THE ANATOMY OF SALVATION by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson
Introduction: This past week, our Clearview staff was on our annual retreat in Arizona. We do this every year as a time to plan for the summer and the upcoming year. It is much more than just a time to get away. Although, in light of how extremely busy this past year and a half was, it was great to see everyone spending time with their families. Those who are close to the team and are helping out in some ministry at Clearview, you know what I mean. While there, our team produced an 8-week bible study through Nehemiah on rebuilding lives and ministry, and also filmed at some incredible locations that you will see in the CONTEND series. In today’s message, we will answer a question that was asked in various forms: “Why do some people reject the gospel?” “Can someone believe even if they have some questions?” “Recently, I have heard of many big names that have renounced their faith. Why is that?” Main point: Salvation is God’s miraculous work of grace through Jesus Christ in the life of person. Nonetheless, there are certain observable factors that lead to the decision to receive Christ and remain in him. Our upbringing and the evidences we encounter in life determine our degree of belief in Christianity.
Acts 26 12 “While thus occupied, as I journeyed to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests, 13 at midday, O king, along the road I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and those who journeyed with me. 14 And when we all had fallen to the ground, I heard a voice speaking to me and saying in the Hebrew language, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ 15 So I said, “Who are You, Lord?’ And He said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.
Context: This is the conversion account of the Apostle Paul before King Agrippa. It is found 2 other times in the book of Acts (Acts 9 and 22). It is such a radical testimony! One moment, Paul was persecuting Christians, and the next moment, he was one. Listen to his own description of his pre-conversion life – Acts 26 9 “Indeed, I myself thought I must do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10 This I also did in Jerusalem, and many of the saints I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. 11 And I punished them often in every synagogue and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities.” Paul was a killer! Paul had a license to kill from the religious authorities. As he was on one of his evil missions, God knocked him to the ground with a bright light from heaven and a question, not in Greek or Aramaic, but Hebrew – “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” Paul’s response was – “Who are You, Lord?” What would cause such a quick and radical change in him? It was much more than just a bright light and a mysterious voice. Those were simply to bring him to his senses. Paul gave us the clue in verse 4 “My manner of life from my youth, which was spent from the beginning among my own nation at Jerusalem, all the Jews know. 5 They knew me from the first, if they were willing to testify, that according to the strictest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee. 6 And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers. 7 To this promise our twelve tribes, earnestly serving God night and day, hope to attain. For this hope’s sake, King Agrippa, I am accused by the Jews. 8 Why should it be thought incredible by you that God raises the dead?” In other words, all the necessary ingredients for his salvation were there, Paul was going in the wrong direction. God simply had to turn his around.
The real question before us is – “What makes a person decide if they want to receive the gospel?” Often, it is believed that salvation is a mystery. God draws people by his grace and opens their eyes to the truth. It is truly a miracle. All that is absolutely true, but it is only one-sided. Lately, there has been more research in this field, especially from probability and decision theory. If you are a student of mathematics, you know what I am referring to. This is a very technical area. Although, I was a math and science teacher, I am not going to get into too much detail here. If you would like to know more, there are several important works that have been published lately that utilize Pascal’s Wager in calling people to believe in God. Pascal was scientist, mathematician, philosopher, inventor, and Catholic theologian who lived in 17th century France. He was brilliant. He was of frail health and died at the age of 39. Here’s my re-statement of the Wager, “We cannot come to the knowledge of God’s existence through reason alone. It’s wise to live as if God does exist because such a life has everything to gain and nothing to lose. If we live as if God exists, and He does indeed exist, we have gained heaven. If He doesn’t exist, we have lost nothing. To the contrary, if we live as though God does not exist and He really does exist, we have gained hell and punishment and have lost heaven. A rational person should live as though the Christian God exists and seek to believe in him.” Bottom line: it is rational to believe in God even with incomplete evidence. Although, some have criticized this wager through the centuries, several scholars (Jeff Jordan, Michael Rota, Thomas Morris, etc.) have attempted this approach, especially a Swedish mathematician, Ola Hössjer, professor at the Stockholm University, Sweden. He takes the Wager model and extends it so that the decision to become a Christian has 3 main ingredients: prior belief (a priori), evidence (a posteriori), and will. He uses Bayes’ Rule or Bayes Theorem to understand the probability of decisions. In other words, “our degree of belief in Christianity is the result of an inborn tendency to relate to God and the evidence we encounter in life.” By the way, Thomas Bayes (18th century statistician, philosopher, and non-conformist Presbyterian minister) who came up with his theorem to counter David Hume (English philosopher and skeptic) who claimed that the probability of people inaccurately claiming that they’d seen Jesus’ resurrection far outweighed the probability that the event had occurred in the first place. Jordana Cepelewicz summarizes Bayes’ simple explanation, “Consider a ball thrown onto a flat table behind your back. You can make a guess as to where it landed, but there’s no way to know for certain how accurate you were, at least not without looking. Then, he says, have a colleague throw another ball onto the table and tell you whether it landed to the right or left of the first ball. If it landed to the right, for example, the first ball is more likely to be on the left side of the table (such an assumption leaves more space to the ball’s right for the second ball to land). With each new ball your colleague throws, you can update your guess to better model the location of the original ball. In a similar fashion, Bayes thought, the various testimonials to Christ’s resurrection suggested the event couldn’t be discounted the way Hume asserted. By the way, according to Cepelewicz, Bayes theorem has been used to decode the German Enigma cipher, helped the United States Navy locate Soviet subs, enabled statisticians to determine the authorship of the Federalist Papers, and even unlock the secrets of the brain.
We don’t have time to look at all this in detail. Let’s just briefly look at the 3 main ingredients: prior belief, evidence, and will.
Prior Belief (a priori = before experience): Inborn conception of God (the desire to call on God and worship someone or something), inborn conception of first cause (the understanding that everything has a beginning/cause), inborn desire for meaning (the desire to do or be something), and inborn desire for love (we all want to love). Each of these can be encouraged or discouraged in a person, especially during the early years. That’s why we place such emphasis on children’s and youth ministries.
Genesis 1:27 “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”
Augustine – “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless, until they can find rest in you.”
Evidence (a posterior = after experience): Historical/Cultural (creativity and culture, misconduct of Christians, church history, religion and wars, other religions), Moral/Ethical (moral law, presence of evil), Scientific (design, bible and natural science, cause) Theological/Philosophical (fall of man, judgment and hell, truthfulness of the Bible, theodicy, Israel) and Personal (pain, suffering, miracles, personal testimony). When we hear about people renouncing their faith, one of these evidences is weak or faulty.
The combination of Prior Belief and Evidence leads to Rational Belief. Based on the individual, it depends on which one will be more important than others.
Will: Some need just a little rational belief; some only need some rational belief; and for some, strong rational belief is not enough.
Why was the response of the Paul immediate and heartfelt? He had plenty of prior belief and evidence. For him, the major evidence was not the light and the voice from heaven. It was the tremendous background he has in the scripture. The light and the voice simply stopped him in his tracks and turned him around.
Difference between my dad’s conversion and mine. It matters how you raise children. Current crisis is permanently marking them. How do you talk about church to them or sermons? Do you discipline and guide your kids?
Pascal said, “In faith there is enough light for those who want to believe and enough shadows to blind those who don’t.”
Invitation: What is holding you back? Do you know people who are lost? What do you think is holding them back? Have you prayed for the Holy Spirit would open their eyes and yours?