The Reason What You Believe and What You Do Are Different

The Reason What You Believe and What You Do Are Different

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Have you ever wondered how it is possible to believe the right things yet do the wrong things? It happens regularly—at least to me. I am in situations where I have the opportunity to do the right thing. Sometimes, I make the wrong choice in those moments—even when I know what the right decision should be. A wrong response creates a gap between what I know to do and what I actually do. My orthodoxy says one thing; my orthopraxy reveals another. If you are like me, there is a gap between what you know and what you do too.

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Gap Dwellers

Do not be discouraged; you and I are not alone. The truth is that no Christian is perfect. We all live somewhere in the gap between what we know to be true and what we live out daily. It’s a general hypocrisy, which is why judging another person uncharitably when they fail is wrongheaded. The awareness of our gap restrains us from judgmentalism. How can we judge others when we live in the gap? Thus, we never ask, “Is there a gap between what you believe and what you do?” We’re smarter than that. Our questions are more intrusive, insightful, and clarifying.

  • How big is your gap?
  • Is your gap widening?
  • What are you doing about your gap?
  • Who is aware of your gap?
  • Are you seeking to close your gap?
  • How often do you talk to God about your gap?
  • How are you soliciting the help of your friends to close your gap?

The issue is not the gap, but which way are we going. Are we running to God or away from God? Tim Keller said, “Sin is running away from God, and grace is God’s effort to pursue and intercept self-destructive behavior.” God knew we would live somewhere in the gap, so He created grace for undeserving gap dwellers. Grace is His empowering favor appropriated for us. All we have to do is determine whether or not we will apply God’s unmerited favor to close the distance between the person we are and who Christ is. What I am talking about here are functional beliefs and confessional beliefs: our orthodoxy and orthopraxy. I have used the term functional atheism to describe the concept of the unbelieving believer.

Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).

Function vs. Confession

Functional beliefs ingrain themselves in us, guiding our perception, which primarily influences our behaviors. Our practical beliefs are who we are. These beliefs are the ones that put us in the gap. They are different from our confessional or core beliefs. Our confessional beliefs are what we have learned about God from His Bible. These beliefs are the perfect and pure truth. For example, a typical core or confessional belief is that God is good. The Bible is clear on who He is. No Christian would dispute the goodness of God. It is a core tenet of how the Bible talks about our Father.

Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in the way (Psalm 25:8).

For how great is his goodness, and how great his beauty! (Zechariah 9:17).

And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone” (Mark 10:18).

While we do not struggle with this confessional belief about the goodness of God, there are times when our confessional beliefs can be interrupted because of the grip our functional beliefs have on us. The most common occurrence is when we are not getting our way. How about you? When you find yourself at the intersection of God’s story and your story, how strong is the pull to yield to your desires rather than His? Jonah was one such man. Though he was a good prophet who loved God, there was a particular situation in his life where he had to decide whether to cling to his confessional beliefs (who he knew God to be) or to his functional beliefs (what he wanted). Jonah chose the latter.

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Function Over Confession

Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD (Jonah 1:1-3).

Rather than following God, Jonah ran the other way. I cannot fuss with Jonah too much here. I have done this a few times. A while ago, I was angry with my wife. At that moment, I felt the pressure Jonah felt. Will I trust and follow God by living out the pure Word of the Lord, or will I allow my functional—atheistic—beliefs, which are telling me to do things my way, to rule the day? I, like Jonah, chose my desires over God’s. At that moment, it did not matter what my confessional beliefs were because I was not yielding to the Word that I confessed. Truth does not matter if we are not going to live by it. If functional beliefs win out, we are no better off than an atheist because we act out functional atheism. Before you progress, will you take some time to reflect on a few situations where functional beliefs have overpowered the Word of God that we confess?

  • I know lying is wrong, but if I am in a place where I may look bad, I may choose to lie rather than speak the truth.
  • I know I should love my wife the way Christ loved the church, but I want to punish her through my anger when she displeases me.
  • I know I should forgive others as Christ has forgiven me, but I want to make them pay for what they did when they hurt me.
  • I know God looks at the heart and is not impressed with this jar of clay, but I want to dress to impress others.
  • I know looking twice at a woman is lust, but I enjoy the sleazy satisfaction of looking at women.
  • I know I should obey my parents, but they are not perfect, and there are times when I judge them for this, which is why I disobey them.

Danger of Gap-Dwelling

How did you do? Describe your gap. You have one, and some things motivate you to hoist the functional flag of your life while lowering the confessional one you know to be true. Self-protection, self-preservation, and self-promotion are three hidden idolatries that will feed and fuel our functional beliefs. Our practical beliefs will often run under the radar of our behaviors. Part of what it means to live in the gap is to create a highly edited version of who we are for public consumption. We are not dumb enough to live according to the full scope of a functional belief system in the raw. We keep those things hidden, and the problem with hiding our functional beliefs from others is that we can believe our self-promoting efforts, as we present ourselves to others.

It’s self-deception. If we are believers, we want our functional beliefs exposed so we can change. We know we cannot live a lie, which is a form of insanity. Insanity is an immersion in paranormal thinking. Para means alongside or outside of something. Paranormal thinking is beside normal thinking or outside of normal thinking. Normal thinking is biblical thinking. Sanity is living as close to biblical thought as you can get. Choosing to live continuously outside the clear and normative teaching of the Word of God will eventually lock us into insanity, and our consciences will soon follow our functional beliefs by hardening us in the gap.

I hope you do not want to stay in your gap, which should scare you to death. We have the Word of God and the Spirit of God, two means of grace given to us to help us change our functional beliefs until they are submitted to and guided by our confessional beliefs. If there is a disconnect between our functional and confessional beliefs, we must discern, decipher, and determine how to break the disconnect that keeps us stuck in the gap. It is a trap that requires extrication so we can be free to make the fame of God great in our world. Jonah’s response to God seemed to say, “If I act like God is not there and act like God does not care, then eventually things will work out according to what I want.” Though you may not have said such things, it is a standard appeal from the functional gods.

