Many sincerely religious people claim to know God and believe in Jesus Christ. But is being a Christian only a matter of “giving your heart to the Lord”? How can you make God is real to you and follow His word wholeheartedly?
None of us have seen God face to face, yet billions claim to believe in Him in one form or another. Since you are reading this magazine, you are likely to be among these believers. That is good—but how real is God to you? Are you willing to go “all in,” knowing that He exists, that you know Him, and that He will reward you if you diligently obey Him? Or will you only go so far, drawing a line that you will not cross?
Consider the following and take a serious look in the proverbial mirror. The Bible tells us that a man walked the dusty roads of Israel 2,000 years ago, claiming that He came from God and would return to Him. He was killed, and many say that He was resurrected to life and seen by hundreds of witnesses. Further, He proclaimed that He will come back to give rulership to a group of individuals who in this life are called, chosen, and faithful (Luke 19:12–27; Revelation 17:14).
Frankly, that is a lot to accept. Even those who followed Him and knew Him in the flesh—who saw all His miracles and were mentored by Him for three-and-a-half years—had difficulty, at first, accepting His resurrection. They knew there was something different about Jesus, and even proclaimed Him to be the prophesied Messiah, but their faith wavered on many occasions. And after He was crucified, they did not expect the resurrection, even though Jesus had proclaimed before His death that it would happen.
The Bible tells us little about the Apostle Thomas, but if there is one thing readers know about him, it is that he was the one who said, in effect, Show me the evidence! After the other Apostles claimed that they had seen Jesus alive, “doubting Thomas” protested: “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe” (John 20:25). Of course, he did believe once Jesus appeared to him. We can thank Thomas for giving us an opportunity to pause for some self-reflection, for “Jesus said to him, ‘Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed’” (v. 29). Do we believe, having not seen Him?
It was not as though a resurrection from the dead had never occurred before. These disciples must have been familiar with the account of the man who came back to life when placed in the tomb of Elisha (2 Kings 13:21). They must have known the scriptures that prophesied a resurrection from the dead (Job 14:14–15; Psalm 17:15; Daniel 12:1–2).
They also had a closer witness—a resurrection many saw with their own eyes; Jesus resurrected a man named Lazarus after he had been in the grave for four days, even as his sister warned that the body would stink by then (John 11:39). It must have been quite a sight when Lazarus walked out of the tomb alive and well, albeit wrapped in burial clothes (v. 44)! The resurrection of Lazarus was such an established fact that even Jesus’ detractors could not deny it. Some even wanted to kill Lazarus in a vain attempt to destroy the evidence of this miracle (John 12:9–11).
Many others were healed. There was practically no kind of disease or affliction that Jesus did not heal. He healed the leprous, the blind, the mute, the lame, the demon-possessed, and more. Many of these individuals were well-known in their communities—not strangers slapped on the forehead by a bellowing “evangelist,” as one might see on a modern-day television program.
I remember seeing a television sideshow where a child, deaf supposedly as a result of a demon spirit, was brought out. The “evangelist” (“charlatan” is probably more accurate) put his fingers in the child’s ears and cried “Come out!” to the supposed spirit. Then, putting his face in the child’s face, this man commanded several times in very distinct and loud tones, “Say, ‘Bay-bee.’” The confused and frightened child repeated, “Bah-bah.” Of course, even a child can read the lips of someone over-enunciating “baby.” The music struck up, the child was pronounced healed, and the audience waved their hands with tears streaming down their cheeks, shouting, “Praise the Lord!”
By contrast, the people Jesus healed were often well-known in their communities for suffering from their various afflictions. These healings weren’t clever tricks to fool a gullible audience. We have the examples of Lazarus (John 11:39–44), the demon-possessed man in the country of the Gadarenes (Mark 5:1–17), a paralyzed man (Mark 2:3–12), and many more. The populace knew that these were real healings; even the contentious Pharisees had to admit that Jesus’ miracles of healing were real, as evidenced by Nicodemus’ confession (John 3:2).
We read that Jesus turned water into wine, calmed a stormy sea, and walked on water. So, the questions remain: Do you believe these miracles happened? Do you believe there is an all-powerful God who is working with mankind on this small planet orbiting an average-sized star—one of tens of billions in our galaxy, which itself is only one galaxy among the currently estimated one-to-two trillion that make up our universe?
Truly, we ought to wonder, as King David did when he looked up at the awesome sight of a clear night sky, “What is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You visit him?” (Psalm 8:4). That, dear friends, is a question of great magnitude! And how much more we understand today regarding the scope of our universe and how truly small we are in comparison!
Most of us think that we would believe if we could only see a miracle—but that is a fallacy, not backed by the facts. The people of ancient Israel saw miracle after miracle that allowed their flight from Egyptian slavery. They experienced three plagues and saw their Egyptian neighbors endure seven other plagues that were miraculous in nature and timing. They escaped through the Red Sea and were fed supernaturally with manna that came every day of the week but the seventh. And this continued for 40 years. Time and again, God provided for them in the desert.
Yet we see that all those miracles survived in their minds only until the next challenge appeared. “For who, having heard, rebelled? Indeed, was it not all who came out of Egypt, led by Moses? Now with whom was He angry forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose corpses fell in the wilderness? And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief” (Hebrews 3:16–19).
