You Don't Have To Interpret The Whole Bible LiterallyTo Be A Ch - WICU12 HD WSEE Erie, PA News, Sports, Weather, Events

You Don't Have To Interpret The Whole Bible LiterallyTo Be A Christian

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From a sermon from the Asbury United Methodist Church:

We are using this book by Martin Thielen to answer a very serious question - perhaps the most serious question we could ever ask:  Why don't people believe in Jesus?  We've covered three of Martin Thielen's answers to that question so far:  doubt, the problem of evil and world religions.  Today we're going to look at the answer that is maybe the most challenging one to talk about.  He writes about it in chapter 8 of his book, and it's this.  Many people don't believe in Jesus because they don't believe in the Bible.  Why not?  Because, in their mind, if you take what the Bible says literally, at face value, then you're being asked to believe some pretty unbelievable things.  Things like what?  Well, if you'll turn to the sermon notes that look like this, you'll see what I mean:

    1.  Things like claims that are scientifically untrue.  For instance, the Bible says that the earth is flat.  We know it's not.   It says that the world was created in six days.  There's no way.  It says that animals could talk.  Not possible.  

    2.  Things like images of God that are morally unacceptable.  For instance, the Bible says that God throws raging violent fits, and kills thousands of people at a time, when nations tick him off.  It says that God once made a wager with the Devil which involved God allowing the Devil to kill all of the children of a man named Job.   It says that one of God's prophets once asked God to deal with some kids who were laughing at him, and God sent two bears to maul them to death.  

    3.  Things like laws that are silly or evil.  For instance, the Bible says that eating crabs, clams, lobsters, oysters and any shellfish is against God's law.  That's silly.  It says wearing clothes that have blended materials (like cotton/polyester blends) is against God's law.  That's silly.  It says that people who are caught committing adultery should be stoned to death - as should teenagers who talk back to their parents.  That's evil.

    For these and other reasons, many of our friends and family members do not believe in the Bible, and therefore do not believe in God, or in Jesus.  So we have got to find a way to help them look at the Bible the way that WE look at the Bible, or they will be lost in their sin forever.  My hope is to give you some tools today that will help your unchristian friends and family begin to look at the Bible differently.  But everything I'm about to say from this point on will be meaningless unless you use this information with your unsaved friends and family members.  This information really isn't for your benefit.  You already believe in the Bible.  This information is for the benefit of your unchristian friends and family members.  So, I'd like you to think of people you know who aren't Christians yet.  Picture 3-4 of them in your mind.  Your assignment this week is to ask them one simple question:  "Do you believe the Bible is reliable to tell us everything we need to know to be right with God?"

    Can you imagine yourself doing this?  What a great conversation starter!  Would you ask this question of your husband, or your wife, if they're not a Christian yet?  Your son, or your daughter?  Your best friend?  Your co-worker?  Can you see yourself asking them, "Do you believe the Bible is reliable to tell us everything we need to know to be right with God?"

    Now, if they tell you, "Yes, I do," then your follow up question is pretty obvious, right?  Ask them, "What does the Bible say we have to do to be right with God?"  And your conversation will be off to the races.  (Hopefully it will center around these two things:  faith that Jesus died for their sins on the cross, followed by a life of obedience to God in every area of their lives.)

    But if, in honesty, they tell you, "No, I don't believe the Bible is reliable to tell me what I need to know to be right with God," then you thank them for their honesty.  And then you simply ask them, "Why not?"  And your conversation will be off to the races.  And they'll probably tell you one or more of the hang ups that I mentioned earlier, that the Bible has things in it that are:

    Scientifically untrue.
    Morally unacceptable.
    Silly or Evil.

    When that happens, then you can use the three tools that I want to give you right now.

Scientifically Inaccurate

    For those who don't believe in the Bible because it contains things in it that are scientifically untrue tell them, "You don't need to believe that the scientifically inaccurate things in the Bible are literally true in order to be a Christian.   A person can believe them literally if they want to.  But you don't have to, in order to be a Christian."   

    Those words may be a huge surprise to them.  You may be the first person to ever tell them that.  You may see a huge smile come over their face, because this one thing alone may be the key that opens up faith in God, and in his son, Jesus, for them.

    Now, why is it true?  Why DON'T we need to believe the scientifically inaccurate things that are in the Bible literally in order to be a Christian?

    First, because most of the scientifically inaccurate claims in the Bible are allegorical in nature.  We're learning at Wednesday night Bible Study, for instance, that the accounts of creation in Genesis 1, 2 and 3 were not meant to be taken literally, but symbolically.  I mean, do we really want to tell the world that God literally used his hands to make a man out of dirt (like a potter shaping clay), or that God literally breathed air out of his literal nostrils to put life into the man, or that God literally took out one of man's ribs, closed up the wound and literally turned the rib into a woman, or that God literally rested on the 7th day, or that snakes used to be able to literally talk?  A person can say these things if they want to.  And there are plenty of churches in Erie that interpret the Bible in this way.   A Christian can say these things.  But you don't have to say them in order to be a Christian.  Instead, it's perfectly acceptable to say that the creation accounts in Genesis 1-3 are written in the allegorical style of literature, meant to teach us spiritual truths, not scientific truths.

