The Case for Belief

Series: Preacher: Date: April 9, 2017 Scripture Reference: John 3:16-21

16 – For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son,that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.

17 – For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.

18 – Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

19 – This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.

20 – Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.

21 – But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

Have you ever heard of “chop logic?” In my opinion it’s an oxymoron because there is no real logic to it. Anyway “chop logic” is when a person uses disconnected steps of reasoning to try to explain something or prove something to you. It’s really a form of humor. Here’s an example of how one person used “chop logic” to try to explain why elephants are wrinkled:

“ELEPHANTS live in Africa
In Africa there are many bodies of water
One kind of body of water is a pool
To play pool, you need a cue
Cues are what actors need for their lines
Lines are wrinkles
Therefore, elephants are wrinkled.”

Here’s another example of using “chop logic” to prove that snow is white:

“SNOW falls from clouds
Snow clouds are gray
Gray is almost black.
Black is the color Zorro wears
Zorro is an outlaw
An outlaw steals money
Some people say money makes them happy
Happy was one of the seven dwarves
The seven dwarves lived with Snow White
Snow White married Prince Charming
Snow Charming sounded ridiculous, so she kept her maiden name
Therefore, snow is white.”

All kidding aside—I bring this up because sadly, there are people who see Christianity as a form of “chop logic” in that they think it doesn’t make sense. For many our faith is laughable. And their thinking becomes a barrier between themselves and God because they won’t consider anything that offends their sense of logic. Another way to describe these barriers is to call them spiritual sticking points. They can’t get past them. They are “stuck” at this point.

Perhaps you are here on this Palm Sunday out of duty.  Maybe a family member or friend invited you and you didn’t want to offend—but in your heart there is some barrier—some sticking point—between you and putting your faith in Jesus. You may even admire the Christian faith but something about it doesn’t make sense. And that thing keeps you from crossing the line into faith. Or maybe you are a Christian—but you know someone who’s dealing with a sticking point of some sort.

Well today, I want to talk about a few of these sticking points or barriers that are commonly seen in people.  And maybe thinking about it today will be the first step toward overcoming some impediment that’s keeping you—or someone you know from Jesus. Borrowing an outline (and most of my content) from Lee Strobel—who had some serious spiritual sticking points of his own before he came to faith—I want us to look at four barriers to faith—four potential sticking points. Here they are:

  • First, “I CAN’T believe.”
  • Second, “I don’t WANT to believe.”
  • Third, “I don’t know WHAT to believe.”
  • And fourth, “I DO believe; isn’t that ENOUGH?”

Okay let’s get started.

(1) First, let’s talk about those people whose attitude is, “I CAN’T believe.”

To get more specific, this is the sentiment expressed by people who have some intellectual or emotional issue that’s blocking their path. For example, it’s the barrier that is expressed by the scientist who says, “I can’t believe the Bible because it conflicts with modern science.” Or the mother of a sick child who says, “I can’t believe in a God Who permits a young girl to suffer when so many evil people seem to be successful.” Or the lawyer who says, “I’m used to dealing with evidence and facts; I can’t believe in something that we’re asked to accept on faith.” Or the businessperson who says, “I prayed that my business would succeed, but it’s going down the tubes. I can’t believe in a God Who ignores me.”

Now—many times, the spiritual sticking point is just a specific QUESTION. And when the ANSWER can be found—the barrier disappears. For example—if the question that is keeping someone from faith is whether the Bible is reliable—all it takes is for someone to point out that it IS trustworthy. If you show this person facts like how we have better manuscripts and earlier manuscripts—and more manuscripts of the Bible than we do of any other book—if you show them how the Bible’s prophecies all come true. If you share these facts—well that “faith blockage” dissolves like a blood clot being treated with heparin. Or if you know someone who’s hung up on evolution. He can’t believe there was a Creator. They think this all just happened.

Well, if show this person scientific facts that prove this couldn’t have just been some big cosmic accident—well many times that’s all it takes. For example, you might quote noted scientist named James Tour, head of the Nanoscience Center at Rice University who said, “I build molecules for a living. I can’t begin to tell you how difficult a job that is. I stand in awe of God because of what He has done through creation. Only a rookie who knows nothing about science would say science takes away from faith. If you really study science it brings you closer to God.”

