One Bible - Many Churches
Does it matter what we believe?

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Does it matter?
As a first step, apply the test of common sense. Imagine someone in hospital waiting to undergo a surgical operation. The person finds that the surgeon who is to perform it holds the opinion that it does not matter about the principles of surgery – the important thing is to get the instruments and proceed with the work. It is almost certain that the patient would discharge himself! Imagine someone preparing to travel by plane who discovers that the pilot thinks it does not matter about the principles of aerial navigation – the really important thing is to get the plane into the air and trust to a sense of direction. It is almost certain that one passenger would choose an alternative form of transport!

 

These illustrations are, of course, hypothetical and outrageous. Yet when it comes to religion, what in the case of surgery and navigation is obviously wrong and dangerous, is too often accepted as reasonable and harmless. Plenty of people hold the view that it does not matter what you believe about God so long as you lead a respectable life. On the face of it, does this seem sensible? Is it likely that God, who made the world and sustains it day after day by laws which are unchangeable and absolute, would be indifferent to how people regard Him? Would it not be reasonable to expect that this God would be vitally interested in what men and women think about Him and how they treat His word? But the truth is that man is not left to his own feelings on this matter. God has spoken and the Bible claims to be His word. It is there that God reveals the principles of true religion, principles whereby we may come to God and be accepted by Him and receive His salvation.

Upon reflection, therefore, it is just as dangerous and just as foolish to neglect the principles of true religion as it is to neglect the principles of surgery or navigation. The only difference is that the results of neglect in the case of religion are not so obvious at first, but at the last are more permanent and irrevocable. In the case of religion, just as truly, somebody’s life is at stake.

What about tolerance?
Religious tolerance is a blessing when it means freedom to worship God without interference. It is less than a blessing if it infects people with a kind of religious colour blindness which robs them of the capacity to distinguish black from white. In the old days when men and women felt strongly about their religious beliefs, they were prepared to speak boldly about what they thought was right and wrong. Now in this age of broadmindedness and compromise, religious controversy is reckoned to be out-of-date; almost something to be ashamed of. Dogmatic positions are taken less often – moderation is the key word and anything which is likely to fan the flames of controversy is disapproved.

In some quarters it seems that the great thing is not to come to definite conclusions about anything. ‘Discuss and consider but never decide.’ ‘Some religions may be better than others – but all religion is good.’ ‘Choose the one that suits you and brings out the best in you and does no harm to others.’ This point of view has the appearance of moderation and reasonableness – but it contradicts the teaching of the Bible. Intrinsic in true religion, as revealed in the Bible, is the idea of intolerance – that is to say, because there is a true religion, that which is in opposition to it and contradicts it must be false. This point of view is unpalatable, but to the honest mind it must be logical.

About the method of approaching God, the Bible uses words which are imperative and categorical. An example is in Hebrews: “Without faith it is impossible to please him, for he who comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him ” (11:6). Notice the words impossible and must. The writer does not say it is better to come to God with faith or that it is difficult to come without faith. He says, “Without faith it is impossible to please him, for he who comes to God must believe”. Those words allow no middle course. Whoever comes must believe and it is no good coming without faith. This provokes the question, “Why won’t I do as I am? What’s wrong with me like this?” The Bible reveals that God is not prepared to accept anybody because of their natural goodness. It is unacceptable and it would be unfair. Some are born in bad circumstances and live in degraded conditions, so that natural goodness is a struggle; others are born in good circumstances and live in congenial surroundings, so that being good comes easier. God does not accept people on this unfair basis.

The basis for God’s acceptance
In the sight of God all are sinners. There is only one standard of righteousness, holiness and justice, and that is God’s standard. God will not at any time compromise that standard in order to accommodate the fickleness of men and women. Sin today is no less sinful than it was in the days of Noah or Adam. God has not evolved from a God who hates sin to a God who merely overlooks it. Human goodness compared with God’s standard of righteousness is stunted and impoverished. It is no good coming to God with our ‘scorecard’ which testifies that we are decent people, we pay our debts and never harm our neighbours. In the context of respectability this may be important, but in the context of salvation it is paltry. Our bit of righteousness is no passport to God’s favour. The Bible teaches that we have to confess that we do not measure up to God’s standard. This is called Repentance.

Since men and women cannot be received on the basis of their natural goodness, which is inadequate and unfair, God receives them on the basis of their faith. The faith they show is counted by Him as righteousness. This is the great doctrine of justification by faith and explains why it is impossible to come to God faithless, and why those who come must believe. In order to show how the great principle operates the Apostle Paul takes the case of one man, Abraham. Abraham received certain promises from God which, at the time they were spoken, appeared, humanly speaking, to be impossible of fulfilment. But Abraham had faith in the promises in spite of adverse appearances and God counted this for righteousness:

“He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what he had promised he was also able to perform. And therefore ‘it was accounted to him for righteousness’. Now it was not written for his sake alone that it was imputed to him, but also for us. It shall be imputed to us who believe in him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up because of our offences, and was raised because of our justification.” (Romans 4:20-25)

Paul insists that the principles which operated in the case of Abraham are true for every man who will come to God for salvation. CONTINUE ...

 


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