Why Was Paul A Christian – Part 3

Speaker: Scott Jarrett | May 1, 2017

Acts 17:16-32 represents the discourse Paul delivered to the Athenians at Mars Hill (or the “Areopagus”). In it, we find a total of three reasons Paul chose Christianity (though other religions/viewpoints did exist). And they (along w/the resurrection) sb the same reasons you and I are Christians (today):

1. Because all people are religious whether they like it or not (22, 26-28).

Every human being’s moral choices are determined by the answer they give to three questions some philosophers call “the ultimate questions” since the answers (we all give) are – by reason of our absence/inability to be eyewitnesses, entirely faith-based. Those three questions are: 1) The question of our existence (How did I get here? Who or What made us?), 2) The question of our purpose (Why am I here? What is our human responsibility?), 3) The question of our future (Where am I heading? What is the end-game for humanity?). As mentioned, these three questions are the “modus operandi” (i.e. mode of operation) of every thinking human being on the planet, which means (then) we are all religious, since (once more) we are all operating from a place of faith in the answers we give.

2. Because all other religions fail miserably in their answers and proof (regarding the ultimate questions) (23, 18, 29-30).

Paul was a Christian, not b/c it was the religion he was raised in, or b/c it was the one that best fit w/his lifestyle choices or made him feel good. He chose Christianity b/c he saw that the others failed miserably in their attempts to answer the three ultimate questions and their ability to prove they indeed had the absolute/unchanging truth. This includes Agnosticism, Atheism and all other non-Christian and pseudo-Christian religions. The response of Paul to our current culture’s love affair w/these false religions and man-made doctrines/gods would be the same as it was in his day (30).

3. Because Christianity is the only religion with the answers and the proof (regarding the ultimate questions).

3.1. The question of our existence (How did I get here? Who or what made us?)

Answer: The material universe of time, space and matter as well as the immaterial world of spirits, were intentionally and intelligently created by the exclusive, personal and sovereign God, Who is uncreated, eternal, and therefore outside the laws of time and space which govern the material world. He is likewise self-sustaining, or not dependent upon the either the material or immaterial world for His existence. Rather, we are fully dependent upon Him for all things. Human beings are also not the result of evolutionary mutation or the descendants of animals, but rather are the direct offspring of God (24-26).

Proof = Special Revelation (i.e. the Bible’s answer) is confirmed by General Revelation (e.g. Science and Philosophy: The Cosmological Argument or Law of Causality and the necessity of a primary cause/unmoved mover who is uncreated, eternal and outside time and space; The theory of General Relativity and evidence supporting the fact that the universe is not eternal but had a beginning; Intelligent Design as the conclusion to DNA complexity and the Teleological/Watchmaker Argument; Modern genetic studies such as the HapMap Project which reveals the DNA of all humans beings to be connected to a very small original population of human beings;  Mathematical impossibility of evolution).

3.2 The question of our purpose (Why am I here? What is our human responsibility?)

Answer: To pursue and experience a close relationship w/God through the imitation of His righteousness as His image-bearers (27-31).

3.2.1 In re: to pursuing and experiencing a close relationship w/God = (27) “that they [mankind -26] should seek God… and find Him.” God’s design for mankind from the beginning, has been that we would exist in close relationship w/ Him, experiencing all of the joys and blessings that brings. Such blissful existence, however would require that we give ourselves to its pursuit (i.e. to seeking and finding Him). That such discovery is for the purpose of experiencing close relationship w/God is not only implied by Paul’s mention of finding God, but more importantly the phrase “in the hope that they might feel their way toward Him.” (Lit. “If then indeed they might touch Him”. Verb form is the same used in Luk 24:39; Heb 12:18; 1Jo 1:11. Here it is meant to communicate the idea of close relationship – i.e. close enough to touch). Paul’s use of the word “indeed” (or as the ESV translates it, “hope”) tells us that this pursuit is not wishful thinking on our part, but a promise from God – we will find and experience close relationship w/Him, “if then” we give ourselves to that pursuit according to His direction (not our own).[1]

