Theology

Why New Year’s Resolutions Don’t Work

Why New Year’s Resolutions Don’t Work

Willpower Is Weak

If you’re considering making some New Year’s resolutions this year, consider this: like other exercises of raw willpower, most New Year’s resolutions fail miserably.

According to research, 80 percent of those who make resolutions on January 1 have given up by Valentine’s Day. Nutrition experts say that two-thirds of dieters regain any weight lost within a year, and more than 70 percent of people who undergo coronary bypass surgery fall back into unhealthy habits within two years of their surgery.

“Most of us think that we can change our lives if we just summon the willpower and try even harder this time around,” says Alan Deutschman, the former executive director of Unboundary, a firm that counsels corporations on how to navigate change. “It’s exceptionally hard to make life changes, and our efforts are usually doomed to failure when we try to do it on our own.”

As we think about New Year’s resolutions, it’s important to realize something about human nature: people do what they want to do. The Reformation theologian Thomas Cranmer held this view of human nature (as summarized by Anglican historian Ashley Null):

What the heart loves, the will chooses, and the mind justifies. The mind doesn’t direct the will. The mind is actually captive to what the will wants, and the will itself, in turn, is captive to what the heart wants.

So making a resolution and summoning up all your willpower does little good if, ultimately, your heart isn’t in it. Does this mean you should abandon any hope of change? Not at all. If you’re going to make a New Year’s resolution, here are a few things to keep in mind.

 

1. Is It A Good Resolution?

Try to determine if the resolution is actually good. Are you planning on working out more? If so, is it because you want to be a good steward of the body God gave you or is it vanity? In reality, it is probably some of both. But what is the driving desire? Is it a good one?

 

2. Just Do It

If your resolution is actually a good one, just do it. Go ahead and work out more, smoke or drink less, read your Bible more, pay down your debt and save more for retirement, focus on your marriage, spend more time with your children. Every once in a while, people start a New Year’s resolution and it sticks. But most don’t. That’s because (1) you are sinner and (2) your heart is an idol factory.

 

3. Grace Actually Works

The reality is that your resolution is likely needed because, like everyone else except for Jesus, you are not loving God with your entire being and not loving your neighbor as yourself. These two failures lead to havoc, discord, pain, and destruction. Jesus gave us the basic requirement: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 22:40).

That basic failure is why we need the gospel: Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection deal with the guilt and the stain of sin. It’s also why we so often fail at our attempts to improve ourselves.

But Jesus also gave us the Holy Spirit, who can change our desires and empower us to love God and neighbor. As Paul tells us, “it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). With us and our willpower, Jesus says, change is impossible, “but with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26).

 

God Gives Grace to Change

As Cranmer realized, our wills are captive to what our hearts love, and we are powerless to change ourselves without the work of God’s Spirit changing our desires. When you think through New Year’s resolutions, here’s a prayer from the Book of Common Prayer as you ask God to work on your heart:

Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

White Horse Inn: “Sexual Abuse & the Gospel Grace”

White Horse Inn: “Sexual Abuse & the Gospel Grace”

Lindsey and I were guests on the White Horse Inn podcast and interviewed by our friend, Dr. Michael Horton.

The interview is on iTunes. Here is the information on the interview from their blog:

According to a host of recent indicators, sexual assault is on the rise, and unfortunately it appears to be occurring just as frequently inside the church as it is in the outside world. So how are we to deal with this growing challenge? More importantly, how are we to apply the gospel of grace to both victims and perpetrators of this type of abuse? On this program Michael Horton discusses this issue at length with Justin and Lindsey Holcomb, authors of Rid of My Disgrace: Hope and Healing for Victims of Sexual Assault.

What Is “Apologetics”?

What Is “Apologetics”?

The word “apologetics” comes from the Greek word apologia, which means “the act of making a defense.” In Philippians 1:7, 16, apologia refers to a defense of the gospel, and in 1 Peter 3:15 it refers to a defense of the hope Christians have.

Apologetics is “an activity of the Christian mind which attempts to show that the gospel message is true in what it affirms. An apologist is one who is prepared to defend the message against criticism and distortion, and to give evidences of its credibility.”

