Gospel For Life

Training and building disciples for Christ

Our Evangelistic Strategy is Guided by the Nature of Faith

I. Scripture reveals the nature of faith and the condition of the

heart.

 

A. Scripture never describes the heart of the unbeliever in a favorable

light. The Word of God depicts unbelief as an expression of the moral

state of the inward man. In order for faith to germinate in the heart of a

man, there must be a moral change in the heart (John 8:43-45; 1 Cor.

2:14; Ez. 36:26,27; Luke 18:26,27).

B. An understanding of the nature of faith is essential in shaping the

method by which the sinner’s need is addressed.

 

1. Is the issue of unbelief a matter of rebellion, or lack of data, or both?

Scripture affirms that it is rebellion. The sinner is already hostile to

the light he has been given – the suppression of God’s truth has been

his practice, prior to hearing the truth of the gospel (Rom. 1:18-23).

2. Only a moral change of heart can reverse this (Matt 12:33).

C. In his book, Always Ready, Greg Bahnsen notes that Scripture gives us

numerous descriptions of a fool. When the Bible speaks of a fool, it

does not refer to a dimwitted buffoon. The biblical meaning of a fool has

to do with the person whose unbelief is expressed as disregard for God

and His truth.

1. The fool is characterized by self trust – this is why he lacks wisdom. He has forsaken God, the only source of true wisdom.

2. The fool relies upon his own (allegedly) self-sufficient intellectual powers. He thinks that his mind can operate effectively without being informed by Scripture. As a result, he is not teachable (Prov. 1:7;10:8; 15:5; 1 Cor. 1:20). [i][1]

3. From God’s omniscient perspective, the fool lives a life of vanity and folly. The fool is his own worst enemy, he opposes himself by rejecting God, the source of life. (By rejecting God’s offer of life and forgiveness, the fool makes a choice for his own destruction, thus he proves to be hostile to his own eternal welfare.)

4. Jesus alluded to the fool’s value system when He said, “For what will a man be profited, if he gains the whole world, and forfeits his soul?” (Matthew 16:26).

D. The biblical fool may have a normal intellect, but he is characterized by

the misuse of his intellectThe following thought behaviors are

 descriptive of the fool:

1.) He avoids the topic of his creaturehood and origin. He operates from a position of “non-createdness.”

2.) He does not distinguish between his own thoughts and God’s thoughts.

3.) He views himself as the ultimate authority for determining truth.

4.) He attributes God’s attributes to himself (as if he, the finite creature, has the power, unaided by Scripture, to answer ultimate questions and uncover universal truth by the use of autonomous reason).

5.) He denies God’s authority and absolute claims upon his life.

6.) He says in his heart, “There is no God” (Psalm 14:1; 53:1).

 

E. The biblical fool does not make God and His revelation the starting point in his thinking. Therefore, in his reasoning, he is antagonistic toward God. In his mind, he is an enemy of God because he uses his God-given intellect to obviate the Holy Scriptures (Col. 1:21; James 4:4; Mark 7:8-13).[ii][2]

1. Man’s break from God ethically, was also a break from God intellectually. God bears witness in the Scriptures as to the nature of man’s fallen intellect (Romans 1:18-23; Eph. 2:3; 4:17,18).

2. When fallen man regards himself as the ultimate reference point, he puts himself in a position tonot understand God’s truth (Romans 3:10,11). (Since his heart is in a state of enmity against God, he is in no position to independently verify divine truth.)[iii][3]

3. The natural man’s rebellion is seen in his covert enmity toward God’s claims upon him – though the unbeliever assumes the posture of a “truth-seeker who lacks data,” he is actually committed to his own independence from God. (Proofs from the wonders of nature and the creation will not overcome the unbeliever’s enmity toward God. As long as his core commitment is to autonomy, he will continue to suppress the truth in unrighteousness.)

