What does it mean to believe? “Whosoever believeth in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” I always took issue with the position that believing in Jesus, accepting him as your personal savior, which I assume means acknowledging that he is who he says he is, was all a person needed for a ticket to heaven, with no other requirement… no change in behavior or attitude? As it says in James, even the demons believe. So what does it mean to believe in someone? This isn’t like believing in Santa Claus, although, I am afraid that is what the vast majority of people think. If I believe in someone, it means I believe in what they are about. I trust them and their position. I think they are on to something that matters. I think that what they are about is something the world needs. So if you believe in Jesus, what did he believe? What was he about? What did he think mattered?
Some people say you have to be like them in order to be accepted into heaven. But there are a thousand different versions of “them” out there. They are all saying they are the ones to imitate. But that isn’t what Jesus taught. He was asked specifically, what must I do to enter into heaven? His reply was simple; love God, and love your neighbor as yourself. He gave this reply many times in different situations, He said this was what all the laws and the prophets had been trying to teach. Love.
One questioner, in an attempt to narrow down who he had to love — to make the task easier — asked Jesus to define “neighbor.” Jesus told him the story of the Good Samaritan. I don’t think Jesus ever answered the question of who was his neighbor, I think the message was that everyone is your neighbor, but he did try and help him understand which of the people in His story were acting with love toward their neighbor. It wasn’t the priest or the Levite, both revered members of the religious community of Jesus’ day; persons who should have been the pinnacle of appropriate godly conduct. It was the lowly and despised Samaritan, who didn’t spend his time trying to observe and dictate the letter of the law to others. He was just a regular person, a person who showed love to someone who needed it.
It was no accident that Jesus took a jab at the religious bureaucracy and hierarchy of the day. They weren’t doing it right. The people doing the spouting about who was doing it wrong, were the ones who were doing it wrong. Nothing has changed in that regard. If anyone condemns you, they aren’t the ones you need to listen to.
If you believe in a diet, do you lose weight simply by believing, without doing anything about it? No. You have to change your behavior. Believing in Jesus doesn’t do anything. Believing in what he taught and doing that, now that does something. So where do we begin?
I especially like Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. In a book by the same title, the author, Emmet Fox, contends that Jesus took the opportunity to sum up all his teachings in a tight little package. I highly recommend it. In it, Jesus tells us to be kind and compassionate and forgiving and nonjudgmental. Not to find fault with our neighbors, even if we know they are wrong. To love not only those that love us, but those that don’t love us. Because to hate anyone does nothing to the ones we hate but destroys us, especially our peace, which is essential for our happiness and our ability to be loving people. Jesus tells us to let go of our anger and our judgment, and realize that God made us all, and loves us all, just as we are. To be like Jesus, who knew how to be like God, we are to rest certain in our own Godliness, because there is no other option or doubt. Then, with confidence in our own worthiness and the knowledge that God is our Father who loves us unconditionally, we can go and do likewise.
Jesus never talks about outer circumstances of life. In fact he says we are to take no thought for your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, or for your body, what you shall put on.
Fox says that Jesus concerned himself exclusively with states of mind. That Jesus knew that all of life proceeds from our thoughts, and only if we think right can we act right. It was only after reading his book that I truly began to understand what God wanted of me. God wants me to be myself, because that is what He made me for, but I have to stop worrying about what everybody else thinks about me if I am going to be me, and not try and be them. God created you and me to be completely unique individuals. To serve a purpose that is written on our hearts — to be ourselves. In order to do that we have to change the way we think — to reorder our minds. To choose our thoughts rather than having them choose us. Not to allow the outer circumstances of the world to dictate our reactions, our happiness, our lives, but rather that we should consciously choose the right thoughts — thoughts of love and compassion in the face of anger and hate. Thoughts of hope and joy in the face of loss and despair, and to forgive ourselves when we don’t get it right every time. Dr. Norman Vincent Peale said, “our lives will become what we think about all day long.” I believe besides fulfilling our purpose, whatever that may be, we are to spread love and compassion wherever we are. To make the world a better place because we are in it.
If you believe in God, and you believe in Jesus, then open your heart and listen to them. Hear the words they have told others thousands of years ago, but more importantly, hear the words they are telling you today. Be quiet and listen. “Be still and know that I am God.” Others can’t tell you what God is saying to you, only you can hear that.