Does it matter what we believe?
There is only one Bible. Because its writers spoke Hebrew and Greek, it has been translated into different languages, and so there are many versions of the Bible today. But there has only ever been one original source of each of its books.
Undoubtedly there are many churches. The Roman Catholics, the Church of England, the Methodists, the Seventh Day Adventists, the Mormons and the Jehovah’s Witnesses would all claim that their teaching is based on the Bible. Yet they differ markedly in what they believe.
As a result, many people who desire to know the truth about God, and where we come from, and what happens when we die, are left confused and bewildered.
How did it come about that there are so many branches of Christianity? For centuries the Roman Church had a monopoly of religion in Europe and persecuted anyone who challenged their supremacy. Then came the Protestant Reformation, led by men like William Tyndale who translated the Bible into English at the cost of his life. They hoped that once people were free to read God’s words in their own language, they would realise there were errors in what they once believed, and unite in a common faith. That was the theory. In practice, that same freedom led to different opinions, and multiplied the arguments.
Were the reformers wrong? No. Although the outcome of their work was many churches instead of one, the principle behind their dedication was correct. There is only one place we can find out about God. This precious book contains all we can know about Him, and all we need to know. Of course, there have always been people who claimed to have had special inspiration or revelations from angels, but when you examine their stories, they have all the appearance of self-deception.
The apostle Paul wrote this to his young friend Timothy:
“… from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 3:15)
Paul is saying we do not need any other source of information. Here in the Bible is the whole key to salvation.
Jesus himself always appealed to the Scriptures to back up his teaching. For example, he challenged the Sadducees, a religious group who had stopped believing in the resurrection of the dead, with these words:
“You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God”, and later “…have you not read what was said to you by God?” (Matthew 22:29,31)
Jesus underlines the point that the truth about what we should believe can only be found in the Bible.
The apostle Peter says his readers have been born again through the word of God:
“…you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.” (1 Peter 1:23)
Now, he says, they should take in the words of the Bible with the same urgency as a small baby crying for its next feed:
“Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation.” (1 Peter 2:2)
The apostle Paul commended the believers who came from a city called Berea because when they listened to him
“‘they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” (Acts 17:11)
The Bereans are our example. We should be testing what people say against the words of Scripture.
WHAT WENT WRONG?
If God gave us the Bible to instruct us in what to believe and how to please Him, how is it that the churches have failed to agree about what it says? Sadly, it is a feature of human nature that we see what we want to see. People come to the Bible with their own ideas about God and try to find support for them in its pages. They will pick out a verse here or there, and ignore the plain teaching of the majority of Bible passages. For example, the mainstream churches teach that when we die, our body goes back to dust, but our soul goes on to heaven (or hell). But this idea was introduced to Christianity long after the time of Jesus. It came from the Greek philosophy of that period. The Bible teaches plainly that when we die, we cease to exist. Our only hope of life beyond the grave is through the resurrection of the dead, when Jesus comes again. Again, for centuries the churches insisted only men could be priests. Now, they allow women as well. But the first century churches described in the Bible had no priests at all. For them, Jesus was the only intermediary between God and men. The point is, God does not believe in political correctness. He does not adjust His views to fit in with the prevailing fashion. He has said plainly what He wants us to believe and to do, and He does not change His mind.
One of the earliest stories in the Bible is about two brothers, Cain and Abel. The time came to worship God. Abel brought the firstborn lambs from his flock and offered them to God; Cain brought fruit and vegetables. God accepted Abel’s offering, but not Cain’s. It was not what He required (although we are not told why Cain’s offering was unacceptable). There is another story about two brothers, Nadab and Abihu. They were priests, and they should have known how to approach God in worship. But they decided to bring Him incense which He had not asked for. They marched with their smoking censers straight into the Tabernacle where God was worshipped. They were instantly struck dead. The message is that we are not free to make up our own system of religion. We have to listen to God and follow His instructions.
DOES IT MATTER?
We live in a time when fewer people than ever believe in God, and we often hear that Christians should stand side by side in the face of atheism and indifference. We should forget our differences, they say, and work together for God. This sounds reasonable. But what gospel should we preach? If it is not based solidly on the teaching of Scripture, we could be leading our followers away from salvation.
Another popular view is that ‘all roads lead to God’, and if we are good living people and do no harm to others, we will be accepted in the Day of Judgment. That, too, does not square up with Scripture. There is an interesting example in the Acts of the Apostles where a Roman centurion called Cornelius said his prayers every day and was kind to the poor. He was a perfect example of a good living man. However, God sent an angel telling him to fetch the apostle Peter to teach him the gospel. This is what the angel said:
“Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Peter; he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.” (Acts 11:13-14)
Clearly, Cornelius could only be saved if he followed the teaching of Peter. In fact, we read that after he heard Peter, he and his friends were baptised. They had learned how to be saved.
