I had an Atheist friend who once asked, “How can you objectively determine whether a spiritual leader is following God or not? First, I would start off by saying the Bible warns us of people who will misuse the Scripture and distort it for their own selfish gain. For instance, Matthew 7:15 says, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly our ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits.”
What fruits are prophets, or people who speak on God’s behalf, to be known for? Galatians 5:22 says, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control.”
This passage alone stands as a litmus test to determine a good leader from a bad leader. For example, is the spiritual leader faithful or does he or she desire selfish gain? How do you objectively determine that? Well, if the person is on television with a Rolex watch, telling people to “sow” in their ministry and reap $1,000s of dollars, and flying around in private jets around the world, it’s easy to discern they are lovers of money rather than lovers of God. Jesus objectively said in Matthew 6:24:”No one can serve two masters. You cannot serve both God and money.”
Is the prophet who speaks for God characterized as kind, gentle, and humble by outsiders of the faith? 1 Timothy 3:7 states, “A leader in the church must also have a good reputation outside the church so that he will not fall into disgrace.” As you have expressed some people, not all of them have a good reputation outside of the church. The Bible clarifies that a true believer can still disagree with outsiders, even with social and political policy, but have a good reputation since he or she still bears the fruit of being kind and gentle to those whom they disagree with.
Is the one who speaks for God full of love and joy? How do you determine that objectively? Well, it’s evident that Westboro Baptist Church pickets funerals of gay soldiers and tells them they are going to Hell. This is deeply offensive, especially when you have lost a loved one and are grieving during this time of greatest trial. This is not marked by love, but by hate and discrimination. You can eliminate such people based on how they conduct themselves towards others.
Is the one who speaks for God following what the Bible says or are they tempted to minimize the truth so that it becomes more palatable to society? This is a difficult truth, and you may disagree with me here, but people can be tempted to water down what Jesus said in fear of being offensive towards others. For instance, Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father but by me.”
Some, who take a more liberal approach to scripture might say, well, we don’t really know if Jesus meant what he said. Let’s take a reader-response hermeneutical approach towards Scripture and define our own meaning of what the text really said. Bart Ehrman and others have done this, and if you watch his interview on the Colbert report, it’s hilarious. For instance, Colbert says to Bart Ehrman, a leading scholar who denies the authenticity of Scripture: “So, Bart, you know the Jews better than the Jews?” You know what Jesus meant better than what Jesus meant?” Basically, Colbert accuses Ehrman of being prideful and arrogant for professing to understand the Bible better than the ones who actually wrote it.
When Jesus said, I am the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father but by me, that’s what it actually means. He is the exclusive truth, and the only way to be saved. Why? As I mentioned at the debate, all other religions teach you must be good in order to be saved. The Bible says no one is good enough. All of us have sinned, lied, stolen, cheated, been angry with someone. In fact, as much as we want to bring peace and unity to the world, we are all hypocrites. We never love perfectly, we get easily angry, and it’s evident with the culture wars going on now, the Kenya school being massacred by the 100s from Somalian Muslim extremists, etc. The world is a messed up place and Jesus offers the solution.
Jesus says, though you and I are an enemy of God, though we have sinned against Jesus, He still forgives us. He died on the cross for our sins so that we could be justified. He who knew no sin, became sin for us so we might receive the righteousness of God. Jesus is the superhero that every comic book connoisseur dreams about because he not only died for his friends, but also for his enemies.
People can deny Jesus, deny that He was really God in the flesh, but they can’t deny that they themselves are broken, rebellious, and struggle with being their ideal self. I suggest that the struggle is not because of our failure to live up to the genes demands for empathy or finding a better world of human well-being and flourishing, but because God originally designed us to bear the image of God, who is the objective “goodness” we all are longing to become.