Tagged: justification

How do I know the Bible is true? (Part 8)

This is the final installment in an eight-part series addressing skeptics’ claims against the Bible. Click here to read the full series or download the article.

Objection 8: There are so many Christian denominations today, it’s clear that Christians can’t agree on what the Bible teaches.

The Handbook of Denominations in the United States (12th Edition) lists more than 200 Christian denominations in 17 broad categories, from “Baptist Churches” to “Community and New Paradigm Churches.” If Jesus prayed that His followers would be one (John 17:11), and if there is to be “one body and one Spirit … one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph. 4:4-5), why can’t Christians get along? Even within denominations such as the Southern Baptist Convention there have been major splits over issues such as the inerrancy of Scripture and the role of women in the church. Doesn’t all this contentiousness prove a fatal flaw in the Bible, since even people who study it and say they believe it can’t agree on what it teaches?

First, it should be noted that many of the disagreements among Christians are over matters of conscience, such as which day of the week to worship, dietary restrictions, or which translation of the Bible to use (see Rom. 14:1-23; 1 Cor. 10:23-33), or they focus on lesser points of doctrine, such as the mode of baptism, church polity or the manner in which missions activities are organized and funded.

Second, it should be acknowledged that Christians often have engaged in petty squabbling, internal power struggles and political wrangling, resulting in unnecessary divisions in the body of Christ, not to mention damage to the church’s reputation. The New Testament implores believers to be gracious toward and forgiving of one another; clearly, this has not always been the case.

At the same time, Christian denominations generally developed out of a desire for fellowship and joint ministry between individual churches – a biblical concept (Acts. 11:27-30), according to Charles Draper (“Why So Many Denominations?” Apologetics Study Bible, p. 1709). In addition, denominations many times began as renewal movements. The Reformed movements of the 1500s sought to restore the doctrines of the sovereignty of God and justification by faith to the church, which had all but abandoned these biblical teachings. In time, some Presbyterians drifted toward liberalism and new conservative Presbyterian groups emerged to preserve the Reformed teachings. Baptists came along within the Reformed tradition. Pentecostals and charismatics formed new unions based on their view of the Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts.

There is a rich diversity among Christian denominations, and the differences between them often are not as wide as they appear. This is not to say that all differences are minor, or that all should be set aside for the sake of unity, for in Scripture Christian unity is the product of God’s Spirit working in the hearts of regenerate people and anchored in the truth of God’s Word. Some separations are, in fact, necessary. In the New Testament, many false teachers were disciplined or left the churches (see 1 Tim. 1:18-20; 1 John 2:19). In addition, the apostle Paul warns the church that false teachers will rise to prominence in the church in the days before Christ’s return (2 Tim. 3:1-9). The church today should be on guard against those who preach “another Jesus … a different spirit … a different gospel” (2 Cor. 11:4). For example, Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses claim to be Christian in their theology and practice, yet both organizations deny the central teachings of Scripture, particularly those having to do with the person and work of Christ, the person and work of the Holy Spirit, and the gospel.

Charles Draper summarizes: “The most important thing to do is to examine a church’s teaching and practice to see if it is consistent with Scripture. And finally we have to realize that in this life Christians will not agree on everything” (Ibid.).

 Copyright 2008 by Rob Phillips

 

Hard Sayings of the Bible — Download Free Bible Study

Did God really regret He created mankind, as Gen. 6:6 suggests? Why did He order King Saul to wipe out an entire race of people (I Sam. 15:18)? Who should be turned over to Satan (1 Cor. 5:5)? And what is the sin that brings death (1 John 5:16)? These are so-called “hard sayings” of the Bible.

What is a “hard saying?” Simply put, a “hard saying” is a passage of Scripture that is difficult to understand. We shouldn’t feel badly that we struggle with some Bible verses; even the apostle Peter had a hard time with some of Paul’s writings (2 Peter 3:16).

Why are some Bible passages difficult to understand?

  • They seem to contradict other Scriptures (“No one has ever seen God”).
  • They are isolated passages that cannot be cross-referenced with other Scriptures (“Being baptized for the dead”).
  • They call God’s character into question (“The Lord regretted that He had made man”).
  • Or they seem to make unreasonable – even unholy – demands of God’s people (“Go and complete destroy the sinful Amalekites”).

What are some keys to understanding these “hard sayings?”