4. Frequently, the unbeliever describes himself as neutral when it comes to the testimony of Scripture. He pretends to be objective. The Bible exposes this as a façade. For God’s claims upon a man eliminate every notion of neutral ground. There is no neutral spot in the universe and there is not a single rational creature in the universe who is neutral (the two orders of rational creatures are men and angels).

5. The Creator will not leave a man’s imagined autonomy in tact – instead God in His Word, confronts it head on and exposes it as rebellion.[iv][4]

II. When considering absolute truth, there are only two philosophies.

A. The first philosophy is what the Bible commends as genuine faith. It submits to the authority of God’s Word – this submission involves a presuppositional commitment to the veracity of the Scriptures.

1. The faith of Abraham perfectly illustrates this confidence in the reliability of God’s Word – Romans 4:14-22;

Hebrews 11:8-10, 17-19.)

2. God and His Word are self-authenticating. God doesn’t go outside Himself to define, understand or present Himself. There is no truth standard outside of God. There is no truth “magnifying glass” large enough to place over God and His authoritative Word -- every imaginable scholastic discipline is but a “particular.” Only God is the concrete universal absolute.

3. Without God’s ultimate truth, man attempts to create his own reality. Such an attempt moves man from reason to irrationality. Ultimate truth cannot be argued independently of the preconditions inherent in it. One might as well say, “Let’s stop breathing oxygen while we debate the necessity of that gas.” The only way we know anything with certainty is by God’s authoritative revelation - Psalm 36:9.)[v][5]

B. The second of the two philosophies is the commitment to self as the ultimate authority. 

1. As a result of mankind’s fall into sin, there is a universal commitment

to self as the ultimate starting point for all knowledge.

 

2. The debate between the two philosophies is over ultimate authority.

Where does the ultimate authority reside? Does it reside in God or in

man?

3. Jesus Christ is God’s reference point for man (Col. 2:3). He is the

source of absolute truth and He is the source of

ultimate answers to ultimate questions.

III. Because the two competing philosophies constitute a clash between

sources of ultimate authority, they totally condition the process of

interpreting facts.

A. These competing philosophic systems govern a man’s philosophy of facts. Every personinterprets facts according to one of these two philosophic systems.

1. When the natural man is confronted with the witness of God in

creation, he studiously suppresses the truth or holds it down by

means of false interpretation. His use of autonomous reason as the

starting point means that he will be an untruthful interpreter.

2. Man’s consciousness is a covenant consciousness. In other words,

God placed man on this planet to be a steward over the works of His hands (Psalm 8).

3. That stewardship involves covenant obligations – the Creator’s

ownership is upon man, for man is the “image-bearer” of God. This

is an immense privilege – man has a great purpose because he is

created for a great task. Central to this covenant responsibility is

man’s calling to be a truthful interpreter of God, creation and

humanity (Genesis 1-2).[vi][6]

4. Scripture proclaims that God’s attributes, power and divine

nature are clearly seen, yet the natural man interprets these facts of

creation untruthfully. He resorts to speculation and futility of mind

and becomes a fool as a consequence. Man’s unbelief in God’s Word

issues forth in disobedience to covenant obligations.

5. The Scripture says that unbeliever is without a defense (Greek,

apologia) or without excuse before God (Romans 1:18-23). They

 have no excuse because God has clearly shown Himself to mankind.

6. Remember, one’s world view is inseparable from one’s theory of

knowledge. The natural man “worships” his own mind as ultimate;

he has a theory of knowledge that exalts autonomous reason. As a consequence, he rebels against God’s authoritative revelation. His world view reflects his commitment to think independently of God.

B. According to God’s Word, human reason is to be the servant of divine

revelation.

1. Reason is a faculty designed by God for the task of interpreting

truthfully. The divine mandate of interpreting truthfully can only

be fulfilled when man is in submission to the Word of God,

thinking God’s thoughts after Him.[vii][7]

2. When men reject the Word of God, their interpreting will always be

false. The refusal to follow God’s truth will lead a man into error in

all fields of thought. (An erroneous starting point necessarily leads

to erroneous conclusions concerning the origin and meaning of

every fact in the universe.)

