THE MAIN THING- JESUS THE CHRIST, CRUCIFIED AND RESURRECTED
My goal in this work is to help individuals in their spiritual journeys, while confessing my own historical orthodox Christian position. There may be a number of issues about religious truth confronting the person considering Christianity, and a work that comprehensively addresses them all can easily contain many hundreds of pages. I have striven with this work to keep it short, to communicate the Christian Gospel, and to briefly touch on key points regarding the nature of truth, the relationship of faith and reason, the role of evidence in faith matters, and to provide some basic evidence that relates to the theme of this work.
I refer to "Jesus the Christ", instead of "Jesus Christ", because the two words are not just a first and last name, but have specific meanings which I want us to keep in mind. Jesus is his first name which means "Yahweh saves." Yahweh is the name of God which God revealed to Moses when he was called to deliver the Hebrews from Egypt. Yahweh is often translated as I AM, which implies God's continuing presence and power. Christ comes from the Greek and means "Messiah." The Messiah is shown in the Old Testament of the Bible to be a deliverer. From the time of Jesus onward, the Christ is seen as the deliverer from sin. I have also included the texts of the three ecumenical creeds and a list of resources at the end. My hope and prayer is that some journeyers will find this to be helpful.
There is a common saying that "the main thing is the main thing." What does this mean? It often refers to an idea or to a part of an activity which has to be kept as the focus and done well if the other parts are to work properly together. The main thing often provides perspective and balance to the other parts. For example, in playing soccer, kicking the ball properly is the main thing. Nothing else in soccer will matter much if players do not kick the ball well. In driving a motor vehicle, the main thing could well be to keep the vehicle in the proper location on the road. Having the vehicle in the wrong location can be dangerous and unhelpful in reaching a destination. In many activities in which people are engaged, much follows from keeping the main thing the main thing.
THE MAIN THING
When it comes to the Christian faith, the main thing is Jesus the Christ, crucified and resurrected. Christianity does indeed speak to many ethical, psychological, social, religious, and other types of issues, but they find their proper meaning and function in relation to the main thing.
The gospel (which means "good news") is the message of how and why Jesus the Christ is the main thing for Christian faith. The Gospel according to John, from the Bible, in chapter three, verse sixteen, says "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." It is clear from this verse that God wants to lavish love and eternal life on His human creatures, but it is also obvious that people do not live an ideal quality of life individually or together. So what is wrong?
The Bible in Romans 3: 23 says "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Romans 6: 23a says "For the wages of sin is death." The picture presented by these verses, and many like passages, is that every member of the human race is corrupted by sin, turned from God, and unable to meet God's standard of moral perfection necessary to share eternal life with God, life of both endless duration and divine quality. A common objection made here is that most people aren't really that bad that they should be cut off from God, so why does He not just cut them some slack if He is really so loving? One answer is that we humans, in comparing ourselves with ourselves, do not have the best view of the situation. Biblical characters who got up close and personal with God and His holiness became very aware of their shortcomings. See Isaiah 6: 5, Judges 13: 22, and Luke 5: 8, for examples. A second answer is that if God graded sins on a curve, so to speak, where would He justifiably draw the line for how much sin is too much, and would it not make heaven more like hell to admit us for eternity with our sins? Humanity seems, therefore, to be consigned to separation from its loving and perfectly good Creator.
But, the good news of Christianity is that what humanity could not do for itself, namely to solve its sin problem, God did for humanity in Jesus the Christ, who is also God the Son. Romans 5: 8 says "but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." 1 Peter 3: 18a echoes "For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God." John 1: 12 adds "But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God." So God did not lower His standard of sinlessness and holiness, but Himself satisfied His standard of justice in the suffering and death of God the Son, Jesus the Christ, by crucifixion in Jerusalem two thousand years ago. By God's own act of self-sacrifice we can receive forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and membership in God's family as His own chosen and
These truths are illustrated in the parable of the prodigal son, given by Jesus in Luke, chapter 15. At the beginning of the story, the younger of two sons instructs his father to give him his half of the inheritance. Think of the brashness and disrespect in this demand. When do people usually receive an inheritance? Is it not when the parents die? The younger son is, in effect, saying that he does not value the relationship of love, lordship, and provision he has had with his father, and he wants to go on with his life as if his father were dead. This is our condition from the time of our conceptions, separated by sin from the heavenly father who has given us all the good things we have.
