The Dynamics of Change: Belief - #2

Dr. Brian Allison

Randy Johnson was awarded the Cy Young Award this past week for being the best pitcher in the American League. When Randy's father was dying, he was so bold as to promise his father that he would be one of the best pitchers in the Majors. That was quite a promise! That promise was clearly fulfilled this past week when he was awarded one of baseball's most prestigious awards. Randy Johnson believed that he could make good on the promise that he gave to his father. He believed in his abilities, his skills, and his talents; and his belief was transformed into reality. The power of belief produced admirable results.

True belief rests on persuasion

Belief is able to effect change, even significant and far reaching change. Belief answers to truth, and truth gives birth to belief; and true belief in the truth effects change. Before one will experience any positive behavioural change, he or she must believe certain facts to be true, and in believing certain facts to be true, that belief will become self-propelling. With true belief, one is ready for definite action. Now, though belief answers to the truth, and though truth gives birth to belief, true belief will occur only when you are persuaded by the truth, that is, when you are persuaded by the correctness of the facts. The episode of the apostle Paul and others caught in a storm on a ship en route to Rome provides a clear object lesson on this aspect of belief. Prior to the appearance of the turbulent storm, Paul warned, "'Men, I perceive that the voyage will certainly be attended with damage and great loss, not only of the cargo and the ship, but also of our lives.' But the centurion was more persuaded by the pilot and the captain of the ship, than by what was being said by Paul" (Acts 27:10,11). Apparently, when Paul spoke, he did not speak with a ring of authority; he did not communicate credibility. The centurion, who had the power to decide on the progress of the voyage, gave more credence to the counsel of the pilot and the captain, rather than to that of Paul. And why not? Seemingly, these two men were experienced seamen; they, no doubt, had sailed this ship in various conditions. Paul, however, was simply a prisoner, a mere passenger, and may even have been considered a religious eccentric. The centurion listened to the captain and the pilot, and was persuaded by them, and thus believed what they had to say. They carried the authority and credibility at this point.

You will only be persuaded of the truth of a matter, if the speaker of that truth is perceived as communicating with authority and credibility. Awhile ago, I visited a new chiropractor in order to receive some treatment. Now, I had been treated by other chiropractors on previous occasions. With my background, I was therefore able to measure the ability and skill of this particular chiropractor (who had just recently graduated). Probably because of his inexperience, this young man failed to convince me of his practical authority and credibility. I felt unsure about his competence. Accordingly, I stopped going to him. Again, if one does not speak with authority (that is, he knows what he is talking about); if one does not convey credibility (that is, he is believable), you will have great difficulty in believing what he has to say on matters of importance.

The assessment of the apostle Paul, however, turned out to be correct after all. Accordingly, his credibility was quickly established. Further, when he spoke again concerning what should be done during the inclement weather conditions, he spoke with authority because he spoke as a prophet, a communicator of divine truth. So, we read that Paul again spoke, "Men, you ought to have followed my advice and not to have set sail from Crete, and have incurred this damage and loss. And yet now I urge you to keep up your courage, for there shall be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. For this very night an angel of God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood before me, saying, 'Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar; and behold, God has granted you all those who are sailing with you'" (Acts 27:21-24).

So, when the apostle Paul spoke again, he spoke with grounded authority and proven credibility, and the result was that the centurion and the passengers now listened to him, were persuaded by him, and hence followed his counsel. Belief requires persuasion; there must be the evidence to support and justify the belief. William James (1842-1910), the American philosopher and psychologist, wrote, "Belief is desecrated when given to unproved and unquestioned statements for the solace and private pleasure of the believer...It is wrong always, everywhere, and for everyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence" (The Will to Believe).

Even when we consider believing the truth of divine activity/speaking, we must first be persuaded of the truth (even have evidence) before we will believe. For example, when the man born blind was healed by Jesus, the religious leaders had difficulty accepting the fact. They rigorously questioned the man. They sought proof, in order to verify the claim, before they would believe. So, we read, "They said therefore to the blind man again, 'What do you say about Him since He opened your eyes?' And he said, 'He is a prophet.' The Jews therefore did not believe it of him, that he had been blind, and received his sight, until they called the parents of the very one who received his sight, and questioned them, saying, 'Is this your son, who you say was born blind? Then how does he now see?'" (Jn. 9:17-19). Another example of the need for evidence or proof before belief concerns the post-resurrection account involving Thomas Didymus. We read, "But Thomas one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. 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'" (Jn. 21:24f.). Thus – when we think about belief effecting positive behavioural change – before any significant change will occur, we must first be persuaded of the truth before true belief will arise; and, of course, for a Christian, one must be persuaded of the truth of God's Word.

