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Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Real Evidence

What tipped the scales for you?
I’m going to single out the New Testament for a moment, not to minimize the importance of the first 39 books of the Bible, but because without its reframing and illumination of the Old Testament we could not explicitly know salvation in Christ: we could only hope and anticipate him. We could have Judaism but not Christianity, law but not grace, shadow but not substance.

Though we can find frequent glimpses of the character and work of God in its pages, of course, we could never possess the certainty and clarity that those who meditate on the final few books of holy writ enjoy today.

And even within the New Testament, I would have to single out the epistles specifically. Because while we rightly draw much of the substance of our faith from the record of the life, words and works of Christ — making the gospels, more than any other portion of scripture, critical to our understanding of the Lord’s absolute centrality to the declaration of the counsels of God — without the amplification and explanation given by the Holy Spirit through the teaching of the apostles, in many ways we’d still be in the dark about much concerning our relationship to him, our eternal destiny and reward, the purpose of the church, and on and on and on.

An Example

The early Jewish believers, despite ample opportunity to reflect on the implications of the Sermon on the Mount, appear to have remained largely mystified by the relationship between law and grace. Even with the evidence of many principles and prophecies in the Old Testament and the words of Christ that foreshadowed the blessings of our current era, they simply could not overcome the habits of millennia and — if they had their way — would surely have continued imposing the Law of Moses not only on themselves but on Gentile converts forever. It took Peter and later Paul to explain the true relationship of the believer to the Law and to spell out its implications. Even then this fact had to be reiterated and re-explained on far too many occasions.

This is the case with so much of the teaching we take for granted, from the return of the Lord for his people to the consequences of the resurrection in the life of the believer. All these truths were most clearly and explicitly articulated by the apostles, at first verbally to their followers, and later to our benefit in the epistles.

This being the case, one might be forgiven for assuming that it is intellectual arguments, compelling rhetoric and the persuasive power of the written word that make the most powerful testimony for Christianity.

And yet, somehow … it isn’t. At least not in my personal experience.

Actions, Not Arguments

The most compelling evidence for the Christian faith that I have ever seen is what it does to the human heart. The evidence is in the way the message changes people, not intellectually but in the most practical ways. This seems to be what Paul himself says to the Corinthians:
“You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on [y]our hearts, to be known and read by all. And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”
(2 Corinthians 3:2-3)
The Law, in its day, testified to the character of God and commended him to the world. But the much more effective testimony to the truth is that of changed lives, minds, inclinations, dispositions and behavior — the wholesale remaking of mankind in the image of his creator that results from Christ in us. This is the true hope of glory.

A Recommendation Written on Your Hearts

Obviously I’m not telling most of our readers anything they don’t already know here. But I was thinking this morning how many lives I’ve seen transformed in the 30 or so years I’ve really been looking for it. I’ve seen nice people become good; hard people become gentle; airheads become thoughtful and prudent; addicts become self-controlled.

I’ve seen self-absorbed people become empathetic. I’ve seen people who didn’t read poring over their Bibles. I’ve seen dominant women learn submission and passive men learn to lead. I’ve seen prima donnas become humble servants. I’ve seen people who once were slaves to public opinion learn to care only about what the Lord thinks of them. I’ve seen affected people become genuine, distant people become loving and warm, and judgmental people become gracious.

Most unusually, in a day in which nobody but a wimp or a neurotic ever apologizes, I’ve seen heartfelt repentance and genuine contrition from believers. Try finding that in the world if you can.

This is not to say that every profession of faith is a success story or that no Christian ever experiences challenges or setbacks. But the number of individuals whose lives have been drastically and permanently transformed by the teaching of the apostles, and the extent of the changes in their lives, is nothing short of breathtaking, as many of those closest to them will attest. This is not true of other religions. Islam may boast millions of adherents — it may even modify behaviour — but it does not transform lives to the benefit of all those around them. It does not change the human heart. 

I’m not alone in noticing this: every attentive Christian could surely think of similar changes made in the life of Christians they know through the work of the Holy Spirit. Just like the Corinthians, they are a letter from Christ written with the Spirit of the living God on human hearts.

Anybody can make an argument. Changed lives are the real evidence.

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