Thursday, August 11, 2005

Is What You Believe Important?

By Alexander Samuels

The normal immediate response to the question in the title above is "Yes, of course, what I believe is important. At least, it is important to me." If it really is important to you, do your actions reflect what you say you believe? That is, are your beliefs consistently reflected in the way you live, speak, etc.? Possibly, you would respond that no one is ever fully consistent in acting on their beliefs, and you would be right. We are human beings, not perfectly programmed computers.

Is it possible to hold equally to two opposing belief systems? No. Either you believe . . . the one is true and the other is false, or you reduce yourself to saying that neither is absolutely true, or that there is no absolute truth. This only weakens your position further, because you are implying that it is absolutely true that there is no absolute truth. You might then conclude that we must pick and choose; we must compromise. But what possible relevance does this have to the way you live your life?

My concern is this: Can you be a Christian and a non-Christian at the same time? Of course not; you are either a Christian or you must be a non-Christian. How do we tell the difference? If half of what you believe is Christian and the other half is non-Christian, are you a Christian? No. Christ made it clear that his disciples are called to obey all his teachings.

So if you commit a sin, does this mean that you are not a Christian? No. You may sin, but if you have a repentant heart and the sin is not established as a consistent pattern in your life, you are a Christian.

If you disobey God's Word and you continue in a pattern of sin without a repentant heart, can you still be a Christian? No. You cannot have two masters. One master will always take preeminence over the other. Christ will not share the throne of your life with another master. You cannot choose Christ to be master over one part of your life and then choose to follow a secular philosophy in another part of your life. To be a Christian means to serve Christ with all of your life. You cannot be guided by what feels right at the time. All of your life must be under the authority of Christ.

Does the Bible serve as the authoritative resource for guidance in living your life? I often hear people say that they try to live by the teachings of Jesus, but that the other books of the Bible don't carry the same weight as Christ's teachings. John, however, tells us that Jesus is the Word of God (John 1). The Holy Spirit was sent by Jesus to guide men in early times as they wrote the Bible under His anointing. All of Scripture is the Word and teachings of Jesus Christ. We are not allowed to pick and choose out of the Bible what we wish to believe and still be called Christians.

You must believe all the teachings of the Bible in order to be a Christian. If the Bible is not your final authority on everything, then you are not a Christian. You may call yourself a Christian, but you are not a Christian.

Is what you believe important? Yes. It is extremely important. The beliefs you hold determine the way you act and respond to all situations. Let us take politics for instance. In your life, does what you believe about politics influence your ideas on religion? Does what you believe about religion influence your politics? Your answers to these two questions make an enormous difference in your approach to either politics or religion.

If the dominant influence in your life is how you think politically, then your religious beliefs will be conformed to your system of political thought. If religion is the dominant influence, then your political beliefs will be conformed to your religious faith. If being a Republican and following the party line is your bread and meat, then your Christian faith will subtly begin to conform more and more to Republican political philosophy until obeying the party line is more important than obeying Christ.

Karl Marx said, "Religion is the opiate of the masses." In my many years I have noticed that politics has an addictive power all its own. Many of us don't even know we've been hooked. One of the first signs, if we are Christians or cultural Christians, is when we begin to compromise the Word of God for the good of our political cause. We decide that the teachings of the Scriptures are not as clear as we once thought they were. We begin to look to radical liberal scholars to interpret the Bible for us—you know, the ones that never believed Jesus existed anyway.

In addition to political influence on the population, there are, in our society, large numbers of "cultural Christians." You find them in every church. They see the church primarily as a social institution, not a spiritual institution. They take their children to Sunday school because it is considered the right thing to do. They listen to the preacher and promptly forget the message within an hour after church. They do no not attend adult Sunday school because that requires too much commitment. They rarely speak of religion or pray in the home. They have never read the Bible from cover to cover and are usually not interested in reading Christian books.

Yet they are members of the church; many are even elders and deacons in your church. They claim to be "born again," but all they have had is a brief psychological-emotional experience. They do, however, represent Christianity. It is not orthodox Biblical Christianity, but they call it "Christianity" just the same.

They call themselves Christians every time they support immoral positions that contradict the clear teachings of the Bible. They call themselves Christians every time they lobby for a piece of legislation that will ultimately limit free speech in our churches. They call themselves Christians when they seek to redefine marriage and the family as it is taught in the Word of God. They call themselves Christians when they tell the pastor to quit teaching about sin and teach more on positive self-esteem. They call themselves Christians when they desert their wives and families. They call themselves Christians because they believe there is still some social merit in it. These so-called "cultural Christians" are not Christians at all, and they are so misled they haven't a clue.

Cultural Christians look at the plans and procedures for marketing in the world and believe that secular means can be used to grow a church or evangelize unchurched people. Just like in the secular world, cultural Christians believe that they can do quite well without God, even in the church. While claiming to be believers in a supernatural reality, cultural Christians never really acknowledge its existence by their day-to-day actions.

Is what you believe important? Absolutely, because what you believe determines who you are. You cannot be an atheist if you really believe in God. You can say you are an atheist. You can join the atheist club, but if you believe in God, you are not an atheist.

If you have not been "born again"; if you have not repented of your sins; if you do not believe that the Bible is the absolute Word of God; if you don't believe Jesus died for your sins; if you don't believe in heaven or hell; if you don't believe in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit; if you don't believe in the second coming of Jesus Christ; if you don't think it is important to pray and study God's Word; if you believe there are many paths to God; if you believe that the Bible can be interpreted in many different ways—then I am sorry to say you are not a Christian.

You may call yourself a Christian, but you are not a Christian. You may even find a pastor and church who agree with what you believe, but you are not a Christian. You may have been born in America, but that does not make you a Christian. What you believe is important!

Won't you pray this prayer with me?

Lord Jesus Christ, you said that you are the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Help us not to stray from you, for you are the Way; not to distrust you, for you are the Truth; not to rest on any other than you, as you are the life. You have taught us what to believe, what to do, what to hope, and where to take our rest. Give us grace to follow you, the Way, to learn from you, the Truth, and live in you, the Life. (Desiderius Erasmus, 1466–1536)

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