Why is context so important in studying the Bible? What is wrong with looking at verses out of context?
The main reason it is important to study the Bible in context is in order to obtain a correct understanding of the passage. Misunderstanding a portion of the Bible can lead to misapplying it in our lives as well as teaching something wrong to others. These are quite the opposite of God’s desire for our lives, which includes knowing His Word accurately, applying it in our own lives, and teaching it to others, following the example of Ezra, “For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel” (Ezra 7:10).
Another concern with taking the Bible out of context is the temptation to make the Bible say what we want rather than what it originally meant. Those who have taken this misguided approach have used Scripture to “prove” a wide variety of practices as “biblical.” However, a practice is only biblical if it is based on an accurate understanding of Scripture that includes studying the context surrounding a passage.
For example, some have taught that slavery was biblical since this practice can be found in the Bible. However, while it is true slavery is found in the Bible, the New Testament did not teach Christians to enslave one another. On the contrary, in Paul’s most personal letter regarding this issue, he wrote to Philemon with the intention that Philemon should free his runaway slave Onesimus (Philemon 1).
In addition, Genesis 1:27 speaks of men and women being created in God’s image. Christians are called to love neighbor as self (Mark 12:31), a practice that would certainly contradict the practice of modern slavery. Further, a close examination of slavery and servanthood in first century times shows that it often differed widely in application from modern slavery. A doulos (Greek word for servant) could have a servant of his or her own and held much responsibility. While there were certainly masters who treated their servants poorly in that time, slavery then was not practiced exactly as slavery has been in modern times. Without studying the context of biblical passages on this topic, however, past generations have used Scripture to support the most tragic of interpretations regarding the enslavement and mistreatment of people.
Scripture encourages readers to study the full counsel of God. In Acts 20:27, the apostle Paul told the elders in his presence, “I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.” Our lives are to follow this same practice of studying all of God’s Word to accurately understand its teachings and apply them to our lives. Second Timothy 2:15 is clear, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.”
Someone recently submitted a comment saying in part, “God is love PERIOD…Are you sure YOU know God?”
I had to admit, as I read the person’s comment that it was abundantly clear we didnot serve the same God. The idol god they endorsed was someone completely alien to the Father, because their perversion of “love” does not involve obedience to God’s commands. In this erroneous perspective, sin is of no consequence because God is love. Holding to God’s truths are merely academics in “biblical knowledge” which has nothing to do with a Christian’s call to “show love.” Somehow, I don’t think this is what God meant when He said that love covers a multitude of sins. God is love, but God is also Truth. You cannot separate the two without perverting who God is.
Christianity itself is being redefined to be about tolerance (of sin), diversity (of sin), and unity (with thosewillfully in sin). Anyone who speaks about sin is therefore “judging” and “unloving.” The hatred coming against those who speak against sin has indeed become palatable.
Let me say unequivocally that I am not a servant of this idol “god of love” promoted by many in the churchworld which shies away from addressing sin and uses the grace of God to promote lasciviousness. If that makes me your enemy, so be it.
Churches today are filled with people who hold to a faith that does not save. James referred to this as a “dead faith”-meaning a mere empty profession (James 2:17, 20, 26). Paul wrote to the people in the church at Corinth to test or examine themselves to see if they were truly in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5). As important as it was in Paul’s day, how much more important it is for people in our churches today to put their faith to the test and to make sure they have not been deceived.
But where do we start? By what criteria do we determine true from empty faith? What are the distinguishing marks of genuine saving faith? Surprisingly, there are a number of popular standards or tests that really don’t prove the genuineness of one’s faith one way or the other. So before we look at the tests that prove genuine faith, let’s take a look at some popular tests that neither prove nor disprove the genuineness of one’s faith.
Here is a list of seven conditions that do not prove or disprove the genuineness of saving faith. One can be a Christian and possess these things or one may not be a Christian at all and still possess them. While they don’t prove or disprove one’s faith, they’re important to know and understand so you will not be deceived.
Seven conditions that do not prove or disprove genuine saving faith.
1. Visible Morality
There are some people who just seem to be good people. They can be religious, moral, honest, and forthright [trustworthy] in their dealings with people. They may seem to be grateful, loving, kind and tenderhearted toward others. They have visible virtues and an external morality. The Pharisees of Jesus day rested on visible morality for their hope and yet some of Christ’s harshest words were directed at them for this very thing.
Many who possess visible morality know nothing of sincere love for God. Whatever good works they appear to possess, they know nothing of serving the true God and living for His glory. Whatever the person does or leaves undone does not involve God. They’re honest in their dealings with everyone-but God. They won’t rob anyone-but God. They’re thankful and loyal to everyone-but God. They speak contemptuously and reproachfully of no one-but God. They have good relationships with everyone-but God. They are like the rich young ruler who said, “All these things [conditions] have I kept, what do I lack?” Their focus is on visible morality, but that visible morality doesn’t necessarily mean salvation. Jesus told one of the Pharisees “you must be born again” (John 3:6), not “you must put on an external morality.” People can “clean up their act” by reformation rather than regeneration-so reformation in itself is not a mark of saving faith.
