Does Jesus care more about what we do or what we believe? (I’m going with the first option)

Does Jesus care more about what we do or what we believe? (I’m going with the first option) June 27, 2013

This question came to mind a few weeks ago as I was sitting in church, thinking more highly of myself than I should.

This isn’t a new question, by any means, but it’s still a deeply meaningful and relevant question for me.

Upon what does God look more favorably: loving others, even those who may believe differently, or prioritizing right thinking about God?

Now, you veterans of this sort of question are no doubt rolling your eyes right now, wondering how I can miss the obvious: “Hey Enns, go back to seminary. Everyone knows that right thinking and right behavior are not an either/or but a both/and. Jesus wants both.”

OK. Got it. That may be, but–if you’ll forgive me–if I had a dollar for every time I’ve seen that theory not put into practice, I wouldn’t have to work.

Once we leave the classroom and step out into the every-day, does not “right thinking” among followers of Jesus–though theoretically the flip side of “right living”–too often overshadow common decency toward others (even toward fellow followers of Jesus), let alone the kind of love Jesus talked about?

So, let me ask it this way. What pleases Jesus more?

Loving those we disagree with, enemies, strangers, and other inconvenient people who wander into our lives while we also have unsettled theological issues about the Bible, God, Jesus, Christianity, the universe, humanity, etc., or…

Focusing our energies on establishing, maintaining, and defending “sound doctrine” to the extent that we either do not have time or it does not enter our mind to show loving kindness to others–or, we justify sacrificing loving kindness in our efforts to establish, maintain, and defend proper thinking about the Bible, God, Jesus, Christianity the universe, humanity, etc.

This is not a false dilemma. I am not setting up a straw man.

Neither is this an academic exercise. This choice is ever before us.

I am not against pursuing right thinking. And, again, I get that, theoretically, right living and right thinking are at home with each other.

But I am not asking a theoretical question. I am asking about a real choice each of us is confronted with more often in the course of a day than we might realize.

If we’re honest with ourselves,

Does the perceived “wrong thinking” of the other erect a barrier to our ability to “be Jesus” to them?

Is there a quiet check list, a test of some sort, the other has to pass first?

Do we shun, shame, or hate–openly or subtly–those who think differently?

Do we justify those behaviors because, practically speaking, doctrine trumps love?

And, what do we think God thinks about all this? Is God more concerned with us getting the ideas right or with living right?

I know what some of you eye-rollers are thinking: Jesus and Paul got plenty mad and “unloving” toward those who thought differently.

No, not really. Jesus got mad at hypocrites–the religious leaders who said one thing and did another…those who put right thinking over right behavior.

And Paul definitely had his moments, but his anger (e.g., Galatians and 1 Corinthians) was directed toward both wrong thinking and wrong living, and with respect to those in whom he had made a huge personal investment and over whom he had spiritual responsibility.

So we can’t use Jesus or Paul as an excuse.

For me, I am answering my own question with a yes.

Not in theory, but right here, right now: Jesus cares more about what we do than what we believe.

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  • Phule77

    As was said at STN2, “It’s not ‘do you love God’, but ‘what do you do when you love God?'”

  • nickgill

    So — just to push back — Jesus cares more about you helping a little old lady cross the street in order to get a merit badge than about whether you believe he is who he said he is?

    • Trusting Jesus is how we become capable of helping old ladies across the street for better reasons than merit badges. But “believing he is who he said he is” is not necessarily putting our trust in His blood for our justification; it could very well be justification through ideological correctness, the evangelical form of works-righteousness.

      • nickgill

        I think we have to address this idea as a two-level question, precisely because of the works-righteousness concept you’ve brought up.

        Within the community of faith, yes — orthopraxy (or agapopraxy, to perhaps coin a word) must be understood as primary over and against orthodoxy, since we will always have unsettled theological issues.

        BUT — all the right living or right thinking in the world will not change the fact that those who are justified, are justified by faith in King Jesus (not in their own right thinking or right doing) — just as you say.

        • Andrew Dowling

          That’s not what Jesus preached. That’s Luther’s bastardization of Paul.

        • Messenger

          Your hairline is receding..

      • David Skinner

        Um no, helping old ladies cross the street is the right thing to do, because it’s the right thing to do. I don’t need doctrine to tell me how to be kind & loving person to my fellow man. To me, the author is trying to say ‘Action speaks louder then words’. One can learn all the doctrine & worship all you want, but if you don’t DO it’s worthless.

    • Marshall

      Mathew 7:21: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

      Or take that whole chapter. “Getting merit badges” isn’t it either.

  • Not meaning to hijack but it’s uncanny how we wrote about such similar topics. I talk about it in terms of two types of Christian holiness: trying to be correct versus pursuing the heart of Christ. I would say that there’s no more perfect betrayal of Paul’s teaching than to turn his words into the new law that justifies:

    • nickgill

      THIS. +1

  • Rick

    So God does not care if we see him as God, and Jesus as the Messiah, and that we worship Him? Does not our “doing” and love towards others flow from that?

    • Seeker

      Hi Rick,

      Maybe you just read through the post a little too quickly. I think Peter was trying hard to avoid a response like the one you just gave. 🙂 A couple of times Pete specifically admits that, in theory, right living should flow from right thinking. But the bigger point is that often we can believe that we have everything perfectly “orthodox” in our thinking about God and yet we can still treat other people like absolute crap. That is what this is about.

