By: The John Ankerberg Show
|By: Jim Virkler; ©2012|
“In Him we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28 NIV). If I were required to cite a personal favorite verse or passage of scripture, this passage would be high on the list. Acts 17:15-34 records a startling apologetic for believers and unbelievers alike. The Apostle Paul, after being brought to the Areopagus at Athens, reasoned with the pagan crowd assembled there. The record of this event was unusual in New Testament writings. Paul was specifically addressing pagan unbelievers, an idolatrous gathering of people who spent much time glibly discussing popular new philosophies. Most of Paul’s epistles were written to Christian believers whose doctrinal beliefs needed strengthening. We may wonder if Paul’s Areopagus apologetic is appropriate for believers of today.
The apostle develops his message with exhortations to “seek God, if perhaps they might grope for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.” Then comes the profound “…for in him we live and move and exist” (Acts 17:27-28 ESV). These statements speak not only of finding him in terms of theological verities, but also of finding him revealed in physical creation. The original creation of the world as well as day to day existence–our functioning and sustenance–is evidence of the same divine reality. If the Athenians could recognize divine immanence in their physical surroundings and personal being, their innate religious sense would be affirmed. They had placed the inscription “TO THE UNKNOWN GOD” on one of their many altars.
Paul was attempting to instruct the men of Athens theologically. His subject matter was the reality of existence of the living God of the Bible. He used evidence from the physical world and daily human existence to substantiate his argument. Although Paul’s sermon presented proof of God’s existence by citing the original creation act and ongoing daily sustenance of the created order, including human existence, it really had an undercurrent of recognition of God’s beneficent gifts to man. These gifts, both spiritual and physical, are examples of God’s grace. Evidence of God’s grace as demonstrated by the operation of physical matter, and life in particular, is sometimes lacking from our pulpit ministries. We prefer to separate the spiritual from the God-affirming sphere of our mundane physical existence. But God’s grace is manifest in both spheres.
During a recent Sunday sermon, the missionary speaker presented a startling example of his sermon title, “God’s Amazing Grace.” He stated, “The amazing grace of God has been poured out to you. As I stand here this morning, I am breathing. As you’re sitting down there you’re breathing, you can see, you can walk. Do you realize that is the amazing grace of God extended to you, that God has given you that life?” Perhaps few in the congregation realized the understated truth of that brief sermon segment. Understanding the grace of God manifest in the complexities of respiration, vision, and motion as well as dozens of other bodily systems, is an occasion to worship the God of creation just as assuredly as understanding the grace of God manifest in His plan for man’s redemption.
We must guard against over-compartmentalizing the physical and spiritual realms. There is also danger in overemphasizing or de-emphasizing one or the other. Historically, some have erred in claiming the material world is all that exists. Others have errantly disdained all things physical, part of the historic Gnostic belief. Heresies have crept into the church over the centuries from an out-of-balance emphasis. The science profession is virtually ruled by the insistence of most of its practitioners on refusing to consider any supernatural explanation as causally adequate, even when the evidence clearly signals such causation. Many Christians, therefore, are tragically suspicious of science. They reject many scientific conclusions which may be perfectly sound.
A reading of Paul’s discussion with the Athenians in Acts 17 resonates with some believers more than others. Understanding the mundane miracles of our everyday life may not seem interesting to result-oriented folks. For others the mundane miracles help them believe in the reality of God. Observing and understanding everyday miracles strengthens their faith. We are thankful that scripture contains generous commentary in both spheres–physical and spiritual.