 

Defending Christian Belief

One form of apologetics is to defend the gospel from challenges. Defensive apologetics is the defense of the Christian faith by showing when objections to Christianity do not stand. Defensive apologetics addresses objections about the concept of God’s Triunity, the problem of evil, the Resurrection, the reliability of the Bible, and so forth.

For example, negative apologetics is used to rebut the claim that the doctrine of the Trinity “is an Error in counting or numbering; which, when stood in, is of all others the most brutal and inexcusable.” Negative apologetics will show that the doctrine of the Trinity is at least possibly true.

Another example is to defend against the charge that the Bible contains errors, contradictions, or inconsistencies. To give answers to the challenges that Jesus rose from the dead is also defensive apologetics.

 

Giving Reasons to Believe

Another form of apologetics is to offer reasons to believe the gospel. Positive apologetics is the use of arguments and evidences to demonstrate the viability of the Christian faith. Apologetics intends to show, in a positive manner, that the claims of the Christian faith are indeed intellectually defensible and rationally justifiable.

Positive apologetics is making a positive case for the validity and truth of the claims made in Scripture, such as the resurrection of Christ, the existence of God, and the historical reliability of the Bible.

 

Critiquing Unbelief

Another form of apologetics is critiquing unbelief, which combines both the positive and negative forms. Some streams of apologetics seek to show that unbelief is irrational and that holding to views such as relativism will lead to undesirable and irrational conclusions.

For example, holding to relativism entails that no universal ethical norm can be present since there is no objective truth to ground morality. This type of apologetics moves from the critique to a positive construction that shows how the Christian faith provides an alternative and logical worldview that best makes sense of reality.

Explaining how karma is a cruel and devastating belief is another form of critiquing unbelief. In the karma system of belief, if someone is suffering or in pain, they deserve it, and to help them is to go against the cosmic law (dharma) at play.

Another example is the critique that atheism logically leads to moral chaos. On what basis can an atheist say anything (even genocide, sexual assault, or child abuse) is bad or wrong? If ethics is based on opinion or consensus, then morality is determined by whoever has the most power. If nature is “red in tooth and claw” and survival of the fittest is true and good, then domination of one animal over another in any form can’t be called bad or wrong in a naturalistic worldview. Notice that this argument is not saying that atheists are immoral, but that their belief system has no support for objective morality.

 

Apologetics on Mission

Apologetics is something you engage in every time you share your beliefs and convictions with your fellow Christians, with your children, and with non-believers. It is not an irrelevant or formal discipline reserved for intellectuals. Apologetics is an important tool for mission.

 

Apologetics Resources

Here are some great resources for learning more about apologetics:

What Is Scripture?

What Is Scripture?

Is Scripture divine or human? Authoritative? Is Scripture inspired by God? How should it be used?

What is Scripture? All religious traditions that ground themselves in texts must grapple with certain questions. In worship services and public and private readings, Christians often turn to Scripture for guidance: to the stories of Abraham or Moses, to the Psalms, to the prophecies of Isaiah, to the life of Jesus, to the letters of Paul, to the vision of John. Therefore, Christians must confront their own set of questions. What is Scripture? Is it divine? Human? Both? Is Scripture authoritative? If so, how and for whom? What is the scope of its authority? Is Scripture inspired by God? How should Scripture be used? How do Scripture and tradition relate? What does it mean for a Christian to call the Bible “the Word of God”? And if Jesus is also called the Word of God, how does Jesus as the Word of God relate to the Bible as the Word of God?

Helpful History

The good news is that we are not the first to try to answer these questions. In fact, 2,000 years of Christian history provide us a tradition of helpful answers as numerous Christian theologians have wrestled with these questions.

Theologians at different times have focused on different questions regarding Scripture. In the patristic and medieval eras, the focus was on relating the literal meaning of the text to allegorical or spiritual interpretations; during the Reformation, the debates focused on who had the authority to define and interpret Scripture; and after the Enlightenment, theologians tried to determine how the Bible was still the Word of God in light of historical-critical methods that seemed to challenge its historicity and reliability. However, in spite of all the various approaches, Christian theologians have been unified in dealing with a central issue: how the self-disclosure of God in Jesus relates to the Scriptures as the Word of God. A central question is always the relationship between “the Word” becoming human flesh (Incarnation) and “the Word” becoming human words.

