The Idiot’s Guide to God

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about Mars Hill in Acts 17 and the unique challenge of introducing our God to a people with no standard of absolute truth. To the Jews, Paul consistently preached two points of contention: “Jesus was the Promised Messiah” and “the Messiah is the Son of God.” These were the two truths that separated a believing from an unbelieving Jew. So Paul always got right to the point. But Athens is unique…

There’s a LOT written about how the Gospel should be presented to the Chinese. Really intimidated me, to tell you the truth. I began to think every person I witnessed to in China would be a biology professor or an atheist philosopher. The “process” of witnessing sounded more like an undercover infiltration of the mafia than preaching. Maybe it’s just my city, but there ain’t a whole lot of that around here.

Paul first of all recognizes the universal, internal belief in the one true God. He does this confidently, knowing the testimony of the conscience as he describes in Romans 1. I really believe it’s a mistake to witness to an atheist with an argument about the existence of God. Maybe it’s necessary in some cases out there, but it sure isn’t often (around here, anyway). I’ve had tons of people tell me that they’re atheists but admit their own guilt, imperfection, and wonderings about who or what God could be.

Verse 24 – Paul starts his introduction. “God that made the world…” In that kind of philosophical, scientific, religious center of Paul’s age, there were no doubt a couple dozen “origins of the earth” theories floating around town. Paul doesn’t bother with any of them. He simply claims that his God is Creator – let the Holy Spirit do the rest. This is what we tell the Chinese – Our God is the Creator.

Verse 25 – “…as though he needed any thing…” Our God is self-sufficient. Don’t think that your religions, your good works, your prayers, your family name, or your honest business is going to mean anything to God. He doesn’t NEED anything from you. He doesn’t need your worship, your love, your devotion, or your money. Luck is probably the closest thing to a major false religious god here in China. Throw a coin at this thing, build a shrine to that thing, eat this, touch that… do this for your good luck charm god, and in return, you’ll receive something. Not our God. He doesn’t need anything.

Verse 26 – “He is the God of destiny.” He is eternal, dwelling outside of time. Our second Bible study, a student asked me if I believed in destiny. This is the verse I took him to. Paul tells the Athenians that God determines when and where a person is born. For some reason, a self-sufficient God has chosen to involve Himself in our lives. Most humanistic cultures have a pretty high emphasis on self-starting, motivation, realizing your own dreams. Paul claims that everything the Athenians have and are comes from God.

Verse 27 – “He’s not far off – seek Him!” God places in every person a desire and places around every person circumstances that make a person desire to seek after God. To have a relationship with Him. I love this – Paul sticks the knife right into the conscience – YOU WANT TO KNOW GOD! He doesn’t care who denies it, he knows human nature!

Verse 28 – “He is our life!” Paul quotes their own poets to show the desire for God in the hearts of their people. Here in China, there’s a place called the Temple of Heaven, where the emperor used to go to pray to the God of Heaven once a year. There’s a desire for God in every culture, because He is our life.

Verse 29 – “We shouldn’t get God confused with physical matter.” Our god shouldn’t be made out of gold, silver, stone, steel, platinum, chrome, wood, bronze, paper, plastic, flesh, plexiglass, pixels, or bytes. The biggest false gods in China are “graven by art and man’s device.” Not unlike America. Our introduction must always include this message – “turn from your idols.”

Verse 30 – “God commands you to repent.” What does God want you to do? Turn from your sin. People love to write about how the word for sin in Chinese means “crime.” To ask a Chinese person if they’re a sinner is to ask them if they’re a “criminal.” But that’s what it means in English, too! The word’s just so old, we’ve forgotten what it really means! Get a thesaurus! No one in any culture likes to be told they’re a sinner! But it’s what separates them from God. And that’s why we’re here.

Verse 31 – “Judgment is coming…” Paul explains in simple terms what to expect after death: judgment. This life is not all there is. We are accountable for our life on this earth. God has a fair measure. Paul tells them not to make the mistake of ignoring what happens after death. That’s the prevailing opinion about the afterlife here: no opinion. Why think about it? As one guy told me, “Thinking about stuff like that just distracts us from living our best life here on earth.” No, thinking about that stuff makes you feel bad about what you do here on earth. And it gives focus to what we do here on earth!

“By that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.” It’s always about Jesus. I tell the Chinese students every week at our Bible study, “This study is about Jesus. If you don’t like Him, you probably won’t like our study!” An introduction to God must be an introduction to Jesus (Jn. 14:6). We have to talk about Jesus. We have to talk about His resurrection. We have to talk about His forgiveness.

Long post. Sorry. Check out Acts 17 for yourself and find out what happens at the end of Paul’s message of introduction.

2 Comments on “The Idiot’s Guide to God”

  1. John Pearson August 20, 2007 at 6:04 am #

    Psa 50:12 If I were hungry, I would not tell thee: Goes along with verse 25 you talked about. Good post. God is not far even from the atheist.

  2. wagardner August 20, 2007 at 7:22 am #

    Super excellent. I really enjoy reading your posts every day. You are a blessing and no supporting church, pastor, or friend could be prouder

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