This might come as a shock to you, but I have never acted inconsistently with my beliefs.
Never have I ever once done anything that goes against my core beliefs.
Want to hear something equally crazy? Neither have you.
Now you might say to me, “Wait just a moment, Tim. I’ve heard you describe yourself a conscientious consumer; someone who works hard to buy fair-trade items and avoids supporting sweatshop labor. But aren’t you wearing a Hanes T-shirt?” (Hanes was listed in the 2010 “Sweatshop Hall of Shame” by the International Labor Rights Forum).
“Why, yes I am indeed.” I would reply.
“Well, isn’t that inconsistent with your beliefs?” you might ask?
“Apparently not,” I would reply.
Because, you see, if I did believe that sweatshop labor was wrong, I would live differently, wouldn’t I? So when you heard me describe myself as a conscientious consumer, evidently I was being dishonest.
You remember that old saying, “Actions speak louder than words”? What if that was…you know…true? Better yet, just imagine yourself living as a mute. Add to that the inability to write, or sign, or pantomime, or otherwise convey your thoughts. All you can do is live. What will people conclude that you believe after watching you for a day? A month? A year? A decade? A lifetime?
Here is a list of shameful things you might conclude about me if you just watched me live for a while:
- I don’t care much where products come from before they get to me.
- I think my own leisure is more important than people.
- It’s OK to say something hurtful, as long as the person you’re hurting isn’t listening.
- I’d rather eat deliciously than eat ethically and healthfully.
- I think most people are stupider than me.
- Lust, anger, pride, and selfishness…really aren’t all that bad.
Apparently these are things I believe from time to time. Someone might comfort me by saying, “Those aren’t things you believe, they’re just areas that you struggle to be consistent in.” Well, I respectfully disagree. I think I am consistent. I think I live the way I believe. Perhaps the only thing that is inconsistent in my life are the words I use to describe my beliefs. Because when I call myself a “conscientious consumer,” yet buy sweatshop-produced items, I don’t live inconsistently; I describe myself inconsistently. Let me give you an example from earlier in my life.
When I was in high school, I was punk-rock through-and-through. Mowhawk, tattoos, piercings, chains and patches…the whole bit. And of course, along with the punk-rock ethos, came the rallying cry of the punk-rocker: “I don’t care what people think about me.”
I used to love saying that, because it was “proof” that I was unaffected by mainstream society. Only problem was that after making that statement, I would spend an hour (or more) in front of the mirror getting my hair to do this:
I wasn’t about to let the tuxedo take away my street cred.
But I wasn’t living inconsistently. I was simply describing myself dishonestly. I did care what people thought about me, and I lived in a way that proved that. But I described myself as someone who didn’t. The inconsistency was in my description of myself.
Our actions will never be inconsistent with our beliefs. Because our actions will always reflect what is going on in the depths of our hearts. Consider what Jesus says:
“If you grow a healthy tree, you’ll pick healthy fruit. If you grow a diseased tree, you’ll pick worm-eaten fruit. The fruit tells you about the tree.
You have minds like a snake pit! How do you suppose what you say is worth anything when you are so foul-minded? It’s your heart, not the dictionary, that gives meaning to your words. A good person produces good deeds and words season after season. An evil person is a blight on the orchard.”
–Matthew 12:33-35 (The Message)
Nobody lives inconsistently. People only describe themselves inconsistently. Jesus says here, in essence, that the things we say about ourselves don’t matter much when compared to the way we live our lives.
So, here’s where the rubber meets the road spiritually. Watch this clip from thinker/theologian/activist/heretic Peter Rollins. Skip straight to 1:41:
Make no mistake: your actions are your beliefs. The way you live today will tell of your adherence to the doctrine of resurrection (among others). Your words merely describe you either correctly or incorrectly.
Now, it could be easy for us to walk away from this devastated and hopelessly aware of our inability to reach any level of real holiness. To this I say two things:
First of all, good! It is only in these hopeless moments of clarity that we are made aware of the depth of our sin and our need for a savior. Use the feeling of hopelessness to propel you into the arms of the One who offers hope!
Second of all, don’t get angry or discouraged without getting honest.
Live your beliefs.
Let us become the people Christ calls us to be on the inside so that we no longer need to hide behind our faulty descriptions of ourselves; so that we no longer need to masquerade as people of good standing. And, when our lives display that we believe counter to the Gospel, may we have the courage to say the words that will ring consistently with our brokenness. Have the courage to say, “Today, I denied the resurrection.”
And then go out tomorrow, and refuse to deny it again.