The younger son soon left home and went to another country and spent all he had on reckless living. Since he did not delight in relationship with his father, he sought after sensual pleasures to find meaning for his life until the inheritance was gone. Human beings are created for relationship with God through Jesus the Christ, and there is no amount of anything else that can fully and permanently satisfy as a substitute.
The now destitute young man was forced to go to work for a citizen of that country who had him feed pigs. This was especially humbling because, this parable being told in the Jewish culture, the young man would have considered pigs to be beneath his dignity to be around, much less to serve. Sooner or later, the prideful sin in our hearts which generates thoughts, words, and deeds of rebellion against our Creator will leave us poor and broken in spirit.
The young man then "comes to himself" and realizes that his father's hired servants are much better taken care of than himself, so he determines to go back to his father, confess his sin, and request to become as a hired servant in his father's house. His earlier brashness is gone, and he realizes what he has given up. We cannot overestimate the value of realizing, by God's grace, the kind of father He is, how we are separated from Him by our sin, and that we can return to Him by repentance and trust in the cross and resurrection of Jesus the Christ to receive forgiveness.
So he heads back home prepared to take the lowest place in his father's house just to be there at all. But his father sees him a long way off. Apparently, the father had been watching and waiting for his son. The father will have nothing of his son's proposed demotion to servanthood, calls for the best robe to be put on the son, for a ring on his hand, and for shoes on his feet, all signs of the father's joy at restoring his son to full sonship in the household, and calls for a lavish party to celebrate the son's return. When we return to God through Jesus the Christ in repentance, He not only forgives our sins, but He also lavishes upon us the reality of eternal life with Him, He restores us to full family status, and He gives us God the Holy Spirit to lead us into greater and greater experiential knowledge of the Christ through His Word, the Bible. As the saying goes, it doesn't get any better than this.
There is an anticlimactic scene to this parable. The older son, who had stayed home and done his duty to the father, became offended at the homecoming celebration extended to his wayward brother. His reaction shows that there is more than one way to be separated from the father. The younger son sinned in obvious outward ways, and his separation from his father was clear. But the older son was also separated from his father, even though he lived in the house and did his duties. The older son performed deeds in an attempt to earn the love and favor of his father. He never understood that what the father really wanted was a relationship of trust in his love and mercy, out of which could flow deeds of gratitude. Whether we have lived lives of gross, outward sin, or have done the "right" things out of impure motivation, we can find ourselves separated from the relationship of love that He intends. The way back to the Father is through trust in the cross and resurrection of Jesus the Christ.
READY OR NOT?
It is all by God's grace and initiative that anyone receives the gifts of forgiveness of sins and eternal life won by Jesus on the cross. If you, the reader, have a sense of confidence (faith) that this is for you, it can only be because the Holy Spirit of God has given you the gift of faith and turned your heart toward the true God. He has done this through working by His Word, including the Bible passages you have just read, and probably also others you have read and heard in the past.
In that case, congratulations! Take a few moments to thank God for what He has done for you through the cross and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ. There are several steps to take in response to God's calling you to faith in Him that will protect, nourish, and grow the faith God has planted in your heart.
