July 16, 2023
With so much opposition to a biblical worldview surrounding us, how do we navigate the time in which we live with grace, kindness, mercy, and sensibility? In this message, Alistair Begg provides four words that frame our discussions about the Christian faith: the “good,” the “bad,” the “new,” and the “perfect.” Beginning with the creation account in Genesis, we can understand how we came to be, what happened when sin entered the world, and why God has chosen to renew all things—including His children—in Christ.
Sermon Transcript: Print
Well, I invite you to turn in your Bibles to Genesis chapter 1—because we’re going to expound the entire Bible this morning. And so there’s no better place to begin than in Genesis 1, and I thought you should perhaps turn there.
Father, we do want to understand the whole Bible. We want to understand your plan and purpose for your people throughout all the ages, from eternity to eternity. And as we think this morning about what it means to have a view of our world that is entirely framed by the instruction of your Word, we pray that you will help us to this end. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
It was the nineteenth of November in 1863. None of us were present. It was four and a half months after the Union armies had defeated the Confederate troops that Lincoln at Gettysburg, in the course of an address that I only ever hear on Memorial Day Weekend by the students from Chagrin Falls High School, in the cemetery—I’ve heard it now for forty years, but I’ve never memorized it—but part of it goes like this: “These dead,” to which he refers—“these dead shall not have died in vain … this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom … [a] government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.” The nineteenth of November 1863.
June of ’22—June 24, ’22—Roe v. Wade is struck down, and the British journalist commenting on this from America, writing back to the United Kingdom, wrote as follows: “America today feels like one country that contains two very separate nations, inhabited by two tribes that have completely different values, beliefs and goals. … They have just moved [further] apart.” So, describing a nation vastly different from 1863 and a nation which today is still something of a vast, wealthy superpower experiencing events, realities, situations for which we have no obvious historical parallels.
The reason I come to this this morning is because I just came back with Susan last night from Des Moines, Iowa, where I’d been invited to address a group of people on a biblical worldview. The context in which that took place involved a variety of potential presidential candidates gathering in order that they might be interviewed in order that they might say why they believe that they would make a very good president of the United States. And so it was in that context, with Mike Pence, Nikki Haley, Tim Scott, and the rest that I was inserted in order to give a biblical worldview.
Two things. One: when I do that, I don’t do that as Alistair Begg the individual. I do that as Alistair Begg, the pastor, or a pastor, of Parkside Church. And also, I do that in the awareness that my fellow elders and colleagues in ministry stand with me in what I’m doing and are praying for me. And so it was that within that context, I had the opportunity to address that, and I said to the elders, “If I do it there, then I will come back and make sure that it takes place here.” Interestingly, the livestream which covered all the interviews with the presidential candidates cut away when it came to my talk. Some people see that as a sinister thing. I see it as preservation, quite frankly.
And so, I listened carefully to all that was said by the others. And what struck me forcibly was that every one of the candidates referred to the crushing, catastrophic mental health problem which is pervasive in the nation. It was interesting. Amongst all the things that were said, they all said, “How in the world are we going to address the problem where we have so many people in such dire straits?” And of course, part of my privilege was then to speak to the issue and explain just why it is that when a nation turns its back on the living God, it doesn’t believe nothing; it believes all kinds of things. And so here we have it: lies that have been hardwired into the thinking of a number of our generations, lies that represent a hostility to a biblical view of the Bible—a hostility to those who want somehow or another to live as Christians in a world that doesn’t like what Christians believe.
I actually worked very hard on this talk. I had it all done. I carried it with me on the plane. I went to bed, and I woke up at quarter to five in the morning, and in my head it said, “Your talk’s no good. You’d better do it again.” And so I did. I got up and redid it. And I’m not sure the second time is any better than the first; I can’t know. But this is version two, okay? Version two.
I said to the people, “I remember the old television program Name That Tune,” and people used to say, “I can name that tune in ten notes, or seven notes,” or whatever it was. And so I want to say to you that I can name a Christian worldview in four words. In four words. And I hope that this will be a help to all of us when we engage with people in general conversation, and they say to us, “Why is it that you believe what you believe?” or “Why do you believe this about politics?” or “Why do you believe that about life or about the sanctity of life?” or “Why do you believe that about sexuality?” and so on. “Why do you believe like this?” Then we can tell them: because a biblical view of the world involves the good, the bad, the new, and the perfect. So there is our outline.
Number one: good. That’s why we began in Genesis chapter 1: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” “God,” as you read through the chapter, “created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. … And God saw everything … he had made, and behold, it was very good.” In fact, it was perfect. Perfect.
