When we share the gospel, we often find that people have questions about Christianity or objections to the Bible’s truth claims. You might hear the following questions: How can we know Scripture is true? Does God exist? Why does evil exist in the world? Or people may simply express indifference about spiritual things and halt the conversation before it can develop. When you first begin to evangelize, you may find these questions and objections a little disconcerting. You may also be tempted to turn to resources other than the Bible to answer questions and address objections. While we are not against using extra-biblical resources to affirm the truth of Scripture, our goal in this article is to encourage you to make the Bible your primary resource for engaging these common questions and objections.
Why is this our goal? Because the Bible is truly the only source of truth a Christian needs to answer any question levied by a non-believer concerning Christianity (2 Tim 3:15-17; 2 Pet 1:3, 19). What a freeing truth! While other sources (history, archeology, and science) can be helpful, we believe it is best to rely on the Bible in addressing questions related to Christ and the truth of Scripture. We take this approach to navigating questions for at least three reasons.
First, only the Bible provides divinely authoritative answers for questions about Christ and Christianity. While other sources may be useful in highlighting and affirming the truth of Christianity, only the Bible comes endowed with inherent authority from the Creator. If we continually turn to other sources to answer questions about God, we subtly imply that the Bible is not sufficient to answer the essential questions concerning the Christian faith.
Second, the unbeliever’s greatest need is faith in Christ, and faith can only come by the Word of God: “Faith comes from hearing and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom 10:17). Again, extra-biblical evidences can be useful, but they cannot create faith in Christ; only the Word of God can do that.
Third, when Jesus defended the truth of His Word, He relied exclusively on the Old Testament because, as He told the religious leaders, “Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35). In defending and explaining our faith in God, we should follow the example of Jesus.
In this article, therefore, we have sought to answer the most common questions and objections you will encounter in your evangelistic endeavors. We have sorted these questions and objections into two categories. The first category consists of questions relating to the truth of the Bible, the existence of God, and the exclusivity of Christ. The second category consists of objections that deal with the justice of God.
We do not intend to give the impression that our discussions with unbelievers should follow a prescribed, formulaic approach. We must listen carefully to our friends and offer them answers to the questions they are actually asking. We are not obligated to answer every question posed by unbelievers, but we should answer some questions, and it is vital to show our friends that the Bible is sufficient to answer their most important inquiries.
Category #1: Truth of the Bible, Existence of God, and Exclusivity of Christ
How do you know the Bible is God’s Word?
We begin with this question because this will be one the most common inquiries you will encounter. It is also important that you have a good answer to this question because much of your evangelistic work will involve teaching people what the Bible says. It will be necessary, therefore, to be able to explain how we can know that the Bible is God’s Word.
The first answer to this question is straightforward. We know the Bible is God’s Word because it claims to be. Many of the Old Testament authors claimed to write down God’s Words (e.g., Exod 34:27; Isa 1:10; Jer 1:2; Ezek 1:3) and the New Testament affirms that the whole Old Testament was breathed out by God (2 Tim 3:16; 2 Pet 1:16-21). The New Testament authors also believed they wrote God’s Word, and Jesus Himself promised to give His disciples the Holy Spirit so that they might remember His words and deeds and instruct others (John 14-16). We see the fulfillment of this promise in the various letters of the New Testament.
Second, we know the Bible is God’s Word because God Himself speaks in it. This is an important point because we want to be careful not to suggest that something other than God’s Word has the authority to confirm the truthfulness of God’s Word. If that were the case, then that resource, whatever it is—historical records, scientific pronouncements, geological discoveries—would be the final authority rather than God’s Word. If the Bible is God’s Word, then no other source outside the Bible can act as a final authority over it. That’s why it may also be helpful to show the many places where Scripture claims not only to be true and reliable, but to be the truth, the standard by which all else is judged (Ps 19:6-11; John 17:17).
Nevertheless, God has given us plenty of evidence to know that His Word is true and reliable. That’s why Proverbs 30:5 says, “Every word of God proves true.” The Word of God can be tested; and when it is, it is shown to be true, reliable, and trustworthy.
