How do we know that the Bible is true? How do we know that God exists? How do we know that we are saved, and have a real relationship with Him? No questions are more important than these. The battle for inerrancy has been won in the SBC, but the battle for epistemology will soon begin.
To witness to the world, we must be certain of what we are testifying of. If we are to give an appropriate answer of the reason for the hope that is in us, then we ought to know on what foundation that faith rests. Many would say, “It rests on Scripture.” But merely claiming that Scripture is true will not suffice. How do we know it’s true? Again, many would say that we know it’s true because the Bible testifies of itself that it is the true. But why do we trust such self-authentication?
It is here that many turn to Christian apologetics, which can be facinating and useful. Such books as The Case for Christ*, by Lee Strobel, can be very eye-opening. But I have noticed that the trend in this area is in thinking that the believer’s faith finds its solid foundation in such evidence, as if we believe in God and Christ because we find the weight of such evidence to be convincing. This is neither true nor Biblical. Although Strobel and others have done a fine job of presenting amazing evidences in support of the Bible, no amount of evidence can ever cross the line from mere probability to absolute certainty. At most, they establish that it is extremely improbable that the Bible is false. However, faith is not grounded in probabilities, but in absolute certainty.
On this point, the atheists scoff, and the self-assured liberals compromise. Faith, to them, is a leap in the dark—a resolute decision to believe in the face of uncertainty. When we tell them anything with certainty, such as, “Jesus rose from the dead,” they chide, “You should qualify such statements by saying, ‘I believe Jesus rose from the dead,’ since you don’t know for sure.” But what both groups lack is the experience of embracing what God has revealed through the witness and communication of His Holy Spirit to our spirit, resulting in a personal, intimate, and real relationship with Him. Once you have embraced Him in this way, you need never again be uncertain of such things.
It is highly improbable that my belief that George Washington existed is incorrect. There’s always the minute chance that the whole Washington thing was a hoax. But no one can ever assail my certainty regarding the existence of my wife and children—I’ve met them and I know them. Sin may cause me to doubt their continued love, but their existence is forever beyond the attack of the skeptic. Faith is not choosing to believe what you cannot know with certainty; but rather, faith is knowing with certainty what you cannot prove to others.
It is with this certainty that the Holy Spirit convicts the unbeliever that the Word of God is absolutely true. And while he may reject it, he can never escape it; for the decision to accept it or reject it is never merely made in the mind, based on “verifiable” facts—it is made in the spirit, based only on rebellion or repentance. Biblically, the root of unbelief is rebellion and not ignorance. As such, apologetics is useful only for the seeking sinner, and is wasted on scoffers. No one can ever be argued into repentance and belief.
The world will object that such “spiritual” assurance is merely of the mind, and offers nothing solid enough to serve as a foundation for knowledge and certainty. “How do you know that you’re not deceiving yourself, delusional or mistaken in your perceptions?” they ask. We know that Scripture is true only because His Spirit witnesses to that truth, revealing it to us with utter certainty (“Your word is truth.” John 17:17). Similarly, we know that we are saved because, as Rom. 8:16 explains, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God…”
We know that God has revealed with certainty to all men that He exists because He tells us so in Scripture (Rom. 1:19-20). Though their hearts are darkened, the Light remains (John 1:9; 8:12). Men in their sinfulness run from the Light (John 3:19-20). The Holy Spirit bears witness to the truth, and convicts the world (John 16:8-11). The reliability, certainty and effectiveness of God’s revelation of Himself to men might not be something that we can adequately explain, but it is nonetheless a revealed fact of Scripture. Such extenuations as the world offers (self-deception, delusion, fallible perception) as to why a person cannot receive with certainty this information that God wants to communicate to them are decisively answered by the ability of God to effectively accomplish such communication and His written assurance that He does accomplish it to the extent that “they are without excuse.”
When the Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, are we to imagine that nothing more is meant than that such witness is indistinguishable from the fantasies of the self-deceived? Does such a promise from God have no more substance and power than to leave us in the darkness of uncertainty, such that the witness is of no effect—since we are no better off with it than without it? Not at all. Though some men do deceive themselves, many have a true relationship with Christ. The fact that some choose lies over truth does not invalidate the certainty of the truth.
How, then, can one know of which group he is? True faith comes by the Word of God (Rom. 10:17; Gal. 3:2-6). God knows the human heart, with all its frailties, defenses, and incumbrances of sin—and yet, He still calls us to repent and to seek Him (Jer. 29:13; Luke 11:9-13). Therefore, the question is not, “Can I trust myself?”—Of course, you can’t trust yourself. But rather, the question is, “Can I trust God?” Although we acknowledge that we, as sinful, frail human beings, who are apt to choose self-deception as a defense against painful or unwanted reality, wallow in a dark, uncertain existence, God declares that He stands as an unfailing Light in that darkness by which we may find our way home. Indeed, He is not far away or unreachable (Rev. 3:20).
Stand firmly on the Word and the Spirit—both together form our foundation for knowing truth with certainty, and knowing the God in whom we trust.
* Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998).