Belief is a dangerous word. This stems from the fact that there doesn’t seem to be a universally accepted truth about what belief is, what constitutes as belief, or whether belief even matters at all. Within the body of Christ, there is a disagreement on how to define it, whereas outside the body of Christ, there is a consensus that it only matters to each individual conscience, in other words, there is no belief that everyone should adhere to.
I want to primarily address belief within the body of Christ. In some religious backdrops, belief is primarily defined as adherence to certain Biblical information. This is often referred to as intellectual assent. For example, if you ask almost any Christian about who Jesus is and what His work was on this earth, the vast majority of those questioned will respond with the same answer. Almost all will reply that He is the only begotten Son of God who came to this earth as a man to die for our sins so that we might receive salvation. This answer confirms at the very least that there is a common belief, or more specifically, a mental agreement with the facts about Christ.
The majority of the church reasons that the Bible is correct when it
states "by grace are you saved through faith, not of yourselves lest
any should boast". When asked, most will admit that we can not do
anything to make ourselves acceptable to a Holy and Righteous God, that
we need His grace in order to be forgiven and restored. We also freely
admit that is is by simple faith in Christ and His work that we receive
the life saving grace He bestows.
However, is the mere acceptance of information indicate true belief? Doesn’t the scripture inform us that the demons believe the very same facts about Christ that most Christians do? Yet, we don’t think of the demons as "believers" do we? Because we know that true belief runs beneath the surface of mental agreement don’t we?
So once the facts are agreed upon, we often hear the call to "act" upon these beliefs. This is expressed even in cliches like "if you are going to talk the talk, you gotta walk the walk." I don’t know of many Christians who are satisfied just to know the facts about Christ. I think most desire or at least reason that our lives should reflect our beliefs.
The question I pose now is this. When we recognize that belief is not just mental agreement, and that it is validated by action as James teaches in the New Testament, what do we do now? Do we seek to validate our mental agreement with works? Do we define every day as a "workday" in the Christian life?
Let me answer that last question with another question. Is there anything more defeating to the human spirit than the thought that they can never be good enough or do enough good in order to be made worthy in God’s eyes? Yes, and that is the thought that I must live my life earning the gift of salvation after the fact!?
I believe there is one important element that acts as the glue between mental belief and acted belief. This bonding agent is simply known as "realization". In order to reconcile the mind and heart, there must be realization. Dictionary.com defines it as coming to understand something clearly and distinctly.
I remember in school studying for history exams. Unfortunately, I didn’t pay attention in class very well which resulted in late night cramming. When you cram for a test, you try to memorize every fact on the review. I became real adept at finding ways to remember things by writing silly songs or word association. In essence, I was memorizing these facts so that I would remember them long enough to write them down the next day. The next day, I couldn’t have told you a thing about Napolean, Rome, The Alamo, or the Declaration of Independence. I never took the time to read about these events or immerse myself in them. I was only interested in the surface information, and even then, not until the last minute.
Years later, I would watch movies about the things I was taught as a kid, and the light would go on in my head! It was really as if I was hearing these things for the first time. Actually, it was the first time that this information was ever realized!
As husbands, we often experience the phenomena of realization in communication with our wives right? "You spent how much on a purse!!!" we scream. Then our wives reply with something like, "I told you yesterday that I needed this purse and how much it costs to which you said, ‘ok"!
Our whole spirit changes, we come to life once we realize the truth.
So, I think the disconnect between the head and the heart can be summoned up in this one important word. Realization. There are many who believe God forgave them of their sins, but they don’t forgive others. There are many who believe Jesus is the Way, yet they explore other ways. There are many who believe Jesus is the King, but they acknowledge themselves as King.
If you are experiencing this disconnect, you might be asking "what do I do"? That is a hopeless question when you think about it. Trying to figure out what you are to do will only keep you disconnected. Unless you begin to fully realize what you claim to believe, then you will never live as you think you should.
Take forgiveness for example, if you truly believe you are forgiven because of what Christ did, then why do you keep trying to live your life earning the forgiveness that has already been extended? The Bible uses the description "gift of God" which is very familiar language to the Christian, but not really believed. If Christians really believe that Salvation was God’s gift, then they wouldn’t spend their lives trying to pay Him back.
Indeed, it is a difficult thing to comprehend. The Gospel is that we only need to receive the gift! Receiving is the natural response to grace. When we carry a mindset of earning, whether it’s before our after our initial faith, we lose the essence of grace altogether. We need realization to truly free us from this bondage.
What if someone walked up to you and handed you a thousand dollars in cash right now. What would be your response? The natural human response would be to question the giver. "What’s the catch? What do I have to do?" You would need some convincing that this money was free and you didn’t have to pay it back. What it would take to convince you? You would be convinced once you realized that this was a gift. Maybe it would take several things to convince you like the giver to walk away and never be heard from again, or a shopping spree at the mall. At some point, maybe that day, maybe a year later, you would finally realize that the money was a gift! You would have a spirit of freedom! Perhaps you would never be free. Maybe you would live your life expecting the giver to show up at your door to collect a favor from you.
I truly believe that many Christians have never realized the gospel. They’ve heard it’s content thousands of times and they could ace the written exam. They’ve repeated prayers, they’ve stormed the altar, and they’ve taught Sunday school, but they perhaps never realized what they claim to believe!
There’s something else about the nature of realization. It often requires time and patience. As a minister of the gospel, I sometimes wish the process was faster. I wish everyone would experience a Pauline conversion, a blinding light of accusation that electro-shocks our spirituality. But for most of us, that’s the exception not the norm.
Sadly, many church leaders work on a dangerous assumption. They assume that because mental assent runs rampant, that there is no need to deliver the gospel message with regularity. They reason that people already know the gospel, and now just need practical advice on how to be a better person. They fail to realize that the gospel is not only for those who haven’t heard it, but also for those who’ve heard it a thousand times.
When asked why he preached the gospel every week, Martin Luther replied "Because you forget it every week." In reality, it takes people a long time to realize the truth no matter how often they hear it.
I wonder if a day will come when everyone who has ever breathed will realize the truth of the gospel? Hopefully it will take place in this life and not after. If not, that will be a sad realization.