Believe, Do, Be
By JIM NICHOLS
Whether or not you are a follower of God through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, you have some sort of spiritual stance. Furthermore, that stance did not just fall into you; it was developed over the years through what you have been told, what you have read, and the way you have interpreted what has happened to you. One might refer to this as your spiritual journey.
A useful challenge is to express (perhaps even write down) the major steps in your spiritual journey. The journey is not complete at any time, of course, but seeing the trajectory and major steps is informative. Often, hearing someone else’s explanation of their spiritual journey shows overlaps with our own. In addition, hearing several such explanations often shows common themes appearing.
Some years ago, a friend of mine, Cole Bennett, discussed his spiritual journey in a class I was attending. Recently, I asked him to review it briefly with me. His return email stimulated these thoughts. There are several seeds that need development, but I present here some basics with only a minimum fleshing out; perhaps more will come later.
He explained that his journey had three major steps. I want to use some quotes from him because I thought they were so well-stated.
- “First, I perceived my faith as ‘believing all the right stuff.’” This was a surprising start to the list since my inclination was to assume that this was the whole idea of Christianity (and, perhaps, other religions.) It has made me consider how we may have defined our faith as a system of beliefs rather than as an expression of a loving way of life.
It is easy to look on the websites of churches and find a list of “statements of faith” for that group; what we are seeing is a list of “statements of beliefs.” Such lists are helpful in helping us as readers understand what that group considers fundamental to their religious stances. It may be rather like a blueprint for that church. We each know, however, of some groups for whom this statement of beliefs has been elevated to a status that distorts the word “belief.” It has become an unquestioned set of stances derived from a supposedly authoritative source. They often state that the source is the Bible, but it is much more transparently their own interpretation of the Bible. Trouble is brewing.
- “As I grew older and matured somewhat, I began to understand the call to ‘do’ the things I’m called to do, such as love God, love my neighbor, and obey the commandments in the Bible.” This is clearly different from the “believe” activity of the spiritual journey.
Jesus was a person of action; descriptions of his ministry are filled with him walking, climbing, praying, healing, sailing, speaking. In the New Testament we have pointed explanations of debates about whether “faith” or “works” is more important, but it is obvious that they go together. To try to separate them does not make sense. In these actions now we see the fruits of appropriate beliefs. We also see the inconsistency that we have. If we believe that God created all humans as equally valuable, do our actions illustrate that? If we believe that all humans have gifts that can be used for good, do our actions illustrate that? If we believe that violence is not God’s way, do our actions demonstrate that?
- “In my late-stage journey, I have come to understand that I must ‘be’ a follower of Christ, which encompasses all manner of believing, doing, loving, and committing myself to both confirming evidence and skeptical doubt. That’s what it means to ‘be’ a Christian.”
Obviously, these three steps along the journey do not replace one another; they build and expand and enfold. It is rather like the growth rings in a tree; in a new growing season the old growth ring is not destroyed or replaced, it is added to. Last year’s growth is still present and is, in fact, adding to the stability of the tree as wood.
This approach suggests that the Christian life is not just the holding of correct beliefs (as important as they are) or doing the correct actions (as important as they are) but moving toward being a new creation in Christ. Believe, do, be.
Jim Nichols is a retired Abilene Christian University biology professor and current medical chaplain