Some of that evidence, for example, is the Bible’s inherent unity. The Bible “fits” together in a coherent story and depiction of reality. Also, the God of the Bible is utterly unique among all other so-called gods. Indeed, God Himself challenges us to find any other God who is like Him: “Who is like me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and set it before me, since I appointed an ancient people. Let them declare what is to come, and what will happen” (Isa 44:7). When we place the God of the Bible alongside other so-called gods, there is no comparison: the true God shines forth in a self-authenticating glory that cannot be contested.
We recommend, however, that you not dwell too long on this question, for the answer to whether or not the Bible is God’s Word is found in the Bible itself and seeing the glory of Jesus Christ for oneself. Only when one beholds the glory of the Lord in the Bible will he or she be convinced that Scripture is truly God’s Word (2 Cor 3:18). The best strategy, then, to answering this question, is to explain to your unbelieving friends what the Bible teaches about God, Christ, and the gospel. It is in the truth of Scripture itself that people will behold the self-authenticating glory of God.
The Bible doesn’t matter to me
This objection touches on the issue of the Bible’s “authority.” Put simply, when we say that the Bible is authoritative, we mean that the Bible has the final word on all that it affirms: its truth is binding and applies to every person, regardless of whether they accept it or reject it. That is why Jesus said, the “Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35), and “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Matt 24:35), and “Truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matt 5:18). What Scripture says will come to pass regardless of what anyone else says or believes.
Many college students and professors wrongly believe that all truth is relative. That is, they believe that “truth” only pertains to specific situations and circumstances, but that it doesn’t transcend beyond those specific situations or circumstances. In other words, there are no “absolute truths” that pertain to all people in all situations at all times under all circumstances. Interestingly, even the claim that “there are no absolute truths” is itself an absolute truth claim: it is meant to apply to all people at all times in all circumstances. When confronted with the claim that all truth is relative, you might ask, “Is that claim absolutely true?”
It is important to reckon with how many of your fellow classmates think about the nature of truth because it relates directly to the issue of Scripture’s authority. Scripture doesn’t give us truths that are relevant only to a particular group of people at a particular time; rather, as God’s Word, the Bible provides us truths that apply to all people at all times. The Bible presents truth— moral, scientific, historical, spiritual, theological—as black and white, right and wrong. The sincerity of a person’s convictions does not change the truth. If the Bible says something is true, that means God has said something is true. And what God says is true is true for all people, no matter what folks believe to the contrary.
Because of the nature of God’s Word as truth, the Bible is of great importance for every non-believer (even though they may claim that the Bible doesn’t matter to them). In your evangelistic endeavors, therefore, you must make it clear that biblical truth applies to them, regardless of what they believe. God’s judgment is on them, but there is salvation in Christ, and only in Christ (see John 3:36). They may deny this truth, but it does not make it any less true. It is for this reason that Jesus told the Jews, “The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day” (John 12:48). Although the Jews rejected the Word of Christ, they will still be judged by it and in accordance with it. It is the same for anyone with whom you share the gospel.
For example, if a doctor discovers his patient has cancer and provides him with a diagnosis, the patient’s acceptance or rejection of the doctor’s diagnosis does not alter the reality that they do in fact have cancer. And the cancer will kill them, regardless of whether or not they accept the truth of the diagnosis. Similarly, a non-believing friend may reject the diagnosis of God’s Word—that they are a sinner under God’s judgment and in need of Jesus Christ. But, your friend’s rejection of that diagnosis doesn’t change the reality of impending judgment. Jesus said, “whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36). No matter how sincerely your friend believes they are good enough to go to heaven, Scripture says that they are wrong, and God will punish them for their sin. The truth of the Bible matters to all people because it is God’s Word, and they will either be judged according to God’s Word or freed from judgment by God’s Word (John 8:32; 12:47).
How do you know that God exists?
This question may also be presented like a statement, “I don’t believe in God.” This statement, however, is actually a lie. The person making the statement may not think they are intentionally deceiving anyone, but the reality is that every person on earth knows that God exists (Rom 1:20). For that reason, the Bible never defends the existence of God. The very first words of the Bible are, “In the beginning, God…” (Gen 1:1). No qualification is needed. God exists.
But how does every person know that God exists? Romans 1:19-20 tells us,
For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.
