Atheists and agnostics can bicker till Judgement Day over mankind’s problems and their solutions but until they seriously consider what the Gospel of Jesus has to offer they’ll run in circles. God’s Holy Word efficiently cuts a swath through all our humanly-conceived ideas and theories because its core message is so simple and direct. I don’t mean the Bible’s overly simplistic. What I’m saying is it deals with life in an uncomplicated way. My pastor compares the Scriptures to an ocean. In places it’s shallow enough a toddler at the beach can splash around in a foot of seawater and get what they need from it. On the other hand, it’s so deep in places a scholar can spend a full lifetime diving farther and farther down into it and never reach the bottom. The Bible isn’t that way so we’ll be intimidated but, rather, humbled by God’s omniscience. In The Message translation Paul states in 1Timothy 3:16, “This Christian life is a great mystery, far exceeding our understanding, but some things are clear enough…” I open my Bible every day and I’m blessed if I come away fully comprehending half of what I’ve read. Yet my overall assessment of the “Good Book” is that its soul-saving, hope-providing message is anything but confusing.
I’m personally fascinated with Christian apologetics. The word comes from the Greek term meaning “to defend” or “to explain.” C.S. Lewis was an apologist, to name one. In his awesome book, Mere Christianity, he used logic and common sense to make the case for why he became a believer and it’s had a profound impact on millions. But what I must be on guard against, because of my interest in the subject, is overlooking the easy-to-grasp, fundamental teachings God emphasizes in His Holy Word. I can get so wrapped up in trying to grasp the most challenging parts that I fail to step back, stop with the analyzing and let the Holy Spirit do its transforming work on my heart and my mind. Sometimes I have to force myself to “let go and let God” and I try to do that often. Now, a fear of gullibility is a worthy fear to harbor. Otherwise a person will be drawn into the latest craze or cult at the drop of a hat. But I think many non-believers avoid the Scriptures because they’re worried they’ll be committing intellectual suicide if they surrender to and put their faith in what they won’t be able to wholly discern. Thinking has never been a sin. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote, “The gospel places no premium on ignorance. Indeed it teaches us we must use the mind and the powers with which God has endowed us.” Therefore to reject submitting to the Bible and letting it change us solely because there are sections that’ll defy our intellect is an act of cowardice. If we put that restriction on the sciences we’d never broaden our knowledge at all. It’s okay to not know everything.
Take the sun, for example. We know quite a bit about light and heat but our local star itself is a conundrum. While we’ve gained insights into its basic functions, what it’s actually made of remains a question mark. The same goes for electricity. It’s essential to our daily life but what it actually is still eludes us. However, its unknown qualities don’t keep us from depending on it. In fact, we take it for granted until there’s an outage and then we get anxious and frustrated waiting for it to be restored. Scientists has informed us it has something to do with an electron orbiting a proton a quadrillion times a second but that doesn’t really compute. We don’t know everything about electricity but we do know we need it. The same applies to God’s Holy Word. The invisible spiritual domain is mysterious to us and it’ll remain that way as long as we breathe oxygen. The more we try to fathom the universe and our Heavenly Father who created it the more perplexed we become. But when it comes to the Gospel nothing could be more comprehendible and fulfilling because God has provided us with a myriad of helpful tools. We can compare the Old and New Testament scriptures to gain clarity on many issues. We have the letters and writings of the Apostles and their closest associates to glean information from. We have access to the essays and books penned by smart, inspired authors who’ve shared what they’ve learned from reading and studying the Bible. Look, some areas of our lives are complex. So are some areas of Scripture. But underlying the entirety of God’s Holy Word is its direct simplicity. That’s why it’s the world’s greatest paradox. On one hand it can bewilder even the most esteemed and educated philosophers. On the other it can make perfect sense to a child.
