The Essentials
What all Christians believe and why it matters
Part 1: I believe in God
What do you believe? As you saw, people believe all kinds of things-very diverse. In the midst of all this diversity, for 20 centuries, people who call themselves Christians have united around a core of essential beliefs. Of course, there has been great diversity within the Christian movement; we’ve disagreed about everything from baptism and the Lord’s Supper to predestination. But in the midst of all the diversity, there has been unity at the core about the essentials.

Many Christian traditions have quoted this famous line: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, love.”

“In essentials, unity.” What are the essentials around which all Christians unite? What are the essential beliefs that all Christians share? And why does it matter? That’s what we’re going to talk about it this new series, “The Essentials: what all Christians believe and why it matters.”

I’m going to do something I’ve never done before: a series on basic Christian doctrine based on the ancient creeds of the church (which, of course, are based on Scripture, of which I’ll use lots!). Why am I doing this?

First, we want you to know what you believe. What you believe is important.
Truth matters. I’ve said many times that Christianity is primarily about relationships: loving God and loving people. But this doesn’t mean that doctrine is unimportant (by doctrine I mean our beliefs, the ideas we accept as truth). Christianity is a doctrinal faith-it is built upon some essential beliefs. If you don’t believe them, you’re not a Christian. For example, you can’t be a Christian if you don’t believe in God. We want you to know what you believe.

What you believe is important. Truth is not up for grabs. It’s not every man for himself; believe whatever you want. As you saw earlier, people believe all kinds of things. Are all beliefs equally valid and true? Some people think so. “It doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you believe something.” That’s nonsense. Some beliefs are true, some are not.

·For example, if you believe that I am 32 years old, have a 44 inch vertical leap, can dunk with either hand, and speak 5 languages fluently, you are wrong. I wish it was true, but it’s not, and you’re wrong if you believe it.
·On the other hand, if you believe that I am 57 years old, can trip over the edge of the carpet, can dribble with either hand, and speak two languages (American and Australian-g’day mate), you are right.
Not all beliefs are equally valid. Some people believe that they’ll go to heaven if they blow up infidels. Others believe they should love their enemies. What you believe is important! So we want you to know what you believe.

Second, we want you to live what you believe. Belief determines behavior. What you believe determines how you live. If I believe it’s likely to rain or snow, I won’t ride my motorcycle, but I’ll wear my hat. In the same way, if I believe in God, I live differently than if I didn’t. In this series, I’ll show you how.

Doctrine is very practical. That’s why I subtitled this, “What every Christian believes and why it matters.” This series of talks will not be dry doctrine, a series of cerebral talks with no application to everyday life. I’ll show you how each truth we belief affects the way we live.

Third, we want you to know what’s essential and what’s not. There is a core of essential beliefs that have united Christians for 20 centuries. Christians may disagree about a lot of secondary issues, but we agree on the essentials. You may question this, since there are so many denominations, so many varieties of Christians. I’ve often said that denominations are groups of people who have all agreed to be wrong about the same things. That’s obviously tongue in cheek, but the point is that what separates us from other Christians is not the essentials, but secondary issues. When you know the essentials, you believe what millions of Christians around the world and through the centuries have believed. And you can be gracious with Christians who differ from you over non-essentials. “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, love.” What are the essentials?

The essentials are found in the great creeds of the church. The word “creed” is from the Latin credo, which is the first word of the creed in Latin and means “I believe”. A creed is a statement of faith, a summary of core beliefs. The oldest creed is the Apostles’ Creed, which dates all the way back to the second century. Although it is called the Apostles Creed, it was not written by the apostles, but is called that because it expresses the teaching of the apostles. It is the shortest of the creeds-only 110 words in English-which make it easy to memorize. Later, the Nicene Creed and the Athanasian Creed were based on the Apostles Creed, and became longer as they addressed new challenges to the faith. Longer creeds still were written in the Reformation in the 16th Century. The Apostles Creed most likely began as a baptismal formula, a series of questions which were asked of candidates for baptism.

