I've been thinking lately about the phrase "believer." I don't know exactly when or where this particular term originated, but I think it could be one of the greatest misnomers I have ever encountered. I have been asked many times, "Is so and so a believer?" And I know what the inquirer is looking for- they're really asking me, "Does that person believe in Jesus Christ?" But lots of people believe in Jesus Christ. Even more believe in God. Probably more than that in angels or some higher power. Almost everyone is some type of believer.
But I play along with the Christian jargon because that's what American evangelical Christians like to do with one another- speak our language, sing our songs, read our books, to and with one another. And I will say, "Oh, yes, she's a believer. She goes to church and has read lots of books. She quotes all these famous Christian authors all of the time and is in three Bible studies." But, tell me, what does any of that have to do with believing anything at all.
When did belief become equated with doing? Sure James said that faith without action is no faith at all. But when did we stop completely with proclaiming our belief and begin covering ourselves with our actions?
Many of these so-called "believers" characterize themselves mostly by what they do, how good they are, how many missionaries they support, or how many hymns they can sing from memory. That is not believing. That is annoying.
I was reading Isaiah 35 today. In the NIV version (though I could really care less what version of the Bible I'm reading) this particular passage is titled, "Joy of the Redeemed" About half way down, I found this verse, "your God will come with a vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you." Then it goes on to talk about opening blind people's eyes and deaf people's ears and streams in the desert and other miracles. I've decided that this is going to be my personal definition of being a believer. Can I or he or she or they or whoever read Isaiah 35:4 and believe, without shadow of a doubt, that the person He is coming to save is you.
This, of course, would mean admitting that we would need saving. It would mean that all that doing isn't all that important. It would mean that despite our best efforts, we might end up blind, or deaf or lame. It would mean we need a miracle. It would mean waiting on a Savior.
So I'm through with calling people who do good moral things "believers." You have to really know someone really well to know what they truly believe. It's a very personal thing. But it doesn't have to be private. And it certainly doesn't have to be masked by what you do. Pure belief should produce spiritual growth that manifests itself in genuine kindness and love and generosity. But the work is hardly what we should go around talking about. It's the faith that fertilizes, that makes any of it possible in the first place.
Sorry to harp on this issue once again. I'm sure it will be coming around more and more often as I dig through my book and my heart and heap up shovel-full after shovel-full of frustration with myself and other Christians who have forgotten how to believe and become obsessed with how we behave.