Thank you, Missouri Baptists, for enthusiastically supporting the MBC’s new apologetics ministry. Over the last year, I have been privileged to speak or lead workshops in many churches across the state to help Christians “earnestly contend for the faith” (Jude 3).
Topics have ranged from “How do I know the Bible is true?” to “What do false prophets have in common?”
As many of you know, apologetics simply is “a reasonable defense of the Christian faith.” For followers of Jesus there has never been a more important time to know what we believe, why we believe, and how to share our faith with an increasingly skeptical world.
The apostle Peter urges us to “set apart the Messiah as Lord in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15).
Scholars generally break down the arguments for God’s existence into three broad categories: scripture, nature, and philosophy. Arguments from philosophy – such as the cosmological, design, and moral arguments – often go over our heads. And unbelievers may reject arguments from scripture as nothing more than myths and legends.
But the apostle Paul makes a good case from nature in Romans 1. The argument is so clear that Paul states emphatically every person will stand before God one day without excuse. That’s because God has revealed Himself to all people in at least two ways.
When it comes to discussions about the existence of God, everyone comes to the table with a bias. Parents that have lost an infant child may question whether a God who allows such tragedies is good, if He exists at all. Evolutionary scientists may reject the notion of God because He does not meet the demands for purely naturalistic explanations. A disillusioned student of history may see the amount of evil done in the name of the Christian God and conclude that He is either a fiction or a monster. And those ungrounded in scripture may graciously — but naively — determine that everyone worships the same god, and that all religious paths ultimately lead to him (or her, or it, or them).
Christian pollster George Barna recently released a study that showed the “unchurched” in America – those who have not attended church in the last six months except for events such as weddings and funerals — have risen from 24 percent in 1991 to 37 percent of the population today. “America is headed for 310 million people with 310 million religions,” he said.
And then, what right do we, as Christians, have to claim the God of the Bible is the only true God? There are many arguments for the existence of God: the moral argument, the cosmological (first-cause) argument, the teleological (or design) argument, and the ontological (or reason) argument, to name a few. But the apostle Paul gives us three reasons to believe in God that leave every person “without excuse” (see Rom. 1:18-20). In fact, Paul would argue that everyone should believe in the God of scripture because He has revealed Himself in three ways: 1) conscience, 2) creation, and 3) Christ.
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Every person will stand before God one day without excuse – that is, without defense – because God has revealed Himself in at least two ways to all people.
It’s inevitable. Sooner or later you’ll find yourself in the awkward presence of a little boy or girl who asks that dreaded question:
Where do babies come from?
What do you and mom do when the bedroom door is closed?
Do fish sleep?
If Jesus is God’s Son, who is God’s wife?
If we don’t have a chimney, how will Santa get in?
Is God real?
It’s good for children to be inquisitive. It opens doors of communication with adults, and with other children, and enables them to learn. As that great prophet Kermit the Frog once said, “Asking questions is a very good way to find out about something.” It’s just that we don’t always know how to answer the questions – or perhaps, when it comes to spiritual matters, we have the same unresolved questions in our own minds.
The existence of God is one such question. And like children, we should not be afraid to ask: Is God real? What proof is there? Does God know me? Can I know Him? What kind of God is He? And what difference does it make if He’s real or not?
Many arguments for God’s existence
The evidence for God’s existence may be divided into three categories, according to Dr. Rick Cornish in 5 Minute Apologist:
- Scripture. “God’s existence is revealed from the Bible’s first verse, ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth’ (Genesis 1:1). His existence and active presence saturate the remaining sixty-six books. Since the Christian accepts the Bible as true, sufficient evidence is found in its pages.”
- Nature. “Romans 1:20 tells us that God’s invisible qualities are seen in God’s creation. Psalm 19:1 states, ‘The heavens declare the glory of God.’ The intricate, complex, purposeful design of human beings, more than any other created thing, reveals an intelligent designer. Created in God’s image, all humans sense God’s reality. Romans 2:14-15 indicates that the inner sense of God is known even among people without God’s written revelation in Scripture.”
- The logical arguments of philosophy. “God’s existence is the only reasonable answer to several big questions. Question 1: How did the universe originate? Everything that begins has a cause. The laws of physics reveal that the universe had a beginning, thus it must have had an initial, uncaused cause. That first cause is God” (p. 115). Other questions include: How can the universe be complex and yet ordered? And why do all cultures hold to objective moral values?