3. When men interpret falsely it is because they have regarded their

reason to be an independent and neutral faculty, not the servant of

divine revelation.

 

 C. God’s Word puts the sinner’s intellectual assumption of autonomous

reason on trial. Holy Scripture turns the tables on the unbelieving

sinner. Though unbelievers talk as if God and His revelation are on

trial, the Word of God places the sinner’s errant heart on trial.

The divine arraignment of the sinner is cast in a fourteen point

indictment found in Romans 3:10-18:

“There is none righteous, not even one;

There is none who understands,

There is none who seeks for God;

All have turned aside, together they have become useless;

There is none who does good,

There is not even one.”

“Their throat is an open grave,

With their tongues they keep deceiving,”

“The poison of asps is under their lips”;

“Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness”;

“Their feet are swift to shed blood’

Destruction and misery are in their paths,

And the path of peace they have not known.”

“There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

D. God’s indictment of Adam’s sinful race reveals why no man can

reason his way to God. Man’s mind is not neutral, but in rebellion.

The natural man uses his mind to sin against God. (God has

endowed man with the gift of reason and logic in order to receive

divine revelation. The independent exercise of reason will always

 result in erroneous interpretation.)

IV. Without reverence and faith, there is no understanding of God and all

He has made.

A. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise

wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7). (Those who fear God are in

awe of His sovereignty. They maintain a deep reverence for the His

unbreakable Word.)

B. Faith in God is NOT based upon autonomous proofs that satisfy our

intellects.

1. God demands faith in His Messianic Son (John 6:28,29).[viii][8] There

is NO knowledge of spiritual things until a person has savingly

believed upon Christ. For Christ is God’s authoritative Interpreter

 put over man as sovereign Lord.

2. Rejection of Christ is rejection of God the Son as Interpreter of the

world (Christ has absolute epistemic authority in all fields of knowledge – Col. 2:3).

3. When man arrogates to himself the position of epistemic

authority, he defies God’s authority and God’s appointed

Representative, Jesus Christ (Phil. 2:9-11; Ps. 2). (The field of

epistemology concerns the origin, validity and structure of

 knowledge – it deals with how we know what we know with

certainty.)

C. Faith therefore has a moral basis – it reveals what is in the heart of a man.

1. When a man’s heart is wrong in the sight of God, his thinking will

correspondingly be futile. Unbelief is not an error in judgment, unbelief is the fruit of a heart in rebellion against God (Heb. 3:12).

The opposite of truth is not ignorance, but rebellion.[ix][9]

2. Jesus declared that the means by which a person knows and

understands spiritual truth with certainty is by being willing to do

God’s will (John 7:17).[x][10] According to the Son of God, understanding

 is the reward of faith.

3. As long as a man uses his depraved intellect to “put God on trial,”

(or judge God), he cannot know or understand God. Human reason

cannot be the support of faith, for the object and

source of faith is God and His revelation (Rom. 10:17).

V. Man cannot reason his way to God.

Genuine faith does not depend upon what it sees, but upon the self-

attesting veracity of God’s Word (Heb. 11:1-6). Faith submits to the

dependability of Holy Scripture (2 Tim. 3:16,17). [xi][11]

A. There can be no “flat line” reasoning to God. There are two important

reasons for this. First, when one argues for an ultimate intellectual

criterion, circularity in reasoning will be unavoidable. Every world view

and every argument must have a starting point that is unquestioned,

authoritative and self-authenticating.

1. Without this ultimate starting point, facts will be unrelated and

“brutish,” (isolated, without interpretation by a universal). (One

cannot even begin to evaluate the very first fact he encounters

without a set of non-negotiable presuppositions about knowledge and

the universe in general.)

2. Every world view or philosophy of necessity must use its own

standard of truth to prove its conclusions. There is no standard for

 truth that sits above the Scriptures and there is no fact in the

universe more certain than the Scriptures.

