Does it matter what we believe? I participated in the funeral service for Jan’s half-sister, Cheryl, last weekend. What I expected to be a meaningful service was shallow and anemic.
In 50 years of church work, I’ve been a part of countless funerals and memorial services. God uses services like that to comfort, remind, instruct, even warn. Hopelessness gets replaced with hope. Fear gets replaced with courage. Emptiness gets replaced with love.
Funerals help start the process of closure. Songs speak. Prayers touch and messages turn sad hearts toward a loving Father. I have a sensitivity for what people need to hear at such a tender time as the loss of a loved one. I also have a critical spirit when those things don’t happen. Thus, the service for Cheryl.
Since my part was minor, I only had a couple of minutes to mention a few things of Scripture and something from God’s heart. Her brother-in-law was next and told of her life and love for the Lord and her relationship with Him. Then the main speaker took his turn and the emptiness began.
He was a friend of Cheryl’s husband. But it turned out he was a Unitarian Clergy. Which means he not only had nothing to say but, in my judgment, didn’t even know the God he barely made reference to. He mentioned no Scripture and his only words about Heaven were, “I’ve never been there so I can’t tell you what it’s like.” And the value of Cheryl’s life was reduced to: she was a good human being. In the midst of the bad news of that day, he had no Good News to offer.
Unitarianism believes everybody will go to heaven, no exceptions. How you live, what you believe, how you respond to God makes no matter.
They say that life is their Bible and they let any source that inspires them serve for religious and moral direction. Emerson’s words are as inspiring as things Jesus said. And Jesus’ words no more inspiring that Emerson. Which means they have no authority for truth. Whatever they believe is true, is true for them. There is no standard or deference or reference to what God has said. And the sad thing is they consider themselves Christians, obviously in a very broad sense.
Where’s the hope? Where are the assurances? Where are the promises? Where is a faithful God who accomplishes what concerns us? Where is the comfort for a family whose loved one has gone out into eternity?
So, I ask the question again: Does it matter what we believe? Absolutely.
Paul wrote to the Galatians: Gal 1:6-7 I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.
They were being influenced to believe things that contradicted the message of the Good News. What Paul had taught was specific and concise. Then the “explainers” came along.
Explainers are those who have their own opinions of what’s true and to be able to teach that opinion they have to deny what God has said, often by lies or half-truths or through explaining things that need no explanation. They add to or take away from Scripture. When they do, they create a different Gospel. Matt 15:9 teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.
How? By changing the message. Remember the bottom line of the Good News? Here is the way a person can be right with God and live in fellowship with Him. Explainers take that simple message and complicate it by restricting its benefit to only a few or adding additional steps to the process. They create doubt in settled minds and confuse them by substituting their opinion above God’s Word.
Gal 2:16 A man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.
Salvation is through what Jesus did, not what man can achieve. Why did Paul need to say this? Because the people were being told something different and they were buying into it.
Gal 3:2-3 This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?
This is what they were being told: the Law was more important than Faith. What you do is more important than what Jesus did. And if you don’t do these things or believe what we tell you to believe you’ll not get in on the benefits of God’s goodness.
To remind them of God’s simplicity, Paul took them back to the prototype of faith. Gal 3:6 Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.
To the Explainers that wasn’t enough. You needed to do more than just place your life into God’s hands by faith. And since you needed more than God said was enough to enter, you would also need more than God has provided to maintain that life. And only we have insight into what that is.
Col 2:6-10 Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude. See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority;
The faith Abraham placed in God’s hand is the same faith we give Him. The only difference is we have more of the story so we understand the context of that faith. The faith God responds to is faith in – the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.
Whenever someone refuses what Scripture says, they have to create their own Gospel, even though the Original still works just fine. How do you receive the life God promises? Accept what Jesus did in your behalf on the cross. How do you live the life God promises? By trusting in the work God will do in your life because of what Jesus did on the cross. In other words, God’s plan relies on the completed work of Jesus.
1Cor 2:1-2 And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
Whenever someone messes with that message they are saying Jesus’ work wasn’t finished and here’s what you must do to complete it. But what did Jesus say? It is finished!
Throughout history, man has always tried to change or challenge that message. It’s too simple. It’s not exciting enough. We can control the people if we add these things to it.
Why can’t they just leave the message alone? Because, people can’t handle the times when God is silent. They have to fill in that gap with their own imaginations. Specifically, when a doctrine leaves out the how part, somebody is going to come up with a suggestion to explain it, even for things that need no explanation.
For example: Scripture teaches that Jesus was both fully God and fully Man. John 1:14 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Heb 1:3 And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power.
Phil 2:6-7 Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.
Likeness meaning of the same kind, not different from man.
But some wanted to define how God made that possible. It was too much of a mystery to leave to faith alone. Arian was one of those. In the 300s, he couldn’t handle how the Son of God could also be Jesus the Man, so he said that because the Son was begotten, He had a beginning. That he didn’t exist before God made Him. This meant Jesus wasn’t eternal. If He wasn’t eternal, Jesus wasn’t fully God, and the sacrifice of His life useless. If Arian had chosen to believe Scripture, he wouldn’t have made up such foolishness.