Many times, this first spiritual sticking point goes away—once a question is answered.

For the disciple, Thomas, his sticking point was seeing Jesus resurrected.  In fact, he spelled it out saying to the others: “Unless I see the nail marks in His hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” (John 20:25) Jesus appeared to Thomas a week later and invited him to touch the scars caused by the nails and the spear and Thomas said, “My Lord and my God!” That’s all it took—no more barrier to belief for Thomas.

Now, obviously, there are a lot of legitimate questions that people have, and it would be impossible, even if I were able—to try to respond today to every spiritual sticking point that’s hanging people up. I mean, many questions don’t have quick, easy answers. But what I want to do right now is offer four principles shared by Strobel when it comes to dealing with whatever sticking point that’s causing you or someone you know to say, “I CAN’T believe.”

FIRST, do this. Pray what is referred to as “the atheists’ prayer.”

And if that doesn’t make sense to you I would remind you that it’s not unusual for atheists to pray. In fact, Newsweek magazine once reported that that nearly one out of five atheists and agnostics pray every single day. So, pray the atheists’ prayer—that is to say, ask for God’s help, even if you doubt He’s there. The Bible affirms this kind of prayer. In Matthew 7:7, Jesus said, “Ask and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you.”

Here’s a SECOND thing. Do some homework.

For example, if you think the Bible is full of errors, what are they specifically?  Make a list of them and investigate them one at a time.

This is what Dr. Vic Olsen did. Dr. Olsen is a brilliant surgeon, and he and his wife, Joan, believed that modern science made the idea of God obsolete. But they put Christianity to the test. Here’s what they said they decided at the outset of their investigation:

“First, we will review all the agnostic arguments we heard during university and medical school years. Second, as a surgeon incises an abdomen or chest, we will slash into the Bible and dissect out all the scientific mistakes it contains. Those mistakes in the Bible will prove it to be the word of men, not the Word of some infallible Creator.”

And that’s what they did. They read a book by 13 eminent scientists who are members of the American Scientific Affiliation who showed that the Bible and science really aren’t in conflict.

They read books by prominent Washington attorney Irwin Linton and Harvard Law professor Simon Greenleaf, perhaps the greatest America expert on evidence who ever lived—and they discovered the Bible’s credibility withstands even the most grueling cross-examination.

They read books by renowned archaeologists like Sir William Ramsay—who was an atheist until 20 years archaeological research in the Middle East convinced him of the accuracy of the Bible, and he became a Christian. They read the words of respected physicians like Dr. Howard A. Kelley, the surgeon from Johns Hopkins University—and those of the brilliant investigator from Scotland Yard, Sir Robert Anderson, both of whom described how the Bible survived even their skeptical scrutiny. They even read Plato, who stated flatly that no philosophical argument exists that upsets the possibility of divine revelation. And best of all, they read the Bible for themselves.

In other words, they didn’t let their skepticism stop them in their tracks; they let their curiosity propel them toward finding the truth. And in the end—after they asked, and sought and knocked—they discovered that the faith even stands up under rigorous examination by thinking people. In the end, not only did they commit their lives to Christ, but they ended up writing a book about their spiritual journey called, The Agnostic Who Dared to Search.

So—if you’re a “I can’t believe person” do that. Check it out. TAKE THE RISK OF DISCOVERING THE TRUTH.  I’m sure CC or Bob would say that in law, when there’s probable cause to believe something is true—when there is some evidence to suggest it—then the law says a full trial is warranted.  Well, isn’t there enough evidence to warrant a full examination of the facts by you? What have you got to lose? And by the way God invites us to do this. In Malachi He says, “Test Me. Try Me. Prove Me.” As a Christian I will testify that God stands up to our tests. He is TRYABLE. He is PROVABLE.

And, THIRD, don’t just seek with your HEAD.

