The Faith part 1
Know What You Believe
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
January 11, 2009



Main Passage: Acts 17:1–9 (NLT)


This morning we’re beginning a new series based on a book written by Chuck Colson called, The Faith: Given Once, for All. In case you’re unfamiliar with who Chuck Colson is, let me give you a bit of his background.

Before He became a follower of Jesus, Chuck Colson was a former counsel to President Richard Nixon and became known as Nixon’s hatchet man. Well, he got caught up in the whole Watergate Scandal, and although he was never indicted in that, he worked out a deal with the prosecution to plead guilty to some unrelated charges and he spent some time in prison because of it. And it was about that time while he was awaiting sentencing that a friend gave him a book written by C.S. Lewis called “Mere Christianity” which Colson read and was radically transformed by the grace and forgiveness of a loving God. And since that day, Colson has become one of the most respected and influential Christian leaders in the world.

Well, since spending that time in prison himself, Colson has devoted the past 34 years of his life to ministering to prisoners, reforming the prison system, and using his own story to spread the message of the grace and forgiveness of Jesus. He’s the founder of Prison Fellowship, and also has a daily radio broadcast called Breakpoint which is basically a four minute commentary on our culture from a Christian worldview. I subscribe to the podcast and listen to every one.

Plus, he’s the author of more than 20 books, including this one, The Faith. This book is all about what Christians believe, why they believe it, and why it matters. And the reason we want to know what we believe, why we believe it, and why is matters is so we can live it out in real life.

As I’ve mentioned over the past few weeks, I first read this book almost a year ago and I immediately knew that I wanted us to go through this as a church. I think it’s a tremendous book based on biblical truths that identifies the foundational beliefs of Christians throughout the centuries. And he does a great job of illustrating these beliefs with personal stories and historical events.

I’m going to sound like a salesman right now, but I want to let you know what others are saying about this book…

“True, biblical Christianity is often mischaracterized by the media, misused by politicians, and mistaught by academics, making it misunderstood… That’s why everyone will benefit from reading this book—whether you are a skeptic, a seeker, a new believer, or a long-time follower of Christ.”
Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life, Saddleback Church
 
“This book reads like a novel and packs the wallop of a sledge hammer. I think it is quite possibly the most important book Chuck has ever written.”
Bill Hybels, Senior Pastor, Willow Creek Community Church
 
“This is vintage Charles Colson—carefully reasoned and passionately argued. His chapter on how the gospel comes to prisoners is, by itself, enough to make your mind stretch and your heart sing.”
John Ortberg, pastor and author, Menlo Park Presbyterian Church
 
“What an incredibly interesting read! The Faith is as stirring as it is necessary for this critical hour.... This book is a must read for all who have any concern for what is taking place in our world today.”
Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., former President,. Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

“This is a must read for every serious Christ follower!”
Dr. Bob Reccord, former President of the North American Mission Board for the Southern Baptist Convention

“Chuck Colson reminds us that not only has orthodoxy stood the test of time, but it has also been defended by reason, confirmed by revelation, and validated by experience.”
Everett Piper, President, Oklahoma Wesleyan University
 

Some of you have already bought a copy of this book, and I hope you’ll take the time to read through it as we proceed through this series. If you don’t have a copy and want one, I think I have a couple copies left. And if I run out, you should be able to pick it up at Maritime Christian Bookstore or at Indigo.

Now, I’m not requiring you to read it, because I know money’s tight and you might not be in a position to afford it right now. But I would still encourage you to participate fully in our Worship Celebrations over these seven Sundays and in our LIFE Groups. Our LIFE Groups begin this week, and we’ll talk more about that in a bit.


Now, why is this the stuff in this book important? Why is it important to know what you believe and why you believe it?


Why Should I Know What I Believe and Why I Believe It?

A.    For my own growth and discipleship

In the Christian life, and perhaps in every area of life, you are either growing or you’re dying. You’re improving or your degrading. You develop your skills or you lose your skills.

