Thursday, September 27, 2007

What I Do vs. What I Believe, Part 2

The Alluring Alternatives to Everyday Faith

In last Friday’s post I asserted that we all show exactly what we believe by how we live. It’s a mistake, in other words, to try to change what we do to match up with what we believe. What we do already matches what we believe. Our actions never contradict our real beliefs; they simply manifest them.

Suggest whatever example or hypothetical scenario you’d like. Let’s say a pro-life couple decides to get an abortion for financial reasons. Are they really and truly pro-life? Hardly. Their actions prove what they believe: that they value financial security more than their baby’s life.

Or the guy who sings to God, “Here I am to worship, here I am to bow down, here I am to say that you’re my God, you’re altogether lovely, altogether worthy, altogether wonderful to me” and then never cracks his Bible or prays for the rest of the week. Does that dude really believe God is completely lovely and worthy and wonderful? Not if he doesn’t even have the desire to seek God outside of a church building.

So far, so good. We live what we believe.

But here’s what has me really puzzled. Why do my actions so often show that I don't really believe what I say I believe? What are the greatest hindrances to believing, and thus living, what I say I believe? There are probably lots of answers, but I’ve been especially convicted about three.

NOTE: Even though I’m writing this to you, I’ve left these musings in the first person because this post is a sort of journal entry for me. Hopefully, you might catch a glimpse of yourself here, too, as you peer over my shoulder while I look into the mirror of God’s word a bit…

1. I live by feelings more than by faith. More often than I care to admit, I am "feelingful" instead of faithful. Some of these "feelings" are genuine emotions; others are just plain old desires. For example, if I don't feel like (read: "want to") reading my Bible, I'm easily tempted not to. The point is, it’s easier to live by what I feel rather than what I say I believe. Or, to put it another way, I tend to believe my feelings more than I believe God. The problem lies in what I believe.

2. I also tend to live for the present more than the future. Sure, I am aware that God says sin is bad for me, but that seems so doubtful when I'm caught up in the dailyness of life. After all, sin doesn’t usually bring immediate consequences. That means I can sin and seem to get away with it—no retribution from God, no apparent consequences in my life… all is well. Or so it appears…

Why? Because when I say “all is well,” what I really mean is “all is well right this moment, at least as far as I can tell.” But what I fail to realize is that all is NOT well in the bigger picture. For example, my sinful coveting is setting me up for financial disaster, or my sinful anger is fracturing my relationships, or my sinful laziness is beginning to get noticed by my employer, or my sinful lust for approval is weakening my ability to stand for the truth. Disaster is right around the corner; but since I can’t see it, I don’t really believe it. The present seems so much more real to me than the future. Or, to put it another way, I tend to believe my experience of the present more than I believe God’s prediction of the future. Once again, the problem lies in what I believe.

3. Finally, I live by my assessment of myself more than the Bible's assessment of me. In other words, I tend to rationalize away verses that correct me, rather than see them as indictments of me personally. I’m quite an expert at this game of making excuses for myself and slowly squeeeeezing out from under the pressure of conviction.

I apply some verses to other people: "Give money? That's for people who actually have some extra." Or I excuse myself on the basis of a good heart: "Disciple my kids? Well, I really want to do that. Is that good enough?" Or I postpone my obedience: "Witness? I will, when unsaved people begin dropping into my life." Or I present God with conditions: "Ask for my wife's forgiveness? OK, I will, right after she asks me for mine."

In other words, I often fail to live out what I say I believe because I excuse my behavior as “not the real me.” Or, to put it another way, I tend to believe my own excuses for my sinful actions more than I believe God’s indictment of my sinful actions. Yet once more, the problem lies in what I believe.

If you’re still reading, I’m impressed. I’m also indebted to offer you a solution. What should we do if any of these false beliefs have captured our own soul?

Three suggestions:
1) Get in the word. To paraphrase Romans 10:17, “True belief arises in our heart through hearing the word of God.”
2) Pray for faith. Be like the man who asked Jesus for a miracle, and when Jesus asked if he believed, he pleaded: “I believe! But help my unbelief!” (Mk 9:24)
3) Connect to others. As Hebrews 3:13 recommends: “You must warn each other every day, while it is still ‘today,’ so that none of you will be deceived by sin and hardened against God.” It’s much easier to be deceived along the way when you’re walking it alone.

Do you really believe that what you believe is really real? If not, what are you believing instead? And more importantly, how do you plan to change it?


Anonymous said...

Remember the book you recommended to me: When People are Bigger than God... You have so hit the nail right smack on the head. How does one obey when another party has no interest in obedience or in doing the right thing? Standing in the palm of satan's hand and preferring it...just rambling...

Josh said...

Yeah, that is an excellent book. Highly recommended reading: When People Are Big and God is Small, by Ed Welch.