3. The Bible believing Christian affirms that there are no neutral

facts that hold an authority independent of a scriptural interpretation. “They are God’s facts. And they are to be interpreted according to God’s Word.”[xii][12]

4. Reason either begins with God or self. Reason that begins with

God involves thought dependent upon God’s revelation. Reason that

begins with self assumes the false presupposition that man’s mind is

ultimate.

B. Second, those who come to know God have had a radical overturning of

their presuppositions about autonomous reason. The ability to

understand God is stipulated upon faith. Faith is the soul’s

“abandonment” of itself to God and His Word. Thus the only way to

know God is by forsaking one’s independent thinking about God. This is the very opposite of attempting to reason in a “flat line” manner.

C. God commands unbelievers to renounce their antagonistic reasoning and

to embrace a new system of thought (John 8:24).

 

1. Repentance (which always accompanies genuine faith) involves

radical abandonment of autonomous world views and independent

thinking about God.

2. Where there is true faith and repentance, there is a submission

to the mind of God and a new commitment to think God’s thoughts

after Him. The renewed mind embraces an entirely new epistemology

in which Christ and His Word are the final reference point and

authority for knowing (1 Cor. 2:14-16).

3. Repentance puts a halt to man’s judging God – it terminates a

man’s commitment to think “ultimately” (or with autonomous

reason). Repentance by means of God’s authoritative truth

mortifies the natural man’s view of self. It destroys his

presuppositions of ultimate thinking. It brings to bear the full

weight of God’s claims upon him.[xiii][13]

4. There is a self-renouncing character to saving faith – it looks

away from itself to God as the source of truth and life. Thus faith

cannot be grounded in man’s self-reliant thinking – in true

repentance, the final reference point and starting point shift from self

to God (Phil. 3:3; Jer. 17:5; Prov. 28:26; 1 Cor. 2:4,5).

VI. The point of contact of God and His truth with sinful man is at the

point of man’s rebellion.[xiv][14]

A. Though the sinner is commanded to seek God, he cannot take a step

in God’s direction without divine assistance (John 6:44,45; Is. 55:1-

11). When the sinner cries to God for mercy, he is also pleading for

the ability to come to God, believe and be saved (Luke 18:13).

1. God makes Himself known to the unbeliever by FIRST setting

forth the man’s predicament. His habitual breaking of God’s

law, his ill-desert, his legal guilt and his moral failure must be stated.

When the Holy Spirit brings conviction of sin, He “shows the sinner

his chains and the weight of his guilt.”

2. Men are not ready for the good news of the gospel UNTIL their

consciences have been educated concerning the seriousness of God’s

claims upon them (Gal. 3:23,24; John 16:13).

3. Man’s spiritual apathy constitutes rebellion. Man’s apathy is a

symptom of a heart dead to the things of God. The Scriptures

state that the solution to man’s spiritual deadness is the vivifying

power of Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:1-5):[xv][15]

“And you were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)…”

4. Christ is God’s comprehensive answer to man’s predicament. God

commands sinners to appeal to Christ for a new heart of faith and

repentance. Man’s number one duty is to come to Christ and be

forgiven (Rev. 22:17).

B. The unbeliever’s arguments sound “rational” until he is taken back to

his world view and presuppostional starting point.[xvi][16] At that juncture,

his system falls apart – man’s existence in order to be meaningful

cannot be grounded upon chaos, chance and absurdity.

1. Even unbelievers presuppose theism in order to reason at all. There

are certain “preconditions” of knowledge that only an almighty

Creator can supply.

2. These preconditions include the following: God knows all things

exhaustively, God is the concrete universal that unites all particulars,

God’s control over the universe is manifested in the uniformity of nature,

God is the source of morals, God is the source of logic, God supplies the

categories of knowledge, God has interpreted all things, God answers

every ultimate question, God rules the universe according to His purpose

and plan.