      I can’t help but think that this is part of what Jesus was getting at when he said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ (Matthew 7)

      According to Jesus, you may think that you know him as Messiah and Lord quite well. And maybe you are even doing some pretty amazing things by using the power of His name (however that works!). But there is apparently more to knowing Jesus than just getting his name and title right. It might sound very glib, but loving others the way Jesus did seems like the best evidence that you truly know him. I think this is also part of the point Jesus was making in Matthew 7 about a tree and its fruit…


      • Rick


        Thanks. I think you are making the point I was trying to make. I am not discounting the importance of orthopraxy. I completely agree. Fruit is what we hope to see. However, knowing God/Jesus is vital here, and that involves some sort of belief. It is part of a relationship. That vertical relationship cannot be set aside, or reduced, as if it is secondary to our horizontal relationships. They both are important. We are to abide in Christ, soak in that relationship, etc… So Pete’s claim that “this is not a false dilemma. I am not setting up a straw man”, is not fully true. That is my point.

      • Messenger

        Hi Sicker,

        Peace be with you 🙂

  • davehuth

    I’m always so stunned and confused about why people find energy and reason to argue with assertions like the ones you’ve made in this post. Thank you so much for writing this.

  • Nancy R.

    When Jesus healed people, he often said things like “your faith has made you welll” Jesus doesn’t just emphasize behavior, but a willingness to trust and follow him. And this trust isn’t rooted in an intellectual understanding of doctrine – remember how he rebuked the disciples when they prevented young children from approaching him. He held up their faith and trust as models for adults. On the other hand, an emphasis on proper doctrine can have the effect of pushing people away – using human understanding to determine who’s in and who’s out. Trusting in Jesus doesn’t mean having all the answers, but a willingness to love and follow him, and to love and serve others.

    • Rick

      Tim Keller wrote:

      “We live in an age in which the very word ‘doctrine,’ or worse,
      ‘dogma,’ is a negative term. And yet it is simply impossible to live without
      doctrinal beliefs. While many do not want to use the term, all people—secular as well as religious—treat some views as horrific heresies. I have encountered churches that claim, “We don’t teach doctrine, we just preach Jesus.” But the moment you ask them—‘Well, who is Jesus, and what did he do?’—the only way to answer is to begin to lay out doctrine.
      But Paul does not simply say that right doctrine is necessary, but it is “sound.” The Greek word Paul uses here means healthy rather than diseased. This is Paul’s way to say that wrong doctrine eats away at your spiritual health.”

      • Nancy R.

        Jesus commanded us to “love The Lord your God with all of your heart and all of your soul and all of your mind.” I’m not promoting ignorance of God’s ways and words that have been revealed to us. To follow Jesus, it is necessary to attempt to understand him – what he did and said, and why, and to understand the purposes of his life, death, and resurrection. My point is, the intellectual understanding is not sufficient, and Jesus himself emphasizes faith and trust over doctrine – that is, doctrine beyond the broadest, simplest terms, as in, “who do you say I am?”

        • Rick

          Good thoughts. I don’t think we are far apart on this, although I would say that understanding of his purposes include trying to understand who he is, and what he did (the gospel: the life, death, and resurrection, ascension- 1 Cor 15). From that proclamation naturally develops questions that establish doctrine. However, in agreement with you and Pete, that includes faith, trust, and from that- fruit. It is far more than just an intellectual exercise.

          • Nancy R.

            Right, Rick. Anyone who cares enough about Jesus to follow him will also try to understand him – and to be able to explain to other people why following Jesus is worthwhile. There’s a big difference between that, and the sorts of doctrinal issues that Paul argued about in his letter to the Galatians, for example. In that case, the extreme doctrine that people were promoting (become Jewish in every way first before becoming Christian as well) served as a stumbling block, preventing people from following Jesus in the first place. We certainly can’t escape doctrine, and our faith is formless without it, but we need to ask whose purposes any specific doctrine serves. Are we using it to elevate ourselves above others, to keep other people on the outside?

  • John Stamps

    Our Lord Jesus wants us to do good, not to be right. Godawful talk radio hosts and talking heads on TV spend untold hours of fruitless effort trying to fix people’s erroneous beliefs. Nothing is easier than constantly re-arranging your mental furniture. And nothing is more pernicious spiritually — you are under the delusion that you’ve really accomplished something worthwhile by straightening up everyone’s belief system. Ideas are so easy to think and so fun to juggle! How much more difficult but truly worthwhile to give alms, perform acts of mercy, love your neighbor, forgive your enemies, and so on.

  • BrotherRog

    “You don’t think your way into a new kind of living. You live your way into a new kind of thinking.” – Henri Nouwen

    Progressive Christianity concurs and this is why we emphasize orthopraxy (right living/practice/actions) more than orthodoxy (right beliefs/doctrines/dogmas). Jesus emphasized following him far more than believing the right things about him. – paraphrased from my book “Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like christianity.”

    • Bryan Hodge

      So do you feel that progressives have come to orthodoxy through their right living? I think many conservatives would see progressives as having wrong thinking that has led them into wrong living. I, frankly, don’t see many progressives that would consider themselves orthodox. As Luther once said (paraphrased), “How do I know what to do if I do not know what to believe I should do?”

      • BrotherRog

        Some do, but that is ultimately not important. We don’t enter God’s kingdom by believing x, y, and z about Jesus. We experience the Kingdom by living as Jesus did and taught.

        That said, most progressive Christians are also steeped in scripture and are active in congregations where they hear the word proclaimed and preached — in addition to engaging in their actions in the world. So it isn’t either/or, it’s both/and.

        However, for Wesley, engaging in good works in the world was effectively a sacrament (a means of grace) in that those who do them experience God and this can become a means to a saving relationship with God through Christ.

        • Bryan Hodge

          So would you say that Jesus’ statement in John, that “unless you believe that I AM, you will die in your sins,” is not a teaching of Jesus? Do we not need to believe He is God come in the flesh? Do we not need to believe that He is the Messiah? It seems that the apostles teach that there is a false Jesus, one that is presented with characteristics that are either not human or divine. How is it possible to have false characteristics concerning Jesus if entering God’s kingdom has nothing to do with knowing characteristics about Jesus?