Listen to God’s Word in Jeremiah 29:13 where He says,  “You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all of your HEART.”  Now, note that God doesn’t say: “…when you seek me with all your BRAINS.”  And to be clear—I don’t think God is appealing to our emotions here. Most of the time they are UNTRUSTWORTHY because emotions are so fickle. No—the point is to be honestly OPEN.

That’s how a man named DR. ALEXANDER ZAICHENKO approached Christianity. Professor Zaichenko is one of the most brilliant economists in what used to be the Soviet Union. Back in the day he was summoned for consultations by both Mikhail Gorbechev and Boris Yeltsin because the Soviet economy was in such a mess. In fact, it had gotten so bad that they joked about it and you know that one of my sermonic weaknesses is the fact that I can’t avoid a good joke so here goes. In the days right before the fall of the Soviet Union a Russian citizen bought a new car. The dealer said, “It will be delivered in 10 years.” The man said, “Morning or afternoon?”  The dealer said, “We’re talking 10 years. What do you care if it’s morning or afternoon?”  And the guy said, “WELL, THE PLUMBER IS COMING IN THE MORNING.”

Anyway, the Soviet economy was such a mess that they called in the intellectual big guns like Dr. Zaichenko to advise them on how to transition to a free market system. Now, Dr. Zaichenko grew up as an atheist in a family of atheists and in a country that was officially atheistic.  He said he couldn’t even remember meeting a Christian. But in 1979, he began to ask the kind of questions that many of us ask ourselves as we get older—questions like, “What’s life really all about? Is this all there is?” As he groped for answers, he bought a Bible on the black market, and he began reading it with an open heart and mind. He started with the Gospel of Matthew, and right off he became bored with the genealogy of Jesus. You know, “HEZEKIAH was the father of MANASSEH; MANASSEH was the father of AMOS; AMOS was the father of JOSIAH; JOSIAH was the father of JECHONIAH,” etc. At this point Zaichenko says he began to think, “Maybe the atheists are right. Maybe there’s nothing to this stuff.” But he kept reading. And then he hit the fifth chapter of Matthew, where Jesus delivers the Sermon on the Mount—the most beautiful and profound talk ever given on the topic of how to live. We’re going to study it this summer. But—I love the response of Dr. Zaichenko, this towering intellect who has studied all the classics, all the philosophers, all the great thinkers. He read Jesus’ words and said:

“It took my breath away.” He knew these weren’t the words of a mere man. So, despite the threat of persecution, Zaichenko ended up committing his life to Jesus Christ.  And the key to it was, as the Bible says in Hebrews 11:6, God rewards those who sincerely seek Him—people who seek Him with an open heart.

This leads to the FOURTH STEP—and here it is. Take comfort in the fact that God isn’t playing hide and seek with you.

In fact, the Bible says that the very fact that you are able to seek him is because He’s drawing you to Himself.  This is one amazing aspect of His amazing grace. I mean, even as you—a sinner just like me—even as you search for our Holy God, He’s reaching out to you.  Isn’t that cool?! As Jesus said, He came to “to seek and to save that which was lost.”

So—if you or someone you know is an “I can’t believe” kind of person—just check it out. Do you remember what the shepherds did that first Christmas night when they heard the angels announcing the fact that the Messiah had been born?  They heard the news, but they didn’t stop there.  They went to check it out for themselves. They went to see the Messiah with their own eyes. Well, if this first sticking point applies to you or someone you know, follow their example, go check it out. If you feel there’s some question that’s causing you to say “I can’t believe,’ then honestly, openly try to find the answer. I would be glad to help you—and I know the people of this church would be as well.

Now for other people, the problem isn’t that they “CAN’T believe.”

(2) Other people honestly say, “I hear you—but “I don’t WANT to believe.”

Actually, few come right out and ADMIT they don’t want to believe; it’s usually more of an ATTITUDE. But whatever you call it—this particular spiritual sticking point stops them in their tracks. Here’s what I’m talking about. Let’s say you have a friend who’s not a Christian—and you share clear incontrovertible evidence of the Bible’s trustworthiness. Their response is something like, “That’s evidence for you—but not for me.” You proceed but they just aren’t open to hearing the proof. And they don’t want to hear your testimony of how knowing Jesus has changed your life. Well, in times like this usually the REAL sticking point is not an INTELLECTUAL deal—but a MORAL deal. You see, many times people are embracing sinful behavior—and they know they would have to give it up if they were to embrace faith in Jesus.