    Second, we need to be honest and say that the Bible was written in a time when people believed the earth was flat and that the sun rotated around the earth.  That viewpoint requires the Bible to say things that just aren't true, things that have bothered scientists for a long time.  Our message to scientists, however, is a positive one.  We can say to them, "You can relax.  No, the earth is not flat, as the Bible says.  No, there are not four corners of the earth, as the Bible says.  No, there is not a metal dome over the earth, as the Bible says.  And, no, there are not pillars holding the earth up, as the Bible says."  Again, a person can believe those things if they want to.  But we don't need to believe in them in order to be a Christian.  Instead, we can acknowledge that they were written to a different time period, in words and images that THEY could understand.  If God were writing the Bible today it would look scientifically very different.  But that doesn't change any of the spiritual truths in this book, truths that many of us have built our entire lives on.

Morally Unacceptable Images of God

    For those who don't believe in the Bible because it contains images of God that are morally unacceptable, tell them, "You don't need to believe in the morally unacceptable images of God in order to be a Christian.  Jesus showed us what God really looks like, and it's nothing like those images."

    We always need to remember that while God himself does not change, our view of God has changed over time as we've come to know him better.  Life in Old Testament times was brutal, cut throat, almost animal like.  And Israel's understanding of what God was like was also, many times, brutal and cut throat.  But as time went on man got a clearer, more focused, view of God.

    Then came someone who gave us a graduate level course on the nature of God.  He brought mankind's view of God into crystal clear focus, making this astounding claim that no one before or after him has ever made.  It was Jesus who said:

"Don't you believe that I am in the Father,
and that the Father is in me?
Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father."
(John 14:10, 9)

    That revelation was a turning point in the history of the world.  Jesus, it turns out, was not just the Son of God, come to earth to save us from our sins and teach us how to live.  He was also God in the flesh, a physical, hands on, "you better take notes on this", image of what God is really like.  And here's the good news.  Jesus was pure love.  So God must be, what?  Pure love!  Jesus hung out with children - he didn't send bears to kill them, or let the Devil kill them in a wager.  Jesus forgave the woman caught in adultery - he didn't have her executed.  Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem because they would not believe in him - he didn't send fire down from heaven to destroy them.

    Let me say again, God himself does not change over time.  But our view of God will inevitably change over time as we come to know him better.  And in Jesus our view of God became crystal clear.  So a person does not need to believe in the morally unacceptable images of God in the Old Testament in order to be a Christian.  They can if they want to.  But they don't have to.

Laws That Are Silly or Evil

    For those who don't believe in the Bible because it contains laws from God that are either silly or evil, tell them, "You don't need to follow these laws in order to be a Christian.  You can if you want to.  But you don't have to."

    Why do I say that?  Because just as Jesus gave us a clearer image of what God looks like, Jesus also gave us a filter through which to pass all of the Old Testament laws.  The ones that pass through the "Jesus filter" we should still follow today.  The ones that don't, we no longer have to follow.    

     Why do I say that there's a "Jesus filter"?  Well, remember Jesus' Sermon on the Mount?  Did you ever ask yourself why he gave that sermon on a mountain?  There's a reason.  Where was Moses when God gave him the original Law, in the Ten Commandments?  He was on a mountain, right?  On Mt. Sinai.  Well, Jesus was sending us a signal that he is the new Moses, giving the new law, the new covenant, the new "testament", on a new mountain.

    So, he says things like, "You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder . . .'"  Where does it say that?  What is Jesus quoting?  He's quoting the law of Moses in the Old Testament.  Exodus 20:13 says, "Do not murder."  Then Jesus says, "But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment . . ."  In other words, "Do not murder" passes through the Jesus filter no problem, and we should follow it.  Jesus actually takes this law to a deeper level by telling us in the Sermon on the Mount that his disciples shouldn't just avoid murder, but we should even avoid becoming angry.

    Then he says, "You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.'"  Who's he quoting?  The Old Testament again, Exodus 20:14.  Then he says, "But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart."  So "Do not commit adultery" passes through the Jesus filter okay and is also intensified to now include, "Do not lust."

    He says, "You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.'"  That's from Exodus 21:24, allowing us to get revenge on our enemies.  But then Jesus says, "But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also."  Whoa.  Wait a minute.  He handled this law differently than the others.  In the other two Jesus accepted the Old Testament law and intensified it.  But here Jesus is (do you see it yet?) here  Jesus is rejecting the Old Testament law and giving us a NEW law.  He rejected the "eye for an eye" way of living - if you burn my house down then God allows me to burn your house down.  Instead, Jesus tells us not to resist, not to fight back, against an evil person.  Whoa.  This is radically different than the Old Testament "eye for an eye" law.  Jesus totally rejected that law.  It does not pass through the Jesus filter.  Instead, Jesus gave us a new law - turn the other cheek.  