The Word and the Christian

Christians believe that the Bible is inspired by God, is without error, and does not misrepresent the facts. It is entirely trustworthy and is the final authority on everything it teaches. The Bible records the drama of redemption in the history of Israel and the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As Christians we acknowledge both Jesus (John 1:1–4) and Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16–17) as the “Word of God.” Christians should not focus solely on Jesus Christ and treat Scripture just like any other “classic text.” Nor should we focus primarily on the Bible as God’s divine inerrant Word and treat Jesus as simply a character in a small part of the texts.

Jesus Is The Ultimate Word

Jesus is the central message—God participating in human life, coming near to us, bringing his good news, expressing God’s love for us, dying as our substitute, rising as the victor over death, and building his church as a community of grace. Jesus is not just the main character in one of many events in the story of God’s people. Jesus is the final revelation of God’s drama of redemption. Humanity sees God in full light in Jesus. Jesus is God’s ultimate word about human life, and the Bible is God’s word about God’s self-revelation through human life. This is what Christian theologians have been saying in various ways for 2,000 years. In answering the question “What is Scripture?” theological giants like Origen, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Karl Barth, and others have given us many categories to use, concepts to ponder, and doctrines of Scripture to consider and wrestle with. Yet in spite of their differences, they are unified in that their doctrines of Scripture are all surprisingly Christ-centered.

The Story About Grace

The deepest message of the Bible and the ministry of Jesus is the grace of God to sinners and those who are suffering. That is the story of the Bible. The problem of the human condition is that because of sin, we are guilty and we suffer. Throughout the Bible, we constantly see God taking the initiative to bring his grace to sinners and sufferers, from his gracious dealings with the people of Israel to the climactic redemptive work of Jesus Christ in his life, death, and resurrection. By taking us through the story of God bringing his grace to sinners and sufferers, Scripture reveals the heart of God and the heart of the Christian faith.

Abraham Kuyper: Hero To A Nation

Abraham Kuyper: Hero To A Nation

Theologian for a nation

Have you ever heard of a theologian being so well-known that his birthday was a national holiday? The 19th-century Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper had such a great impact in the Netherlands that the entire nation celebrated his seventieth birthday in 1907.

Kuyper was a man of many hats: statesman, politician, educator, preacher, churchman, theologian, and philosopher. He was a modern-day Renaissance man who participated in the cultural conversation of his day.

While Kuyper’s influence has been felt throughout the 20th century in the Dutch Calvinist branch of the Reformed church, his influence has been expanding as scholars continue to mine his writings for resources to deal with the challenges of a public theology for the contemporary world.

 

Kuyper’s life

Abraham Kuyper was born to a middle-class pastor’s family in the remote fishing village of Maasluis, Netherlands, on October 29, 1837.

As a young boy, Abraham was thought to be a dull student. He began his early education from home. However, he went on to graduate with the highest honors from the University of Leiden, and he did his doctoral work in theology. Leiden, at the time, was a bastion of theological liberalism, with professors who questioned the resurrection of Christ and the existence of the supernatural and embraced a historical-critical view of Scripture.

Kuyper was captivated by this liberal stream of thought but was not content with its answers to all of his questions. After writing an award-winning treatise (in Latin!) on Calvin’s view of the church, Kuyper found himself overworked and exhausted. On a six-week vacation to Germany, he read Charlotte Yonge’s novel The Heir of Redclyffe, and “In the arrogant hero he recognized himself and his spiritual poverty.” He realized the church could console his weary soul in ways his studies could not. Kuyper had seen a vision of what the church could be in his study of Calvin’s writings, but he had not seen that church existing in the Netherlands. As a result, he pledged his life to reforming that church.

Ordained in 1863, Kuyper began to pastor a small church in the village of Beesd. There he found himself pulled in two different directions, both from his orthodox Reformed heritage and from the liberal theology he discovered at Leiden.

