Does It Make a Difference?
Does it make a difference what one believes? I think we would all agree that it does make a difference in certain situations. For instance, a man in Michigan believed he was shooting a coyote, but it was actually a woman’s dog. He was arrested and charged with careless discharge of a firearm and property damage over $50. A man in New York believed he was shooting a deer, but it was actually a hunter. He was arrested and charged with second-degree murder. A cop in Florida believed he was arresting a teenager who had sexually-assaulted a young girl, but he was actually a different teenager with the same name. The boy spent 35 days in jail as a result. In situations like these, it obviously makes a difference what one believes.
Now let’s get more specific. Does it make a difference what one believes in religious matters? Many people today have embraced the idea that as long as you “accept Jesus” it does not matter what you believe otherwise. You may believe in tongue speaking, Sabbath keeping, baby sprinkling, incense burning, relic bowing, gay marrying, dead raising or whatever you want. It doesn’t make a difference. You can “join the church of your choice” and take the path to heaven that best suits you. Max Lucado put it like this:
"Well, the best I can figure it, the situation looks something like this. God has enlisted us into His navy. We have been called to serve on a ship... There are those aboard this ship who say once you get on it, you’re never able to get off no matter what you do. And then there are others — equally serious students — who say to get off would be foolish and fatal, but the choice is always yours. There are those, I have noticed, on this ship who say you are here out of no choice of your own, you were predestined to be a sailor; not everyone was, but you were. And then there are those who say, no, God is a God of choice and He would only leave that choice with us. There are those who say that before this ship docks, there will be a great and mighty tribulation. There are those who say, yes, there will be a great and mighty tribulation, but that will come after this ship safely reaches the shore. And, oh, how we tend to cluster. And then there is the matter of the weekly meeting in which we gather to read the words of the Captain and give thanks to Him. We all agree that it is necessary, but that’s about the extent of our agreement. There are those who say it should be solemn; there are those who say it should be spontaneous. There are those who say certain genders should be quiet; there are those who say certain genders should be loud. There are those who say we should play the trumpet and then there are those who say, no, my voice is simply trumpet enough. And, oh, how we tend to cluster” (Max Lucado, 1995 Pepperdine University Bible Lectures, quoted from Piloting the Strait, pp. 318-320).
Notice how Lucado includes all the different denominational groups on this ship. It does not matter to him if you are a Calvinist, Premillennialist, or Pentecostal. He readily accepts women preachers and instrumental music too. Obviously, Lucado does not think it makes a difference what one believes in religious matters. And so it is with many others.
What Does the Bible Say?
The Bible says that what one believes does make a difference in religious matters. We must “believe the truth” (2 Thessalonians 2:12; also 1 Timothy 4:3). We are also warned that those who do not abide in the truth “do not have God” (2 John 9). How then can anyone say that it doesn’t matter what one believes?
In Ephesians 4, Paul listed the “seven ones” of Christian unity. Among them was “one faith” (v. 5). That means there is only one system of beliefs or body of truth that is right in the sight of God. If that is true, then it makes a difference what one believes.
If it makes no difference what one believes in religious matters, why did Paul emphasize the need for “soundness” so much? He spoke of “sound words” (2 Timothy 1:13), “sound teaching” (2 Timothy 4:3), “sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1), “sound in faith” (Titus 2:2) etc. The Greek word for “sound” is hygianousei, from which we get our English word “hygiene.” It means to be of good health. It is used by Paul in reference to that which is correct or true. Obviously, he believed that “doctrinal matters matter!”
I am reminded of the story of the young prophet in 1 Kings 13. He was commanded by God to go and prophesy against King Jeroboam’s altar, which he did admirably. However, on his way home an older prophet deceived him into believing a lie and he perished.
“Now an old prophet lived in Bethel. And his sons came and told him all that the man of God had done that day in Bethel. They also told to their father the words that he had spoken to the king. And their father said to them, ‘Which way did he go?’ And his sons showed him the way that the man of God who came from Judah had gone. And he said to his sons, ‘Saddle the donkey for me.’ So they saddled the donkey for him and he mounted it. And he went after the man of God and found him sitting under an oak. And he said to him, ‘Are you the man of God who came from Judah?’ And he said, ‘I am.’ Then he said to him, ‘Come home with me and eat bread.’ And he said, ‘I may not return with you, or go in with you, neither will I eat bread nor drink water with you in this place, for it was said to me by the word of the Lord, You shall neither eat bread nor drink water there, nor return by the way that you came.’ And he said to him, ‘I also am a prophet as you are, and an angel spoke to me by the word of the Lord, saying, Bring him back with you into your house that he may eat bread and drink water.’ But he lied to him. So he went back with him and ate bread in his house and drank water. And as they sat at the table, the word of the Lord came to the prophet who had brought him back. And he cried to the man of God who came from Judah, ‘Thus says the Lord, Because you have disobeyed the word of the Lord and have not kept the command that the Lord your God commanded you, but have come back and have eaten bread and drunk water in the place of which he said to you, Eat no bread and drink no water, your body shall not come to the tomb of your fathers.’ And after he had eaten bread and drunk, he saddled the donkey for the prophet whom he had brought back. And as he went away a lion met him on the road and killed him. And his body was thrown in the road, and the donkey stood beside it; the lion also stood beside the body. And behold, men passed by and saw the body thrown in the road and the lion standing by the body. And they came and told it in the city where the old prophet lived” (vv. 11-25).
Notice that the young prophet believed a lie. He believed that an angel brought new revelation to the older prophet allowing him to do what God had forbidden. Did that make any difference? Undoubtedly it did! He was killed by a lion as he made his way home. This story should forever silence those who say that it doesn’t matter what you believe.
If it makes no difference what one believes in religious matters, why spend time studying the Bible or discussing it with others? Those things become useless activities. Why worry yourself with learning about first century precepts if twenty-first century preferences will suffice?
Jesus and the inspired writers taught that there is an objective standard by which we shall be judged (John 12:48; Romans 2:16; James 2:12). We must comply with that standard to be saved. Hence, it does make a difference what we believe!