Christ – Our Starting Point
As long as the Christian lives in the "present evil age," he will struggle to focus his life completely on Christ. Christ himself referred to this struggle in his kingdom parables. Although the kingdom of God began to be fulfilled during the earthly ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ, the righteous and the unrighteous will continue to live together until Christ consummates his kingdom at his second coming (see Matthews 13:24-30, 36-43). Until then, the evil one will continue to seduce the minds and hearts of man.
Heredity or Environment?
Throughout history, Satan has especially enticed man to think that his destiny is merely a product of his own environment and that he must assert his autonomy if he expects to survive within that environment. But Christians resist Satan's enticement and bow in humility before the sovereign God, realizing that for man to claim autonomy would be not only foolish but blasphemous. Moreover, the Christian understands that the existence of everything, including himself, begins and ends with God.
It would be foolish to deny that our environment influences our thought life. Our thinking is definitely shaped by the thoughts of our parents, by our social and religious traditions, and by our formal education. We must be careful, however, not to lay undue emphasis on our environment as the shaper of our minds. The effects of both environment and heredity are, of course, impossible to discern or delineate accurately. Therefore, the debate on this subject has a long history.
In the early church, the debate engaged the celebrated church father, Augustine, and the pronounced heretic, Pelagius. Pelagius argued that people are evil because of their environment – because they follow bad examples. Augustine, on the other hand, contended that evil originated with Adam's first sin and that all humanity was subsequently tainted by that sin.
Clearly, Augustine's position is rejected today by non-Christians, the Pelagians of our time. From the man in the street to the intellectual in the university, people perpetuate the Pelagian myth that to redeem mankind we must change his environment. If we change his environment, they argue, the goodness of man will emerge victorious. Almost all theories of education in western civilization are built on this Pelagian theory. It provides a safe and yet dangerous way to address the problems of humanity. It is safe because it demands that we analyze and change the structures of our environment. But it is dangerous because it ignores the sinful heart of man. From the viewpoint of Augustine, who accepted Paul's teaching on sin and its remedy (found in such passages as Romans 5:12-21), the Pelagian remedy is like putting a Band-Aid on a severed artery – man will still die, although he may think that he has stopped or reduced the bleeding. What is frightening is that many Christians accept the Pelagian analysis and solution to man's problems.
The Pelagian heresy is appealing not only because it offers a solution to the problem of evil, but also because it asserts that man is autonomous. The notion of personal autonomy dominates the philosophy of the unbeliever. Because he does not know and fear the Creator, the unbeliever feels that he is a law unto himself. In Renaissance humanism, an autonomous view of human existence emerged, in which man asserted himself over against the authority of both the church and God. In the modern era, rationalism and empiricism have strengthened the notion of man's autonomy. The rationalist and the empiricist assert that nature is a reasonable phenomenon that man can understand through his sensory and rational powers without the aid of any external authority, such as God or the church. According to this view, the world can be understood apart from God, since it is a coherent and rational structure in and of itself.
One should not imagine, however, that this concept of autonomy leaves no place for structure in society and culture. Rather, proponents of this view insist that the structure of civilization must be based upon the exaltation of man and the harmony of the natural world, free from God and the institutional church. They stress that if man is to be truly free in this world, he must be in tune with nature and reason.
It is difficult for the Christian to escape the impact of this idolatrous thinking. Christians often attempt to understand man's existence and to solve his problems by using tools derived from the natural world (such as reason, experience, and the common good), instead of using principles that conform to the mind of Christ.
The Starting Point of Knowledge
Everyone knows that non-Christians have attempted to construct a world without God. The critical question is whether Christians will fall prey to non-Christian thinking. The Bible confronts anyone who questions the existence of God and views himself as autonomous or isolated by his environment (Psalm 14). The question is, where do we begin our pursuit of knowledge? Or, to put it more definitely, where does our Creator demand that we begin? Do we begin by worshiping and serving the creature or by worshiping and serving the Creator (Romans 1:25)? Scriptural revelation is clear: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." Scripture begins with God. The creation exists because of God, and all people exist because of him.
As we contemplate this point, we realize that man's first mistake – the sin of Adam and Eve in the garden – was to establish himself as the first source of truth. Adam and Eve believed that the serpent was correct when he told them that they could know, understand, and interpret the creation without the Creator. They also believed that although they were creatures, they could understand and interpret the world as well as the Creator could. They thought that the starting point of truth lay within themselves.
But a serious problem arose. Once Adam and Eve believed that they could understand and interpret the world apart from God, they became isolated and ran from God's revealed interpretation of his creation. Realizing their sin, they felt shame and fled. They came to rely on themselves as the reference point of truth. They sought autonomy.
