Learning a language is a humbling experience. While exploring France, I can’t tell you how many times I have been laughed at, looked at funny or people have just given up on me. Languages are tricky, and the reality is that you don’t always know what you are saying, often even in your native language. I think this is obviously true towards non-native languages and especially in Romance languages such as French. Many of our English words resemble their French ancestors. For example, the words reservation, telephone and defense are the same in both languages. It is the faux amis (false friends) that gets us Americans laughed at, mocked and ridiculed. For communication to be effective, it is important to know the meaning of a word and how to use it appropriately.
I realized the other day during a rendezvous with God that I was erroneously defining a word that was foundational to my faith. The word was "believe." If you would have asked me to define "believe," I would have said that it means to accept something as true. If asked what I believe, I would have immediately begun listing the tenets of my faith. I believe in the Trinity. I believe that God created the world. I believe that humanity is fallen. I believe that sin separates us from God. I believe that Jesus came to earth, lived a perfect life and then died on a cross to pay for my sins, etc., etc., etc. While this definition of "believe" is true, it is only a shadow of what God meant when He told us to believe in Him. My time with God that afternoon turned into a language lesson, and I walked away realizing that my spiritual dictionary wasn’t as exhaustive as I had first thought.
Belief, especially in the book of John, is defined as being so convinced of something that we give over our whole selves to it. According to the Greek lexicon, to believe means "to be persuaded of, to put confidence in; to trust in Jesus or God as able to aid either in obtaining or in doing something." When God calls on us to believe in Him, He is asking us to do more than just mentally assent to certain doctrines and decrees. He is commanding us to be so convinced of who He is that we allow the truths of His words to transform our life and mind.
That aspect of the word "believe" is what was missing in my definition. It isn’t enough to believe something is true; I must live out that truth. As a matter of fact, my actions are the best reflection of my true beliefs. My words alone will never be proof enough of my convictions. Only the canvas of my life paints the reality of what I hold to be true. If I say one thing but do another, I am a liar, and the truth is not reflected accurately in me. It is difficult to admit sometimes that we are lying to ourselves and to God. In a recent confession, I told God that I didn’t believe as He would have me believe. I claim that God is sovereign, yet I often find myself questioning His direction in my life. I affirm that He is my provider, but I find myself trusting more in salaries and retirement accounts than in His promises. I declare that God is all I need, yet I struggle constantly against the urge to try and meet the deep needs of my hearts with things of this world.
Maybe this journey is about reconciling our actions to our words. Belief is a process. It begins with assent and is realized with action. It can be a long, difficult and painful process, but one that is essential if we are to become the people God longs for us to be. I think I am going to boycott the motto, "the Bible says it, I believe it." I don’t think the apostles would have stuck that bumper sticker on the back of their donkeys. It probably would have said something like, "God says it, I believe it, and thus my life reflects it." But then again, who needs a bumper sticker or a T-shirt or any other Christian trinket to testify to one’s beliefs when one’s lifestyle exudes Christ in every word and deed.