What is belief? What does it entail? Is it knowledge of or faith in something? Is it the intellectual willingness to assent to a certain worldview or set of statements? Or is it something more?
Lately, I have found myself asking these questions, simply because I am doubting the answers that I would have given to these questions in the past. I was always brought up to believe (no pun intended) that faith and belief relied on the affirmation of a particular set of statements like:
- God exists (as an actual being)
- Humans were/are created in His image
- Humans are inherently sinful
- Jesus came as God incarnate to the earth
- Because of my sin, Jesus took my punishment when he was crucified
- Jesus (literally) rose from the dead three days later
- Etc., etc., etc.
I’m not sure I think so anymore. Here in America, so often, we like to make Christianity about “believing” in the right things. How many of us have heard the typical, “Do you know where you will go when you die? Do you think you’ll be going to heaven or hell? If you’re not sure, there’s a way you can know. All you need to do is believe that Jesus came here to die for your sins and was resurrected from the grave three days later. That’s all it takes.”
This view of Christianity is destructive on many levels. First, it places the desire for a secure afterlife above the desire for God himself. But, really, how many times has this message been given to the American public from Evangelicalism? Second, it makes the assumption that we are absolutely sure of what the message of Jesus really was. Do we really think that he came to simply start a new religion? I don’t. Third, it also assumes that Christianity is a one-step process. In one simple little step, people are given the false sense of security that their eternal fates are secured. Should not Christianity be viewed more as a progressive becoming rather than a one-time being?
It is here that I come to the conclusion that “belief” in Jesus is much less about what we believe, and much more about how we believe it. Thus, orthodoxy becomes less about “right belief” and more about “believing in the right way.” I am reminded of something Jesus said during his Sermon on the Mount:
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. On that day many will say to me “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast demons our in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” And then will I declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” (Matthew 7:21-23, ESV)
I used to have the arrogance to think that I was certainly not included in this group of hypocrites. More often than not, however, I find that it is me that Jesus is talking about here. I say “Lord, Lord,” all the time, and refuse to bring my “belief” into actuality in this real, human life I have been given. (Oh, and I should insert that by “kingdom of heaven,” I do not think Jesus was talking about making it to heaven after dying. The context of the passage is all about life here on earth. Thus, indicating that he is more likely discussing entering into the kingdom of God in the present.)
We are modern-day Pharisees.