Pastor Craig Carter
I’ve discovered a lot of folks are reluctant to read their Bibles and dig deeply into what it means to be a Christian because of the “big words” associated with the faith that are hard to say and even harder to understand.
I’m not talking about names and places like Nebuchadnezzar or Mesopotamia. No, I’m referring to “big words” that aren’t commonly used in the English language that involve complex theological concepts.
When was the last time you used propitiation, justification, or sanctification in an everyday, casual conversation? Yet, those words are a part of the language of our faith.
So, this fall we’re going to look at some “big words” associated with Christianity. We tend to shy away from them because they sound a bit “church-y”… and they are. But in any given field of endeavor, there’s a unique language that is crucial to grasp and comprehend.
Most of us don’t have to know anything about altimeters, ailerons, or hypoxia, but if you want to pilot a plane you better understand those terms. In a similar way, if we’re going to live the Christian life, we need to be familiar with the “big words” that comprise the language of our faith.
Before we look at those particular terms I want to build the case for doing so. As I’ve already mentioned, understanding these “big words” is essential to us as followers of Christ because they are the building blocks of our faith. Individually and collectively, they form the doctrine, or teaching, of the Church. Doctrine, in turn, is the basis of what we believe as Christians.
Throughout his New Testament writings, the Apostle Paul used a lot of “big words.” He explained these terms to his readers in the hope they would grasp their importance in understanding and living the Christian faith. When it was time for him to pass the mantle of church leadership on to his young protégé, Timothy, Paul reminded him of the value of sound teaching. In particular, he encouraged him to teach the faith using the right words.
Hold firmly to the true words that I taught you, as the example for you to follow, and remain in the faith and love that are ours in union with Christ Jesus. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, who lives in us, keep the good things that have been entrusted to you. (2 Timothy 1:13-14 GNT)
It is some “big words” that enable us to believe what is true and live out our faith. In other words, we can’t have the right beliefs unless we understand the language of our faith. Therefore, our study of “big words” will help us hold to sound doctrine, or right beliefs.
In his letters to Timothy, Paul suggests it is critical to have the right beliefs for several important reasons …
1) Right beliefs lead to right behavior.
The old adage says, “You are what you eat.” That saying’s corollary is: “You do what you believe.”
Without question, our belief system affects our actions and attitudes. A person who values possessions as God-given resources won’t take what doesn’t belong to him, while someone who operates with a mentality of self-entitlement is not the least bit reluctant to rob and steal from others. Someone who believes traffic laws are in place to protect the public welfare will tend to obey the speed limit, while a driver who believes rules are made to be broken races past.
Action always follows values because we do what we believe
Since that is the case, it is essential that we have a correct set of beliefs. If right beliefs lead to right behavior, then wrong beliefs lead to wrong behavior.
You don’t need to look any further than the example of Marshall Applewhite to prove that point. His story was told in a recent HBO documentary series. Marshall was the son of a Presbyterian minister who, after serving as a music director at an Episcopal church, formed a religious group called Heaven’s Gate. Its members lived in seclusion and worked from home as website developers. In fact, they have the distinction of being the first Internet-based cult.
Their central belief was that they could transcend their human existence and become immortal extra-terrestrial beings and ascend to heaven, the “Next Level.” On March 26, 1997, 39 of them were found dead in their rented San Diego mansion. They were all dressed in identical black shirts and sweatpants, brand new Nike athletic shoes, and purple armbands reading “Heaven’s Gate Away Team.”
They each had five dollars in quarters in their jacket pockets – the fare they believed they would need for a UFO transport following their deaths. Applewhite and his followers all committed suicide by drinking a poison concoction and suffocating themselves with plastic bags over their heads.
I don’t need to tell you that their bizarre beliefs brought about some incredibly bizarre behavior.
Now, admittedly, our wrong beliefs may not result in such tragic circumstances, but the end of all faulty theology is the same – eternal separation from God and His abundant and eternal life.
Many people in our world today think it doesn’t really matter what you believe as long as you believe something – wrong, wrong, wrong!
It does matter what you believe and it matters a whole bunch because good ways of thinking bring about good outcomes, while bad beliefs produce bad results.
Listen to what Paul told Timothy in this regard: But as for you, continue in the truths that you were taught and firmly believe… [These true words] equip God’s servants so that they are completely prepared to do good things. (2 Timothy 3:14, 17 GNT)
In our study, we’re going to learn about sanctification that will equip to live holy lives and we’ll discover the meaning of glorification that will prepare us to live from a heavenly perspective.
We are what we eat and we do what we believe. As Christians, we all want to do what Jesus would do. But for that to happen, we have to believe what Jesus believes so we can behave like Jesus behaves.
2) Right beliefs bring stability and security to our lives.
When our beliefs are faulty or non-existent, we are susceptible to doubts and fears.
If you believe man was not meant to fly, you’ll be afraid to board an aircraft and take a flight to a distant, exotic location. If you believe everyone is out to get you, you’ll never benefit from loving, trusting relationships.