When God created man and woman in the beginning, He allowed them freedom to decide for themselves whether to obey Him, or to go their own way. We call this ‘free will’. One day Adam and Eve decided to break His law, the penalty for which had been plainly stated, and consequently they were condemned to death. This principle of free will is important. If God had made us in the beginning so that we could do nothing else but obey Him, this would have given Him no pleasure. You cannot make somebody love you and praise you. It has to be voluntary. Of course, an evil dictator can insist people bow down and sing happy songs when he is around, but that is because if they don’t, they will be punished. There is no satisfaction in that. The apostle Paul says:
“And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him.” (Acts 17:26-27)
God, Paul says, does not make us seek after Him. But He hopes we will.
In every generation since Adam there have been a few who respond to God’s call and a majority who do not. Jesus says:
“For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7:13-14)
So, most people ignore God. But the few who love Him, Jesus says, find the way that leads to life. What does this mean? Well, it was a fundamental doctrine of the early church that those who decide to obey God and follow Jesus will be given everlasting life in God’s Kingdom. The Kingdom will begin when Jesus returns, for he is the King, and when he comes, he will raise the dead who had faith in God. This is what he says:
“For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:40)
God wants genuine, faithful and obedient men and women who have earned His respect by a lifetime of devotion to him. He has been calling people to serve him, voluntarily, for the last six thousand years, and one day, when Jesus comes, they will be raised to life to give God honour and praise in his Kingdom.
Of course, it takes faith to believe this. We cannot see God. We have to take His promises on trust. The apostle writing to the Hebrew Christians says:
“And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6)
SEARCHING FOR THE TRUTH
When Jesus stood before Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, on trial for his life, he said this:
“For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world – to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” (John 18:37)
In recent years the definition of ‘truth’ has changed. Nowadays people seem to feel that truth is what is right for them, and that it could be different for someone else. This approach is called ‘relativism’. But if we have faith in God, we must accept that He is the source of truth. Jesus, His son (as we have just read) came to tell us what is true, and he always claimed that the words he spoke came from God. The prophets and apostles who wrote the Bible were inspired by God to bring us the same message that Jesus taught – the hope of God’s Kingdom. And the way back to the paradise that Adam lost can only be through Jesus. We have to believe in him. As Paul writes:
“because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)
This is what Jesus said to the apostles when he sent them out to preach the good news of the Kingdom:
“Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:15-16).
To make sure what we believe is the truth, we need to go to the Bible, for this is where God and His Son are speaking to us. There is only one gospel.
There is an interesting case in the book of Acts where the Apostle Paul had preached the truth about Jesus to believers in the Roman province of Galatia. After his departure, preachers from Jerusalem came along and tried to persuade them that believing in Jesus was not enough – they needed to keep the Law of Moses as well. When Paul learned what had happened, he was furious. He wrote them a stern letter, insisting that they must not drift away from the gospel he had taught them. You can sense his indignation in these words:
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ… As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:6-7,9)
From this we can see that what we believe is very important, and it needs to be what Jesus and his servants taught. We come back to the essential point – if you are searching for the truth about God and His great plan for the world, you must read the Bible. Like the believers in Berea, you need to compare what people say with the Scriptures, and if their ideas do not tally, they do not have the truth.
You may be surprised to find that some of the things you were convinced were true cannot be found in the Bible. We have already discovered that the idea of an immortal soul that survives death was not part of the original gospel. It was added later. Similarly, the doctrine of a Trinity, three Gods in One, only developed into a core belief in the fourth century AD. The apostles taught that the Law of Moses was only intended to prepare people for the coming of Christ, and once he had lived, died and been raised again it did not have to be kept. In fact, after a conference held in Jerusalem to discuss this very topic an official letter was sent out to believers who were not Jews to assure them that they did not need to observe the Law. But before long many features of the Law of Moses were reinstated. Holy days, altars and priests are nowhere in the New Testament, but they soon became part of mainstream Christianity. Once again, to find the real truth, you should be looking for a community that bases its beliefs, its organisation and practices on first century Christianity, while the apostles were alive and still preaching.
HELP TO READ THE BIBLE
To help you read the Bible systematically, please send for a free Bible Reading Planner. You will find details at the end of this booklet. The Planner will take you through the whole Bible in the course of a year. The Bible is a big book. Take it a little at a time with a proper schedule, and if possible, at the same time every day so that it becomes a habit. That way you will come to find comfort and hope for the future, with the assurance that what you have found is the Truth. God bless your reading of His word.
David M Pearce
 2 Timothy 3:15 means 2 Timothy chapter 3 verse 15. Quotations are from the English Standard Version (ESV) unless otherwise noted.
 For example, see John 12:49
 see “Jesus – God the Son or Son of God”
 see Acts 15:22-29