Scripture tells us that God’s existence—His invisible attributes, His power, and divine nature—are clearly perceived. Amazingly, people’s unbelief is not due to a lack of general knowledge of Him; it is because they, “by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Rom 1:18). We have all the revelation we need to know with certainty that God exists. But because we love our sin (see also John 3:19-20), we “suppress” that clear revelation. Therefore, if someone asks how you know God exists, you can first tell him or her that the Scripture teaches that all people know that God exists. In fact, they know deep down that God has all power, that He is divine, and that they deserve God’s judgment (Rom 1:20, 32). From that point, you can turn them to God’s revelation in the Bible.
For this reason, we don’t believe it is profitable to spend time on rational “proofs” of God’s existence using cosmological or ontological arguments. When we engage in these kinds of attempts to “prove” God’s existence on the basis of rational argument, we are actually working inconsistently with what Scripture teaches. The person with whom we are sharing the gospel knows that God exists (although they may not admit that they do). Our evangelistic work, therefore, should primarily consist of explaining the truth of Scripture to them. What a freeing (re)discovery! What is most important in your evangelism is not your mastery of philosophical categories and logical arguments; it is the mastery of God’s Word.
How can I believe that the Bible is true when there are so many interpretations?
This question could also be stated this way: even if the Bible is true, isn’t it up to everyone’s own interpretation to understand what it really means? This is a challenging inquiry, especially in light of the myriads of denominations and people claiming contrary interpretations of what the Bible teaches.
When answering this objection, we must first recognize that this claim is often overstated. Yes, there are many Christian denominations, but there is also great consensus among these denominations on what the Bible teaches on its most important topics. Furthermore, this consensus can be traced historically back to the early, post-apostolic church. The existence of God, the person and work of Christ, the means of salvation, the realities of heaven and hell, the reliability of the Bible, and other important doctrines have been recognized by the church for centuries. That is why the Christian church has been able to recognize when heresy (teachings that depart from orthodoxy) rears its ugly head.
This is the case because the Bible itself assumes that its meaning can be understood. That is, God gave Scripture to His people in plain language so that they might understand it, love it, and obey it. Consider this word from the apostle Paul:
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.1 Tim 3:16-17
These verses assume that the Bible can be taught and used profitably for reproving those in sin, correcting those who are in error, and training Christians in righteousness, thus preparing them for every good work. Assumed in Paul’s statement is that Scripture’s message is clear. Indeed, Paul had just reminded Timothy that the Scriptures are what provide him wisdom for salvation: “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 3:14-15). The Scriptures are able to make one wise to salvation because they are understandable and clear.
This is precisely why God commanded the Israelites to teach the Scriptures to their children (Deut 6:6). The Bible is so clear that children can understand it (Matt 11:25). Likewise, the Bible can be understood by those who the Bible categorizes as “simple” or unintelligent. “The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple” (Ps 19:7). Simple-minded people lack capacity to grasp complex concepts. Yet, the Scriptures are so clear that they can make even the simple-minded wise. In fact, because the Scriptures are such an understandable and accurate presentation of truth, they are to be relied upon above any personal experience, no matter how transformative that experience may be (2 Pet 1:16-19).
This is not to suggest that everything in Bible is easy to understand. Peter the apostle even admits that some things in Scripture are difficult to comprehend (see 2 Pet 3:16). Nor does this imply that discerning the meaning of a text is always an easy task. Nevertheless, the church throughout her history has held that due to God’s intention in providing Scripture (the salvation of His people) and God’s means of producing it (texts written in the common language of the people), the Bible has an inherent clarity that enables Christians of all different times and places to decipher its basic meaning. In other words, God has ensured that in Scripture, the main things are the plain things.
Aren’t all religions just different paths to the same God?
This objection is fairly common in our day. It is, however, not a very coherent protest. Why? Because, given that the Bible is true, it is impossible that other religions can also be true. Jesus told His disciples, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). In other words, Jesus is the exclusive, singular way to God. As Paul said, “There is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 2:5).
