The old preachers tell a story about a tight rope walker who was pushing a wheel barrow across Niagara Falls. After doing it several times, the performer asked a man in the audience, “Do you believe I can push this wheel barrow across Niagara Falls?
“Yes, I believe you can do that,” the man answered.
“Are you sure,” the tight rope walker asked.
“Sure, I’m sure,” the man said. “I’ve seen you do it.”
“Then get in the wheel barrow.”
This is where the rubber meets the road. The moment when the talk has to become the walk. (Let me see, what other clichés can I throw in here?)
Anyway, you get the point. Sooner or later, life will call your bluff and you’ll have to take action on what you claim to believe. Failure to act is more than just an act of cowardice, but an admission that we really don’t believe what we say we believe.
Now, first we have to talk about what most of us think about when we say “belief.” For most of us, belief is anything from a hunch or guess to an intense emotional experience. If we look up and see gray clouds gathering, we may say, “I believe it’s going to storm.” What we mean is, “I assume it’s going to rain” or “It might rain.”
What’s the difference? If you “believe” it’s going to rain, you get your umbrella. Belief is the our mental structure of our world that determines and controls our behavior. When we believe a certain way, we will behave in that same way.
There is an intense conversation going on in local church circles trying to determine what makes a person a disciple. What are those visible traits or characteristics that allow us to determine if a person has indeed had a life changing encounter with Christ? How do we know if someone has actually met the Risen Christ?
As you can imagine, there are thousands of suggestions to answer these questions. Everything from church membership (being connected to local body of believers), correct understandings of certain doctrines, and much, much more. The list goes on and on. We’ve made the list so complicated and contradictory, we can’t tell who’s a disciple and who’s not.
Think about it. The very thing the church is supposed to do – make disciples – and we can’t tell when a disciple has been made or not.
Jesus, once again in His wisdom, kept the list relatively short. What’s required? Love God, love your neighbor and love yourself. How can you tell if you’re a follower of Christ? Once again, Jesus keeps it simple. Obey His commandments. If you love me, Jesus said, keep my commandments.If we are followers of Christ, we live according to His teachings. That’s it. How hard can it be?
Actually, living out the commandments of Jesus can be extremely challenging. They are simple to understand, but very hard to live out. That’s one of the reasons so few of us actually live them out. Loving your neighbor can be challenging when you know some of our neighbors. Regardless, it’s what Jesus tells us to do. If you love me, He says, keep my commandments.
The other factor that adds to our confusion is the faith vs works debate. Most evangelicals are quick to emphasize salvation through faith. We accept the free, unmerited grace of God offered to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The saving work is done by Christ and we can do nothing to earn it or deserve it.
So far, so good.
The problem comes when we misunderstand justification, the first part of salvation, without works means sanctification, the second part of salvation and the part of Christ making us more like Himself, is also done without visible behaviors. Whenever our disobedience is challenged, we say we’re Christians because we believe in Jesus with all of our hearts.
But belief without behaviors isn’t belief at all. We end up with a cheap grace, an emotional experience without the evidence of true life change.
And this life change is always seen in changed behavior. The person with anger issues doesn’t lose their temper any more. The gambler stops gambling. The greedy person becomes generous. The shy person becomes bold in their faith and the impulsive person gains self-control.
This is the first thing the world notices about a new follower of Christ. The person they once knew isn’t there anymore. They live a focused, more purposeful life. They are more tolerate of the quirks in their friends. When people begin to see that change, they become curious about how and why the person has changed. This opens the door for evangelism. Not only that, but it opens the door for a very effective moment of evangelism because the change in the person is evident for every one to see.
Simply put, belief is our confidence in Jesus lived out. We believe Jesus is the Son of God. We believe that He not only understands reality, but He defines reality. We follow His teaching, His directions in how to live our best lives, because we believe no one understands life better than Jesus. We believe love is stronger than hate, that life is stronger than death and we make every decision in our lives based on this belief.
Here’s the bottom line: if you don’t live it, you don’t believe it. If we claim we believe in Jesus but never actually live out His teachings, we’re only kidding ourselves.
The world knows better.
And so does Jesus.