What Is Real?

I’ve been thinking about reality lately, for several reason. I recently started a new job where I’m tutoring younger kids than I’ve worked with before, and one of the things taught alongside reading skills is how to identify clues that let you know whether a story is realistic or fantasy. As a writer and avid reader, though, I know how easy it can be to blur those lines. You might do tons of research to write a very accurate, realistic setting (for example) then throw a dragon or werewolves into the story. Also, people can define “realistic” differently. A flood covering the world or a dead man coming back to life seem like fantasy to many, but for Christians the Bible is realistic and it’s non-fiction.

The question, “What’s really going on here?” is one that the Bible asks and answers, mostly indirectly. Satan started out his attacks on both Eve and Jesus by questioning the nature of reality. To Eve, he said, “Has God really said, ‘You shall not eat of any tree of the garden’?” ( Gen. 3:1, WEB, emphasis added). To Jesus, he called the reality of who He is into question by saying, “If you are the Son of God…” (Matt. 4:3, 6, WEB, emphasis added). In sharp contrast to the adversary’s scheming and questioning, God is very open with us about the nature of reality. He tells us how things are, what will happen in the future, what the consequences are for different choices, and which things will endure forever so we know where to put our focus and energy. In other words, God shares truth with us about what is real.

The Best Place to Find Real Truth

Truth, and along with it the notion of an objective reality, has largely been rejected by modern society. Faced with the realization that there are an infinite number of perspectives and ideas, the world has made the terrible decision to try and act as if they were all equally valuable no matter how contradictory or crazy they seem. We can’t even agree on a “fact” anymore. There’s no need for such confusion, though. There is such a thing as reality and truth and the Bible, along with the holy spirit, is the key to figuring out what that is.

This notion doesn’t sit well with many people. Even some believers might balk at the idea at times. We all want so badly to be right. We want our take on things to be real. We’ve been told for years to follow our hearts and trust ourselves. And yet, “the human mind is more deceitful than anything else” (Jer. 17:9, NET). The inside of our own heads is a terrible place to look for truth. According to psychological studies, we can’t even trust that our own memories are accurate. Spiritually speaking, we might even be dead, “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked” without realizing it! (Rev. 3:1, 17, NET). If we want to know how things really are and what truth is, we need to look to God.

Focusing on What is Most Important

I feel like I’ve been spending a lot of time in 1 Corinthians 2 over the past few months (both in blog posts and for the double-minded scripture writing theme), and we’re back here again today. In this section of scripture, Paul talks about the difference between worldly wisdom and spiritual wisdom, showing us how God transforms our spirits, minds, and hearts with His Spirit. Much like the spirit (G4151, pneuma, spirit, soul, life, breath) inside us understands us better than we understand other people, the Spirit in God knows “the deep things of God” (1 Cor. 2:9-11).

But we received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might know the things that were freely given to us by God. … Now the natural man doesn’t receive the things of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to him, and he can’t know them, because they are spiritually discerned. … “For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he should instruct him?” But we have Christ’s mind.

1 Corinthians 2:14, 16, 18, WEB

We can only understand the Truth behind perceived reality through God’s spirit in us. Specifically, what we see physically only hints at what is the most real. This creation will pass away, replaced by a new, more enduring creation. The battles we fight today are not as they appear; they are really “against spiritual forces of wickedness in heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12, WEB). Even the Law possesses only “a shadow of the good things to come but not the reality itself” (Heb. 10:1, NET)–“The reality is Christ!” (Col. 2:17, NET).

The physical seems very real, and in many ways it is. We’re not living in a fake world, but one that God created and gave to us. And yet, when we start to perceive things with the mind of Christ it changes how we look at reality. We start to understand why it makes sense for Jesus to tell us we shouldn’t worry about things like food and clothing and should instead focus on seeking “God’s kingdom and his righteousness” (Matt. 6:25-34). It’s not the things we can see and touch that are most important, but the spiritual things which God invites us to take part of.

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

2 Corinthians 4:18, NET

Making Time for Our Real Lives With God

The Bible never tells us that this physical life doesn’t matter or that God doesn’t care about how we choose to live these lives. God’s word does, however, tell us the physical matters less than the spiritual. We must not let temporary things distract us from the true riches that can be found eternally with God.