          I too think that doing good works is a type of sacrament, but disagree that one comes to know Christ apart from the grace that is first brought about by the true gospel that defines the real Jesus in distinction from a false one.

          I think the statement that you made concerning it not being either/or is something with which we all can agree. It’s the rest that is said that seems to undermine that truth though, and instead, argues that works are greater than faith/belief. The Prot view of these is that faith is primary and produces good works. Good works can confirm faith/belief, but faith/belief is needed first in order to be confirmed, lest we rewrite Eph 2:8-10, and say that we have been created in Christ Jesus because of our good works, and thus, have something about which to boast. Would you agree with that?

          • Andrew Dowling

            A few things:
            -Protestants historically misinterpret Paul b/c they follow the Reformation’s reading of Paul, which was simply incorrect. When Paul referred to “works of the law” he wasn’t talking about “good works” he was speaking at a specific time to a specific audience regarding circumcision (and possibly kosher food laws although there is less evidence for that) and the dividing lines btw Jews and Gentiles. Paul did not preach sola fide. And Jesus CERTAINLY did not.
            -The Gospel of John contains a lot of statements attributed to Jesus that practically all non-apologetic scholars agree don’t go back to the historical Jesus, as shown from their significant difference from the earlier Synoptic counterparts (amidst other reasons). Jesus never claimed to be God and never demanded to be worshipped, and the ‘I am” statements in John reflect the more mystical higher Christology that was present in the community from which the Gospel came.

          • Bryan Hodge

            Unfortunately, that is an all too common claim in our New Pauline church culture, but although one might be able to say that Paul is only concerned with the ritual law, as opposed to works of love, in Galatians, it is much harder to make that case in Romans, where Paul uses adultery and murder as his examples of what he means by “law.”

            Whether the GofJ attributes statements to Jesus in the narrative is really irrelevant as to whether the presentation of Jesus and what is required of one in salvation is inspired. If it is inspired, it really doesn’t matter if Jesus literally used those words. The presentation is given by the Spirit of Christ, and is, therefore, Christ’s own view of what is required. BTW, the main teaching about loving one another, which is often used in progressive circles, comes from GofJ and his epistles.

            The interesting thing about John is that he is theological, precisely, because his audience isn’t necessarily from an orthodox background. They’re primarily Gentile. That, to me, argues the case that we can’t get the idea from the Synoptics that Jesus cares more about what we do, simply because he is speaking to an orthodox audience, as are those Gospels. When the Spirit speaks to an audience that is not firmly rooted in orthodoxy, or needs to remain in it, He gets much more theological.

            So I think the issue between the Gospels is not one of the real Jesus in the Synoptics versus the fabricated Jesus of John, but rather, Jesus presented in a way to distinguish His concerns among the orthodox versus Jesus presented in a way to distinguish His concerns among the orthodox and heretics.

          • Andrew Dowling

            John wasn’t written for a Gentile audience; it was written to a (formerly) Jewish community by a Jewish author as the text’s numerous authoritative references to Judaism indicate., The references to conflicts with ‘the Jews’ represent the conflicts that early Christian community had with their fellow Jews post Jewish War, in which Judaism began consolidating and throwing Jewish Christians out of their synagogues and communities. Your theory about John being more theological because it was for Gentiles and the Synoptics for Jews makes no sense, For starters, orthodox Jews would be the most hostile audience to equating Jesus with God, while the Gentiles had long traditions of literal ‘offspring of God’ and virgin births (hint hint). If Jesus (or “the Spirit of Jesus” through the evangelist) wanted to clearly convey his divinity, he would need to more strongly do that amongst Jews than Gentiles.

            Also Mark, accepted by the wide majority as the earliest Synoptic, was clearly written for a Gentile audience.

          • Bryan Hodge

            We’re simply in disagreement here, and I think you’ve misunderstood what I was arguing.

            John is clearly written to a church that looks very Gentile, but obviously the church is mixed from the beginning, and the Gospels are meant for the entire church, not just one part of it. What you’ve said doesn’t touch my assertion about John. And it is, of course, just a theory, as is mine. But I do think that John is primarily written to a Gentile audience, even if somewhat mixed, due to the transition of the church in the first century from primarily Jewish to primarily Gentile. That’s why John is often accused of antisemitism, and has more of a focus on Jesus as the Savior of the entire world, rather than just Israel. We both agree that reflects the conflict at the time, but as I said, that has nothing to do with what I’m arguing.

            My point addresses the idea that Jewish orthodoxy in the Synoptics is used in terms of representation of Christian orthodoxy within the church, not that the Jews were orthodox Christians in the Synoptics. Hence, those Gospels are not trying to convince the church to which it is addressed to be orthodox. The point of the Synoptics is to distinguish faithful, orthodox Christians from unfaithful, orthodox ones. It, therefore, discusses what faith looks like within orthodox boundaries, which is why they don’t need to act as treatises convincing anyone of orthodoxy. That’s pretty clear to me.

            Second to this, my point is that John is in the context of Gentile heresies that look close to being proto-gnostic. Hence, he wishes the community he is now leaving on earth to continue in orthodoxy within that context. That was my point, which you seemed to miss. John is attempting to convince his audience to remain orthodox and believe that Jesus is YHWH of the Hebrew Bible, who has come in the flesh.

            Mark is saturated with Jewish ideas, so I’m surprised you think it was written for just a Gentile audience. I would say that all of the Gospels have a mixed audience, if we’re referring to the recipients of the Gospels, but I’m referring to the internal referents within the Gospels as they are applied externally to the audience (Jew or Gentile). What I mean by that is that the Synoptics present Jews who claim to be followers of God (i.e., the orthodox) who are then used to represent two kinds of orthodox, i.e., faithful and unfaithful. John, however, presents the Jews as unbelieving in order to correspond to the heretics. Hence, his Jews represent the unbelieving, i.e., the unorthodox; and he, thus, contrasts them with true believers which represent the orthodox.

