Here we give answers to FAQs about our faith.
Question: ‘How do you square free will with the Ten Commandments?’
Answer: Man does not have free will, and the Ten Commandments, and our inability to keep them, proves it.
Our nature is fallen, to use the theological term. We cannot do good, but we can only sin. This does not mean we always do the worst we could, or that we are incapable of kindness, love, compassion and generosity. It does mean, however, that nothing we do pleases God. Our best deeds and words are the deeds and words of sinners, and God has warned that we will be judged for all we say, do and think.
There is only one way we can become able not to sin, and that is to be born again. The spiritual new birth, which is our coming to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and our repenting of our sins, marks the beginning of the new life in us. The Bible describes us as ‘sold under sin’ (Epistle to the Romans, 7:14). This means we are slaves to sin, and must obey sin at all times. So complete is our slavery that we do not even realize we are slaves, because we have never known anything else. But the new birth is our being freed from the slavery of sin. When we are freed we enter what the Bible calls ‘the glorious liberty of the children of God’ (Romans 8:21). Therefore we do not become free to live the life we want, but we become free to be the children of God, obeying our loving and gracious heavenly Father.
The Ten Commandments, and all the law of God, was given to teach us how to live. It was first given to the Israelites, partly as their national constitution, and partly as the law that would keep them from suffering the same judgment that came on the Egyptians, and on all the inhabitants of the Promised Land. God never promised them eternal life by keeping the law; he threatened them with judgment if they broke it.
Israel was promised the same hope of eternal life that was first declared to Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden – a child would be born who would defeat our enemy, Satan, and who would do so by suffering in our place. You can read this in Genesis 3, especially in v.15. Later in that chapter, in v.23, it is recorded that God clothed Adam and Eve with animal skins, which means animals died to provide those skins; God required a blood sacrifice to pay for their sins. But this sacrifice was not enough; it was intended to teach them about the death of the promised child. This is why, in the very next chapter, we find the sons of Adam and Eve (Cain and Abel) offering sacrifices to God. Cain, a farmer, thought it acceptable to bring what he had grown, but Abel, a shepherd, knew that God had required a blood sacrifice before, and so he offered something from his flock. God accepted Abel’s sacrifice, but rejected Cain’s. Cain murdered Abel in jealousy.
The system of sacrifices commanded to Israel – and known to the ancestors of the nation, as the rest of Genesis makes clear – was intended to teach the same thing. The day would come when the promised child would appear, whose death would actually take away sin.
For those who have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (the promised child) the Ten Commandments are kept because they express the will of our holy heavenly Father. We do not keep them because we think we can earn his favour, but we keep them because we love him. Those who do not love the Lord Jesus Christ, who do not have faith in him, cannot keep the commandments. If a person says, Well, I don’t believe in Jesus, but I have never killed anyone, I would answer, Good, but have you hated anyone? Hatred is the same as the sin of murder, since the one is an inward expression of the other. The same is true of adultery. A person may remain faithful to their spouse, but still lust after another person in their mind; that is adultery. We are not able to keep God’s laws fully and properly if we have not been born again. If we have been born again, we still cannot keep them (though we now try to do so) but our sins are forgiven for the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us.
Question: Why does God allow suffering?
Answer: Suffering is proof that we live in a fallen world.
In the beginning, when God made the world, he gave his verdict on it. ‘And God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good’ (Genesis 1:31). That all changed when man sinned, because the effect of sin was not just a change of relationship between man and God, but it fundamentally altered the course of nature. Whereas there had been no rain before man sinned, and was not for many years afterwards, God brought the first rain when he flooded the world in Noah’s day to kill everyone and everything not in the ark. God did this because the extent of sin on the earth was so great that God could not bear to look on it any longer.
After the flood waters had subsided, Noah and his family came out of the ark into the ruins of the earth. They began to populate the earth once more. But the changes that had taken place (such as the collapse of the layer of water up in the atmosphere onto the earth, Genesis 1:6–7, and 7:11–12) meant that the atmosphere changed, and with it came cold, snow and frost, as well as rain and storms.