Peter made a similar point in his preaching, saying, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12; emphasis added). Why is there only one way to God? Because God’s holiness demands that people to be perfectly righteous (Matt 5:48), yet, all people have sinned against God and are under His judgment (Rom 3:23; John 3:36). As sinners by nature, we can never fulfill “the righteous requirement” of the law. But, Jesus did that in the place of sinners (2 Cor 5:21). That is why God declares a person righteous when they believe in Jesus (Rom 3:21-22; 4:3; 4:6; 8:4). A sinner can only be credited with the perfect righteousness of God through Jesus. Paul puts it like this:
God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Rom 8:3-4).
Think about it this way. True Christianity is the only religion in the world that offers atonement for sin fully by way of divine accomplishment. Christ did it all on our behalf. Every other religion in the world promises the possibility of atonement for sin by way of human works. All religions other than Christianity, therefore, do not lead to God—they lead to eternal judgment.
It is important to engage this objection. Some folks view the exclusivity of Christ as an arbitrary, groundless claim. But Jesus didn’t just drop out of heaven one day and say, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Jesus came to earth in fulfillment of an entire Old Testament narrative that prepares us to expect God’s provision of atonement in the promised One and eternal forgiveness of God sin. There are countless Old and New Testament texts that tell us about our sin and our inability to atone for our iniquities. Only in Christ is this problem resolved. Keep your focus on sin and sin’s remedy in Christ, and you will do much to dispel the myth that all religions lead to God.
Jesus never claimed to be the Son of God
We might answer this objection in two ways. First, we could say that the entire Bible is the Word of God and, thus, the Word of Christ. Any claim of the Bible that says Jesus is God and the Son of God is a claim made by Jesus. Second, however—and perhaps more relevant to the way this objection is typically presented by an unbelieving audience—is necessary that we uphold that the fact that Jesus did claim, during His earthly ministry, that He was both God and the Son of God. Two clear examples of Jesus claiming deity are found in the gospel of John.
In this passage, Jesus says to the Jews, “I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins” (John 8:24; emphasis added). The “he” is actually not in the original Greek text. Jesus says “unless you believe I am you will die in your sins.” A little later He says again, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58; emphasis added). The “I am” is the name by which God revealed Himself in the Old Testament. When Moses asked God His name, God said, “‘I Am Who I Am.’ And he said, ‘Say this to the people of Israel: “I Am has sent me to you”’ (Exod 3:14). When Jesus calls Himself “I am,” He is claiming to be the self-existent God of the Old Testament. That is why Jesus told the Jews He existed before Abraham. The fact that the Jews tried to stone Jesus makes it clear they understood His claim (John 8:59). Jesus claimed to be God again in John 14 when He told Philip, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Because Jesus is God in a human body, whoever has seen Jesus has seen the “image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15).
Jesus also clearly claimed to be the Son of God. He asked the Jews, “what do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’”? (John 10:36). Jesus states here that He referred to Himself as the Son of God. Jesus again refers to Himself as the Son of God when speaking with the disciples about His friend Lazarus’ illness. He said of Lazarus, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (John 11:4). During His trial before the Jewish leaders, Jesus said explicitly that he was the Son of God (Mark 14:62), and there are multiple other instances where Jesus is called the Son of God and He implicitly affirms it (Matt 26:63-64; John 1:49). Jesus is God the Son, and He Himself testified to that truth.
Isn’t God of the Old Testament different from Jesus of the New Testament?
You might also hear this objection, but it can be dispelled rather quickly. The claim that the Old Testament depicts a God utterly dissimilar to the God of the New Testament simply doesn’t hold up under biblical scrutiny. First, we know that God says in Malachi 3:6 “I the Lord do not change.” God did not change between the time of the Old Testament’s writing and His incarnation as the God-man, Jesus Christ. Jesus is God, just as the Father and the Holy Spirit are God (John 1:1-3; Col 1:15-17; 2:9; Heb 1:3).
The implication is that Jesus has the same attributes, character, and nature as the God who revealed Himself to the Jews in the Old Testament. Indeed, it was the Son who revealed Himself in the Old Testament (Isa 6:1-6; John 12:41). It is for this reason that Jesus is called the “exact imprint of [God the Father’s] nature” (Heb 1:3). All that God the Father is, God the Son is. What makes God the Father happy makes God the Son happy. What makes God the Father angry makes God the Son angry.
