(See Parts 9 & 10)
Part 11: Repentance for Athens
Did the Apostle Paul ever appeal to Intelligent Design when he confronted unbelievers? Yes, but only in an introductory way. For example, at the Areopagus (i.e., Mars Hill) in Athens, he declared: “For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring. Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device” (Acts 17:28-29, KJV).
But for the members of this city court to have agreed with Paul about the obvious fact of natural revelation would have accomplished nothing for their eternal salvation. And Paul knew this! He therefore concluded: God “now commandeth all men every where to repent,” (Acts 17:30) that is, to make a radical change of heart and mind about the holiness of God and the sinfulness of man. (See also Christ’s command in Luke 24:47—“repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations;” and Paul’s commission in Acts 26:20—he “shewed … to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance”.)
Why should these Athenian leaders “repent”? Answer: “Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained [i.e., the resurrected Jesus, whom Paul had presented for several days in the marketplace—Acts 17:17, 18]; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead” (Acts 17:31).
What was their response to this shocking statement? “And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked: and others said, We will hear thee again of this matter. So Paul departed from among them. Howbeit certain men clave unto him, and believed: among the which was Dionysius the Areopagite, and a woman named Damaris, and others with them” (Acts 17:32-34).
Some believed! They were transformed forever by the grace of God through the convicting and illuminating work of the Holy Spirit. But how did this happen? The contemporary Intelligent Design Movement needs to ponder this statement. Without faith in the substitutionary death and bodily resurrection of the Son of God, there can be no genuine change of heart, no eternal salvation. Christ did not return from the dead with a mortal body (like Lazarus), but with a glorified body, never to die again.
God’s requirement for spiritual salvation is not belief in Intelligent Design. All of the religious leaders of Israel believed in ID. But they crucified the Designer! “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble” (James 2:19).
What, then, does one have to believe to be eternally saved? “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Rom. 10:9, 10).
Part 12: Invisible Things for Athens
It is truly amazing that anyone in Athens would believe the gospel of Jesus Christ! “All the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing” (Acts 17:21, KJV). When they heard that Paul “preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection … they took him, and brought him unto Areopagus, saying, May we know what this new doctrine, whereof thou speakest, is? For thou bringest certain strange things to our ears: we would know therefore what these things mean” (Acts 17:18-20).
Paul—like many Christians today—might have replied: “I really do not want to shock and offend you by discussing these ‘strange things’ about ‘Jesus’ and ‘resurrection.’ Let’s just agree on something more obvious and logical, namely, the abundant evidence for the existence of an Intelligent Designer of the world.”
This would have given a powerful wedge into the gross idolatry that dominated the lives and fortunes of so many Athenians. Yet how awful would have been this compromise of the true and saving gospel of Jesus Christ our Lord! But how could these Athenian politicians and philosophers have believed in Christ’s redemptive work if they had never seen Him?
The answer is clear. The Lord Jesus said to doubting Thomas: “Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed” (John 20:29). He had previously explained to the disciples: “When he (the Holy Spirit) is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (John 16:8). Only the third person of the triune Godhead can enable people to see the glory and the holiness of an invisible God. Of Moses this was written: “By faith he forsook Egypt … for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible” (Heb. 11:27). That is one of His unique ministries to human beings.
These realities cannot be examined in a test-tube or through a telescope empirically. They must be believed: “So then (saving) faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). This is how Peter could write to “strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” (1 Pet. 1:1). “Whom having not seen,” he told them, “ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory: receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls” (1 Pet. 1: 8, 9).
The intelligent design of the universe and world that surround us can be seen; but salvation through Christ cannot be seen. Indeed, “the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20). Animals cannot see “his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1); but human beings, bearing the image and likeness of God through creation (cf. Gen. 1:26), are fully capable of doing so, and are responsible to their Creator for seeing and responding to Him through His glorious works.
Amazingly, our Lord informed us that physically blind people are fully capable of “seeing” God; but many of those who have 20/20 vision are blinded to His majesty and grace! When He healed a man born blind in Jerusalem, He explained: “For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind. And some of the Pharisees which were with him heard these words, and said unto him, Are we blind also? Jesus said unto them, If ye were (physically) blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth” (John 9:39-41).
Dr. John C. Whitcomb has been a professor of Old Testament and theology for more than 50 years and is widely recognized as a leading biblical scholar. He taught at Grace Theological Seminary (Winona Lake, IN) from 1951-1990 and gained much recognition for his work on The Genesis Flood (Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company), which he co-authored with Dr. Henry Morris in 1961. That book has been credited as one of the major catalysts for the modern Biblical creationism movement. His ministry homepage is Whitcomb Ministries, and his sermons are available at SermonAudio.com.