Find a local church to join and become a participating member of it. You are now a member of God's family, and you should find a place to live out your faith with brothers and sisters of the same heavenly Father. Only do so wisely and prayerfully. When visiting a church, ask to see their written statement of faith, and carefully evaluate it against God's Word, the Bible. (A summary of the most central Biblical beliefs are the three historic statements of faith widely accepted by Christian churches for over sixteen hundred years, and known as the ecumenical creeds- the Apostles' Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. Not all churches recite these creeds in their services, but any orthodox Christian church will agree with them. If a church's beliefs do not line up with the Bible and the creeds, look for another church that does. The ecumenical creeds are printed at the end of this work for your reference.) Ask all of your questions to your satisfaction. You also need to be baptized with water as a part of your conversion (Acts 2: 38), most likely in the church your are joining. Baptism provides assurance to the believer of forgiveness of sins and membership in God's family, because one can always point back to the act of baptism and rest in God's promises of what He did in that act. Take instruction in Christian fundamentals in your new spiritual home. Your new faith is a very different orientation from your life apart from God, so your mind and faith need to be instructed and nourished to enable you to move forward in your new life. Continue to grow in your new faith through sound Bible teaching, receiving ongoing forgiveness and spiritual nourishment from Holy Communion, and develop encouraging relationships with other believers by way of worship and service in and through your local church.
For you who have already trusted in Jesus the Christ for forgiveness of your sins, the rest of this work will confirm your experience.
If you are not convinced of the truth of the Christian gospel, it is okay. We are all at different points along our spiritual journeys, and it could be that you are just not prepared yet to trust the God of the Bible. You are encouraged to read on and consider the evidence for the main thing, Jesus the Christ, crucified and resurrected.
WHAT IS TRUTH?
The best understanding of truth is called the correspondence theory. The ancient Greek thinker Aristotle explained it this way: "To say of what is, that it is not, or of what is not, that it is, is false; while to say of what is, that it is, and of what is not, that it is not, is true." Put more simply, truth is "telling it like it is."
Truth has practical and life-preserving applications. That bottle of liquid is safe to drink or it is not. A checkbook is balanced to a correct amount or it is not. If it is eighty degrees Fahrenheit outside, it cannot also be twenty degrees Fahrenheit.
TRUTH IS INESCAPABLE
Some people will say, especially regarding spiritual or moral issues, that "there is no truth." An appropriate response to this challenge is to simply ask "Really? Is that true?" This question reveals that truth is inescapable. So rather than taking an arbitrary "I can not know” or "I do not want to bother with it" approach, it is better to deal with a truth claim on its merits, especially one with potentially important implications. Investigate whether the truth claim is the result of following all the evidence logically to wherever it leads, or not.
THE MYTH OF PAN-SUBJECTIVISM
Pan-subjectivism means that all truth claims are subjective. We have all heard the statements: "Well, that may be true for you, but it is not true for me." "Everyone has their own truth." "Truth is personal." "Truth is contextual." "There are many true paths to the same god." One will notice that the above statements make the objective truth claim that truth claims are subjective. Is there something wrong with this picture? These statements, along with others and their variations, attempt to selectively dismiss some truth claims, especially religious or ethical ones. So it would probably be a good idea to spend a little time discussing objective and subjective truth claims as they relate to our topic. Objective truth statements are about something that is outside of the feelings or preferences of the person making the statement. If I say, "This is a bowl of chocolate ice cream", that is an objective truth claim about the ice cream. Subjective truth is associated with inner thoughts and feelings. If I say, "Chocolate is my favorite flavor of ice cream", I am speaking of my preference, and not about the existence of chocolate ice cream. I should mention that objective truth is not just about physical things. Freedom, numbers, and theories of physics are examples of non-physical things that are objective. While it may be true that all religions make subjective truth claims, some religions also make objective truth claims. Pan-subjectivism is a myth when applied to Christianity because it is not true that Christian faith is only true in one's personal experience. The main thing about the Christian faith, that is, Jesus the Christ, crucified and resurrected, is an objective historical truth claim, which should be sufficiently proven by historical means if it is true. Actually, the Biblical Christian faith makes both objective and subjective truth claims. There are inner, subjective realities which correspond to outer, objective realities. Many people err by restricting Christian faith to the inner subjective realm, and failing to deal with the objective claims on their own terms.
FAITH AND REASON?
Sometimes we hear objections to the use of reason in religious matters. Some of these objections come from religious people who want to use faith to the exclusion of reason. To these objections it is quite legitimate to ask, "Can you criticize reason without using reason?" The obvious answer to this question is "no," so reason must remain on the table in discussing religious issues. The relevant question, then, is: What is reason's legitimate role?