Miracles are like food and water; those whose belief relies on miracles must have miracle after miracle to satisfy their recurring need. This is not to say that miracles are not important—we read of many in the Bible. Perhaps you have experienced one yourself. As a matter of fact, you have! Life itself is a miracle of such magnitude that every day we are learning more about how amazing it is.
We are told that “since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse” (Romans 1:20). Do you, dear readers, not see the miraculous all around you?
My wife and I saw one small miracle just recently. We noticed that the Carolina bluebirds did not nest in one of our birdhouses this year, so I decided to investigate. When I looked through the hole, I saw a large eye staring back at me. The hole was too small for a grown squirrel, but it looked like the eye of a small rodent. Was it a rat? When I removed the top, it came out. To our surprise, it was a flying squirrel. Its mate came and hung upside down on the tree trunk a few feet away, glaring at me for several minutes as we called over a little neighbor girl so she could see them. What beautiful little creatures!
Now, maybe you don’t think this is a miracle—but what life is not a miracle? There are so many species and subspecies, distinct but related. There are gray squirrels, red squirrels, black squirrels, and flying squirrels, but they are all squirrels and perfectly suited to be part of an integrated ecosystem. Some were created distinct by God; others—like our domesticated dogs and cats—display their wonderful variety because of careful “design” by human masters. Whether we are discussing birds, reptiles, rodents, fish, flowers, or any other kind of life, we see exquisite design and beauty. And how can we forget what we see in the mirror? As David wrote regarding the pinnacle of God’s physical creation, “For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well” (Psalm 139:13–14). Think about that; does your soul know this very well?
Faith is elusive. It must not be blind—but, as I have shown above, belief based on miracles never lasts. Even John the Baptist may have doubted at one point in his life. We cannot know for sure, as there is more than one explanation for the following passage, but one does have to wonder whether John took offense at something Jesus said or did. “And when John had heard in prison about the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples and said to Him, ‘Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them’” (Matthew 11:2–5).
We can’t be sure whether John sent his disciples to Jesus for their benefit or for his own. John knew Jesus from an early age, and as an adult saw evidence that He was the Messiah (John 1:32–34). Jesus pointed to the miracles He performed, but then made this interesting comment: “And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me” (Matthew 11:6). Did something happen to cause doubt in John’s mind?
We tend to think of the early Church as full of great faith, unlike today—and that is no doubt true, though maybe not to the degree we imagine. Remember how often Jesus groaned over the lack of faith of those around Him. How many times did He say to His disciples, “O you of little faith”?
Consider the rather humorous account of Peter’s escape from prison. Herod was fully set on executing Peter, as he had recently done with James, the brother of John, but God sent an angel to rescue him. This was a traumatic time for the early Church, and many had gathered to pray for Peter. They were doubtlessly praying for him to be rescued from death, but when he arrived after a truly miraculous escape, those praying for a miracle couldn’t seem to accept that the miracle was there at the front gate.
And when Peter had come to himself, he said, “Now I know for certain that the Lord has sent His angel, and has delivered me from the hand of Herod and from all the expectation of the Jewish people.” So, when he had considered this, he came to the house of Mary… where many were gathered together praying. And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a girl named Rhoda came to answer. When she recognized Peter’s voice, because of her gladness she did not open the gate, but ran in and announced that Peter stood before the gate. But they said to her, “You are beside yourself!” Yet she kept insisting that it was so. So they said, “It is his angel.” Now Peter continued knocking; and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished (Acts 12:11–16).
Are you and I any different from these dedicated people? Would we be astonished in a similar situation? Or would we expect an answer to our prayers? I ask again: How real is God to you?
Hebrews 11 is known as the faith chapter, and in it we read, “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (v. 6). Why is it impossible to please God unless we believe that He exists and that He rewards the diligent seeker?
Everyone listed in Hebrews 11 had the kind of faith that generated action. Abraham obeyed God when he left his comfortable home to go to a land where he would be a stranger. He also trusted God when he was told to sacrifice his son Isaac, believing that God would raise him up once again. (This was done as a type of what God would do with His Son, but God stopped Abraham at the last instant.) Noah built a huge boat, with his neighbors most likely mocking him. Then there was Moses. “By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward. By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured as seeing Him who is invisible” (Hebrews 11:24–27).
Though God spoke directly to some in dreams and visions, many others down through the ages have only had Scripture and a personal relationship built on prayer, study of the word of God, and fasting to give them hope. “They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented—of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us” (Hebrews 11:37–40). God was real to them!
If God is real to us—and if we truly believe there is a reward for obeying Him—we will strive to keep His commandments. We will forsake the holidays of this world that put the name of Christ on pagan practices. We will keep His Sabbaths—the seventh-day weekly Sabbath and the annual Sabbaths. We will allow nothing and no one to deter us from obedience to our Lord and Savior. “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matthew 10:37–39). Yes, if God is real to us, we will put Him first, above all else! Those words come straight from Jesus Himself!
So, I ask again: Is He real to you? Is He real enough for you to obey Him and put Him before all else? If not, isn’t it time to change?