“….(He) abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel…. for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced….” (2 Timothy 1:10,12)
The Christian faith makes audacious claims, no doubt about it: a relationship with the God of the universe, an eternity with Him in His house, forgiveness of sin, and a power for living, and that’s just for starters.
The obvious question–and one every claimant to these wonders should be able to answer–is how do you know? How can one be sure of such amazing promises and their reality?
My pastor said Sunday that he knows the Christian faith is true by the resurrection of Jesus.
I agree. No argument with that at all. The return of the Lord Jesus from that tomb confirmed His identity, sealed every promise He made, and assures us that there is One in the universe who can be trusted in these matters. And only one so far, since no one else has returned from the grave (see John 3:13) and thus possesses such credentials. In Revelation 1:18, John sees the risen Jesus holding the keys to death, hell and the grave. Those are the credentials!
But lately, as I edge closer and closer to the finish line of these earthly years, something else is looming large in my mind and heart. While the historical fact of the resurrection is a solid basis on which to stand, I find myself more and more holding on to the assurance of Jesus and His promises because it feels right.
That requires some explaining.
Increasingly in recent months, Paul’s Second Epistle to Timothy has become my treasure-chest. This little four-chapter letter is like a field whose wonderful riches lie out in the open with more just beneath the surface. Reading it is a pleasure; studying it is a joy; coming upon its insights is a pure delight.
Our Lord in Matthew 13:44 says the Kingdom is like finding a treasure in a field. I actually know what that’s like.
When I was a teenager on the Alabama farm, we plowed the neighboring fields for my Uncle John Chadwick, a police officer in Birmingham, which included a bottomland of perhaps 15 or 20 acres we called Bunkum. The tiny creek running through it had overflowed enough through the ages to make the soil rich and loamy. What made plowing that field special to this kid, however, was not the lush crops it could produce but the Indian artifacts it yielded.
The Creek Indians, uprooted and transplanted to the Oklahoma Territory in the notorious “Trail of Tears” by President Andy Jackson in the early 1830s, left plenty of evidence behind. My brothers and I never plowed this field without finding arrowheads and other relics. Once, Glenn and I came upon two tomahawks the same day, on opposite sides of the field. We never found another one. (Both treasures now inhabit the rock cabinet just inside my front door.)
Reading Second Timothy is a little like plowing that field. Treasures lie everywhere in plain sight and others lurk just beneath the surface. In the first chapter alone, Paul gives us the memorable line about Timothy’s heritage passed down from his mother and grandmother (vs. 5), the powerful reminder that “God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power and love and a sound mind” (vs. 7), and the confident testimony that “I know whom I have believed” of vs. 12.
But nothing in the first chapter strikes us as more stunning than this: after granting to us “His own purpose and grace” from all eternity, Jesus Christ “abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (vs. 10).
Jesus abolished death. Earlier, in his letter to the church at Corinth, Paul had called death an enemy that would be the last to be destroyed (I Corinthians 15:26). But it’s already “abolished”? The Greek word literally means “reduced to inactivity.” We might say something has been put out of business, even though it’s still around. A king who has been deposed may be hiding in exile somewhere, and loyal friends may treat him with deference. But he is no king. He has not the power, the authority, or any of the trappings of the office. No citizen defers to him on matters of state. His reign has been abolished.
So with death. Like a honeybee that has lost its stinger, death still flits about scaring people. (I Corinthians 15:55 comes to mind). But all it can do is send us to Heaven, and how good is that!
Good-bye, death. Good riddance.
Jesus brought life and immortality to light. I take this to mean that these two aspects of God’s rule were already with us (and can be glimpsed throughout the Old Testament), but through the gospel of Jesus Christ–that is, by HIs death, burial, and resurrection–the veil has been removed and their reality is obvious to everyone and available to all. We recall Jesus saying, “I have come that (you) might have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). That would be tantamount, I would think, to “life and immortality.”
That’s pretty good. In fact, it’s as good as it gets. It’s as much as we want. We want to live a special kind of life in our earthly days and to live forever with Him in Heaven afterwards. That’s what He achieved and that’s what He is offering.
This, then, is the reality of Psalm 17:15, which promises, “As for me, I shall behold Thy face in righteousness. I will be satisfied with Thy likeness when I awaken.” I will die, but afterwards will awaken, will see the Lord in all His glory, and whatever that is like, I’ll be satisfied.
I’ll take that in a heartbeat.
All right then. The question is: How do we know?
And is it possible to know that we know, as John said in I John 2:3?
Each person has to find his own answer to that question, and must do so. Settling this once and for all has massive ramifications for one’s life. If these things are so, everything changes forever and Jesus Christ deserves our greatest loyalty and love forever. And if they are not true, none of this matters.
How can we know?
I’ve danced around the question long enough. Let’s have the answer.
A Mormon man once told me he knew the Book of Mormon is true because “it gives me a warm feeling inside when I read it.” He was not amused when I told him chili did that for me. (I was trying to point out to him that any number of things can produce warm inner feelings, all of them unrelated to Truth. He was in no way interested in listening, however, only in speaking his piece.)
Feelings are untrustworthy and are subject to a thousand conditions which cause them to come and go. Do not trust your feelings.
And yet. I read the Scriptures and come away knowing this is true, this is of God, that this is His word for me and for the rest of humanity.
It’s more than a feeling. It’s a knowledge.
It feels right. There’s no other way to say it.
It fits all I know of the rest of life. Everything I can test of what Jesus Christ said and taught works and makes life better, makes me stronger, makes society more harmonious, and makes the lives of others around them better.
It produces a positive, healthy effect on my daily walk. I read His word and meditate on it and pray to Him and am a better person, more giving, more humble, less aggressive, less angry, and more giving. (Did I say it makes me more giving?)
In that rock cabinet in my front hall are also some family mementoes. There are two belt buckles, both spelling out “Carl,” which my dad wore on his belts for a half-century or more. The tiny wire-rimmed eyeglasses my wife wore as a four-year-old are there. Two melted “fruit jars” from our house fire in 1954 are there (and require an explanation since no one who picks one up has a clue what that melted mass is); my mom loved to “can” fruits and vegetables and this is the remnants of two of her jars.
These little “clues” to the existence of these three people in my life are interesting and comforting to me. But I don’t require any of them to prove that Carl or Lois or Margaret McKeever once lived (and still do, mom and dad with the Lord and Margaret in the next room). I just know.
I know and I know that I know, and that’s what it’s all about.
Some things you just know, period.