2. Intellectual Knowledge
Another condition that can be misleading is intellectual knowledge. People can possess an intellectual understanding and knowledge of the truth and yet not be saved. While the knowledge of the truth is necessary for salvation, and visible morality is a fruit of salvation, neither of these conditions by themselves translate into true saving faith. People can know all about God, all about Jesus, who He was, that He came into the world, that He died on the cross, that He rose again, that He’s coming again, and even many details about the life of Christ-and still turn their backs on Him.
That’s what the writer of Hebrews was warning against in Hebrews 6:4-6. There were people in the church who knew all about God and understood gospel truths. They even had a measure of experience with gospel truth. They’d seen the ministry of the Holy Spirit at work in people’s lives-and yet knowing all of that, they stood in grave danger of turning away and rejecting Christ.
In Hebrews 10 the writer warns this kind of man that he is treading underfoot the blood of Christ by not believing what he knows to be true. There are many people who know the Scriptures but are on their way to hell! A man cannot be saved without the knowledge of the truth, but possessing that knowledge alone does not save.
3. Religious Involvement
Religious involvement is not necessarily a proof of true faith. According to Paul there are people who possess an outward form (a mere external appearance) of godliness but who have denied the power of it. They have an empty form of religion. Jesus illustrated this when He told of the virgins in Matthew 25. They waited and waited and waited for the coming of the bridegroom, who is Christ. And even though they waited a long time, when He came they didn’t go in. They had everything together except the oil in their lamps. That which was most necessary was missing. The oil is probably emblematic of the new life; the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. They weren’t regenerate. They had religious involvement but were not regenerate. A person can be visibly moral, know the truth, be religiously involved, and yet not possess genuine saving faith.
4. Active Ministry
It is possible to have an active and even a public ministry, and yet not possess genuine saving faith. Balaam was a prophet who turned out to be false (Deuteronomy 23:3-6). Saul of Tarsus (later becoming the apostle Paul) thought he was serving God by killing Christians. Judas was a public preacher and one of the twelve disciples of Christ-but he was an apostate. In Matthew 7:22-23 Jesus said, “Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'” Those whom Jesus spoke of had been involved in active and public ministry-but Jesus said he never knew them. Sobering words indeed.
5. Conviction of Sin
By itself, even conviction of sin is not a proof of salvation. Our world is filled with guilt-ridden people. Many even feel badly about their sin. Felix trembled under conviction at the preaching of the apostle Paul, but he never left his idols or turned to God (Acts 24:24-6). The Holy Spirit works to convict men of sin, righteousness, and of judgment, but many do not respond in true repentance. Some may confess their sins and even abandon the sins they feel guilty about. They say, “I don’t like living this way. I want to change.” They may amend their ways and yet fall short of genuine saving faith. That’s external reformation, not internal regeneration. No degree of conviction of sin is conclusive evidence of saving faith. Even the demons are convicted of their sins-that’s why they tremble-but they are not saved.
6. The Feeling of Assurance
Feeling like you are saved is no guarantee you are indeed saved. Someone may say, “Well, I must be a Christian because I feel that I am. I think I am one.” But that is faulty reasoning. If thinking one is a Christian is what makes one a Christian, then no one could be deceived. And then, by definition, it would not be possible to be a deceived non-Christian, and that doesn’t square with the whole point of Satan’s deception. He wants people who are not truly saved to think they are. Satan has deceived multiplied millions of religious people into thinking they are saved even though they are not. They may say to themselves, “God won’t condemn me. I feel good about myself. I have assurance. I’m ok.” But that doesn’t necessarily mean a thing.
7. A Time of Decision
So often people say things like: “Well, I know I’m a Christian, because I remember when I signed the card,” or “I remember when I prayed a prayer,” or “I remember when I walked the aisle” or “went forward in church.” A person may remember exactly when it happened and where they were when “it” happened, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything. Our salvation is not verified by a past moment. Many people have prayed prayers, gone forward in church services, signed cards, gone into prayer rooms, been baptized, and joined churches without ever experiencing genuine saving faith.
These are seven common conditions or tests that don’t necessarily prove or disprove the existence of saving faith. What then are the marks of genuine saving faith? Are there some reliable tests from the Word of God that enable us to know for certain whether one’s faith is real? Thankfully there are at least nine biblical criteria for examining the genuineness of saving faith.
Nine conditions that prove genuine saving faith.
