What You Really Believe
What do you really believe?
In a rural community, there was a disastrous drought and the crops were dying. In desperation, the local preacher announced the whole community would assemble at the edge of the fields and pray for rain. A large crowd gathered, and the preacher climbed on a bale of hay and surveyed the flock. He said, “Brothers and sisters, you have come here to pray for rain.” “Amen!” responded the crowd. “Well,” said the preacher, “do you really the Lord will answer our prayer?” “Amen! Amen!” shouted the crowd. “You all really believe we can ask the Lord to send rain, and He’ll do it!? “Amen! Amen, preacher!” Then the preacher with just a hint of a grin said, “If you really believe this, I only have one question to ask you all. Brothers and sisters where are your umbrellas?” [i]
I think a lot of Christians are like these folks—we talk a lot about what we believe, and we know a lot about what we believe, but when it comes right down to it, we’re not quite so sure what we really believe.
What we really believe about some things may never really matter much. Some people believe in ghosts, or UFOs, or Bigfoot. Some people believe in palm readers, or astrology or their lucky rabbit’s foot.
But there are other areas where what you truly believe becomes a matter of life or death. One of these is in the area of what we believe about Jesus Christ. The Bible says
Jn 3:36 He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.
What you really believe about Jesus Christ makes a difference in where you stand with God, both now and in eternity.
You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn’t you then first discover how much you really trusted it?--C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed [ii]
The question of what you really believe is too important to ignore. The time to discover what you truly believe is before you find yourself hanging off a cliff. So how do you discover what you truly believe?
The Bible gives us an infallible test in James 2:14-26. In these verses, James describes what you truly believe as living faith. Let’s begin reading in vs. 14-17 and learn how to discover what we truly believe.
The original audience for James’ letter seems to have had a problem understanding the relationship between faith and works. This makes sense when you remember that most of them were Jews who often saw works as a way to earn salvation, and now they were being told (maybe by Paul?) such things as
Eph 2:8-9 8For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9not of works, lest anyone should boast.
The new emphasis on faith seemed to be saying that what you really believed and what you do don’t have much, if anything, to do with one another. James wants to correct this error by reconnecting faith and works. He does this by reminding us of 3 very important truths:
1. What you say doesn’t necessarily demonstrate what you really believe. (v. 14-17)
We’re about to enter the thick of election season, when politicians love to tell you what
they really believe. The problem is what they really believe usually changes with the polls. I fear it’s often as some anonymous wiseacre says:
There are three types of politicians: those that cannot lie, those that cannot tell the truth, and those that cannot tell the difference.[iii]
In spite of politics, the Bible does connect what you really believe with what you say.
Mt 12:34 …For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.
Ro 10:9-10 9… if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
1 Jn 4:15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.
But as important as our words are, they are not the ultimate demonstration of what we truly believe. Even Jesus says in
Mt 7:21 Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,” shall enter the kingdom of heaven…
James makes this same point in vs. 14. He asks a question: does a person really have faith in Christ just because they say they do? Can a faith that is mere words really save us?
He answers this question with a hypothetical situation described in vs. 15-16.
Suppose you cross paths with another brother/sister in the Lord who is in desperate need. They’re wearing rags to cover a thin, hungry body. You exchange pleasantries—how are you doing? Oh my, that must be terrible wearing rags, going hungry. But you know, brother, Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor.” You quickly find a way to end the conversation, and as you walk off, you call out I’ll be praying for you! Hope everything turns out all right! Stay warm and full!
What good is all these religious words when a person needs clothes and food? No good-no good at all. This kind of faith is dead, because faith is more than mere words. What you say doesn’t always demonstrate what you truly believe.
I have a friend who pastors a church down in Statesboro, GA who told me one of his biggest problems is that nobody he talks to is lost. Everybody he meets tells him they’re saved, they were baptized several years ago, that everything is OK between them and God. They still cheat on their spouse, they still cuss a blue streak, they never come to church, but they say they believe. They know the right words to say, they’ve prayed the sinner’s prayer, they’ve read just enough of the Bible to keep their conscience quiet, but deep down inside, they don’t really believe in Jesus at all. Can such faith save? James says no.
What you say doesn’t necessarily demonstrate what you really believe about Christ. Words are important, but they are not supremely important when it comes to your faith in Him. James also goes on to tell us
2. What you know doesn’t necessarily demonstrate what you really believe. (v. 18-19)
While studying in the Holy Land, a seminary professor met a man who claimed to have memorized the Old Testament—in Hebrew! The astonished professor asked for a demonstration. A few days late they sat together in the man’s home.
“Where shall we begin?” asked the man.
“Psalm 1, ” replied the professor. Beginning with Psalm 1:1, the man began to recite from memory, while the professor followed along in his Hebrew Bible. For two hours the man continued word for word without a mistake as the professor sat in stunned silence. When the demonstration was over, the professor discovered something even more astonishing: this man was an atheist! [iv]
I suppose this sounds so incredible is because you and I often mistake knowledge for faith.
We think just because somebody knows a lot of religious facts, that must also mean they have a deep faith in God. But that’s not necessarily so. What you know doesn’t necessarily demonstrate what you really believe. James makes this point in two ways.
In vs. 18 he imagines someone who tries to disconnect faith from works completely. Look James, some people just have faith without works, and some people have faith with works. Everybody just has to make up their own mind about it.
But James doesn’t buy it. Show me your invisible faith! He challenges, and I’ll show you a faith you can see—then we’ll decide which one is real.
I once read of a church where you had to be a member to join the choir. One gentleman approached the choir director and said, “I think I ought to be able to sing in this choir. I belong to the invisible church.” The choir leader responded, “Then perhaps you ought to consider joining the invisible choir.”
