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Are You Sure You Believe what the Bible Says?


Introduction

Several years ago, God showed me something that shocked me and challenged all of my Christian beliefs and theology. Perhaps it will have a similar effect on you!


The Jigsaw Puzzle Illustration

Notice that if we pick any topic in the Bible, there are Scripture passages scattered throughout the Old or New Testaments which teach us something about that topic.

For the sake of example, let's pick a nice, controversial topic such as the baptism of the Holy Spirit (because there are lots of different viewpoints about this subject). I'm not going to describe my own personal views about this subject, I just wanted to choose a sample topic for the sake of discussion.

Now, there are seven New Testament passages which contain some variation of the phrase "baptized with the Holy Spirit":
"I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire." (Matthew 3:11)

"I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." (Mark 1:8)

"John answered them all, "I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire."" (Luke 3:16)

"I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, 'The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.'" (John 1:33)

"For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit." (Acts 1:5)

"Then I remembered what the Lord had said: 'John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.'" (Acts 11:16)

"For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body--whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free--and we were all given the one Spirit to drink." (1 Corinthians 12:13)
On the topic of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, these passages are all pieces of the puzzle, so to speak, and there are a number of other pieces of the puzzle on this topic scattered throughout the New Testament.

Now, imagine that you are working on a jigsaw puzzle but you don't know what the finished picture will look like. When you put together two or three puzzle pieces, is it reasonable to assume that you are seeing the whole picture? Obviously not.

Notice that in order to see the full picture of a jigsaw puzzle, you need to use all of the puzzle pieces and you need to fit them all together properly.

In a similar way, if we really want to understand what God says about the baptism of the Holy Spirit (or any other doctrine), then we should go through the entire New Testament to find as many of the "puzzle pieces" as possible which relate to the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Then we need to study them, pray about them, and ask God to help us fit them all together properly. If we have never gone through this process for any Christian doctrines, then maybe we don't have an accurate understanding of those doctrines. Therefore, some of our Christian views might be completely wrong!

Consider that nobody is perfect, and nobody has perfect beliefs. This means that somewhere along the way you picked up some beliefs that are just plain wrong, and some of your ideas about God and Christianity are wrong. This is true for all of us, because none of us will ever be perfect this side of heaven. But that's kind of an unsettling thought, isn't it? After all, if it's pretty much guaranteed that some of our Christian views are wrong, then how do we know which views are wrong?

If we honestly want to discover the truth, it's helpful to start with a clean slate by pretending that we don't know anything about the topic that we are studying. This will help us look beyond our preconceived biases and "filters." It's important to be as prayerful, honest, thorough, and objective as possible, and it's important to be willing to believe whichever view has the greatest weight of evidence in Scripture.


Search for the Greatest Weight of Evidence in the Bible

Why should we search for the greatest weight of evidence in Scripture for each of our doctrines and beliefs? The reason is because it is very easy to use the Bible to support any doctrine, no matter how bizarre that doctrine might be, simply by using several well-chosen Scripture passages.

For example, imagine that I want to live the "eat, drink, and be merry" lifestyle. Notice that I could make an argument that this lifestyle is Scriptural:
Luke 12:19: "Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry."

1 Corinthians 15:32: "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die."

Matthew 11:19: "The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and "sinners." '"
By taking Scripture passages out of context, I can fit several verses together and argue that being a glutton and a drunkard is Scriptural. This is obviously a false doctrine, yet I have some passages (above) which seem to support the view that this lifestyle is Scriptural. In a similar way, the Bible can be used to support almost any set of beliefs, no matter how bizarre they might be, if we are not honestly looking for God's truth.

In the above example I have purposely misused Scripture to make it fit a particular viewpoint (for the sake of illustration), yet sometimes we unknowingly misuse Scripture and form erroneous doctrines by focusing on just two or three Scripture passages instead of trying to find the full picture in the Bible.

So think about this for a moment. Is it reasonable to claim that we are honestly looking for God's truth if we have never done a prayerful and thorough and objective search for the greatest weight of Scriptural evidence for a particular doctrine?

The point here is that we need to find the full picture that God has given us instead of relying on an incomplete (and therefore inaccurate) understanding of Christian doctrines.