This question typically comes from people who posit that the God of the Old Testament is a God of anger and wrath, while the God of the New Testament is a God of love and grace. Such a claim, however, actually reveals a general ignorance of Scripture. Listen to how God describes Himself to Moses in the Old Testament: “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin (Exod 34:6-7). Think of how the Old Testament prophet Jonah described the God: he knew that God was “gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity” (Jonah 4:2-3) Compare this to how God is described in the New Testament: “Let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire (Heb 12:28-29; emphasis added). Or, consider the New Testament description of Jesus’ second coming:
Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war… From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.Rev 19:11, 15
The references to God as a consuming fire relate to God’s holy judgment upon those who rebel against Him. This judgment will be fulfilled in the second coming of Jesus Christ as He vanquishes His enemies and treads “the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.” In both testaments God is portrayed as kind and holy, gracious and full of wrath toward His enemies, a gracious Savior and a terrifying judge. The God of the Old Testament is the exact same as the Incarnate God of the New Testament. A fair reading of both the Old and New Testaments reveals that God is a God of grace and truth, wrath and mercy, holiness and forgiveness. That is why the author of Hebrews wrote, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb 13:8).
Category #2: The Morality and Goodness of God
If God is in control of salvation, why am I held responsible to believe?
The Bible is straightforward on this issue: God is sovereign in salvation, and people can only be saved if God grants them the gift of faith and repentance (see Phil 1:29; 2 Tim 2:25). That is why Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44) and why Luke wrote of Gentile believers saying, “as many as were appointed to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48).
But Scripture is just as straightforward about our responsibility to repent and believe in Jesus Christ. Consider these New Testament texts (emphasis added):
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.John 3:16-18
Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved, you and your household.Acts 16:31
The time is at hand. Repent and believe the gospel!Mark 1:15
And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.Rom 4:5
And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.1 John 3:23
At no point does the New Testament allow us to blame our condemned status on the sovereignty of God. The objection that I can’t believe unless God chooses me or grants me faith is nothing more than a refusal to obey the simple command of the gospel: repent and believe in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. The reality of God’s sovereignty over our salvation is not meant to push us away from God and fault God for our inability to believe; on the contrary, when we truly realize that only God can save us, we will turn wholeheartedly to Him in faith and repentance.
Though salvation is entirely from God, when we repent and believe we exercise our own minds, hearts, and wills. God doesn’t “believe for us.” Rather, when we hear the gospel, we respond according to our nature as thinking-feeling-willing people. Our minds understand the gospel, our hearts taste its truth, and our wills embrace Jesus Christ and the forgiveness He provides. We can know that God has provided us with genuine repentance and faith only after we have turned from our sin and believed (Ezek 36:26-27; Phil 1:29; 2 Tim 2:25).
Therefore, when we engage this objection, (admittedly, this objection will only come from those who already have significant biblical knowledge), it is important to emphasize the following two truths. The first truth is the Bible’s urgent call to repent and believe the gospel (e.g, Mark 1:15; John 3:16; Acts 16:31; Rom 4:5; 1 John 3:23). The second truth is that God’s sovereignty is meant to turn us to God for grace, not away from God with excuses for why we can’t believe. It is for the very reason that God grants faith and repentance—that we should turn to Him for salvation.
One might object that this still isn’t fair. “I reject the gospel because I was born a sinner by nature.” True, but God is still just to hold us responsible to repent and believe for at least two reasons. One, God has given us everything we need in order to repent and believe. He has given us minds that understand, hearts that feel, ears that hear, eyes that can read. When God commands us to repent and believe, He is not asking us to do something that we have no natural capacity to do.
Second, God freely offers salvation to all people (Matt 11:28; Rom 10:13). People do not reject the gospel because God forces them to reject Him. Rather, people reject the gospel because they love their sin, despite God’s gracious revelation of Himself in creation and in the gospel (John 3:18-20; Rom 1:20-23). Jesus pleaded with Jerusalem: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Matt 23:37). The issue is that people are “not willing” to come to Jesus. Thus, the non-believer is responsible for their rejection of God’s gracious kindness that is meant to lead them to repentance (Rom 2:4).
If God is good and controls all things why is there evil in the world?
