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Why choose religion?

Why do we believe? And, do we have to make a choice? Does it matter if we don’t?  

Rationale

Students at this age are about to enter the final stages before becoming independent adults in their own right. Choosing what they believe and how they will live are no longer academic questions but determine all they will do with their life from this point forward. The call of the Gospel is not optional. Jesus, Mark 1:15, simply says, “Repent and believe the Gospel.” This is always true but takes on a special urgency at this time as students must now start making all their decisions for themselves. Choosing can no longer be postponed. All the important decisions in life are ultimately religious in nature because our view of ultimate realities is the source of our values. As they move into adulthood the basis on which we decide what we will believe, and the adequacy of the reasons we use and the consequences of our choices, needs to be examined in detail. The two key consequences of our values and our eternal destiny are the central issues to be considered.

Key Concepts

  • Why do we believe what we do? What is the basis people use? - We all have strong beliefs, but most of them are unexamined and the reasons why we hold to these beliefs/opinions, if examined, would probably be found to be inadequate. Some of these inadequate reasons might include family background, everyone else is doing this, nation/school and so on we grew up in, male/female, what is popular at the moment, some personal experience perhaps, good or bad, it works for me at an emotional level and so on. Most people find it very difficult to confront these beliefs and the more important the belief, that is the more it shapes or defines our lives (our so called Core beliefs), then the more we resist examining them, least they are found to be inadequate and we need to change. This applies to all people, Christians and non-Christians alike. It is part of hiding from the light because we are more interested in things like comfort or personal goals then the truth. Yet, it is the truth which will set us free and it is to the truth we are called. Students need to be challenged to start examining both what they believe and why they believe.
  • Why should we believe in Jesus? What is being risked if we do not? - God not only call us to believe but gives us reasons why we should believe. The Christian faith is a reasonable faith. This means that it is based on evidence and accords with logic or reason. It does not mean however that it is confined to this natural world or that it does not contain elements which go behind our knowledge or our ability to understand. It is, in fact, supernatural in origin and nature. This means that on the one hand there are evidences which can be examined and discussed, such as the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, or the evidence from nature (of example design) which tells us about God (see Romans 1:18-23), while on the other hand the final ground of faith is a supernatural revelation of God by God through the Holy Spirit. The implication of this is that faith based on evidence/reason can only go so far. The final step is for God to open our eyes so that we know him. Indeed, without God moving in our hearts we will not stop to hear the evidences we can understand in the first place, let alone hear God’s voice. The application of this for the teacher is that we must fight a battle in prayer for our students so that they will be open to hear and consider what God is saying to them.
  • How do our choices and lifestyles reflect what we believe in? - All of our actions, our values and our choices flow from what we fundamentally believe about the nature of the universe. Most people do not stop to reflect on this, and whether or not there is a conflict between what they say they believe and how they act. In fact, it is common for people to say they believe one thing but their actions say they believe something else. A point in fact is that according to census figures most people in Australia believe in God in one form or another, with about 65% describing themselves as Christians. Yet, by their actions and values one would have to conclude that most of them are actually atheists, because they live as if God does not exist. It is this connection which needs to be examined.
  • Broadening perspectives by including other culture’s perspectives on life approaches eg. African, Asian, Indigenous vs.WASP - one of the contributions of Post-Modernism is to highlight the extent to which we are shaped by the cultural environment in which we grew up in or in which we currently live. Some claim that all our beliefs are nothing but cultural artifacts and simply serve various functions within society. This position denies the existence of God who created all things and our being made in his image, capable of knowing him and knowing truth. However, the effect of our culture on our beliefs is well established. Psalm 19:12-14 contains the cry of the person who knows they are guilty of flaws of which they have no actual knowledge, they are hidden from all except God. So, the idea of being trapped by our own sins, or in this case by cultural forces which shape our beliefs is a Biblical idea. This is why we need the Holy Spirit to open our hearts because only he knows the truth and only he can show it to us. Our students need to be made aware of this cultural conditioning and challenged to examine their beliefs to see if they are true or not. This also applies to our conceptions of what is ‘Christian’. Sometimes what we are really doing is simply following somewhat blindly our own culture and think it is Biblical, when it merely is what our parents did and what those before them did.
  • Morality and Law - Morality is our view of what is right and wrong, while Law is an attempt to embody these deeper moral principles. While it is clearly true all people and all nations have a deep sense of right and wrong, it is part of being created in the image of God, yet it is also clearly true that there is only some agreement combined with a lot of disagreement, even outright contradiction. This persists in the world even to today. These differences comes from fundamentally different beliefs at the level of what is called Worldviews. In our society today the Christian position on many social issues is increasingly being mocked because it has become incomprehensible to those who share different fundamental beliefs about reality. Our students are caught in the crossfire between these belief systems and are often confused about what is right or wrong. The connection between morality/law and these beliefs needs to be examined.

