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Evangelism: Dealing with Difficulties (Part 2 of 3)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
The Truth Network Radio
June 20, 2023 4:00 am

Evangelism: Dealing with Difficulties (Part 2 of 3)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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June 20, 2023 4:00 am

Suffering is a fact of life. Everyone faces trials—even Christians. So why does a good God allow suffering? Learn how to respond biblically to this challenging question and more when you study along with Alistair Begg on Truth For Life.



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Suffering is a reality in our world The Bible tells us in this world we will face trials large and small whether we're Christians or not.

So why does God allow suffering? It's a tough question, the kind that can cause many to shy away from sharing their faith. Today on Truth for Life, Alistair Begg helps us think through the biblical response to this and other difficult questions as we share our faith. Unless the Holy Spirit illumines a person's mind to see the truth as truth, unless he bends that person's proud will to submit to the authority of Jesus Christ, no words of ours will penetrate, thereby reminding us of our need for dependence upon God. But, the quote goes on to say, in the hands of God, an intelligent answer to a person's question may well be the instrument God uses to open his heart and mind to the gospel.

So you have these two things in juxtaposition. One, the very fact of our dependence upon God to open the minds and eyes of people's spiritual understanding, and then the responsibility which falls to us as we are enabled to give intelligent answers to important questions which are often difficult. I'd like also to say again what I said in introducing each of these, namely that there's no way in the world that I can give some kind of exhaustive answer to these questions. And so, if there is a measure of frustration on your part as I move from one question to the next, I have, if you like, that written into what I'm doing. I want that to be there in part because any good teacher does not answer all the questions but essentially stimulates the desire of the group to go and continue their study of the subject. And so I'd like at least to fall within the orb of good teaching as it relates to that, if that is in actual fact an accurate statement, and the teachers perhaps can tell me afterwards. We dealt, first of all, then, with a person who says, You've been quoting the Bible an awful lot. Why should I pay attention to that, or why should I accept its authority? One of the very mixed questions which comes, at least in my conversation, it goes like this, What about the people who have never heard?

Or what about the heathen? And it's the question that we know is going to come, and we hope somehow it won't come, and yet it almost inevitably comes. And we're not sure that we answered it well the last time, and we're not sure we're going to do any better this time. But there are certain things that we ought to go into that question acknowledging right up front. First of all, the declaration of Scripture concerning the absolute justice or fairness of God. Indeed, if you want it in a verse, Genesis 18 25, Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?

A rhetorical question which imagines the answer, Yes, of course. So biblical revelation assures us, when we bring this question, What about the people who have never heard? We may be assured of this truth.

The judge of all the earth will act in justice and in fairness. Second thing we need to realize—and this relates to many of these questions, but perhaps supremely to this—is that we don't know everything. And the reason is that we haven't been told everything, nor has God intended that we should know everything. And the verse that we're referring to now is one that we've mentioned before, Deuteronomy 29 29, The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law. So there are things that have not been revealed to us.

There are inevitably questions that are difficult to answer, and in one dimension impossible to give a definitive answer to. To say that to people is not a cop-out. It ought not to make us feel uneasy within. It is simply an acknowledgment of biblical revelation. Once we've acknowledged that, we can then state with certainty what the Scriptures make clear.

Let me give you one or two aspects to this. First of all, the Scriptures do not teach that everyone will be saved in the end or that there will be a second chance. The Scriptures do not teach the salvation of everyone in the end nor the possibility of second chances. If we doubted that at all, we would need only to turn to Luke's Gospel, for example, chapter 16, and read the section which begins at the nineteenth verse through to the thirty-first concerning the story of the rich man and Lazarus, one of the most powerful insights beyond the grave, as it were. At the same time, we would read Hebrews 9 and verse 27, stating categorically that once death has happened, once there has been that separation of body and soul in death, the next thing that we face will be judgment.

And this is something that is an unpalatable notion to people. Nevertheless, we're shut up to it because Scripture teaches it, just as man is destined to die once and, after that, to face judgment. So we may say with certainty that not everyone is supposed to be saved, will be saved, nor may those who have died expect a second chance. Secondly, we may say—and we should turn to Romans chapter 2 just to make sure we are grounding this in the truth of Scripture—that the Bible tells us that every person has, if you like, a God-given standard within them. No matter where they live, no matter where they were born, no matter when they were born, mankind was created with an innate knowledge of right and wrong. If you like, mankind was created with a moral compass set within him. And mankind, irrespective of culture, knowingly violates the standards which they have been born with. Now, Romans chapter 2 verses 12–16 deals with this.

I'm not going to read it all through, but I want to commend it to you. It's an intricate argument by the apostle Paul, but it is an essential argument. All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God's sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.

And it goes on to address the whole question of the Gentiles, who have never been privileged to have that same revelation as have the Jews. So we need to say this. Nobody will be condemned for rejecting Jesus Christ, of whom they have never heard. Okay?

So we can say that. Nobody will be condemned for rejecting a Jesus of whom they never heard. They will be condemned for violating their own moral standard.

