This, I Believe
INTRODUCTION. Each person needs to know what he or she believes and why he or she believes it. In matters of adult religious faith, it isn’t good enough to believe something because you were told to do so or because it is the way you were raised. At some point, you must adopt beliefs as your own, as foundational to who you are as a person, and as the spring from which you draw life, truth, guidance and hope.
I am a Christian. It is unfortunate that such a statement doesn’t necessarily carry with it any longer a common understanding of what that means. There are too many people who self-identify as Christians but who fail to follow the only legitimate written authority for a Christian – the Bible. In fact, some who call themselves Christians promote teachings and lifestyles completely in conflict with the Scriptures and cannot, therefore, legitimately be called Christian any more than I could simply declare myself to be Muslim and yet reject the teachings of the Qur’an. If I am Christian, then I am not my own ultimate authority – God is, and the primary means by which He has chosen to clearly communicate His story and His will for His creation is through His written Word.
Growing in the Christian faith is a process – an unending one this side of heaven. What I write today is somewhat different than what I would have written ten years ago, and it is surely not identical in every way to what I might write ten years from now. Spiritual babes do not have the full life experiences and wisdom of mature believers. God continues to reveal Himself and His will to His children as they mature. Therefore, I expect to continue to learn and grow in faith until that day when I see my Lord face to face, when that which has been hidden is revealed, and when that which I now see dimly is brought to marvelous light. Even so, if the Scriptures are authoritative in all matters of faith and practice, then God does not teach anything contradictory to His Word at any time to anyone – spiritual babe or mature – even though one’s depth of understanding grows over time.
I want others to know what I believe and to understand the worldview from which I approach life. I want to share my faith with all who will hear. I want to be clear in my understanding of the faith and in the ability to articulate it. Therefore, I capture my core beliefs below – partly to pass on to my sons for their knowledge, consideration, and edification, and partly to declare it to the larger public who is free to accept, reject, or ignore any of this as they see fit. Each person is answerable to God – not to me.
Not all possible matters of faith and doctrine are covered below, of course, but many which I consider central to the faith are included. Ultimately, being Christian is more than a set of beliefs, more than intellectual assent to certain teachings (James 2:19); it is a trusting, life-changing relationship with the Creator God through His Son Jesus Christ.
So here is what I believe regarding (1) the Bible as the Word of God, (2) the Gospel Message, and (3) the Christian Life.
THE BIBLE AS THE WORD OF GOD. This is the starting point – the authority on which I base all belief. I believe that the Bible consisting of the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments is the Word of God, that it is accurate in all matters about which it speaks, and that Christians do not have the option to pick and choose which parts they like and believe and which parts they dislike and disbelieve.
To borrow from theologian Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, the Bible has these characteristics:
- Authority: “All the words in Scripture are God’s words in such a way that to disbelieve or disobey any word of Scripture is to disbelieve or disobey God” (p. 73).
- Inerrancy: “Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact” (p. 90). While we do not have any original manuscripts, there is no reason to believe from the many thousands of early manuscripts available that any meaningful, doctrinal changes have occurred since originally written.
- Infallibility: “The Bible will not lead us astray in matters of faith and practice” (p. 93).
- Clarity: “The Bible is written in such a way that its teachings are able to be understood by all who will read it seeking God’s help and being willing to follow it” (p. 108).
- Necessity: “The Bible is necessary for knowing the gospel, for maintaining spiritual life, and for knowing God’s will, but it is not necessary for knowing that God exists or for knowing something about God’s character and moral laws” (p. 116). Creation (Romans 1:20) and conscience (Romans 2:14-15) are ways God reveals Himself to all humankind, including those who do not have the benefit of His written Word and who have never heard a clear presentation of the gospel, meaning every person everywhere is equally accountable to Him.
- Sufficiency: “Scripture contained all the words of God he intended his people to have at each stage of redemptive history, and… it now contains all the words of God we need for salvation, for trusting him perfectly, and for obeying him perfectly” (p. 127).
