I Believe Amazing Things
By Duane Morris
You have probably noticed that Christians believe some amazing things. In fact, referring to them as ‘amazing’ might be a generous way to put it. Others may refer to the collection of orthodox Christian beliefs as ridiculous, crazy, absurd or irrational. These assertions arise quickly when it comes to specific beliefs about the historical person of Jesus. There is far less contention surrounding the things Jesus taught, compared to what His followers believe about Him. It begins with the idea that He was actually God living on earth in human flesh, which alerts the skeptical side of many logical people.
In addition to identifying Jesus as God, those who follow him will claim:
- He was born of a Virgin.
- He lived a perfect life.
- He performed numerous miracles.
- He died for the sin of mankind.
- He rose from the dead.
There is a common failure, by both the Christian and the skeptic, to identify the logical relationship between these ideas. The skeptic engages in a sort of “piling on” tactic in which they use each one to further enhance the fancifulness of Christianity. It might sound something like this: “The Christians believe that Jesus was God himself and that He was born of a virgin – a woman who never had sex – but was pregnant. Then He went on to live a perfect life, performing miracles such as giving sight to the blind. But that’s not all, they also think that he died for everyone and then came back from the dead...” The assumption is that no explanation exists for any of these beliefs and they are just accepted blindly.
It is appropriate for the Christian to acknowledge that each of these beliefs is quite surprising. However, when considered as an overall package, it becomes evident that the ideas are closely related to each other. If we contemplate how Jesus could be perfect or die for us, it should seem obvious that someone who is simply a man could not accomplish such things. So we see that those particular beliefs depend upon the primary belief that Jesus was actually God. Similarly, when it comes to His performing creative miracles such as giving sight to the blind, or the idea of being born of a literal virgin, once again both ideas depend upon His identity as God. If one is not first convinced of this, then it would make no sense to accept any of those claims about Him. Therefore, it is apparent that some of the amazing beliefs about Jesus Christ depend on another amazing belief, that He was actually God. If one does not accept this premise first, then the other surprising ideas will ultimately be unfounded and perhaps irrational.
The primary question then is: “Who was Jesus?” It is not a new question and it continues to come to the forefront. If one does not accept that He was God, then the additional beliefs about Him should be rejected as well. However, to reject the additional beliefs about Jesus without assessing the claim that He is God would be to beg the question. Clearly, none of the other claims about Him could be true unless He was God. But, on the other hand, if one does accept that Jesus was God, on what basis could they do so? First of all, we should not accept His Divine Nature based on a belief that He died for us or that He was born of a Virgin, because those ideas are dependent upon Him actually being God. So we are in need of additional confirmation, and we have one amazing belief remaining which we have yet to discuss, that we can turn to now, the Resurrection itself. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then He is simply a dead man and it would be clear that we ought to reject the idea that He was God. In fact, none of these beliefs about Jesus will make sense if He is just a dead man. On the other hand, if He has conquered death through a physical Resurrection, then it would make sense to believe He is the only one who has power over death – God Himself. At this point the discussion turns to the evidence for the Resurrection, which I will not cover here, but it is a topic of the greatest significance and must be examined in light of historical evidence.
What I am currently concerned with is the importance of the connection between the Resurrection and our conclusion regarding who Jesus was. The Apostles understood the connection and emphasized it repeatedly, one example of which is in Romans 1:4 where Paul states, “Who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead,…” Another example is in Acts 17:31 where he declares, “… He will judge the world in righteousness through a man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.” Biblical passages such as these do not provide evidence that the Resurrection actually occurred, but they demonstrate the long standing relationship between the Resurrection claim and the idea that Jesus was truly God. The primary task in Christian Apologetics is that of substantiating the historical validity of the Resurrection claim. If this can be done successfully, the other beliefs will have a solid foundation - especially the Divine Nature of Jesus.
The following diagram demonstrates the relationship between the six beliefs that Christians have traditionally embraced about Jesus.
One might wonder whether the Resurrection should also follow from the Divine nature of Jesus. However, as the previous Scriptures emphasized, His conquering of death provides the evidence of Jesus’ identity, not the other way around. It establishes a foundation on which to believe He is alive. Granted, He would have to be God in order to conquer death, but as Paul said, God has “given proof,” and that is by raising Him from the dead. It is in fact the “proof,” because the power to overcome death is quite revealing. Imagine if every other claim about Jesus was true, but He had never risen from the dead. The result of such a scenario would be that none of us would ever know those things were true because from our perspective He would simply be a dead man – good and wise, but dead. The Resurrection provides a basis on which we can now conclude that Jesus is God, much in the same way that His identity being God provides the basis on which to conclude He did perform miracles, etc.
Other surprising beliefs Christians hold to include the idea that Jesus is the only Way of salvation and that salvation has been offered as a free gift of Grace. These beliefs are dependent upon the previously discussed ideas about Jesus actually being true; most specifically the idea that Jesus died to pay for our sin. The Apostle Paul expresses both ideas together in Romans 3:23-24: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”(NIV) As Paul explains it, God offered Jesus in order to pay the penalty for sin through His death. Christ’s sacrifice and the subsequent redemption have both been offered to us freely, out of God’s grace. The ideas also appear in John 14:6, where Jesus declares, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father except through me.” Then in Ephesians 2:8, Paul states, “For by Grace you have been saved through faith, it is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God…” But one must accept that Jesus was truly God if the rest of this is to make sense. For He could not give His life for our sin if He was just a human like the rest of us; and if He did not die in our place, then He could not be the Way and salvation would not be by Grace.
For those who experience skepticism regarding the Christian concept of salvation and the emphasis on Grace, again the question is: “Is Jesus the Son of God or not?” If He is actually God, then the other beliefs about Him are not so difficult. Once we accept that Jesus died for our sin, it will be apparent that He is the Savior, just as it will be clear that the gift of salvation is undeserved. So we now have a framework within which to accept the idea that Jesus is the Way, as well as the concept of salvation by Grace.
All these beliefs within the Christian Faith which seem unbelievable, especially when considered independently, ultimately come down to one core belief. Apart from the reality of the Resurrection, they are mere fanciful ideas. But in light of a Resurrected Christ, the door opens to many beliefs which once seemed like a long shot, or downright unreasonable. If we added these to the previous chart, salvation by Grace and Jesus being the way of salvation, both would branch off the idea of Jesus dying for our sin.
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