That means that as a Christ-follower, your desire must be to grow. As Jesus described in one of His parables, if you don’t take what you have and invest it and let it grow, then even what you have will be taken away from you.

So how do you grow? Well, how does a plant grow? A plant grows by basking in the sun, being refreshed by water, and absorbing the rich nutrients that lie below the surface. And they do that, they’re going to grow taller and deeper at the same time. They’re going to establish deep roots which will enable them to survive even if they are beaten by the weather or trampled underfoot. They more they grow, the stronger they’ll get and the healthier they’ll be, so that even weeds will begin to lose their power over them.

It’s the same way for a Christ-follower. You grow by basking in the presence of the Son, by being refreshed by the streams of His mercy and grace, and by absorbing the rich nutrients of His Word. As you grow, you’ll establish roots that will make you stronger. You’ll be able to withstand times of trial. And eventually those things that once seemed so threatening to your faith won’t hold so much power over you anymore.

Very early on in the existence of the Christian Church, the believers understood this. They understood that they needed to know what they believed and why they believed it. So they got together often to talk about it, to look into Scripture, and even to debate it.

Acts 2:42 (NLT)
All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching. They didn’t just want to hear it; they wanted to understand it. They wanted to internalize it. They wanted to be able to explain it.

Jesus Himself said this was critical if you want to be His follower. You have to understand His teachings.

John 8:31-32 (NIV)
…Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."

And on the banner behind me you see some other words of Jesus…

Mark 12:30 (NLT)
“And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.”

In your notes, underline the word “mind,” because that’s what we’re talking about this morning. A lot of people think that being a Christian is just about loving God with your heart and committing your very soul to Him. Others think it’s about serving Him with all your strength. But when it comes to the mind, they think you have to close your mind. You have to just believe whatever you’re supposed to believe and that’s it.

But loving God with all your mind means you open your mind and explore truth and you examine the evidence and you base your faith upon well thought out reasons.

2 Timothy 2:15 (NIV)
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.




B.    So I won’t be deceived by lies

Because if you don’t understand what your believe, it’s easy to be deceived.

I heard a story this week about a child who died because the child was given the wrong medication. Now, my wife’s the pharmacist, not me. To me, all the names sound the same. So I don’t remember the exact name of the medication that the child was supposed to be given and what he was actually given, but I do remember that the names were almost identical. So the pills just got mixed up, and the child died because of it.

Look, when you don’t understand what you believe and you don’t know the truth, something that sounds like the truth can be very easy to accept. That’s why you need to know what you believe and why you believe it… so you won’t be deceived by something that sounds true but is a lie.

Even today, when you look across the Christian Church, you’ll see different branches. You’ll see the Eastern Orthodox Church, you’ll see the Roman Catholic Church, you’ll see the Protestant Church… and within these major branches you’ll see smaller offshoots. You’ll find hundreds of different denominations. And most of the time, what you’ll find is that each denomination holds to some slightly different doctrinal distinctives. But while we may not agree on those minor issues, and we can debate them reasonably, we all hold to the same core beliefs and it’s those core beliefs… those core beliefs… that we’re going to be talking about through this series.

But every once in a while you’ll find some offshoot that is so far out there and so far removed from what Scripture teaches and from what logic and reason dictates that they move into the realm of being a cult. People are misled, perhaps intentionally or unintentionally, they wind up believing lies, and the results can be tragic. And it’s all because people don’t know what they believe, why they believe it, and why it matters.

Let me show you a few different passages…

1 Timothy 4:13, 16 (NLT)
Until I get there, focus on reading the Scriptures to the church, encouraging the believers, and teaching them… Keep a close watch on how you live and on your teaching. Stay true to what is right for the sake of your own salvation and the salvation of those who hear you.

Ephesians 4:11-15 (NLT)
Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.
Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.