If churches or individuals teach any doctrine contrary to the consistent teachings of the Bible and contrary to historically foundational teachings of believers through the centuries, then such contrary teachings are to be rejected as false. God does not need new generations of so-called “believers” to correct what He has taught as truth in times past. God is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8), and His truth does not change, even though application of that truth may occur through fresh, new ways in different contexts.
Some Bible passages influencing the above views of Scripture include: 2 Timothy 3:14-17; Hebrews 4:12; Proverbs 30:5-6; Luke 21:33; Acts 17:11; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; 2 Peter 1:20-21; and 2 Peter 3:15-16.
THE GOSPEL MESSAGE. God is the creator of the universe. When man chose to disobey God, sin entered the world, and with that disobedience came pain, sickness, suffering and death.
God is just, and like any good judge He must punish those who do wrong. The just and right punishment for all who sin is eternal death in Hell. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). The wages – what we earn, what we deserve, what we get paid for our sin – is physical and spiritual death.
God, however, is also incredibly loving and patient and kind, and He does not want anyone to perish, but wants everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). So, while we were yet in our sin, He made possible a way for us to have our relationship with Him restored (Romans 5:8).
God, who has always existed in the persons of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, willingly came in the form of a human in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, born of a virgin in fulfillment of biblical prophecy. He lived a perfect, sinless life. He was unjustly but in accordance with God’s plan crucified on a cross in our place, taking on Himself the punishment we deserved. We broke God’s law, but Jesus paid our fine. He rose from the grave, conquering death. He ascended into heaven where He now reigns and from where He will return in His good time to fulfill all prophecy, forever defeating Satan, sin and death, to create a new heaven and a new earth, and to gather His people to live with Him eternally.
We have the opportunity to be made right with God not through anything we can do, but only by His grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). This faith involves placing our trust in the One who has already done what is needed on our behalf. Salvation is not asking Jesus into our heart – a phrase with no biblical basis. Salvation comes when one genuinely repents (turns from) sin and places one’s trust solely in Jesus Christ, surrendering one’s will to Him to be molded by Him and used for His glory forever. At that moment of repentance and faith – both of which are gifts from God Himself – His Holy Spirit indwells us and we become his children forever. At that moment, the righteousness of Christ is credited to our account eternally.
None of us is good enough on our own to earn our way into heaven. “There is no one who does good, not even one” (Romans 3:12). God’s moral Law, best seen through the Ten Commandments, is enough to show us how far short we fall from His holy standard of perfection. The criterion for goodness is not how we measure up against other humans or against our past behavior, but how we measure up to God’s standard of holiness, which is his own perfection. Against that measure, we all fall short (Romans 3:23). Therefore, God owes us nothing but judgment. Rather, we owe Him everything in response to His great love. As the source of life itself, we owe Him our worship and adoration, and our faithful service for Him and to others.
Repentance and faith in Jesus Christ is the only way one can experience salvation, be forgiven from sin, and be given the gift of eternal life. No other religious faith or path is equal or adequate. Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Jesus cannot be the true, unique Son of God or even a prophet or good teacher and simultaneously lie about who He is. We must believe His claim of exclusivity. To reject that claim is to reject Him, the necessity of His death on the cross, and to invite upon oneself His eternal wrath. In a world where presumed tolerance of other faiths is worshiped more than the gods of those faiths, such a claim of exclusivity will be rejected as intolerant and perhaps “hate speech” in our politically correct 21st century. So be it. Christians must hold fast to what the Word teaches in this regard, suffering the consequences – relational, financial, occupational, societal, and physical – even unto death, if necessary. We serve an intolerant God who will not forever tolerate worship of any other god or false teaching that contradicts His Word.
THE CHRISTIAN LIFE. The Christian life, once begun, is a continual process of growth (sanctification) as we grow in holiness to become more like Him. This is accomplished through the power of His Holy Spirit in us and not through our own goodness. Observing spiritual disciplines is essential to growth – disciplines such as Bible study, prayer, witnessing, worship, service, and fellowship with other believers.