Now, God here is the God to whom we refer when we make use of the Book of Common Prayer—“God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, … from whom no secrets are hid[den]”; the God, if you like, of Lincoln at the Gettysburg Address. “Under God” was only put into our statement of, I believe, in—in what? In 1954, by Eisenhower, who added that. And people say, “So it’s an invention just from the ’50s.” No. In 1863, Lincoln understood what “under God” meant. He understood that it wasn’t a God who’s on our side; it is a God to whom we are accountable. It is a God that we are under—under his jurisdiction, under his authority, under his rule, under his power.
In other words, what God says goes. That’s what he knew, and that is what is affirmed when we begin with God—the God who has spoken, spoken clearly in creation: that “the heavens declare [his] glory,” that “the firmament [shows] his handywork. Day unto day uttereth speech, … night unto night sheweth knowledge.” There is no speech, no language where the voice of God is not heard. It has gone out to the very ends of the earth. There is no person created under God on the face of God’s earth that is unaware of the reality of Almighty God, because he has made it known to them in creation, in conscience, and he has, as Ecclesiastes tells us, set eternity in the hearts of men—unable to figure everything out, and yet aware of the fact that his invisible power, his divine authority has been clearly perceived, as we saw when we studied in Romans chapter 1. And it is on this basis—on the fact that we have been made in the image of God—that we have morality, that we have truth, that we have an eternity that we will one day inhabit.
Now, this, you see, as a view of the world, is vastly different, isn’t it? Vastly different from generations that have been brought up now in our lifetime being told that we cannot speak with any authority at all about there being a creator God who fashioned us, who made us, to whom we are accountable. No. We listen to the scientists, the post-Enlightenment thinkers who want to separate the reality of a living faith from any sense of rationality at all—and they end up with nothing to say. Stephen Hawking, who was the great champion of the black holes—I’ve driven my car into a few of them over the winter here, but I don’t think those were the ones to which he was referring. But Hawking says, quite honestly, if there is no God and we have evolved by chance through millions of years, then everything that happens, good or bad, must be viewed as simply the result of random, pitiless indifference. From this perspective, to ask why anybody’s here or why anything happens is not only meaningless; it is irrelevant.
That brings us to our second word, which is the word bad. Bad. The world as we know it today is not the world as God made it, but it is the world as man has spoiled it.
You see, what happened, when you read on in the early chapters of Genesis, is very straightforward: that those whom God had set in the pristine beauty of a garden, given them authority over every other creature on the earth—because man (i.e., man, men and women) are the only ones made in the imago Dei, in the image of God. And in that garden, he gave them freedom, save from one. And as you know, they listened to a lie. They listened to a lie: “You’ll be like God. That’s why he doesn’t want you to do that. You will never die.” They listened to a lie, they doubted God’s goodness, they rejected his wisdom, they rebelled against his authority, and they were banished from his presence.
You need to say to your friends, “Why is it that God seems such a long way off? Why is it that we have a sense of huge chasms separating us from the one who made us and ourselves?” And people say, “Well, I don’t know. I think perhaps that there isn’t a God at all, and we’re just imagining these things”—that somehow or another, we’ve just invented it as a crutch to get through our lives, as philosophers have suggested throughout the ages. No, the answer is that there is a great divide between us—that, as David Wells has put it so masterfully, there is an invisible boundary between ourselves, as those who are sinners, and God, who is completely holy. We can’t cross that boundary on our own terms or in our own time. The only way that there could ever be reconciliation is if God would choose to penetrate the boundary from his side and come to meet us.
Now, I’m going to get ahead here in a moment. But let’s just acknowledge that that sense of lostness in our world, that sense of a great seasickness in the world—a kind of desert wasteland that can’t actually be rejuvenated by a few metaphorical pot plants to try and suggest that things are better than they are—why is that? Why is it they have that lostness?
Why is it, incidentally, that people are so incredibly angry? Why is it that people, that mere mortals, we have decided that we can enforce judgment ourselves? That we can decide what is to be listened to? That we can decide how punishments are to be executed? How did this happen? Well, I think it’s partly this: that having recognized, decided, that there is no God who would be the one, as “the Judge of all the earth,” to execute judgment and righteousness—since there is no objective reality on the basis of which he might do so, then we’re going to have to do it for him. It’s not so much that we replaced him by idols as that we decided we would take his place. I think that’s in part what’s going on. People are so incredibly angry about what we believe or how we behave or what we say: “We’ll cancel you. We’ll punish you. We’ll fix you. We’ll do what God is supposed to be doing.”