·Do you believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth?

·Do you believe in Jesus Christ, God’s Son, our Lord?

·Do you believe Christ died on the cross and rose from the dead?

From those early questions, the creed grew into its present form by the fourth century. As I said, a creed is a summary, covering the essentials; it is not comprehensive, covering everything we believe. We believe more than what is in the creed, but not less.

Since the Apostles Creed is accepted by every branch of the Christian faith, we’re going to use it to think about The Essentials. Every Sunday, this creed is read or repeated in thousands of churches around the world. Today, we’re going to join them.

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:
Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended into hell. The third day He arose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty,
whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church, the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting. Amen.

By the way, if you look below the Creed, you’ll see some books I’ve recommended if you’d like to read more about the creed or the essentials of Christian faith. Here is the first Essential: I believe in God, the Father Almighty, the creator of heaven and earth.

 

1. I believe in God.

This is where we start: I believe in God. We start with God. This is where the Bible starts. The first words of the Bible in Genesis 1:1 are, “In the beginning, God.” Everything starts with God.

What are the options when it comes to believing in God? There are three.

Atheism, which believes there is no god. We live in a purely material universe that has always existed and doesn’t have a cause. Matter is eternal.

Pantheism, which believes everything is god. There is a universal mind or universal spirit that pervades everything.

Theism, which believes in a personal God. God is eternal and is the first cause.

Note that they are all beliefs. Not one of them can be proved. To say, “I believe there is no god,” is as much a statement of faith as to say, “I believe in God.” Atheists, pantheists and theists all take their positions as matters of faith. Atheists may try to represent their position as objective and scientific, but it is not; it is still a statement of faith. Atheism is unprovable. You cannot prove there is no God.

You might ask an atheist, “How much of all there is to know in the universe do you know?” If he’s honest, he’ll admit it is not very much-less than 1%. “Then is it possible that in the 99% you don’t know, God exists?” Again, if he’s honest, he would have to admit it’s possible.

You can’t prove atheism-it’s a faith. And you can’t prove theism, either-it’s a faith as well. But don’t be fooled by those who say you have to check your brain at the door to believe in God. Believing in God is not a “leap of faith into the dark”, and atheism a “step of rationality into the light”. They are both statements of faith, and there are brilliant people on both sides of the debate.

Ravi Zacharias wrote a book titled, Can Man Live Without God? He argues persuasively that if you believe there is no God, you lose any rational basis for morality, hope or meaning. Each person is left to construct his or her own morality, hope and meaning.

Can man live without God? Of course he can, in a physical sense. Can he live without God in a reasonable way? The answer to that is No! because such a person is compelled to deny a moral law, to abandon hope, to forfeit meaning, and to risk no recovery if he is wrong. Life just offers too much evidence to the contrary. (Pg. 61)

Think about meaning. If you believe there is no God, that the universe is eternal, and matter is all there is, then you have logically abandoned all hope of any intrinsic meaning in life. If there is no intelligence behind the universe, there is nothing that gives it direction, purpose or meaning.

How many of you have ever played “pick up sticks”? Every time you drop the sticks, they land in random, accidental patterns, like this (random sticks slide 1). You might ask, “What is the meaning of the pattern?” There is no meaning. It’s random and accidental. Same here (random sticks slide 2). Same here (random sticks slide 3). No one tries to interpret the meaning of a pile of pick up sticks.

But what if, after dropping these a billion times, one time, the sticks randomly spelled out the word, “hi” (“hi” slide). What would be the meaning of that? Nothing. It’s still just an accident-no meaning, no purpose.

Contrast that with this: what if you walked into a room and saw the pick up sticks arranged like this (“I love Laina” slide), what would you assume? That it’s not an accident! Someone arranged the sticks. Laina would assume that an intelligent being left her a message! She would find a meaning in the arrangement that had been left there by an intelligent designer.

