You walk into a restaurant and order a meal. It is prepared out of sight and served by people you don’t know. Without hesitation, you eat it and enjoy it. And, without thinking, you have exercised faith.
You get a prescription from your doctor – written in handwriting you can’t read, containing words you can’t pronounce! You take it to a pharmacist you don’t know who puts pills or tablets into a container with instructions to the effect of “Take one every four hours.” You obediently do what you are told. Then days later, hopefully, your illness is gone. Again, you have exercised faith.
When you mail a letter, you put faith in the postal service. When you fly in a plane, you put your faith in the airline and the professional skills of the flight and maintenance crews.
Every day brings dozens of such opportunities to put faith to work. The same could be said about your relationship with God.
In that broad area we call “religion,” faith is always an essential ingredient.
If one claims to be an atheist, that has to be done by faith. Only faith can conclude there is no God. No one can gather enough facts to prove that conclusion.
If one claims to be an agnostic – saying that we cannot know for sure about God – this requires faith. Such a person must believe that we cannot know that there is a God; he cannot provide any evidence to prove it.
If one claims there is only an impersonal power or force or god in the universe, such a claim is based on faith. We all see evidence of some power in the universe, but to say that this is the only kind of “god” requires faith.
If a person looks within to find satisfaction for his or her religious or spiritual longings, that person has to believe that whatever he or she finds within is all that there is. However, “the temple within” at which this person bows and worships may not be real or true.
The point is this: In the practice of religion, everybody exercises faith.
So does the Christian. A Christian believes that the true God exists, and that this true God is the God of the Bible. The true God is the one that the Bible describes to us. But, in the final analysis, I have to believe that. I really cannot prove it.
THE EVIDENCES FOR FAITH
Various beliefs can offer supporting evidence that their particular view is correct. But notice where these different ideas originate.
The belief that there is no God (atheism) originates in the minds of those who believe this. The belief that we cannot know if there is a God or not (agnosticism) also originates in the minds of those who hold this idea. The belief that there is some greater Force in the universe comes from the minds of those who believe this. However, belief in the true God is based on something outside myself: God’s disclosure of Himself in the Bible.
How can we test the reliability of our minds to give us the truth about God? The mind does think accurately much of the time, and it has instincts which are usually reliable. But the catch is that this does not happen all of the time. Perhaps our minds could be right in what they tell us about there being no God or some kind of god. But it is equally possible that they can be wrong. Even what we consider to be good instincts sometimes prove to be wrong instincts. Our minds can be very reliable and they can also be very unreliable. Which is the case when they tell us about religious ideas?
What about the Bible on which Christians base their belief in the true God? Can it be tested as to its reliability? If so, how?
The Bible records many predictions about future events. If we found that every single prediction that we tested came to pass, that would be strong evidence that other parts of the Bible are true also.
For the atheist, the agnostic, the believer in a great Force, or the person who worships at his or her own inner temple, prophesying with even a moderate degree of success is impossible. All such predictions are generated from the person’s mind or instincts. They are predicated on trends or past experience or just plain guesswork. Even “prophets” whose forecasts appear regularly in tabloids at best only hit one or two predictions, and often those are couched in vague language that could have several meanings. On the other hand, if a prophet in Bible times did not predict with 100% accuracy, he was to be put to death.
TEST THE BIBLE
Let’s test some predictions in the Bible. As you look at them you will notice that they are not groping generalizations put in vague language but are detailed descriptions of the future. Though many examples of prophecies could be cited, I will focus on some predictions about the life and death of Jesus Christ.
1. The prophet Micah predicted Jesus’ birthplace 700 years before Jesus was born. Micah did not say it would be in some little town somewhere in southern Palestine. He said it would occur in a town called Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). There is no way that anyone can say that someone wrote this prophecy in the name of Micah after it occurred, for when Herod asked the priests where Christ was to be born they quoted Micah’s prophecy as the answer (Matt. 2:6).
That this prediction would prove true was most unlikely, for during most of Mary’s pregnancy she and Joseph lived in Nazareth in northern Palestine, not in Bethlehem in southern Palestine. But a Roman tax decree brought them to Bethlehem during the last days of Mary’s pregnancy because Joseph was of the line of King David, and Bethlehem was David’s hometown. It is impossible that chance could have brought all these factors together at the right time. Only God could do it.
2. The prophet Malachi, 400 years before Christ, said that Christ would be announced by a “forerunner”. John the Baptist fulfilled this exactly as predicted (Mal. 3:1 and Matt. 3:1-3).