Yet to some it’s the Bible’s simplicity that’s the big stumbling block to their accepting it. And that happens both outside and inside of Christianity. Compare the Roman Catholic Church to Christ’s Church as it’s described in the New Testament, for instance. There’s a tendency for human beings to make religion intricate and convoluted. Over time, as civilization invariably gets more complicated, the church follows suit. Principles get buried under busyness and basic truths get lost in a fog of incense. Mankind mistakenly assumes that since society’s so multifaceted and complex our religion should be, too. Thus we start adding ceremonies and rituals as well as extraneous organizations and institutions into the mix. In other words, we start thinking the church has to multitask in order to keep up with the changing times. We find it hard to believe that simply preaching the Good News straight out of the Bible will attract a lost person’s attention; much less convince them to put their trust in Jesus. When we start thinking that way we’re essentially arguing with God whether we realize it or not. We’re superseding His way with ours because we’re of the opinion we know more about how to effectively market and advertise Christianity than He does. But early in Genesis it’s revealed that by bringing sin into the world it was we who created havoc and made life so un-simple. Everything following the fall of man in the Garden of Eden proves the farther from God we get, the more dumbfounding life becomes. What we always forget is that a truly righteous life is always a simple one.
Lloyd-Jones wrote, “…There’s nothing which is so characteristic of God’s work in every realm as its essential simplicity and order. Look where you will, you see that God ever works on an uncomplicated design.” When we observe nature we can’t help but notice the seasons of winter, spring, summer and fall come around every year without fail. The tides move in and out like clockwork. The moon and the planets traverse predictable paths and they never wander off-course. The rudimentary aspects of natural law and physics are based on simplicity. So why would God, who loves us unconditionally, make obtaining salvation akin to jumping through hoops of fire? To intimate He does that is to accuse Him of not being as gracious and merciful as the Bible He inspired proclaims He is. But I suspect that a non-believer’s objection to the directness and simplicity of the Gospel is not necessarily an intellectual one. Sometimes that’s just a front. A lot of know-it-alls find a vague religion more to their liking. The Bible’s clear, precise definitions cause them discomfort. I speak from experience. For many years I was involved in a pseudo-Christian sect that had, as its central guide, a thick blue tome that supposedly supplemented God’s Holy Word. I liked that its ridiculously tangled, meandering and puzzling text condoned my sinful lifestyle. The last thing I wanted barging into my spiritual haze was the plain, direct Gospel that presented God’s bottom-line truth sans lofty dissertations and indecipherable embellishments. As long as I could hide behind a litany of non-essential minutiae and a truckload of pure fantasy-disguised-as-fact my naked, soiled soul could avoid being exposed to the light of God. It was much easier for me to indulge in elitist, idealistic generalities than to face the uncensored instructions and commandments contained in the Word of God. It made me feel special to be privy to “secret” knowledge. What a fool I was! I thank God every day He finally opened my eyes to His truth.
But enough of this negativity! There’s nothing more positive on the planet than the Gospel of Christ. It alone is the solution to life’s various difficulties and it’s so simple. Listen to what Jesus said in Luke 11:33-36, “No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a hidden place or under a basket, but on a lampstand, so that those who come in can see the light. Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is diseased, your body is full of darkness. Therefore see to it that the light in you is not darkness. If then your whole body is full of light, with no part in the dark, it will be as full of light as when the light of a lamp shines on you.” Notice there’s no tricky mumbo-jumbo in His statement. The simple mental picture our Lord paints for our minds to contemplate can’t be misinterpreted. He’s saying what the eye is to the body concerning light, so the soul is to a person, and so the individual human being is to society. There’s something unique and vibrant living in each of us. We’re not merely a conglomeration of molecules. We each have an indestructible nucleus that’s immaterial and immortal. It’s called the soul and it’s as crucial to our eternal existence as our eye is to the body in the matter of light. Jesus was instructing us to concentrate on the status of our soul. In other words, before we search for answers to our life’s problems we must first examine our eye, i.e. our soul. If it’s full of light our body will be, too. If it’s filled with darkness so will our body. Duh. What could possibly be easier to savvy than that? Christ didn’t say to sit in a weird position and chant, He told us in no uncertain terms to ask ourselves if we’re standing in God’s brilliant luminance or hiding in Satan’s shadows. He’s asking us to be honest with ourselves.
