Does it Matter What You Believe?
A Sermon by Pastor John (© Aug. 1999 updated 8-6-2006)
- What are the Essential Beliefs of the Christian Faith?
- Scripture Reading: John 3:16,17:
16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.
- This is the third and final part of a three part series exploring the things we affirm based upon the name of our congregation, Grace Inclusive Church. In the first talk we spoke of our need for God's Grace. We said that no one deserves that Grace and that it is attainable solely through the mercy of our savior, Jesus.
- In the second section we spoke about the inclusive nature of this Grace. We talked about the importance of presenting God's Grace in a way that includes everyone, as much as possible within the scope of God's truth. There we asked the question, does it matter what one believes and confirmed that it does, within the scope of essential beliefs. Otherwise, unity in diversity is the principle to follow.
- So now, in part three of this series, we will look at those things which one must believe if one is to be accepted as a sister or brother in the Faith. All true followers of Jesus will be in agreement on these issues. The Christian Church is not composed of buildings but of people, the saints of God. These are the essential beliefs of the Church of Jesus.
- II Tim 2:15:Study to show thyself approved unto God, a worker that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
- Study to show yourself an approved worker. So yes, it does matter. We are commanded to study the scriptures in order to understand the truth of God. In order to do this, we must correctly handle the scriptures, which is to say, we must carefully examine all the related texts, compare them, contrast them, consider their contextual meanings and, when needed, examine the original languages. Thus by prayerfully "rightly dividing the Word of Truth," we gradually come to a clearer understanding. "Clearer" not clear. Only God fully comprehends the Truth. The rest of us are all students, gazing as into a darkened mirror and seeking to see beyond our own preconceived reflections. Sometimes we are more successful at this than at others!
- Despite our best efforts, questions will always remain. One Believer anticipates a pre-tribulation rapture, another a post-tribulation "taking away," while still another sees no rapture predicted at all! Each is sincere and desires to follow and understand Jesus more fully, yet our understandings vary on so many points. We followers of Jesus are divided on countless issues. For the most part, as with the prophetic timetable and events, these areas are outside the essentials to the Christian Faith and as Believers we can agree to disagree. In an inclusive spirit of unity we can come together in worship and service to God and our fellow beings. What matters is people coming to Jesus, not how many angels can dance on the head of pin.
- There are a few areas however where the Church of Jesus Christ, in all its various forms, stands united. In these specific areas there is no room for debate. These teachings are essential if one is to be accepted as a follower in Jesus. We want to be inclusive, yet on these fundamental points we stand firm. We do not judge or condemn others, but remain firm in our understandings.
- In the past Church leaders have struggled with these issues and developed the various creeds or statements of faith in an effort to ensure the doctrinal integrity of the apostolic message. Here is an inclusified version of the Apostle's Creed, upon which the later creeds are based:"I believe in God the Parent Almighty.
And in Jesus Christ The Parent's only (begotten) Child our Master,
who was born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary;
crucified under Pontius Pilate,
who, the third day, rose from the dead;
who ascended into heaven,
and who sits at the right hand of the Parent,
who from there will come to judge the living and the dead.
And in the Holy Spirit;
the holy Church;
the forgiveness of sins;
the resurrection of the body;
and the life everlasting."
- Here we find the essential beliefs required of those who would be known as followers of Jesus. In order to clarify these points, the Nicene Creed of 341 AD which here inclusified, was developed and reads as follows:"We believe in one God,
the Parent, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Saviour, Jesus Christ,
the only Child of God,
eternally begotten of the Parent,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one being with the Parent.
Through Jesus all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made mortal.
For our sake Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Parent.
Jesus will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Parent and from the Redemer.
With the Parent and the Child
the Holy Spirit is worshipped and glorified.
The Holy Spirit has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy universal and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. AMEN."
- These then are the essentials of the Faith, the foundations of the Christian Faith. Those who do not accept these basic principles are not within the doctrinal bredth of the historic and biblical Christian Faith. There is some room for interpretation even on these points, however the creeds have been carefully and prayerfully crafted to reflect the essential beliefs of historic, biblical Christian doctrine. We believe, for instance, in "one baptism" which is indicative of our salvation, but do not accept that "baptism [is] for the forgiveness of sins." We believe that water baptism represents our acceptance of forgiveness, it does not bestow it and in its absence does not deminish it. In the main, it is preferable to embrace the creeds in a literal way as they have come down to us.
- In all cases, we as followers of Jesus need to study to "show ourselves approved unto God." Through communion with the Holy Spirit, fellowship with other Believers, and careful study of the holy scriptures, our lives gradually come into closer harmony with the will of God and the sacred heart of Jesus.
- Intellectual acceptance of these essential points are not enough to produce a Spirit filled life of joy and service however. We must deliberately and with whatever faith we possess apply their truths to our daily lives. Specifically, if we are to be happy as followers of Jesus, we will want to share our faith with others. Not in the sense of condemning others as is too often the case, but in the sharing of God's love and the fellowship which comes from a relationship with Jesus.
- How do we develop our relationship with Jesus?
- First we need to understand that Jesus loves each of us just as we are right now. Threats of "hellfire and damnation" can not produce a meaningful relationship. Reciting someones sins to them does not help. We all know we sin. What many of us do not know is that even in our sins, Jesus longs to have fellowship with us. Many of us have been told that God does not love us, that Jesus will not accept us until and unless we forgo any and all possible shortcomings we may have. But that's just not feasible!
- No, relationships are built on trust and mutual respect, not fear. We need to meet Jesus as a friend who cares for us, as an "elder brother" who understands us, not as a judge who waits to condemn us. We need Jesus' love and Grace, the one thing that is so commonly left out of our attempts at evangelism!
- Due to his inclusive love for us, Jesus paid the ultimate price in order to save us and bring us into a personal relationship with God. The world needs to see that kind of love manifested through a Christ-like Church.
- We receive Jesus by saying "Yes! to his love!" Have you said "Yes" to Jesus? Have you asked Jesus to come into your life, forgive your sins and set you free? If not, you can do so right now.
How can you join the Church of Jesus?
Accept his love and Grace.
Jesus loves YOU just as YOU are!
This is the eternal message of the Church.
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