3.2.2. In re: to this relationship being realized through the imitation of His righteousness as His image-bearers = (27) “Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, (28) for ‘In Him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your poets have said, ‘For we are indeed His offspring.’” Paul’s point is simple yet powerful. Our existence is not the result of genetic/evolutionary mutation. We are instead made in the very image of God (we are again, “His offspring” or descendants). As such, our lives (i.e. our thoughts, choices and behavior) are either accurate examples of Him (i.e. we are exemplifying our divine parent), or hideous, perverted caricatures which bear no true resemblance. Paul’s words however communicate far more than just that. By connecting the statement, “He is actually not far from each one of us” to the words of the ancient poet, Aratus (“In Him we live and move and have our being”), Paul is making it clear that such thoughts, choices and behavior will also determine whether or not a relationship w/God is ever realized. IOW: experiencing God requires imitating God. And the way we imitate Him is through lives (i.e. thoughts, choices and behavior) which are righteous (i.e. morally right) since this is at the heart of God’s character (i.e. He is first and foremost, a Righteous God). When (then) we as God’s image-bearers live righteous lives, we are not only entering into and experiencing a closer relationship w/Him, but fulfilling our purpose in this world as proper/accurate image-bearers of Him (1Pe 2:24; Luk 7:28-30 w/3:3-18 = John preached the good news of salvation thru lives which repent – i.e. turn from unrighteous living and instead, practice righteousness).

The difference between seeking/living to fulfill our purpose versus seeking/living to be fulfilled as our purpose = The former leads to commitment and contentment/satisfaction whereas the latter leads to addiction and wanting/sense of lacking (Pro 27:20; Ecc 1:8, 5:10, 6:7; Luk 8:11-18; Mat 5:6, 6:33 w/Rom 14:17; Psa 34:8, 37:4)[2].

That living as righteous image-bearers (who – as a result, experience close relationship w/God) is indeed our purpose is confirmed by (29-31). The common denominator in these three verses is that they all deal with our obligation to be righteous in our thinking, behavior and choices (29 – “We ought not to think that the divine being is…” = We are to have right/righteous thinking in relation to God; 30 – “now He commands all people everywhere to repent” = We are to be turning away from all unrighteousness behavior; 31 – “He has fixed a day when He will judge the world” = Our entire lives wb assessed based on our choices during that time – were they righteous or unrighteous?). According to Paul (then), the main (or most important) purpose of our existence, is not about accumulating as much material possessions as we can or making as much money as we can, or even about seeking fulfillment, happiness, helping others, having kids or “healing the world” (e.g. Goldie Hawn), it is instead all about morality (our morality). Are we in our thoughts, behavior and choices being the righteous (and very accurate) image-bearers of our God to the world around us? This is our profoundly simple and sole purpose – as well as key, to (once again) experiencing a close and very real relationship w/God – one which grants to us both lasting satisfaction and the power to overcome all of life’s trials/temptation.

3.2.3. Proof (that morality is our purpose requires two things. General revelation provides the first, Special revelation the second):  General revelation’s contribution: humanity cannot escape the fact that objective/absolute morality exists.

Despite the fickleness of people’s hearts and constant changing of their moral views, it sb clear that there is an objective/absolute (or unchanging) morality governing the whole of humanity. IOW: We cannot deny – nor escape the fact that at our core we are moral creatures believing in an objective/absolute (or unchanging) morality (e.g. 5 people on a lifeboat w/food and water only for 4 – tough decision? 5 toothpicks on a lifeboat w/only room for 4 – tough decision? The difference between people and toothpicks demonstrates our moral makeup as image-bearers of God)[3]. This by consequence (whether we like it or not) demands the existence of an objective/absolute Moral Lawgiver (The Moral Lawgiver argument). Special revelation’s contribution: the existence of the Objective and Divine Moral Lawgiver.

To say that something is absolutely right or wrong from a moral perspective (i.e. that something is always right/wrong no matter the circumstances or culture; e.g. rape is always wrong), requires that it not be subjective (i.e. not based on the changing/differing opinions, preferences or feelings of human beings).  IOW: Its source must be something objective (i.e. outside us or not dependent on our opinions, preferences or feelings to be true) w/the right to have such authority over us. There is only one being/source that fits such criteria, and the bible (or once more – Paul in our verses) provides the answer: God – Who is (24) “the Lord of heaven and earth” (i.e. the creator-owner of us all). He and He alone provides the necessary objective source for a morality that does not change like the opinions/preferences and feelings of fickle human beings. IOW: We can possess a moral compass that will never lead us off course[4].

[1] It is crucial that we make this distinction, since so many end up never finding or experiencing close relationship w/God for this very reason: they pursue it according to their own design or direction versus His. Their conclusion is oftentimes as erroneous as their path: “I sought God but He hid Himself from Me”. God hides from no man who seeks Him according to His directions (Jer 29:13). In this respect, consider also (Pro 19:3).