Geisler and Brooks, in Come Let Us Reason: An Introduction to Logical Thinking, define reason, and the more technical form, logic, as "a way to think so that we can come to correct conclusions by understanding implications and the mistakes people often make in thinking." Reason helps us make sense of life, and to reject what does not make sense.
The great majority of people in history have believed that some divine source is behind our existence, sense of morals, and ability to reason through the complexity of the universe and of life. They reached this conclusion by applying reason to their experiential knowledge, with the confidence that they were applying reliable reason to a universe that can be reliably known. This confidence can be called faith. In the place of a divine source (God) for reason, we would have had to reach the stage of reasoning by the highly improbable route of producing the physical universe from absolute nothingness, order from disorder, life from non-life, personality from non-personality, and, finally, reason from non-reason. This godless route of existence suffers from significant problems, including the lack of sufficient causes for the resulting effects.
Faith (trust) in some transcendent being (God) then, seems to be the ground for reason. Reason, then, guides us if we carefully sort through the evidence for which specific revelation of God should be trusted. This process is often more subtle than deliberate, as we quickly and almost unconsciously dismiss options which seem to be fantastic, like believing in the Greek gods on Mount Olympus, which loses support as our knowledge becomes more sophisticated. Then the trusted revelation sets the rules and boundaries for the use of reason with faith.
In Christianity, the Bible is regarded as God's revelation to humankind. Reason serves the revelation by enabling a proper analysis of that revelation, in theology, which is the study of God. Reasoned theology, then, has the obligation not to make declarations that contradict or exceed the clear statements from God's revelation in the Bible, since reason finds its origin in the existence and mind of God.
THE ROLE OF EVIDENCE
Evidence, like reason, is a sticky topic for many people of faith, including Christians. Many are taught to think of faith as being contrary to evidence, and might present the idea of faith by attaching to it such words as "blind," "leap of," or "into the dark." But here, as with reason, the real solution is not to reject evidence, but rather to fit the pieces together correctly. Then faith turns out to be an "open-eyed step into the light," cooperative with evidence.
Evidence for Christianity should not be seen as contrary to faith for at least three reasons. First, the Bible makes claims to events that are to be held as historical, so these claims seem to invite historical investigation. Second, in several places the Bible commands an intelligent contending for the faith which states or implies the need to use evidence. See Matthew 22: 37, 1 Peter 3: 15, 2 Corinthians 10: 5, Acts 17: 16-17, Philippians 1:7, and Jude 3. Third, there are examples in the Bible of evidence being given for faith in God. Moses demonstrated God's power at many times and in many ways. Elijah performed miracles as well, including his contest with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. Jesus did many miracles, and appeared to His disciples on many occasions and in varying circumstances after His resurrection to provide evidence for their faith. The Apostle Paul used the evidence of creation and human reason to make his case for the Christian gospel on Mars Hill in Athens.
Evidence for Christianity does not exist merely so that Christians can smugly think they are right. Evidence exists to confirm faith. Remember the earlier section about subjective and objective truth. Christianity has the strength of being able to claim that its believers have both a subjective, inner witness of God the Holy Spirit and the objective, outer witnesses of history, science, and other disciplines. The inner witness of God to the believer is the more valuable and essential, but God has also set up the outer witness to confirm that our inner experience is not mere personal mysticism.
Evidence for Christianity is also a means God can use to impart faith. Christians believe that faith is given by God through the preaching of the Bible, the sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion, prayer, personal Bible reading, fellowship of believers, worship, and other means. Evidence for Christianity can be another of these means used by God to give faith, especially when the evidences support Christianity's main thing, the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus the Christ.
TRUE FOR THEM
Those who have received faith for forgiveness of sins and eternal life through the means of evidence include some who have left a clear written testimony of their faith journey.
Simon Greenleaf was one of the professors who lifted the Harvard Law School to its place of pre-eminence. He wrote a textbook on legal evidences which was for a long time a standard text, and wrote the original constitution of the colony of Liberia. Greenleaf was originally Jewish, and then became agnostic. At the challenge of his Christian law students, he studied the evidence for the truth of the New Testament gospels, converted to Christianity, and wrote The Testimony of the Evangelists.