3. Many details of Christ’s ministry were predicted in the Old Testament. These details were fulfilled in Jesus’ ministry: Its location (predicted in Isa. 9:1-2 and reported as fulfilled in Matt. 4:13-16), its purpose (Isa. 61:1 and Lk. 4:16-18), its accompaniment by miracles (Isa. 35:5-6 and Matt. 11:4-5), its inclusion of Gentiles (Isa. 42:6 and Lk. 2:32), and its rejection (Isa. 53:1-5 and Jn. 1:11).
4. Heaped on top of these are many additional predictions about the death of Christ. It may be possible to predict the place and even the approximate time of the death of someone who is dying, but to predict accurately the death of someone who wouldn’t even be born until hundreds of years later is beyond human possibility. But that is exactly what occurred.
The prophets of the Old Testament predicted that Jesus would be scourged and spit on (Isa. 50:6 and the fulfillment in Matt. 26:67), that He would be given vinegar to drink (Psa. 69:21 and Matt. 27:34, 48), that His hands and feet would be pierced (Psa. 22:16 and Lk. 23:33), that He would agonize with thirst (Psa. 22:15 and Jn. 19:28), that His garments would be distributed when He died (Psa. 22:18 and Jn. 19:23, 24), that no bone would be broken (Psa. 34:20 and Jn. 19:33-36), and that He would be buried with the rich (Isa. 53:9 and Matt. 27:57-60).
5. Jesus claimed to be a prophet, and He was. To cite only one area, He predicted details of His own death specifically and accurately. He said that He would die in Jerusalem, that His death would be instigated by the leaders of the Jewish people (Matt. 16:21), that He would die by crucifixion, and that three days later He would come back to life (Matt. 20:19). No one could do this in such detail months before he actually died unless he was truly a prophet.
Could these predictions have happened by chance? If so, then they would not validate the Bible. If, however, they could not possibly happen by chance, then we ought to take notice of what the Bible says in other matters, since it has proved itself to be reliable to the testable area of fulfilled prophecies.
FLIPPING A COIN
If you take a coin and flip it twice, there are four possible results: It will land heads both times, or tails both times, or heads then tails, or tails then heads. So the chance of its landing heads both times is one out of four. Or, to put it another way, if four people each flipped a coin two times, one of them could be expected by the laws of chance to come up with two heads in a row. The chance of getting heads three times in three flips is only one in eight. Or, if eight people each flipped a coin, one could be expected to come up with three heads in a row. One person in 16 could expect four heads in an uninterrupted sequence.
For just one person to get 20 heads in an unbroken sequence, it would require more than a million people flipping; for an uninterrupted run of 30 heads, it would take more than a billion people.
Now think of each of 30 prophecies about the life of Christ as a coin toss, and each accurate prophecy as a flip that comes up heads. If every person living when Christ was born (fewer than one billion) was to have made 30 predictions concerning Christ’s life, the laws of probability say that not one of them would have scored 100% accurate.
But there are more than 30 predictions about the life of Jesus. In addition, there are many other prophecies recorded in the Bible that have already been fulfilled. The total number is more than 100.
The probability of 100 prophecies being fulfilled by chance is less than one in 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 – the same as 100 heads in 100 tosses. Such a number is incomprehensible, so we need a comparison to help understand how large it is.
Astronomers tell us that there are 200 billion stars in the Milky Way. Imagine that on each of these 200 billion stars live four billion people. The population of all the stars of the Milky Way would add up to a figure with 20 zeroes. If all these people were flipping coins, not one of them would come up with 100 heads in 100 tosses by chance. Or if all of them would try to predict 100 things about the future, not one of them would score 100%. Yet more than 100 prophecies made in the Bible have already been of fulfilled just as predicted.
If it wasn’t chance or luck that guided the prophecies of the Bible, what was it? The only other option is that there is a supernatural Being who did it. Man’s mind, though often brilliant, could not accomplish it with total accuracy; no impersonal Force could do it, for force does not even have a mind; only a living, personal, all-knowing God could … and He did.
Since the Bible passes this very difficult test in the area of predictions, would it not be wise to listen to what Christ and the Bible say about other matters?
THE NEXT LOGICAL STEP
We all like to think that we can handle whatever comes our way. And much of the time we can. But sometimes there comes into our lives situations we cannot control or cope with. A bad business circumstance, a problem in the family, a serious illness, and – the thing no one likes to think about – what happens when we die?
Problems in this life are temporary, but death is permanent, final. We all must face it, sometime or another.
Many think death ends it all. Yet down deep there remains the nagging thought that probably it doesn’t. It ends something, but not everything. Even if one hopes it ends everything, what if that conclusion is wrong?
Jesus, the proven prophet, said that there is life after death. He once told about two men who died. One was rich and the other, named Lazarus, was poor. The story is recorded in the Gospel of Luke 16:19-31.