Becoming more like Him, obeying Him, cherishing His Word and bearing godly fruit are evidence of a life truly changed by Christ. “We know that we have come to know Him if we obey His commands. The man who says, ‘I know Him,’ but does not do what He commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him’” (1 John 2:3-4). “I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds” (Acts 26:20). “By their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:16). Paul told the Corinthians “examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith” (2 Corinthians 13:5). Such examination has both inward and outward elements. Failure to remain faithful to Christ following a presumed confession of faith is evidence of merely an emotional moment or something less than the full surrender of oneself to Him. Just as very few seeds in the parable of the sower take root and survive (Matthew 13:3-9, 18-23), too few people who at some point profess Christ as Lord truly surrender their will to His lordship and bear the evidence of godly fruit (Matthew 7:16), persevering to the end (Matthew 10:22). Many churches today are likely filled with more false converts than leaders and members would ever imagine or admit. This is tragic and demands attention from all who recognize the eternal implications for those trusting in anything less than full, lifelong surrender to Christ.
Christians need to regularly gather with fellow believers as the body of Christ, His church. Those who neglect the church with claims such as “I can worship God just as well on the lake or in the woods” inevitably fail to actually spend such times worshiping, and merely conjure up attempted justifications for their disobedience and disregard. Christians need to experience the fellowship, teaching, support, discipleship and accountability that come only through participation in a body of believers. God does not call his children to go through lives of faith alone. We must find a body of believers faithful to God and His Word, one with godly, spiritually strong leadership. If one’s current church fails these tests, then one must work to change it from the inside (including its leadership, if necessary), or find a church more faithful to Christ. We are to support the work of the church willingly, joyfully, generously and sacrificially through application of our God-given abilities and through God-honoring stewardship of resources that He has entrusted to us.
One of the distinguishing marks of a Christian should be love – love for fellow believers, love for strangers, love for the less fortunate in society, love for those who are unlovable to many people, and love even for those who do us harm. Such love is not possible from our own strength, but only by the grace of God whose Spirit gives us the ability to love as He does. Love for others includes our actions, attitude and words, and includes caring about their eternal destiny. Who among us would allow people we love to drive off a cliff to their own death? Wouldn’t we warn someone in harm’s way about the danger ahead? In like manner, we must share the gospel and warn others of the eternal consequences of sin. To do less is to only love ourselves and care about our own destiny – not that of others.
There are many issues facing society that cause strife among people of differing opinions. This brief statement of faith does not intend to address such matters specifically. For these issues, Christians must always use the Scriptures as their authority, being specific where biblical teaching is clear and consistent, and carefully drawing out general principles to apply to situations for those issues about which the Scriptures are silent. Not all matters are easily categorized as black or white. Some are a matter of conscience, but that conscience can never be used as an excuse for acting contrary to specific biblical teaching. That is, we cannot draw out broad, general principles from the Bible and then use those principles or claims of conscience to negate specific biblical teaching on any matter. If the Bible teaches it, we must believe it, even if we do not fully understand or see how it coexists with other biblical teachings and principles.
As a short aside, let me share with you that for several years, I have memorized and repeatedly reviewed 100 Bible verses that I believe capture the heart of the faith. My motivation for doing so is in one of the verses, Psalm 119:11, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” I have selected and grouped the verses under various categories, putting them all in a 2-page brochure you can find here. The brochure and other resources I have created or recommend can be found on the Christian Resources page on this site. I encourage all believers and those interested in learning the faith to commit them to memory. Ten minutes a day for less than a year is all it will take to memorize these 100 verses. Thereafter, reviewing them once weekly will keep them in your heart and mind. Doing so will help reinforce regularly what you believe and why you believe it.
CONCLUSION. I do not claim to know all about the Christian faith. I cannot explain everything or answer all of my own questions, much less those from others. I do know the Author of that faith, however, and I trust Him to teach me day by day as I seek to know Him more, as I learn from His Word, and as He reveals to me according to His plan.
First published Christmas Day, 2012
Edited July 6, 2013; January 1, 2014; December 25, 2014; August 20, 2015