            So I’m afraid you’ve missed the boat there a bit. I’m glad you admit that presenting Jesus as having a virgin birth, though, means that Luke and Matthew are presenting Him as deity. I totally agree. 😉

          • Messenger

            You should see a…….

          • Messenger

            So I guess you’ve not done one thing good because you don’t believe in anything. What a toddler!

          • BrotherRog

            because name calling is what mature “believers” do. : P

          • Messenger

            I dare you would not do it.

          • BrotherRog

            To be honest, I don’t think Jesus actually said many of the things attributed to him in John’s Gospel. That said, I still preach from that text. However, I hope you’ve read the book of James — the one written by Jesus’ brother. In that book, it becomes clear that actions are actually more important that beliefs.

          • Messenger

            True, those who claim to believe in Jesus may hold guns toward others and say that they do it in the name of God. I wonder if subtle influences are influential..

          • Messenger

            You can’t plus minus deeds. Just because you’ve done a million dollar charity, you could kill someone who don’t even make that much in a year.

            Doing no harm to others who deserve that is a great accomplishment in life.

          • Bryan Hodge

            I don’t think James would say that actions are more important than beliefs. That would divorce good works from faith/belief. Instead, James insists that belief without works (i.e., antinomianism) is worthless and does not save. Hence, faith that is displayed in works is more important than faith without works, and I would argue, works without right faith.

  • Daniel McCurdy

    One of the mistakes in reading that I have seen in multiple posts bellow is to say that if Jesus values loving others over completely correct belief, the belief’s don’t matter. This isn’t at all what Peter is saying. As we can see by his blog and books, he does have some concerns with what people believe. Peter is also addressing the reality that correct beliefs do not always lead to loving others as Jesus does. Take the way that a lot of Christians respond to homosexuality. The idea of them living in that particular sin creates a barrier to loving that person. Having once been an entrenched Calvinist I tended towards wondering if I could really be in community with a person who holds Arminian beliefs (I had a checklist).

    Jesus wasn’t the greatest on holding onto the orthodoxy of his day. He allowed his followers to pick grain on the sabbath, healed on the sabbath, called out the leaders on the difference between mercy and sacrifice, and a slew of other things. We could say the leaders of his day were just plain wrong in what they were thinking, but it doesn’t seem they are really that far from the law. I don’t think that Jesus goal was just to set up a lot of right theology, but rather to get people loving well. The theology is important, but it is not the end. A question for further discussion is: Is growing in our faith, growing in our theology or is it something ele?

  • Morf Morford
  • I agree with you that loving others is more important than defending doctines. And this is how I understood your title: “Does Jesus care more about what we do…”

    However there are those who would agree that what we DO is important in a very legalistic way. I think this would also be a less useful approach and gets tied up very much in fighting about what we believe we should do.

  • Bryan Hodge

    I think the reason why the apostles emphasize right thinking is because it is loving toward others. Again, we’re stuck with this “love is inclusive and tolerant” idea that is foreign to the NT, so we’re going to just conclude falsely on this issue. This is also why we make excuses for why Jesus, Paul, the prophets, etc. got angry and treated people harshly, and say that we cannot follow them due to our need to love others.

    Ironically, I was just thinking (again) about this issue yesterday, and came to the opposite conclusion. The reason why Jesus and Paul get mad is precisely because they love others and don’t want them to be deceived into destructive views of reality. They also love God more than people, as the first commandment is never to be subsumed under the second, but rather, vice versa. Hence, to love God is to give what He says supremacy and to exalt who He is above more deceptive views that dethrone and distort Him and His sanctifying work in the lives of others. What that looks like is Jesus calling Peter “Satan,” and the Pharisees “children of the devil.” It looks like Paul telling the Judaizers to go castrate themselves, and Elijah to cut up the prophets of Baal. That’s not what our ideal conversations look like because that isn’t what our love looks like. Obviously, that’s not what our conversations should always look like, but would you agree that it should look like that in those situations where people are being deceived?

    So I also agree that the answer is, “Yes,” but perhaps differently due to a different take on love and what its applications should look like in dialogue.

    “Jesus got mad at hypocrites–the religious leaders who said one thing and
    did another…those who put right thinking over right behavior.”

    I think we need to be careful about assigning our opponents the label of hypocrites. Jesus doesn’t rebuke them for putting right thinking above right behavior. He rebukes them for wrong thinking and wrong behavior, which I think serves what you’ve said better in terms of not perpetuating a false dichotomy.

  • ctrace

    The occult school I belonged to before becoming a Calvinist and being shunned puts it this way: Knowledge + Being = Understanding. ‘Being’ being what you are referring to as doing. You need to increase level of being as well as take in knowledge to get real understanding. In other words to increase understanding you have to increase *capacity* for understanding which means increasing level of being, and you increase level of being by provoking your limits to then be able to extend you limits. For a Christian the ‘doing’ part would be things like loving your enemy, turning the other cheek, waiting on the Lord.

    In the Bible what I’ve described above is taught in the part about what happens when you pour new wine into old bottles, and how you have to have a new bottle to contain the new wine…

  • toddh

    Great post! It’s like a Christian brain-teaser where you can go round and round and round… But that doesn’t make it trivial at all, it’s actually crucially important to live in the tension.

  • Susan_G1

    Unfortunately, I am all too familiar with people who spend inordinate amounts of time thinking about God but not actually following Him. If I went through the entire Bible right now, I’m convinced I would read much more about how to practice love than about how much we are to believe/trust/love God. Just thinking of the parables, Jesus emphasizes doing. He hated the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. What separates the sheep from the goats?