1. Love for God
First of all a deep and abiding love for God is one of the supreme evidences of genuine saving faith. This gets to the heart of the issue. Romans 8:7 says “the carnal mind is enmity [hostility, hatred] against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be.” Thus, if a man’s heart is at enmity with God there is no basis for assuming the presence of saving faith. Those who are truly saved love God, but those who are not truly saved resent God and His sovereignty. Internally they are rebellious toward God and His plan for their life. But the regenerate person is set to love the Lord with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength. His delight is in the infinite excellencies of God. God is the first and highest affection of his renewed soul. God has become his chief happiness and source of satisfaction. He seeks after God and thirsts for the living God.
By the way, we must be careful to distinguish the difference between that kind of true love for God that seeks His glory from the kind of self-serving love that sees God primarily as a means of personal fulfillment and gain. True saving faith doesn’t believe in Christ so that Christ will make one happy. The heart that truly loves God desires to please God and glorify Him. Jesus taught that if someone loved their father and mother more than they loved Christ, they were not worthy of Him. In Matthew 10:37-39 Jesus put it like this: “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. “And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matthew 10:37-39).
The question then is this: Do you love God? Do you love His nature? Do you love His glory? Do you love His name? Do you love His kingdom? Do you love His holiness? Do you love His will? Is your heart lifted when you sing His praises-because you love Him? Supreme love for God is decisive evidence of true faith.
2. Repentance from Sin
A proper love for God necessarily involves a hatred for sin that leads to repentance. That should be obvious. Who wouldn’t understand that? If we truly love someone we seek their best interests. Their well being is our greatest concern. If a man says to his wife, “I love you but I could care less what happens to you,” we would rightly question his love for her. True love seeks the highest good of its object. If we say that we love God, then we will hate whatever is an offense to Him. Sin blasphemes God. Sin curses God. Sin seeks to destroy God’s work and His kingdom. Sin killed His Son. So when someone says, “I love God, but I tolerate sin,” then there is every reason to question the genuineness of his love for God. One cannot love God without hating that which is set to destroy Him. True love for God will therefore manifest itself through confession and repentance. The man who loves God will be grieved over his sin and will want to confess it to God and forsake it.
In examining our faith we should ask: “Do I have a settled conviction concerning the evil of all sin? Does sin appear to me as the evil and bitter thing that it really is? Does conviction of sin increase in me as I walk with Christ? Do I hate it not primarily because it is ruinous to my own soul or because it is an offense to the God I love? Does the sin itself grieve me or am I only grieved over the consequences of my sin. What grieves me most-my misfortune or my sin? Do my sins appear to me as many, frequent and aggravated? Do I find myself grieved over my own sin more than the sins of others?” Genuine saving faith loves God and hates what He hates, which is sin. That attitude results in real repentance.
3. Genuine Humility
Saving faith is manifested through genuine humility. Jesus said blessed are those who are poor in spirit, and those who mourn [their sin], and those who are meek, and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matthew 5:3-6)-all marks of humility. In Matthew 18 Jesus said that “unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). True saving faith comes as a little child-humble and dependent. It is not the man who is full of himself who is saved, but the man who denies himself, takes up his cross daily and follows Christ (Matthew 16:24).
In the Old Testament we see that the Lord receives those who come with a broken and contrite spirit (Psalm 34:18; 51:17; Isaiah 57:15; 66:2). James wrote: “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6). We must come as the prodigal son, broken and humble. Remember what he said to his father-“Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son” (Luke 15:21). Those possessing genuine saving faith do not come boastfully to God with their religious achievements or spiritual accomplishments in hand. They come empty-handed in genuine humility.
4. Devotion to God’s Glory
True saving faith is manifested by a devotion to God’s glory. Whatever believers do, whether they eat or drink, their desire is to see God glorified. Christians do what they do because they want to bring glory to God.
Without question Christians fail in each of these areas, but the direction of a Christian’s life is to love God, hate sin, to live in humility and self-denial, recognizing his unworthiness and being devoted to the glory of God. It is not the perfection of one’s life but the direction of a life that provides evidence of regeneration.
5. Continual Prayer
Humble, submissive, believing prayer is mark of true faith. We cry “Abba, Father” because the Spirit within us prompts that cry. Jonathan Edwards once preached a sermon titled, “Hypocrites are Deficient in the Duty of Secret Prayer.” It’s true. Hypocrites may pray publicly, because that’s what hypocrites want to do. Their desire is to impress people-but they are deficient in the duty of secret prayer. True believers have a personal and private prayer life with God. They regularly seek communion with God through prayer.
6. Selfless Love
An important characteristic of genuine saving faith is selfless love. James wrote, “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you do well” (James 2:8). John wrote, “Whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1 John 3:17).
