We too often divorce our belief system from our actions, when ideally there should be very little difference between the two. In speaking of how to identify false prophets, Jesus teaches that good trees bear good fruit and bad ones bear bad fruit, period. In due time, everyone is exposed by their own fruit.
By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. (Matthew 7:16-18)
James, the brother of Jesus looks at the same point, but from a different angle. Addressing believers, James makes it clear that what we say we believe is worthless if not backed up by our actions.
What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! (James 2:14-19)
You might agree with the statement, “It is important to help people who are poor and less fortunate.” But, if you never give your time or money to causes that help people who are less fortunate than yourself, you truly don’t believe what you say you believe. This same principle holds true with every other value, commitment or priority. What we believe is truly shown by what we do. To put it in theological terms, good orthodoxy must also lead to good orthopraxy.
If you ever wonder why you behave in a certain way that you don’t like, take the time to unravel your line of thinking that is promoting such behavior. Say for example, you get extremely envious around another person to the point of criticizing them, finding fault in what they do or not delighting in their success. Maybe they have more money than you, a title you’d love to have or better behaved children than yours. What makes you envious? Deep down within, there is some belief system you have about yourself, other people and very likely about God that permits or even triggers such negative feelings. This is not a matter of psychoanalysis, but of honest self-evaluation. (2 Corinthians 13:5)
So where is there hope for change? The hope for change comes from the opportunity God gives us to renew our mind by His Word. As we think differently about God, ourselves and others, we will begin to behave differently as well. “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:1-2)
If you want to change how you live, change how you think. If you want to change how you think, spend more time meditating on God’s Word and listening to his voice in prayer. God’s Word brings light to our lives and lights the path for us to follow. (Psalm 119:105, Psalm 119:130) As God’s Word enters your soul, you find the light you need to walk in and the understanding you need to make right choices. Then it’s just a matter of taking action on what you know to be true so that what you believe is made evident by what you do!
“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” (James 1:22)