Does Every Person Have a Right to His Own Belief?
The answer to the above question is in one sense YES but in another sense is NO.
To begin with, consider the question from a “constitutional” or “legal” standpoint. One does have a right to his own belief in matters of religion according to the law. One can believe in God if he wants to, or he can be an atheist. An individual can believe what he wants about the Bible; the government does not force us into a particular religious belief or doctrine, and we can be thankful for this.
On the other hand, does a man have the right to believe what he wants to before God? Can a person believe whatever he pleases with God’s approval and without any consequences? The answer to this question is NO. In this sense, people do not have a right to believe what they want. Something must be authorized in God’s Word for us to have a right to believe it or practice it.
Consider some Old Testament cases. Eve, for example did not have a right to believe what she wanted. She believed a lie, partook for the fruit, and was expelled from the garden (Gen. 3). Nadab and Abihu could not believe what they wanted either. They offered “strange fire” before God and consequently were killed (Lev. 10).
In the New Testament, we read where it is possible to believe a lie and be lost. II Thessalonians 2:11-12 says, “and for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be damned ho believe not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” Thus, in view of the fact that one can believe a lie and be lost, it can be said that what one believes is important.
In John 8:31-32, Jesus said, “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed: and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” Jesus also warned his disciples (Mt. 16:6) to “. . . beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.” He was talking, according to verse 12, about the “doctrine” of these groups. Why this warning if a person can believe a false doctrine without consequences?
Further, Jesus pointed out that if people teach for doctrines the commands of men that they are worshiping God in a vain matter (Mt. 15:6-9), and that every plant not planted by his heavenly Father will be rooted up (Mt. 15:12-14).
II John 9-11 makes it very clear that what we believe is important and that people do not have a right to their own belief. Here John said, “Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.” We must abide in the “doctrine” or “teaching” of Christ. If we don’t, we do not have God. Can a person who “does not have God” be saved?
In II Timothy 2, Paul spoke of two false teachers — Hymenaeus and Philetus. He said (v. 17-18) that their word would eat as doth a canker, and that they had erred from the truth. The doctrine which they taught was that the “resurrection is past already” and they had “overthrown the faith of some.” Was it important what these two men believed about the resurrection? How about those whose faith had been overthrown? It was important what they believed and taught!
If what one believes is not important, then why does the New Testament spend so much time condemning false doctrine? Consider the book of Galatians. If one’s religious beliefs and practices are not important, please answer the following questions.
- Why was Paul concerned about the Galatians being “removed from the gospel?” (1:6-9)
- Why was Paul concerned about false brethren? (2:4)
- Why did Paul withstand Peter to the face? (2:11)Why was Paul concerned that the Galatians had ceased to “obey the truth?” (2:11)
- Why did he say that some of the Galatians had fallen from grace? (5:4)
Yes, from a constitutional standpoint, we do have a right to our own belief, but that does not mean that God allows us to believe whatever we want. We must not confuse the two areas. Those who please God must abide in the doctrine of Christ.