    Yes, true belief yields fruit. As a rule, I don’t usually quote scripture in my responses, but this passage seems to address both the belief and the action: “Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love…My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends… I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit… This is my command: Love each other.” (John 15)

  • Andrew Dowling

    I see several comments speaking along the lines of “doesn’t good action spring forth from proper beliefs?” No. Proper beliefs spring forth from your actions/the way you treat others and the world around you, which ultimately reflects your larger worldview. People from all different sorts of faith backgrounds demonstrate the example of Jesus, even if they don’t believe in the claims of Orthodox Christianity. In Matthew, the author did a clever interpolation which I think serves the point clearly. When asked the greatest commandment (singular), Jesus answers with two commandments, but he’s really answering the question with one. Jesus says “love God with all of your heart” then Matthew says “the second IS SIMILAR, “love your neighbor as yourself”. Meaning, they are really one commandment; they can’t be separated. You love God through the way you treat others ie as you would like to be treated.

    As many have already stated, Jesus consistently preached action; he focused on how we interacted with one another, as that was the key to the Kingdom, That’s manifested in all of his sayings and parables. Not acknowledging certain points of belief; that means nothing. Being a Christian I do believe following Jesus and recognizing his uniqueness definitely can help, but it’s not a prerequisite.

  • Ann Gingrow Corbett

    I live in one of the least religious states in the union and have been a lapsed Catholic for many years, so I’m not sophisticated in the languages of religion and theology. Even so, and in spite of the fact that I lean liberal/progressive in my beliefs, I’ve been drawn here because of the interesting conversations. I’m also amazed by the depth of everyone’s knowledge and passion for the Bible.

    However, I have seen many intense discussions about whose beliefs are correct (and some even insist that using the term “belief” is wrong), which is very intimidating to an outsider. I think if you want to “be Jesus” to others, a loving and kind attitude is far more likely to be successful. I also believe (or hope) that Jesus would care more about what’s in your heart and how you treat others than whether your doctrine is more perfect than mine.

  • John W. Morehead

    This post is similar to a past one of mine and I’m glad to see the topic being raised by others:

  • Chris

    From Kierkegaard’s “Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments”:

    “If someone who lives in the midst of Christianity enters, with knowledge of the true idea of God, the house of God, the house of the true God, and prays, but prays in untruth, and if someone lives in an idolatrous land but prays with all the passion of infinity, although his eyes are resting upon the image of an idol — where, then, is there more truth? The one prays in truth to God although he is worshiping an idol; the other prays in untruth to the true God and is therefore in truth worshiping an idol.”

    Get that book and read it! And maybe pick the brain of a philosopher while reading it =)

    • rvs

      I love that scene in Kierkegaard!

      Here’s another intriguing quote from the history of philosophy: “Not things, but opinions about things, trouble men”–Epictetus (the stoic). I disavow stoicism entirely (hedonism is to be preferred), but I am fascinated by Epictetus’s remark, because it speaks so forcefully to disposition.

  • I guess my answer would be both, but that both have their dangers. We need to have right belief, but all to often this seems to turn people into insufferable know-it-alls who lack the grace, mercy, and forgiveness that we claim to believe in, know, and experience. It shouldn’t turn us into people who are so easily offended and offensive to those who have different beliefs, but sadly too often it does. Also too often these battles are often over more secondary issues like gender roles, what sovereignty of God looks like, I’m sure you get the idea.

    However, to say that Jesus cares more about what we do seems a bit off too. I do believe that he cares deeply about what I do, but this can be equally abused. The Pharisees for example were all about what they did. They thought they were doing things right. So can we whether the way we do it is religious legalism or in following love, acceptance, and tolerance. We can easily think we’re doing it right and well be doing it all wrong.

    It helps me by changing the questions a little. Both of these questions are about the whats. What we do and what we believe. These whats are important (at least I think so), but maybe what Jesus cares about the hows and whys a lot more than the whats.

    Why do we believe? Why do we do what we do? Do we do it just to be viewed as good, to gain some kind of power or clout, or because the people around me are doing it? Do we believe because we’ve had an experience with God either directly or through those who claim to follow him? I think these kind of questions are important.

    How do we believe? How do we do the things we do? These may be the most important questions of all. Do we believe in ways that are exhibiting the love of Christ, reflecting the forgiveness and grace we have received? Do we present our beliefs in a harsh, demeaning way or in a way that shows love and grace, even if it also involved a need for repentance. Is this attitude also found in the way we do things for others?

    Don’t get me wrong I do think what we do and what we believe are important, I just wonder if dividing it like that just isn’t enough. I mean honestly I think you deal with the hows a bit in the post, but to me all these questions are so interconnected that that cutting one out would do damage to the whole picture.

    • Messenger

      Keep up the honest work! Do not keep a distance.

    • Susan_G1

      a very thoughtful and thought-provoking post, much appreciated. One thing, however, that strikes me as a bit off: use of the Pharisees as doers. They were both more and less than mere doers; they were more in that they added to God’s laws, burdening the people unreasonably, and they were less in that they did not love the spirit of the law and did not ‘do’ it correctly. Jesus explained the spirit of the law, gave us new eyes to see, gave us a new law. I wish you had chosen an example of an errant doer who had at least *heard* Jesus. I completely agree with easily thinking we’re doing it right and possibly be doing it all wrong. But your weighing of believers and doers is weakened, I think, by choosing the Pharisees.

      Assuming that this is not a fallacious bifurcation, and the question is whether He cares more about what we do vs. what we believe, I think reading the Gospels through, we would see many more examples of His emphasis on doing. One striking example is the rich man, who, it seems, did rightly, but loved money too much. The puzzled disciples were told, “there
      is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father
      or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel’s sake, but that he will receive a hundred times as much… along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life.” These are actions. But my interpretation may be shallow.