You see? So what about the person who was born, never heard of Jesus, and died? How will he be judged? He will be judged in relation to what we're told in Romans chapter 1 and 2, that what has been known of God has been revealed to man qua man, and man therefore is responsible to that inviolable standard which God has set within him, and that because man is sinful, he violates the moral consciousness within him. We may also say with certainty that there is no indication given in Scripture at all that anyone may ever be saved apart from Jesus Christ.

Acts chapter 4 and verse 12, the statement there of Peter, Neither is there salvation to be found in anyone else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved. Now, when we have said all of that, we haven't really said very much to answer the unsettling question, have we? But we have said enough to realize why Jesus said, Go into all the world and preach the gospel. Because the certainty of death, the reality of the provision in Jesus, the responsibility of men and women to respond to the truth, confronts men and women with this notion that while it may be an issue to them tonight as they speak to me and they say, Alistair, what about the heathen? And I may say what I can say and then some more. I may give them books to read. Ultimately, what do I have to say to the individual who asked the question?

I say this. On the day that you stand before God, the question on the table will not be, What about the heathen in general? But what about this heathen in particular? And since you in your concern have asked the question, and since I have said from my limited perspective what I can from the Bible, and since you now have been confronted with the claims of Christ, the responsibility, the burden now rests with you, that you will never, ever be able to stand before God and say, Here is one heathen who never heard, because you just have, and the responsibility is now yours.

Now, that is not to be smart. It is to be realistic. Because when we've said it all, we may not have said much. But we're not concerned about the heathen that we've never seen. We're concerned about those who have now heard. And that is why Jesus said that we must go with his good news.

If there was some other means, then it would make the proclamation of the gospel an interesting sideline, but not something that was vital. Well, then the question which follows right on from there—and that's why I've put it next—is, the person may come back and say, You're not suggesting that Jesus then is the only way to heaven, are you? That's what they say, isn't it? Oh, wait a minute. Surely you're not saying this. You can't possibly believe. After all, a quarter of the world is Muslim.

You're not telling me. And underlying this response is the notion that we've dealt with before, which says it doesn't really matter what you believe or in whom you believe as long as you're sincere. This is the great notion of our day, that we have exalted sincerity and created an idol before sincerity. And we've said that sincerity, or intensity of belief, is self-authenticating. So as long as we believe it really sincerely, or we state it with intensity, it'll make it true. But that's silly, isn't it? If we go ice skating, and we see the pond, and somebody tells us that it's only a sixteenth of an inch thick of frozen ice, the intensity of our faith, the sincerity of our conviction, will not allow the ice to hold us up.

We will be sincerely wet. Because it is not the dimension of belief that we bring to the object, it is the object itself. And faith is only as good as, if you like, the object in which faith is placed. And therefore, Jesus Christ and Christianity stands on the stage of the world and says these things. And what we have to honestly say to people is, really, it's not so much that I'm suggesting that Jesus is the only way to heaven.

It rather is that the Bible itself declares that Jesus is the only way to heaven. And we've said all the way through that it's so important to have our Bibles, to open our Bibles, and to allow people to read with us our Bibles. What I have often done is I carry two New Testaments with me so that I can give somebody a New Testament, especially if they're at the other side of a table that is the identical New Testament to the one I have in my pocket, and I can have them look at what I am reading while I'm reading it.

That way, the Word of God comes off the page to them, and it's far better than slick memorization, because the sneaking suspicion in the minds of people is that we just memorized a package a bit like the cults, and we're just hitting them with our favorite verses. So we want to bring the Scriptures to bear upon them, and we're going to read to them. We say, look, look at what Jesus said, John 14, 6. I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father but by me.

John 10, verse 9. Surrounding context, all whoever came before me were thieves and robbers, but I am the gate. He who enters by me will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. I am not a gate, said Jesus. I am the gates. I am the way to heaven. I am the way to God. And as we've seen in our studies, I am also God. So you've got John 14, 6. You have John 10, 9.

You have Acts 4, 12, the verse that we just quoted in Peter's words. So we need to say to people, think it out. Faith is no more valid than the object in which it is placed. We need to say to people, listen, Hinduism says that God has come in many forms and continually. Christianity says that God has come in Jesus Christ singly. We cannot both be right. Judaism says that Jesus Christ did not rise from the dead. Christianity says he does. We cannot both be right.

See? And so we need to stress to thinking people the exclusivity of the claim of Jesus Christ, but always with humility, never forgetting for a minute the wonder that God in his amazing mercy has given to us the privilege of faith and the opportunity to share it. We must always speak as one beggar telling another beggar where we found food. It's as if we found a whole bunch of hamburgers at the back of Burger King, and we were tempted to eat them all ourselves or to hide them and eat them all ourselves tomorrow. And then as we walked out into the street, we saw others of the street people like us. And we went to them and we said, Hey, come behind here. You won't believe this. There's no pride in that.

We didn't make the hamburgers. And so it's very, very important that when we state these things concerning the objective nature of Christianity, we allow Jesus and his Word to stand forward. Well, let's go on and ask another question.

