You might not realise it, but all your behaviour comes from your beliefs. When you really believe something to be true, it changes what you do. Or to put it the other way: behind every action is a thought.
You can see this in simple situations, like when you take a seat in a restaurant. As you sit down you believe several things without even realising. You believe that the chair is available for you, that it is socially appropriate to sit down at that moment, and that the chair is structurally sound to support you.
Or in more complicated situations, like the end of a relationship. What could motivate someone to go through the difficult process of a 'conscious uncoupling' except a complex set of beliefs? Beliefs about the nature of relationships, what is required for 'functional' romance, and human flourishing.
Most of these beliefs just happen instinctively, firing under the surface without us realising. But if you want to see your beliefs, you simply have to ask the question 'why?'
If you ask yourself why you ended that relationship you might answer that it wasn't working. Why wasn't it working? 'Well', you say, 'because they weren't right for me', or 'we didn't fit together', or 'they weren't contributing like I was'. And why do those things matter? 'Because that is what a relationship is, that is what matters'. Why does that matter to you?
And here, behind a few of these questions, is some deeply held belief about the exact nature of your desires. The mechanics of interpersonal relationships and what is good for you.
If you believe it's going to rain, you bring an umbrella. If you believe the house is on fire, you get out.
For Christians this is almost a self-evident fact. Our lives are governed by a belief that God exists (which changes everything), that Jesus is God and reveals God to us, that the Bible is God's word and is how God speaks to us. Our lives have a distinctively Christian shape because of our Christian beliefs.
And that's interesting too, the concept of 'shape'.
For the Christian person, building on top of these core beliefs are things like church attendance; Christian friends; a new understanding of how to use your body and language, your time, money and homeâeven your mental energy. The Christian life has been shaped by our beliefs, and in one sense we are at work to believe these things more and see more change in our lives.
The exact shape of your Christian life will have nuance and flex, but by and large it will resemble the lives of other Christians, who have begun with a similar set of convictions.
The enemy of belief
But there is an enemy to belief. There is something that robs the life-source of this shape. What can begin as an outworking of faith can gradually become something else altogetherâhabit or tradition. The shape we form resulting from our convictions can take on a life of its own.
What began as a decision to attend church out of beliefs about Jesus can become one step removed, and instead become about what you believe it means to be a 'good Christian'.
Instead of returning again to Jesus, to know how His identity shapes your life, you return to the shape itself and work on maintaining it.
This shift is almost indiscernible on the surface. But underneath, the two are worlds apart. One who is preoccupied with the shape rather than the source can even seem to be advancing: learning to say the right things and avoid certain behaviors. But they are advancing as one who learns the dance by rote, not as one who moves in response to the music.
Sam Manchester is currently a theology student with an inescapable sociology degree behind him. In an attempt to reconcile the two, he reflects and writes about their coalescence in everyday life.
Sam's archive of articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/sam-manchester.html