Belief + Faith = Freedom

Take a moment and consider the word “freedom.” Envision the places/things/people that you associate with that word. You may have envisioned birds, our flag, maybe your first car, the beach, etc. etc. No matter what images you saw, the important thing is that they make you feel FREE.

I tend to be a pretty analytical person so as I began preparing to write this, I approached it from a very academic perspective. Those of you that are feelers just died inside a little bit. Don’t worry, I’m not going to bust out my bullet points yet! But I started thinking, “What IS freedom exactly?” I started with the dictionary (logical right?). Here’s what I found – the dictionary says:

freedom is “the quality or state of being free.”

Um, thanks Captain Obvious. So I kept researching and I got 2 answers – one from the world, an outside freedom, and one from Jesus, an inside freedom. The world says that we are free to do what we want when we want, and no one can tell us otherwise. We are free to live our lives how we see fit. I don’t want to minimize this freedom – many have died across generations to ensure we have this freedom.

The other freedom comes from Jesus himself.

In Luke 4:18, Jesus says that he came to Earth to proclaim freedom.

Freedom from what? Sin! But here’s the difference between Jesus’ freedom and the world’s freedom – Jesus didn’t die on a cross so that we could have a get out of jail free card. He died so that we would no longer be slaves to our sin! He gave us this freedom so that we could become the people that God created us to be. To put it simply, true freedom is not the right to do what we want, it’s the ability to do what we SHOULD do.

Here are two incredibly important truths we learn when we say YES to Jesus:

  1. Without Christ, we are slaves to sin and unable to do the right thing, and
  2. Christ’s death on the cross set us free from the power of sin and death.

Amen?!

So, here’s a question. If we KNOW this is true, why do we sometimes live our lives as if it isn’t? A few years ago I went to Denver for a work conference. I was going to be there for several days and I do NOT know how to pack light so I had my biggest suitcase along with a backpack in tow. It was my first time there and being the planner that I am, I had the entire route from the airport all mapped out. I decided not to rent a car because the public transport system is really good, although that is WAY outside of my comfort zone. I have never lived anywhere where I relied on public transport so it’s always a bit of an adventure figuring out which train to get on, what stop to get off on, etc. I made it onto the correct train from the airport and started my journey to the hotel, which was in downtown Denver. As the train sped towards my destination, I did some more research on what my next step was. It turned out that to get right next to the hotel, I would have to exit the train at Union Station and then board a smaller train that would take me the 1.1 miles to the hotel. I immediately thought about my giant suitcase and felt completely panicked that it wouldn’t fit in the smaller train and that everyone would laugh at me dragging on this huge suitcase. My only other option was to walk the 1.1 miles from Union Station to the hotel. For some strange reason, I decided that this was the less humiliating option and I walked to the hotel.

Don’t we also do this with Jesus? Sometimes He asks us to dosomething that gives us hives and we’re faced with a choice. And sometimes, wepull the Erin in Denver card and end up dragging our suitcase through life whenwe could have had freedom.

When I was saved and baptized in high school, I was SO SO shy. Like, social anxiety shy. I got saved my right after spring break during senior year and totally thought I’d magically turn into a different person when I came up out of that water. And inwardly, I did. But outwardly I still struggled with the exact same things as I did before I went in. And I’ll admit I faltered for a lot of years… I still BELIEVED that Jesus was my savior but my life didn’t necessarily reflect that. Not my finest moments. So the rest of what I’m going to talk about is why I think that happened. Maybe you’re in that same situation.

You BELIEVE it but are you LIVING it?

If you say, “I believe that this blog is the best thing I’ve ever read,” and “I have faith that this blog is the best thing I’ve ever read,” do you think you just said the EXACT same thing in both questions? Yes? Not too long ago I would have been right there with you. But then I did some research and my whole perception of faith and belief changed. Don’t get me wrong, the two are completely interconnected. But they’re not the same.

Over the years, the language around belief and faith has become more and more similar and I think in a lot of places, we use the terms interchangeably. 

To illustrate this, let’s look at a verse in the Bible from twodifferent translations.

Matthew 17:20 NLT- “You don’t have enough faith,” Jesus told them. “I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.”

At the beginning of this verse, it seems as if Jesus is tellingthe disciples that they don’t have enough faith. I mean, he literally saysexactly that.  Let’s look at another translation:

Matthew 17:20 NKJV- So Jesus said to them, “Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.

In this translation, Jesus is indicating that there is a beliefproblem. Someone who is reading both of these translations might interpret thisto mean that there is an inconsistency or that belief and faith are the same,neither of which I think is true. Let’s unpack this some more to discover thedifferences between belief and faith and how they connect with each other.

BELIEF

This is a product of the mind. In the book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, Dan and Chip Heath write about our brains using the metaphor of the Elephant and the Rider. Our brain has two systems at work – an emotional side and a rational side. Dan and Chip write:

“The conventional wisdom in psychology, in fact, is that the brain has two independent systems at work at all times.  First, there’s what we call the emotional side.  It’s the part of you that is instinctive, that feels pain and pleasure.  Second, there’s the rational side, also known as the reflective or conscious system.  It’s the part of you that deliberates and analyzes and looks into the future.

Plato said that in our heads we have a rational charioteer who has to rein in an unruly horse that “barely yields to horsewhip and goad combined.”  Freud wrote about the selfish id and the conscientious superego (and also about the ego, which mediates between them).  More recently behavior economists dubbed the two systems, the Planner and the Doer.