      I understand that your objection is to the bifurcation, and the objection is valid. The fullness of your response makes the bifurcation look weak. But the question is not shallow. To people (like me) who do not see as deeply as you do, it is an important reminder to obey Jesus’ greatest commandment.

      • I get you, and sorry my use of the Pharisees as doers was a bit off. You’re probably right and it was probably a result of me trying to get it out before needing to get to bed. Maybe it is weak.

        I wasn’t trying to make the Pharisees out only as doers, but that they tended to not fence so much based on beliefs, but rather on actions. It was about not being like the “sinners”, fasting, tithing, and keeping the Sabbath. Things like this also popped up in the church after Jesus, the Jewish members of the church trying to hold the Gentiles to actions like circumcision. It was very focused on what people did, but focused primarily on how to please God and maybe not so much on loving others. Unlike today where the fences seem to be placed on views of creation, gender roles, views on end times, etc. Maybe explaining my thoughts on that will be helpful, maybe its still a weak example, but it is what popped into mind.

        I didn’t want to make the question out to be shallow or that those who ask it are shallow, so I’m sorry if I made you feel that I was treating the question or people like you that way. If anything I was wanting to show that the questions are really very deep and interconnected with each other and other questions as well. We can’t just debate theology and doctrine divorced from action and I’m very suspicious of those who spend so much time talking about right belief, but are also very hard and ungracious to others. However, we can often think our actions are right without really having any tether to what beliefs make them right.

        Do I think Jesus cares about what we do? Yes. Do I think we at least need some right beliefs before we know what is right to do in God’s kingdom? Yes, not perfect knowledge of every theological debate mind you (as if that’s really possible), but some right beliefs are necessary. As I said though we can get over focused on the whats and not the underlying heart and motivations behind doing or believing what we do. If anything I don’t want the deepness and importance of these questions to be lost to a bifurcation. Thanks for the response and I hope my response makes sense and doesn’t make little of your comment.

        • Susan_G1

          No, please, don’t apologize; you did not make me feel shallow or belittled or anything negative. I hope I didn’t imply that. It is simply that I do feel shallow in theology, like I am only up to my knees in the ocean. I was very appreciative of your thoughts and was simply wishing for a bit more to understand about ‘doers’.

          Thank you for your gracious reply, and for elucidating on why you chose the Pharisees. I think we are much more alike in our beliefs than we are different.

          • Okay, sounds good. I just don’t want to make people feel inferior with my thoughts. I wasn’t sure if it was my post making you feel shallow or was more of a self-evaluation of where you are. So I figured it best just to apologize if that was the case and explain further as best as I could.

  • I’m always struck by the fact that 1 Corinthians 13:13 does NOT say, “And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; and there’s no point in talking about which is the greatest, since you cannot have any one without the other two.”

  • Mark S

    “This is not a false dilemma. I am not setting up a straw man.”

    Yes it is. And yes you are.

    Right teaching informs right living, and right living flows from the preaching of the Gospel. Though “love” is ‘greatest,” faith and hope remain. Separating teaching and love is simply untenable. Why argue, then, about which Jesus “cares” about more?

    John 7:16-18

    • Wayne Froese

      You seem to suggest that knowledge is all that divides us from God yet we see every Christian from Paul onward stating that we do the thing that we know is wrong. Today, the right teaching is here but you wish to argue. I have learned things and I keep learning things but that doesn’t mean I could not love before. Don’t fool yourself that you really KNOW all the things that you belief are true. I wasted a lot of time on the idol of right thinking and I still don’t have God’s mind and I never will.

      • Neo

        Right living comes from right believing, which is a righteousness revealed apart from the Law.

        • Wayne Froese

          I’ve heard that. I’ve said that. But it isn’t true. We have never seen “right thinking” lead to right living have we? Thorny issues of enforcing your orthodoxy on others can be avoided if we focus less on ideas on more on people…like Jesus did.

          • Neo.

            So Jesus’ beliefs didn’t drive Him? Of course they did.

            The very Gospel itself means Good News, not Good Works.

            You become what you believe. Ideas, words are powerful.

          • Wayne Froese

            I am (we are) not Jesus.

            From Romans 7 NASB:

            “15 For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate.” …

            ” 21 I find then the [n]principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. 22 For I joyfully concur with the law of God [o]in the inner man, 23 but I see a different law in [p]the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner [q]of the law of sin which is in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from [r]the body of this death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.”

            I provide no interpretation of this passage but jump straight to the conclusion

            Right thinking doesn’t lead to right living. We tell ourselves that right thinking leads to right living because right thinking is so easy to superficially achieve, especially if you take the Bible as a literal instruction book and ignore the difficult parts. It is a comfortable idea that is reassuring. We will never fall as those OTHERS fall because we have right thinking.

            This is a common pattern. We find that thing that is not our problem and build a belief around how having that problem leads to others downfall. We tell ourselves that the bad experience can’t happen to us. Poor people are poor because of their poor life choices. Unemployed people are unemployed because they didn’t take control of their career or have bad work habits. It is a self protection thing and an easy way to blame those more unfortunate.

        • The_L1985

          A focus on “right believing” is what led to the Inquisition and various holy wars in Europe. Christians tortured and killed other Christians for not being the “right” kind of Christian, and yes, the differences were details of belief. Most people today recognize that these actions were wrong.

          It is much easier to believe in love, justice, and sacrifice if you are embodying them through your actions. Or as James put it, “Show unto me thy faith without works, and I will show you my faith BY my works.”

      • Don’t fool yourself that you really KNOW all the things that you belief are true.

        If only more people, ahem, believed this!