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Matthew 6:19-21, NET

Investing in the spiritual ensures that our hearts are in the right place (i.e. with God) and that the things we spend our time on are real, true, and lasting. In today’s world, there are many possible distractions. We might be distracted worrying about bad news or the threat of future troubles. We might loose ourselves in entertainment like movies, books, and video games (something I personally find very tempting). Or we could just be so busy with our daily lives that we push spending time on the spiritual off until later. But we need to commit ourselves to prioritizing our relationship with God and investing in what will really, truly last beyond this physical life.

Featured image by Anggie from Lightstock

A Time For Discernment and Standing For What’s Right

We’re going through a pandemic right now, and it has given us the opportunity to ask ourselves some interesting and challenging questions. Take, for example, the issue of closing churches. Here in Ohio, churches are exempt from the order to limit public gatherings to 10 people or less. This is a right and proper application of the separation between church and state. Most churches here moved online, however, following the recommendation of medical and legal counsel. This was also right and proper, for the Bible tells us to respect governing authority (Rom. 13:1-2; Tit. 3:1-2; 1 Pet. 2:13-17) and quarantine the sick (Lev. 13:46; Num. 5:1-3). Just in the last couple weeks, some churches are starting to reopen with social distancing and other precautions in place.

Things didn’t go so well everywhere. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio threatened to permanently close churches and synagogues if they continued to hold any services. In Mississippi, attendees of a drive-in church services were ticketed $500 for sitting in their cars listening to the pastor on the radio (the DOJ has stepped in on behalf of the church). Some consider churches “essential services,” some do not. Some try to use the crisis to discriminate against religious institutes, others work alongside and defend them.

Jesus warned there will be those who persecute His church. There will be people who try to stop us from meeting, preaching and worshiping rightly. It has already happened throughout history in various places around the world. To be clear, I am not saying encouraging churches to temporarily suspend in-person services during a pandemic is persecution. But this does give us a reminder that we need to be watchful and exercise discernment. This is a good time to ask ourselves questions like, How would we respond if churches were asked to close for a different reason? Or ordered to stay closed, as threatened in New York? What if we were told we could no longer own Bibles, as has happened in other countries?

I don’t bring up these sorts of questions to panic us, but to prepare us. We are told to watch and be ready, and it’s hard to do that if you’re not thinking of things that might happen in the future. We are living in the end times (as humanity has been since the first century per 1 John 2:18). This is a time for discernment and preparedness, and the current crisis can serve as a wake-up call for any of us who may have been growing complacent in the safety and freedom we’ve enjoyed for so long. Read more

How Do I Convince People They’re Wrong and God Is Right?

The world seems like it’s going crazy. Looking around at what’s going on brings to mind Bible verses like “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” and “there is no fear of God before his eyes” (Jud. 17:6; Ps. 36:1). Not only do people reject God, but they reject the entire idea of absolute morality as well, opting for a subjective, situational version that can change moment-to-moment and person-to-person.

In the midst of this, many Christians want to fight for and defend the truth of our faith. We want to show the world they’re wrong and prove that God is right. We think that to “contend earnestly for the faith once delivered,” we need to offer logical, scientifically supported, convincing arguments to counter the lies running rampant in our culture.

But I don’t think we’re going to convince many people that God’s word is the truth (rather than just one of many truths) by arguing with them. There’s definitely a place for apologetics, and people with the knowledge and expertise to enter debates and stand up for truth are invaluable. In general, though, I question whether telling people how wrong they are and what they need to change is a good first step for introducing them to the faith.

If we start out by lecturing people about how much God hates their sin or how wrong they are about ideas they hold dear, why would they react any way other than defensively? And if they don’t acknowledge God as real yet, why would we expect them to care what we say He wants them to do?