After meeting with members of his congregation in their homes, Kuyper found himself at a crisis. De Jong writes, “The choice lay between what he had learned at the university and what these simple folk so firmly believed.” This led him to the conviction that what was wrong with the Reformed church in the Netherlands was that it cared little for its membership, who had no voice in the church and even less a voice in the state and society.

Kuyper moved on to pastor in Utrecht and then, in 1870, he moved to pastor the Reformed Church in Amsterdam, the largest and most influential church in the Netherlands. He pastored there until he was elected to the Dutch parliament in 1874.

 

Kuyper’s career       

During the course of his 57-year career, Abraham Kuyper started two newspapers, founded an influential political party, helped create a new denomination, started a university, was elected as his nation’s prime minister, and authored numerous important books. He spent ten years as a preacher, twenty years as a professor, forty-two years as a newspaper editor and chairman of his political party, ten years as a member of the Dutch parliament, and four years as the prime minister.

Kuyper’s ideas and academic works emerged from his grass-roots effort to urge his constituency into action, and most of his writings first appeared as newspaper editorials and pamphlets.

In 1898, Kuyper visited the United States to deliver the Stone Lectures at Princeton Seminary. These were compiled into what is perhaps the most well-known work of Kuyper, his Lectures on Calvinism, which offer a biblical and systematic view of life and the world. Kuyper also published his own edition of Calvin’s Institutes, since he believed the widely available Dutch translation at the time was insufficient.

Kuyper was a man of action as well as ideas. As scholar James Bratt points out, “For every hour [Kuyper] spent studying great books, he spent two more hours plotting the tactics of church reform, wheeling and dealing with university trustees, meeting with party representatives…Kuyper was a movement leader, an institution builder, as well as an intellectual.” Kuyper spurred church, social, cultural, and political change through the advancement of his Reformed views of education, the church, and the state.

 

Kuyper’s theological distinctives  

There are two theological concepts for which Kuyper is most famous: sphere sovereignty and common grace.

Kuyper is known for his famous phrase, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry ‘Mine!’” Indeed, this concept of “sphere sovereignty” is one of Kuyper’s most original ideas. Theologian Richard Mouw describes this concept:

God, [Kuyper] insisted, built into the creation a variety of cultural spheres, such as the family, economics, politics, art, and intellectual inquiry. Each of these spheres has its own proper ‘business’ and needs its own unique pattern of authority. When we confuse spheres, by violating the proper boundaries of church and state, for instance, or reducing the academic life to a business enterprise, we trangress the patterns that God has set.

Kuyper believed that these God-given structures of creation were important for maintaining order and justice in society.

For Kuyper, though sin has pervasively corrupted the world, the glory of God’s created order is not completely obliterated by the Fall, and therefore the various spheres and structures of the earth still reveal glimpses of God’s goodness and power.

 

Kuyper’s legacy 

Abraham Kuyper has been called “a churchman who aroused many to their high calling in a society which had drifted far from its historical Christian moorings.” Kuyper’s ideas have important ramifications for Christians as we think through our place in a secular society and culture, and for that reason it is worth learning from this 19th-century Dutch Reformed theologian today.

 

Kuyper’s major writings:

Louis Berkhof: Pillar of Faith in an Innovative Age

Louis Berkhof: Pillar of Faith in an Innovative Age

Not all theologians are innovative, groundbreaking, or revolutionary. Some just faithfully serve God. Some just love the church. And some just teach theology to eager students. Louis Berkhof—not innovative, groundbreaking, or revolutionary—did all three. Yet, as Henry Zwaanstra writes, “No theologian or churchman has made a greater impact on the Christian Reformed Church than Professor Berkhof.” Because of this, the life and work of Louis Berkhof deserves attention.

 

Berkhof’s Background

Louis Berkhof was born in Emmen, in the Netherlands, in 1873. His parents, Jan and Gessje, were members of the Christian Reformed Church, a denomination that came into existence out of a split from the Netherlands Reformed Church in 1834. In 1882, the Berkhof family emigrated to Grand Rapids, Michigan, when Louis was 8 years old.