        As an analogy, consider bright, young students who are learning about physics. They have the idea that heavier things fall faster—after all, a feather falls slowly and a stone falls quickly! They’ve gone through enough life to actually believe this thing about physics rather strongly. What can we do to dissuade them? We test our beliefs against reality.

        Jesus definitely talked about recognizing people by their fruit—as opposed to by their beliefs. And yet, Christians seem especially terrible at evaluating beliefs by the resultant actions, vs. how well those beliefs fit in with their preferred way of looking at scripture. What gives?

  • I think I would ask /answer this question in a slightly different way… Is love a belief or an action? Or an attitude? Whichever you answer, LOVE (ascribing worth to others and wanting the best for them, truly being willing to lay your life down for them) is what should drives all our actions and frame all our beliefs.

    If true love is front and center, than I feel pretty comfortable letting all other beliefs and works be 2 sides of a coin.

  • Guest

    Here’s my take on this issue I believe grace (love) and truth go hand in hand. 🙂

  • Jen

    Here’s my take on this issue . I believe Grace (loving others) and Truth go hand in hand. I’m not sure if it can be an either/or. Just my opinion. 🙂

    • Truth must come before love for those who have sin and thus wrong ideas about the world. C.S. Lewis’ Till We Have Faces gets at this idea in a very profound way. It’s interesting that it was his least popular book, even though he liked writing in the most.

      A previous pastor described the “faith vs. works” thing this way: faith must come first, but works should come right after, kind of like the rear wheel on a bike comes right after the front. I think the same holds for “truth vs. love”: truth needs to come first, but with love right after.

      One could question whether you should even call the concept ‘faith’ if works aren’t following on its heels. A friend told me that it’s probably better to translate the NT word(s) for ‘faith’ as ‘trust’ instead, given the horrible things that have been done to the word ‘faith’ (by believers and non-believers).

      • Jen

        I have to politely disagree. 🙂 The problem is that if you share Truth in an unloving manner, your words will not be heard. More likely, hearts will be hardened. I’m not at all suggesting that we downplay truth, for that strips it of its power. I’m suggesting that our manner of delivery should be one of love, our motivation should be love. I believe Christ’s example is the best to follow.

        • I don’t recall I suggested that one “share Truth in an unloving manner”? Your very question demonstrates that truth must come before love in one’s own understanding of things—otherwise you can’t share it in love.

          Perhaps a better way to frame the issue is this: is it better to err on the side of not telling the truth in love via:
          A) not telling as much truth
          B) telling truth in a way that was not sufficiently loving
          ? I would say it depends on the state of the recipient. Option A may be best with bruised reeds and smoking flax.

          I’m not sure we actually disagree, Jen. I would remind you of the order of Jesus’ two summarizing commandments: love God first, then love your neighbor. A critical part of loving God is being grounded in truth.

          • Jen

            I see what you are saying and perhaps we are not as far apart as I thought. I suppose I see telling someone truth as an act of love itself as long as it comes from the right motivation. Sometimes we become so concerned about spreading truth that we forget to also demonstrate grace. What I was speaking to in my prior comment was in reference to truth (right beliefs) and love/grace (right heart attitude and actions) walking hand in hand. I truly don’t believe one is more important than the other. Without truth, we fail to recognize sin; without grace, we fail to recognize forgiveness. Both are equally necessary. However, you are correct in stating that much depends on the recipient. I’m thankful we have the Holy Spirit to guide us in those situations. 🙂

          • I thought we were pretty close in actual intention. I still recommend C.S. Lewis’ Till We Have Faces, because it paints a believable and compelling story of what can happen when people intend to be loving, but try to love without first grounding themselves in truth.

            I speak from some experience when I say that things ‘intended’ to be loving can be extraordinarily hurtful. Indeed, my siblings recently gave me almost entirely destructive criticism, and then made themselves feel better by saying, “We only say these things because we love you!” I’ve read The Five Love Languages and know my way around that topic. There are also sayings that “intention matters more than action”. This may be true, but only if the results of the action are tested against the intention, with adjustments made if the resultant fruit is rotten. God cares quite a lot about how we respond to our mistakes. If we don’t respond appropriately, that ‘intention’ starts turning into something we tell ourselves to feel good about ourselves.

            Now, truth without love is a clanging gong. The trick is, as is the case with all maturity, maintaining the tension without veering too far in either direction. Although it is a bit opaque, I believe Eccl. 7:15-18 gets at this issue—especially v18.

  • Barbara Mack Blackburn

    Love – without it – we are nothing. Good blog.

  • Roger Harper

    Hard to believe such a good post would lead to such controversy…

    I believe in the Jesus who said ‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord”, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only one who does the will of my Father in heaven.’ (Matthew 7:21) People can have Jesus as their Lord but not do what His Father wants. Serious consequences for the un-doers.

    I believe in the Jesus who said ‘…and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you…’ (Matthew 28:20) This is not ‘teaching them to believe everything correctly…’ Why have we become so fixed on teaching disciples sound doctrine but not teaching them to obey Jesus’ commands? Most of us have no idea what ‘everything Jesus commanded is.’ We can think of the Great Command(s) and one or two others only… Knowing what the commands of Jesus are should be the beginning. Then we have to learn how to obey them.

    No this doesn’t mean that belief, faith doesn’t matter. It does mean we need to pay attention to Jesus’ priorities.

    • west

      Roger, Matthew goes on to record Jesus saying “And what is the will of the Father? to believe in the one He has sent.” Yes, of course we are supposed to obey God, but our first act of obedience, as Christians, is to obey the call to faith, then comes good works…

      • Andrew Dowling

        Matthew goes on to record Jesus saying “And what is the will of the Father? to believe in the one He has sent.”

        ?? What translation is that? That’s not in my Matthew . . .

