Originally posted on Facebook—June, 2014
“If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” ~John 15:7 NASB
“Yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform.” ~Romans 4:20-21 NASB
For years, I have written notes sharing my thoughts on subjects that I believe to be essential within biblical teachings—often returning to topics repeatedly. Such topics include: love, trust, faith, hope, humility, forgiveness, sacrifice, truth, pain, and suffering. These topics arise repeatedly throughout scripture, giving credence to their importance. As should be the case given such context, I try to look at these topics through the lens of Jesus—all things pointing to the cross. A Christian’s convictions should be centered on the crucifixion and resurrection; otherwise, there is no foundation for a Christian belief system. Scripture tells us to believe in God’s character, His love, His forgiveness, His mercy, His sovereignty, His consistency, His omniscience and omnipotence. We are told to have faith in Him—to believe in Him; centering ourselves on Him. We are to possess an attitude of thankfulness and reverence towards God…an attitude of trust. There is good reason for this, when you understand how vital it is in guiding your path:
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” ~Proverbs 3:5-6
Belief is a powerful ally…or enemy. There is much to suggest—within both a biblical and secular context—that belief strongly influences individuals’ attitudes, establishing their behavioral intentions, which often leads to the actual intended behavior. In the 1970s, psychology professors Fishbein and Ajzen (1975) proposed the Theory of Reasoned Action (TRA), which states just that: beliefs > attitudes > intentions > behavior/actions. More precisely, the theory suggests that individuals’ behaviors are dependent on both their attitudes about the behavior, and how others will react if they actually perform the behavior (i.e. take action).
For those unfamiliar with the theory, a model has been provided at the conclusion of this note. The model’s constructs (Attitudes, Subjective Norms, Behavioral Intention) are defined below, with examples for each provided (taken from Miller, 2005; regarding exercise):
ATTITUDES: the sum of beliefs about a particular behavior weighted by evaluations of these beliefs
Example: You might believe that exercise is good for your health, that exercise makes you look good, that exercise takes too much time, and that exercise is uncomfortable. Each of these beliefs can be weighted (for instance, health issues might be more important to you than issues of time and comfort)
SUBJECTIVE NORMS: looks at the influence of people in one’s social environment on their behavioral intentions; the beliefs of people, weighted by the importance one attributes to each of their opinions, will influence one’s behavioral intention (in other words, social influence/ peer pressure)
Example: You might have some friends who are avid exercisers and constantly encourage you to join them. However, your spouse might prefer a more sedentary lifestyle and scoff at those who work out. The beliefs of these people, weighted by the importance you attribute to each of their opinions, will influence your behavioral intention to exercise.
BEHAVIORAL INTENTION: a function of both attitudes toward a behavior and subjective norms toward the behavior, which has been found to predict actual behavior
Example: Your attitudes about exercise combined with the subjective norms about exercise, each with their own weight, will lead you to your intention to exercise (or not), which will then lead to your actual behavior.
When examining this theory under a biblical lens, much of it appears to be supported under scriptural teaching. Biblically, we are told to have faith (believe) in the Lord (Galatians 2:20), and to follow Him (belief > action) obediently, out of our love for him (John 14:21). We are also cautioned that our intentions and thoughts matter (Matthew 5:28; Matthew 6:5; Matthew 15:19; Romans 8:5), as does the company we keep (subjective norms;Matthew 18:20; Proverbs 27:17; 1 Corinthians 15:33). Multiple times in scripture, we are told to pick up our cross (continue His ministry) and follow Him (Matthew 10:38, 16:24; Mark 8:34, 10:21; Luke 9:23, 14:27). We are encouraged to follow Him through belief in His character, made known to us by His sacrifice for our benefit (Romans 5:8). We are told that if we believe in Christ, we will be changed—reborn (2 Corinthians 5:17; 1 John 5:13; John 5:24). And once reborn, our actions will reflect our belief (Galatians 5:22; Matthew 7:16-20)
Maybe the following scripture best outlines the logic found in TRA:
“Yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith (belief), giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what God had promised (attitude), He was able also to perform (intention/action).” ~Romans 4:20-21
Later on, Ajzen (1985, 1991) updated the TRA to include “perceived behavioral control.” This revised theory is known as the Theory of Planned Behavior. Again, a visual model is provided at the end of this note. This construct was added, because while many studies support TRA, there were instances where circumstantial limitations led to individuals not acting on their intentions. Perceived behavior control, is based on self-efficacy theory (SET)—proposed by Bandura in 1977. Using the explanation of SET from Wikipedia:
“According to Bandura, expectations such as motivation, performance, and feelings of frustration associated with repeated failures determine effect and behavioral reactions. Bandura (1986) separated expectations into two distinct types: self-efficacy and outcome expectancy. He defined self-efficacy as the conviction that one can successfully execute the behavior required to produce the outcomes. The outcome expectancy refers to a person’s estimation that a given behavior will lead to certain outcomes. He states that self-efficacy is the most important precondition for behavioral change, since it determines the initiation of coping behavior.
