Changing Beliefs

Here is an excerpt from Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy.  After reading it, I hope you will realize why it has taken me a couple of months to make it through this book – it is thick with wisdom!

“…When we bring people to believe differently, they really do become different. One of the greatest weaknesses in our teaching and leadership today is that we spend so much time trying to get people to do good things people are supposed to do, without changing what they really believe.

But in our culture there is a severe illusion about faith, or belief. It is one that has been produced by many centuries of people professing, as a cultural identification, to believe things they do not really believe at all. That goes hand in hand with the predominance of what was called client, or consumer, Christianity earlier. Thus there arises the misunderstanding that human life is not really goverened by belief.  This is a diastrous error.

We often speak of people not living up to their faith. But the cases in which we say this are not really cases of people behaving otherwise than they believe. They are cases in which genuine beliefs are made obvious by what people do. We always live up to our beliefs–or down to them, as the case may be. Nothing else is possible. It is the nature of belief. And the reason why clergy and others have to invest so much effort into getting people to do things is that they are working against the actual beliefs of the people they are trying to lead.

But what we must never forget, in moving toward the faith “on the rock,” is that our “doing” comes–or fails to come–from what our beliefs actually are. Hence, if we would train people to do “all things,” we must change their beliefs. Only so can we change their loves. You cannot change character or behavior and leave beliefs intact. It is one of the major illusions of Western culture, deriving from a form of Christianity that is merely cultural, that you can do this. We cannot work around that illusion, but must dispel it.

Just as we must change the beliefs of individuals in order for them to become disciples in the first place, so we must further change their beliefs if they are to develop as disciples into that fullness and abundance of kingdom life that has obedience as a byproduct. And to help disciples toward intelligent assurance that this universe really is God’s world is to advance them greatly toward “loving the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength” (Mark 12:30).

Jesus, in stating that s the primary, or “first,” commandment, understood that if such love were in place all else of importance would follow, including “hearing and doing.” And that is why hearty and clear-headed love of God must be the first objective in any curriculum for Christlikeness. That objective is substantially gained when God is clearly and constantly present to the mind as our “faithful Creator” (1 Pet. 4:19).”

~ pp. 307-308, 331-332

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About rd734467

I am a seeker. A doer. An encourager. One who loves. One who longs to be loved. One who desperately yearns to make a difference in this world.
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6 Responses to Changing Beliefs

  1. James says:

    I. Love. Dallas Willard. so good. how is Greece treating you?

    • rdarling says:

      Me too 🙂 Greece treated me very well – I grew a lot in my view of ministry, especially cross-cultural ministry. I am actually back in the States at the moment. Thanks for asking!

  2. “We always live up to our beliefs–or down to them, as the case may be. Nothing else is possible.”

    I don’t think this is true. Do you?

    • rdarling says:

      My first reaction would be yes, I do think this is true. I don’t think we can separate belief and actions very easily. As James 2 points out, belief and action are intrinsically connected.

      However, I do see your point – what then do we make of Paul’ s struggle (ours as well) to do good, which he reflects on in Romans 7? Do we dare say that Paul did not believe because his actions were not consistent with belief? Perhaps we should say that he had not yet come to the fullness of belief, which none of us will attain in this life.

      I suppose then that Willard would equate living up to our beliefs as entire sanctification. Thus, none of us (or very few) will ever come to perfect belief in this life. I think this is okay – God expects us to believe and act as best we can, and strive towards sanctification. His grace will cover the rest.

      • I think the nature of free will means we can do something while fully believing it is the wrong thing to do. In that case it seems like “fullness of belief” in the way you’re using it is not a meaningful statement. Either you believe something, disbelieve it, or you are unsure. And regardless of which is the case, you are still free to choose something that’s against your belief. Knowing what is right does not force you to do what is right. That seems intuitive and confirmed by human experience, and I don’t see where Willard is getting his grounds for arguing otherwise.

  3. Ashley says:

    I’d have to agree that this is a tough one. Sometimes we do things that don’t reflect what we actually believe, whether out of carelessness, or frustration, or just plain stupidity. Sometimes we say things that we don’t really mean, even though we don’t believe in them or want them to be true.

    As an example, I’ll mention a sin I was guilty of last week that I still feel badly about, even though I know God forgives: I was upset and frustrated by the way a coworker has been treating me for months now, and for some reason I just blurted out that “he should just go die.” The instant the words came out of my mouth, I felt terrible, and regretted having said it. I didn’t mean it. Not for one second. My personal, inner belief is not that this man should die. Just the opposite. I wish that he and I could talk through our differences and be reconciled. I wish that we could be friends again like we once were. So why then did I say such a thing? Out of hurt…out of frustration…out of anger…not justifiable by any means, but also not something I believe. How, then, does this fit with what Willard said, that we always live up to, or down to, our beliefs? I don’t entirely disagree with him, I just think the issue isn’t quite as black and white as he’s portraying it.

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