If you love God you will not only hate what offends Him, but you will love those whom He loves. “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death” (1 John 3:14). And why do we love God and love others? Because this is the believer’s response to His love for us. “We love Him because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Jesus said we will know that we are His disciples by our love for each other (John 13:35).
7. Separation from the World
Positively, believers are marked by a love for God and for fellow believers. Negatively, the Christian is characterized by the absence of love for the world. True believers are not those who are ruled by worldly affections, but their affection and devotion is toward God and His kingdom.
In 1 Corinthians 2:12 Paul wrote that “we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.” In 1 John 2:15 we read: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 John 2:15). True saving faith separates one from the pursuits of this world–not perfectly, as we all fail in these areas, but the direction of a believer’s life is upward. He feels the pull of heaven on his soul. Christians are those whom God has delivered from the power of darkness and conveyed into the kingdom of His Son. The believer is marked by the absence of love or enslavement to the satanically controlled world system (Ephesians 2:1-3; Colossians 1:13; James 4:4).
8. Spiritual Growth
True believers grow. When God begins a true work of salvation in a person, He finishes and perfects that work. Paul expressed that assurance when he wrote in Philippians 1:6, “being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.”
If you are a true Christian, you are going to be growing-and that means you are going to be more and more like Christ. Life produces itself. If you’re alive you are going to grow, there’s no other way. You’ll improve. You’ll increase. The Spirit will move you from one level of glory to the next. So examine your life. Do you see spiritual growth? Do you see the decreasing frequency of sin? Is there an increasing pattern of righteousness and devotion to God?
Obedient living is not one of the optional tracks given for believers to walk. All true believers are called to a life of obedience. Jesus taught that every branch that abides in Him bears fruit (John 15:1-8). Paul wrote that believers “are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). That speaks of obedience. We are saved unto the obedience of faith (see 1 Peter 1:2).
How can we know our faith is genuine? Examine your life in the light of God’s Word. Do you see these characteristics in your life? Do you have a love for God, hatred for sin, humility, devotion to God’s glory, a pattern of personal and private prayer, selfless love, separation from the world, the evidence of spiritual growth and obedience. These are the real evidences of genuine saving faith.
“I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time. To be in company, even with the best, is soon wearisome and dissipating. I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.”
― Henry David Thoreau,
“Do not be deceived: bad company corrupts good morals.”
“Interpersonal relations” is not usually thought of as a Bible topic, but advice about dealing with other people makes up a large part of the teachings of Jesus and His apostles as well as the wisdom books of the Old Testament. Whether dealing with parents, children, spouses, family, friends, co-workers, strangers or even enemies, the Bible’s advice is spiritually sound and effective for promoting peace and harmony.
The Greatest Commandment
All of the New Testament teachings on interpersonal relations follow from Jesus’ commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” When Jesus was asked which of the commandments was most important, He replied,
The first is, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” The second is this, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these. (NRSV, Mark 12:26-31)
The English word “love” has many different meanings, but this “Christian love” of the Bible comes from the Greek word agape which means respect, good-will and benevolent concern for the one loved. It is deliberate, purposeful love rather than emotional or impulsive love. The King James Version of the Bible often uses the word “charity” for this kind of love.
“Love your neighbor” was not a new commandment (Leviticus 19:18), but the people of Jesus’ time had developed a rather narrow view of who should be considered a “neighbor.” In HisParable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus corrected that view and teaches us that a “neighbor” is anyone we come in contact with, regardless of race, nationality, religion or other distinctions..
Self-righteousness, Arrogance, Smugness
No one is perfect; we are all sinners in our own ways (Romans 3:21-24, 1 John 1:8). If we treat people we consider to be “sinners” with scorn, or think we are better than they are, we are guilty of the sin of self-righteousness:
Then Jesus told this story to some who had great self-confidence and scorned everyone else: “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a dishonest tax collector. The proud Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else, especially like that tax collector over there! For I never cheat, I don’t sin, I don’t commit adultery, I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For the proud will be humbled, but the humble will be honored.” (NLT, Luke 18:9-14)
Judging, Criticizing, Condemning Others
Self-righteousness is one of the hardest sins to avoid because it is so much easier to see other people’s faults than to see our own faults. But, judgment of a person’s character must be left to God (Romans 2:1-4, James 4:11-12). Rather than look for faults in others, we should look for the good in others and try to correct the faults within ourselves. Rather than criticizing other people, we should concentrate on living holy lives, ourselves. Jesus’ comical parable of a person with a log in his eye trying to see to remove a speck from another’s eye reminds us that we probably have bigger faults within ourselves (including self-righteousness) than the faults we like to criticize in others:
Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye. (NRSV, Matthew 7:1-5)
This does not mean, however, that all sin should be ignored:
- Christians should help each other recognize and overcome sinful actions and attitudes, but it must be done in a sincere spirit of love and not with the intention to punish, embarrass or disparage (Matthew 18:15, Luke 17:3-4, 1 Thessalonians 5:14, James 5:19-20, 1 Timothy 5:1-2, 2 Timothy 4:2).