Keeping Your Audience In Mind

God’s truth doesn’t change with the times. But those who are wise keep their audiences in mind when they speak the truth. When Paul spoke to Jews in Antioch, he knew his already religious audience could best be reached by using scriptures to prove Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah (Acts 13:14-41). When he preached to people in Athens without any Biblical background, however, he started by talking about who God is and why we should care. He even quoted one of their own philosophers as part of his argument (Acts 17:18-31). Tailoring the message to fit his audience was a deliberate, conscious choice that Paul made. Read more

Fighting For Truth Within God’s House

Dear friends, although I was making every effort to write to you concerning our common salvation, I considered it a necessity to write to you to encourage you to contend for the faith delivered once and for all to the saints. (Jude 1:3, LEB)

Way back in the first century, Jude had planned to write fellow believers concerning their common salvation. However, he had to change the topic because “certain men have slipped in stealthily” (v. 4) to spread destructive heresies.

When we read an instruction to “contend for the faith,” we typically think of preaching to the world and fighting for God’s truth in an ungodly society. But Jude is talking about the need to do this inside the church. And if they were dealing with problems like this back in the first century, you can be sure we’ll be facing them today as well.

A List of Wickedness

Jude said that we need to fight for the faith even inside the church because of ungodly people who sneaked in. As the letter unfolds, he explains in detail what sort of things these people were doing. It’s a long list, but I think it’s an important one to look at in detail. Read more

Beware Leavened Doctrine

“Every word of God is pure,” but the same can’t be said of all the words human beings say about God’s words (Prov. 30:5, KJV). This is one of the problems Jesus called attention to in His earthly ministry. The religious leaders of His day bound heavy burdens on their followers, got distracted by seeking recognition, shut the kingdom against God’s people, greedily profited off the offerings made to God, misrepresented the truth, and focused on minutia while ignoring weighty matters of the law. In short, they were hypocrites (Matt. 23).

In Matthew 16, Jesus told His disciples, “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees” (Matt. 16:6, KJV). The disciples were confused at first, but after some discussion they realized He wasn’t telling them to “beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees” (Matt. 16:12, KJV).

How Leavening Works

The New Testament speaks of leavening representing hypocrisy, malice, and wickedness (Luke 12:1; 1 Cor 5:8). And when we consider the physical affect of a leavening agent like yeast, we see leaven as something souring, spreading, fermenting, and puffed-up.

Matthew Henry suggests that the warning “take heed and beware” in Matthew 16 is given because disciples are especially vulnerable to this type of deception. We can easily fall victim to those like the “Pharisees, who are great pretenders to devotion, and Sadducees, who pretend to a free and impartial search after the truth” (MHC on Matt. 16:5-12).

We’re not talking about a corrupting influence from outside the church. These people operate within, corrupting the doctrine that came direct from God. Read more

The Girdle of Truth

The first piece in the armor of God is a girdle, or belt, of truth. We’re told, “Stand therefore, girding your waist with truth” (Eph. 6:14, LEB). Girdles hold an interesting place in scripture. There are five Hebrew words used to talk about things you can belt around your waist (Easton’s Bible Dictionary).

Some girdles were used as a purse or pockets. Others to belt your clothes on. Different types of girdles were part of a soldier’s attire (2 Sam. 20:8), worn by princes and important people (Eze. 23:15), or by priests (Ex. 28:4, 8; 29:9). Girdles often symbolize strength and readiness. But what does it mean to have a girdle made of truth?

The Girdle of Truth | marissabaker.wordpress.com
Photo credit: JESHOOTS.com via StockSnap

Where We Get Our Girdle

Truth in a Christian context is defined by God. The truths that come from Him aren’t subjective and don’t fluctuate. They’re reliable. And they’re what we put on like a belt around our waists as we prepare for spiritual battle.

Jesus gives a succinct definition of truth in His prayer recorded in John 17. He prays to the Father, “Sanctify them in your truth. Your word is truth” (John 17:17, WEB). The words of God are precious; the only reliable source of truth.

Give diligence to present yourself approved by God, a workman who doesn’t need to be ashamed, properly handling the Word of Truth. (2 Tim. 2:15, WEB)

When we’re looking for truth, we look to God’s Word — both in the Bible and in the person of His son Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Word (John 1:1-3, 14) and He also is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). He provides the truth that forms the first piece of our armor. Read more