I sometimes carry special business cards with me so that I can illustrate this idea for people. The business cards have a picture of four jigsaw puzzle pieces, and I point out to people that these puzzle pieces clearly form a picture of a giraffe. Then I ask, "What will the completed picture look like after all of the puzzle pieces are in their proper places. Is it a scene of Africa? Is it the San Diego Zoo? Is it Noah's Ark?" Now the light starts to come on and they can see that several puzzle pieces don't indicate what the full picture is going to be.

The same is true with the Bible. In order to find out which view of a doctrine has the strongest Scriptural support, it's important to do our best to see the full picture of that doctrine in the Bible.

Now, people sometimes say that we should not treat the Bible as a jigsaw puzzle. If you look closely, however, you'll find that they are referring to "proof-texting," which is when we try to find Scripture passages that fit our own picture of a doctrine. My illustration of the "eat, drink, and be merry" lifestyle (above) is an example of proof-texting because I gathered together several passages which seem to support an argument that I wanted to make. As I showed in that illustration, proof-texting is not a valid way to find God's truth. Rather than starting with a preconceived view of a doctrine and then trying to prove that view in Scripture (i.e. proof-texting), we should instead set aside our own views so that we can study a doctrine with a clean slate. Then we should prayerfully and thoroughly and objectively search for all pieces of information throughout the Bible (or at least throughout the New Testament) which relate in any way to the doctrine that we are studying. By using good principles of Bible interpretation (examining the context of a passage, etc.) as we study all of these pieces of information, trying to be honest in the way that we treat each passage, then we are likely to be more accurate in the conclusions that we form.


Are You Sure You Believe what the Bible Says?

Using the baptism of the Holy Spirit as our example, it is probably safe to say that many Christians have some view or opinion about this doctrine. For example, some people believe that it happens automatically for every Christian at the moment of salvation. Other people believe that it's a second experience of the Holy Spirit which we can ask for after we receive salvation. Some people believe that speaking in tongues is the outward evidence that a person has been baptized with the Holy Spirit, while other people believe that speaking in tongues has nothing to do with it.

In reality, there is only one view which is accurate, right? Only God's view is the correct view. Fortunately, God wrote down His view in a Book so that we can know what to believe.

But if God's view is written in the Bible for everyone to see, then why do Christians have so many contradictory views about the baptism of the Holy Spirit (or any other doctrine)? As we have seen, one reason is because most Christians have never honestly and prayerfully tried to find all of the "puzzle pieces" in Scripture for this doctrine and then tried to fit all of the pieces together properly.

To illustrate this, imagine three blindfolded men who have never seen an elephant. One man feels the elephant's leg and confidently states, "An elephant is tall and stout like a tree trunk." Another man feels the elephant's trunk and declares, "No, you are completely wrong. An elephant is long and flexible like a large snake." The third man feels one of the elephant's tusks and says, "You are both wrong. An elephant is solid and curved, and it ends in a sharp point."

Notice that each man is basing his belief on accurate information, but each man's belief is based on incomplete information. Each man is totally convinced that he is right and the others are wrong. But when those three men remove their blindfolds then they will be able to see the elephant in full view, and they will instantly realize how shallow and inaccurate their original opinions were.

Do you see how this analogy relates to the way that we study the Bible? It's important to try to get the full picture in Scripture concerning our Christian beliefs and doctrines, because otherwise we might form wrong conclusions just like the blindfolded men formed wrong conclusions about the elephant. Our Christian beliefs might be based on accurate information (from the Bible), but our beliefs might be totally wrong if they are based on incomplete information (just like what happened with the blindfolded men and the elephant).

It's uncomfortable to realize that our Christian beliefs tend to be based on incomplete information (and therefore they might be wrong), but years ago God showed me something even more unsettling. He showed me that just like most Christians, I had definite opinions on various Christian doctrines. However, even though I believed that the Bible is true, I had never taken the time to fully discover what the Bible says about all of these doctrines.

God showed me that I did not believe what the Bible says!

In other words, how could I say that I believed what the Bible says on a certain subject if I didn't know what the Bible says about that subject? Think about it for a moment and you'll see the truth in that. I believe that when you really grasp this, it will challenge you to re-examine many of your Christian doctrines, just as it did for me.

Here's another way to look at it: Do you believe what George O'Connery said about the baptism of the Holy Spirit? Consider this question for a moment before you read on.