According to Romans 1:18-20, every person will stand before God one day without excuse – that is, without an apologia or defense – because God has revealed Himself to all people in at least two ways:
- He has revealed Himself in our conscience.
- He has revealed Himself in creation.
1. God has revealed Himself in our conscience.
Verse 19 reads: “… since what can be known about God is evident among them, because God has shown it to them.” The “them” refers to unbelievers – Gentile unbelievers in this case – who “by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” The word “suppress” means to hold down, or to repress. They do not allow the truth to work in their lives. Rather, they suppress the truth so they might live their lives the way they want to live them. Later, Paul says they turn the truth into a lie, and become like brute beasts in their thinking, so that God gives them up to their way of living. This results in “godlessness” and “unrighteousness,” and it draws the “wrath” of God. Richard Chenevix Trench, a 19th century biblical scholar, defines it as “a wrath of God who would not love good unless He hated evil, the two being inseparable, that He must do both or neither.” Marvin R. Vincent, author of Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament, describes it as God’s personal emotion with regard to sin. “God does not reap wrath where he has not sown knowledge,” says Willmington’s Bible Handbook.
“What can be known about God is evident among them,” writes Paul. Why? “Because God has shown it to them.” A guilty conscience knows the truth – knows what is right – and a decision is forced upon it. Either the person will acknowledge the truth and repent (change his or her attitude or actions, and make right what was wrong) or the person will suppress the truth until the conscience, as Paul wrote in 1 Tim. 4:2, is “seared with a hot iron.” God has placed within every human heart a conscience – a knowledge of right and wrong. Some people – even some cultures – choose to suppress that knowledge, but that doesn’t make it any less true. The fact that people around the world – regardless of technological advancement or religious practice – know that stealing, murder, rape and other such actions are wrong is a testimony to the truth that there is a sovereign God who created us and to whom we must give an account.
2. God has revealed Himself in creation.
Verse 20 reads: “From the creation of the world His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what He has made. As a result, people are without excuse.” Not only did God give us a conscience, He gave us the testimony of Himself in the things He made. Warren Wiersbe writes: “Human history began with man knowing God. Human history is not the story of a beast that worshiped idols, and then evolved into a man worshiping one God. Human history is just the opposite: man began knowing God, but turned from the truth and rejected God. God revealed Himself to man through creation, the things that He made. From the world around him, man knew that there was a God who had the wisdom to plan and the power to create.”
Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth His handiwork.” The things that are invisible of God, namely, His eternal power and Godhead, are clearly seen. “What a paradox,” writes Greek scholar Kenneth Wuest, “invisible things which are visible…. Man, reasoning upon the basis of the law of cause and effect, which law requires an adequate cause for every effect, is forced to the conclusion that such a tremendous effect as the universe, demands a Being of eternal power and divine attributes. That Being must be the Deity who should be worshipped.” Wuest continues, “Thus, through the light of the created universe, unsaved man recognizes the fact that there is a supreme Being who created it, who has eternal power and divine attributes, a Being to whom worship and obedience are due.”
It’s important to note that Paul is not saying the full gospel message of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection is clear to all people from the testimony of creation, for that requires God’s further revelation of His Son through the preaching of the Word and the convicting power of the Holy Spirit. But Paul is saying that all people are rendered without defense for rejecting God because God has shown all people He exists and is to be the sole object of their worship.
So how do we answer the little boy or girl – or the inquisitive adult for that matter – who asks, “Is God real?” Perhaps the simplest and best way to respond is to say, “I believe God is real. When I look at the universe – so big, beautiful and complex – I am driven to the conclusion that someone started it all. And when I think that people everywhere somehow know in their hearts what’s right and what’s wrong, I feel certain someone put that conscience there. Because of these things – creation and conscience – I believe God is real.”
While this simple answer may satisfy a child, and perhaps even some adults, it likely will do little to persuade skeptics. For them, more questions – tougher questions – are in order, as are our best efforts to answer them. Still, if God’s Word is true, the sovereign Creator of the universe gets to chance to question us in the end. And as the apostle Paul wrote, no one will have an excuse – an apologia, or defense – for saying, “I didn’t know there was a God.”
Rob Phillips 2008