While a teenager, Louis was the secretary of the Reformed Young Men’s Society in Grand Rapids, an organization whose purpose was “to study Reformed doctrine and the principles of Calvinism for all areas of human life.” Through Berkhof’s influence in this local society, it was organized on a denominational scale and became known as the American Federation of Reformed Young Men’s Societies.

Berkhof professed faith in Christ in 1893. This same year, at age 19, he enrolled in the Theological School of the Christian Reformed Church, which included a four-year literary course of study and a three-year theological course. The literary program was expanded into Calvin College, and the theological department became Calvin Theological Seminary. There Berkhof studied dogmatics with Hendericus Beuker, an admirer of the work of Abraham Kuyper and Herman Bavinck.

In 1900, Berkhof was ordained in the Christian Reformed Church in Allendale, Michigan, and he served there until 1902. After the Christian Reformed Church Synod chose to appoint a student with a PhD instead of Berkhof to the chair in exegetical theology, he decided to pursue more formal education. So he went to Princeton and studied under Benjamin Warfield and Geerhardus Vos from 1902 to 1904.

In 1904, Berkhof became the pastor of Oakdale Park Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. While pastoring this church he took correspondence courses in philosophy from the University of Chicago.

In 1906, Berkhof was appointed to the chair of exegetical theology at Calvin Seminary. From 1906 to 1914, Berkhof taught all of the Old and New Testament courses at Calvin. However, in 1914 the OT and NT departments were divided, which allowed Berkhof more time to research and write. In 1924, he was given the opportunity to take a position as a professor of dogmatics, which paved the way for the writing of his Systematic Theology.

First offered the presidency of Calvin College in 1919, Berkhof declined and later became the president of Calvin Theological Seminary in 1931.

After 38 years of being a professor, Berkhof retired in 1944. He continued to write articles for church periodicals until his death on May 18, 1957.

 

Berkhof’s Contributions to Theology 

While Berkhof was a gifted public speaker, professor, and pastor, his greatest influence and most enduring contribution was in his writings. While his theological works are the most widely known, he also wrote books addressing social issues, modern trends of thought, and Christian education, evangelism, missions, and life. Throughout the course of his career he wrote twenty-two books on a variety of subjects.

Berkhof was convinced that the church had a role to play in social reform and ought not to be separatistic toward culture. As Zwaanstra puts it, for Berkhof, “The church was God’s chosen instrument not only to save individuals and to prepare them for eternal life, but also to implement as much as possible the Kingdom of God on earth.”

Most of Berkhof’s theological writings were written for his lectures as a professor. In 1911 he wrote a basic hermeneutics textbook in Dutch, published in English in 1937 as Principles of Biblical Interpretation. During the course of his career, he wrote works on the New Testament, Joshua, biblical archaeology, work and faith, assurance, systematic theology, the history of doctrine, the atonement, liberalism, the kingdom of God, and the second coming of Christ.

Berkhof’s magnum opus was his Systematic Theology, compiled and published as one volume in 1941.

 

Berkhof’s Theological Distinctives

Little of what Berkhof wrote was an innovation of his own thinking. However, he was a master at organizing and explaining Reformed theology, especially in the tradition of Herman Bavinck. As Zwaanstra writes, “Berkhof’s theology was essentially the theology of Herman Bavinck.”

This steadfast adherence to the Reformed tradition flowed out of Berkhof’s belief that it best captured the meaning of Scripture. During his career, Berkhof was thrown into a variety of denominational struggles and issues, such as the authority and inerrancy of Scripture. On each of these issues he stood his ground against the popular theological liberalism of the day. Against those in the liberal tradition who questioned the reliability of certain elements of Scripture, Berkhof asserted time and time again the authority and trustworthiness of the Bible.

 

Berkhof’s Legacy

While Berkhof’s theological work is not particularly groundbreaking or original, he faithfully held firm to the teachings of Scripture throughout his entire life and sought to pass on those teachings to those entrusted to him. He wrote much, trained many, and was a faithful servant of God’s kingdom.

