Charles Stanley - Does It Matter What You Believe?
Does it really matter what you believe as long as you believe something? I mean, as long as you have something to believe in, does it really make any difference what that is? Well, some people would say yes and some people would say no, it really doesn't make any difference as long as you believe in something. But make any difference to whom and believe what? In 1997, a survey was taken, and about sixty percent of the American people say that their religious beliefs are very meaningful to them and make a difference. About forty percent say that their religious beliefs don't really make any difference, not very important to them at all. Well, you add not only to that forty percent, but you add all of those people who have no religious beliefs whatsoever, who are either agnostics or atheists who just don't even think about it.
And you add all of those to that forty percent, and then is it any wonder we have such moral problems? Problems with violence, bloodshed, any old kind of lifestyle goes. If what you believe doesn't really make any difference at all, then is there any question about the fact that we have a society that's being permeated with those kind of ideas and philosophies that absolutely, ultimately will destroy us? Does what you believe make any difference? Well, let's see what God says in His Word. And I want you to turn, if you will, to First Peter chapter three. Peter's writing to believers who are scattered all over the world of his day, who are undergoing persecution, people who are ostracizing them and harassing them, physically abusing them, criticizing them, and it's because of their belief, what they believe in primarily.
So he says to them in First Peter chapter three, beginning in verse thirteen. He says, "And who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to every one who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame". Now, I want you to notice this fifteenth verse for a moment. When he says "sanctify Christ in your heart," what he means is simply this: make the Lord Jesus Christ Lord of your life. Make Him Lord of your life. Then he says "always," not sometimes, "always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account or reason for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence".
Now, does it make a difference what you believe? Yes, it does. Now, think about this from two lights. Number one, just plain old human reasoning says it does make a difference what I believe, why? Because every single facet of your life and mine is affected by what we believe. There's no part of our life that's not affected by what we believe. Now, that doesn't mean that you and I can't counteract what we believe or do something that we know is certainly a contradiction that we believe in. But the truth is, for the most part, primarily, ninety-nine percent of the time, what we believe governs and guides and dictates and determines our decision-making process, and our conduct, conversation, and our character, every facet of our life. But not only just plain human reasoning, but also, for example, the warnings of the scripture concerning false doctrine and error.
So let's look at several passages of scripture. Turn, if you will, first of all, turn to Second Peter chapter two for a moment. Second Peter chapter two, and if you'll notice in this first verse, listen to a warning. Here are several warnings that God gives us in the Word. If what we believe didn't make any difference, these warnings wouldn't be here. Second Peter chapter two, verse one. Peter says, "But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep".
Here is a warning that we have to watch out for false doctrine and for error. Turn, if you will, to First Timothy, and look, if you will, in the Second chapter, and look in the fourth verse. The third verse says, "This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth". That is, God isn't just satisfied in our being saved. God wants us to know the truth. Then I want you to turn, if you will, to, turn to John chapter eight for a moment. John chapter eight, and if you will look at the twenty-fourth verse, and listen to what he says in this twenty-fourth verse. Jesus is talking to the Pharisees, and they're doubting who He is and arguing with Him and so forth and denying who He is, and so He says in verse twenty-four, He said, "I said therefore to you, that you shall die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am He, who I say I am," he says, "you shall die in your sins".
Does it make any difference what you believe? Jesus says yes, it does. If you don't believe that He is who He says He is, He says a person will die in their sins, and the Bible says, "The wages of sin is death, the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord". "It is appointed unto man once to die and after this the judgment". If a person dies in their sins, that means they die without Christ and are absolutely, hopelessly, and helplessly lost. Does it make any difference what you believe? Yes, it does! Warning after warning in the scripture concerning believing, listen, not believing the truth but believing false doctrine. And it's interesting that Paul warns again, and Peter warns here, both of them warn again and again and again about listening to things that are not true and listening to those who are teaching things that are not true.
So the question comes: Well, does it make a difference? Yes, it does. It matters, listen, it matters greatly what you and I believe, which simply leads me to say, secondly, this. Not only it does matter, but you and I should develop a belief system that we can live by and that we can die by. When we talk about a belief system, we're talking about developing a set of beliefs, listen, that becomes a part of your mental grid. And that is that everything you hear as you develop that belief system, everything you hear gets run through that. And so therefore, if that grid system is made up of truth, biblical truth, every time you hear error, if you are deepened in that truth and you are established in that truth, when error comes your way, something, alarm goes off. Something goes off that says, "Mm-mmm, that doesn't match," what? It doesn't match the grid.