Previous investigations have shown that peoples’ behavior is strongly influenced by their confidence in their ability to perform that behavior (Bandura, Adams, Hardy, & Howells, 1980).”
Basically, even if an individual’s beliefs, attitudes, and social influences support a particular behavior, that individual’s lack of confidence (due to past failures in similar circumstances) to successfully perform that behavior—even if they can rationally see it as a right or good behavior—may lead them to avoid taking action. While the theory does not explicitly mention emotional variables (and let’s all agree that emotion is a major influencer), it is reasonable to expect that emotions would affect an individual’s perceived behavior control. For instance, past failures in similar circumstances may create a sense of fear in the individual…a fear of failure. As such, they perceive themselves not to have control…believing that history will repeat itself.
Essentially, subjective norms and perceived behavior control explain why all of us fail to consistently act rationally—we listen to the non-rationale (or worldly) advice of others we value, and/or allow past experiences to lead us from acting on our beliefs.
This is why I believe that scripture is so adamant about faith in God’s character, and obedience to His Word. There are times when taking the right action will be dangerous—often, when taking the right action there is risk. Christianity seeks out risk takers–it isn’t safe to follow. Because this world is fallen, good people can do the right thing and have it not work out for them. This may be for a number of reasons—as taught scripturally. The failure could be due to our own sin, the sin of others, a combination of both, or for some other reason that God does not make known to us (again, see Job). Christians are promised pain and suffering, and told to rejoice in it, because we can grow from it if our focus is on our Lord:
“And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” ~Romans 5:3-5 NASB
How can we not see His love for us, if we believe that He sacrificed His only son for us?
“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” ~Romans 5:8 NASB
We must believe in His love for us—we need to see the value He sees in us…our worth:
But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ Therefore, you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.” ~Galatians 4:4-7
If we believe He loves us—that we have been adopted as His sons and daughters—how can we believe that He will not ultimately work things for our good; whether that good becomes visible to us in this world or the next?
“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” ~Romans 8:28
“God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent; has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?”~Numbers 23:19
“He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” ~Romans 8:32
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. “For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!”~Matthew 7:7-11
And if we believe we are loved like this, how can we not love others similarly (aka Golden Rule)?
“In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” ~Matthew 7:12
This is why we are told to be both BOLD (Joshua 1:9) in the Lord, but also GENTLE (Ephesians 4:2). We must be bold in the Lord, trusting that His way is the correct way. To be bold means that we do not allow our perceptions of our own abilities to affect change or to create positive outcomes dictate whether we perform what we believe to be the right behavior. We take action because we believe it is right—not because we believe it will be successful.
A great example of this within the bible comes from the book of Daniel. The Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, made a decree that all his subjects must bow to a golden statue (a false idol) whenever his musicians played. Three Jewish men living in the kingdom refused to obey the command, as it went against God’s command to only worship Him—and to not worship false idols.
In response to their defiance, Nebuchadnezzar ordered them thrown into a fiery furnace. Rather than plead for mercy, or redact their stance toward worshiping the false idol, the three Jewish men said to the king:
“We have no need to answer you in this matter….Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you set up” ~Daniel 3:17-18 ESV
In his book, “Walking with God through Pain and Suffering,” Tim Keller provides excellent commentary on this verse:
“There is an almost paradoxical balance of confidence and humility in this response. Their statement combines elements that we would consider antithetical to one another. On the one hand, they express a strong belief that God not only is able to rescue them but actually will rescue them (v. 17). But then we are puzzled by their next sentence, beginning “But if not.” If they are confident in God, why would they even admit the possibility of not being delivered?
The answer is that their confidence was actually in God, not in their limited understanding of what they thought he would do. They had inner assurance that God would rescue them. However, they were not so arrogant as to be sure they were “reading God right.” They knew that God was under no obligation to operate according to their limited wisdom. In other words, their confidence was in God himself, not in some agenda that they wanted God to promote. They trusted in God, and that included trust that he knew better than they what should happen. So they were essentially saying this: “Even if our God does not rescue us—and that is right—we will serve him and not you. We will serve him whether he conforms to our wisdom or not. We do not defy you because we think we are going to live—we defy you because our God is God.”
~Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, pp. 230-231
What I love about the response is their willingness to see it through–follow their beliefs and convictions–regardless. Sometimes we need to trust in what He shares with us, and not worry about the outcome—having confidence in Him.
Ultimately, our belief in God’s character and His love for us will lead us to develop attitudes and engage in behaviors that reflect that belief. If we believe in our Lord’s love for us—His concern for our well- being—and believe in His sovereignty, we will demonstrate it in our love for others; following His commands (these are just a few):
“He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.” ~John 14:21
“’And you shall love the Lord your God will all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” ~Mark 12:30-31 NASB
“And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your sins.” ~Mark 11:25-26 NIV
“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” ~Luke 6:36 NIV
“Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” ~John 15:13 NASB
“If you love me, you will obey what I command.” ~John 14:`5 NIV
“See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.” ~Matthew 18:10 NIV
“Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” ~Matthew 6:1 NIV
But to properly believe in Jesus, we must KNOW Jesus. We cannot create our own view of Jesus and hold onto those beliefs. To do so is creating a false idol. This is a dangerous aspect of belief—when it is misplaced, it is deadly:
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’” ~Matthew 7:21-23 NASB
Outside of self-worship, our beliefs can be formed through misplaced faith in other people or things (false idols)—which is why God commands us to only worship Him.
“You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing loving kindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.” ~Exodus 20:3-6 NASB
“The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it.”~Proverbs 22:3 ESV
Jesus, also warns about worshiping false idols, and how they can lead your heart away from God/Him:
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” ~Matthew 13:19-21 NASB
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves money belts which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” ~Luke 12:32-34 NASB
Yet, we all fail (with the exception of Jesus) to consistently act on our beliefs, and trust in Him—succumbing to fear, anger, guilt, shame, bad counsel, past failures, betrayals, etc.Therefore, we must exhibit a loving gentleness, and help one another overcome our brokenness—serving as God’s hands and feet. We must lovingly rebuke one another, carry others’ burdens, be merciful and forgiving—and we must humbly accept these things from others (because we need help too).
To encourage positive subjective norms (aka social community), we are called to establish a strong Christian community to help keep us accountable, and guide us back on the proper path when we have been led astray:
“For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”~Matthew 18:20
“And let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” ~Hebrews 10:24-25
“The righteous is a guide to his neighbor, but the way of the wicked leads them astray.” ~Proverbs 12:26
“Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” ~Proverbs 27:17
“Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” ~Proverbs 27:6
“He who withholds kindness from a friend forsakes the fear of the Almighty.” ~Job 6:14
Subsequently, we must be careful of not allowing the wrong social influences, for “bad company ruins good morals” (1 Corinthians 15:33b). We must be wise in how we navigate this fallen world:
“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.” ~Matthew 10:16 NASB
So how do we develop the right beliefs about God? How do we get to KNOW Him? Where do we learn to discern those who are good community and those who will lead us astray? Through His Word—the Holy Bible (aka scripture).
“All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.” ~2 Timothy 3:16
“This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.” ~Joshua 1:8
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” ~Romans 1:16
And we should see the fruits of our belief, through our faith (belief) in God:
“…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another.” ~Galatians 5:22-25
“Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits.” ~Matthew 7:15-20
Thus, everything as a Christian begins with our belief in our Lord.
“And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.”~Hebrews 11:6
“And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” ~Luke 9:23
“But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”~Matthew 6:33 NASB
And may we show our belief in our actions, demonstrating humility and love:
“A new commandment I give you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”~John 13:34-35
“Little children, let us not love with word of with tongue, but in deed and truth.” ~1 John3:18
Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interest of others.” ~Philippians 2:3-4
And in acting on our conscience, based on our convictions in Christ we can overcome our fears and temptations of the world, and act without a guilt or shame—striving for integrity:
“In view of this, I also do my best to maintain always a blameless conscience both before God and before men.” ~Acts 24:16
But through it all, we MUST believe in HIS LOVE, and act on His love–doing likewise. Further, we must repent when we fail, trusting in His mercy and forgiveness—knowing Christ and His perfect love will keep us from eternal punishment:
“No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.” ~1 John 4:12-18
So, ultimately, the question we should all ask ourselves is: What do I believe?