Lew Wallace was a lawyer, Civil War general, and politician. A conversation with the skeptic Robert Ingersoll focused Wallace's attention more on spiritual matters. As governor of the New Mexico territory he wrote the classic Ben Hur- A Tale of the Christ, perceiving more fully Jesus the Christ as the suffering savior even as he researched and wrote the story.
Frank Morison was an English journalist who set out to disprove Christianity through research for a book. After his research, however, the book's first chapter was entitled "The Book that Refused to be Written." Morison was converted to Christ by the evidence, and his book, Who Moved the Stone?, became a classic of Christian evidences.
Josh McDowell, as an atheist, was pursuing a law degree and potential political career when he decided to write a paper to disprove Christianity. McDowell's research convinced him of the compelling evidence for faith in Jesus the Christ, and he embarked on a career of presenting the gospel of Christ that has included authoring or co-authoring some seventy-seven books, and speaking and debating on countless college campuses as a representative of Campus Crusade for Christ.
Lee Strobel, a committed atheist since studying evolution in high school biology class, became the legal affairs editor for the Chicago Tribune after graduating from the University of Missouri journalism school and the Yale law school. His boat was severely rocked when his wife announced that she had become a Christian. Soon after, Strobel used his training as an investigative reporter on the evidence for and against the truth of Christianity. His investigation resulted in his being convinced that Christianity is true, and in his own conversion. Strobel later wrote a trio of best-selling books on Christian evidences that followed the pattern of his own investigation. The Case for Christ covers the historical evidence for Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection. The Case for Faith responds to eight of the top objections to the Christian faith. The Case for a Creator presents the evidence in the debate between Darwinism and Intelligent Design.
THREE IMPORTANT TERMS
(Note: I am indebted to John Warwick Montgomery for the raw material for this section.)
An important issue in relation to evidence is knowing the appropriate standard to use when evaluating truth claims. Three terms that help in this are possibility, absolute certainty, and probability.
Possibility means it is logical to think that something could happen or exist. Possibility rules out those things that are impossible, such as squared circles and one-ended sticks, but sometimes does little to narrow down a wide range of options. Possibility, therefore, is of limited use in sorting through evidence for competing truth claims.
Absolute certainty is also of limited use in human experience, since the only things that can be absolutely certain in human experience are abstract mathematics and formal deductive logic, where the statements are true by definition. An example of absolute certainty by definition is in the statement "All bachelors are unmarried males." By definition it could not be otherwise. The real world of people and events cannot be judged by the standard of absolute certainty.
That leaves us with probability as a standard for truth in real world settings, suspended between the inadequate standard of possibility and the unattainable standard of absolute certainty. Probability weighs the quality and quantity of evidence both for and against a truth claim to decide what is most likely true. In the legal system, there are different levels of probability required to convict a defendant of a crime, which are related to the seriousness of the crime and the severity of the punishment. The claims of the main thing in Christianity are historical claims about the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. With their being historical claims, it is inappropriate, therefore, to require evidence for them to the level of absolute certainty, but it is very appropriate to require evidence of them that is sufficiently probable. The next step, then, is to look at some of the more compelling evidence for the truth of Christianity, and to consider whether it makes faith in Jesus the Christ a most probable conclusion.
JUST THE FACTS, MA'AM
This work will not attempt to provide exhaustive evidence for the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. Other works cited within and at the end of this text cover that ground in a very thorough manner. Instead, there is presented here the key steps toward the conclusion that Jesus is risen bodily, and therefore the true God, with some important evidential support.