And the grid is very important, and it's very important what that grid's made of, and it's very important how that grid system within you gets developed. What we're talking about is a grid system that's based on the truth of God's Word that will stand the test of arguments, life and death. And if it won't stand the test of death, if I were you, I'd get rid of it. Because one thing for certain, we're all gonna die one of these days. And if what you believe isn't, listen, if it's not adequate to live by, it won't be adequate to die by. If it's not adequate to die by, it won't be adequate to live by. So what you have to decide is this. What do I believe? Why do I believe it? Can I defend my beliefs? Or am I one of those persons who says, "Well, you know, I do believe some things, but I'm not quite sure what I believe".
I think about the millions of people, for example, who sit in church week after week. And as they sit in church and listen and they go out and they live their life, and here's the problem. They call the Holy Spirit an "it". They do not realize He's a person of the Trinity. They think you can be saved by being good. They would say that baptism is a choice you have in life and it's not really absolutely necessary. Or they would say, "Well, you know, you don't have to join a church to be a Christian, to be a believer, to be saved". That's true, but what kind of Christian would a person be without being instructed and the fellowship and the worship of God with His people? And so you could just go right down the list of things that people believe. For example, they say, "Well, um, yes, I've trusted Jesus as my Savior, but am I saved"? Well, I hope so. And I could go down a long list of things that I've heard people say, many of whom have been Christians or have said they've been Christians for years and years.
Now, here's the issue. My friend, listen, if this is the Word of God, which it is, and you believe it, then it's time that we understand exactly what we believe, why we believe it, and to be able to defend it, because we live in a society that is full of false doctrine and error. And it is everywhere. And many people can't even discern the difference. For example, this lady said to me on one occasion. She was telling me about how she watched the television and how she loved this, that, and the other, and she says, "My three favorite preachers," she says, "I love", she said, "There are three favorite preachers I love. You're one of them," and then she named two other very fine men. And she says, "I just listen to you all every Sunday". And she says, "I just get so blessed and I just love all of y'all".
Well, I guess she was wondering and thinking that I was gonna have this beam on my face and was saying, "Thank you very much for loving me". But you know what? I stood there sorta dumbfounded. Because I'm telling you, if I've ever heard three divergent theologies, absolutely totally diametrically opposed to each other, and I'm thinking, "Dear God, huh, ma'am". One thing for certain, she couldn't tell me what she believed, because you know what she, here's what she does. She's a pick and chooser. I choose a little bit of this. I pick a little bit of that. I choose a little bit of this and pick a little bit of that. What is she doing? She's picking and choosing what she wants to believe, what she wants to hear.
Now, you put that kind of theology together, and you mark this one down. You listening? Say amen. Here's the thing you'll find. When you start finding people who are picking and choosing theology, ninety-nine point ninety-nine percent of the time they're gonna be off, totally out in left field on the absolute essential of the atoning death of Jesus Christ. And somewhere along the way, they're gonna mix up some good works into their salvation. It just happens over and over again, every time. And so when he says here, he says, "Be sure that you are able to make a defense for what you believe".
Now, with that in mind, what I'd like to do is to give you five very basic reasons why you and I should be able to make a defense. That is, to declare to someone else what we believe. Now, what's the first one? So, they all start with P. You've got a P for each finger. There are five of them. Very important, and jot these down. First of all, by knowing what I believe, listen, it prevents us from being misled by error and false doctrine, which I've tried to say over and over again. It prevents us from being misled by error and false doctrine. Now, we have just as much error, just as much false doctrine being proclaimed today as they did in Paul's day. And one of the biggest problems in the church in Paul's day, even after he'd go and establish a church and go back around, one of the biggest problems they had were infiltrators of erroneous doctrine, teaching error. You can go through book after book and you're gonna find the same thing. Dealing with some kind of error. It's always been that way, it will always be that way, and you can look around you.
Why are there so many denominations and so many churches? Well, somebody says, "Well, do you mean that we're the only one teaching the truth"? No, I wouldn't say that. Now, we may have our differences in some areas that probably, maybe church government or some other things. And there are some people who believe in sprinkling and some who believe in baptism and we say this is the reason we believe in baptism. Because, when you bury somebody after they've died, you don't sprinkle dirt on them, man, you cover 'em up! And when he talks about immersion, the Bible speaks of a immersion, taking them under, what is that a picture of? Our death to our old way, buried in Christ and risen to walk a new kind of life. Is somebody gonna be lost because they don't get immersed? No, they just go in a little dryer than we are, that's all.