 

Berkhof’s Major Writings:

 

Defending the Resurrection of Jesus

Defending the Resurrection of Jesus

Of all the teachings of Christianity, no doctrine is more central than the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The truth of the resurrection has been attacked from every angle. New books and television media regularly appear questioning the truth of the resurrection, re-hashing old theories about what happened to Jesus’ body. Since the resurrection is crucial to Christianity, Christians ought to be able to give some answers to the inevitable questions about the truth of the resurrection.

Historically Credible Accounts

The first step in defending the resurrection from its detractors is to establish the fact of the historical events that took place as conveyed in the Gospels. As philosopher William Lane Craig notes in his book Reasonable Faith, “The issue is whether the gospel narratives are historically credible accounts or unhistorical legends.”

The Empty Tomb

One of the easiest parts of the resurrection data to establish is the fact that the tomb is empty. Because the location of Jesus’ burial was known to those living in Jerusalem, it is unlikely that they would have believed the apostles’ claims about the resurrection of Christ if there was not an empty tomb. Jesus’ burial is widely attested in early, independent testimonies, both biblical and extra-biblical.

The fact that women are primary witnesses of the empty tomb in the Gospel accounts is further evidence of their authenticity. This is because, as is often noted, women were not considered reliable witnesses in first-century Jewish culture, so it would have been foolish for the authors to fictionally construct an account involving women in order to gain credibility.

Matthew 28:11–15 speaks of a myth that was spread among the Jews concerning the body of Christ. Apparently, the Jews were saying the disciples stole the body of Christ. This is significant because the Jews did not deny the tomb was empty, but instead sought an alternative explanation to the resurrection. The emptiness of the tomb is a widely attested historical fact.

However, just because the tomb of Christ was empty does not necessarily mean the resurrection happened. There are four alternative hypotheses to the resurrection that have been advanced over the years:

1. The Conspiracy Hypothesis

The conspiracy hypothesis says that the disciples stole the body of Christ and continued to lie about his appearances to them. According to this account, the resurrection was a hoax.

This hypothesis is not commonly held in modern scholarship for several reasons:

  • This hypothesis does not take into account that the disciples believed in the resurrection. It is highly unlikely that numerous disciples would have been willing to give up their lives defending a fabrication.
  • It is unlikely that the idea of resurrection would have entered the minds of the disciples, as such an event was not connected to the Jewish idea of a Messiah. The scholar William Lane Craig writes, “If your favorite Messiah got himself crucified, then you either went home or else you got yourself a new Messiah. But the idea of stealing Jesus’ corpse and saying that God has raised him from the dead is hardly one that would have entered the minds of the disciples.”
  • This hypothesis cannot account for the post-resurrection appearances of Christ.

 

2. The Apparent Death Hypothesis

The second hypothesis attempting to explain away the resurrection is the apparent death hypothesis. This view says Jesus was not completely dead when he was removed from the cross. Once in the tomb, Jesus was revived and escaped, thus convincing the disciples of his resurrection.

This view is difficult to hold for a few reasons:

  • It is unlikely that a half-dead man would have been capable of even getting up to walk, much less moving the huge stone that sealed the tomb, over-powering Roman guards, and fleeing from sight.
  • This theory cannot account for the disciples’ attribution of resurrection to Christ, for if they had seen him after he was revived, they would have merely thought he had never died.
  • It is also foolish to think the Romans, who had perfected the art of executing people, would have let one slip by without ensuring he was dead.
  • Finally, given the physical torture described in the Gospel accounts, it is highly unlikely that Jesus could have survived crucifixion.

 

3. The Wrong Tomb Hypothesis

The wrong tomb hypothesis suggests that the women had gotten lost on their way to Jesus’ tomb and accidentally stumbled upon the caretaker of an empty tomb. When the caretaker said, “Jesus is not here,” the women were so disoriented they fled, their story later being developed into a resurrection myth.