  • Context (who, what, when, where, why and how?)
  • Key words (“The Lord regretted …”)
  • Comparison (“I loved Jacob, but I hated Esau”)
  • Genre

In this 12-part study, we will explore some of the most prominent “hard sayings” in Scripture.

Download the complete study in pdf format.

Freedom in Christ: Paul’s Letter to the Galatians – Download Free Bible Study

 

The apostle Paul penned his letter to the Galatians for several key reasons: 1) to defend his authority as a true apostle of Christ; 2) to affirm the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith; and 3) to illustrate that the Christian life is to be lived in the power of the Holy Spirit, not through self-imposed bondage to the law. Throughout this epistle Paul declares that there is true freedom in Christ.

 

Download the complete study in PDF format

 

Why every Christian should reject the Watchtower’s claims: Part 3

 The views of Charles Taze Russell and subsequent Jehovah’s Witness leaders regarding the doctrines of Biblical Christianity are not new; for the most part, they are recent spins on the Arian heresy of the early 4th century and other more recent Scripture-twisting views. Specifically, every Christian should reject the Watchtower’s claims to be the only true church because of its numerous unbiblical views. Ten false doctrines of the Watchtower are being highlighted in this three-part series.

Click here to review Parts 1 and 2

Download an audio file of Part 3

Click play to listen to Part 3: 

JW False Doctrine 7: Salvation by grace through faith denied.

What the Watchtower says:

  • “It is evident from this that besides faith and baptism, ‘public declaration’ to the effect that Jesus Christ is Lord and the God raised him up from the dead is a requirement for salvation…. Clearly, for all who wish to gain an approved standing with God, Christian baptism is a requirement” (Aid to Bible Understanding, p. 755).
  • “Most Witnesses hope to be found worthy enough to be ‘saved’ from destruction in the future battle of Armageddon and to survive into God’s new earthly system of rule, when ‘paradise’ will be restored to Earth. The four requirements for salvation are: 1) taking in knowledge of Jehovah God and of Jesus Christ; 2) obeying God’s laws and conforming one’s life to the moral requirements set out in the Bible; 3) belonging to and serving with God’s one true channel and organization (that is, the Watchtower Society); and 4) being loyal to God’s organization” (10 Questions & Answers on Jehovah’s Witnesses, p. 7).
  • “Salvation is earned through a combination of faith plus good works. True Christians can have no assurance of eternal life. They must work toward perfection throughout this life, and then throughout Christ’s 1,000-year reign on earth. Next they must pass the final test of Satan (during which Satan is released from the pit to tempt all faithful Witnesses one last time) before God will grant them eternal life. If they fail at any point they are at risk of annihilation (eternal destruction)” (10 Questions & Answers on Jehovah’s Witnesses, p. 7).

What the Bible teaches:

  • Christ’s death at Calvary paid our sin debt and purchased our salvation so that everlasting life is received by grace through faith in Jesus (John 3:16; 5:24; Rom. 4:4-5; 1 Cor. 15:1-4; Eph. 2:8-9; Titus 3:5).
  • Believers are eternally secure based on the finished work of Christ at Calvary and the faithfulness of God (John 5:24; 10:27-30; Rom. 8:28-39; Heb. 7:25; 10:14; 1 Peter 1:1-5).
  • All who receive Christ by faith enter immediately and everlastingly into Christ’s kingdom (John 1:12; 3:16; 5:24; Rom. 10:9-10, 13).

JW False Doctrine 8: Consciousness of the soul after death denied.

What the Watchtower says:

  • “… the claim of religionists that man has an immortal soul and therefore differs from the beast is not Scriptural” (Let God Be True, p. 68).
  • “Hell is mankind’s common grave” (Jehovah’s Witnesses Official Web Site).
  • At death, the soul, which is inseparable from the body, ceases to exist. Jehovah “remembers” each person’s life essence and recreates it at the resurrection. In other words, the Watchtower teaches the false doctrine of “soul sleep.”
  • There are three classes of individuals who are resurrected (recreated) and are potential heirs of salvation: 1) the 144,000 elect of God who enter heaven; 2) the “earthly class’ of faithful Jehovah’s Witnesses; and 3) the rest of mankind. A fourth class, the unsaved, are annihilated at death and are not resurrected and given a second chance.

