“THE AUTHORITY TO TRY TO CHANGE PEOPLE’S BELIEFS”
1. “What right do we have to try to change other people’s beliefs?” That was the question posed to me as I was listening to a young lady in my office last Sunday morning. She has a friend that she expressed concern for who practices another religion. She wondered if she had a right to change her friend’s beliefs.
2. My immediate response was to point out to her that people do what they can to change other people’s beliefs all the time. Every time a teacher instructs a youngster that four plus four equals eight instead of nine that teacher has changed a student’s beliefs. Every time a person imparts factual information to anyone who had previously been ignorant or misinformed another’s beliefs have been changed.
3. No one thinks that it is immoral for a politician to seek to change people’s beliefs concerning who they think is the best candidate for office, do they? I have not yet heard that the Los Angeles mayor is being challenged with wrongdoing for trying to change voters’ minds in the upcoming election. Have you?
4. Some fellow believes that Pasteurized milk is safer and healthier for his youngster to drink than raw whole milk. Would anyone be thought of as evil for trying to change his beliefs about milk, so that he comes to believe goat milk is better for his kid? Of course not.
5. You see, no one objects to attempts that are made to change other people’s beliefs . . . unless they are attempts to change other people’s religious beliefs. When you get involved in trying to change people’s religious beliefs . . . then you will find people challenging you and demanding by what right you seek to change people’s beliefs.
6. And so you will not think that it is a young girl, only, who would ask me such a question, I received an e-mail from a pastor in Pennsylvania last week. He mentioned that someone he knew in Australia had only days before been asked by what right she tried to change people’s beliefs about creation and evolution and the existence of God.
7. You see, people, in the realm of religion and spiritual matters, there are objections to any attempts to change people’s beliefs. By what right do you try to change people’s beliefs? Who do you think you are to be so arrogant as to think you know better than others what they should believe?
8. I would like to address such questions as these this morning. As we prepare to consider this issue of changing other people’s beliefs, I want you to turn to Acts 5.29. Note, particularly, the second half of the verse: “We ought to obey God rather than men.”
9. Peter and the other apostles had been preaching in Jerusalem, getting the whole city in an uproar. The high priest accused them of teaching in Jesus’ name, of filling Jerusalem with their doctrine, and of blaming them for the crucifixion of Christ. So they ordered Peter and the others to stop their preaching. After all, what right did Peter and the other apostles have to change people’s beliefs?
10. My friend, you have a right to try to change people’s beliefs. I have a right to try to change people’s beliefs. This church is authorized to try to change people’s beliefs. But there are wrong reasons, as well as right reasons, for trying to change people’s beliefs.
11. For the next few minutes, consider the wrong reasons and the right reasons for trying to change people’s beliefs. Of course, when I speak of trying to change people’s beliefs, I am referring to how the lost world perceives preaching the gospel, witnessing to the unsaved, telling people what the Bible says about sin and salvation and the need to come to Christ.
1A. First, SOME INVALID REASONS TO TRY AND CHANGE PEOPLE’S BELIEFS
Understand that I am speaking about a Christian’s attempts to persuade a sinner to convert to Jesus Christ. What we would refer to as soul winning, as witnessing, as preaching or teaching, is really the attempt by a Christian to change the beliefs of someone else. Paul wrote, “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.” What are some invalid reasons for trying to change people’s minds, reasons that are illegitimate and unscriptural? Let me make mention of four:
1B. First, there is the superiority of the Christian lifestyle.
1C. Please do not think that I am opposed to the Christian lifestyle. I think the Christian lifestyle is far and away the most elevating and uplifting way of life known to man. The husband, the wife, the children, the Christ-centeredness . . . . there is no more noble and beneficial style of living known to man.
2C. But the superiority of the Christian lifestyle is not justification for seeking to change people’s beliefs. What right do I have to try to get people to believe the way I believe, to live the way I live, just because I am persuaded the way of life I advocate is superior? Is there some compelling reason why a person must adopt a way of life that is superior to the way of life he was born to, is comfortable with, and may be satisfied with? No.
3C. We find nothing in God’s Word that advocates or justifies efforts to uplift another’s culture. Nowhere do we find any evidence of the Lord Jesus Christ encouraging, or the apostles advocating, a Christian style of living because it is superior to other styles of living.
4C. So you see, you and I have absolutely no right to change anyone’s beliefs because we think our lifestyle is better than theirs happens to be.
2B. Next, there is the superiority of the Christian.