Fooling the Fool

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account (Hebrews 4:12-13).

Honestly, I have acted as though God does not see into the darkness of my heart. Even though God was telling me not to sin, I persisted in my way and did it anyway. I was pretending the truth of God’s Word did not exist. I slavishly pushed God out of my mind by allowing my functional gods to shout my true confessional beliefs down, which freed me to sin. It did not matter what God’s Word said. It did not matter what God knew about me at that moment. Functional beliefs can make noisy minds.

“I want a life according to what I want. If I continue to hold onto my functional beliefs, I can get what I want, even if it means divorce. If I want something from someone and ignore what God says, I can use anger to get what I want.”

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All Aboard

When you run from God, a ship will always be ready to take you where you want to go. If you harbor impure thoughts, eventually, there will be a bed for you to act out your passions. If you harbor self-pity and an “I deserve better” attitude, you will find the wrong solution for your sinful desires. When these things happen, you will affirm your evil desires. You may be surprised how often I have heard people justify their immoral behaviors through the signs they experienced. For example: “I felt horrible in my marriage, and though I was not looking for anyone, Biff came along. It was like we had known each other all our lives.” And so the unbiblical nonsense goes. Because she got what she wanted, she talked herself into believing God was in it. Jonah could have been like this, too.

He ran from God, and guess what? A ship was ready to take him to Tarshish. My, my. Isn’t God good? “If I disobey God and nothing bad happens, nothing bad will happen.” You may disobey God, and nothing terrible may happen but do not be so biblically naive as to think your actions are right or justified. A false peace can take you to Hell. I have heard it said that “there is one thing worse than Hell. It is going to Hell while thinking you are going to Heaven.” Jonah got what he wanted, but what he wanted was not what God wanted. He was the fool whose deceitful desires fooled him. Just because we can sleep in a storm does not mean we are doing the right thing. Eventually, Jonah’s problems worsened, and ours will, too, when our functional and confessional beliefs are at odds with each other.

From the time Jonah arose from his sleep, we see how all his functional beliefs were false. He may have dismissed God, but God did not dismiss him. He may have hoped not to get caught, but God was mercifully on his case. Jonah’s functional beliefs said, “If I run, God won’t care.” Jonah’s functional beliefs said, “If I do what I want, God won’t intervene.” Be sure your sins will find you out.

But Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and had lain down and was fast asleep. So the captain came and said to him, “What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call out to your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish” (Jonah 1:5-6).

Sin and Grace

God does care and will interject Himself at some point in our lives. Ironically, when the mariners woke up Jonah, he told them who his God was, which was his confessional belief, not theirs. His confession was what he believed, though what he believed was utterly different from what he was doing. Correct theology does not always lead to obedience. A proper confession of faith does not keep you from heading in the wrong direction. Jonah had functional beliefs opposing his confessional faith, which separated him from God. Are our lives a faithful picture of the implications of what we say we believe about God and the gospel? Are there areas in our lives where functional contradictions exist between what we say we believe and how we live?

I haven’t always lived up to my preaching, but I’ve never lowered my preaching to fit my living. – Vance Havner

There is only one way to close the gap between function and confession; we must return to our theology of sin and grace. We grow in narrowing the difference between our confessional and functional beliefs by cultivating an ongoing, deepening sense of sin and grace. We cannot ignore the evil or the grace in our lives. If we ignore the sin, we will not see it clearly, and we will not be able to appropriate God’s grace to our sin. The central deception in the gap between functional and confessional beliefs is how we view sin and grace. As you probably already discerned, the only way a person will live in the gap is by being comfortably numb to their sin.

You can become comfortably numb by minimizing the sin. You do this by twisting, ignoring, re-labeling, justifying, rationalizing, alleviating, or blaming the sin away. Any of these responses will keep you in the illusion that all is well while you are still living in the gap. We must take our souls to task to snap out of the gap funk. The following tips will help you do just that if you take them to heart and enlist the help of a few good friends: the Spirit, His Word, and His children.

Call to Action

  1. When you sin, you need to think more deeply about what you said and did than you may have ever done.
  2. Then you need to ask God to reveal to you what you did or said and why you did and said it.
  3. You must look under the sin by delving down into the real motives of your heart to understand why you did what you did. Behavioral sin always has a heart motive. While you should not go on a dismal, reflective, and morbid sin hunt, God calls you to repent of your sin, which is more than your behaviors. If you move too quickly to grace without thinking about the heart issues that led to the sin, you cannot bring a satisfying conclusion to reduce your soul noise.
  4. You must give the Spirit more opportunities to examine the runaway strategies of your heart. Jonah must sit down and provide substantial biblical thought about why he ran. It may have looked impulsive, but functional idols were feeding the engine of his mind long before he decided to run.
  5. Without wallowing in your sin, you want to explicitly identify all the false beliefs that motivated you to sin. To do this, you must get some help from your friends.
  6. As God gives you clarity, you need to spend time praising and thanking God for the gospel that saved you and keeps you from the destructive consequences of sin in your life.
  7. I recommend you write a praise list, noting how God has rescued you. Thank Him audibly for His persevering grace in your life.
  8. Share with your friends what you did, what God did, and how He rescued you from ongoing destructive behavior. Let the fame of God be known to others. By sharing, you will accomplish several things:
    1. It will remind you of what God did.
    2. It will motivate others to follow the path you are on.
    3. It will make God’s name great.
    4. It will create accountability in your life as you share your story, which may keep you from running to Tarshish again.

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