And as we said when we were together last time: How is it possible, then, that God can look on us without displeasure and we can look on God without fear? And the answer is, of course, in our third word: new. New. Because into the badness of a world that has rejected God, God himself has come. God has come. We have to be bold enough to let this be said—that Jesus Christ is not a figment of our imagination; that Jesus Christ’s appearing in Bethlehem has actually made such a mark on history that although it is trendy to dispense with BC and AD, we know there was a time before Jesus; there is a time after Jesus. And the reason Jesus came was to make all things new. The reason Jesus came was to die for our sins.
Two things that we have to be able to say to our friends. Number one: all of us are made in the image of God, without exception. Whatever your background, whatever your color, whatever your intellect, whatever it might be, every child conceived in the womb of a mother is there as a result of the purposeful mind of Almighty God, not is there as a result simply of sexual intercourse. For that is not a very manageable way to produce a population. Because it doesn’t happen most of the time, right? But when it happens, God did it.
All made in his image, all sinful before him, and all in need of the salvation that can only be provided in the Lord Jesus himself—that the story of the good news is that our messed-up, broken lives may be restored, refreshed, renewed, regalvanized, put back together in a better version than before as a result of what Jesus has done; that Jesus has borne the judgment that we deserve; that he grants to us a forgiveness that we don’t deserve. He takes all of our stuff, takes it on to himself, and credits us with his righteousness.
Now, you would think that a story like this would immediately result in people standing up from their seats and going, “This is fantastic! I never heard such a thing before!” But what does it mean? I tell you, try it in your office tomorrow. Tell them this in the office tomorrow. Tell them, “Hey, George. Do you know that when God made the world, he made it really good?”
And George is probably going to say, “Well, how come it’s so bad?”
“Glad you asked. That’s the second word. Now, let’s just hold it there for a moment. But he makes things new.”
“How does he do that?”
“Well, through the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Oh, at that point it goes south. No, because it is an offense to George’s pride—or Georgina. (I mean a lady, not…) It’s an offense to pride intellectually and morally—intellectually because a person says, “I’m too clever to believe stuff like that. I’m too clever to believe that a Galilean carpenter who lived two thousand plus years ago and died on a cross is actually the answer to the entire world’s predicament. I’m too clever for that.” Pride. Or “I’m actually too good. I don’t need that. I don’t need anyone dying on a cross for me. I’m a moral person. I’m a fairly decent soul. I pay my taxes. I look after things.” It is offensive to people’s pride. It’s, again, back where we were last time—remember, where we began our study about mercy? You know:
[If] justice be thy plea, consider this:
That in the course of justice, none of us
Should see salvation.
None of us would see salvation!
And so, the generation in which we live is still actually singing the songs of the ’60s, even if people are prepared to disavow the notion. No. You’ve really got two classes of people—and I’m not talking Republican and Democrat. No. I’m talking about people who say, “You know, we can work this out,” and people who say, “Help!” That’s it: “We can work it out. Don’t worry. We’ve seen things like this before. We can fix this.” Or “Help! Help!”
You see, it’s not that our friends and neighbors have considered the evidence and they found it wanting. It is actually that they haven’t considered the evidence. Chuck Colson was such a wonderful illustration of a brave man, a Marine, a clever man, an intellectual giant, the “hatchet man” in Nixon’s White House, who ends up in jail. Ends up in jail. Why? Well, he along with others, got over his skis. He thought they could do things that they shouldn’t do. And yet he was intrigued—intrigued to try and make sense of how such a broken situation could be repaired.
And his friend, you will remember, if you’ve read the book Born Again, his friend spoke to him very clearly about these things one evening in his home in Southern California—the friend’s home. And he said to Chuck, he said, “You know what your problem is? Your problem is pride. That’s why you don’t believe. It’s nothing else. You’re a proud person.” Colson took it, got out of the guy’s house, went down the steps of his house, got into his car, put his keys in the ignition, and, by his own testimony, burst into tears—the “hatchet man,” singing in his car, crying like a baby, because the fact that his friend had been brave enough to put his finger on it turned the key for Colson. Has God used a friend to turn the key for you? Or are you still making your way through this weary pilgrimage saying, “I can work it out.” No, you need to come and say, “Help!”