An even simpler teaching is found in the extraordinary incident that followed. A Pharisee had invited Jesus to dinner. The host probably thought it’d be entertaining to tease and make fun of the “Messiah” without his posse around to defend their beloved leader. They knew at some point the Nazarene would violate what they deemed proper etiquette. Then they’d pounce on His back woods naiveté and shame Him mercilessly. But Jesus saw this as an opportunity to point out their hypocrisy. Our Lord arrived, walked in and sat down without first rinsing off His hands. The host and his compadres guffawed. Knowing what they were thinking, Jesus didn’t mince His words. “…Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Didn’t the one who made the outside make the inside as well? But give from your heart to those in need, and then everything will be clean for you. But woe to you Pharisees! You give a tenth of your mint, rue, and every herb, yet you neglect justice and love for God! But you should have done these things without neglecting the others. Woe to you Pharisees! You love the best seats in the synagogues and elaborate greetings in the marketplaces! Woe to you! You are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without realizing it!” (Luke 11:39-44).
And He didn’t stop there, either. One of the guests interrupted Christ to say He was being rude and hurting their feelings but Jesus was intent on telling them the God’s honest truth and continued to berate them. The Lord ended His verbal assault with, “Woe to you experts in religious law! You have taken away the key to knowledge! You did not go in yourselves, and hindered those who were going in” (Luke 11:52). His rebuke of them wasn’t complicated but it was sharp and intentionally unnerving. He called them on the carpet regarding their strict legalism and holier-than-thou attitudes that were keeping them from accomplishing the main objective – glorifying God. They knew all the laws but had overlooked the spirit they were to be observed in. They sang to God with their voices but their hearts weren’t in tune with the lyrics they warbled. It’s no coincidence the record of this event follows Jesus’ frank sermon about the eye. The lesson being conveyed is timeless in that it applies to all of us everywhere. Lloyd-Jones opined, “Though a man may be right in many respects, as the Pharisees most certainly were, it is all of no avail if he is wrong in the center, in the eye, in the soul. For if he is at fault there, what appears to be light is nothing but terrible darkness, the more sinister because it appears to be light. It is the eye alone that matters.”
Every time there’s a terrorist attack that kills/maims dozens of innocent people the media has a field day. They’ll bring in specialists and commentators to give their slant on what’s happened and within hours the viewer will’ve been inundated with hundreds of hypotheses as to why someone would do such a horrendous thing. Their explanation is usually very convoluted and involved. After the hoopla fades we wait for the next evil act to go down somewhere else in the world. Just this morning I read this poignant passage: “Why do the nations rebel? Why are the countries devising plots that will fail? The kings of the earth form a united front; the rulers collaborate against the LORD and his anointed king. They say ‘Let’s tear off the shackles they’ve put on us! Let’s free ourselves from their ropes!’ The one enthroned in heaven laughs in disgust; the LORD taunts them” (Psalm 2:1-4). Thousands of years ago mankind was obsessed with creating their own elaborately-constructed stairway to heaven, necessitating their tribe’s “chosen few” be put in charge of determining how best to acquire divine favor when the simplest method was available the whole time. Nothing has changed. The simple route to redemption is usually the one least taken.
What so many people fail to understand is they have the capacity, just as they are, to have a real relationship with their Creator who’s made that relationship easy to obtain. Jeffrey Johnson, in his excellent book, The Absurdity of Unbelief, wrote, “Because man is made in the image of God he is not identical with God, but he is also not entirely different. The analogous relationship between God and man is what makes man capable of receiving and understanding divine revelation (Genesis 1:26). … [This] equips us with an innate and incorrigible knowledge of God and ourselves and provides us with the apparatus to properly understand the world around us. Man is a part of natural revelation because God created him. Along with the rest of creation, mankind reveals the glory and wisdom of God. Man reveals God because he is a part of God’s creation, but more importantly, man reveals God for he was created after the very likeness of God. Because man cannot help but know himself, he cannot help but immediately know God.” That’s what Paul was driving at when he wrote that the “new man” Christ implants in us is “…created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24). Pause and ponder the implications of that fact. We don’t have to make salvation complicated just because we think it oughta be. Islamists believe they must stop everything, face Mecca and recite specific prayers five times daily to stay on Allah’s good side. Zen Buddhists think they have to follow the Eightfold Path in order to eventually be absorbed into the “unknowable infinite” (whatever that is). I could go on to cite related things about Hinduism, Mormonism, etc. but you get the gist. Only Christianity has made salvation absolutely uncomplicated. Jesus couldn’t have been clearer when He said, “I tell you the truth, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will never enter it” (Luke 18:17). Humankind needs to stop all its pretentious posturing and simply believe the Son of God is our Savior. Why do we fight it so?