Choosing to Believe
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“‘If You are the Christ, tell us.’ But He said to them, ‘If I tell you, you will not believe.’”—Luke 22:671
No one can force anyone to believe anything. Each one of us chooses whether we will believe something, based on our evaluation of the evidence presented to us. Faith and belief may have different English meanings, but in the New Testament they are different forms of the same Greek word. Believe is the verb and faith is the noun for the same word. (Like think and thought are in English.)
John 20:25: “The other disciples therefore were saying to him, ‘We have seen the Lord!’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I shall see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.’”2
Note that Thomas said, “I WILL NOT believe.”
Many think seeing miracles would cause people to have faith. But the only ones who believe as a result of seeing miracles are those who choose to accept the miracle as sufficient evidence for them to believe. It is still a choice. “Although Jesus had performed so many miraculous signs before them, they still refused to believe in him.”3
I used to think faith was difficult to pin down with certainty—something like a feeling or state of being. But now I understand that once we make the decision to believe, we are in faith, no matter how we may feel. At its heart, faith is always a decision. No one can force you to believe in anything. The choice is yours.
However, we cannot believe or have faith in anything without evidence. We must have evidence that convinces us before we can believe something. The primary evidence God has given us so that we may have faith in Him is His Word. God is not a liar; He can be trusted. Whatever God says always comes to pass. So if someone says they don’t have much faith, the solution is for them to see the evidence from God’s Word on that subject, then choose to accept what God said as true. Then they will have faith. At that point they may not feel anything, but they have faith.
The primary action of faith toward God is speaking in agreement with God’s Word. Jesus said if you had faith you would say. So we express what we believe by the words we speak. And then we stand in that position of faith, regardless of feelings or circumstances.—From aDevotion.org4
Worship based on reason
In the Bible, “heart” is not simply equivalent to the emotions, as it usually is in today’s language. In biblical thought, the “heart” is the center of human personality and is often used in a way that emphasizes the intellect more than the emotions. Thus the plea in Proverbs 23:26, “My son, give me your heart,” has often been understood as an appeal for our love and devotion. But in reality it is a command to listen, to pay attention, to sit up and take notice, an appeal more for concentration than consecration. This is particularly clear in the book of Proverbs, where we read that the heart should pay attention to “understanding” and “be wise.”5
Passages in which the “heart” means above all the “mind” may be quoted from the New Testament too. Take, for example, the conversion of Lydia, the seller of purple goods who traded in Philippi. Here is how Luke describes her: “The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.”6 In other words, he opened her understanding to grasp and receive the gospel.
Of course, the heart includes more than the mind. But it does not include less. So heart-worship is rational worship. To love God with all our heart involves loving him with all our mind.
This leads us to state the first basic principle of Christian worship, which is that we must know God before we can worship him. It is true that Paul found an altar in Athens which was inscribed “TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.” But he recognized it as a contradiction in terms. It is impossible to worship an unknown god, since, if he is himself unknown, the kind of worship he desires will be equally unknown. That is why Paul told the philosophers that they were “ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.”7
The same principle emerges clearly in Christ’s conversation with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well… The Samaritans accepted the Pentateuch, but rejected the later revelation which God had given of Himself through the prophets. Having the law without the prophets, the Samaritans’ knowledge of God was incomplete. This is what Jesus referred to in his conversation with the woman by the well: “You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we [i.e., the Jews] worship what we do know, for salvation [i.e., the promised Messiah] is from the Jews.” Jesus continued: “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in … truth.”8 So “true worship” is “worship in truth”; it is worship of God the Father as He has been fully and finally revealed in Jesus Christ, His Son.—John Stott9
Trust, acceptance, and commitment
Belief in God is not the same thing as belief that God exists or that there is such a thing as God. To believe that God exists is simply to accept a proposition of a certain sort—a proposition that there is a personal being who, let’s say, has existed from eternity, is almighty, perfectly wise, perfectly just, has created the world, and loves his creatures. To believe in God, however, is quite another matter. The Apostle’s Creed begins thus: “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and earth.” One who repeats these words and means what he says is not simply announcing the fact that he accepts a certain proposition as true; much more is involved than that. Belief in God means trusting God, accepting Him, committing one’s life to Him.
To the believer, the entire world looks different. Blue sky, verdant forests, great mountains, surging ocean, friends and family, love in its many forms and various manifestations—the believer sees these things as gifts from God. The entire universe takes on a personal cast for him; the fundamental truth about reality is truth about a Person. So believing in God is more than accepting the proposition that God exists. Still, it is at least that much. One can’t sensibly believe in God and thank Him for the mountains without believing that there is such a person to be thanked, and that He is in some way responsible for the mountains. Nor can one trust in God and commit oneself to Him without believing that He exists: “He who would come to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of those who seek him.”10—Alvin Plantinga
Faith comes—it grows by hearing the Word of God. It’s not a sudden boom. “For faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.”11 That’s the law of faith.
But how often lack of faith is due to ignorance! Faith is built on the Word: Read it prayerfully and ask God to strengthen your faith. He’ll always answer the hungry heart. His Word will give you faith for it.
God cannot only do it, but He wants to do it! When the poor leper came to Jesus and said, “Lord, if Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean,” the Scripture says that “Jesus put forth His hand and touched him, saying, ‘I will; be thou clean.’ And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.”12 He’s more willing to give than we are to receive.
All He asks from us is that we honor Him with faith by believing His Word and trusting His promises. “For without faith it is impossible to please Him; for he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.”13 Trust in the Lord. “He hath never failed in one of all His good promises.”14—David Brandt Berg
Published on Anchor November 2017. Read by Gabriel Garcia Valdivieso.
Music by Michael Dooley.
3 John 12:37 NET.
5 For example, Proverbs 2:2; 23:15.
6 Acts 16:14 NIV.
7 Acts 17:23 NIV.
8 John 4:22–23 NIV.
9 John Stott, Christ in Conflict: Lessons from Jesus and His Controversies (InterVarsity Press, 2013).
10 Hebrews 11:6.
11 Romans 10:17.
12 Matthew 8:2–3.
13 Hebrews 11:6.
14 1 Kings 8:56.