Now, before we come to the final word, let me just say something in passing, and it is this: that what we’re dealing with here is first of all historical. The material to which I refer actually happened. You don’t just need your Bible. You can go to extrabiblical sources. You will find that the history of the world records that this man, Jesus of Nazareth, was worshipped by his followers as God Almighty. It’s historical. It’s rational. In other words, you don’t have to disengage your mind in order to come to an understanding of it. It is at the same time universal. It’s not some esoteric little notion for a few strange people that exist somewhere on the planet. It is the voice that has gone out to the very ends of the earth. And the application of it is personal. Personal.
And yet, the fact of the matter is that it is regarded—if you’re prepared to be brave enough to say it, we’re regarded as those who have embraced superstitious beliefs, living, as it were, in a primitive, bygone age and out onto the streets with our brand of mythology and bigotry. That’s the way it’s understood. The issue is not argument. The issue is the risen life of the Lord Jesus Christ.
But our friends say to us, “Well then, but you’re not a perfect person at all.”
You say, “No, absolutely not.”
“Well, I thought he made you perfect.”
‘Well, he declared me righteous, and he’s in the process of making me look a bit more like that declaration.”
I remember when my son once said to me, “Dad, do you ever sin?” And then… I think he must have been one at the time. By the time he was five, he says, “Dad, do you ever stop sinning?”
So that’s our last word: perfect. Perfect. Good, bad, new, perfect. We are now the children of God, writes John, but “it doth not yet appear what we shall be.” For “when he appears we [will] be like him.” You see, there’s going to be a new heaven and a new earth. Otherwise, I don’t know how we explain the songs we’re singing—that we will crumble in dust, and the universe will pass away, and so on.
You see—and this is just in passing—whatever your view of climate change, the perfection that God has planned involves a universe, a new heaven and a new earth, in which dwells righteousness, with no cancer, no plastic bottles jamming up the rivers, no nothing—absolutely perfect. And in one sense, that says to us, “Okay, well then, take care of what you’ve got.” And at the same time it says to our friends, “Relax! The Creator has this covered.” But you see, if there is no Creator who providentially sustains the universe by the word of his power, then there is no one who is going to be able to put this to rights. That is why our friends are so anxious to fix everything.
Now, this perfection of the human heart is going to be such that it will be understandable—the longings of the human heart all met in the work of Jesus; all the longings of our world today, where, you know, again: “I’d like to buy the world a Coke and keep it company”; “I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony.” Yeah, of course! Who wants to live at war with other people? Who wants the races to be antagonistic to one another? Who wants nations to war against nation? Who wants this? Nobody wants this, except some who perhaps have decided that if we can only destabilize the entire world, perhaps we will be able to introduce a new reality, a new ideology, a new scheme of things. Woodstock in ’69 was an attempt to rebuild the country’s soul. It hasn’t happened, has it? You can’t rebuild a country’s soul. The souls of a country are the souls of individuals. It is only Jesus who provides rest for our souls: “Come to me. Take my yoke. Learn from me. I’m the humble King. I’m gentle. You will find rest for your souls.”
Now, with that said, let me just go one final step—and we only have a little bit of time for this. Because we also have responsibilities to exercise the privileges of democracy. And therefore, it is legitimate for us to say to one another, “What are the kind of things we should look for in supporting individuals?”
And also, it’s legitimate, as we have the opportunity, to say to those potential individuals (whoever names we want to mention), “Let me tell you what you ought to be thinking about if you’re really serious about serving this country. Number one, you ought to be thinking about integrity. About integrity.” The prevailing view of politicians is that they just all tell lies. Doesn’t matter what side they’re from. And therefore, it’s vitally important that we recognize that God is concerned about truth in the inward parts. Integrity. P. G. Wodehouse, amongst other things, wrote every so often about golf. And he actually writes in one place, and he says, you know, golf “is the [absolutely] infallible test” of integrity: “The man who can go into a patch of rough alone, with the knowledge that only God is watching him, and play his ball where it lies, is the man who will serve you faithfully and well.” If you cheat at golf, you can cheat at anything. Integrity.
Secondly, bravery. Bravery. What kind of bravery? The kind of bravery that is prepared to take a stand against racial prejudice of any kind at all. The kind of bravery that is prepared to take on the educational chaos that is represented in the schools of our world. The bravery that is prepared to take on the onslaught against the unborn. When a lady goes into the hospital for an ultrasound, there are two patients in that hospital. There are two heartbeats. There are two separate bloodlines. And the basic rights of patients, which are stuck on walls all across the hospitals of America, extend to the tiniest, the smallest patients too. Iowa just passed the heartbeat law. The governor was there herself. I should bow down before that lady for her bravery. Unbelievably brave! And on the receiving end of all kinds of vitriol. That’s what I’m talking about: bravery.
