We love to talk about our beliefs, write about our beliefs, argue our beliefs, stand for our beliefs, defend our beliefs, and flaunt our beliefs. And why not? Beliefs are equivalent to values, to religious conviction, to spirituality, to morality. . . Right?
No! Absolutely not.
This is not to say that beliefs have no value. Beliefs shape who we are and influence the actions we take. The problem is that we want our beliefs define us rather than having our actions define us. The fact that you are Republican or Democrat, Christian or Hindu, socialist or capitalist should not define you. The things you do with those beliefs should define you. We should be defined by our actions.
It makes little difference if I say I believe in family values. It matters a great deal if I am faithful to my wife, care for my family, and work to create a world where family is important. It doesn’t really matter if I believe cancer is a terrible threat that needs to be eliminated. It does matter is I walk in the Relay for Life, give money, and advocate for more funding of cancer research. If I believe that I should love and serve helpless people in my community, but my life revolves around my own needs, my belief is useless.
James chapter 2 has a lot to say about this idea. James makes the case that belief without action is useless. “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”
James makes some statements that could be offensive to those who highly value beliefs and doctrine. He basically says, “You have deeply held beliefs which you think make you special? So what. The demons believe the same thing. Even the demons have good doctrine.”
Right beliefs will not make us the right kind of people. Only right action will make us the right kind of people. Belief is much easier than action, but belief without action is empty. Let’s not be people who are defined by what we believe, but people who are defined by what we do.