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A. Why Do We Believe What We Believe?

What are the reasons we believe what we believe? This is an important question, because if we do not know why we believe what we believe, then we cannot have the slightest idea of whether or not our beliefs are true. Perhaps we are believing nonsense, mistaken conclusions, or lies. This could be dangerous to our health. For example, a person who has believed the lie that there is no harm in trying crack cocaine just once, may be one of those whose brain and heart will respond to this drug with an instantaneous fatal heart attack. This person may die because, without examining the facts, he put his trust in the mistaken opinion of a friend. Sadly but too late, he found that the opinion of a friend is not a good reason for believing.

1. There Are Many Reasons for Believing.

There are many reasons for the beliefs which we hold. Here are some of them:

(1) the example of parents and other immediate family members,

(2) the teaching and counsel of parents,

(3) the discipline administered by our parents,

(4) personal experiences,

(5) the experiences of others,

(6) education,

(7) the example and opinions of our peers,

(8) the ideas and attitudes presented on television, magazines, newspaper, etc.,

(9) reasoning from known facts,

(10) attention to what God says in His Word of God through reading the Bible or through correct teaching and preaching of the Bible, and

(11) the working of the Holy Spirit applying the Word of God in one's soul.

Which of these do you think provide reliable reasons for believing? Let us consider several of them. In Christian homes, where the parents truly love the Lord Jesus and know God's Word, reasons 1-3 are pretty good ones on which to base what we believe. What a marvelous blessing from God it is to be born into such a family. Reasons 4 and 5 are a good basis for developing beliefs, if we are thinking logically. But because of our sinful nature we are prone to think illogically, unless we have some correct standards for truth to begin with. Without such standards our experiences can draw us into deeper and deeper sin and sinful thinking, so that we cannot think logically. How about reason number 7? What if all or almost all of your peers, that is, all of your friends and associates believe something? Isn't such a majority opinion a good evidence that a certain belief is correct? No, it is not, in view of the fact that all of your friends are sinners just as you are. Furthermore, the pressure of a crowd is a powerful influence to bend the way we think. Probably the least reliable reasons for believing are numbers 6, 7 and 8, for they are the ones most likely to be influenced by the ungodly spirit of the world system which Satan dominates.

On the other hand, reasons 10 and 11 taken together provide the best, the authoritative basis for determining what one will believe. Furthermore, if the influence of the Scriptures and of the Holy Spirit are operative in a Christian's mind, then all the other items in our list can be sources of right things to believe. This is because the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit can give us wisdom and discernment to determine the right and reject the wrong.(I Corinthians 2:12-16)

2. We Need Reliable Standards for Making Judgments, and God Provides Them.

In every aspect of life each person needs correct knowledge and understanding for making the choices demanded by life. We are confronted everywhere with all sorts of conflicting information--in newspapers, magazines, and on radio and television. In schools, colleges and universities there are scholars who claim to be authorities and are teaching what they claim is truth. This requires reliable standards by which to compare, choose, make judgments. The reliability of knowledge and understanding depends on the authority and reliability of the rule or standard on which we depend. Christians are promised by God that they can have the knowledge and understanding which only God can supply. What is our source of knowledge or, rather, who is our source and authority who is competent to judge science? It is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ.

Read in the Bible what the Apostle Peter said in Acts 10:36 in his sermon to the household of the Roman centurion. "...Jesus Christ--He is Lord of all." And what the Apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 1:22. "And He[the Father] put all things under His [the Son's] feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church." So the Lord Jesus is to us, His people, Lord of all, head over all things. And that includes science as well as all other kinds of scholarship. He created not only the universe which the scientists study, but also the entire realm of thought and logic, so He knows all the right answers. He does not need human scholars and scholarship, or scientists and scientific research to give Him the answers. We are told in Colossians 2:2-3 that in the Father and in Christ "are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge."

3. By the Bible, God's Word, We Can Test for Truth.

The fact is that any of the above eleven reasons for believing can lead to right beliefs, but most of them can also lead to wrong beliefs. Only the last two reasons taken together can be counted on to lead to right beliefs. The Lord Jesus, praying as the great High Priest of our salvation in the garden of Gethsemane on the night of His trial, said to His Father, "Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth." (John 17:17) So the Bible is truth from God which He by His Holy Spirit can use to sanctify(set apart and prepare for God's purposes) all of His believers. This means that by His Holy Spirit He not only can make us holy, but also can give us knowledge and understanding which we need to solve the problems of life. Therefore, we Christians can often check out those things we hear or learn from the other sources by comparing them with what the Bible teaches. Thus God's Word provides the rule or standard for truth by which other sources of knowledge should be tested. In applying this standard of testing, however, we must be careful to understand what the Bible teaches and also what the observed facts are. We must be careful to interpret both the observed facts and the Bible correctly.

