As I continue to grow up in Christ and spend time studying Scripture, I notice a similar dynamic at work throughout my life: it’s the background beliefs, the below-the-surface things, that usually end up determining what happens. We say God controls our money, but we end up spending more on our pets than we give to our church; we say our home is for hospitality, but we’d rather stick to ourselves than invite over someone we don’t know well; we say we trust God for our contentment, but can’t seem to stop buying things we don’t need.
We’ve all experienced the conflict between what we say we believe and what we actually believe. In his wonderful book You Are What You Love, James K.A. Smith reminds us: “You might not love what you think.” In other words: you might not actually believe what you say you believe, and I’ve come to think that this is basically the human condition.
The grace-filled truth is that God meets us where we are and walks with us through the growth process. Jesus paid the ultimate price for us though we were in open rebellion against Him (Rom. 5:8). I have started thinking of the Christian life as a process of learning to believe the truth, where “belief” means more than just “think correctly”: it means cultivating the readiness, the habit, the inclination to think and act according to what is true, by the power of the Spirit. I am encouraged by the fact that Jesus Christ rules and reigns forever as someone who walked in human flesh, who grew and matured (Heb. 5:7-8, Luke 2:52); He created us, and so understands intimately the truth that it is generally not possible to switch beliefs on and off like light bulbs.
As I consider my own subconscious beliefs, I’m prompted with really hard questions. Am I willing to admit before God that I don’t fully believe things I say I believe? Can I trust the Holy Spirit’s grace and strength to show me the patterns of life that will cultivate these beliefs in me, despite the vulnerability and shame that comes with admitting I don’t really believe as I ought? Can I trust the community of believers around me to be conduits of grace and help rather than neglect or condemnation?
Pressing into these difficult things has opened me up to a fresh awareness of God’s sufficiency for me. He is enough for me even when I discover I don’t really know myself. It has opened me up to be more attentive to others’ beliefs so that I might speak to what is truly needed rather than to what appears only on the surface. It has moved me to pay closer attention to the Bible, to see not only what the writers say but what they assume; and when I find a background assumption brought out into the open, like Paul’s words on the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15 or the writer of Hebrews’ words on God’s calling to all of humanity in Hebrews 2, I pay especially close attention and discover greater unity and depth to Scripture than I’d seen before.
Wherever you find yourself in your Christian walk, I pray that you—together with your community of like-hearted Christ-followers—would get honest before the Lord about the tension between what you say you believe and what you actually discover you believe in some area of your life. Realize that this is part of being human; confess, and take joy in the fact that your Savior, the only human being to ever live out his calling faithfully and sinlessly, understands, and meets you there regardless. More than that, He has given us the Holy Spirit, who empowers us on that long obedience in the same direction (to borrow from Eugene Peterson) and promises that help for the journey is always close by.