And then there’s what Luke wrote at the beginning of his Gospel…

Luke 1:3-4 (NLT)
Having carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I also have decided to write a careful account for you, most honorable Theophilus, so you can be certain of the truth of everything you were taught.

We talked about this recently… Luke examined the evidence, and he wrote a careful account of it so that his reader then and readers today can be certain of the truth and will not be deceived by lies.



C.    So I can respond confidently to today’s attacks on the Christian faith

1 Peter 3:15 (NIV)
Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.

•    Why do bad things happen to good people?
•    Would a loving God actually send anyone to hell?
•    How can you say your way is true and others are false? Aren’t all religions basically the same?
•    What’s right for you may not be right for me.
•    Hasn’t religion done a lot more harm than good?
•    How do you know the Bible isn’t just a made-up storybook? And even if it’s not, how do you know the copy you have today is reliable? After all, it was written thousands of years ago. How do you know it hasn’t been changed?
•    If God is really all powerful and all loving, then why does evil exist? Doesn’t that disprove God?
•    And what about the Trinity? Isn’t that a contradiction?
•    Faith and science are incompatible. To believe in God, you have to check your brain at the door.
•    Christians are homophobic, anti-women, and anti-intellectual.
•    How do I know God even exists?

How do you respond to questions like those? Do you have answers? Do you know how to respond when someone says something like that? And let me tell you, if you haven’t faced questions like that yet, you will.

Over the past four or five years, I have seen an incredible escalation of antagonistic attacks against Christianity. I’ve seen it on TV and in movies and in documentaries and in news broadcasts. I’ve seen celebrities aggressively attacking Christianity, I’ve read some of the best-selling books written by today’s atheists, I’ve had conversations with friends and with strangers who question if faith has any value whatsoever.

And I think one of the greatest weaknesses we have in the Church today is that we don’t know how to respond. We’re not really connected to our faith. We’re not sure what’s essential. We don’t understand that faith in God is not a blind faith; it’s a reasonable faith. We don’t realize that every question I just mentioned has a logical, reasonable response.

One of the things Colson does very well in this book is, he responds to the modern day crop of atheists like Richard Dawkins who wrote “The God Delusion” and Christopher Hitchens who wrote “God Is Not Great” and he gives a sound defense and reasonable answers to their objections.

And one of the things I want you to realize is that we don’t have to be afraid of these attacks. We don’t have to feel ashamed or embarrassed. We don’t have to think of faith as being something for the weakminded. Because it’s not. And you can have a faith in God that is rooted in logic, in history and personal experience that cannot be shaken by these empty attacks. You can realize that even though it may sound like they’ve got some devastating ammunition, they’re really just shooting blanks.

Earlier in our Worship Celebration this morning, we read about a time that Paul was telling people in the city of Thessalonica about Jesus. And we read…

Acts 17:2-3 (NLT)
As was Paul’s custom, he went to the synagogue service, and for three Sabbaths in a row he used the Scriptures to reason with the people. He explained the prophecies and proved that the Messiah must suffer and rise from the dead.

He didn’t just shout it until people agreed with him, and he didn’t just repeat it over and over again until everyone was brainwashed. He proved it. Well, a lot of people believed Paul, including some Greeks who were there (who you remember were known as being great thinkers). But some of the Jews felt threatened by what Paul was saying and stirred up some trouble. So Paul moved on to the city of Berea…

Acts 17:11-12 (NLT)
And the people of Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul’s message. They searched the Scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth. As a result, many Jews believed, as did many of the prominent Greek women and men.