But on the other hand, proper beliefs bring a sense of stability and security. Using the above-mentioned examples, because I understand and believe in aerodynamic principles, I can board a plane with peace of mind and rest and relax during the flight. Because I believe people can be trusted, I feel safe and secure in my relationship with my wife, children, and others.
It seems to me that many people in our world today live with a great deal of uncertainty in their lives. Could those feelings be the result of the prominent philosophy that truth is relative? In other words, that you can believe whatever you want as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else?
That sort of thinking leaves us with nothing to hold on to, especially in troubled times. In the course of this series, we’re going to discover some things we can know for sure.
For example, if we repent and believe the Good News of Jesus Christ we can experience genuine conversion. Assurance of salvation comes only when the Holy Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are God’s children.
The Christian doctrines associated with our “big words” aren’t restrictive or narrow-minded, they are liberating because they provide us with realities we can count on, similar to scientific laws such as gravity and friction.
In a similar fashion, right beliefs about God and the Christian faith make life more predictable and thus, more stable and secure.
Paul is right when he tells Timothy: God’s people have a solid foundation. These [true] words are engraved on it… (2 Timothy 2:19a GNT)
3) Right beliefs enable us to set proper priorities.
What we believe about the world determines how we spend our time, energy, and money. If you think life is all about personal pleasure and self-fulfillment, you’ll buy yourself all kinds of “toys” and make things rather than people the focus of your attention. If you believe that your self-worth is determined by your net worth, you’ll work day and night to get ahead financially.
On the other hand, if you think the greatest joy in life comes from serving others, you’ll give away your money and spend time with those you love. If you believe your job is what you do and not who you are, you’ll tell your boss you can’t stay late because your son has a ballgame you want to attend.
Let me tell you in advance, when you learn the meaning of some of the “big words” we’re going to explore, it’s going to make a difference in how you live your life.
When you discover that God’s prevenient grace is operative in every living being, you’ll be inspired to take time to share your faith with unbelievers.
When you find out that perseverance doesn’t mean “once saved always saved,” you’ll be motivated to keep keepin’ on in the Christian faith and do whatever is necessary to “press on to the prize” that awaits you.
Once you learn about ecclesiology you’ll be more committed than ever to the church and your fellow believers through your prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness
We all want to make a difference with our lives. The way in which we ensure that happens is by having the right set of beliefs so we can set our priorities accordingly.
In the words of Paul: Be a good servant of Christ Jesus [and] feed yourself spiritually on the words of faith and of the true teaching which you have followed. Do not waste time…Instead, train yourself to be godly. (1 Timothy 4:6-7 GNT/NLT)
4) Right beliefs provide a foundation for God’s work.
God is God so He can do anything He wants, anywhere He wants, with anyone He wants. That being said, Scripture suggests that He ordinarily chooses to do His best work among people of faith and conviction. This fact was illustrated in Jesus’ ministry in and around His hometown of Nazareth.
You may recall that his friends and neighbors, who had known Jesus since childhood, questioned His authority and doubted His power. In response, Jesus uttered that memorable line, “A prophet is honored everywhere except in his own hometown…” (Mark 6:4 NLT)
And here was the result: Because of their unbelief, he couldn’t do any miracles among them except to place his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And he was amazed at their unbelief. (Mark 6:5-6 NLT)
In many places today, Jesus’ work is limited by the people’s unbelief. Sure, He does a little here and there, but by and large, there aren’t any great miracles being performed in most churches.
I don’t know about you, but I long to see the Lord do some great and mighty things. And it is the right beliefs that provide a firm foundation for God’s supernatural work to take place.
Most people cannot comprehend what it takes to lift off an airplane or rocket ship and keep it in the air. I’m not familiar with acceleration, drag coefficients, and thermodynamics, but I know that it’s what engineers know and believe about those things that enable planes to fly and rockets to be launched.
When we learn what God is like and how He works, we then are equipped to do the “bigger and better” things Christ predicted His followers would do. As Paul told Timothy to hold tightly to and stand firmly on the “true words” he’d been taught, he also instructed, “Be a good worker…who correctly handles the word of truth. Devote yourself completely to your work.” (2 Timothy 1:15; 4:5b NLT/GNT)
It is the “big words” of the faith that form the foundation of our work and God’s work in and through us.
This series isn’t intended to be purely informational, it is designed to be transformational. Our understanding of God and how He operates will open us up to His power and grace.
Will you commit yourself to learning all you can so we can believe and receive all that God has for us? Plan on being with us, either in-person or on-line for each message in the series. Invite a friend to join us or share the blog posts with them as they will serve as an introduction to basic Christian doctrine.
This series will answer questions I commonly get about what we believe as United Methodist Christians since it’ll be from our Wesleyan/Methodist perspective.
Let’s pray this affirmation of faith as we begin our exploration of some very important “big words.”
I believe…Everything in the Scriptures is God’s Word. All of it is useful for teaching and helping people and for correcting them and showing them how to live. The Scriptures train God’s servants to do all kinds of good deeds. (2 Timothy 3:16-17 CEV)