My middle grandson – a funny, good-natured, but somewhat nasty (in the literal sense) eight-year-old believes in the tenets of germ theory. Garrett probably couldn’t explain the principles of this theory, and he has probably not yet heard of Louis Pasteur, who imagined it, or of Robert Koch, who proved it, but he believes the theory is true. I know that he believes because he often applies the theory’s principles in the form of germ warfare tactics that he devises for his sweet-tooth advantage.
A story to illustrate
We were at Disney’s Epcot Center – Garrett’s choice – a couple of weeks ago. My daughter-in-law and I were puzzled at his choice of theme parks at first, but we soon learned that it was his secret plan to eat his way through each of the countries in the World Showcase.
This plan sounded good to us. So, after we took in a toyshop and a street play in England, we headed to France for lunch. By the time we had shopped in Japan and China, and explored Norway we were ready for an afternoon snack.
I ordered Garrett and I a gigantic chocolate-chip cookie and told him we would share. But before I could warn him about using his generally fail-proof germ-warfare maneuver, he was already spreading his little grubby hands all over the cookie in an effort to take it all for himself.
I could tell by his barely perceptible smile that he thought he had once again achieved sweet dessert victory. But undeterred, and to his obvious displeasure and amazement, I stared him in the eye and ate my half of the cookie anyway.
We act on what we really believe.
I am like Garrett. My actions result from my desires merged with applications of what I believe to be true. (I wanted my half of the cookie, and I reasoned that I had just enough of Garrett’s germs to make me immune.) And, through these actions, I testify my beliefs to the world. I testify my beliefs even if I’m not fully aware or don’t fully understand what those beliefs are myself and even if I can’t fully explain them or justify them.
Now, I’m not saying we should jump to conclusions about what people believe or are motivated by based on what they do since the same action could come from a variety of motivations (desires) and firmly held beliefs.
For example, a person could stop at a red light because he believes that if he runs it he has a good chance of getting into an accident, and he doesn’t want to hurt another person or he doesn’t want to get hurt himself; or because he thinks the law is a good thing and he should obey it; or maybe he generally runs red lights but stops this time because he believes the delay will give him enough time to safely send a text message.
This stopped person has applied his belief to his brake, and, when he stops, the world sees his belief (together with his motivation) in action. In this way action evidences motivations and underlying beliefs.
Our actions testify about our belief in God.
I also think it can be argued that all our actions testify (to one degree or another) about what we believe to be true about God. So, if I believe that God created man in his own image, I will value human life and not run the red light. If I believe that God established government for the good of people, to the degree that laws agree with God’s purpose, I will try my best not to break highway laws. If I believe that God is generous and kind to me, I will freely share my gigantic chocolate chip cookie.
Here are a few more obvious examples:
- We believe that God desires a relationship with his people, so we believe and value his words, and we pray.
- We believe that God heals, provides, and protects, so we are generous to others and look to him when we find ourselves in need.
- We believe that Jesus is God the Son and that, on the cross, he exchanged his perfect right-standing before God for our wrong-standing before God because of our sin and took the full punishment for our sin in our place, so we humbly and boldly speak to God as our Father because we know he sees us as his sons and daughters.
- We believe that God is good and desires ultimate salvation for his people so we praise him in our trials and ask him to sustain us, and teach us, and give us good things through them.
- We believe that God loves his people, is in complete control of the world, and that he is bringing his good purposes about, even through the evil in the world, so we are not overcome with anxiety about the present or the future.
- We believe that our identity before God is hidden in Christ (God sees us as he sees Christ) so we do not seek to glorify ourselves before men.
- We believe that God works for our good so we do not fear people or situations.
- We believe that God is just and that he will judge all men justly either (on Christ’s merit or, for non-believers, on their own merit), so we turn away from bitterness, spitefulness, and vindictiveness.
- We believe that God is in complete control of our circumstances so we do not manipulate others to get what we want.
- We believe that God is in complete control of peoples’ hearts so we share the good news of salvation and look to God to accomplish his work.
- We believe that God has established prayer as one means of bringing his purposes about, so we pray.
- We believe that the truth that God has come to earth to bring people to God is good news, so out of love for God and people, we tell this great news.
- We believe that Jesus is God, so we worship him.
Work backwards from action to belief.
If I questioned him about why he touched the entire cookie with his grubby hands, I could probably get Garrett to verbalize and refine what he really believes about germs and about human psychology for that matter. If I really want to know what I believe about God, I can question my actions and look backwards, from action to belief (and motivation/desire), to try to discern what I really believe is true of God. (Desire or motivation speaks of value and ultimately, I think, of belief – I value what I believe to be valuable. So I could also use this same backward-looking strategy, minus one step backward, to examine what my value or treasure is.)
For example, I might ask: “What do my actions testify about what I really believe to be true of God when I …
- try to control or manipulate others?
- say prideful things?
- compare myself to others?
- am overcome by fear and anxiety?
- am stingy?
- get revenge?
- harbor a grudge?
- deliberately disregard God’s word?
- justify sinful attitudes or actions?
- speak resentfully about my circumstances?
- am complacent and uncaring?
- don’t read my Bible?
- don’t pray?
- want something more than God?
- don’t praise or thank God?
- say that someone will never change?
Our action is related to God’s glory.
So, our desires and beliefs lead to action and our action leads to God’s glory. Jesus spoke about this relationship between action and God’s glory.
In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven,” Matthew 5:16, ESV.
for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body,” 1 Corinthians 6:20, ESV.
Share your cookie.
So I explain to Garrett, “Share your cookie because you believe God.” Share your cookie because you believe God is generous to you.
Share your cookie because you love and value God and desire to please him. Share your cookie because God, in his word says, to consider others more significant than yourself and to look to the needs of others (Philippians 2:3-4). I would argue that sometimes you need a cookie.
And, when you share your cookie, or do anything, because you believe and love God, your actions will point to him.
Praying that you will believe all that God says he is; all that he has done; all that he is doing; and all that he will do.