- Governments have the right to act for the common good and take action against offenders who threaten law and order (Luke 20:20-25, Romans 13:1-7, Titus 3:1, 1 Peter 2:13-14).
- Churches have the right to excommunicate members who are disruptive to their mission (Matthew 18:15-17, 1 Corinthians 5:9-12, 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15).
But the greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted. (NAS, Matthew 23:11-12)
An attitude of humility is the key to dealing with other people in a Biblical way. Humility or humbleness is a quality of being courteously respectful of others. It is the opposite of aggressiveness, arrogance, boastfulness and exaggerated pride. Humility is the quality that lets us go more than halfway to meet the needs of others. Why do qualities such as courtesy, patience and deference have such a prominent place in the Bible? It is because a demeanor of humility is exactly what is needed to live in peace and harmony with all persons. Acting with humility does not in any way deny our own self worth. Rather, it affirms the inherent worth of all persons.
Related verses: Psalms 147:5-6, Proverbs 11:2-3, 12:16, 19:11, 22:4, 27:1-2, Matthew 5:5-9, 18:2-4, 20:25-28, Luke 14:8-11, 22:25-27, Romans 12:3, Galatians 5:26, Philippians 2:3-8,James 3:13-18, 1 Peter 5:5-6.
The Golden Rule
Do to others as you would have them do to you. (NIV, Luke 6:31)
The Golden Rule, spoken by Jesus, is possibly the best-known quote from the Bible and is the standard Jesus set for dealing with other people. If we wish to be loved, we must give love. If we wish to be respected, we must respect all persons, even those we dislike. If we wish to be forgiven, we must also forgive. If we wish others to speak kindly of us, we must speak kindly of them and avoid gossip. If we want happy marriages, we must be faithful, forgiving and kind to our spouses. If we wish to be fulfilled in our lives, we must share generously with others.
Related verse: Matthew 7:12.
Anger, Retaliation, Holding a Grudge, Revenge
“Under the laws of Moses the rule was, ‘If you murder, you must die.’ But I have added to that rule and tell you that if you are only angry, even in your own home, you are in danger of judgment! If you call your friend an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse him, you are in danger of the fires of hell. (TLB, Matthew 5:21-22)
No one makes us angry. Anger is our own emotional response to some action or event. More often than not, our angry feelings are based on a misinterpretation of what someone said or did or on our own exaggerated sense of pride. Angry words and actions escalate hostilities and block communication rather than solve problems. Whether between parent and child, spouses, siblings, friends, or nations, expressions of anger divide us and drive us toward open hostility.
It is all too easy to react to life’s annoyances and disappointments with anger. It is far more challenging, but much better, to react with understanding and empathy. In this way, we can quickly settle disputes and avoid turning minor incidents into major battles:
You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. (NRSV, James 1:19-20)
Holding a grudge can consume us with hatred, blocking out all enjoyment of life. A grudge clouds our judgment and may lead us to an act of revenge that can never be undone. The Old Testament law specified equal revenge for equal wrong: “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” (Exodus 21:23-25, Leviticus 24:19-20), but that rule was too harsh for the new age of the kingdom of God. Jesus said the right thing to do is to take no revenge at all:
You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. (NRSV, Matthew 5:38-42)
If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins. (NLT, Matthew 6:14-15)
We should always be willing to forgive others and not hold any ill will against them. Holding a grudge and seeking revenge have no place in the lives of those who truly love their neighbors. Jesus calls us to remember that we are all God’s children. Just as He loves all His people and is willing to forgive their sins, we should be willing to forgive also.
Honesty, Gossip, Slander, Lies, Deception
A good person produces good words from a good heart, and an evil person produces evil words from an evil heart. And I tell you this, that you must give an account on judgment day of every idle word you speak. The words you say now reflect your fate then; either you will be justified by them or you will be condemned. (NLT, Matthew 12:35-37)
The words we say or write have tremendous power for good or evil. Words can promote love and understanding or inflame prejudice and hatred. It is words that make or break marriages and other relationships. Words can make peace or make war. Our words should always show a spirit of Christian love.
