“Do you really believe that what you believe is really real?”
Most thinking people have two sets of beliefs: aspirational beliefs and actual beliefs. Aspirational beliefs are those things we say we believe when we are asked. It could be as simple as, “I believe I should lose 10 pounds,” or “I believe I’ll go by the store on the way home tonight,” to more serious matters such as, “I believe Jesus is the Son of God.” Actual beliefs are ones that influence our actions.
How do we distinguish whether something is an aspirational or actual belief? Watch me. Are my actions consistent with my stated belief? If I say that I believe I should lose weight, am I doing anything to make that happen? Am I counting calories? Am I exercising? If I am doing these things, then it is an actual belief.
The same is true for stopping by the store on the way home. If I arrive home with milk and bread, I actually believed that it was important to do. I made adjustments to my behavior that reflected my belief.
Now what about the slightly more abstract, “I believe Jesus is the Son of God?” How can you tell if I really believe that? It’s not quite as direct as losing weight or stopping by the store, though the principles are the same. Just as I can’t directly lose weight, but have to engage in actions that lead to weight loss, I can’t directly demonstrate my belief in Jesus. I have to do other activities to make that belief become an actual belief.
So, in order to answer, “Do I actually believe that Jesus is the Son of God?” I have to determine what actions a person who believes that statement would take. Once I do that, I can judge to what degree I am performing those actions.
Ideally, our aspirational and our actual beliefs should line up, provided two qualifications are met. First, we have to have aspirational beliefs. There are some people who don’t seem to have any significant aspirational beliefs. They float through life, giving little reflective thought to their actions or their consequences. This is far from ideal.
Second, our aspirational beliefs need to be grounded in truth. It does me no good to try to live out a set of beliefs that are built on misconceptions or lies. Few people praise cult members for their faith, even if they live consistent with their aspirational beliefs. Why? Because their beliefs are not consistent with the truth.
If we have completely true aspirational beliefs and actually live them out, that would be, by definition, perfection. This is what Jesus calls us to when he says, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48 ESV) God always acts in accord with the truth.
Since no one is ideal, we usually live in some degree of overlap between our aspirational and actual beliefs. This is okay. We aspire to be perfect as God is perfect, but we all have room for improvement. It’s fine to have a high standard we haven’t yet reached; this is how we grow. If we lower our standard to our current behavior, we are settling for mediocrity. The ancients called this sloth and considered it a very serious defect.
Therefore, we need to seek the truth. Not just in the abstract like a chemist seeking to isolate an element in the lab. We need to seek to know it and to live it.