My counselor read the following statements to me, waiting for me to say “I agree” or “I disagree” after each:
- I may want to please people I care about, but I don’t have to please them all the time.
- If I refuse to do a favor for people, that doesn’t mean I don’t like them.
- If I say no to people and they get angry, that does not mean I should have said yes.
Each time he read a statement, I immediately knew the correct answer—the one he was looking for. Of course I don’t have to please everybody all the time. Of course I don’t have to say yes to someone if he or she gets angry with me.
I realized that though I could give lip service to the right answers, I did not really believe them.
I knew enough to agree with the statements, but everything inside me shouted, “No! I Disagree!” As a pastor I have said those very things to others in my office, and even from the pulpit. But at that moment I realized that though I could give lip service to the right answers, I did not really believe them.
In the Reformed tradition of the Christian faith, we emphasize accurate theology. We want to possess the right answers about God, humanity, and life. I appreciate this about the Reformed tradition. The way Christians express their faith has changed much over the centuries and varies greatly in different cultures around the world. Doctrines, however, do not change. Jesus Christ and his identity are the same yesterday, today, and forever. The Reformed tradition does an excellent job of handing down the faith that was once for all given in Jesus Christ.
Yet in my own spiritual walk with the Lord, I am seeing that I can know all the right answers regarding doctrines and not really believe them in my heart. The problem is not that I disagree with anything in our creeds or confessions. I agree with everything. But my actual belief in many of them is weak. This must be why Jesus so often said, “You of little faith!” to the apostles.
The apostles had no problem thinking Jesus was correct in everything he said. But when it came time for Peter to walk on water to Jesus, he began to sink. In the same way, we can bear witness that our salvation is by grace alone, then feel terrible guilt over mistakes we made years ago. In saying the Apostles’ Creed we can affirm “the resurrection of the body” while deeply fearing our own death.
If asked, I would affirm with the Heidelberg Catechism that I have had my sins forgiven and have been made forever right with God as if I had never been a sinner. Yet I will get defensive instead of apologize when someone approaches me about something hurtful I’ve said. I will attempt to fight for my own righteousness instead of accepting the righteousness given to me by faith in Jesus Christ. My true belief is exposed: I actually believe my righteousness comes from my image as a good person.
I would never disagree that God loves me unconditionally and that God’s love is all I need. Yet my day can be ruined if someone is upset with me. I feel guilty that I cannot be at every meeting. I feel inferior when a sermon isn’t a knockout. My true belief seems to be that God’s love is not good enough and that my importance is based on my performance.
God is showing me the difference between knowing the truth and actually believing it. Now I scrutinize my behavior to see what my true beliefs are: What might I really believe if I enjoy seeing people I dislike “get what they deserve”? What do I believe about the holy catholic church if I make snide comments about classis or synod or fellow believers in other denominations?
I have been thankful that God has placed concern for right doctrine on my heart. Now I am thankful God is showing me what it means to truly believe.