A lie is any false statement made with the intent to deceive someone. We must always be honest in our dealings with other people. The Bible strongly condemns any attempt to deceive with the intent to hurt someone or gain unfair advantage:
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. (The Ten Commandments, NRSV, Exodus 20:16)
Those who desire life and desire to see good days, let them keep their tongues from evil and their lips from speaking deceit. (NRSV, 1 Peter 3:10)
Gossip or slander is an act of hostility intended to harm someone’s reputation. We must avoid the temptation to misrepresent someone’s character or actions:
An evil man sows strife; gossip separates the best of friends. (TLB, Proverbs 16:28)
Everyone Has a Worldview
A Chinese proverb says, “If you want to know what water is, don’t ask the fish.” Water is the sum and substance of the world in which the fish is immersed. The fish may not reflect on its own environment until suddenly it is thrust onto dry land, where it struggles for life. Then it realizes that water provided its sustenance.
Immersed in our environment, we have failed to take seriously the ramifications of a secular worldview. Sociologist and social watchdog Daniel Yankelovich defines culture as an effort to provide a coherent set of answers to the existential situations that confront human beings in the passage of their lives. A genuine cultural shift is one that makes a decisive break with the shared meaning of the past. The break particularly affects those meanings that relate to the deepest questions of the purpose and nature of human life. What is at stake is how we understand the world in which we live.
The issues are worldview issues. Christians everywhere recognize there is a great spiritual battle raging for the hearts and minds of men and women around the globe. We now find ourselves in a cosmic struggle between Christian truth and a morally indifferent culture. Thus we need to shape a Christian worldview and lifeview that will help us learn to think Christianly and live out the truth of Christian faith.
The reality is that everyone has a worldview. Some worldviews are incoherent, being merely a smorgasbord of options from natural, supernatural, pre-modern, modern, and post-modern options. An examined and thoughtful worldview, however, is more than a private personal viewpoint; it is a comprehensive life system that seeks to answer the basic questions of life. A Christian worldview is not just one’s personal faith expression, not just a theory. It is an all-consuming way of life, applicable to all spheres of life.
Distinguishing a Christian Worldview
James Orr, in The Christian View of God and the World, maintains that there is a definite Christian view of things, which has a character, coherence, and unity of its own, and stands in sharp contrast with counter theories and speculations. A Christian worldview has the stamp of reason and reality and can stand the test of history and experience. A Christian view of the world cannot be infringed upon, accepted or rejected piecemeal, but stands or falls on its integrity. Such a holistic approach offers a stability of thought, a unity of comprehensive insight that bears not only on the religious sphere but also on the whole of thought. A Christian worldview is not built on two types of truth (religious and philosophical or scientific) but on a universal principle and all-embracing system that shapes religion, natural and social sciences, law, history, health care, the arts, the humanities, and all disciplines of study with application for all of life.
Followers of Jesus must articulate a Christian worldview for the twenty-first century, with all of its accompanying challenges and changes, and to show how such Christian thinking is applicable across all areas of life. At the heart of these challenges and changes we see that truth, morality, and interpretive frameworks are being ignored if not rejected. Such challenges are formidable indeed. Throughout culture the very existence of normative truth is being challenged.
For Christians to respond to these challenges, we must hear afresh the words of Jesus from what is called the Great Commandment (Matt. 22:36–40). Here we are told to love God not only with our hearts and souls but also with our minds. Jesus’ words refer to a wholehearted devotion to God with every aspect of our being, from whatever angle we choose to consider it—emotionally, volitionally, or cognitively. This kind of love for God results in taking every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ (2 Cor. 10:5), a wholehearted devotion to distinctively Christian thinking (or as T. S. Eliot put it, “to think in Christian categories”). This means being able to see life from a Christian vantage point; it means thinking with the mind of Christ.
The beginning point for building a Christian worldview is a confession that we believe in God the Father, maker of heaven and earth (the Apostles’ Creed). We recognize that “in him all things hold together” (Col. 1:15–18), for all true knowledge flows from the One Creator to his one creation.
We Believe in God, Maker of Heaven and Earth: A Worldview Starting Point
A worldview must offer a way to live that is consistent with reality by offering a comprehensive understanding of all areas of life and thought, every aspect of creation. As we said earlier the starting point for a Christian worldview brings us into the presence of God without delay. The central affirmation of Scripture is not only that there is a God but that God has acted and spoken in history. God is Lord and King over this world, ruling all things for his own glory, displaying his perfections in all that he does in order that humans and angels may worship and adore him. God is triune; there are within the Godhead three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
To think wrongly about God is idolatry (Ps. 50:21). Thinking rightly about God is eternal life (John 17:3) and should be the believer’s life objective (Jer. 9:23–24). We can think rightly about God because he is knowable (1 Cor. 2:11), yet we must remain mindful that he is simultaneously incomprehensible (Rom. 11:33–36). God can be known, but he cannot be known completely (Deut. 29:29).
