I Believe


JellybeansI held a jar of beans and asked a class of fifth graders, "How many beans are there in this jar? What would you guess?" I put their answers on a sheet of paper. Then I said, "Now we will make another list of your favorite songs." Having completed that, I announced that the number of beans in the jar was exactly 326 and declared the winning guess. Then I asked, "Now who can tell me which of the favorite songs is the right one?"

Of course there were no "right answers." A person's favorite song is a matter of personal taste. Then I asked the most important question: "Is deciding what you believe about God more like guessing the number of beans in a jar, or more like choosing your favorite song?"

The prophets of the Old Testament and the apostles of the New would strongly argue that our faith is more like guessing the number of beans in a jar. Various human creeds, like their guesses, may be more or less correct, but who God is and what he reveals is objectively true regardless of what we think about it. Theology is not a matter of taste, but a matter of truth.

I am pleased to live in a country where there is freedom of religion. For many that means they are free to believe anything they want to. But I am not free to pick my favorite religion the same way I pick my favorite song. I have to believe the truth—whether I like it or not. Government doesn't force this on me, but reason does. Making up my own religion makes as much sense as making up my own arithmetic times tables.

Truth has almost gone out of style in the modern world. Researcher George Barna has discovered that two out of three Americans believe there is no absolute truth. When a reporter for Time Magazine asked novelist Ayn Rand, "What's wrong with the modern world?" she replied, "Never before has the world been so desperately asking for answers to crucial questions, and never before has the world been so frantically committed to the idea that no answers are possible. To paraphrase the Bible, the modern attitude is, 'Father, forgive us, for we know not what we are doing—and please don't tell us.'"

Assuming that collective consciousness is understanding and that public opinion is truth, the modern world has a built-in bias against ancient wisdom. But, as Somerset Maugham said, "Great truths are too important to be new." C. S. Lewis adds, "All that is not eternal is eternally out of date."

The Apostles' Creed begins by saying "I believe…". The first word answers the question, "Who's talking?" It fixes responsibility. To say "We believe…" opens an escape hatch for mental reservations. "Of course, most Christians believe these statements. Since I want to be part of the Christian community and not make waves, I can recite the whole creed even though I don't believe all of it."

"We" statements take on the character of a party platform. Individuals in the group can dissent on certain planks and still not be excluded. "I" statements, on the other hand, are different. They pin us down. "I believe!"

"I believe…" is an incomplete sentence. It is not finished until you say what you believe. Throughout history and around the world today people believe a lot of foolishness and nonsense. And even when they believe the truth, not all truths are equally important and worthy of proclamation. This is where fundamentalists are right. There are, indeed, certain fundamental truths that form the foundation of our world view which deserve a strong defense.

Recently, however, fundamentalists have gotten a bad name partly because their attitude has been hateful and partly because their "fundamentals" have not been truly fundamental. Instead of defending the foundational truths expressed in the Apostles' Creed they have chosen to fight over the incidentals. They get more excited about the tribulation, the antichrist and the temperature of hell than about the virgin birth, resurrection and second coming of Jesus. They talk more about the communism of America than the communion of saints.

It is time for Christians to become truly fundamental, i. e., to affirm and defend the foundational facts of our faith. I believe a lot of things, but nothing more important than those truths set forth in the Apostles' Creed.

A preacher and an astronomer shared adjoining seats on an airplane. When the astronomer discovered the vocation of his companion, he said, "My view of religion is 'Do unto others as you want them do unto you.' That's all that's really important, don't you think?"

The preacher said, "My view of astronomy is, 'Twinkle, twinkle, little star.' That's all that's really important, don't you think?"

The Apostles' Creed gives us a panoramic view of the most important points of our faith.

To say, "I believe" means I know something. Paul asked, "How are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard" (Romans 10:14)? I have to hear (see or experience) something before I can believe it. "So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ" (Romans 10:17). Faith (like love) presumes a knowable object. The Psalmist said, "Teach me good judgment and knowledge, for I believe in your commandments" (Psalm 119:66).

There is a lot of sentimental nonsense pretending to be faith. A favorite song declares, "I believe for every drop of rain that falls a flower grows." Yes, and a lot of weeds too! Such faith is merely psychological gymnastics, a strong desire working on a vivid imagination. The true object of faith is not faith. The true object of faith is "God, the Father Almighty." Faith is not soft-headed romanticism but hard-headed realism. When Jesus asked Martha if she believed, she declared, "Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world" (John 11:27).

Faith is not a dam that stops the flow of reason and thought. It is a levee that keeps unreason from flooding the facts.

"Three men were walking on a wall: Faith, Feeling and Fact,
When Feeling got an awful fall and Faith was taken back;
So close was Faith to Feeling, he stumbled and fell too,
But Fact remained and pulled up Faith and Faith brought Feeling too."
(Author unknown)

To say "I believe" means I assent to something. Before I believe something I must agree to the likelihood that it is true. The Apostles' Creed states a series of verifiable facts. Jesus was born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, buried, arose on the third day, and ascended into heaven. That either happened or it didn't. If it didn't, then we might as well close all the Christian churches and go home. In that case, as Paul said, "We have nothing to preach and you have nothing to believe" (1 Corinthians 15:14 TEV). The Gospel is good news (it really happened), not just good advice or good feelings.

There are two ways to slip easily through life: to believe everything or to doubt everything. Both ways save us from thinking. "Doubts," Frederick Buechner writes, "are the ants in the pants of faith; they keep it awake and moving." (Christianity Today, Oct. 8, 1990 p. 53).

To say "I believe" means I commit to something. Factual knowledge and mental assent are important but not enough. The Apostle James reminds us that even the demons "believe and tremble" (James 2:19). Yes, even demons are believers. They have a fragmentary faith. It is a faith that includes knowledge (demons know more about God than you and I do!), and assent (they agree that what they believe is true). But the faith of demons does not go on to commitment. They don't conform their lives to the truth.

I not only believe about God. I believe in God. I trust him to do what he says and conform my life to it.

When a doctor says you have cancer, suddenly the truth of medical science becomes a reality in your body. To let someone you don't know knock you out, pick up a knife and cut you open requires the kind of faith that includes commitment. It is the same kind of faith required of those who come to Jesus. It includes factual knowledge, mental assent and personal commitment.

The world doesn't believe because it doesn't believe that believers believe. How about you? Can you say "I believe…" and stake your life to it? Until you are willing to make a commitment, you don't have faith, you merely have an opinion.

When Jesus assured the father of the demon-possessed boy that all things are possible to those who believe, he cried out, "I believe; help my unbelief!" (Mark 9:24). Can you say the same?

Previous chapter Christians.org Home Top of page Next chapter