Believing and Doing

02 Sep 2015

Are we meant to BELIEVE or to DO?

Have you thought about it? Which is more important, what you believe or what you do? Can you have one without the other?

This question goes back a long way and has roots in both philosophy and theology.

It helpful to introduce two terms that link the spiritual nature of being and doing.

Orthodoxy is doctrinal correctness; it’s about theory, belief and conviction. It’s about believing the right stuff.

Orthopraxy, on the other hand, is about doing or right practice.

So is it important that we seek truth and try to believe good stuff? Or is it important that we work out our beliefs and values in acts of service?

We might ask, what is a glove without a hand? (One might respond, not very useful at all.)

I was brought up in the Lutheran church, a denomination that was founded on the radical (at the time) convictions of 16th century reformer, Martin Luther. Despite Luther’s belief that even doing simple tasks like housework are as important as the work of monks and nuns, he was overwhelmed with revelation of and the urgent need for an understanding grace. (We might define grace as the undeserved acceptance, love and assistance of the Divine.)

In a historical period where salvation was all about “earning” one’s redemption, Luther’s voice was counter-cultural. He latched onto the Apostle Paul’s writing that “We are saved by grace” (Ephesians 2:8).

We might pause to ask ourselves if it is enough to just believe the right stuff.

Perhaps like me, you have encountered people who seemed to believe the right stuff, yet their behavior was deplorable. In the name of religion, they seemed to be doing “the work of the Lord,” yet didn’t have the decency to love and respect those around them. Many religious people would fall into this category. Some of the rudest people I’ve known were intensely religious. Others were just mean or emotionally or and spiritually disconnected.

Likewise, some of the kindest, most loving people I’ve known have been deeply spiritual and put together. In the case of the latter, there was no divide between what they believed and how they acted.

As I age, I put less and less value on belief. In fact, I look for the fruit in people’s lives.

You can believe anything (and people do!). You can believe Santa will bring you presents on Christmas or that the stars of the universe aligned to give you that bright, shiny new car. Belief is fairly shallow. And belief can be used to justify a whole lot of really crappy behavior (to accomplish one’s agenda).

What you seek and know in your core seems—and how it is worked out practically—seems much more relevant (and mature).

How can you separate who you are from how you live your life? Higher consciousness says there should be a strong correlation. Anything less is nothing short of a huge disconnect.

I conclude that doing and being are both important, and to put one above the other cheapens and diminishes the other. 

“Dear friends, do you think you’ll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, “Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!” and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup—where does that get you? Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?

“I can already hear one of you agreeing by saying, “Sounds good. You take care of the faith department, I’ll handle the works department.”

“Not so fast. You can no more show me your works apart from your faith than I can show you my faith apart from my works. Faith and works, works and faith, fit together hand in glove.”*


*James 2:14-17 (The Message translation)

Royalty-free image by Sardinelly. Retrieved from:




Enter your email address below to subscribe to new posts. Every time there is a new article or podcast, you will get it delivered to your email inbox.