    And he did this more than once.  He said, "You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor  and hate your enemy.'  But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you . . ."

    Do you see what Jesus is doing?  He's positioning himself as the new Moses, giving us the new Law.  He's the filter now through which his disciples either follow the Old Testament laws, or don't follow those laws.  Why, for instance, do Christians no longer worry about all of the Old Testament food laws, like the law against eating shellfish?  Because Jesus said:

"What goes into a man's mouth does not make him 'unclean'.  But the things that come out of his mouth come from the heart, and these make a man 'unclean'." (Matthew 15:11,18)

    Here's the bottom line:  Jesus is the filter through which all of the Old Testament laws must now pass.  And none of the laws that pass through the Jesus filter are silly or evil.

    But, you know what?  I don't really think any of the three reasons we looked at are the REAL reason why people don't believe in the Bible.  I mean, even if we use the tools that we've looked at this morning to show people that:

    - the Bible isn't anti-science,
    - that Jesus gives us a morally acceptable view of God, and
    - Jesus gives us a way to filter out all of the silly and evil Old Testament laws . . . there's still one major problem that many people have with the Bible.  Do you know what it is?  When we actually read the Bible we see the many ways that God asks us to change how we're living.  And there's the rub.  The Bible asks us to change our ways.  We don't want to change.

    Will you turn with me to Colossians 3:1, and I'll show you what I mean.  

    Read vv. 1-4

    Right there, we have a problem.  God is asking us to think about him more, to have more of a God consciousness, because when we became Christians the old "worldly" us was put to death.  But, you know, it's hard not to have our minds set "on earthly things" like our job, our family, our bank accounts, our sports ("Hey, preacher, the Steelers game is on at 1:00 today!"), our homes.  But wait.  It's going to get even harder, as Paul gets even more specific.  Verse 5.

    Read vv. 5-10
    What?  No more "filthy language"?  But how are we going to hang out with the guys and not talk like they talk?  How are we going to tell our dirty jokes?  And no more "slander"?  How does God expect us to gossip if we can't slander and put other people down?  And no more "anger"?  That makes me angry.  How can we live this way?  But wait, it gets even harder.  Verse 12.

    Read vv. 12-13
    Now it's gone too far.  The Bible commands us to "forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another"?  Whatever grievances?  All of them?  We don't want to do that.  We'd much rather keep old grudges alive and stirred up.  We'd much rather keep talking about what so and so did to us, or what they did to one of our friends.  Where's the fun in forgiving them?  Yes, God should forgive us.  But, no, we don't want to forgive others in the same way.  No way.  Verse 14.

    Read vv. 14-15
    This is a totally new way of living.  But how can anyone actually do it?  Here's how.  The means of grace - the ways to receive God's power.  Verse 16.

    Read v. 16a
    What's that?  That's Bible Study - a way to get God's power in us to live this new holy life.

    Read v. 16a-b
    What's that?   That's Christian fellowship - another way to get God's power in us to live this new holy life.
    
    Read v. 16a-c
    What's that?  That's worship - yet another way to get God's power in us to live this new holy life.

    Read v. 17
    What's that?  That's prayer ("giving thanks to God") - another way to get God's power in us to live this new holy life.

    Isn't the real reason why our unchristian friends and family members don't believe in the Bible because they don't WANT this "new holy life" that the Bible calls us to?  They don't want to let the Bible change them from people who live any way they want to into people who are compassionate, kind, humble, gentle, patient, forgiving and loving.

    Before we're too quick to judge, however, let's ask ourselves, "Do we?"  Are we letting the Bible change us?  
    There's a song called "Ancient Words" that talks about the Bible in this way:

Holy words long preserved for our walk in this world
They resound with God's own heart;
O let the ancient words impart
Ancient Words, ever true
Changing me and changing you
We have come with open hearts
O let the Ancient Words impart

    Are we the same person today that we were last year?  Or are we letting these ancient words and the other means of grace change us into being more compassionate, kind, humble, gentle, patient, forgiving and loving?  
    It depends.  Do WE believe the Bible is reliable to tell us everything we need to know to be right with God?  And are we reading it every day?
    
    Let's pray -




Ancient Words
Holy words long preserved for our walk in
this world;  they resound with God's own
heart let the ancient words impart

Words of life words of hope they give us
strength help us cope;  in this world
where'er we roam ancient words will guide
us home

Ancient words ever true changing me
changing you; we have come with open
hearts, oh let the Ancient Words impart.

Holy words of our faith, handed down to this age,
Came to us through sacrifice, oh heed the faithful words of Christ.

Holy words long preserved for our walk in
this world they resound with God's own
heart oh let the ancient words impart

Ancient words ever true changing me
changing you; we have come with open
hearts, oh let the Ancient Words impart.

[Repeat]
We have come with open
hearts, oh let the Ancient Words impart.
Oh let the Ancient Words impart.

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