[2] This then is the core reason people (including professing Christians) have no power over temptation – i.e. no self-control. Because they seek fulfilment as their purpose for living, they live powerless lives since power (i.e. self-control) comes through purpose (or living to fulfill purpose). Even pagans understand this principle and achieve respectable levels of self-control when living to fulfill purpose – versus living to be fulfilled as their purpose (e.g. athletes, soldiers, other religions, PETA – vegetarians). Lack of self- control among those seeking to be fulfilled is also the necessary by-product of such pursuits given the temporary nature of any/all fulfillment in this life (i.e. only the fulfillments of eternity are eternal or lasting). Hence the resulting addiction – or stringent loyalty to continually seeking more (above all else). Such addiction to pleasure/fulfillment can be understood from a psychological perspective as well. Because we live for fulfillment, we eventually begin to believe we need fulfillment to live.

As such, the moment temptation comes (i.e. the opportunity to fulfill ourselves doing something sinful), we “think” it necessary to give in as a means to our survival (e.g. “If I don’t masturbate, I’m going to die, go crazy, etc.”). In the words of Depeche Mode, “I give in to sin, because I have to make this life livable”. The danger (then) of making fulfillment our purpose in life versus our life being about the fulfillment of our purpose (i.e. to be righteous image-bearers in close relationship w/God) sb obvious – as well as why so many children struggle to stay on the path of righteousness (i.e. their entire world – including the home environment, operates according to the principle of seeking fulfillment -versus righteous behavior in all things as the daily goal/purpose). As a means to discovering just how prevalent this is in our own thinking consider what we communicate as the difference between a good day and a bad day. Is it based on our moral choices/behavior/thoughts to the situations we encountered or the situations themselves? (e.g. “How was your day? It was great! I won a million dollars!” versus “How was your day? It was great! I submitted in obedience and respect to my husband/parents/boss irrespective of the fact that I was super tired!”)

[3] “Everyone knows certain principles. There is no land where murder is virtue and gratitude is vice.” (J. Budziszewski, Written On the Heart: The Case For Natural Law, p. 208-209); “Think of a country where people were admired for running away in battle, or where a man felt proud for double-crossing all the people who had kindest to him. You might just as well try to imagine a country where two and two made five. As an atheist my argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing the universe with when I called it unjust?” – C. Lewis, (“Mere Christianity, p.19, 45); “For the person who denies all value (i.e. morality or rights), values his right to deny them. Further he wants everyone to value him as a person, even while he denies that there are values for all persons. In other words, those who deny all values (i.e. morality or rights) nevertheless value their right to make that denial. And therein lies the inconsistency. Moral values are practically undeniable. Our reactions also indicate that relativism is ultimately unlivable. People may claim they are relativists, but they don’t want their spouses, for example, to live like sexual relativists. Nearly every male relativist expects his wife to live as if adultery were absolutely wrong and would react quite negatively if she lived out relativism by committing adultery. And even if there are a few relativists who wouldn’t object to adultery, do you think they would accept the morality of murder or rape if someone wanted to kill or rape them? Of course not. Relativism contradicts our reactions and common sense. Without (an) objective standard, any objection (to evil) is nothing more than your personal opinion. Without (an objective) Moral Law, you (can’t) know what (is) right or wrong…The United States was established by the belief that there was both an objective Moral Law and a Divine Moral Lawgiver (i.e. the Declaration of Independence – “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal. That they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights…”). The Nazis were condemned at the Nuremburg trials under the same understanding (i.e. that God had given to human beings certain [objective, absolute, unchanging] laws/rights and that those had been violated.” – Norm Geisler (I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be AN Atheist, p.173)

[4] Even atheists will admit to their weakness in presenting a viable case for the existence of morality without a Divine Moral Lawgiver. Richard Dawkins for example said, “It’s pretty hard to get objective morality without religion.” Atheist Louise Antony said it this way, “Any argument for moral skepticism will be based upon premises which are less obvious than the existence of objective moral values themselves.” People’s denial of morality as objective (and coming from God) is inevitably not an intellectual problem, but interestingly – or ironically, also tied to the issue of morality. In other words, it is not that they lack the proper information or persuasion but rather the desire to comply. Atheism allows them to remain rebels while Christianity (and objective morality) calls them to repent. Pascal said it this way, “People almost invariably arrive at their beliefs not on the basis of proof but on the basis of what they find attractive.” More revealing are the admissions of prominent atheists such as Fredrick Nietzsche, who wrote, “God is dead and we have killed him. If one were to prove this God of the Christians to us, we should be even less able to believe in him.” Or NYU professor Thomas Nagel who said, “I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I am right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that. My guess is that this cosmic authority problem is not a rare condition and that it is responsible for much of the scientism and reductionism of our time.” Such motives are not exclusive to the atheist. This is also the motivation behind many of those professing Christianity yet denying its demand for morality as necessary to salvation.