Not long after Arian, Apollinaris argued that Jesus had a Man body but a God mind. That God simply adopted Jesus’ body at His Baptism and took over His life. So, Jesus was only a man until God borrowed his body. At the cross, before death, God pulled out and only Jesus the man remained to die. If so, the sacrifice of His life was useless.
Then, Sabellian said that God was only one and not three, and that He took turns being either Father, Son or Spirit, according to which He needed to be in at any given moment. He could be Father or Son or Spirit, but not all three at one time. So, when the Son appeared, there was no Father or Spirit, only Son. If he had read the Gospels, Jesus’ baptism pretty much destroys this heresy.
Where do heresies come from? From people who don’t know what the Bible says, or who want it to say something other than what it does say.
That’s why Paul wrote Galatians. To expose false teaching:
1. Judaisers – Jews who had converted to Christianity yet held onto their Jewish practices and wanted all new believers out of the Gentile world to do the same. They insisted on rituals, feasts and circumcision. They demanded new believers become Jews before they could practice Christianity. Essentially, they taught what Jesus did wasn’t enough. Here are the things you have to do to become a true Believer. The whole religion of works comes from this heresy. If you believe God only accepts you if you earn that acceptance, you’ve been affected by the Judaisers.
2. Gnosticism. The heretical teaching that understanding the things of God comes through some kind of special knowledge, usually knowledge reserved for a select, intellectual group. The spirit contained this knowledge, so they separated the body and spirit. Only the spirit was important, so, what you did in the body (however you chose to live) didn’t matter to God. Kinda like the fornicating girl on the Bachelorette. Unitarianism, New Age Spiritism, Liberalism, even Spiritual Arrogance of certain Christian groups all flow from Gnosticism.
For the Galatians, Paul lays out the Good News, the simplicity of what Jesus did and how that affects us, telling people you don’t need to go beyond this. That Gal 3:11 THE RIGHTEOUS MAN SHALL LIVE BY FAITH. Gal 3:26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. Gal 3:3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? You got in by faith. Do you now abandon faith to live by your own efforts?
Then he nails the issue: Gal 4:9 But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again?
Gal 5:1 It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.
Slavery would come after they embraced a different message for their lives, one that bound them to men’s doctrines that would choke the life out of them or to a lifestyle that would consume them in evil practices.
He said: Gal 5:7 You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth?
Paul’s answer: come back to the truth. They had known the truth but let themselves be taken in by the subtleties of these heretical teachers.
So, I ask again: Does it matter what we believe? Absolutely.
Why? Even small changes to Scripture to fit a teaching or doctrine or idea different than what God gave us distorts the whole message. That can come from a preacher, an author, a teacher, a neighbor, a friend. Most heresy today comes from TV, either through many errant TV preachers and their writings or the Discovery Channel.
Unless the Bible is held as the standard by which all truth is measured, heresy has an easy path into the minds and hearts of people, even Christians.
When the Challenger went down 33 years ago, the whole country grieved the loss. Then, we learned what caused the disaster and got angry.
You’ll remember, an O-ring failed to keep gasses from escaping. This failure caused an explosion that tore the space shuttle apart. Warnings had been issued against taking off because of fear an overnight freeze might jeopardize certain components. But liftoff went as planned. And the cold caused the O-ring to lose its elasticity. It couldn’t do what it was required to do.
One deviation from the standard requirement of what a component was designed to do created tragedy. Paul warns the Galatians that the same thing could happen to them. Changing the Message could ruin or diminish the life promised by that message.
Professor Merrill Tenney, of the Wheaton Graduate School of Theology said: "Neglect one area of the Scripture in our teaching and preaching and that area will become the seed bed for tomorrow’s heresies."
Heresy comes when someone has a better idea than the one God had. They take the simplicity of the Good News and make it so complicated and contradictory that it becomes nothing more than something to argue over rather than embrace. Let’s stay with the Book, not wrangle over what we think it says. Let’s let the Bible speak for itself.
A man by the name of William Tyndale, who lived in the 1500s, knew the value of the Bible speaking for itself. He saw that the church at that time was full of heresies and felt, if the people could only read the Bible for themselves, they’d understand what was true and what wasn’t. Knowing the truth would set them free.
At that time the only translation of the Bible was a fourth-century Latin translation called the Vulgate. Only priests and scholars knew Latin, so Tyndale decided to translate the Latin into English.
After he published this new Bible, the Catholic Church had it burned, and then placed a bounty on his head. Tyndale was captured, convicted of heresy and strangled to death. Then, for good measure, they burned his body. His final words were "Lord! Open the eyes of the King." Four years later, that king ordered an English version of the Bible to be published – using Tyndale’s translation. God wanted the people to know the truth.
If we want to know the truth, read the Bible. As Paul told the Galatians: Don’t simply accept the teaching of someone else because they sound smart or seem dogmatic in what they believe. Let the Word of God be the authority by which you live your life.
- The best method of studying Scripture is to keep it within context.
- What God says in one place cannot be denied in another, or what God denies in one place cannot be accepted in another.
- People will believe whatever they choose to believe, but to be right, they must align what they believe with what God says.
- Our experiences, opinions, feelings or desires are not above God’s words.
- The final authority for truth must be Scripture.