That is the difference between a purely material universe and one with intelligence behind it. In a purely material universe, nothing has meaning; whatever is, simply is. It is not good or bad, right or wrong; these are categories that we impose on things; they are not intrinsic to the thing itself.

Stephen Jay Gould was a highly respected paleontologist, Harvard professor, and author who believed there is no God. He clearly understood and accepted that this meant life was meaningless, and that the only meaning in life is what we would make up and assign to it. After explaining that human evolution is an unrepeatable fact, that if we could wind the tape back to the dawn of time and replay it over and over, we’d never get human beings a second time, he says this:

We cannot read the meaning of life passively in the facts of nature. We must construct these answers ourselves-from our own wisdom and ethical sense. There is no other way.

In other words, in a purely material universe, you must make up the meaning of life, because there is none there.

All value judgments become purely subjective, a matter of personal opinion.

This applies not only to meaning, but to morals. If there is no God, there is no rational basis for morality. Again, what is, is. It is neither good or bad, or right or wrong. It just is.

ILL: Pantheists have the same moral dilemma. If God is everything, there are no moral categories. Everything is one; any differences are illusion. Therefore, there is no right or wrong. If I cut down a tree and make a fire, it is god acting on god. If I take an axe and chop you up, it is still god acting on god.

I had a conversation once with a student who was a pantheist. She told me that she believed in reincarnation, which is consistent with a pantheist view. If everything is one, everything is god, you could come back as anything. I asked her if her grandmother was still alive. No. “What if your grandmother has come back as the chair you’re sitting in? You may be sitting on your grandmother! Maybe you should get up and let her sit on you.”

It was ridiculous, of course, which was my point. Without moral categories, with everything mushed into oneness, there is no right or wrong, good or bad. It makes as much sense for the chair to sit on the girl as vice versa.

My point: What you believe matters. When it comes to God, you have three choices: atheism, pantheism or theism. What you believe matters

I believe in God. That is the starting point. “In the beginning, God.” God is, and that single fact makes sense of everything else.

Because God is, life has meaning.
Because God is, there are moral standards, right and wrong.
Because God is, there is hope beyond death.

But what kind of God is He?

 

2. The Father Almighty.

When we say “I believe in God”, we mean someone specific: not a god we have made up, but the God who revealed Himself in Jesus Christ, the God of the Bible, the Father Almighty.

God is Almighty-this expresses His power. The word “almighty” is used 345 times in the Bible, always of God. From cover to cover, from Genesis to Revelation, God is revealed as the Almighty one.

Genesis 17:1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless.”

Revelation 21:22 I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.

Only God is almighty, all-powerful, omnipotent. He can do anything. He can do whatever He wants. Nothing is too hard for Him.

“Almighty” means that God is running the universe. Not fate, not chance, not accident-but God. God has a purpose, God has a plan, and God has the power to make that come to pass. We’re not living in an accidental world that is going nowhere; we’re living in a world that was created and is run by Almighty God.

God is the Father-this expresses His care for us. The Bible describes God as the Father in three different ways.

First, God is the Father of His Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus often spoke of the unique relationship He had with God.

Matthew 11:27 “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

When Jesus called God His Father, He clearly meant something more than that God had created Him. He was claiming to be God’s unique Son, therefore, deity; this is why the Jews wanted to kill him.

John 10:30-33 “I and the Father are one.”

31 Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him, 32 but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?”

33 “We are not stoning you for any of these,” replied the Jews, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.”

All through the New Testament, God is called “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” For example, I’ve listed four “1:3” references. Here’s the first one:

2 Corinthians 1:3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort,

God is the Father of Jesus. Here, we enter the mystery of the Trinity, one God revealed in three persons. The Apostles Creed is Trinitarian. “I believe in God the Father…and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord…and in the Holy Spirit.” We’ll talk more about this in weeks to come, but for now, I want you to know that when we speak of God the Father, this refers to His unique relationship with Jesus.