But to us, the duo’s tension is captured best by an analogy used by University of Virginia psychologist, Jonathan Haidt in his wonderful book The Happiness Hypothesis.  Haidt says that our emotional side is the Elephant and our rational side is the rider.  Perched atop the Elephant, the Rider holds the reins and seems to be the leader.  But the Rider’s control is precarious because the Rider is so small relative to the Elephant.  Anytime the six-ton Elephant and the Rider disagree about which direction to go, the Rider is going to lose.  He’s completely overmatched.”

There is always an inherent amount of conflict between the elephant and the rider because at any given moment, each would like to have control. The logical rider wants to stay the course with the facts and knowledge, while the emotional elephant tends to wander when it gets tired/hungry/lonely/scared/etc.

Believing in something means that we’ve aligned our rider and elephant behind a concept and they’re walking in the same direction. The simple definition of the word believe is “accept something as true, feel sure of the truth of” and to “hold something as an opinion.”

Here’s the thing with belief: we can choose to believe A LOT of things. I believe that Australia exists. I’m 100% sure of that truth. My elephant and rider are pretty aligned in the fact that it exists. But does that change the way I live? No. Simply believing in something doesn’t necessarily mean we are going to change as a result of it. Dr. Martin Luther King believed in equality for all people but if it had stopped there, we would be living in a completely different world.

Even the Bible talks about this! 

James 2:19 says “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that–and shudder.” 

Did you catch that? Even the demons BELIEVE that God exists and they shudder at his name. But are they changed because of that belief? Nope!

Romans 8:5 says ” Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.”

What does the flesh desire? Certainty, tangible outcomes, being able to see where a road might lead, to name a few. The “what’s in it for me?” mentality is very much a flesh-based desire. And the flesh is a big fat liar when it comes to attaining true freedom because it tells us that simply believing is enough. Why? Because going beyond belief is HARD, it can be PAINFUL, and it requires CHANGE. Simply put, it requires FAITH.

FAITH

Faith is what happens when our belief is TESTED. Faith is what enables us to LIVE what we believe. It’s that “rubber meets the road” part of our walk with Jesus that makes or breaks us.

Hebrews 11:1 says “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” 

2 Corinthians 5:6-7 says “So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight.” 

Sight isn’t bad – we just have something better!

Faith is a product of the spirit, which is much harder toquantify than the mind. The spirit is not necessarily tangible, it can’t bestudied, and we have to work a whole lot harder to grow it. Faith can also be adifficult concept to wrap our minds around. We know Jesus says it only needs tobe the size of a mustard seed but what does this REALLY look like in our lives?

Think about yourself getting on a plane. In order to have the courage to board the plane, you need to have faith that it’s going to take you to your destination without incident. What are we basing this faith on? Belief! We have SEEN the facts about the safety of flying and have experienced it for ourselves so we have faith. For many of us, this is a routine thing and our faith isn’t much tested in this process. But for someone afraid to fly, it might be a moment-by-moment choice to print the boarding pass, arrive at the airport, stand in line, fasten the seat belt, and so on.

This happens with our faith in Jesus too. In order to have thecourage to follow Him through every season, we must have faith that He isholding us and will not fail. For those of us that have been following for along time, this might not seem like such a stretch. We’ve seen Him work in ourlives before so we believe. But for someone who just said yes to Him, thechance of faltering is higher because their newfound belief has yet to betested. I think this is where a lot of believers get stuck. They either don’tget to the test part or when the test comes, they start to question theirbelief which causes their faith to falter. 

A great illustration of this is the story of Peter getting outof the boat with Jesus.

Matthew 14:29-31: He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

This story parallels what so many of us have probably gone through after saying “yes” to Jesus. We start out courageous with belief and growing faith and we start walking towards him. And then our same old issues start to crop up. Our same personality flaws. Those old behaviors. We run into roadblocks. Our Elephant freaks out and our Rider is completely overpowered. So we start to sink. Some tread water right there, gasping for breath, and try to exist on the shreds of belief they have left. And if we’re existing on belief without faith, it can become stagnant, stealing our opportunity for true freedom and even leading to spiritual death.

Rick Warren, the author of the Purpose Driven Life, says, “The only difference between a grave and a rut is the length.” 

Some go right into that grave and give up, and others do what Peter did and humble themselves before Jesus. THAT, friends, is where faith and belief intersect and begin to grow together.

This is truly where that second part of Romans 8:5 comes to life (those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires).

HOW CAN I MEASURE MY FAITH?

It can be hard to quantify faith. But as that second part ofRomans 8:5 says, when we’re living in the spirit, our minds are set on thingsof the spirit. True faith means a changed worldview – we look at things througha completely new lens. When I truly discovered faith in Jesus, I began to lookat people differently. I began to reach out and build relationships where I hadbeen too afraid to before. I became bolder.

When our faith grows, our behaviors also change. When you lookat your life, ask yourself what behaviors reflect the flesh and which reflectthe Spirit? It wasn’t until my late 20’s that I began to really unpack what aChrist-centered life looked like. And it meant that I had to remove someactivities and even people to ensure I was staying on the path.

True faith also changes our priorities. What are we doing with our money? Time? Thoughts? I will openly admit that there have been many times where I felt a prompting to go read my Bible and spend time with Jesus but that one more episode of whatever I was binge-watching was calling on Netflix. I thank God for grace and I get to hold myself accountable to where my priorities are. How about you? Are you prioritizing the things of the Spirit? Personally, I have A LOT of work to do in this area.

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER

Take a breath. Have I rocked your world? You’re welcome. 😉 Here’s your really simple truth in ALL of this.

Belief + Faith = Freedom

When belief grows, it leads to faith, and as faith grows, it leads to true freedom in Christ.

I’m praying for you today!

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