A Message to Those I Care About Most,
Concerning the Things that Matter Most
Robert V. Rakestraw, Ph.D.
Because you are reading this piece you are one of those I care about most. This may sound strange because I may barely know you, or never even met you. But anyone who sees this title and starts reading this message is someone I care very much about. Those who think of “the things that matter most” are a special group of people.
There is no flattery here. Anyone who thinks of what matters most—even though they may not even be clear about what this term means—is a thinker and a searcher after truth and the meaning of life. This world is a terribly confusing place, filled with both beauty and ugliness, good and evil, truth and lies. I am writing here because, by God’s grace, I have found some answers to the biggest questions of life and cannot hold back from sharing what I believe strongly to be true. (The word “credo” is Latin for “I believe.” In English it is used as a noun meaning a statement of beliefs or convictions, as I use it here. It is pronounced “kraydoe” or “kreedoe.”)
Originally I intended to write this to my five grandchildren, because of my deep love for and special interest in them. They are now in their late teens and twenties and have good minds and hearts. Since I am now in my seventies and have poor health, I have a burning desire to express briefly to them what God has shown me from long experience and deep study of God’s revelation in the scriptures.
After further thought I decided to broaden this message to other relatives, both on my side of the family and on the side of my wife, Judy, to whom I will have been married for fifty years in July, 2017. After adding these groups together I came up with dozens of people—younger, middle aged, older, girls, boys, women, men—whom I care much about. So many cousins, nieces, and nephews—some with children and grandchildren of their own—are often on my mind and in my prayers, even though it has been many years since I have seen some of them.
Finally I determined to write this for anyone and everyone who is looking for, or seeking to develop, some answers to life’s biggest questions: the things that matter most. I do not want to leave this world without putting these thoughts down, as imperfect as they are, without sharing what I believe are the essential matters of life and death—literally! One who finds the Water of Life wants to tell everyone about it, especially those who are most thirsty. This was the experience of the woman at the well with Jesus, recorded in the fourth chapter of John’s gospel, and it has been my experience for over a half century.
I am writing out of love, which I define as the seeking of another’s highest good, when “good” is determined by the teachings in God’s Word, the Bible. The word “love” is used in today’s culture as mostly feelings. To a great many people the emotional element is far more important than the factual, logical aspects of the issue at hand, whether the decider realizes this or not. The word love can and does mean anything the speaker wants it to mean. Usually the speaker has never attempted to define the word, so it floats around everywhere with no real substance. Mostly what we hear is that “love is all that matters.”
Understood correctly, this last statement is the supreme truth of the universe! I trust that my love as expressed here will flow from the mind and heart of the God who is Love (1 John 4:8)—the One who unfailingly seeks the highest good of every person on earth, as he alone determines our “good” according to his all-wise and all-gracious purposes, concerning both this life and the life to come.
I am trying to write as simply as possible (but not simplistically, I trust). Even though I have earned bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D. degrees in biblical studies and theology, and have published at both academic and popular levels, and have taught for twenty-five years in three colleges and graduate schools, I am basically an ordinary person with a desire for simplicity in my life and clarity in my thoughts, words, and actions. Following are “the things that matter most” to me—the key elements of “My Credo.” (All Bible references are from the New International Version of 2011.)
1. I believe that there is such a thing as objective truth, and that we can and must know it in order to survive and flourish.
“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). “Buy the truth and do not sell it—wisdom, instruction and insight as well” (Prov. 23:23).
2. I believe that God—Father, Son, and Spirit—is the ultimate truth, and that he longs to reveal himself to all people.
“I [Jesus] am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4).
3. I believe that God’s truth is understood not only—nor even primarily—by human reasoning, but by spiritual insight, as we respond in trust and obedience to the truth we already know.
“When I [the apostle Paul] came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. … My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power” (1 Cor. 2:1-5). “Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own” (John 7:17).
4. I believe that the most important decision a person will ever make—the decision (or series of decisions) that will determine the quality of their life here on earth and throughout eternity—is whether or not to respond “yes” to the call of God to receive Jesus Christ as one’s Savior and Master. I believe that this call of God is both a gracious invitation and a non-negotiable command. Salvation cannot be earned; it is the gift of God’s free grace received when a person responds deliberately to God’s call through trust in his promises and through submission to the lordship of Christ.
“Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus” (Acts 3:19-20). “Very truly I [Jesus] tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again” (John 3:3).
5. I believe that those who are not able to make a decision for Christ because they are either too young, too mentally disabled, or ignorant of the gospel, are not forgotten by God, but are being drawn by him toward the truth according to his mysterious will and personal knowledge of each person. I also believe that anyone who has ever been saved, or ever will be saved, receives the gift of Life because of the redeeming work of Jesus on the cross.