The New Testament of the Bible that we have today is essentially the same document as that which was originally written. In fact, the New Testament has much greater historical credibility than any other ancient document. There are about twenty-five thousand surviving manuscripts containing part or all of the New Testament which go back to the early second century. These copies are either in the original Greek or they are translations from Greek into other languages. Throughout this manuscript evidence going up to about one thousand A.D., there is an extremely high accuracy rate of copying and translation, so that the minor differences that do exist do not undermine any central Christian teaching. Also, the preserved writings of the early church fathers, which go back to the end of the first century, quote about half of the New Testament, with key passages, of course, being quoted multiple times. Lectionaries, which are scheduled readings from various Bible books for worship services, also appear early and confirm the accuracy of New Testament transmission. It should be noted that Gnostic writings, which were written later than the New Testament books, were rejected by the early church because they cannot claim to be eyewitness testimony of Jesus' close followers to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, and because they disagree with the accepted New Testament books.
The New Testament reports real history. The science of history has found that it takes at least two generations after an event for legend to develop, and there is good reason to think that the New Testament books were written too early to be legendary. We know that the Apostle Paul was martyred in Rome by the later mid-sixties A.D. However, the book of the Acts of the Apostles ends with Paul alive, and under house arrest. Some Biblical scholars think he went on one more missionary trip before his re-arrest and martyrdom. Acts is, therefore, likely to have been written by the mid-sixties A.D. That places the earlier companion to Acts, written by the same author and namely the Gospel according to Luke, in the early to mid-sixties. The Gospels according to Matthew and Mark were written before Luke, with probably at least a couple of years between each. So the Gospels were probably begun to be written and circulated by sometime in the fifties. Some of the letters of the New Testament were written before the Gospels. These documents were written by eyewitnesses of Jesus' resurrection or by their contemporaries. Among the earliest of these, Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, teaches plainly about the crucifixion and resurrection. The New Testament books were, therefore, written during the lifetimes of many both friendly and hostile eyewitnesses, who for varying reasons would have refuted the apostles' story and shut down the new and odd faith, but they were unable to. A very important point, which we will revisit, is that the New Testament was written or influenced by eyewitnesses, the majority of whom paid for their testimonies with their lives.
The New Testament teaches that Jesus considered Himself to be God, and was very concerned that it be understood. A common objection at this point is that Jesus is not quoted in the Gospels as categorically stating "I am God." He did, however, do and say as much by using the "I AM" title to refer to Himself, by claiming the authority to forgive sins, by receiving worship, by claiming to be one with the Father, and in other ways.
Jesus proved Himself to be God by predicting and accomplishing His own resurrection from the dead on the third day according to the Old Testament Scriptures. The Old Testament prophecies about the coming Messiah were so varied and specific, and from multiple prophets, that it would be truly miraculous to fulfill even a handful of them. Jesus the Christ did just that from His birth through His resurrection, including the fulfillment of prophecies over which He would have had no control, were He only human.
Having already established the historicity of the New Testament Gospels, we can be sure that Jesus died by crucifixion. The Roman executioners were professional, practiced, and proficient in their jobs. They knew how to kill their victims and how to make sure they were dead. Two eyewitness details that show Jesus was dead were that the Roman executioners did not have to break His legs to speed His death, and that when they ran a spear into His heart to confirm His death blood and water came out together, showing that He died from cardiac rupture. Then Jesus was taken down and put into a borrowed tomb before the beginning of the Sabbath. But His disciples, who fled the scene of His arrest and crucifixion in fear and disappointment, began to report within a few weeks that Jesus had risen from the dead on the third day following His death. They reported that they had witnessed the bodily resurrected Christ at least twelve times in a variety of situations and groupings of people. The original disciples, minus Judas the betrayer, were later joined by their arch-persecutor Saul of Tarsus, who became Paul the Apostle, and by the skeptic James, the half-brother of Jesus, who became the leader of the Jerusalem church. Both claimed to have witnessed the resurrected Jesus.