They heard what Paul said, and it sounded good. But they weren’t satisfied with that. So the searched the Scriptures and they studied and they wanted to know if what Paul was saying was really true. And as they discovered, it was. And then later in the chapter…

Acts 17:16-22 (NLT)
While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was deeply troubled by all the idols he saw everywhere in the city. He went to the synagogue to reason with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and he spoke daily in the public square to all who happened to be there.
He also had a debate with some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers…
Then they took him to the high council of the city. “Come and tell us about this new teaching,” they said. “You are saying some rather strange things, and we want to know what it’s all about.” (It should be explained that all the Athenians as well as the foreigners in Athens seemed to spend all their time discussing the latest ideas.)
So Paul, standing before the council, addressed them…

And then Paul went on to give a well-thought out, reasonable argument to support what He was saying about Jesus. As a Christ-follower, you can be confident that your faith is defendable and you can find answers to all of the objections and attacks that people are hurling today.

Now, one of the things that Colson does that I really love is, he responds to these kinds of attacks. He shows that there’s a rationality to faith. Faith has it’s reasons.


Listen, when you don’t know what you believe and why you believe it and why it matters, what you end up with is a meaningless religion, full of empty ritual, it’s anti-intellectual, it’s arrogant and judgmental, it can’t stand up under scrutiny, it has no purpose, and it does no good for anybody.

But when you come to understand as a follower of Jesus what you believe, why you believe it and why it matters, you find yourself in a wonderful relationship with the Living God. You discover true meaning and purpose in life. You experience new levels of compassion and humility and generosity. You experience a newfound confidence and courage. You realize that faith in God can be defended, it does have reason, and it really does matter. It matters to you and to those around you, it matters for now and for right on into eternity. Now isn’t that the kind of faith you want to have?

That’s why we’re taking the time to talk about these things and to go through this book together. That’s why you should get involved in a LIFE Group and, if you haven’t done it in the past, start now to really discover your faith.



All right, that was all by way of introduction for this series. Our LIFE Groups will be starting this week to work their way through a DVD and some discussions to go along with this series. And you see in your Sunrise Update that you have three options. There will be one group meeting on Monday evenings at Jim and Lynn’s over in Stratford. There will be another group meeting at our place on Wednesday evenings. And on Saturday afternoons, there will be a third group (a ladies’ group) and it meets at a different location each week (this week at our place).

I want to encourage you to plug in and get involved in a group, even if you only attend during this series. Session 1 will go along with the prologue through chapter four in the book, and you’ll be talking about what Christianity it. It’s not just a system of beliefs, it’s not just a collection of Bible verses, it’s not even just a relationship with Jesus. It’s a complete worldview that affects everything. That’s been true for every generation of believers throughout the centuries.


 

Bonus material included in bulletin:


Terms you should know:

Agnostic – Doesn’t think you can know if there’s a God or not

Apologist – No, it’s not someone who says “sorry” a lot. This is someone who defends the Christian faith. Apologetics is the branch of theology concerned with defending and proving Christian doctrine.

Canon – A body of writings recognized as authoritative, specifically the books included in our Bible.

Logos – A Greek word translated to mean “The Word.” Refers to Jesus as “The Word” or expression of God. As in John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word (logos), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

Orthodoxy – means “right belief”, specifically about God

Theism – belief in a the existence of God

Atheism – Denies the existence of God

Anti-Theism – Being against those who believe in God

Yahweh – An approximation of the name of God. Written as four letters in Hebrew – YHWH – it is expanded in English to Yahweh, or sometimes Jehovah.


Extra Resources for Understanding the Reasons for Faith:

Books:
Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel
The Case for Faith by Lee Stobel
Can Man Live Without God by Ravi Zacharias
The End of Reason by Ravi Zacharias
Jesus Among Other Gods by Ravi Zacharias
Letters from a Skeptic: A Son Wrestles with His Father’s Questions about Christianity by Gregory Boyd and Edward Boyd
The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success by Rodney Stark
Does God Exist? The Craig-Flew Debate edited by Stan W. Wallace
Hard Questions, Real Answers by William Lane Craig
The Son Rises: The Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus by William Lane Craig

Websites (with articles, videos and/or podcasts):
www.Apologetics.com
www.LeeStrobel.com
www.ReasonableFaith.com
www.Breakpoint.org
www.RZIM.com

 

 

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