Like the other theories, virtually no reputable scholars hold to this view. There are at least three reasons:

  • First, this theory does not explain the post-resurrection appearances, and it is spurious to think that such a simple mistake would have led a first-century Jew to think a resurrection had happened.
  • In light of the early evidence that is available concerning the location of Jesus’ tomb, it is almost impossible that the women would have confused its location.
  • This hypothesis emphasizes that the caretaker of the tomb said that Christ was not there, but it passes over the next phrase: “He is risen!”

 

4. The Displaced Body Hypothesis

The displaced body hypothesis says Joseph of Arimathea placed Jesus’ body in his own tomb, but later moved it to the criminal’s graveyard. The disciples were not aware that Jesus’ body had been moved and therefore wrongly inferred that he had risen from the dead.

Because of the spurious nature of this theory, virtually no modern scholars hold to it:

  • This theory cannot account for the post-resurrection appearances of Christ or the origin of the Christian faith.
  • It is unclear why Joseph would not have corrected the error of the disciples by simply showing them where he had moved the body of Jesus.
  • The criminal graveyard, most likely, was quite close to the crucifixion site, so it would have made little sense why Joseph would not have simply buried Jesus there in the first place. In fact, it was against Jewish law to allow a body to be moved after it had already been buried.

 

The Post-Resurrection Appearances

In 1 Corinthians, an authentic letter composed by a man acquainted with the first disciples, the Apostle Paul claims that numerous people saw Jesus alive after his death (1 Cor. 15:3-8).

It is fairly indisputable that Jesus actually appeared to the people that Paul mentions. Even the notorious New Testament critic Bart Ehrman admits, “we can say with some confidence that some of his disciples claimed to have seen Jesus alive.”

The gospels all speak of post-resurrection appearances of Christ. It would be quite ridiculous to suggest that each of these events was a hallucination. Few scholars argue, therefore, that on different occasions different groups of people had experiences of seeing Jesus. They therefore question whether the experiences were actual physical, bodily appearances of Christ. However, Paul leaves no room for a merely psychological experience. His theology of the resurrected body ensures that he meant that Christ actually, physically appeared.  

The resurrection is the most plausible explanation for the postmortem appearances of Christ. The alternative—the disciples were hallucinating—says nothing to explain the empty tomb. Nor does it explain the disciples’ belief in the resurrection. In typical psychological postmortem experiences, the person having the experience rarely would think that a dead person actually returned physically to life. As New Testament scholar N.T. Wright argues, postmortem appearances in the ancient world would be more evidence that the person was dead than that he was alive.

The physical resurrection of Jesus proves to be the best explanation for the postmortem appearances described in 1 Cor. 15.

 

The Existence of Christianity

The fact that Christianity started and grew is also evidence for the resurrection. For Jews, the Messiah was viewed as a figure that would be triumphant and rule on David’s throne, not a figure that would be crucified and die.

The resurrection undid the catastrophe of the crucifixion. The Messiah, who had died, is risen! The resurrection validated and verified the claims Jesus had made about his own identity. The origin of Christianity rests solely on the fact that Jesus Christ rose from the dead.

It stands to reason that Jesus Christ did in fact rise from the dead victoriously on the third day after his death. No alternative hypothesis can adequately explain the empty tomb, the postmortem appearances of Jesus, and the origin of the Christian faith.

Death Is Not The End

Death Is Not The End

The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is a central tenet of the Christian faith. One of the earliest creeds (concise summaries of Christian beliefs), the Nicene Creed, declares that Jesus “for us … 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.”

Resurrection is often misunderstood as merely a metaphor for a spiritual afterlife. But as prominent New Testament scholar NT Wright explains, the word “resurrection” had a very specific meaning in the ancient world:

“Resurrection” denoted a new embodied life which would  follow whatever “life after death” there might be. “Resurrection” was, by definition, not the existence into which someone might (or might not)  go immediately upon death; it was not a disembodied “heavenly” life; it was a further stage, out beyond all that. It was not a redescription or redefinition of death. It was death’s reversal.

For Christians, resurrection isn’t just a way of expressing a spiritual truth. We believe that in the first century something happened that was completely unique in human history up to that point: a man actually, physically died; he was buried in a tomb for three days; and then he actually, physically was raised back to life, never to die again.