We will address the question with an answer that consists of three essential elements. (1) God ordained the entrance of sin into the world; (2) God ordained the entrance of sin in the world for His glory; (3) God did not create sin, and He is not morally culpable for sin.
- God ordained the entrance of sin into the world. We know that God ordained sin because God sovereignly planned all of time and history. It is for this reason that He says, “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose’” (Isa 46:9-11; emphasis added). He “works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph 1:11; emphasis added). God has controlled “all things,” at every point in time, space, or history to conform to what He wants, and He will continue to do so forever (Job 42:2; Prov 16:4, 16:33; Ps 103:19, 115:3; Isa 45:7; Lam 3:37; Dan 4:35; Rom 8:28).
- God ordained the entrance of sin in the world for His glory. The Bible explains that God’s chief purpose in all He does is to glorify Himself (Isa 43:7, 43:25, 48:9-11; Ezek 20:14, 36:22-23; 1 Sam 12:20-22; John 12:28, 13:31-32, 17:1; Eph 1:4-6, 1:12, 1:14). That includes His ordaining the existence of evil and sin. Through the existence of evil and sin, God displays His attributes—many of which could not be displayed apart from the entrance of sin into the world. For example, He shows His love, grace, and kindness in saving sinners (Rom 5:8, 9:22-23; Eph 1:6, 12, 14, 2:4-5; 1 John 4:10). He also shows His holiness and justice in by is wrath on unrepentant sin. Therefore by ordaining sin to be a contrast to His attributes, people and angels can then glorify God for these displays of His glorious character.
- God did not create sin, nor is He morally capable of it, nor culpable for it. It’s true that God ordained evil’s entrance into creation, but God did not create sin. How can this be? First, we must understand that there are things that God cannot do. Specifically, God cannot violate His perfect character by sinning, creating sin, or tempting someone to sin. It is impossible for God to do anything unrighteous, unjust, or otherwise sinful (Gen 18:25; Deut 32:3-4; Titus 1:2). The apostle John tell us: “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5; emphasis added) and “In him there is no sin” (1 John 3:5; emphasis added). God hates evil and those who perpetrate it (Ps 5:5; Prov 12:22-24). God did not create evil, nor did he tempt anyone to fall into sin so as to bring evil into existence. “God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one” (James 1:13; emphasis added).
Chronologically speaking, the first mention of evil is when Satan (once a beautiful angel named Lucifer) fell into sin. Satan was once an “anointed cherub” (Ezek 28:14). Scripture even describes Satan’s pre-fall state: “You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created, till unrighteousness was found in you. In the abundance of your trade you were filled with violence in your midst, and you sinned” (Ezek 28:15-16). Satan was created perfect by God, but with the ability to choose whether or not to obey God. Then, one day in heaven, he sinned. The Bible says that Lucifer, not God, is responsible for Lucifer’s sin. Lucifer, not God, is held culpable for his sin. In the same way, when Adam and Eve sinned, God was not held responsible; Adam and Eve were held responsible (see Gen 3:17ff.). Likewise, when a person sins today, they, not God, are morally culpable for their own sin (Ezek 18:24).
Again, someone may say, that’s not fair, why am I responsible for my sins if God is in ultimate control? The apostle Paul anticipated this very question and gave a helpful response. Paul wrote to the Romans, “You will say to me then, ‘Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?’ But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?” (Rom 9:19-21). We must reckon with Paul’s answer in Romans and yield to the truth that God is the Creator, and He, not us, has the right to establish creation as He chooses.
These three truths are the basic elements of the Bible’s answer to the so-called “problem of evil.” Although evil cannot flow from God’s essence, He has ordained evil for the display of His glory. You must be prepared, however, for unbelievers to be repelled by these explanations. Sadly, while the believing heart finds deep comfort in God’s providential control over all things (see Job 42:2-6) the unbelieving heart rages at the idea of God doing all things for His glory and out of His good pleasure. Nevertheless, when asked about the so-called problem of evil, we must be ready to make a coherent defense, yet with gentleness and reverence, even if those with whom we are speaking are deeply opposed to our answers (see 1 Pet 3:14-16).
Why do bad things happen to good people?