This company of disciples, having become apostles (meaning sent ones) proclaimed the message of Jesus' resurrection even when it meant giving up some of their deeply-held religious beliefs and traditions, and loss of family, property, and comfort in this life. At least several of the original apostles and other eyewitnesses, including Paul, Peter, James the brother of John, and James the half-brother of Jesus, were martyred for their testimony, and all of the apostles knew that they were under the constant threat of death. Here is the key point, which cannot be overstated: they were in a position to know whether their claim of the bodily resurrected Christ was true. They were not depending upon the reports of others for their faith or upon the claim of a mere "spiritually" resurrected Christ. They had nothing to gain from their testimony. They were practical men, not of the type to start a new religion contrary to their tradition. They knew if they were testifying to a lie, and yet not one of them cracked and recanted in the face of rejection, torture and death.
If Jesus had not actually died and been restored to perfect health in the resurrection, could this one who had been beaten, flogged, nailed through the hands and feet with spikes, hung on a cross, and thrust through the heart with a spear, have been expected to revive in the cold tomb, unwrap Himself of his grave wrappings containing many pounds of pungent spices, push the heavy stone up out of the tomb with nail-pierced hands and feet, chase away the armed guards, make the walk to Emmaus, then appear to His cowering disciples, convincing them that He was the Lord of Glory? I do not have enough faith to believe that. Jesus the Christ is risen indeed!
Let us sum up. The main thing in Christianity is Jesus the Christ, crucified and resurrected, for you, for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life with God. Truth is telling it like it is, truth is inescapable, and truth can be both objective and subjective. Faith and reason have a complimentary relationship, with reason in a serving role to faith. Evidence, especially relating to Jesus' identity, crucifixion, and resurrection, can be used to give one faith, with probability being the reasonable standard for judging the historical data. The New Testament documents, including the Gospels, are historically reliable. The New Testament presents Jesus as God having clothed Himself with humanity. Jesus miraculously demonstrated Himself to be God, especially by His prediction and fulfillment of His death and resurrection, according to the Old Testament Scriptures.
At this point it would be good for you, the reader, to re-read the section "The Main Thing," and then to ask yourself important questions based on what you have read.
Have you discovered that God the Holy Spirit has given you confidence (faith) to trust in Jesus the Christ's death on the cross as payment for your sins, and in his resurrection as guarantee of your eternal life with Him? Faith that what He did is "for you" is that which bridges the gap between the historical probability we have discussed and the blessed certainty of trust in Him. If the answer is "yes," take the steps suggested in the "Ready or Not?" section. Your eternal life with your Creator and Savior has begun.
If your honest answer is still "no," I would like to make several suggestions.
First, consider the possible causes of your unbelief. In their book I Don't Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist, Geisler and Turek identify three types of problems people have with Christianity. There are intellectual problems, such as scientific problems based on Darwinism. There are also emotional problems with difficult issues like hell and the hypocrisy of Christians. Then there are volitional problems, frequently based on the fact that some people do not want God to inform their moral choices. Remember that intellectual problems can be meaningfully, if not always completely, answered. Emotional problems seem to be powerful but do not establish or disqualify truth claims. Not wanting to acknowledge and worship God does not eliminate His existence.
Second, you can pray even if you do not yet have faith in the God of the Bible. In the book of the Acts of the Apostles the Roman military officer Cornelius devoutly prayed and gave to the poor, and God sent the Apostle Peter to share the Gospel with him, resulting in the saving of Cornelius' household. As with Cornelius, God can exert a guiding hand in our lives before we clearly know Him.
Third, while this work has shared some highlights of the evidence for the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus the Christ, sufficient for many to trust Him for forgiveness of sins and eternal life, you might honestly need more. That is okay. The Apostle Thomas required more than testimonial evidence of Jesus' resurrection, and Jesus gave it to him, along with an exhortation to accept reliable testimonial evidence. The texts mentioned within this work and at the end should provide more than enough evidence that probability is strongly on the side of the truth of the Christian gospel.
It is my prayer and hope that you would know Jesus the Christ, crucified and resurrected, as the main thing in your life.
Christ is Risen!
He is risen indeed!
THE THREE ECUMENICAL CREEDS
THE APOSTLES' CREED
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.
And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell. The third day He rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.
THE NICENE CREED
I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of His Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made; who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried. And the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures and ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father. And He will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead, whose kingdom will have no end.
And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, who spoke by the prophets. And I believe in one holy Christian and apostolic Church, I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins, and I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.