4. Correct Interpretation Is Very Important.

This last point is very important. Christians and non-Christians alike have made many mistakes because they did not take care to interpret either the words of the Bible or the observed data or facts correctly. By "interpret" we mean reasoning from the raw observed data to decide what they mean. For example, in the study of fossils of ancient plants and animals found in sedimentary rocks, the fossils and the kind and location of the rocks in which they are found are the data, the basic facts. But what do these data mean? What do these bones mean? This question is answered by interpreting the data. Many scientists have concluded that because fossil bones of animals now extinct have been found, therefore they prove that animals now living evolved from those which are now extinct. This is an interpretation, but it is not necessarily the correct interpretation.

Here are two very important facts to remember when it comes to interpreting observed data in the study of any subject. First, there can be more than one interpretation of any observed data. Second, the interpretation of the data is influenced by the assumptions of the interpreter. Thus, in the case of fossils, scientists who believe in evolution, who assume (by faith in the power of nature, without God, to produce everything) that evolution is a fact, usually adopt interpretations which agree with the theory of evolution. On the other hand, scientists who believe in creation by God, who assume (by faith in the God of the Bible) that creation is a fact, look more carefully to see whether or not the data actually fit with the idea of creation rather than evolution. They believe they have evidence that the evolutionary scientists have wrongly interpreted the data, that the data do not prove that evolution is a fact.

In interpreting the Bible the observed data are the statements made in the Bible. The question is what do they mean? Some of the rules for interpreting the Bible are the following:

1. Literal, common sense interpretation: The words of the Bible are to be taken in their simple, grammatical, literal sense--unless there is in the context a definite reason for taking them in an allegorical or symbolic sense.

2. Context decides between alternate interpretations: If there is more than one possible meaning of a word in the Bible, the meaning to be chosen will depend on the context of the verse in which it is found.

3. Unity of biblical doctrine: Since God is One and is the Author of all of the Bible, the Bible does not contradict itself. Therefore, all of the teachings of the Bible on a particular subject are to be taken into account in order to arrive at the correct interpretation of any statement in the Bible about that subject.

4. The clear controls interpretation of the unclear: If a statement in the Bible seems to be ambiguous, it is to be interpreted in harmony with other statements which are clear and unambiguous. If these rules are carefully applied, there will usually be no great problem in finding the meaning, the right interpretation, of any verse in the Bible. If these rules are ignored, serious mistakes can be made, and the Bible may be made to say something which it really does not say.

Let us all ask God by His Holy Spirit to help us understand His Word correctly when we read it. Then God can help us to avoid mistakes which some have made in the past. We will not be misrepresenting the Bible as some have. In particular, we will find that some of the supposed errors in the Bible are not really there. They were just wrong interpretations of the words of the Bible. We will find that the Bible does not contradict, for example, the facts of science. It only contradicts some of the theories of scientists.

5. The Importance of Being a Critical Thinker

God does not want Christians to be dummies who don't know anything. Nor does He want us to be credulous, people who are uncritical and tend to believe things without testing them for truth. The Lord Jesus admonished us, "Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves."(Matthew 10:16) The people of this world who do not know the Lord and who are making things happen in the world system are thinkers. And they do their homework. They often even have good intentions, but they have kept the Lord Jesus out of their lives, and so they are walking in darkness. We Christians, if we are to be useful to Christ in this world must do our homework, and we must train ourselves to think and to think logically. Jesus promises us, "I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life."(John 8:12)

6. Summary and Conclusions: The Truth Test for What We Believe

The subject of this introductory section of our Survival Kit is "Why Do We Believe What We Believe?" We saw that there are many reasons for our believing what we believe. We found that there are many paths which may lead us to believe things which are false. We also saw that there is only one way to be sure that we believe what is true and not what is false. That way is to test all things by God's Word the Bible, with prayer to God that His Holy Spirit will help us know and receive the truth. Here are some promises which we have from the Lord Jesus: "...when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth..."(John 16:13) "And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free...Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."(John 8:32,36) "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me."(John 14:6)

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