Now, when I asked that question, did you find yourself thinking something like, "I don't know who George O'Connery is. How can I believe what he said if I don't know what he said?"?

You see, if we don't know what someone said then we can't say that we believe what he said, right?

So, are you sure that you believe what the Bible says about various doctrines? Not if you don't know the full picture of what it says about those doctrines! Kind of an unsettling thought, isn't it?

By the way, "George O'Connery" is a name that I made up for the purpose of the above illustration.

Here's another illustration. Imagine that a friend of ours has the same view of the baptism of the Holy Spirit that we have. Then our friend decides to do an honest, prayerful, thorough, unbiased study of every "puzzle piece" in the New Testament concerning the baptism of the Holy Spirit, which we have never done. As a result, our friend now believes something entirely different than what we believe. So who is more likely to be right? Our friend is trying to see the full picture of what God says in the Bible about that doctrine, but we haven't tried to do that yet (in this illustration). Therefore, we are simply hanging on to the view that we have absorbed from other people. But have any of those other people ever done a prayerful, unbiased study of the full picture of that doctrine in Scripture? Probably not, right? So our belief concerning this doctrine is based on what we have absorbed from other people who have never really studied these things out. The people that we absorbed our view from, most of them simply absorbed their views from other people who have never really studied these things out!

Now do you see why I said that when God showed me these things, it shocked me to the core and challenged all of my Christian beliefs? Has the same thing happened to you yet?

Suddenly I realized that I had no idea if any of my beliefs were accurate or Scriptural, because I had never honestly looked for the greatest weight of evidence concerning each of my beliefs. That's quite an unsettling feeling. Therefore, I began studying Scripture in a completely new way, picking a doctrine and then prayerfully trying to find and fit together all of the "puzzle pieces" concerning that doctrine (taking into account the context, the historical situations, etc.), and I ended up casting many of my pet beliefs onto the trash heap. I discovered that Scripture really did not agree with many of my pet beliefs, and I decided that I wanted God's truths, not my own preconceived biases and reasonings and opinions.

If you want to study the Bible thoroughly in order to find God's truths (and not just rely on your own preconceived biases and reasonings and opinions) then you might take a look at my article called How Do You Study the Bible?. It contains a number of suggestions, ideas, reference books, websites, software, etc., to help you study the Bible more thoroughly.


Conclusion

I was always taught that prophecy, speaking in tongues, laying hands on the sick, and so on, "died out" in the first century. I was always taught that the baptism of the Holy Spirit happens automatically for every Christian at the moment of salvation. I was always taught that infant baptism and baptism by sprinkling are both valid forms of water baptism. I used my human reasoning abilities and assumed that the six days of Creation were really six eons of time. I had strong doctrinal biases towards those views.

However, when I made the effort to find out what God really says about those things, I discovered to my shock that the greatest weight of evidence in Scripture does not support those views. That's my own personal belief, and here are some articles which document the reasons for my conclusions about those doctrines:

  1. The Baptism of the Holy Spirit
  2. Praying in the Spirit Involves Speaking in Tongues
  3. Is Baptism Required for Salvation?
  4. Healing Training Course
  5. Every Example of Healing in the New Testament
  6. The Biblical Evidence Against the Theories of Evolution
Keep in mind that it doesn't matter what your parents believe. It doesn't matter what your friends believe. It doesn't matter what your church believes. It doesn't matter what anyone else believes. You are going to be judged on what you believe, because your beliefs influence your words and your actions.

Are you sure that you believe what the Bible says?

Are you sure that you know what the Bible says?

Are you willing to search for the greatest weight of Scriptural evidence for the various Christian doctrines, no matter where your search leads, even if it leads you to the conclusion that some of your pet beliefs are false?

Again, for some suggestions, ideas, reference books, websites, software, etc., to help you study the Bible more thoroughly, I invite you to see my article called How Do You Study the Bible?.


All for Your glory, Lord Jesus!
 
 
 
  Modification History  
 
 

  • 06/30/2009 - Shortened the article.
  • 07/31/2008 - Renamed this article.
  • 12/19/2005 - Modified some of the wording, added a description of a "giraffe" jigsaw puzzle bookmark that I sometimes use to illustrate the concepts in this article, and added another link to my article called "Bible Study Ideas."
  • 08/21/2002 - Added a link to my article called "Bible Study Ideas."
  • 06/26/2000 - Modified some of the wording.