3. Without these preconditions of knowledge, man is unable to predicate

anything. He is adrift upon a sea of epistemological despair –

certainty and rationality are ever out of reach. Man can only retreat

into solipsism (solipsism is the theory that the self is the only thing

that can be known and verified – self is the only reality).[xvii][17]

4. “When one willingly limits his faith, presuming to question the ability

or truth of God based upon human intellect or argumentation, it is a

serious provocation before the Lord – e.g., Psalm 78:18-22” (Greg

Bahnsen, Always Ready, p. 93).

5. A universe without God’s sovereign moral authority and rule is a

universe based upon chance. The natural man clings to chance in

order to escape the claims of God. To opt for a chance universe is to

reject the God of the Bible.[xviii][18]

6. The natural man’s theory of knowledge is synonymous with his world

view. Since the unbeliever trusts in the ultimacy of his own mind, he

correspondingly rejects the authority of God’s Word. His world view is

necessarily constructed so as to invalidate God’s claims upon the

creature.

7. God’s almighty control of all things is manifested in His preservation

of His Word, the Bible. In a universe where chance is ultimate, the

Word of God is necessarily falsified by man. Thus, chance destroys

the infallibility of the Scriptures and the Gospel. (The unbeliever’s

system of thought is internally rotten. He cannot have it both ways –

he cannot have rational universe and at the same time, have a

universe based upon chance. Reason is slain on the altar of chance.

The God of the Bible is the precondition of knowledge and rationality.)

C. The nature of biblical faith governs our apologetic method.

The nature of belief must guide our strategy when defending the faith

and evangelizing the lost. As a result, we never hold the ultimate

authority of God’s Word in abeyance for the sake of neutrality amidst

argumentation.

1. When defending the faith, we do not appeal to autonomous empirical

“sight,” instead, we proclaim the a priori Word of God.[xix][19]

2. Man is utterly dependent upon God for existence and meaning. We

are God’s thought and creation, upheld and sustained by Him every

moment (Col. 1:16,17; Acts 17:24-27).

3. It is absolutely impossible to find a vantage point that is neutral,

objective and autonomous from which to scrutinize God and His

Word. There is never a moment when the claims of the Creator are

not resting upon the creature.

4. When men pretend to operate from a neutral vantage point, they are

in reality revealing a heart full of revolt against God. Their greatest

need is not a superior vantage point, it is repentance and faith toward

God.

Endnotes

[i][1] Greg L. Bahnsen, Always Ready, (American Vision, Atlanta, 1996) 55.

[ii][2] Ibid., pp. 65-67.

[iii][3] James F. Stitzinger, Apologetics and Evangelism TH 701, (Syllabus from The Master’s Seminary, Sun Valley, CA copyright 1999) 84,85.

[iv][4] Ibid., pp. 84,85.

[v][5] Greg L. Bahnsen, Always Ready, pp. 66-68.

[vi][6] Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, (Presbyterian and Reformed, Phillipsburg, 1955) 90-95.

[vii][7] James F. Stitzinger, Apologetics and Evangelism, p. 17.

[viii][8] Greg L. Bahnsen, Always Ready, pp. 87,88.

[ix][9] Ibid., p. 88.

[x][10] Tom Wells, The Moral Basis of Faith, (The Banner of Truth Trust, Carlisle, 1986) 9-11.

[xi][11] Greg L. Bahnsen, Always Ready, p. 89.

[xii][12] Michael J. Kruger, “The Sufficiency of Scripture in Apologetics” in The Master’s Seminary Journal, (12:1, Spring 2001) 70, 81,82.

[xiii][13] James F. Stitzinger, Syllabus, p. 89.

[xiv][14] Ibid., p. 104.

[xv][15] Ibid., p. 103.

[xvi][16] Ibid., pp. 58,99,101,113.

[xvii][17] Greg L. Bahnsen, A Critique of the Evidentialist Apologetical Method of John Warwick Montgomery, pp. 5,11.

[xviii][18] Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, pp. 140-150.

[xix][19] Greg L. Bahnsen, Always Ready, pp. 91-93.