And—they honestly don’t want to do that. Jesus talks about this in our text. He said, “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.”

Aldous Huxley, the famous author and atheist, admitted at one point, “I had MOTIVES for not wanting the world to have a meaning. For me, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of sexual and political liberation.” You see, Huxley had sexual and political motivations for not wanting to believe that there’s a God who He’d be answerable to. But what Huxley and others who raise these smokescreens don’t understand is that God is the God of liberation. His goal isn’t to drain the fun from our lives. No—God’s goal is to give us life’s BEST happiness—and to protect us from potentially self-destructive behavior. I wish that people who hide behind these smokescreens would put God to the test.  I wish they’d do sort of a cost/benefit analysis. I wish they’d actually take out some paper and divide it down the middle—-and compare the benefits and costs of how they’re living now with the benefits and costs of following Christ: If they did this they’d see the forgiveness He offers—the adventure He offers—the clean conscience He offers—the security He offers—the guidance, the fulfillment; the relationships; the peace of mind—the release from guilt; the promise of eternity; the power to end self-destructive drives.

You know—most of the couples who come to ask me to do their weddings are already living together. And when I lovingly tell them that sex is for AFTER marriage—not BEFORE—I usually get silence—an uncomfortable silence. I don’t read minds—but I think they are thinking, “Pastor you are so old—and so behind the times.  People just don’t do it that way anymore.” I wish I could get them to understand that marriage is always BETTER if they approach it God’s way. I wish they could see that God’s laws regarding physical intimacy are for our GOOD. I wish they could understand that they are missing out. I can only say that in my own experience, I’ve learned God’s laws about life are not hindrances to joy—they are the only way TO the joy and happiness and pleasure and fun we all long for.

Another variation of this spiritual sticking point is an issue with AUTHORITY.  I mean often a person who struggles with not wanting to believe also doesn’t want anyone—including the God Who created them—to tell them how to live their life. But they’re missing the point.  God’s goal isn’t to boss us around, but to guide us into our greatest purpose and potential and to protect us from our own self-destructive behavior.   And—isn’t that the kind of loving authority we need in life?

So, some people say, “I CAN’T believe;” for others, the spiritual sticking point is, “I don’t WANT to believe.”

(3) And, THIRD, some say, “I don’t know WHAT to believe.”

I’m talking about the type of person who hears all kinds of interpretations of the Bible. They see all the hundreds if not thousands of different denominations. They hear some people who take the Bible literally and some who say it’s just a general guideline. They hear people using the Bible to support completely contradictory and sometimes absurd positions.  I heard an example of this at the Race Relations meeting at Covenant Life a few weeks back. One of the pastors told of a time back in the ‘60’s when BOB JONES UNIVERSITY had a massive evangelistic campaign. As part of this one of the students at Bob Jones led an African American to faith in Jesus.  But when the man asked if he could attend the white student’s church the next Sunday the student said, “No—we don’t allow blacks to worship in my church.” That kind of contradictory teaching is understandably a major barrier for many. And they throw up their hands and say, “I don’t know what to believe. It seems like the meaning of the Bible changes according to who interprets it. So, what’s right?”

If that’s your sticking point, it’s important to know that the key to accurately understanding the Bible is the same as the key to understanding any other communication. It’s to determine what the writer meant. Let me give you an example that Strobel suggests.

