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#569 Loving Christ

March 11, 2018
Q

Dear Dr. Craig,

I know you hear this from a lot of people, but you have had a tremendous impact on my life. Thank you for the work you have done on the rational defense of the Christian Faith and for the many resources you have produced. You've turned me from someone who was apathetic about Christianity, to someone who is passionately interested in Christian theology, philosophy and apologetics.

This leads me my problem. I think I could defend Christianity against most objections and present a positive case for the truth of Christianity. However, there is something missing. While I affirm all the correct doctrine and have all the arguments in order, I'm not a Christian. It seems to me, that in order to be a Christian, there is only one criteria you need to meet: you need to love Christ. If you love Christ, proper doctrine will follow. In your own journey to Christ, (correct me if I'm misconstruing this) you felt the presence of Jesus in your life first and only later did you gain the double warrant by exploring the arguments. I've got it completely backwards! I can argue for the propositions of Christianity, but I don’t love or know Jesus or feel His presence in my life.

You distinguish between "knowing and showing," it seems like I can "show" but I don't "know." This has become especially clear to me recently when I came across what I think is the foundational question of Christianity: how do you know Christianity is true? I immediately realized that I don't know that at all, and that the foundation of my "faith" is the arguments of reasonable faith. This is untenable, because arguments could just as easily sway me to atheism. I am, you could say, an unwilling evidentialist. I've looked into your and Alvin Plantinga’s work on reformed epistemology and your idea of "double warrant" and I find it very compelling. However, in absence of the witness of the holy spirit, how can I have double warrant? How can I get out of my evidentialist hole and find Jesus? How can I come to know my faith is true? I don't know who Jesus is, I don't feel Him in my life, I don't feel that He is listening to my prayers, I find it very hard to believe in a personal God. I'm in a difficult place where I feel that my Christianity is dead. Can you offer any practical or intellectual advice for the predicament I'm in? It feels like a wall I cannot break through.

Longing to find Jesus.

J

Canada

Dr. craig’s response


A

Your predicament, J, illustrates so well that becoming a Christian is not just a matter of coming to believe certain doctrinal truths. The Bible says that even the demons believe Christian doctrinal truths, but they are obviously not thereby saved (James 2.19).

Saving faith requires not just intellectual assent to certain truths but also trust in Christ. One places one’s trust in him as one’s Savior and Lord. That is to say, one trusts him for forgiveness of one’s sins and for directing one’s life in accordance with his will.

Now it’s not clear to me that, despite your lack of love for Christ, you’re not in a position to place your faith in Christ.  Faith is just trusting in what you have good reason to think is true. You do have good reason to think that Christianity is true, and so you do believe that it is true. You believe that Christ is God incarnate, that he died for your sins, and that God raised him from the dead as ratification of the efficacy of his sacrifice. So why not place your trust in him as your Savior and Lord? Why not make a commitment of your life to him?  Given what you believe, this seems to me the only rational thing to do.

So why not offer a prayer of commitment to him along the lines of the following:

Lord Jesus, I really need you. I recognize that I am morally guilty for things I have said and done and so stand in need of your forgiveness and cleansing. I believe that you died for my sins and rose from the dead. And so right now, in the best way I know how, I give my life to you.  Forgive my sins, come into my life, take control of my life, and make me into the person you want me to be. I give myself to you as my Savior and Lord.

It’s not the words here that are important, but the attitude of your heart. If you sincerely place your trust in Christ, his Holy Spirit will regenerate (or make alive) your spirit. Part of the fruit of the Holy Spirit in your life is love (Galatians 5.22). The Spirit will produce in you love for Christ and for your fellow man.

Jesus in one of his parables said something very profound about loving Christ. The parable occurs in the context of Jesus’ visiting the home of a Pharisee, where a prostitute approaches him:

One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house, and took his place at table. And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “What is it, Teacher?” “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he forgave them both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, to whom he forgave more.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house, you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.” (Luke 7.36-47)

The self-righteous Pharisee had little love for Christ because he, in contrast to the woman, was blind to the depth of his own sinfulness.

Now if this is right, then one way of coming to have a greater love for Christ will be a deepening realization on our part of just how much we have been forgiven. That in turn requires a clear perception of just how sinful and wretched we are apart from Christ. The great Reformation theologian John Calvin made this point eloquently:

let [a person] be told, as Scripture teaches, that he was estranged from God by sin, an heir of wrath, exposed to the curse of eternal death, excluded from all hope of salvation, a complete alien from the blessing of God, the slave of Satan, captive under the yoke of sin; in fine, doomed to horrible destruction, and already involved in it; that then Christ interposed, took the punishment upon himself, and bore what by the just judgment of God was impending over sinners; with his own blood expiated the sins which rendered them hateful to God, by this expiation satisfied and duly propitiated God the Father, by this intercession appeased his anger, on this basis founded peace between God and men, and by this tie secured the Divine benevolence toward them; will not these considerations move him the more deeply, the more strikingly they represent the greatness of the calamity from which he was delivered? (Institutes of the Christian Religion II.16.2).

Consider the calamity from which we were delivered, according to Calvin. We were:

1. estranged from God
2. under God’s wrath
3. cursed to eternal death
4. devoid of hope
5. alienated from God’s blessing
6. enslaved to Satan
7. captive to sin
8. doomed to destruction
9. already implicated in that destruction.

If you want to develop a love for Christ, then develop a serious doctrine of sin!

Now consider what Calvin says Christ has done for you. Christ:

1. intervened in the situation
2. bore the punishment for sins which we justly deserved
3. gave his life for us to remove our sins
4. satisfied divine justice for us
5. appeased God’s wrath
6. established peace between God and us
7. secured God’s kindness toward us.

When we think of what Christ has done for our sake to deliver us from the depths of our calamity, our hearts will naturally be moved with gratitude and love toward him. If we find ourselves unmoved, it will be because we have not truly grasped or believed the points above.

So, J, I would urge you to reflect on your sinful state apart from Christ, realize what he has done for you out of his love for you and through no merit of your own, and give your life to him as Savior and Lord.  The Holy Spirit will produce his fruit in your life, including a love of your Lord and Savior and an assurance of salvation that transcends mere arguments.

- William Lane Craig