Again, these are sketchy outlines. What about the person who says, I can't believe in a God who allows people to suffer? I think the first thing we need to notice when we come against this is that many, many times this is not theoretical on the part of the speaker. More often than not, if you take time to listen and to watch, and it may not come out in one conversation, you will discover that you are dealing with somebody who has been deeply scarred by the events of life.

You may be dealing with somebody who has lost a loved one prematurely in their mind, someone who has lost a little child to cancer at an early age, or just something that has devastated them. It's not so much that they see problems out there, but rather it is that they've encountered problems right in here. Reminder to us, again, that when we're dealing with difficult questions, we need the sensitivity and the wisdom of the Spirit of God. And we need, first of all, to be honest and say, you know, is there something in your own life that makes you ask this question? They may say, yeah, you know.

I mean, this has happened to me in the last time, the last twiles. I remember asking that question, and the gentleman told me, yes, he woke in the night with his little boy, a five-year-old boy, who came through into his room. His mom and dad didn't think very much of it, because he often came through in the night and trailed a blanket with him. But when he laid down on their bed for a moment or two, it just seemed that it was different from another occasion.

And suddenly seizing the enormity of the situation and hoping to get him to the hospital, they lost that little five-year-old boy who had some amazing attack to his brain that took him in just a moment. So when the individual starts to talk about, why would I believe in a God who allows people to suffer? He's really talking about himself. Now, if a person is prepared to confide in you that truth, it's important then that we're honest enough to say, you know what, I don't have an answer for that particular question. And indeed, we could search the whole of the Bible and not find an answer to that particular question. And it may be that it will take years or it may take till eternity before ever we find an answer to that question, but in the meantime, the Scripture provides for us some clues as to why God allows suffering as a whole.

Well, says the individual, what are those clues? Then we'll run through with him the biblical doctrine of creation and the fall of redemption and of restoration or perfection, if you like. And essentially what we're going to say to people is this, the biblical view of man says this, God made it and it was good, perfect. God made man with the propensity to turn his back on him.

Man did. So what was good got bad. God decided to redeem the situation and send his Son so that what was bad might get good again. And eventually, God plans that in heaven it will be absolutely perfect.

Well, says somebody, that makes only limited sense, and I still think of God as distant in the heavens and untouched, as it were, by the problems that we face in our finite nature. Well, then we must bring them to Calvary. We must share with them the doctrine of the Trinity. We must explain that God sent his Son, Jesus, and that the cry of Jesus from the cross—"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? "—was a cry of reality, and that God had only one Son who was without sin, but he wasn't without suffering. And we may say—and this is all we can say—that as deep as the pain as an individual may feel because of the events of their lives, we can assure them in the authority of God's Word that God is not caught off guard by such an event.

Nor is he unable to address it. But it is futile and vacuous to speculate concerning the origin of evil slash suffering. We need to face the fact of evil, suffering, and we need to look at what the Scripture says concerning what it means to embrace the solution. We cannot speak to people ever about suffering in relationship to God without speaking to them, as it were, through the grid of Calvary.

And any attempts to philosophize about the problems of pain that bypass the cross will never be redemptive in an individual's life. For it is only at the cross that we see the magnitude of God's love, the magnitude of our sin, and the tremendous possibility for healing and for forgiveness. So when people ask concerning the problem of suffering, we may want to recommend C. S. Lewis's book The Problem of Pain, but certainly we will want to introduce them to the pain of Calvary and encourage them that a God who endured such in the person of Christ is well able to enter into any suffering that we may experience. Alistair Begg has been providing us today with biblical responses to some of the common challenges we face as we share our faith.

We're going to hear more tomorrow on Truth for Life. Now to go along with our current series on evangelism, we want to recommend to you a book about Jesus. It's titled Confronting Jesus, Nine Encounters with the Hero of the Gospel. This is a book that will help prepare you to explain to others who Jesus is. After reading Confronting Jesus, you'll be able to describe both the historical reliability of the Gospels and the reason why you have saving faith in the power of Jesus. Request your copy of Confronting Jesus when you donate to support the teaching ministry of Truth for Life at truthforlife.org slash donate or call us at 888-588-7884. Confronting Jesus is also a great book to give to someone who you're introducing to the Gospel. You may want to request two copies so you can examine Jesus' identity together.

Extra copies are available for purchase at our cost of $5 while supplies last. You'll find them online at truthforlife.org slash evangelism. When you go to our website, you'll also find a high quality large print Bible available for just $35. Today, Alistair suggested that we use two Bibles when we're telling others about Jesus, one for yourself and a second one to either share or to give to a friend so they can follow along with you as you point them to key passages of Scripture. Once again, you'll find these and other great resources to help you share your faith at truthforlife.org slash evangelism. I'm Bob Lapine. Some people claim Christianity has been proven obsolete by science. Tomorrow, we'll investigate the evidence and learn how to respond to claims like this. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-06-20 05:23:04 / 2023-06-20 05:31:54 / 9

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