“The true light [Jesus Christ] that gives light to everyone was coming into the world” (John 1:9). “And I, [Jesus], when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself. … I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 12:32; 14:6). “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:25).
6. I believe that the message of Jesus Christ is the only true and lasting hope for every person and every world crisis, and that this gospel must be taught and lived everywhere in obedience to Christ.
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:19-20). “For I [Paul] am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes; first to the Jew, then to the Gentile” (Romans 1:16).
7. I believe that once a person comes to know God personally, they will grow and flourish in their new life only through Christian fellowship, study of the scriptures, and prayer—the latter two being both in private and with others.
“Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous laws. Great peace have those who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble” (Ps. 119:164-165). “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Heb. 10:24-25).
8. I believe that the Bible—carefully translated and interpreted under the guidance of the Spirit—is the infallible Word of God, given to everyone as the final authority for our knowledge of God and his will for our lives.
“[From infancy you, Timothy,] have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correction and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:15-17). “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth” (Ps. 119:103).
9. I believe that the best prayer life consists of special times alone with God, times with others, and—perhaps most important of all—moment by moment communion with God throughout the day during which one utters, even if briefly, words of joy, worship, thanksgiving, confession, frustration, discouragement, request, and hope.
“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess. 5:16-18). “But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life” (Jude: 20-21).
10. I believe that sin is never something to treat lightly or joke about, but is to be recognized for what it is: the destroyer of our peace and joy, the destroyer of world peace and happiness, the destroyer of all things good and noble, and (if not confessed to God) the destroyer of our souls.
“But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God” (Eph. 5:3-5). “Very truly I [Jesus] tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. . . . [But] if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:34, 36).
11. I believe that the areas of self-love, money, sex, and power are some of the most crucial dimensions of our existence, and that our decisions in these matters will almost certainly determine the direction of our entire lives. I also believe that God is able and willing to break bondages in these and all other areas when we admit that we are powerless to deliver ourselves and that God is supremely powerful to rescue and establish us, even as he works patiently through those he has gifted to walk with us in the journey of life.
“There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Tim. 3:1-5). “And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11).
12. I believe that, no matter how many people try to deny or escape from this truth, there will be a solemn Day of Judgment following our death, at which everyone will be assigned to their eternal destination based upon their reception or rejection of the truth they have been offered in this life.
“Then I [John] saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. . . . And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. . . . Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:11-12, 15). “They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness” (2 Thess. 2:10-12).
13. I believe that every child of God must be involved in a healthy local church—one where the leaders are humble servants of God, the scriptures are preached in the wisdom and power of the Spirit, the worship is focused on God, not ourselves, the worshippers exude true love for one another and for outsiders, and where there are no barriers between or preferences toward men or women, young or old, one racial group or another, one educational level or another, nor one social class or another.
“After this I [John] looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands” (Rev. 7:9). “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).
14. I believe that no child of God ever needs to compromise his or her God-given convictions in order to obtain the necessities of life: housing, food, clothing, a job, or personal safety. God may allow us to suffer deprivation in one or more of these areas for a time, but he will never remove his loving eye and care from those who faithfully trust and obey him.
“[Seek] first his [God’s] kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things [food, clothing, security] will be given to you as well” (Matt. 6:33). “Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken” (Ps. 55:22). “I [the Psalm writer] would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked” (Ps. 84:10). “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19).
15. I believe that it is every Christian’s privilege and responsibility to give liberally of their time, skills, energy, and financial resources toward alleviating the sufferings of this world, both the physical needs and the social, psychological, and spiritual issues that often lie behind the physical.
“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Mic. 6:8). “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (Jas. 1:27). “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Gal. 6:10).
16. I believe that our best efforts to improve society and the lives of people everywhere, however well-intentioned, will result at best in only partial success, for two reasons. (1) Workable solutions depend heavily on the free choices of people to cooperate, which choices we cannot force. (2) Workable solutions to society’s most common problems (such as hunger, poor housing, theft, violence, racism, sexism, corruption of leaders, joblessness, addictions, poor education, and broken families) must be based on spiritual foundations that acknowledge both our pervasive human sinfulness—humans are not naturally good—and God’s ever-reaching offers of grace and mercy. Human solutions apart from God’s truth will never meet the deepest needs of our bodies, souls, communities, and nations.
“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9). “There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:22-24). “If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The LORD will guide you always; ….then you will find your joy in the LORD,…” (Isa. 58:9-11, 14).
17. I believe that there is an evil power in the world who, with God’s permission, rules over this world system known as the cosmos. This one, called “Satan” or “the devil,” is also referred to (by Jesus) as “the prince of this world” (John 12:31) and (by Paul) as “the god of this age” (2 Cor. 4:4). This evil one is, I believe, active in certain governmental, financial, educational, religious, and social systems, so much so that “the whole world is under the control of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). Our confidence, however, is firm, because “the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).
