would have told you.” Indeed.)
2) If you do not believe when I speak to you of earthly things, why should you believe when I speak of the heavenly? (3:12)
3) No one has been to Heaven except the One who came from there (speaking of Himself). (3:13) “You can believe me when I speak of Heaven,” says Jesus, “because I am a native.”
Bottom line: If we cannot accept what the Lord Jesus says regarding earthly matters where we have some familiarity, why in the world would we believe Him regarding Heaven about which we know nothing?** (see note at the end)
Closing options. A favorite activity of the Lord, it would seem.
The best-known example of this was cited by C. S. Lewis as well as it can be done. “I believe Jesus was a great teacher and a good man, but not the Son of God” is how that goes. Lewis said, “Not so fast.”
In “Mere Christianity,” Lewis said, “I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
Patronizing nonsense? No question about it. We think of Jesus Christ saying things like “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6) and “All things have been handed over to me by My Father; and no one knows the Son, except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father, except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him” (Matthew 11:27).
We can find a hundred similar statements from the mouth of Jesus, as recorded by those who were there and heard Him.
The only appropriate response to the claims of Jesus was made by Thomas, the skeptic’s patron saint (so to speak). As he came face to face with the risen Christ and beheld the scars in His hands and side, he fell before Him and exclaimed, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).
Nothing less is acceptable. He is Lord or a liar of the worst sort. There is no “neutral ground,” to use a familiar New Orleans term (for the median in the highway).
Another one Lewis calls “Christianity and Water,” goes like this: “I believe in a loving God in Heaven, but we do not need those difficult doctrines about sin and hell and the devil and judgement.” Sorry, Lewis says.
Lewis says, “It is no good asking for a simple religion. After all, real things are not simple. They look simple, but they are not. The table I am sitting at looks simple: but ask a scientist to tell you what it is really made of–all about the atoms and how the light waves rebound from them and hit my eye and what they do to the optic nerve and what it does to my brain–and of course, you find that what we call ‘seeing a table’ lands you in mysteries and complications which you can hardly get to the end of.”
“Very often, however, this silly procedure is adopted by people who are not silly, but who, consciously or unconsciously, want to destroy Christianity. Such people put up a version of Christianity suitable for a child of six and make that the object of their attack. When you try to explain the Christian doctrine as it is really held by an instructed adult, they then complain that you are making their heads turn round and that it is all to complicated and that if there really were a God they are sure He would have made religion simple, because simplicity is so beautiful, etc.”
Lewis points out that such people think of religion as something “invented,” rather than as “His statement to us of certain quite unalterable facts about His own nature.”
Then, Dr. Lewis gives us one of those quotes which we want to carve in stone somewhere. “That is one of the reasons I believe in Christianity. It is a religion you could not have guessed.”
I’ve run into people who speak of “my Christ,” and usually mean someone quite different from the Holy One revealed in Scripture.
Someone wrote to the editor slamming a Christian who had spoken out about his faith. The writer wanted the world to know that “my Christ” approves the gay lifestyle and is not like those Christians found in the churches across the land. I replied to the editor, “Where exactly does this person find a Christ of his own? The only place that gives us any information on Jesus Christ is the Holy Bible and it presents an entirely different picture of Him than (the writer gives). Methinks he has created a Savior out of his own mind.”
A sign we used to see at “Jesus Rallies” during the ’60s and ’70s–when the so-called “Jesus Movement” was at its height–said, “Jesus Yes; Church No.” False dilemma. We are not allowed to do that.
To love Jesus is to love His church. The church is called in Scripture “the Body of Christ” (see Romans 12:5 and Ephesians 1:23) and “the Bride of Christ” (see 2 Corinthians 11:2 and Revelation 19:7).
Those who would “love Jesus but reject the church” are playing into the hands of the enemy whose goal it is to separate believers from the Body in order to leave them exposed to his attacks. Anyone who has watched a nature show on television knows that when the lion is seeking its next meal, it does not take on the entire herd but seeks out the weak, the sick, the aged, or the headstrong–those who cannot or will not stay with the entire herd–and he has his supper. (See I Peter 5:8).
Rejecting the church is not an option for serious disciples of Jesus Christ. Just as we go forward “bearing His reproach” (that is, identifying with the shame with which society treats Him and His people), we are to humble ourselves and join with that ragtag society (with all its immaturities and internal problems) calling itself the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. I can just about guarantee that someone in that bunch will think by accepting you they have slunk to the lowest level ever!
“Let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach” (Hebrews 13:13).
**Note: We are well aware that some will make a distinction between words from the Lord Jesus and the rest of Scripture. We respond that “Scripture is all we have. It is from the Holy Bible we learn of Jesus’ statements.” Trying to make a distinction between the Lord and the rest of Scripture is a fool’s errand which leads to a world of error, until finally we end up with nothing at all.