True belief and God's authoritative, credible Word

Are you persuaded of the truth of God's Word, that is, the Bible? You may acknowledge the importance of God's Word (if you even want to call it God's Word). You may assent to the value of the statements of God's Word; but are you persuaded of the truth of God's Word? You will be persuaded of the truth of God's Word when you realize and fully appreciate the fact that it is indeed God's very own Word. You must realize and appreciate that the statements of the Scriptures carry divine authority and divine credibility because God Himself, through His Spirit, has produced them (cf. 1 Pe. 1:20,21). Again, do you simply see the Bible as a collection of human writings? Do you simply see the Bible as a compilation of editorial revisions? Or do you really see the Bible as God's authoritative, credible Word? No doubt, some of you who are reading this article are 'stuck' in your spiritual lives. You are like a car sunk in the mud with the wheels furiously spinning, and you are moving nowhere fast. Could it be that deep down inside, you do not believe that the Bible is God's authoritative, credible Word which is binding on your conscience? What is your attitude towards the Bible? Do you see it solely as a human production or as the depository of God's own words, and thus His own thoughts?

Testing your Attitude

Let's test out your attitude towards God's Word. Let me refer to a few (possibly controversial) portions of Scripture and you monitor your response; you check out your attitude and determine how you are receiving what God's Word is teaching (I am deliberating choosing passages which may possibly elicit a reaction in order to really test your attitude to God's Word). First, consider 1 Corinthians 7:3-5, "Let the husband fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again [physically] lest Satan tempt you because of your lack of self-control." If you are a wife or husband (or even if you are not), does this Scripture register with you as simply unreasonable counsel or do you realize that this is God's authoritative, credible Word? How does that passage strike you? Be honest now. For you who have been deliberately neglecting or rejecting your mate physically, do you feel the need to fall down before the Lord, confess your sin, and seek repentance, having read this Scripture? Does this word have a personal impact on you? It will, if you view it as God's own Word. Second, consider Colossians 3:18-21, "Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and do not be embittered against them. Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well pleasing to the Lord. Fathers, do not exasperate your children, that they may not lose heart." Christian woman, does this Scripture strike you as consisting of the remarks of a narrow-minded, male chauvinist? Or does the truth of this passage come to your heart as God's authoritative, credible Word? Christian man, does this Scripture strike you merely as sound advice, but you apparently feel no compulsion to be kind-hearted to your wife or patient and understanding with your children? Do you feel compelled to submit to God's authoritative, credible Word? Again, consider 1 Thessalonians 4:3-6, "For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own vessel [body] in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; and that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warn you." Do you understand this Scripture as some ancient, helpful morality or does it come home to your heart as the authoritative, credible Word of God? What does your heart say? Have you reacted as you read the above Scriptures? If so, this may be one of the reasons that you are having personal and spiritual problems in your life; and you wonder why you cannot change. What is your attitude towards God's Word?

True belief rests on the Spirit's persuasion

So, you will only be persuaded of the truth, from the human side, when you realize that divine authority and divine credibility underlie the statements of God's Word; but persuasion of the truth of God's Word must also come from the divine side. The Holy Spirit must persuade you of the truth of God's Word or you will not believe. Unless the Holy Spirit has invaded your life and has spawned conviction, unless the Holy Spirit works deep in your soul, impressing God's Word upon you, you will not believe. The point is that mere evidence is insufficient when it comes to believing divine truth. That is why, for example, the Jews in Jesus' day could not believe. They saw the evidence – the attesting miracles – but the convincing activity of God was absent. So, we read, "But though He [Jesus] had performed so many signs [attesting miracles] before them [the Jews], yet they were not believing in Him...For this cause they could not believe, for Isaiah said again, 'HE [God] HAS BLINDED THEIR EYES, AND HE HARDENED THEIR HEART; LEST THEY SEE WITH THEIR EYES, AND PERCEIVE WITH THEIR HEART, AND BE CONVERTED, AND I HEAL THEM" (Jn. 12:37,40). God 'shut the door' to belief for these Jews; He did not remove the scales from their spiritual eyes, and thus they remained in their sin.

The Spirit must persuade us of the truth. Many people may have the best of intentions: "I want to follow God's Word; I want to do what is right. I always find that I am absolutely miserable because I cannot follow through on what God's Word says. I read it but it does not compel me, it does not drive me." If these are your complaints, could it be that you have not been persuaded by the Spirit yet? You are wholly dependent upon God for any spiritual progress in your life. The Scriptures teach, "Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know [truly believe] the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words" (1 Cor. 12:12,13). Unless you are inwardly taught by the Spirit, unless you are inwardly persuaded by the Spirit, all the preaching, teaching, and reading of God's Word will avail you nothing. You will remain in your state of indifference and complacency, and thus in your state of sin.