We maintain that God is personal and is differentiated from other beings, from nature, and from the universe. This is in contrast to other worldviews that say God is in a part of the world, creating a continual process, and that the process itself is God—or becoming God. God is self-existent, dependent on nothing external to himself. God is infinite, meaning that God is not only unlimited but that nothing outside of God can limit God. God is infinite in relation to time (eternal), in relation to knowledge (omniscience), and in relation to power (omnipotent). He is sovereign and unchanging. God is infinite and personal, transcendent, and immanent. He is holy, righteous, just, good, true, faithful, loving, gracious, and merciful.
God, without the use of any preexisting material, brought into being everything that is. Both the opening verse of the Bible and the initial sentence of the Apostles’ Creed confess God as Creator. Creation is the work of the trinitarian God. Creation reveals God (Ps. 19) and brings glory to him (Isa. 43:7). All of creation was originally good but is now imperfect because of the entrance of sin and its effects on creation (Gen. 3:16–19). This is, however, only a temporary imperfection (Rom. 8:19–22), for it will be redeemed in the final work of God, the new creation.
The Creator God is not different from the God who provides redemption in Jesus Christ through his Holy Spirit. God is the source of all things. This means that God has brought the world into existence out of nothing through a purposeful act of his free will. A Christian worldview affirms that God is the sovereign and almighty Lord of all existence. Such an affirmation rejects any form of dualism, that matter has eternally existed, or that matter must, therefore, be evil since it is in principle opposed to God, the Source of all good.
A Christian worldview also contends that God is set apart from and transcends his creation. It also maintains that God is a purposeful God who creates in freedom. In creation and in God’s provision and preservation for creation, he is working out his ultimate purposes for humanity and the world. Human life is thus meaningful, significant, intelligent, and purposeful. This affirms the overall unity and intelligibility of the universe. In this we see God’s greatness, goodness, and wisdom.
General Implications of a Christian Worldview
A Christian worldview becomes a driving force in life, giving us a sense of God’s plan and purpose for this world. Our identity is shaped by this worldview. We no longer see ourselves as alienated sinners. A Christian worldview is not escapism but is an energizing motivation for godly and faithful thinking and living in the here and now. It also gives us confidence and hope for the future. In the midst of life’s challenges and struggles, a Christian worldview helps to stabilize life, anchoring us to God’s faithfulness and steadfastness.
Thus, a Christian worldview provides a framework for ethical thinking. We recognize that humans, who are made in God’s image, are essentially moral beings. We also recognize that the fullest embodiment of good, love, holiness, grace, and truth is in Jesus Christ (see John 1:14–18).
A Christian worldview has implications for understanding history. We see that history is not cyclical or random. Rather, we see history as linear, a meaningful sequence of events leading to the fulfillment of God’s purposes for humanity (see Eph. 1). Human history will climax where it began—on the earth. This truth is another distinctive of Christian thinking, for Christianity is historical at its heart. In the sense that according to its essential teaching, God has acted decisively in history, revealing himself in specific acts and events. Moreover, God will act to bring history to its providential destiny and planned conclusion.
God who has acted in history in past events will also act in history to consummate this age. So when we ask, “How will it end?” we do not simply or suddenly pass out of the realm of history into a never-never land. We pass to that which is nevertheless certain of occurring because God is behind it and is himself the One who tells us it will come to pass.
Developing a Christian worldview is an ever-advancing process for us, a process in which Christian convictions more and more shape our participation in culture. This disciplined, vigorous, and unending process will help shape how we assess culture and our place in it. Otherwise, culture will shape us and our thinking. Thus a Christian worldview offers a new way of thinking, seeing, and doing, based on a new way of being.
A Christian worldview is a coherent way of seeing life, of seeing the world distinct from deism, naturalism, and materialism, existentialism, polytheism, pantheism, mysticism, or deconstructionist postmodernism. Such a theistic perspective provides bearings and direction when confronted with New Age spirituality or secularistic and pluralistic approaches to truth and morality. Fear about the future, suffering, disease, and poverty are informed by a Christian worldview grounded in the redemptive work of Christ and the grandeur of God. Moreover, a Christian worldview offers meaning and purpose for all aspects of life.
While many examples could be offered, here are six particular applications where a Christian worldview provides a difference in perspective:
- Technology—Technology can become either an instrument through which we fulfill our role as God’s stewards or an object of worship that will eventually rule us. A Christian worldview provides balance and insight for understanding this crucial aspect of twenty-first-century life.
- Sexuality and marriage—Sexuality has become a major topic for those entering the third millennium. Much confusion exists among Christians and non-Christians. Sexuality is good in the covenant relationship of mutual self-giving marriage. Sexual intimacy, separated from covenant marriage, in hetero-sexual or homosexual relations is sinful and has a distorted meaning, a self-serving purpose and negative consequences.
- The environment—Environmental stewardship means we have a responsibility to the nonhuman aspects of God’s creation. Since God’s plan of redemption includes his earthly creation, as well as human (see Rom. 8:18–27), we should do all we can to live in it carefully and lovingly.
