2. Belief and Practice
We want to be men and women of integrity with the Lord, in our homes, with our friends, and in the workplace. But what does that mean? This session will help us get a better grasp on the term integrity.
integrity: (1) soundness of and adherence to moral principle and character; uprightness; honesty; (2) the state of being whole, entire, or undiminished: to preserve the integrity of the empire; (3) a sound, unimpaired, or perfect condition: the integrity of the text; the integrity of a ship’s hull
To have integrity is to live and think according to a standard of truth, which is God’s character as revealed in His Word. Integrity involves wholeness or soundness. It is more than abiding by a list of dos and don’ts. It involves loving God in our hearts by affirming His standards in our minds through godly living with our bodies. Integrity involves a commitment to self-scrutiny to determine whether our affirmed beliefs match our daily lives.
- Individual Aim: To recognize the disparity between the biblical beliefs you hold and what you practice in daily life.
- Group Aim: To discuss the challenge of living consistently by biblically grounded beliefs and to be encouraged by past examples of growth.
Read Session 2: Belief and Practice.
Read the Life Change: Belief and Practice exercise beginning on page 75.
It is not excess of thought but defect of fertile and generous emotion that marks [many intellectuals] out. Their heads are no bigger than the ordinary; it is the atrophy of the chest beneath that makes them seem so.
—C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man
Sometimes gaining more information about God and the Christian life can be oppressive. If that statement seems strange, consider a consequence of acquiring such knowledge. One major consequence is that learning brings a greater responsibility to live according to that knowledge. If we take our growth seriously, we can leave our sanctuaries many Sunday mornings burdened by an understanding of a new biblical principle that we feel obliged to practice in our lives.The more clearly we understand God’s holiness and His expectation that we become like Him in holiness, the more the pursuit of holiness can seem an overwhelming task. Yet Jesus said that His “yoke is easy” and His “burden is light” (Matthew 11:30).
Though following Jesus certainly involves a yoke and a burden, it is not meant to be overwhelming. As we look at the inner workings of our lives, remember that our Master is “gentle and humble in heart” (Matthew 11:29). If we remember the grace He bestowed upon us by granting us forgiveness, we will experience that grace anew as we honestly see our heart condition. In addition, we may be surprised to see how dramatically our Master has already transformed us from the time we placed our faith in Him.
Theologians use the term sanctification to describe the process whereby Christians become set apart from the world’s ways of thinking and behaving. Sanctification is how Christians grow in holiness. It describes how, for example, a person who approaches life with an attitude of “win at all costs” is transformed into a person who can turn the other cheek. Sanctification is all about life change.
However, if we honestly evaluate our lives, we might find that though we have beliefs about how to live the Christian life, we do not always practice them. While we won’t list in this session all the biblical beliefs that ought to guide our daily practice, we must recognize the importance of biblically grounded beliefs and evaluate our own. The Savior commissioned the apostles to teach new converts “to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20). Jesus doesn’t want us to conform to an ethic generated by the world and our own creativity. Our standard is what is laid down in Scripture, not what we fancy or what the world affirms:
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2)
Life change begins in our minds. Scripture reveals to us the beliefs we should profess.
The second step is equally significant. It is no easy task to practice what we believe, because the world operates by different standards. In addition, practicing biblical beliefs in the midst of a fluid and complex world is enormously challenging. Often, our biblical beliefs don’t adequately permeate our thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors in the course of a day. What we really value at any moment is expressed not exclusively by the beliefs we affirm but also by how we react or respond to our life events, role models, and cultural background —by the strategies we use to cope with life as a whole. We usually live by a mixture of principles acquired from sermons, Bible study, and fellowship, along with approaches we’ve acquired from what the Bible calls “the world” and “the flesh.”
Our past life experience and our culture often hinder us from practicing our beliefs more fully. For example, even though a believer may intellectually understand that God is faithful, if he never experienced consistent care and protection from his own father, he may operate as if God is not trustworthy to provide for his basic needs. Instead of trusting God during a financial crisis, he may react to the crisis with overwhelming anxiety and decide to compromise his Christian business ethics.
No matter how biblically accurate our beliefs are, head knowledge alone cannot make us holy, because our hearts still hold to the patterns of the flesh (Jeremiah 17:9; Romans 7:14-23; James 1:15; 1 John 1:8). Even though we know we are utterly dependent upon God for life, we all try to manage our lives independently of God at some times and to varying degrees. To understand more deeply why we fail to live by our beliefs, in the next session we will look at the biblical concept of the flesh.
Lest we become too discouraged by the gap between our beliefs and practice, we should celebrate our progress with Christ thus far. By evaluating our past attempts at life change, we can better understand how we help and hinder God’s sanctifying work in our lives.
Read Session 3: Flesh.
Complete Biblical Exercise: Romans 1 beginning on page 32.