When I was a kid I gave my mom a lot of grief. I was angry, argumentative, and full of energy. Every parent’s dream.
I remember one particularly difficult day. I was acting out. My mom was exasperated. But it was all about to change. Peace was right around the corner.
My mom grabbed the phone off the wall. (Back then it was attached to the wall with a long, curly cord.) She shook the receiver at me and angrily asked me point-blank: “Do you want me to call Santa Claus and tell him how you’re acting?”
Let’s all settle down for a minute. Let’s not do anything rash. Let’s not do anything we’ll regret or that can’t be undone.
No. Clearly I do not want you to call Santa Claus.
I’ll be good. I swear. Put. The. Phone. Down.
I believed she had the ability to fulfill her threat in that moment. I didn’t even think to call her bluff. I never asked if she really had his number. It seemed to me at the time like the kind of thing adults could do. I believed. And I changed. At least, temporarily.
That’s the power of belief.
In this situation I believed my mom could bring pretty nasty consequences if my behavior remained the same. I was able to change my behavior in the short-term. I had a deadline. Once Santa came, I knew I could let loose (at least a little) on my restraints.
Genuine belief is powerful. It’s tangible. My mom knew I believed her threat because she could see my behavior changed.
You can see belief. You can see it in what people wear, how they talk, and how they behave. It’s evident in how they spend their time and their money.
Often the behaviors of people who believe differently than you seem irrational or strange. They seem that way because you believe differently. Therefore, you live differently based on your own beliefs (which seem irrational or strange to others).
If a kid believes there is a monster under their bed they will have trouble sleeping. Likewise, if they think a nightlight can protect them from monsters they can sleep soundly. If only all of life was this simple.
We need to be careful. Belief is powerful but it has limits. Beliefs are still just beliefs. They don’t change reality despite what some people may tell you. Positive thinking only goes so far.
The placebo effect is real. But real medicine is still more effective than placebos.
Many years after my mom changed my behavior with a threat to call Santa she was diagnosed with lung cancer. She was very optimistic. Her doctor was very optimistic. They kept on telling everyone how they were going to cure this thing, beat this thing.
Then she died.
Belief is powerful. But it doesn’t change reality.
When our beliefs don’t match reality to a small degree we can live in happy delusion. When our beliefs start deviating more drastically from reality we may be in serious trouble.
Belief has power to change us. It does not have power to change reality. You can believe you’re a billionaire all you want but your bank-teller will tell you the truth.
Since belief changes persons, and not the world around us, we should change our beliefs when they don’t match reality. We should aim for believing what is true, not what we like or what makes us feel good.
Eventually wishful thinking is exposed for the emptiness it is. The exposure may not be immediate. But it is almost always painful.
When my mom threatened to call Santa my belief changed. The quality of life in our household improved. But my belief was misplaced. She didn’t have his number. And the results of her bluff were temporary. It didn’t last into the next calendar year.
Some treat belief about God the same. They think that if believing in an afterlife causes people to behave better then the world is better for it. Even if the promised pleasures or threats are just imaginary.
The Bible teaches that God has given proof in the world He created that these things are not imaginary.
“Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30-31)
History doesn’t change based on our beliefs. Jesus is either risen from the dead or He isn’t. Your belief and my belief don’t change the reality.
But it does change us. Your life demonstrates what you believe about this.
We live in a society that claims everyone is entitled to their own belief. I won’t argue that. But sometimes the fruit of our lives doesn’t match our profession of belief.
If I told you I was passionate about the environment that’s one thing. But what if I told you while I was littering? If I told you I’m passionate about my health while smoking a cigarette and eating a doughnut what would you believe about what I was saying?
Would you believe my words? Or would you believe my actions?
If you’re wise you’ll believe the fruit. Actions speak louder than words. Sadly, many people are hypocrites. They claim to be one thing but they live contrary to their profession. The Bible talks plainly about this.
They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient and worthless for any good deed. (Titus 1:16)
The Bible calls people to believe in the reality of the resurrection. If you truly believe changes will naturally start to happen.
The message of Christianity and the call of the gospel can be distilled to “Believe.” But we can’t leave out the related truths of repentance and bringing forth fruit in keeping with repentance. The promise of salvation is for those who endure in their beliefs until the end. Don’t take my word for it. Jesus said,
“Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved. This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:12-14)
Some say it’s heresy to add to belief. But these aren’t additions. Not really. They define biblical belief.
If you call someone to believe you are calling them to change their mind. That’s repentance. You believed differently before. You lived as if Jesus wasn’t the promised Messiah. Since Jesus has been declared the Son of God with power by His resurrection from the dead you should change your mind!
Believe in the risen Lord and Savior. Live in accordance with this new belief. Forsake your previous beliefs. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.
Belief in Jesus is not simply saying a prayer with every head bowed and every eye closed. That’s superstition. Magic. Wishful thinking. If no change occurs how can someone say they have believed? Where is the substance of the profession?
Yes, there are passages that simply say believe. The entire witness of Scripture plainly teaches that this call to believe entails forsaking our former way of life, actually dying to it, and walking in newness of life. Repentance is always included. If not explicitly, implicitly.
Jesus calls the world to come, believe, and follow. He does not call people to come, say they believe, then go back to life as usual. That’s not biblical. It’s just lip service.
Have you genuinely believed? Does the fruit of your life match your profession of faith?
Your belief is powerful. It has the power to change you. Your belief can’t change the world directly. But as it changes you, you can make a positive change in the world by the grace of God and for the sake of His name as you live in light of the truth.