“How do you know what you believe is true?”
I was doing just fine until someone asked me that question.
You see, I was raised in church and God was everywhere. He was at the dinner table every night when we said the blessing. He was in the car ride on the way to school as we prayed for our safety (in fact, I pray the same prayer with my boys to this day).
I would even go as far as saying God was in the delivery room on the day of my birth. Too far? The point is my knowledge of God went as far back as I could remember. I never questioned His existence. I never questioned the truth of the Bible.
My mom told me God existed and His word was truth. That was all I needed to hear.
“How do you know what you believe is true?”
That question was the needle that poked a hole in my Christian bubble. How did I know that what I believed was true? I knew God existed, but how did I know?
Everyone thinks what they believe is true.
In fact, the atheist says it’s true that God doesn’t exist.
The agnostic says it’s true that you can’t be sure if God exists.
The theist says it’s true God exists.
They can’t all be right.
And don’t tell me God exists because “The bible tells me so.” I tried it. It doesn’t work. Do you know why? It’s a circular argument and circular arguments don’t prove anything.
Here’s the thing about truth: it’s discovered, not determined. Truth exists whether you know it or not.
Scientists didn’t always know the earth was round. They discovered it was round and then told everyone about it as if they were the ones who rolled it into a ball. They didn’t. The truth about the earth was there long before it was discovered.
Truth is exclusive. It excludes all options except for the one that’s true.
So this got me thinking … why did I believe in God? And how did I know what I believed was the truth?
I had to get to the bottom of why I believed, so I understood what I believed.
There are only 4 reasons people believe what they do.
James Sire, a Christian author, philosopher and theologian, posed a question to his students:
“Why do people believe what they believe?”
Everyone believes for one of four reasons, and get this … it may have nothing to do with truth.
He explains that each answer given by people for their beliefs fits into one of four categories.
The first reason is sociological.
Many people believe what they do because of the influence of parents, friends, society and culture. This is the category I fit into. I was raised in church and I had a diligent and faithful mom who took me every Sunday.
Many kids who are raised in church most likely fall into this category for at least some time. But it won’t keep them. If they believe in God for sociological reasons (which is no reason at all), who’s to say they won’t believe in reincarnation because their favorite YouTube influencer told them it was true?
There is no guarantee that one social influence will always be greater than another. This is why truth matters. And this doesn’t only have to do with religious beliefs.
Why do we see so many teens confused about their gender?
Short answer: culture.
Why do we see people rioting, and when they are interviewed by the media they have no idea why they’re out there?
Short answer: friends.
Are sociological reasons a good reason to believe? Sire doesn’t think so.
The second category for our beliefs are psychological reasons.
When we believe in something because it feels good, gives us our identity, peace of mind, purpose, or hope, we are believing because of psychological reasons.
Buddhists practice Buddhism to reach enlightenment and to find peace.
People think they can change their gender because they’re trying to find their identity.
Do any of these things have anything to do with truth? It doesn’t matter when you believe in something because of psychological reasons. In fact, it’s easier to lie to yourself and rest in what you think you believe is true than to search it out to see if it actually is true.
Psychological reasons can have a strong, emotional pull on the believer. And since truth doesn’t need emotion to validate it, sometimes it’s easier to believe in what feels good instead of what’s true. Because truth doesn’t care how we feel.
The third category Sire points out is the religious category.
Many atheists say, “You only believe in God because you were born in America!” What if that’s true? Does that make Christianity any less true? Not at all.
In fact, in the Middle East, you’re likely to be Muslim because Islam is the religion of the region. But what about truth? It doesn’t matter when the religion of the culture is Islam. And this is where you have a mix of sociological and religious reasons for beliefs.
In fact, many Muslims face disownment and even death if they do not practice the religion of family and culture. Truth has nothing to do with it.
As I mentioned before, I was born into a Christian home. My chances of becoming a Christian were astronomically higher for that reason. However, 75% of Christians leave the church by the time they turn 18.
So what’s missing? Let me give you a hint … it starts with a T.
As I said earlier, people who latch onto a belief for sociological, psychological and religious reasons may stay for a time, but what will keep them? There is no guarantee. If their beliefs are not based on truth, they have no reason to stay.
And they most likely won’t.
And that brings me to Sire’s last reason people believe what they do: philosophical.
Philosophical reasons are the facts discovered through logic, evidence and science. We look at what’s consistent, coherent and complete. In other words, we don’t just take someones word for it; we know what we believe and why we believe it.
It has nothing to do with emotion.
It’s not because our friends are doing it or because culture condones it. It’s not because we were born into it. I mean, all of that can be true, but those aren’t evidential reasons to believe.
And if they are the ONLY reason you believe, when someone asks you, “How do you know what you believe is true” your bubble will be popped. Because it’s filled with hot air and nothing more.
Those in the philosophical category have built their beliefs on what is true. They understand that God’s word and God’s world compliment one another so that the evidence for God as seen in the world is backed up by what is said of Him in the word.
So, what’s the problem?
We live in a post-truth culture. More people these days are apathetic about the truth, except when it comes to things we care about … like when our next paycheck will be mailed, or the health diagnosis from our doctor. We want to know those things.
But the hard things like eternity, sin, morality … well, sometimes it’s easier to just believe what feels good. But can we get away with it?
The truth matters because what you believe matters. In fact, the men who flew planes into the World Trade Center thought what they believed was true. Hitler and the Nazis thought annihilating 6 million Jews was true and right.
So it matters. It matters a great deal.
Truth guides our path.
It helps us determine which way to live and the choices we make. And if you claim to be a Christian, it is imperative that you know why you believe what you do.
Jesus gave an illustration of two men who built their houses on certain foundations (John 7:24-27). The men had similar experiences and circumstances of hard times. But the difference was their foundation. The foundation of the one who built on the rock was truth. The foundation of the one who did not build on truth was sand.
Notice what Jesus never told us about: the structure of the houses they built.
Because if the foundation isn’t solid, it doesn’t matter what you build on it. It’s all worthless.
It’s the same with our beliefs.
If the foundation of our lives is not the truth, nothing else matters. It doesn’t matter if you go to church each Sunday, pay your tithes, or sing worship songs until you look like a Smurf and your voice sounds like Batman.
It all means nothing without truth.
And finally, what you believe will be tested.
Tests come in different ways and through different avenues. For me, it came in the form of a question. And like any test, we see where we need to do better next time.
So I’ll ask you the question I started with; the question I was asked that made me find out what I believed and why I believed it.
How do you know what you believe is true?
If your answer falls into the sociological, psychological or religious category, let me ask you another question: Is that a good reason to believe something?
It’s time to know what you believe and why you believe it. Make sure your answer falls into the philosophical category because you evaluate the evidence and science and the foundation of your beliefs is truth.
Every Christian must come to the knowledge of the truth for themselves. If not, there’s a needle waiting in the form of a question.
And I don’t want you to end up deflated like me. Without knowing WHY you believe, you have no basis for WHAT you believe.
For more on this topic, read “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be An Atheist” by Norman Geisler and Frank Turek. You can order the book and curriculum at Impact Apologetics.
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