  • Fusina

    My atheist BFF totally agrees with your premise.

  • Pete, you might want to spend a bit of time looking at the passages that talk about ‘abiding’ with/in Jesus/God. Surely these ought to be very similar to the bits about faith/belief… except I think they are very different from many people’s conception of faith/belief.

    I can imagine Jesus being exasperated with towers of thought and expressing it this way: “Yeah, whatever, but tell me this: are you weeping with those who weep and rejoicing with those who rejoice? Are you taking care to not break bruised reeds, nor quench smoking flax? Are you following my my footsteps in how you treat e.g. prostitutes and ‘sinners’, or are you more similar to the Pharisees?”

    This being said, I think faith/trust must come before works, for this reason: we must be headed in the right direction, and we must want what God wants more than we want what we want. Otherwise, we’re doing the works to make God happy, but we’re really going about life in order to make ourselves happy.

    I think your criticism is really this: many people do not evaluate the quality of their faith by looking at how closely their works conform to Christ’s. They do not test their own fruit. After all, it’s much easier to detect whether someone is thinking differently than me, compared to having to actually engage with them and see how they are living and how that living is impacting other human beings. This world of ‘evidence’ is icky and there is noise to deal with and it isn’t hygienic like comfortable models of Biblical inerrancy! It requires me opening myself up to possible hurt, and “completing the sufferings which are lacking in Christ”! Given all of this, it is really tempting to say that “works are more important”. I think this is an overreaction that leads to a violation of the second of the Ten Commandments, which includes bad models of God (or what he wants for the world) that we ‘fix’ in place of continually reaching higher (with God’s help, of course). Faith directs us to better and better mental models of God. Faith must, however, be informed by works.

  • Dave Taylor

    I’m astonished at how much controversy posing this question creates–not just here but anywhere it emerges. Jesus instructed his disciples to make more disciples by teaching them to obey everything he commanded. Among those things are being merciful, patient, correcting with gentleness, etc. If you’re not doing them, then why do you call him ‘Lord’ (which is what you rightly think he is) and do not the things he commands?

  • Kennyd23

    Without faith you cannot please God .Right believing leads to right doing.
    You short change yourself of true Joy when its all about yourself your effort your works. When your doing is an expression of love and thanks giving, when one is expressing Gods grace forward to others Joy is there.
    Look at the difference between a dry drunk and a recovering alcoholic they both are sober but only one is truly victorious.

  • Kennyd23

    In the new covenant we only have 2 commandments .
    Believe on Me( Jesus) and Love one another
    Believe comes first. The Father will not honor those who do not honor the Son.

  • Jesus cared much about doctrinal correctness. But that’s only because it greatly aided in facilitating love and peace in this world. The scriptures tell us that the most important thing is love. It tells us this when it states that every law and prophesy exists for the sake of helping us to fulfill the commandment to love (Matthew 22:36-40, Galatians 5:14), which is the greatest commandment and law of all. What we don’t realise or tend to loose sight of, is that the goal of Christianity is to teach us how to love like God would love. When it says that we are to be transformed into the image of Christ, what it’s saying is that the end goal is for us to bear the image of a being that lives solely to manifest the power and wisdom of love in this world. How? Because Christ, is the power and wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:24), and God is love (1 John 4:8). So putting two and two together, gives us this.

    So its all about us becoming love and its for this purpose that Jesus emphasized an importance of doctrinal correctness. For to the degree that our doctrine is correct, is also to the degree that we will love like God and Jesus would love. You see, because God is love itself, the more we understand just who God really is, the more we will love like He would love, and vice versa. But because the end goal is love, the importance and need to love people will always come before the need to be doctrinally correct. For once we start to place doctrinal correction above love, we would end up defeating its main purpose.

    Though Jesus cared about doctrinal correction, He never used the correctness of ones doctrine to determine who He would love and befriend. He loved and desired fellowship with all regardless of what they believed. And in fact, He was even willing to become ‘the wrong one’ (so to speak) if it meant that it would buy some time for Him to reach them with the truth. This He did when He agreed to die as a sinner for our sake, even though He did not sin. With His example, He showed us what was expected of one who reflected the image of love (i.e., of God) in maturity. He showed us that love would always place, the relationship above the need to be right or holy, even if it meant agreeing to be the wrong one.

    So when we place the need to be doctrinally correct above the need to love people, we are actually undoing the work of Christ, and showing that we really don’t understand what God is about. Doctrinal correction in itself, never saved anyone. We love God, not because He forced His doctrine upon us, but simply because He loved us first (1 John 4:19). It’s because of Christ’s sacrificial act of love that we even became open to what He had to say. Remember, it was His loving works that caused people to open up their ears to hear what He had to say, especially when He was saying things that seemed very far from the truth that they were accustomed to. Similarly, It’s an act of love from us that will cause others to be touched from deep within to the point that they will then want to consider what we have to say.

    So while doctrinal correction is indeed very important, it’s important only because it greatly aids in facilitating love and peace in this world. As such, if our emphasis on it’s importance is preventing love from being manifested, then it means that it is now becoming more important than God intended it to be. For the most important thing is love, and everything else exists to help facilitate love. So let’s remember to love first and be correct second. This is the example that Jesus left us.

    I have written much more on this issue here:

  • darren r

    I look at Matthews gospel and what struck me was the healing of the withered hand on the sabbath
    Love and caring won the day and the man went away healed yes the law was broken but what did they do they planned to destroy him at a meeting
    Jesus walked away and helped and healed all who where in need.
    What a lesson to us all
    When I told my oncologist that I was water fasting she said what for/? I told her for health reasons and she nodded in agreement-I slipped with I also do it for bringing me closer in my faith to jesus-she rolled her eyes In disbelief and banged her pen into the desk.
    Peace from