The non-Christian is always doing this. But the person who lives by faith in union with Christ avoids this pitfall. For in the fullness of time God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, who proclaimed the paradoxical truth that the only way to personal freedom is to deny oneself (Luke 9:23-27). Thus, Paul states that it is no longer he who lives, but Christ who lives in him (Galatians 2:20). The only basis for truth concerning the Creator and his creation is Christ – "for from him and through him and to him are all things" (Romans 11:36).
The mind and heart of the believer must rest, therefore, in Christ. That is God's eternal plan. From the beginning, God's redemptive plan has focused on the exaltation and glorification of the second person of the Trinity, Christ Jesus. All things were created through him and by him, for "without him nothing was made that has been made" (John 1:3). The creation is the handiwork of Christ, and one must stand in the palm of his hand if one is to interpret his creation correctly.
Two Plus Two
For example, it is not sufficient to base the assertion that two plus two equals four solely upon laws within the created order. Although it would be absurd to deny the existence of natural laws and the truth of mathematical propositions, it would nevertheless be equally absurd to maintain that two plus two equals four without Christ as the Creator of all things. Nothing, including mathematical propositions, exists outside of Christ.
As the apostle Paul writes, "For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together" (Colossians 1:16-17).
Unless someone's knowledge begins with Christ, his understanding remains shallow. The picture he constructs is only partial, and it is therefore clouded and deceptive. This thought leads us directly to another point concerning our knowledge: Not only does true knowledge begin with Christ, it also ends with Christ. He is not only the Creator of all things, but also the one who transforms the universe and his people into a new creation. When the transformation is complete,
every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea … will sing: to him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honour and glory and power, forever and ever!Revelation 5:13
Christ himself proclaims from the throne that he is "the Alpha and the Omega" – "the First and the Last" – who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.Revelation 1:8, 17
Beyond a doubt, Christ is the beginning and the summation of all things.
Although God created all things and powerfully governs his creation, men continually worship created things rather than the Creator. God created trees and stones, but men worship images of God made of wood and stone. Similarly, although God created the laws of nature, men often look upon them as the ultimate source of truth. Again, God created the rational faculty of man, but some people revere reason or logic as the ultimate source of truth. To make any part of creation the ultimate source of truth is idolatry, whether the object of veneration is wood or stone, or reason or logic. The Christian does not bow before any object within the creation. Instead, he bows only before his Creator.
So far, this discussion has reflected the Apostle John's view of truth. We have not been concerned with truth in the sense of "the correctness of perception " or "the validity of statements." Nor have we been concerned with personality traits like sincerity, honesty, and reliability. Rather, we have focused on the truth as it comes to perfect and eternal expression in the person of Christ. This foundation, this source of truth, is the Son of God. This is John's testimony:
We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth … For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.John 1:14, 17
Jesus himself said, I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6). And before Pilate he said, In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.John 18:37
In his confusion Pilate responded, "What is truth?" (John 18:38). He could not fathom the depth of Jesus' statement. For Pilate, truth was a concept discussed by the philosophers. It had nothing to do with a person in whom all things hold together. Indeed, Absolute Truth was confronting Pilate face to face, but he was blind to it!
The Danger for Christians
The danger that snared Pilate can snare the Christian, too. Like Pilate, the believer is tempted to turn his eyes away from Christ as he seeks a starting point for truth in the created order or in the haunts of philosophy, such as reason, experience, language, and law. When he is so tempted, the believer should remember where blindness ultimately led the Pharisees. Because their ultimate source of truth was their own interpretation of the Scriptures, they were convinced that Jesus was not the Christ. Like Pilate, they failed to see him.
Because they rejected him, Christ delivered his judgment upon them:
You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don't you believe me? He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.John 8:44-47
The challenge is clear. We are either committed to the truth or committed to a lie. We either both begin and end with Christ, or we both begin and end with Satan. If we belong to God, we hear the testimony of God and shape our thinking and our lives by the truth, Jesus Christ. If we do not belong to God, we attend to the voice of Satan, the old liar, who subtly provides idolatrous sources of truth.
Scripture reveals that two persons, the heads of two kingdoms, are battling for the lives of men: God and Satan. This leaves no neutral ground on which we can develop our own ideas of truth. The days of ignorance are past; God's verdict has come. He now commands all people everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30). When the apostle Paul spoke to the philosophers in Athens, he made it clear that the God who created the heavens and the earth is not an image made by human design and skill – and does not live in temples built by human hands (Acts 17:24, 25, 29). According to Paul, all such thought is foolishness (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:20), and he commands the believer to "demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God" (2 Corinthians 10:5). Thus, standing in the light of Jesus Christ, the Wisdom of God, and Paul had nothing to fear from the philosophers of Athens.
In another passage, Paul reminds his readers that it is written:
I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.
He continues: Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age?1 Corinthians 1:19, 20
For Paul – and for the Christian – wisdom without Christ is foolishness and the philosopher without Christ merely conveys the meandering of a frustrated mind.