- The arts and recreation—The arts and recreation are understood as legitimate and important parts of human creativity and community. They express what it means to be created in the image of God. We need to develop critical skills of analysis and evaluation so that we are informed, intentional, and reflective about what we create, see, and do.
- Science and faith—For almost two centuries science has been at the forefront of our modern world. We must explore how we see scientific issues from the vantage point of a Christian worldview. An understanding of God includes the knowledge we gain through scientific investigation. With the lens of faith in place, a picture of God’s world emerges that complements and harmonizes the findings of science and the teachings of Scripture.
- Vocation—Important for any culture is an understanding of work. Work is a gift from God and is to be pursued with excellence for God’s glory. We recognize that all honest professions are honorable, that the gifts and abilities we have for our vocation (vocatio/calling) come from God, and that prosperity and promotions come from God.
These are only a few examples that could be cited that will help shape our thinking in other areas.
Thus Christian thinking must surely subordinate all other endeavors to the improvement of the mind in pursuit of truth, taking every thought captive to Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 10:5). At three places in the book of 2 Corinthians, Paul reminds us that we cannot presume that our thinking is Christ centered. In 2 Corinthians 3:14 we learn that the minds of the Israelites were hardened. In 4:4 Paul says that the unregenerate mind is blinded by the god of this world. In 11:3 the apostle says that Satan has ensnared the Corinthians’ thoughts. So in 10:5 he calls for all of our thinking to be liberated by coming under the lordship of Christ.
So today, as in the days of the Corinthian correspondence, our minds and our thinking are ensnared by the many challenges and opposing worldviews in today’s academy. Like Paul and Bernard of Clairveaux several centuries after him, we must combine the intellectual with the moral and spiritual expounded in Bernard’s famous statement:
Some seek knowledge for
The sake of knowledge:
That is curiosity;
Others seek knowledge so that
They themselves may be known:
That is vanity;
But there are still others
Who seek knowledge in
Order to serve and edify others;
And that is charity.
And that is the essence of serious Christian worldview thinking—bringing every thought captive to the lordship of Jesus Christ in order to serve and edify others. That is a high calling indeed as we move forward and faithfully into the twenty-first century.
The Puritans, preserving the line of faithful and orthodox Christians, have always had a passion for Truth. This pattern was established in the story of the Bereans who asked if what the Apostle Paul was saying was true (Acts 17:11). And how would they know? They searched the scriptures.
There are two sources of Truth: God’s work and his word. Psalm 148 reminds us that all creation communicates about God’s existence and his nature. Paul reiterates, in Romans 1:20, that all human beings can know that God exists and something about his nature through the things that he has made.
Reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin spoke of two books: God’s Word – the Special Revelation comprised of scripture, and His Works – the General Revelation of Creation.
Three other reformers–Campenella, Comenius, and Alsted–spoke of three books:
- The book of revelation – Special Revelation – The Bible
- The book of nature – General Revelation – Science (a la Aristotle)
- The book of the mind – Reason or Logic – Philosophy (a la Plato)
Truth is found at the intersection of the books of Scripture, nature, and reason. Comenius writes of the tripartite revelation for truth: “the only true, genuine and plain way of Philosophy is to fetch all things from sense, reason and Scripture.” Puritan Historian Dr. David Scott says that “Comenius went on to say that the end of scholarly endeavor is not to merely add to the wood pile of human knowledge, but to grow a living tree that from its roots to its boughs and fruit reflects the image of the words and works of its divine Creator.”  (For more on this subject see Dr. Scott’s excellent paper A Vision of Veritas: What Christian Scholarship Can Learn from the Puritan’s “Technology” for Integrating Truth .)
William Ames (1576-1633), the French Huguenot Educational Reformer, wrote of the three books,
Thus, let us not become the slaves of anyone, but performing military service under the banner of free truth, let us freely and courageously follow the truth …. Testing all things, retaining that which is good, let Plato be a friend, let Aristotle be a friend, but even more let truth (veritas) be a friend.
When, eight years after landing in New England, the Puritan fathers established Harvard College (now Harvard University) to educate pastors and civic leaders, they enshrined VERITAS with the three books in the college’s shield.
Harvard’s first mission statement was explicitly Christ centered:
Let every student be plainly instructed, and earnestly pressed to consider well, the main end of his life and studies is, to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life, John 17.3 and therefore to lay Christ in the bottom, as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and learning.
Christ is the focus of all of life and vocation. It was this that laid the groundwork for their Christian culture and self government.
Sadly, the Western world today is no longer founded on a Biblical worldview. And only the Biblical Worldview provides a foundation for free, just, prosperous, and compassionate nations. The four dominating worldviews today are Biblical Theism, Secularism, Evangelical Gnosticism, and Monism.