Scripture References

Psalm 19 - the first part deals with how God has revealed himself to everyone, while the last part deals with our sin, with a particular references to hidden sins, meaning hidden not just from others but from ourselves. So, God has revealed himself but we are bound by sin and cannot respond to it. We need help from God.
John 3:16-2 & Romans 1:18-32 - Why do we not believe? It is because we love the darkness and this love for the darkness leads to all and every kind of sin. Romans 1  describes this movement from belief to life choices in detail. Note that in the same way that our beliefs are often not conscious, so our life choices are not conscious either. This does not make them less real.

Hebrews 3:7-19 (esp. v19) - unbelief led to disobedience

Hebrews 11- faith led to lives of righteousness
Matthew 12:30 - not for me then against me
Matthew 11:25-30 - God hides himself from some and reveals himself to others; Only God can reveal God, See also John 1:1-18, esp. v18
Mark 1:15 - the command to repent and believe
Hebrews 9:27 - once to die and then judgement

Resources

See the DigitalToolKit resource in the Curriculum and the section on Apologetics for both an introduction and a wide range of resources 
God's Crime Scene - a homicide detective investigates the evidence for a divinely created universe, this is a link the Kindle edition
Veritas - University talks by top Christian thinkers on issues of relevance to today
Issues facing Christians by John Stott - link to Kindle edition. Covers many current issues and in considering them links Christian belief to what should be done in each case
Sermons by Timothy Keller Redeemer Presbyterian Church www.redeemer.com - Tim Keller focuses especially in the issue of the relevance of Jesus to the modern person
YouTube videos by Ravi Zacharias It is worthwhile subscribing to the YouTube Channel and searching for relevant videos, some are long and you may need to use parts, but some are Q&A snippets which focus on a particular issue in a  few minutes
 

Ideas/Strategies for Lessons

Ask students to do a personal inventory focusing on their hidden sins, that is those they are not aware of, and to discuss how unaware they are, and how these hidden things affect what they believe and how they live
 
Focus on any issue of interest, outline the different positions and pursue the beliefs these positions stem from
 
Rene Pascal's wager - If I believe in God and yet I am wrong, then when I die I have lost nothing. I have lived a life full of meaning and simply cease to exist. If on the other hand I do not believe in God, but I am wrong, then I lose everything. I have lived without purpose and meaning and now have lost eternity as well. (paraphrase) Discuss - what is an adequate reason to believe in God or not believe in God? (Note both are positive statements about the nature of reality and so BOTH have to be justified)
 
Is Pascal’s wager enough to require belief? If not, then what is it purpose?
 

Year 12: Ask students to write out an anonymous question about God/religion, that they may have always wanted to ask.

You can then start by looking at the questions and forming lessons in response to these.
 

Year 12: Philosophy introduction: What is real and how does this confront Christian? Eg. Descarte’s “I think therefore I am” what does mean for the Christian – disabilities etc.

Look at some of the basic tenets of philosophy, perceptions, spirits etc. and use this to explore what a personal relationship with Jesus Christ means.
 

Year 12: Morality Lesson:

Start by asking is it wrong to eat meat, then ask is it wrong to eat human flesh…explore further with an aim to finding out if we have a relativist approach to morality.
 
Discuss what “right and wrong” means and develop a clear differentiation between absolute right and relatively right.
View video or section of it and discuss
 
Jesus said if you are not for me, then you are against me, Matthew 12:30, discuss
 
Matthew 11:25-30 - we can only now God if God reveals himself to us, discuss
 
Use Apologetics Programme with supporting PowerPoints - see Resources above