While we might be tempted to think this inquiry is entirely wrong-headed, it is actually a question that God’s saints wrestle with in the pages of Scripture. When Solomon wrote the book of Ecclesiastes, for example, he wondered why the righteous endured the same fate as the wicked (death), and why the righteous occasionally meet with death earlier in life than the wicked do. To him, it was a “great evil” for a righteous man to die in his righteousness and a wicked man to prosper in his wickedness. So, when someone offers this question as an objection to the truth of Scripture, be patient with them: they are simply asking a question that reflects the incongruity we see in this fallen “life under the sun.” You might even take them to Ecclesiastes and show them that God’s people have wrestled with this question, too.
But it is also wise to respond to this question by showing our friend that there is another, more important question we should ask. The real question is, in light of God’s holiness and our sin, why do so many good things happen to wicked people like you and me? Why did God punish His Son for me, His former enemy (Rom 5:10)? Why does God let you, His enemy, continue to live?
The question of why bad things happen to good people presumes that people are good. While we can observe a relative goodness among people in a given society—not everyone is a serial killer, and many people do give their time and energy into serving and helping others—the reality is that before God, no one is good. That’s because God’s standard of goodness is perfect conformity to His will, in mind, heart, and deed (see Matt 22:37-39). When we reckon with this standard, we can understand why God says of all people, “All have turned aside [from God]; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Rom 3:12). The truth is that apart from Christ, we are all rebels at heart who not only disobey God’s law; we love to disobey God’s law (Rom 1:32). Amazingly, however, God continues to show love and kindness to people who hate Him. “For [God] makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt 5:45).
So, why do good things happen to bad people? In order to lead people to repentance: “…do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Rom 2:4). You can rightly plead with people, then, not to “presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience” (Rom 2:4). You can urge them to instead run to the Savior who gladly receives the repentant sinner (Luke 15:20-24).
What happens to people who never hear about Jesus?
This is not an easy answer to give, but the Bible is clear: those who never hear of Jesus will not be saved (John 14:6; Acts 4:12). Saving faith only comes by hearing the word about Christ (Rom 10:17). That’s why, historically, Christians have been adamant on sending missionaries to places that have never heard the gospel, for “how…will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news’” (Rom 10:14-15).
But when someone hears the hard truth that those who never heard of Jesus will not be saved, their first impulse may be to question God’s justice. How can such a situation be fair? If you encounter this response, be prepared to make a straightforward argument about what it really means for God to be fair. Most importantly, we must emphasize that every human who has ever lived deserves God’s judgment. Why? Because all have sinned and the “soul who sins shall die” (Ezek 18:4; see also Rom 6:23). Thus, if God were “fair,” He would consign every human to eternal condemnation. So, we don’t want fairness in this sense, because that would only get us judgment. But, as we see in the gospel, God is wonderfully gracious in saving sinners. In Christ, God shows His people mercy by not giving them what they deserve (eternal judgment) and demonstrates His grace by giving them what they do not deserve (forgiveness of sin and eternal life). Mercy is the withholding of just punishment. Grace is undeserved favor. Instead of punishing believers eternally for their sins, God punished His Son in their place (2 Cor 5:21). Then, He adopted believers into His family, making them His children and heirs with his Son (John 1:12-13; Rom 8:16-17). Talk about grace!
Beyond this, God has revealed Himself to all people through creation, and by writing His law within them (Rom 1:19-21; 2:14-15). God even ordered time and history “that [all people] should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him” (Acts 17:27). God created the world so that people would seek after Him and find Him. God is “clearly seen” in the creation He has made (Rom 1:18-20).
But, sinners love the darkness of sin instead of the light of God (John 3:20). Because of this, “no one seeks for God” for they have “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things” (Rom 1:23). Because people are lost in their sin, it is all the more necessary for Christians to share the gospel with those who have not heard it (Rom 10:14-17). It is the gospel that breaks the chains of sin and darkness, and it is through the gospel that God draws the sinner to salvation in His marvelous Son (Rom 1:16).
Lastly, God will judge all non-believers according to the revelation that they reject. Those who reject God’s revelation of Himself in nature and in their consciences will be judged less severely than those who reject an extensive knowledge of the gospel (Luke 12:46-48).