1C. I know that some may not seek to change other’s beliefs because they think their style of life is somehow better than the style of a non-Christian’s life, but they do try to change other’s beliefs because they think they are better than unsaved people.
2C. Please be correct on this point: I am totally convinced that a Christian is a better person than someone who is not a Christian. By God’s glorious grace, the Christian lives a life that is pleasing to God, in harmony with God, submissive to God, glorifying God, praising God, worshiping God, serving God.
3C. Proverbs 21.4 declares that “the plowing of the wicked, is sin.” Thus, no unsaved person can possibly say or do anything which pleases God. Everything about an unsaved person is offensive to God.
4C. But the child of God, by the grace of God, is a sweet smelling savor to the Lord. Thus, though he has no reason to boast, and every reason to be humbled and thankful by God’s grace and abundant mercy, the Christian’s life is superior to the unsaved person’s manner of living.
5C. But is that justification for trying to change anyone’s beliefs? Perhaps I am mistaken about this point, but here too I can find no basis for seeking to change anyone’s beliefs.
6C. My friends, some people get involved in evangelism, participate in soul winning, because they think the Christian style of life is so good that everyone should live this way. Others are of the opinion that the Christian is such a marvelous creature than everyone should become one. But these are no reasons for seeking to change people’s beliefs so that they would become Christians.
3B. Third, there is the need for more church members.
1C. “You need to come to our church.” “Why do I need to come to your church?” “Because it’s our church, and you need to come to it.”
2C. Do you know any church people like that? I have known many church people like that over the years. They are always the same. If they were in a club, they would spend their time urging people to join their club. If they were working out, they would spend their time urging people to join their health spa.
3C. These are the people who build fortunes for other people in multilevel marketing. Whatever they are involved in, they are compulsive to enlist others to join them. Why so? Because. And some churches operate the same way.
4C. My friends, there are many churches which grow for no other reason than because they feel compelled to work and labor and strive to get more people, always more people. They don’t really do anything with people once they get them in, perhaps something called a 101 class or some type of discipleship series that doesn’t do all that much for them. But they sure do work hard to get them in.
5C. Folks, working hard to change people’s beliefs just so the church can get more members is a pathetic justification for trying to change people’s minds. Getting people just to get people is no more justification for a Baptist church trying to change people’s beliefs than it is for Mormons or Buddhists.
6C. Businesses try to get more and more customers because the dynamic is such that if a business does not grow it stagnates and will eventually die. Okay, so what? A church is not a business. Or at least, a church is not supposed to be a business, is not supposed to operate using business principles and practices. Yet I know of churches who try to get more church members for no other reason than because they think that if they do not get more members the church will die.
4B. This last one is perhaps the most nauseating reason of all; the winning of a religious contest of wills.
1C. I know people who think soul winning is a contest. They see soul winning, which is just another way of referring to the practice of changing people’s beliefs, as a confrontation between two people, with the soul winner successful when he wins the contest of wills and gets the sinner to submit to his will by praying the sinner’s prayer.
2C. That approach to soul winning was institutionalized by the 19th century evangelist, Charles Finney, who saw a sinner not as someone who rebelled against the will of God, but as someone who rebelled against the will of the soul winner or evangelist. With Finney, it was all about getting the sinner to yield to the will and forceful personality of the personal worker.
3C. But is the issue with a sinner really the will of a soul winner or an evangelist? No. The real issue with the sinner is the will of God, not the will of a so-called soul winner. Thus, soul winning is not a conflict between the will of the soul winner and the will of the sinner, and no one gets saved just because a soul winner succeeds in overwhelming a lost sinner with superior logic or cleverness.
4C. The right view of changing a sinner’s beliefs comes from recognizing that the sinner is in rebellion toward God, and that his reconciliation comes about when he submits to God’s will and comes to Christ. The so-called soul winner is, at best, a mere instrument in the hand of God, who is more and more useful to God as he becomes less and less prominent in the sinner’s thinking as the savior becomes more and more prominent in the sinner’s thinking.
1. The Christian life is a superior life for anyone to live. But that in and of itself is no justification for trying to persuade sinners to change their beliefs.
2. As well, the Christian is superior. But that in and of itself is no justification for trying to persuade sinners to change their beliefs.