“I am Jesus. . . . I am sending you [Paul] to them [unbelievers] to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me” (Acts 26:15-18). “Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:11-12). “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds” (2 Cor. 10:3-4).
18. I believe that one of the most effective weapons, if not the most effective, that the evil one uses against Christ’s followers is to remind and accuse believers of their past sins—both old and new—that have been forgiven by God and cleansed by Christ’s blood. While we are never faultless in ourselves, we are his forgiven and cherished people, clothed in his righteousness. We must not allow the accusations of the devil (the word means “accuser”) to block our peace, joy, and hope of being used mightily for God’s purposes in the days and years ahead.
“The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. … For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death” (Rev. 12:9-11). “What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? . . . .Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one” (Rom. 8:31-34).
19. I believe that one essential prayer for every believer to express often is for God to examine and reveal to us our inner thoughts and motives, since we are all pulled subtly toward dishonesty, self-deception, and self-justification if we do not open the windows regularly to the light of God’s truth.
“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps. 139: 23-24). “[Who] can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults. . . . May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer” (Ps. 19:12, 14).
20. I believe that God’s kingdom is an upside-down kingdom, where the things most highly esteemed and celebrated by the world are often the opposite of what God prizes and praises, and the things most looked down upon in the eyes of the world are often the most highly regarded in the eyes of God.
“What people value highly,” [said Jesus], “is detestable in God’s sight” (Luke 16:15). “Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower” (Jas. 1:9-10). “For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength” (1 Cor. 1:25). “My grace is sufficient for you, [says the Lord,] for my power is made perfect in weakness. . . . That is why, for Christ’s sake, I [Paul] delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:9-10).
21. I believe that there is not a single command from God that he will not give us the power to obey if we admit our helplessness apart from him, confess our sins to him, and then boldly step forward in faith (trust) that he is now working in us according to his wise and perfect will.
“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Heb. 4:16). “No temptation [or test] has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are temped, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it” (1 Cor. 10:13). “I [Paul] can do all things through him [the Lord] who gives me strength” (Phil. 4:13).
22.I believe that “The Lord’s Prayer,” while not intended by Jesus to be an exact formula for us, is the most remarkable and powerful prayer in the Bible, since it is from the perfect God-man himself, since Jesus said this is how we should pray, and since it covers the most important areas of the believer’s life. I believe that every time we pray this prayer slowly and sincerely, thinking deeply about each part, we will experience the closeness and goodness of God and God’s answers to our longings.
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” (Matt. 6:9-13).
23. I believe that the wisest, happiest, and most helpful people to others are those who walk closely with God throughout their days, knowing that they are forgiven and blessed children of the Lord almighty and guided by his loving hand through the highs and lows of this earthly existence.
“Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them’” (John 7:37-38). “Though you have not seen him [Jesus Christ], you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Pet. 1:8-9).
24. I believe that everyone reading this message, regardless of how you have lived or are now living, is very special in the eyes of God. You have been created in his image for his glory and for your eternal happiness. You are the product of your nature (genetics), nurture (upbringing), and life-experiences (many of which were beyond your control), but you are also where and who you are because of your choices. No matter whether your choices have been wise or unwise, godly or ungodly, your future is now wide open—for this life and the life to come. I believe that you can, right now, by the mighty grace of God strengthening your will, enter the life that God has designed for you. Whether you are a long-time believer, new believer, backslidden believer, non-believer, or not even sure, I urge you to come to God today, with faith and humility as a little child. Talk to him as you would to your best friend. He will never reject you.
“We [Paul and his associates] implore you on Christ’s behalf: be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. . . . I tell you, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 5:20-6:2). “ ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the LORD ‘and will bring you back from captivity’ ” (Jer. 29:11-14).
This, my credo, is a brief summary of what I believe. I encourage you, good reader, to develop your own credo. It may not be easy, but it will surely benefit you, especially if you have your Bible open as you write.
As God gives me strength I may add to the items above on my website/blog: www.gracequestministries.org I also encourage you to go to the website and subscribe for free to receive all new postings automatically. You may also order my life story, GraceQuest, and my little book on prayer, Heart Cries, and read on the site a bit about me and Grace Quest Ministries, as well as look over the articles and links.
Concerning this message, even though it is copyrighted, please feel free to make as many copies as you wish for distribution, from this copy or from the website, as long as there is no monetary charge, and as long as the information on the title page is included and the full article is copied. (This same policy applies to any article on the site.) I long for the items on this site to be scattered widely over the earth to bring true hope and healing to everyone. I trust that this message, written in love, will nourish your soul deeply. God bless you always as you flourish in his truth and love!