Without the resurrection, there would be no Christianity, as the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian Christians: “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. . . . If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:14, 17). Paul saw the resurrection as the lynchpin of the Christian faith.

Put bluntly, if Jesus Christ claimed to be the Savior but remains dead in a tomb after a brutal crucifixion, his claims were, and are, meaningless. However, if Jesus did rise from death, then his claims to be God, his bearing the penalty of our sins in our place on the cross, and his teachings about the kingdom of God and life after death are vindicated.

Throughout his ministry, Jesus predicted numerous times that he would be killed and then rise from the dead.

  • As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.” And they were greatly distressed. (Matthew 17:22-23)
  • “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” (Luke 9:22)
  • And taking the twelve, [Jesus] said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” (Luke 18:31-33)

Around 33 A.D., Jesus’ prediction came true. He was captured, put through a series of false trials under cover of night, and sentenced to death. He was executed by crucifixion, and when the Roman soldiers had verified that he was dead, he was buried in a nearby tomb, with a heavy stone covering the entrance and a Roman guard posted to ensure no interference with the body. His followers gave up hope. But on the morning of the third day, they returned to find the guards gone, the stone rolled away, and the tomb empty. Soon, Jesus began to show himself to his followers, fully and physically alive again. As Paul records, Jesus showed himself to Peter, to the twelve disciples, and even to hundreds of his followers at a time (1 Corinthians 15:3–8).

Unlike the pagan religions of the ancient world, Judaism had a belief in bodily resurrection. But it was a resurrection that would occur at the end of time. There was no expectation in Jesus’ culture that one man would be resurrected as a precursor to the general resurrection. Even when Jesus himself predicted his own resurrection, his followers were confused. When Jesus was crucified, they were devastated; when he rose from the dead, fully present in flesh-and-blood again, their whole world was changed. Empowered by the belief that Jesus’ resurrection signaled the start of a new era of God’s kingdom, they went out preaching the good news about what Jesus had accomplished by dying for sins and rising in victory over death.

Jesus’ resurrection is the central miracle of his life. In triumphantly rising from death, just as he promised, he vindicated his claim to be the Son of God, sent to deliver the world from sin and death. His resurrection showed that he had successfully paid the penalty required for human sin and had overcome the curse of death that has held humanity in bondage since the Fall.

His resurrection paves the way for all those who trust him to look forward to a resurrection patterned after his. As Paul writes, “In fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:20-21).

Because Jesus was raised from the dead, Christians live with the hope and expectation that death is not the end for us, because we look forward to being raised like Jesus was and living forever with him.

You Are Accepted

You Are Accepted

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” 1 Peter 2:9–10

You belong. You are accepted, and you don’t deserve it. You will never be rejected by God, who calls you his own.

Accepted. Isn’t that a great word? We all feel as if we don’t fit, as if we stick out. Whether it’s the person whose attention you want, or the law firm that doesn’t want you, or the mirror that lies to you, or the date who never called back, or the fraternity that didn’t invite you, or the voice in your head that says nobody cares about you, or the professor who makes you feel stupid, or the loneliness you experience, or the religious people who judged you—deep down, don’t we have a need to be accepted, one that is easily triggered by any sense of rejection?

We all suffer the wounds of rejection and judgment. We all long to hear that we are accepted, especially when we know we don’t deserve acceptance.

You will never be rejected by God, who calls you his own.

God’s Grace Takes the Guilt

Undeserved acceptance is a great way of explaining grace. Grace changes your guilt into assurance, and makes beauty out of things that were ugly. Grace means that God draws near to us when we are weak, not strong. When we feel separated and abandoned. When we despair over our failure, our compulsions. When we feel exhausted and hopeless.

At those moments, we remember God’s grace and we hear him say, “Because of what my Son did, you are accepted. Once you had not received mercy, but now you receive mercy. You belong to me. You don’t have to perform or accomplish anything right now. Just rest in the fact that you are in Christ, and you are accepted.”

Yes, you are flawed and you sin, but you are more accepted and more loved than you can imagine. Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more (Rom. 5:20). Because Christ was your substitute, you are accepted and part of a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, and a people who belong to God.