When the rich man died, he found himself in Hades. He was conscious; he was in torment; he could remember events from his life on earth; he realized he could have no second chance; he understood that he could not communicate with those still living on earth, but he wanted them (his five brothers in particular) to know and believe the truth so that they would avoid the torment and pain he was in. On the other hand, the poor man, after he died, found himself in a place of bliss and contentment.
Jesus was saying some very basic and important facts about life after death. If He did not know what happens after we die, who does?
The Lord promised His followers that when they died they would go to homes in heaven He would prepare for them. They would be with Him in heaven and be with Him forever. You can read about this in the Gospel of John 14:1-6.
But how can a person know with any certainty what his or her destiny will be after death? In the story of the rich man and Lazarus, the Lord said that you must believe the message of the Bible. In the account where He promised heaven to His followers, He said you must believe what He taught – that He is the only way to heaven.
THE GOOD NEWS
Just what is that message? It is a message of forgiveness, of hope, and of certainty. It is a message about death – Jesus’ death in our place as a payment for our wrongs because, as the Bible tells us, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).
But how can that help? Look at what He said.
As to why He came to earth, the Lord Jesus said it was “to give His life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). Ransom means “payment”. When Jesus died He made full payment for sin. And He did it as our substitute. That is the meaning of “for.” Literally it means “in the place of.”
Just before He died He told His disciples that His blood would be poured out for the “forgiveness of sins” (Matt. 26:28).
The death of Jesus Christ pays for our sins; His death substitutes for us; His death forgives us. His resurrection assures us He has the power to save us.
But, you may be asking, how can I be sure that I am forgiven?
Let’s eavesdrop on a conversation the Lord had with an intelligent and religious rabbi named Nicodemus. Jesus was very specific in talking to this inquisitive man. He said, “You must be born again” (Jn. 3:7). When Nicodemus did not comprehend, the Lord explained that Nicodemus must believe that Jesus Christ could give him eternal life (Jn. 3:11-21).
To illustrate this, the Lord reminded Nicodemus of an incident in Jewish history which is recorded in the Old Testament (Num. 21:4-9). The Jewish people had begun to complain about their difficult circumstances, and as a punishment God sent venomous snakes whose bites killed some of the people. The Jewish people quickly acknowledged that they were wrong to gripe and they begged God to take away the snakes. God heard their cries and provided a way to be healed from the fatal snake bites. He told Moses, their leader, to make a bronze image of a snake, set it on a pole and tell the people that whoever would look on that image would not die. And it worked. Those who looked lived, and those who did not look – for whatever reason – died.
Being sorry for their sin was not enough to save them. Those who were bitten had to look, and in looking, believe that doing so would reverse the consequences of the bites.
Using this Old Testament event, the Lord told Nicodemus that He would be lifted up (as He was eventually on the cross when He was crucified) like the bronze serpent was, and that whoever would believe in Him would have eternal life.
SAVING FAITH IS ESSENTIAL
We started this discussion by looking at the commonness of faith and the need of faith in many areas of life. Faith is absolutely necessary for eternal life.
But faith is only as good as its object, the thing or person you put your faith in. You can believe as sincerely as possible that a broken chair will not collapse under you if you sit on it, but it will. The object of your faith – the broken chair – is useless for sitting on. But if you try another chair, one which you have examined and which looks solid, and believe that it will hold you, your faith, intelligently placed, will reward you with a secure seat.
You can examine all the religions in this world. But don’t fail to examine what Jesus Christ said. Such an examination ought to give you confidence that, if you believe Him, He will do what He promised to do. Jesus Christ promised that the person who believes in Him, as Savior, as Ransomer, as Forgiver, will have eternal life. Someday you will die physically, but you can know for sure that when you do, you will be in heaven forever (1 Jn. 5:13).
Eternal life is a gift, not a reward for doing something. When someone offers you a gift you have three options: Take it, reject it, or ignore it. Jesus offers you the free gift of forgiveness and eternal life. You have those same three options.
If you are saying that you would like to take the gift of salvation but are not sure how to do that, let me suggest saying this: “Dear Lord Jesus, I believe You died for me, and I now accept and receive Your free gift of forgiveness and eternal life.”
Will you do this? Will you take this step of faith? It will make all the difference in your life and in your life to come.
The Bible says:
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” (Jn. 3:16)
“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father, but through Me.’ ” (Jn. 14:6)
“Christ died for our sins… He was buried… He was raised on the third day, according to the Scriptures… He appeared to Peter, then… to more than 500… (1 Cor. 15:3-6)
“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast.” (Eph. 2:8-9)
By Dr. Charles C. Ryrie, PhD