What does it mean to believe in God? What do we mean when we say that?

Do we take that to mean an intellectual exercise, or does belief mean something more? I believe that I am married and a father. The facts also point to that. But is it the belief about my life situation that is most important regarding this? Or does my actions pertaining to my wife and children play a part in this and to what extent?

Does intellectual assent by itself qualify as belief?

The American Heritage Dictionary defines belief as:

  1. The mental act, condition, or habit of placing trust or confidence in another.
  2. Mental acceptance of and conviction in the truth, actuality, or validity of something.
  3. Something believed or accepted as true, especially a particular tenet or a body of tenets accepted by a group of persons.

By these definitions, it would seem that belief is only a matter of intellectual acceptance of something. There is also a matter of trust and truth related to this, but the core of it is intellectual acceptance.

So how does this relate to God? Belief in God seems to be a low bar, in my opinion. Even Satan believed in God – at least the existence of God. But his actions in Scripture show his true nature.

A better question might be this – if intellectual assent is all that is required for belief, then what is the point of having the belief at all? In other words, what good is a belief if it doesn’t impact your very being? Especially when we are talking on matters of faith.

If our beliefs don’t flow through us to the point that we carry them out, then do we really believe what we claim to believe? And what about those instances in which we do the opposite of what we claim to believe? Or more difficult still, when we support actions, words, policies, practices, and laws that are in opposition to what we claim to believe?

The truth of the matter is that talk is cheap. Our actions, how we actually live, and what we actually support and are willing to invest time, money, and energy in, speak much louder than our words.

If we claim to love all people, but speak and act and support things that actually reject whole groups of people, then our actions are declaring for all to see what it is that we really believe and value.

Frankly, it doesn’t matter what you claim to believe. Your actions cannot violate your true core beliefs and values. Unless you have a mental disorder in which reality is fluid or you are a psychological liar in which the truth can change at any given moment and you actually believe the lies you tell.

But for those who don’t suffer from this, being congruent between your actions and words, and your core values and beliefs overrides anything else.

People can say something that is incongruent with their core beliefs and values because we perceive that speech doesn’t cost us anything. But our actions require a greater commitment on our behalf. That is why in our bibles, James makes the statement, “So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” (James 2:17, NRSV).

The actions we take display the faith we actually have integrated into our very being. If you want to know what a person actually believes and values, watch what they do.