Brave enough to challenge the notion that a woman is only free if she is free to rid herself of her unwanted child. That is not freedom, because it doesn’t take any account of the child itself.
Brave enough to take a stand for the least and the last and the left out. Brave enough to say that Jesus came to the margins of society. He didn’t come for high school quarterbacks and the titans of industry. He didn’t come for religious gurus. He came for people who said, “Help!”
Brave enough to affirm the immutability of biological sex. Brave enough to say, “If you were born as a man, you will die as a man no matter what you do to yourself.” Brave enough to wear a t-shirt that says, “Real women aren’t men.” Brave enough.
Well, it got kind of quiet in there as well, as it’s quiet now. The last word—and with this I finish—is the word humility. Humility. What I said to these people was “Listen: prime ministers and presidents are not really who they think they are. They’re important. God has established them. But they’re not the movers and shakers. God is the one who does all the moving and all the shaking. And the prophets say it clearly, and we need to pay attention to what they tell us.”
It is God “who sits above the circle of the earth, … its inhabitants are like grasshoppers.” We’re not grasshoppers. We’re made in the image of God. But in comparison… He “stretches out the heavens like a curtain.” He “spreads them like a tent to dwell in.” It is he
who brings princes to nothing,
and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness.
Scarcely are they planted, scarcely [are they] sown,
scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth,
when he blows on them, and they wither,
and the tempest carries them off [as] stubble.
That’s why the prophet says, “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom or the strong man boast in his strength or the rich man boast in being rich, but let him who boasts boast in this: that he knows me, the living and true God.”
Here, my friends, is where we are. If you’re a believer this morning, you are in Christ; you’re living your life in this world as a member of another world. It is time, past time, to oppose the lies—no God, no judgment, no objective truth—to oppose the lies while at the same time feeling compassion for those who’ve been deceived by them. It’s past time to pray for a massive spiritual awakening. Perhaps tonight we begin. We don’t need a church that will move with the world; we need a church that will move the world. And the signs of the prophets are not only written on the subway walls, in the tenement halls, and whispered in the sounds of silence, but they’re also carved into the historic buildings of the United States of America. You can go check. South entrance. You say, “Where’d you come up with this? Google?” No. No, no. I was there. I wrote this in my book when I was there, probably twenty-seven years ago. ’Cause I walked in, and I said, “Would you look at this?” It’s the south entrance to Union Station, Washington, DC. And carved into the stonework are three statements from Scripture: “The desert shall bloom like a rose,” “All things under his feet,” and “The truth will set you free.”
That building, I think, was built in the first decade of the twentieth century. I think there still was some notion of what “under God” really meant. We’re long removed. God is sovereign. We are present “for such a time as this.” “‘All flesh is like grass. The glory of man like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower falls, but the word of our God endures forever.’ And this is the word that, by the gospel, was preached to you.”
Father, thank you that you are the very one to whom we’re introduced in your Holy Word. We pray that you will help us to navigate the territory of our time with grace, kindness, mercy, sensibility. Lord, we want to be able to say to people, “If you want to understand how the bad becomes new, come and meet Jesus. If you want to live your life in the awareness of the fact that there is a new day in which all of this stuff will be eradicated, then come find the answer in Christ and in his Word.” For we pray that we might be this for your glory. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
 Sarah Smith, “Roe v Wade: Why This Is a Seismic Day in America,” BBC News, June 24, 2022, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-61929438.
 Genesis 1:1 (ESV).
 Genesis 1:27, 31 (ESV).
 Psalm 19:1–2 (KJV).
 See Psalm 19:3–4.
 See Ecclesiastes 3:11.
 See Romans 1:20.
 Genesis 3:4–5 (paraphrased).
 David F. Wells, What Is the Trinity? (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2012), 11.
 Genesis 18:25 (ESV).
 William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, 4.1
 1 John 3:2 (KJV).
 1 John 3:2 (ESV).
 See 2 Peter 3:13.
 Roger Cook and Roger Greenaway, “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony)” (1971).
 Matthew 11:28–29 (paraphrased).
 P. G. Wodehouse, Golf without Tears (New York: George H. Doran, 1919), 176.
 Isaiah 40:22–24 (ESV).
 Jeremiah 9:23–24 (paraphrased).
 Paul Simon, “The Sound of Silence” (1964).
 Isaiah 35:1 (paraphrased).
 Ephesians 1:22 (KJV).
 John 8:32 (ESV).
 Esther 4:14 (ESV).
 1 Peter 1:24–25 (paraphrased).
Copyright © 2023, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.