So there are some things like that we think they make a great deal of difference, but there are some people out there who don't, and there are, of course, other people who put lots of emphasis on spiritual gifts. Well, all of us believe in the spiritual gifts, they're just not the most important thing in life. The most important thing in life is walking obediently before the Lord Jesus Christ, making Him Lord of our life. That's what the Christian life's all about. So first of all, we want to prevent ourselves, prevent ourselves from being misled by error and false doctrine.
The second thing is this: we want to be able to, listen, we want to be able to not only prevent ourselves from being misled, but we also want to be able to protect ourselves, listen, from fear and intimidation. Listen to what he says, verse fourteen. First Peter, now, three. "Even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. Do not fear their intimidation, do not be troubled. Set Christ Lord in your life. Be ready to make a defense". Now, for example, people will say to you, "Well, tell me why you believe what you believe". Now listen, how can I defend something if I don't know what I believe about it? How can I explain to someone what I believe if I don't know what I believe? That's why it's so very, very important we know what we believe and why we believe it.
Now, you may say to someone, "Well, I don't believe that". And they say, "Well," to you, "Well, why do you believe what you believe"? "Well, I just believe it. I just believe it". Well, you know what, to a person who is really seeking, that's not a good enough answer. And so what he's saying in this passage is this. He says, "Be ready to make a defense". Be ready to defend what you believe because there are gonna be people who are gonna question you. And so when he says, "Always be prepared". What does that mean? That means I've gotta study some. Now, more than likely, most of you know what you believe about some things, at least most things. But if somebody said, "Well, now, why do you believe that"? Do they not have a right to ask and to expect us to give an answer? And that's why he says it so strongly. He says, "Always be ready, always be ready to give them a reason for what you believe". Now, your kids have walked up to you and said, "Well, now, why should I do that"? Just because I said so.
Now, you know what? No kid's gonna accept that. If you give them a reason why they're not to do something or why they're to do something, then, you know, a kid can, he can pick that up. But if you say, "Just because I said so," well, that's like me saying, "Well, I believe that just because that's the way I believe and that's it". No. Here's what he says, he says, "Always be ready to defend, to give a reason for what you believe". So first of all, I want to prevent myself from being deceived by false doctrine and error. Secondly, I certainly want to protect myself from being intimidated by somebody who's going to attack my faith, so therefore, I'm going to discover what I believe and why I believe it and be able to defend it.
Well, there's a third thing I want you to jot down, and that's this. And that is, preparation, listen, preparation to answer those people who have an honest question and who honestly are seeking the truth. You think about this, we've got a whole world of people out there who are lost as they can be, a world of people out there who are hurting over all kinds of things, people who really and truly would like to know the truth, they want to know the truth, they're searching for the truth. And evidence of that is all the letters we get from people all over the world who are searching for truth, hungering for truth. You think about how many people who feel hopeless and helpless and insecure and, health-wise, they're hurting, some of them in the hospital, the doctor's already told them, "You don't have long to live".
And you know what, a thousand things are going through their mind. "Don't have long to live. What's gonna happen when I die? Where am I going? I've heard all kind of things. I've heard that you go to purgatory, what's that? I've heard you go to hell. What's that? I heard you go to heaven? How am I gonna get there? I wonder if somebody can tell me". Listen, we don't understand how many people out there who deeply, deep down inside want to know the truth. They've come to a place in their life, and you may be one of those, you've come to a place in your life where you know the only thing that matters now is what's gonna happen when you die because the doctor said, "You know what, this is it. You don't have long". You have to face reality you've never faced before. You want to know the truth. And these people want to know the truth.
When you and I have the privilege of sharing the truth, listen, we need to know what we believe. We need to know why we believe it so we can say to someone who's facing death, someone who's in a great time of difficulty and hardship and pain and trouble, tribulations and trials and difficulties. They don't know which way to turn. They don't know what to do. You and I should be able to say, "Here is what He'll do in your life". How do I know He'll do the same for me? Because here's what He promised.
Now, fourth reason. Listen, the fourth reason is this: so that you and I may be persuasive in our expression or our presentation of what we believe. So we can be persuasive. It isn't just to protect myself from intimidation and fear, and prepare myself to speak to those people who really want to know the truth, and to prevent myself from being deceived by error and false doctrine. But listen, to be persuasive. Now, suppose, for example, you walked up to me and you said, "Tell me the truth. What do you believe about heaven"? And suppose I said, "Well, here's what I think. Heaven's probably, well, um, the last book of the Bible, one of those, couple of those chapters are there". You know what? Nobody's persuaded by that.