Another change that took place was the coming of disease. Take cholera, a terrible disease among humans. People say, A good God would not have made cholera. But such a comment shows ignorance of natural functions. There are over 200 known variants of the widespread aquatic bacterium V.cholerae, of which only two are highly dangerous to humans, and only one of those is responsible for the vast majority of cases of cholera in history. As well as being a source of food for plankton, and so part of the food chain, V.cholerae serves another very useful function in nature: it is a means by which the shells of molluscs are broken down after the shell fish or snails have died. If they did not break down, waterways would become clogged with shells. But thanks to sin, and to the changes in our weather, we have times now when localized flooding takes place. As the flood waters begin to dry they leave often large, shallow pools, in which there are molluscs carrying V.cholerae. The shallow pools are warm, and the bacterium breeds very successfully. People, desperate for water, drink from the contaminated pools, and so become diseased. Now, if there had been no sin, there would not have been the changes to the weather which give rise to floods, and people would not be drinking contaminated water. Sin is the reason why there is suffering in the world.
This is why there are wars. The corruption of the human body, which is subject to ageing, and which delights to eat things that are not good for us, is the reason why cancer is so widespread. As for the suffering caused by the things people do to each other, this again is proof of the universal spread of sin. People are not only corrupt in their bodies which age, but also in their minds which are incapable to thinking clearly, and in their hearts that love self and pleasure but which do not love God and his truth.
Why does God not take away suffering? He will. The day is coming – God alone knows when – when the Lord Jesus Christ will return to this earth to make an end of all things. The world as we know it will cease. The living and the dead, from the beginning of the creation, will stand before God to be judged for all we have said, thought and done. Those who have believed on the Lord Jesus Christ will go into heaven. Those who have not will go into hell. The suffering of the righteous will end. The suffering of the wicked will be without end. The righteous are not taken to heaven because they have done enough to earn God’s favour, but because they have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ who suffered in their place when he died on the cross. The sufferings Christians experience is only temporary, and reminds us that we have a better home in heaven. Suffering should make everyone turn to God. That many do not is proof of how far we have fallen in sin.
Question: Why doesn’t prayer ever work? e.g. World peace.
Answer: The only prayers God will answer are those that ask for what he has promised.
The vast majority of people who ask this question are those who, when they have prayed, have never really believed God would answer. They may have sincerely wanted the thing they prayed for, but they had no expectation that God would give it. Why, then, should he?
Prayer is taking the promises of God, and turning them back on him as requests. He has promised to forgive the sins of all who come to him. We are therefore justified in asking him to forgive our sins. God has promised faith to those who ask him. We are therefore justified in asking him to give us faith. God has promised his help to those who love him. We are therefore justified in asking for his help.
God has promised peace on earth, but only through faith in Jesus Christ. The peace begins by our having peace with God, which we can only have through Jesus Christ. This reverses one serious effect of the fall. The peace continues with our having peace with ourselves, which reverses another serious effect of the fall. It includes peace with one another, especially between those who believe in the Lord Jesus. But it also means that those who do not love the Lord Jesus will hate those who do, and will do all they can to silence us. Therefore true peace on earth will only be known when the whole earth bows in faith before the Lord Jesus Christ. Praying for peace on any other ground is just wishful thinking; God has never promised it, and so will not give it.
But God has promised to hear the prayers of his faithful people, and to answer them according to his perfect will. He gives those things that are right for us to have; we can be like children who ask for things that we either do not need or should not have, but God gives what is right. He sometimes withholds things from us, even when he has promised them, because the time is not right. He may withhold them until we learn to pray in faith, not simply to say the words; if we truly desire something God has promised, for the reason he has promised it, he will give it.
Those who do not believe in the Lord Jesus can only make one prayer, ‘Lord, give me faith.’ If that is prayed sincerely, God will give you faith to believe in the Lord Jesus as the promised child who died to reconcile us to God. He spilt his blood to pay the price of our sins. He rose again from the dead because his sacrifice is accepted by God. All who believe in him are beneficiaries of his blood, and so enjoy all the privileges and benefits of being the children of God. This is the Christian faith.