Suppose you have a teenage daughter. She and her boyfriend go out on a date on a school night, and you say to her, “YOU MUST BE HOME BEFORE 11.” How would you interpret that? Sounds pretty straightforward—right? Well, suppose it gets to be quarter to 11, and the two of them are having a great time over at the RIO—and they don’t want the evening to end. So—suddenly they begin to have difficulty interpreting your instructions. They say, “What did he really mean when he said, ‘You must be home before 11? Did he literally mean us, or was he talking about ‘you’ in a general sense, like people in general? Was he saying, in effect, ‘As a general rule, people must be home before 11.’  I mean, he wasn’t very clear, was he? And what did he mean by ‘You must be HOME before 11.’ He didn’t explain whose home. It could be anybody’s home. Maybe he meant it figuratively — you know the old saying, ‘Home is where the heart is.’ Well right now my heart is here at the RIO with you, so doesn’t that mean I’m already home? And what did he really mean when he said, ‘You must be home by eleven?’ Did he mean that literally? Besides, he never specified 11 p.m. or 11 a.m. And he wasn’t really clear on whether he was talking about Central Standard Time or Pacific Time. I mean, it’s still only quarter to five in Honolulu. And as a matter of fact, when you think about it, it’s always before 11. Whatever time it is always before the next 11. ‘So with all of these ambiguities, we can’t really be sure what he meant at all.”

We chuckle—but the point is our motives can radically color the way we interpret things.  And people do that with the Bible to get around teachings they don’t agree with or don’t want to face up to.  I know of a growing church in DC right now that is splitting because one pastor chooses to ignore the clear teachings of God’s Word when it comes to gay marriage. And the main pastor is standing by the Bible. Pray for that church.

In any case, the way to read the Bible is to ask, “What did the Communicator intend for me to understand?” Now, there are some difficult sections of the Bible and well-intentioned people can legitimately debate over—things like predestination and the time-line for Jesus’ return. But when it comes to the critical message of what you and I need to know to be absolved of our past and assured of our future, there’s no ambiguity.

In fact, Strobel has telescoped the central message of the entire 66 books of the Bible down to a two and a half second Gospel: “God made us, we blew it, Christ paid for it, we must receive Him.”          Is that vague or complicated? Nope. Even a child can understand it which is why most of us come to faith at an early age.  The Bible’s central message is clear and pure and unambiguous. God didn’t make it complicated and as someone with limited brain power I’m so glad He didn’t!

Okay—to review—some people say, “I CAN’T believe.” Others say, “I don’t WANT to believe.” Some say, “I don’t know WHAT to believe.”

(4) And, FINALLY, there are those who say, “I DO believe; isn’t that ENOUGH?”

These people say, “I understand the Gospel, and I believe it to be true. But I still feel like I’m at a sticking point. I feel like something is holding me back from experiencing the kind of relationship with God that people talk about around here.” I’m talking about someone who understands and believes—but stops at that point. It’s like me believing in my head 37 years ago that Sue would make a great wife—that she would be the perfect spouse for me — but not going any further. Believing but not acting on my belief—not asking her to marry me–not having a wedding—not enjoying 37 years of joy.

My point is, intellectually believing in Christ is only part of the answer.  As James 2:19 says,You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that–and shudder.”

Belief is only the first step. It’s not enough. Listen to John 1:12. As I read it listen for the active verbs.  “As many as RECEIVED Him, to them He gave the right to BECOME children of God, even to those who BELIEVED in His name.” Those three active verbs — believe, receive, and become — make up God’s equation.  First, to believe is to intellectually agree that Christ sacrificed Himself to pay for the wrongs you’ve committed. That’s important, but don’t get stuck there. Because the next verb is critically important, too. Receive God’s free offer of forgiveness and eternity. Actually claim it for your own. Because until you receive it, it’s not yours. It’s just something you know about in your head.  It’s knowing your fiancé would make a great spouse, but never acting on it. And then the third verb is become – that’s the change that God works in your life after you believe in Him and receive Him as your forgiver, your leader and your friend.

Now, some people get the equation mixed up. They think “believe, become, receive.”  They believe in Christ, but they feel like they need to clean up their life before they receive Him. They feel like unless they get their act together first, they’ll let Christ down. And this can become a sticking point that keeps them from Jesus. Jesus would say, “Look — first, believe; then receive Me as the leader of your life—and when you do that, then I can help you become my follower by transforming your life in ways that you could never accomplish on your own. I will empower you to change.” That’s not chop logic. That makes sense, doesn’t it?

There’s a scene in the movie many of us saw yesterday that illustrates this. Watch it.


Let’s pray.

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