Practicing Discernment: The Structure of Beliefs


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As a maturing Christian you need to learn how to think critically about the things you are taught. A good way to do this is to view a new teaching about God as the top level in a house of cards. Now houses of cards are fragile things, and the cards on top are totally dependent on the cards beneath them. Pull out any card lower down, and the top story will collapse. It’s the same with many doctrines about God: before we can arrive at a certain conclusion, we must first accept many other things as true. If any of our underlying assumptions about God are proven false, then the final conclusion is proven false as well.

When you do not think critically about what you’re being taught, you readily accept that top layer of beliefs. And because that top layer is dependent on many other beliefs to support it, you end up swallowing a whole set of beliefs about God the moment you accept one new thing as true. Because they don’t realize how beliefs about God build upon each other, Christians often don’t understand why some new teaching about God makes them suddenly feel beat down and depressed. Because they are so focused on the top layer of the house, they don’t see all the other wrong beliefs that are supporting that conclusion. This is why it is so important to pay attention to the effect a new teaching has on your soul. Anything that makes you feel beat down, hopeless, and despaired in your relationship with God is a lie. When your soul feels oppressed, fearful, and disturbed by some new “revelation” about God, it’s because your soul is reacting to some very wrong beliefs that are propping that revelation up.

When dissecting a teaching about God, what you need to do is backtrack. You start with the conclusion you’re being told, then you ask “What else must be true about God before this conclusion can be drawn?” For example, many Christians are taught that suicide is an unpardonable sin. Yet before we can say this is true, we must accept the following:

  • Jesus did not atone for all of our sins on the cross.
  • God did not forgive all of our sins when we became saved.
  • Salvation is dependent on our ability to resist certain temptations.

These are all lies, and each one is enough to drag you down into the depths of despair. Put them all together and you’ll really be in a mess. But here’s where Satan is very crafty, for by discouraging you from thinking, he keeps you from realizing how many damaging beliefs you are accepting about God. At first you are comfortable believing that suicide is an unpardonable sin because you feel miles away from that particular temptation. You think this is a harmless belief, and yet it is very harmful because of all the other beliefs it is built upon. As time goes on, it is those other beliefs that will start eating away at your security in your relationship with God. You don’t need to ever become personally suicidal for wrong teaching about suicide to do major damage to your theology. As soon as you accept that you must keep your salvation through works and that Jesus’ atonement for you was incomplete, you are riding in a car that is speeding towards a brick wall: it’s only a matter of time until a crisis occurs.

Because Satan knows how powerful underlying beliefs are, he works hard to slip as many lies past you as he can. A great way to do this is to make that top layer of the card house sound very pleasing to your ego. Let’s look at the theory that we can bribe God through tithes and offerings. This is a teaching which is very attractive to our egos because we all long for more control than we have. Yet when we start examining the structure of beliefs that makes this conclusion about God possible, we realize that before God can be manipulated by us, the following must also be true:

  • God has needs which only humans can satisfy.
  • God is dependent on the things He creates.
  • God is a limited Being.
  • God cannot resist certain temptations.
  • God takes orders from fallen human beings.
  • God responds to our actions, not our motivations.
  • God is blind to our true motivations.
  • God is as stupid and gullible as we are.

All of these things must be true of God before He is going to be impressed by you dropping a hefty check into the offering plate. And once you believe that your God is dependent on you, how confident are you going to be that He can really handle your problems in life? If you believe that God is too blind to see how rotten your heart attitude is, how confident are you going to be that He really knows and understands you? You can’t have it both ways. If God’s desire for you is based on need, then clearly He will lose interest in you the moment you stop schmoozing Him. Now we’re back to your relationship with God depending on your good behavior. And how can you honestly respect a God who you believe you can manipulate as effectively as you can another human being? Do you think you’ll ever revere God properly if you really believe He’s a gullible dope? Of course you won’t. When you get to Heaven, how is the real God going to react to the fact that you spent your life believing He was a codependent idiot who revolved around you? Not very well. The choices we make on this earth will have very real eternal consequences. While Satan urges us to believe we can decide for God who He is and how He operates, the reality is that we can’t. God is who He is. He defines reality, not us, and His is the standard that we will all be judged by.

There are certain basic truths about God which the Holy Spirit will confirm to you. Once those basic truths have been established, many conclusions become impossible to draw. For example, God is all-knowing—this is a basic truth about who He is which the Holy Spirit teaches us. And since God is all-knowing, we know that we are being lied to when we are taught that there are certain conditions in which God is unable to hear our prayers.

Be on your guard against teachings which try to define some limit to God’s abilities. “God could never contradict Himself. God can’t go against the Bible. God can’t hear prayers that aren’t prayed in faith. God can’t get the Gospel out without our help. God can’t save someone who doesn’t want to be saved. God can’t override our free will. Jesus can’t return until we evangelize the whole world.” Rubbish. One of the core truths that the Holy Spirit teaches us about our Creators is that They are unlimited Beings who can do whatever They want whenever They want. They depend on no one. Once we accept God’s list of basic truths, we are steered away from many false teachings about Him.

The next time you’re reading or listening to some kind of teaching about God, ask yourself, “What assumptions about God is this teaching making?” Many of the statements you hear about God are just the top layer of the structure, and before you accept them, you must examine the entire structure for lies. Other teachings are like the bottom layer of the card house: they are core truths about God. Once you accept a false core belief about God, you become much easier prey for false shepherds, who will then come along and build all kinds of logical layers onto that false belief. It is vital that we get our core beliefs right and the ONLY One who we can turn to for help with this is God Himself. Only God can build you a firm foundation of true core beliefs about Him, and once that foundation is established, you can easily identify wrong teaching by asking “Does this align with what I already know is true about God?”

The vast array of denominations that we find in the Christian Church today is a result of Christians disagreeing about their core beliefs about God. Core beliefs control final conclusions, so as soon as there is a difference in core beliefs, Christians find themselves veering off in very different directions about who God is and how He interacts with us. For you, the goal is not to find the one denomination that puts out perfect teaching, because there isn’t one. You do not have to accept someone else’s package of truth and lies. As a Christian, you have God dwelling right inside of you. Ask Him to give you wisdom about who He is and what He wants from you. Then stand on what He tells you and reject any teaching which He tells you to reject.

Spiritual maturity is a process, and God isn’t going to download a complete database of truth about Him into your brain all at once. He is going to teach you in stages, slowly showing which of your previous beliefs about Him need correcting. But as long as you are relying on HIM and not created beings, you will be moving in the right direction. Beware of teachers who try to downplay your personal connection to God by insisting that you need them to interpret God’s will and truth for you. You don’t NEED anyone but God, and any teacher who encourages you to view them as indispensable is only out to harm you. The job of human shepherds is to drive each lamb in the flock back to the true Shepherd of the flock, which is God. You should never be driven towards substitutes for God—be it the Bible or other human beings. If you are going to thrive, you must learn to rely on God directly, and He will teach you how to do this if you are willing to be taught. With God as your Teacher, you do not have to worry about going astray because He will keep you on course. But when you are relying on fallen humans instead of God, there is no security at all, only the constant fear that they will lead you over a cliff.

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