February 24, 2002: You Are What You Believe

Let us pray: Dear Savior, a clean conscience is a worry-free conscience. And a life without worry is pure joy. Today we thank You for giving us such a life through Your forgiveness for all of our sins. May we appreciate Your gift of inner peace and live in such a way as to always take full advantage of it-for Your glory and for our own joy. Amen

TEXT: Ephesians 5: 8-14

Fellow Redeemed Sinners:
One of my mother’s favorite expressions is: “You are what you eat.” I suppose all loving mothers tell their kids similar things. But, it’s true. If you eat good, nutritious food which is low in fat and rich in vitamins and minerals your body will reflect it through better health. Whereas if you eat a ton of junk food, pig out on a high fat diet, and guzzle a lot of empty calories in sodas and the like, you’ll probably get to know both your doctor and dentist rather well.

The medical profession preaches long and hard about the connection between food and physical health. We preachers also need to point out the connection between what you believe and your spiritual health. And since today’s text does just that, I want to talk to you about this truth:

You Are What You Believe…

When I moved to Massachusetts almost 15 years ago, one of the things that really struck me was the seeming disconnect among people concerning what they actually believed and their church membership. All of us know scads of Roman Catholics who don’t agree with the Pope, don’t like their church’s stance on clergy celibacy, chaff under the Roman views about divorce and annulment, and definitely hate (and that’s not too strong a word) the Catholic church’s guilt motivation. And yet, they still call themselves Roman Catholics. They still would never dream of going anywhere else. And the result is: they just plain don’t go to church at all. If you ask them “Why?” They will give a mumbled answer about being unable to deny their Roman Catholic heritage. My question to this has always been: “Isn’t church membership dependent upon what you believe, not upon where you were born or where your parents hauled you to church?” You Are What You Believe. And if you believe differently than your church teaches then you should go somewhere else, shouldn’t you? Isn’t that just being honest? And isn’t honesty one of the basic tenets of Christianity?

Just this week the “Boston Globe” had an article on the front page about religious problems in Israel among the Jews. The Israeli Supreme Court ruled on a 9 to 2 vote that the “state and its official religious authorities could no longer block registration of a person as a Jew if that person had a Reform or Conservative conversion certificate.” Basically, up til now the Orthodox strain of Judaism held the power over this issue. But now the liberal strains of Judaism have gained legitimacy. Of the 5 branches of the Jewish religion which openly disagree with each other on their beliefs, anything now goes. Any viewpoint is acceptable. That’s what the Israeli court has ruled.

In the same edition of the “Globe” there was a story about a Mormon fellow who is gay. His religion says homosexuality is wrong. And gay folks have been told they are not welcome in Mormonism. Up til now most have simply left. In that they were honest, since their beliefs and lifestyle were at odds with their church body. But this fellow is staying and trying to change their stance. Why? Because to him genealogy, his family tree, overrides accepted beliefs.

Well, what does all of this have to do with us? Plenty. Biblical Christianity, the only kind there is, clearly teaches that You Are What You Believe. Genealogy doesn’t make a Christian. That is, just because your parents were Lutheran doesn’t automatically mean that you’re a Lutheran, too. Likewise, tradition doesn’t make a Christian, either. That is, just because you cling to emotionally charged human traditions about what’s Godly and what’s not doesn’t make you a child of God. Also, good works, or trying to live an outwardly moral life, doesn’t automatically insure you a place in heaven, either. I point this out because there is a whole lot of muddled thinking on these matters.

Paul’s whole point in this section of Romans is that Abraham, the Father of the Jewish nation, the one they revered above all others, Abraham wasn’t a Jew by mere birth. He didn’t become an heir of God’s promises just because he agreed to undergo circumcision. No, first came faith. “Abraham believed God and it was credited it to him as righteousness.” God-given faith made him special. Faith is what separated him from the masses. Human emotions, human traditions, human genealogy, human deeds-none of that cuts it with God. The only thing that saves is faith in Jesus Christ. Yes, You Are What You Believe!


Paul says, “It was not through law (human attempts at a moral lifestyle) that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, (that the Messiah would come through his lineage) but through the righteousness that comes by faith. For if those who live by law are heirs, faith has no value and the promise is worthless, because the law brings wrath. (Think here of the anger and frustration caused by Roman Catholic guilt which tells you you’re saved only through what you do, or don’t do, in life). But, the promise comes by faith so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring-not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed-the God who gives life to the dead.”

Paul here says that faith makes a person a Christian. And God’s gift of saving faith extends to all regardless of their background or lineage. Abraham’s offspring include those Jews who accept Christ and believe in Him and those non-Jews like us who also believe in Him. In other words, Christianity is about what you believe and Who you believe in, which is Christ and His Word of truth.

If you break faith down to its component parts, they include: knowledge (who is Christ and what did He do to save me), trust (confidence that His victory on the cross was really my victory because He is my substitute), and assent, or the personal nature of faith. In other words, your head and heart are joined in perfect unity in the Savior.

So, if you are what you believe, then just what do you believe? If you trust in Jesus, confess the Trinity, agree that the commandments are not mere suggestions, cling to the reality of forgiveness in baptism, absolution and the Holy Supper; if you believe such things and try out of love for Jesus to follow such truths then you’re a Christian. And then you’re also a good Lutheran! But if you reject such truths, be honest and admit it. And then go some place where you can find unity. For to do otherwise is to live a lie. But, before you take that step examine the Bible. See whether or not your argument is really with God or with man. Or as Paul says elsewhere, “Be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” You are what you believe. So, just make sure that your beliefs rest solely on Christ and His Word of truth. Your eternal welfare depends on it. And if you engage in such a rigorous pursuit of Godly truth, I have no fear that you’ll be back here next Sunday! Amen