“Everybody believes something,” singer Dean Martin once pronounced, before pausing and quipping, “I believe I’ll have another drink.”
Corny but true. Everybody is a believer.
Can you nod your head? Click “like” on Facebook? That’s all it takes anymore to proclaim yourself a believer—in a cause, in a candidate, in a sports team. Reduced to mere mental assent, belief is the easiest thing in the world. No wonder most belief is so unremarkable.
What is remarkable is a person with life-altering beliefs. I think of a young woman who not only believes sex-trafficking is real, but also gets that it is really horrible. She deeply believes God wants her to make a difference. And so she goes into seedy strip clubs and—at considerable personal risk—tells traumatized, broken women, “You don’t have to live like this. I will be your friend, and I will help you find a new life.”
See the difference? This isn’t belief, the noun, but believe, the verb. This isn’t stain-glassed faith, but down-and-dirty faith. This is belief with hands that love and feet that step courageously into scary places. This is remarkable. And rare. And refreshing. And more than a little unsettling.
Because what does it say about me if I say I believe certain realities, but little in my life backs up my claims?
- “I know. I know. Eating sweets five times a day could very well lead to diabetes…wait…WHAT?! You’re telling me we’re out of Hershey’s Syrup & Reddi Whip!?”
- “If there’s one thing I believe with all my heart, it’s that the gospel of Jesus is true…life is short. Knowing God and helping others know Him is the most important thing of all. Too bad I don’t have time to pray or engage my neighbors. Hey, what’s on TV tonight?”
What I see (from a lifetime in the Bible Belt) is this: while many claim to be “believers” in God, very few are committed to “be livers” (of Jesus’ gospel). We talk so much about faith in Jesus, we seldom get around to actually following Jesus. On many days, we modern-day “believers” are theorists not activists.
The Apostle James wrote much about authentic belief. He said it’s not enough to just hear the Word (i.e., participate in Bible study groups, sit through sermons, etc.). No, he insisted we must be “doers” of the truth (James 1:22). A few paragraphs later, he got even more blunt:
“Faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless. Now someone may argue, ‘Some people have faith; others have good deeds.’ But I say, ‘How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.’” (James 2:17-18, NLT)
All this has me thinking that maybe in church world we should stop using the word believer. It no longer means much of anything. Even demons are believers, James will go on to argue (see James 2:19)—a very unnerving statement, indeed.
I’ve decided, I don’t want to be a believer anymore. God help me, help us, move from being mere believers to being practitioners of real faith. If we claim certain beliefs and then fail to live in accordance with those beliefs, we are, at best, afflicted by lunacy, and at worst, guilty of hypocrisy.