Second, God is the Father of everyone in the sense that He created or “fathered” them.

Malachi 2:10 Have we not all one Father? Did not one God create us?

Acts 17:28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

This is the universal fatherhood of God and the universal brotherhood of man based on God’s creation.

Third, God is the Father of everyone who believes in Jesus. When you believe in God and receive Jesus, you become God’s child spiritually. You already are God’s child physically, by virtue of creation. Now you are God’s child spiritually, by virtue of faith.

John 1:12 Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God-

In the New Testament, this is how God the Father is most often used: to describe His relationship with those who believe. Paul describes this in

Romans 8:15-16 For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.

What difference does this make? This Almighty God is my Father. He cares for me. He loves me. I think of my own children-I would do anything for them, give anything to them. And my love for them is a dim reflection of God the Father’s love for me…for you.

Matthew 7:9-11 “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

Jesus said, “If you fathers would give good things to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father!” Pray with confidence-you are talking with your Father who loves you more than you can imagine.

In his book, Connecting, Larry Crabb tells this story:

A friend of mine was raised in an angry family. Mealtimes were either silent or sarcastically noisy. Down the street was an old-fashioned house with a big porch where a happy family lived. My friend told me that when he was about ten, he began excusing himself from his dinner table as soon as he could without being yelled at, and walking to the old-fashioned house down the street. If he arrived during dinnertime, he would crawl under the porch and just sit there, listening to the sounds of laughter.

When he told me this story, I asked him to imagine what it would have been like if the father in the house somehow knew he was huddled beneath the porch and sent his son to invite him in. I asked him to envision what it would have meant to him to accept the invitation, to sit at the table, to accidentally spill his glass of water, and hear the father laugh and say, “Get him more water! And a dry shirt! I want him to enjoy the meal!”

Crabb goes on to say, “We need to hear the Father laugh. Change depends on experiencing the character of God.”

God is our Father; He loves us. You need to know that, and hear your Father laugh. What you believe matters. I believe in God the Father Almighty.

 

3. The Creator of heaven and earth.

This phrase comes directly from the first verse in the Bible.

Genesis 1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

We believe that God created, that the universe had a personal beginning, that everything started with God, not matter. And I’ve already talked about why that matters in terms of meaning and morals and hope.

This idea of God creating the heavens and earth matters for another big reason: we are responsible to care for the earth.

Genesis 2:15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.

Our first assignment after creation was to care for the earth. Because of what we believe, Christians ought to be leading the way in environmental concerns, or creation care. It was the first task given to us by God. We have far better reasons for caring for the earth than those who believe that this is all accidental and meaningless.

Psalm 24:1 The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it;

The earth is the Lord’s. There’s a hymn we sing: “This is my Father’s world.” The planet is not ours to plunder and do with as we wish. This is God’s world. We are only stewards, managers, who are taking care of it for Him.

Have you seen the movie, “WALL-E”? We just watched it Friday night. It’s a fun show. Humans, led by the “Buy n’ Large” corporation, have consumed the world’s resources and turned it into an uninhabitable garbage dump. They evacuate the planet to live in space while an army of waste disposal robots called WALL-E (Waste Allocation Load Lifters Earth-Class) clean up the planet. For the next 700 years, humans live in space while all the WALL-Es break down except for one. In the year 2805, WALL-E discovers plant life. EVE (Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator) is a robot probe sent by the humans to look for life on earth, and she takes WALL-E’s plant back to the space station. In one telling scene, the space station captain is watering the wilted plant and says, “There you go little guy; you came a long way for a drink of water. You just needed someone to look after you, that’s all.” Then he looks at a globe on his desk, and the connection is obvious. They have to go back and care for the earth.

This is God’s world; He made it and gave it to us to look after it. We need to be reducing our consumption and waste; recycling and reusing whenever possible. We’ll post some ideas on our website, and next weekend, we’ll have some ideas on the back of your outline. Start taking care of God’s world.

What you believe makes a difference. I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.