Now, listen carefully so you don't misunderstand. It is not that you and I save anybody or persuade anybody to be a Christian. It is the work of the Holy Spirit in you and in me that makes the difference. It is Christ in us in the presence of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God speaking through us. Listen, it may be man or woman's voice, but it is the work and the ministry and the power of God. Anybody who takes credit for it is a fool. It's the work of God. But on the other hand, God chooses people like you and myself and others. He chooses our voice. He chooses our mind to do what? To instruct them in the way of truth.
Now, He says, "Always be ready to make, listen, to make a declaration of what you believe". To defend it, to speak it, to tell the reason why. Why? Because if I'm ready and I'm prepared, I can say it with authority. I can say it with conviction. I can say it sincerely. I can say it persuasively. Now, if you're not convicted and you're not persuaded and you're not settled, when you start talking to somebody else and you're a little bit foggy and a little bit hazy and a little bit wobbly and you're trying to sweeten it up so they'll feel good, I'm here to tell you, you know what, they're not persuaded by that. They're not convicted by that, and not much is gonna happen.
Last reason I want to give you why you and I should absolutely know what we believe and why we believe it and be able to defend it. Our personal relationship with God. You know what, the more I study the Word of God, the more I understand, listen, what the Bible teaches about Him, the more excited I get. Because, listen, our strength of faith toward God, our belief in Him, our trust in Him is primarily based on what the Word of God says about Him and what we believe the Word of God says about Him. Now, you see, there are a lot of people today who talk about having experiences. Now listen carefully, watch this. When somebody says, "Let me tell you what God said to me". Anytime somebody says that, my grid system turns fiery red. And I also understand, there have been times when I have said to you, "I want to tell you what I believe God has said to me".
You have a right for yours to turn red. Because listen, what I believe is not the authority. The authority is this book. And if what I believe does not match this, then I need to give up what I believe and change my beliefs. Now, here's what I want you to see. Think about just one aspect of your Christian life alone. Think about your prayer life. Let's say that the only thing you know about God is that He created the world and that He is God and He loves you, those three things. But the idea of His love is a little hazy because you do sin against Him. You get on your knees and you talk to God. You're gonna have lots of questions about lots of things. But suppose, listen, suppose you know God as not only the Creator, but the One who loved you so much He had this awesome plan of redemption. And He loved you so much He sent His only begotten Son to the world who died on the cross to pay your sin-debt in full.
And that God chose, listen, God chose to crucify His Son. That's the reason He loves you the way, that's the reason He loves you the way He does. And the way He expresses it in that whole encounter at the crucifixion. Suppose you begin to understand that God is living on the inside of you in the presence of the Holy Spirit. Suppose you begin to understand what unconditional love is all about. And suppose you begin to understand and you begin to think about all the promises that He's made in His Word concerning answered prayer. And suppose you begin to understand that He's immutable, that He's absolutely unchangeable, that He is absolutely faithful, that every single attribute of God is the epitome of all that it possibly could be, and here's what happens.
Every time you and I learn something new about Almighty God, you know what happens? Our faith in Him, our strength and our faith, everything gets stronger and stronger. Our convictions become stronger and stronger because we get deeper, more wonderful insights into who God is like. Does it make any difference what I believe? Yes, it does. Make a difference what you believe? Yes, it does. I want to say again. I repeat this on purpose. Daddy, listen to me. You are responsible for God to instruct your children and teach them in the ways of God. Give them, listen, give them a belief system. Hand down to them a belief system that you are willing to live by, you are willing to die by, you want them to be willing to live by, and that they can die by. You owe it to your children. Whatever, you owe it to your children.
God gave you the privilege of having children. He's given you the privilege of instructing them in the ways of truth. You owe it to them, that, listen, they're gonna walk out into a hellish society that, listen, that is committed to doing everything it possibly can to tear down every godly fiber in their body. So what are you gonna do? Get so busy, and get so full of other things, and allow yourself to be so materialistic that the most important thing that your kids need is they need an explanation of this book. You say, "Well, I'm leaving that to the pastors". You can't do that. You know why? It doesn't make any difference what a pastor teaches, your children watch you. And because they love you more than they love the pastor, which is the right thing, more than likely they're gonna do what you do rather than what somebody else says.
I cannot tell you. Please listen, I cannot tell you how extremely important it is. You give your children a belief system that is based upon the Word of God, something they live by and something they can die by. Now, here's what happens. When I look at this passage of scripture and I think about all that Peter said here in this one verse. Listen, always being, he says, "Always being prepared". Here's what I know. If I understand what I believe, and am able to defend it, it will help me in my walk with Him, it will help me in my prayer to Him, it will help me in my service for Him, and it will certainly help me in my worship of Him. Very important you know what you believe.