What the Bible teaches:

  • At death, man’s eternal destiny is fixed in one of two places: heaven or hell.  All people have conscious existence at death and beyond (Luke 16:19-31).
  • Hell is a place of everlasting conscious existence, where the unbeliever is forever separated from God (Matt. 25:46; Rev. 14:9-11; 20:10).
  • Heaven also is a place of everlasting conscious existence, and the believer’s soul/spirit goes there upon death (2 Cor. 5:8; Rev. 22:5).

JW False Doctrine 9: Eternal punishment in hell denied.

What the Watchtower says:

  • “Hell is mankind’s common grave” (Jehovah’s Witnesses Official Web Site).
  • “Who is responsible for this God-defaming doctrine of a hell of torment? The promulgator of it is Satan himself. His purpose in introducing it has been to frighten the people away from studying the Bible and to make them hate God” (Let God Be True, p. 98).
  • “The doctrine of a burning hell where the wicked are tortured eternally after death cannot be true, mainly for four reasons: (1) Because it is wholly unscriptural; (2) it is unreasonable; (3) it is contrary to God’s love; and (4) it is repugnant to justice” (Let God Be True, p. 99).
  • “Would a loving God really torment people forever? … The wicked, of course, are not literally tormented because, as we have seen, when a person is dead he is completely out of existence…. And it is also a lie, which the Devil spread, that the souls of the wicked are tormented …” (You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth, pp. 81, 88-89).

What the Bible teaches:

  • Hell is a place of everlasting conscious existence, where the unbeliever is forever separated from God (Matt. 25:46; Rev. 14:9-11; 20:10).

JW False Doctrine 10: Heaven as the destination for all believers denied.

What the Watchtower says:

  • Only 144,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses, called the “anointed class” and chosen by Jehovah, will be in heaven. The remaining faithful Witnesses, after an indefinite length of time in a state of soul sleep, will be raised to populate Paradise Earth – if they remain faithful throughout the millennium and final test.
  • “So this ‘congregation of God’ is made up of all Christians on earth who have the hope of heavenly life. In all, only 144,000 persons finally make up the ‘congregation of God.’ Today, only a few of these, a remnant, are still on the earth. Christians who hope to live forever on earth look for spiritual guidance from members of this ‘congregation of the living God'” (You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth, pp. 125-26).
  • “Many millions that have lived in centuries past and who were not Jehovah’s Witnesses will come back in a resurrection and have an opportunity for life. Many now living may yet take a stand for truth and righteousness before the “great tribulation,” and they will gain salvation (Jehovah’s Witnesses official Web site).
  • The “anointed class” will one day rule in heaven with the elder brother Jesus. The anointed class is sovereignly chosen, or elected. Members of this class receive five benefits not given to others: 1) They are now presently “justified” by God as long as they maintain their justified status; 2) they are now consecrated and anointed as priests; 3) they are specially sanctified for Jehovah’s purposes; 4) if they remain faithful, at death they will be regenerated or born again just as Jesus was born again; 5) they will then rule in heaven with God and Jesus. At the “resurrection,” the 144,000 will be changed into spirit creatures, just as they believe Jesus was at His “resurrection.” This constitutes being “born again.” Thus, just like the Watchtower Jesus, they will live in heaven as spirits but not on earth as physical persons. They are thus said to be given immortality as spirits in heaven, in contrast to a physical eternal life on earth.
  • The “other sheep,” or “great crowd,” constitutes the rest of the Witnesses. The average Witness today has virtually no expectation of being elected to the anointed class, neither does he or she have any expectation of being “born again.” If the “other sheep” are successful in earning their salvation they will be given positions of leadership in the millennial age. However, they are also warned that if they do not pass additional millennial tests, they will forfeit their eternal life and be annihilated.
  • The rest of mankind are resurrected to life on earth in the exact moral condition in which they died, and they must then seek to attain their own perfection during the millennium. If they attain perfection and also pass the final millennial test by avoiding the judgment of God in Rev. 20:7-9, they will obtain eternal life on earth.

What the Bible teaches:

  • All believers have God’s promise of a home in heaven, will go there instantly upon physical death, and will return with Christ to earth one day (John 14:1-3; 2 Cor. 5:8; Rev. 19:11-16).
  • There is no opportunity for salvation beyond the grave, as the Watchtower teaches  (Luke 16:19-31; Heb. 9:27).

More resources:

The Jehovah’s Witnesses: An Overview (PDF)

Comparing Christianity to the Jehovah’s Witnesses (PDF)

Key Mistranslations of the New World Translation (PDF)