By definition, you can’t see what’s invisible. You cannot see what you know in your head, and even if you could, it wouldn’t demonstrate what you truly believe. This leads James to offer the example of the demons.
There’s a definite tone of sarcasm in vs. 19. You say, “I know there is only one God!” That demonstrates what I really believe! That’s real good—but don’t forget Satan and his demons believe the same thing, but it doesn’t do them any good! Satan knows all the facts about God—probably more facts than you or I know! But his knowledge doesn’t change the fact that he’s God’s enemy, or the fact that he’s doomed to hell.
This is a very important truth: what you know doesn’t necessarily demonstrate what you believe. Plenty of people in the USA grasp most of the facts about Christ. I imagine most people know John 3:16 but that doesn’t mean they’re saved. You can walk down Skid Row and meet plenty of alcoholics that know as much or more Scripture than many church members, but they don’t really believe in Christ.
This is what makes evangelism so tricky sometimes. You present the facts of the Gospel, you try to be sure a person understands the truths of sin, repentance, forgiveness, and surrender. They may grasp the facts, but still not really believe in Christ as Lord and Savior. The seed can be planted and still not grow and produce fruit. What you know doesn’t necessarily demonstrate what you believe.
So how does a person demonstrate what they truly believe? James answers this question in
3. What you do demonstrates what you really believe. (v. 20-26)
An old country preacher used to say: "There are two parts to the Gospel. The first part is believing it, and the second part is behaving it."
Throughout this passage this is what James emphasizes. What you truly believe shows up in your behavior. One commentary puts it this way:
The works James requires are not done apart from faith but done in faith, not done instead of faith but done because of faith. James…does not say, "I will show you deeds instead of faith." Rather…I will show you my faith by what I do. He does not object to faith; he objects only to faith not accompanied by action.
You demonstrate the reality of your faith by what you do. James offers 2 OT examples.
He starts with Abraham. Notice he quotes Gen. 15:6, which tells us Abraham’s right relationship with God was based not on Abraham’s performance, but on his faith. The apostle Paul uses this same verse in Rom. 4 to point out we are justified by faith, and not works.
But James uses this phrase …justified by works… in a slightly different way than Paul does. He explains what he means in vs. 22. Abraham’s faith was active.
When God orders him to sacrifice his son Isaac, Abraham proves by his actions his faith is more than talk, more than just in his mind. What he really believes shows up in his actions.
The other example is Rahab the prostitute, a woman mentioned in Josh 2:8-21. Rahab is not a model of morality, but she is a model of faith in action.
Heb 11:31 By faith the harlot Rahab did not perish with those who did not believe, when she had received the spies with peace.
Somehow she comes to believe in the God of Israel, and what she believes translates into action: she hides the Israeli spies, and ties the scarlet cord at her window. What she really believes shows up in her actions.
Both of these examples prove the point of vs. 26. Like your spirit gives your body life, so what you really believe directs how you behave.
Mt 7:21 Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,” shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.
If you really want to be right with God—to be forgiven, to be accepted, to be born again---this only happens by God’s grace and your faith—a faith that reveals its reality not just in what you say, or what you know, but in what you do—the choices you make, the words you speak, the things you do.
How do you know what you really believe? Look at how you live, and you have your answer.
When a person comes to Jesus, it doesn’t just change what they believe—it changes how they behave. They don’t suddenly become perfect. Growing in Christ takes time. But there is a change, a change that can be observed. What you really believe shows up not just in what you say, or what you know, but in what you do.
Many years ago there was a famous tightrope walker named George Blondin who, for a publicity stunt, decided he would walk across Niagara Falls on a tightrope. They stretched a tightrope from one side of Niagara Falls to the other. There were crowds lining both the Canadian and American side. Blondin walked up to the edge of the tightrope, put one foot on the tightrope and put another foot out and began to walk across -- inch-by-inch, step-by-step. He got out in the middle and everybody knew that if he’d make one mistake in balance he’d fall off the rope and into the Falls and be killed. Blondin got to the other side and the crowd went wild, shouting and cheering.
Blondin said, "I’m going to do it again." He got to the other side and the crowds went crazy. Blondin said, "I’m going to do it again but this time I’m going to push a wheel barrow full of dirt." He pushes the wheelbarrow across nine or ten times.
On about the tenth time, he asks the crowd, “How many of you believe I could push a person across this tightrope?” The crowd went wild, We believe it! So Blondin yells out Who will be the first to jump into this wheelbarrow and let me push you across? Would you believe he had no takers? Not one person volunteered.
Talk is cheap. We say I believe in Jesus!. James says prove it. Actions speak louder than words. Your behavior shows what you really believe.
Tonight I challenge you to ask yourself what do I really believe?
First, ask yourself do I really believe about Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord?
2 Co 13:5 Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified.
Do I really believe in Jesus, or is my faith just words or ideas?
Secondly, ask yourself what do I really believe about Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord?
How deep is your trust in Christ?
Do you really believe He will forgive your sins, or are you still a prisoner of our past?
Do you really believe He will provide for you, or are you still burdened down with worry?
Do you really believe Jesus is Lord, or are you still living in disobedience to His Word?
What you really believe is demonstrated not by what you say, nor what you know, but what you do. What do you really believe? Perhaps some of us need to pray the prayer of a desperate father, who prayed this prayer in
Mk 9:24 …Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!
[i]Eric W. Johnson, A Treasury of Humor Lowell D. Streiker, Nelson's Big Book of Laughter : Thousands of
[ii]10,000 Sermon Illustrations, electronic ed. (Dallas: Biblical Studies Press, 2000).
[iii]Lowell D. Streiker, Nelson's Big Book of Laughter : Thousands of Smiles from A to Z, electronic ed. (Nashville:
[iv]Taking The Guesswork Out of Applying The Bible, Jack Kuhatschek, IVP,