3. The desire to see the church grow is, likewise, no good reason for trying to change people’s beliefs.
4. Finally, changing people’s beliefs just so you can be proven right and the other person will admit that he was wrong is no justification. So many who claim to be soul winners are nothing more than proud persuaders, whose outsized egos are inflated by their skill in persuading sinners to submit to them rather than seeing sinners come to a true saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
2A. NOW CONSIDER SOME VALID REASONS TO EVANGELIZE THE LOST
Here are three scriptural reasons, God-honoring reasons, for seeking to bring the lost to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ by working to change their false beliefs.
1B. First, there is our moral obligation to change people’s beliefs.
1C. Notice what the apostle Paul wrote to the Romans, in Romans 1.14-15: “I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise. So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also.”
2C. My friends, when Paul preached the gospel he had in mind persuading people that their beliefs were wrong and in need of dramatic adjustment that would lead to real conversion. But what was his stated motive? One of his motives was his indebtedness to the lost.
3C. You see, Paul recognized that anyone whose beliefs are right has a moral obligation to those whose beliefs are not right. And make no mistake about this: If two sets of beliefs are not in agreement, one set of beliefs has to be wrong.
4C. Another verse is Second Corinthians 5.11: “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.” Persuade men to what end? Persuade men that their end is so dreadful that they must change their beliefs with an eye toward changing their eternal destiny.
5C. This is not fear motivation, my friends, for Paul is not referring to his concern for his own welfare when he refers to “the terror of the Lord.” Rather, he is referring to the awful consequences to the lost of dying without Christ.
6C. So you see, more than anyone with water ever had an obligation to quench the thirst of someone dying in the desert, we who know Christ have the most compelling moral obligation to do our best to change the beliefs of those who are unsaved. For you see, anyone’s beliefs who are not changed by us will endure the eternal torment of the lake of fire.
2B. Next, the greatness of our cause compels us to try to change the beliefs of others.
1C. You are probably familiar with the time when young David, long before he became king of Israel, found that a stalemate existed between the army of Israel and the army of the Philistines. Each day the giant, Goliath, would hurl insults and challenges to the children of Israel, but no one would respond . . . until the shepherd boy who loved God heard the blasphemies of the Philistine.
2C. He simply could not understand why his older brother and the others in the army did not rise to the challenge and fight that blasphemous Philistine. Here is a problem and no one is willing to deal with it. His brother ridiculed him and questioned his motives, but David said again and again, “Is there not a cause?”
3C. Eventually David’s words reached king Saul and he got his opportunity to do something about the giant. Armed with a sling and five smooth stones, David ran toward his adversary and slew him. Why did David do what he did? He saw that there was a great cause.
4C. My friends, is there not a cause? The cause is not the greatness of the Christian lifestyle, or the greatness of the Christian, or the need for new members, or the personal contest of wills between a Christian and a sinner.
5C. We engage the lost in an attempt to persuade them, truths comprehended by the Christian’s mind wielded against the false notions believed by the unsaved, in an effort to change the way they believe. Why so?
6C. Because our cause is great. Because the cause of Christ is the greatest cause any man or woman can ever engage in. It is the highest calling, the most noble effort, the pinnacle of human endeavors. It is the only enterprise man can ever be engaged in that is worth the expenditure of one’s life. If you die in service to Christ in this way you have lived your life well.
3B. Finally, the Great Commission of our Lord Jesus Christ requires that we change people’s beliefs.
1C. As I told the young lady last week, you cannot teach people apart from changing their beliefs in some way. Yet the Lord Jesus Christ uttered these words before His ascension to the Father’s right hand: “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations. . . .”
2C. Claiming all authority, with this word for “authority” referring to Christ’s boundless right to direct and command, the command is given to teach all nations.”
3C. Thus, no higher authority in the universe exists to issue commands and directives than this command issued by the Lord Jesus Christ to teach all nations.
4C. So you see, we have to engage in the persuasion that leads to people changing their beliefs. We have been ordered to do so by our Lord Jesus, the son of “the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords; Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen.”
1. So, when the high priest told Simon Peter and the other apostles to knock it off, what else could they say? “We ought to obey God rather than men.”
2. And when someone tries to back you down from persuading men to change their beliefs about sin, to change their beliefs about God, to change their beliefs about Jesus Christ, and to change their beliefs about themselves and their own eternal damnation apart from Jesus Christ, remind yourself that that someone is only a man . . . and your marching orders ultimately come from God.
3. So, to answer the question, Do we have the right to change people’s beliefs? No. We have the command, the duty, the holy obligation and awesome responsibility to change people’s beliefs.