THE ATHANASIAN CREED
(Written against the Arians.)
Whoever desires to be saved must, above all, hold the catholic faith.
Whoever does not keep it whole and undefiled will without doubt perish eternally.
And the catholic faith is this,
that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the
For the Father is one person, the Son is another, and the Holy Spirit is another.
But the Godhead of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit is one: the glory equal, the majesty
Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Spirit:
the Father uncreated, the Son uncreated, the Holy Spirit uncreated;
the Father infinite, the Son infinite, the Holy Spirit infinite;
the Father eternal, the Son eternal, the Holy Spirit eternal.
And yet there are not three eternals, but one eternal,
just as there are not three Uncreated or three Infinites, but one Uncreated and one Infinite.
In the same way, the Father is almighty, the Son almighty, the Holy Spirit almighty;
and yet there are not three Almighties but one Almighty.
So the Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God;
and yet there are not three Gods, but one God.
So the Father is Lord, the Son is Lord, the Holy Spirit is Lord;
and yet there are not three Lords, but one Lord.
Just as we are compelled by the Christian truth to acknowledge each distinct person as God and Lord,
so also are we prohibited by the catholic religion to say that there are three Gods or Lords.
The Father is not made nor created nor begotten by anyone. The Son is neither made nor created nor
begotten but proceeding.
Thus, there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Spirit, not three Holy Spirits.
And in this Trinity none is before or after another; none is greater or less than another;
but the whole three persons are coeternal with each other and coequal so that in all things, as has been
stated above, the Trinity in Unity and Unity in Trinity is to be worshiped.
Therefore, whoever desires to be saved must think thus about the Trinity.
But it is also necessary for everlasting salvation that one faithfully believe the incarnation of our Lord Jesus
Therefore, it is the right faith that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is at
the same time both God and man.
He is God, begotten from the substance of the Father before all ages; and He is man, born from the
substance of His mother in this age:
perfect God and perfect man, composed of a rational soul and human flesh;
equal to the Father with respect to His divinity, less than the Father with respect to His humanity.
Although He is God and man, He is not two, but one Christ:
one, however, not by the conversion on the divinity into flesh but by the assumption of the humanity into
one altogether, not by confusion of substance, but by unity of person.
For as the rational soul and flesh is one man, so God and man is one Christ,
who suffered for our salvation, descended into hell, rose again on the third day from the dead,
ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father, from whence He will come to judge the
living and dead.
At His coming all people will rise again with their bodies and give an account concerning their own deeds.
And those who have done good will enter into eternal life, and those who have done evil into eternal fire.
This is the catholic faith; whoever does not believe it faithfully and firmly cannot be saved.
SOURCES AND FOR FURTHER READING
Bruce, F.F. The New Testament Documents- Are They Reliable?
McDowell, Josh. More Than a Carpenter
Montgomery, John W. History and Christianity
Geisler, Norman and Brooks, Ronald. Come, Let Us Reason: An Introduction to Logical Thinking
Habermas, Gary and Licona, Michael. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus
Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity
Strobel, Lee. The Case for Christ
Zacharias, Ravi. Can Man Live Without God
Colson, Charles and Pearcey, Nancy. How Now Shall We Live?
Geisler, Norman and Feinberg, Paul. Introduction to Philosophy, A Christian Perspective
Geisler, Norman and Turek, Frank. I Don't Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist
McDowell, Josh. The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict
Pearcey, Nancy. Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity
ColdCaseChristianity.com a very well organized website with lots of Christian evidences presented in a question and answer format. The person most behind this site is a former police detective who did his own investigation of the evidence for Christianity, was converted, and became a Christian pastor.
STR.org is the website of Stand to Reason Ministries. There are many helpful articles on a wide range of topics in the areas of ethics, values and religion. There are also links to listen to their two-hour weekly radio program either live or by downloading archived files.
ReasonableFaith.org is the website of William Lane Craig. Dr. Craig has written many books and articles, and has publicly debated dozens of atheists and other non-Christians.
All Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version.