There are many questions about what we believe for which a simple “yes” or “no” will be adequate. Do you believe in the Trinity? Is the Bible inerrant? Was Jesus God’s incarnate son, and did he rise from the dead? Answers to such questions have always been considered important matters of “belief” for Christians. Our Christian Creeds, like the Apostles Creed or the Nicene Creed, were written at critical moments in the history of the church when the basic tenets of the faith were contested or questioned. Disagreements over doctrine and orthodoxy have been the cause of much division among Christians from the very beginning, and continue to divide Christians today.
One of the reasons for so much division over the centuries is that Christians have never been able to reach consensus on the proper balance between “orthodoxy” (right answers) and “orthopraxis” (right practice). For some, proper doctrine is valued over “works;” for others, what we profess about our beliefs is less important than what is practiced by adhering to the will and commandments of Christ. Paul, for example, writes that we are ‘saved by faith, not by works’ (Ephesians 2:8, 9). James, on the other hand, asks, “What good is it…if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? (James 2:14). Perhaps Christians disagree on such matters because there is ample disagreement in the Bible.
Every Christian must know what they believe, but they must never forget that when Jesus walked among us two-thousand years ago, he called us his “followers” not “believers.” He had seen plenty of very religious “believers” in his day, all of whom seemed to have an answer for every religious question under the sun, but very few of whom seemed to be willing to translate their belief into action.
This, I think, is why, in his final words to his followers, Jesus says to them: “If you love me, you will do the things I have told you to do” (John 14:15-21). Where there is genuine faith in Christ, there is always the tangible evidence of obedience to his command to love one another as he has loved us. This kind of love is grounded not in emotion, but obedience. It manifests itself through acts of mercy, compassion, sacrifice and service, regardless of how we, at the time, may feel about it.
I am not suggesting that it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you’re doing what Jesus did. Jesus spoke of “following” in the context of love, and to love someone suggests that you have come to believe some things about them that are important to you. If you don’t believe in them, it’s unlikely that you will want to follow them, or do what they have asked you to do. To follow signifies belief; to follow well signifies love. “If you love me,” he says, “you will do the things that I have told you to do.”
When, this week, did you do something for someone else that, at the moment, you didn’t feel inclined to do? Where, this week, did you show mercy or compassion for someone who least deserved it? How well did you follow?