When we talk about religious belief, it’s good to remember the words of the Apostle Paul:
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. 1 Corinthians 13:12
There is not one of us who has our doctrine exactly right in all particulars. Having said that…
…There’s a man in our neighborhood who has always been an excellent provider for his family. He’s worked hard, is well-liked, and has always sought to do the right thing. He’s dedicated to his particular brand of Christianity. But is the object of his faith the work of Jesus Christ or his own goodness?
Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; Titus 3:5-6
We don’t become acceptable to God (some people call this saved) because we are members of a church, but rather because we have personal belief in the saving work (the atonement) of the Lord Jesus Christ on our behalf.
1. The authority of God’s Word
The question of authority is one of the two ways true Christian orthodoxy differs from other religions.
Real Christianity is based on a written revelation from the one true God. The 66 books of the Holy Scriptures were penned by men who were guided by the Creator of the universe. The Bible is free of errors and mistakes.
The Book of God’s Word is your owner’s manual and Rosetta Stone. It’s truth is an objective, unchanging fact no matter whether you accept it or reject it. God’s book answers why you’re here and what the reasons are for the suffering you’ve experienced.
All scripture is God-breathed, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: 2 Timothy 3:16
The Bible is understandable. The more difficult passages are made clear by the easier places.
The Holy Spirit always works through the Scriptures whenever the Word of God is spoken, preached, read, or contemplated.
Which authorities do you follow?
Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition. -Jesus
There has always been a tendency for men and women to add to the Scriptures. Sometimes this is done with the best of intentions. Other times it comes out of a drive for power.
Proper tradition is essential. Without it each successive generation forgets more and more until everyone does what seems right in their own eyes. Read the book of Judges for a jaw-dropping description of what happens.
Most traditions are neither good nor bad. A problem only arises when religious tradition replaces Scripture as the defining rule of faith and practice. If Scripture is not the primary authority for a church it no authority at all.
The Seventh Day Adventist Church, the Church of Latter Day Saints, and the Roman Catholic Church are all examples of groups claiming to be Christian which disrespect God’s Word by their traditions.
Creeds and confessions are helpful
Creeds and confessions are helpful in understanding the Bible, but they do not supplant it. For example, the Apostles’ Creed, Nicene Creed, and Athanasian Creed are useful summaries of sound doctrine. The Augsburg Confession and the other Reformation texts included in the Book of Concord are accurate expositions of Biblical theology which reward careful study.
2. Justification - being made right with God - is the most important thing
How can you be sure that God accepts you? If you read God’s book and believe it you know that you are completely forgiven and considered righteous by God when you trust in the Messiah of Israel’s sacrifice - atonement. Your brothers and sisters in faith at the time of the Reformation referred to this as justification by faith alone.
The Roman Catholic Church, the Mormons, and Jehovah’s Witnesses, amongst others, teach that people are made acceptable before God through faith plus the religious and social things they do. This works righteousness is in contradiction to verses such as Isaiah 64:6:
But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. Isaiah 64:6
and Ephesians 2:7-9:
That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. Ephesians 2:7-9
To be made right with God is something none of us is capable of earning. It is a gift earned by Jesus Christ and bestowed only on those who believe.
Doesn’t this make faith a work?
Faith can never be a work. It’s an indicator of one’s state with the Lord. It is not something you do.
Justification by faith, not works, is among the most important aspects of true Christian faith.
3. Propositional truth
God’s book is not a bunch of fables and fairy tales. It’s not a book of poetic expressions. It matters less what you want it to mean, than what the author is communicating. There are things which must be understood and believed.
God’s written revelation is 100% factual and true in relation to the things it discusses. Understanding what Scripture says and acceding to that understanding constitutes the basis of assurance that you are right with God.
Real faith is not based on feelings, but on conscious thought. Feelings and spiritual experiences happen universally to all people. But they are no proof of salvation.
This way of thinking runs contrary to everything our age says is right and good. Nevertheless, everything is not relative. Absolute truth exists. To understand what the Bible is saying requires a conscious acceptance of the notion of absolute truth.
4. Law and Gospel
Law and Gospel are found all through the Holy Scriptures. The distinction between Law and Gospel is very important in coming to a balanced understanding of God’s book.
The Ten Commandments are an example of God’s law. They point out what we’ve done wrong (our sin) and lead us to cry out for God’s mercy and forgiveness.
The Gospel is the good news that the work of reconciliation has been completed through the one-time sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
5. Contending for the faith
We are called to hold to the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3). Why? Because there are false gospels taught by false teachers. Other religions and systems are not of God. They are bad news. They seek another way to God than the way He has established. They do not offer real forgiveness for sins. If you believe in them, you will die apart from God.
Sometimes Christians can become abrasive when speaking of these things. A better way seems to be graciousness to others combined with a commitment to know, teach and live the truth of the gospel by the golden rule.1
What is it to behave graciously to others?
The apostle Paul tells us:
…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)
Dear Lord, may all who read these words share the prayer of that suffering man in the gospel of Mark who said, dear Lord, I believe. Help thou mine unbelief. Thank you that you have hidden these things from the proud but revealed them to the humble. Continue to grant the gift of true saving faith through Jesus Christ. Hallowed be thy name in all the earth, now and forever, world without end. Amen
The golden rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This is the basis of civilization. ↩