How can Christianity be true when I know so many Christians who do all kinds of sinful things?
First, the goodness of Christianity is not first defined by how professing Christians live. The goodness of Christianity is demonstrated most clearly in the perfect Son of God “who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb 4:15). Of course, the testimony of how a Christian lives is important and should reflect the goodness and purity of Christ (Matt 5:16; 1 Pet 2:12; see also chapter five in this book). Where many people get confused is when they see professing Christians live in a way that is incompatible with that profession of faith in Christ.
Second, just because someone claims to be a Christian does not mean that they are a Christian. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). If a person lives in consistent disobedience to Jesus’ commandments, they call into serious question whether they really love Jesus. If they don’t love Jesus, they are not Christians. That is why Paul said, “If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed!” (1 Cor 16:22). The apostle John wrote, “Whoever says ‘I know [Jesus]’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 John 2:4). John also wrote, “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God” (1 John 3:9).
It is impossible for a person who truly knows and loves Jesus to live in continual and determined disobedience to Him because a Christian has been “born of God.” When someone believes in Christ, they are “born again” (John 3:3). God’s Spirit comes to live inside them, making them a new person with a new nature (2 Cor 5:17; Eph 2:10). This new nature is comprised of a new heart and spirit that, above everything else, loves God and desires to obey Him (Jer 31:33-34, Ezek 36:26-27).
A person with this new nature cannot practice sin the way they once did. Yes, believers still sin, but, the genuine Christian hates their sin and wants to be rid of it (Rom 7:21-24; see Ps 51:1-2).
When someone comes to Christ, the goodness of Jesus and the reality of Christianity should become clear. The new Christian goes from practicing “sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry” and all sorts of evil to bearing the fruit of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control” (Gal 5:19-23).
Christians have used their religion to justify harsh colonization and slavery. How can it be a good religion?
This is a complex issue because there are many historical and theological issues to consider, but, at the risk of sounding too simplistic, we will attempt a relatively concise answer.
First, it is important to make a few distinctions. We must make a clear distinction between true Christianity (revealed in Scripture, articulated doctrinally in the historical creeds, and expressed in the true Church over the past 2000 years) and individuals, institutions, and nations who have taken the name “Christian” or have claimed to act in the name of Christianity. It is entirely possible for an individual, institution, or nation to claim allegiance to an idea or set of principles only to, for various reasons, misunderstand and misrepresent those ideas or principles. In other words, just because a person, institution, or nation claims to act in the name of Christianity or on the basis of biblical teaching, doesn’t necessarily mean that they have done so.
The Scripture addresses this issue by providing us with a robust doctrine of sin. According to the Bible, sin is so deep and pervasive in the human heart that it will cause some to use misuse Christ and to twist the Bible for their own advantage to achieve self-serving goals. It was those who were most outwardly religious who most desired Jesus’ death because he exposed the fact that they were using their false religion for personal fame and gain (see Matt 23:1ff).
The temptation to misuse God-exalting truth for self-exalting purposes is native to the human heart—it affects all people. But a misuse of the Bible and Christian doctrine does not, of itself, disprove Christian doctrine. On the contrary, it serves to prove its truthfulness, especially when the Bible speaks about sin.
Second, because of the pervasiveness of sin, we must also keep in mind that there have been true Christians throughout the history of the church who have lived, at times, inconsistently with biblical principles, affirmed things they shouldn’t have, and fallen into errors that we can, with the advantage of a historical perspective, easily assess as wrong and misguided. When historians look back on us a hundred years from now, they will then note a multitude of blind spots of which we are presently unaware. But we must be careful of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Inconsistency in a person does not, necessarily, prove the falsehood of their faith. Christ is still Lord and the Scripture is still true, despite the sins and weaknesses of genuine believers.
Like we noted at the beginning of this article, there are many more questions we could explore and answers we could offer. But we believe this provides you with an introduction to the various questions you will probably face as you share the gospel with people in your life. We pray that as you see how Scripture is sufficient for the task of answering life’s most important questions, you will grow in your confidence to share the good news with others.
See for example, Josh McDowell, The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1999).
Thank you to James Bynum for this helpful phrase.