So, if you are lacking true belief (which is foundational to change), not only must you acquire a proper view of the Bible (that it is God's authoritative, credible Word), but you must also ask God to give you the Spirit to help you to believe, as Luke 11:13 teaches. Jesus says, "If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?" Now, my Christian brothers and sisters, if you find yourself struggling in your Christian walk, you are not progressing in the faith, and the Bible has become some dry, dusty book to you, could it be that you do not have the Spirit or, at least, you lack the Spirit's influence? Think about this possibility. Again, the Spirit must persuade of the truth of God's Word. Accordingly, being persuaded of the truth, you will believe, and that belief will be self-propelling; you will then be prepared for change for the better.

Enemies to true belief

True belief has its enemies. There are states of mind which undermine and scuttle belief. The first state of mind that undermines and scuttles belief is worry. Are you a worrier? Jesus says, "Let not your heart be troubled [do not let it be worried]; believe in God, believe also in Me" (Jn. 14:1). Belief is not only the counterpart of worry, but is also its remedy. Worry reveals a divided or distracted mind, whereas belief indicates a focused one. Worry will sap the spiritual life from your soul. When you fret about what is going to happen, when you stew over how the future will unfold; when you become anxiously absorbed with possible reactions and responses from particular individuals, that frame of mind will bleed you of spiritual vigour and faith. The more you worry, the less you will believe. A number of years ago, I was preparing to sit my grade one piano exam. Prior to the exam, my fingers seemed quite nimble; I had practiced the required pieces extensively; I believed that I was ready to ace the exam. (You know, there is a comfortableness in privacy which disappears in public.) As I was waiting to be examined, I began to worry. During my actual exam, I made many mistakes. Worry bleeds you of confidence, and produces failure. (Incidentally, my examiner was gracious enough to take into consideration my nervousness; she mercifully passed me). Now, the Biblical response to worry is resignation, surrender, to God, which says: "Lord, you are in control of the situation. It is beyond my control. I leave it in Your hands. I surrender myself and the circumstances of my life to You."

The second state of mind that undermines and scuttles belief is fear. Jesus said to the synagogue official concerning his daughter, "Do not be afraid any longer; only believe, and she shall be made well" (Lu. 8:50). Belief is not only the counterpart of fear, but is also its remedy. Fear reveals a paralyzed mind, whereas belief indicates an active, positive one. As with worry, fear will bleed the spiritual life from your soul. The more you fear, the less you will believe. Fear is simply self-trust. It has a rather stifling, shriveling up effect. When I was in grade eight, I was selected to be the representative of my class for a speech meet. I had rehearsed my speech numerous times; I thought I knew it very well. I remember standing up before that large crowd to deliver my speech, and that normally five minute speech became a two minute disjointed talk. I was paralyzed and I forgot much of the content. Fear does that; you are reduced from a state of assurance to that of discouragement and defeat. The Biblical response to fear is trust, reliance, on God, which says: "I put myself into your hands, Lord. I cast all my anxieties on You. You must see me through. I know that You alone can, and will, provide."

True belief empowers

In securing belief, you then secure the power to change, for belief, by it's very nature, is empowering. Again, we read that the apostle Paul said to the other passengers on board that storm-tossed ship, "And yet now I urge you to keep up your courage, for there shall be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship...Therefore, keep up your courage, men, for I believe God, that it will turn out exactly as I have been told" (Acts 27:22,25). True belief produces courage, inner strength, and resolve. It entails confidence and assurance. True belief produces change because belief itself is the impetus, the dynamic, of 'forward moving.' Again, it is self-propelling. William James wrote, "Be not afraid of life. Believe that life is worth living, and your belief will help create the fact" – the power of belief!

When we think of all the powerful social or political movements in the course of human history, we discover that the impetus of such movements was the power of belief. For instance, the Civil Rights Movement in the United States of America made quite a stir and has made significant headway over the past fifty years. Why? Recall that the heart of the movement was captured in one of its defining songs:

We shall overcome, we shall overcome,

We shall overcome some day.

Oh, deep in my heart I do believe.

We shall overcome someday.

Those who have true belief are those who change not only themselves, but their world; and those who do not have it often remain in helpless and hopeless obscurity. Do you believe? Do you believe enough to change?