I met a man about a year ago who said that God had told him, “Everything you believe is wrong.” He said he knew it was God and yet he wasn’t terribly surprised. He had been a Christian for many years and what he believed wasn’t working for him. His life and marriage were a mess. Since he was despairing of ever getting things straightened out, he had nothing to lose. He told God, “Okay. So, what do I do now?”
Admitting we have wrong beliefs can be pretty frightening, even when we know that what we believe isn’t working. If it is true, what do we do? How do we find out what it is that we believe that is wrong, and then find out what we should believe instead? And, what happens in the meantime? My new friend was desperate for a change, yet terrified of being deceived. The thing is, what God had said to him meant he had already been deceived about something.
I started getting to know this man shortly after this encounter with God. One day he asked if I would meet him at McDonald’s and share. I told him that many years ago God said the same thing to me. I had been desperate and ready for something to change. If the problem was something I believed, I was ready to know what it was. The first time I recognized something I believed that was wrong, it was the beginning of an adventure that has wonderfully changed my life. I shared with my new friend how the old me left and God’s love and fruit started becoming more real every day. Today, my friend’s life and experience with God is amazing.
Many people are terrified of God’s command in 2 Corinthians 13:5, “Examine yourselves to see if you are within the faith.” This is a scary proposition because you may end up meeting God in a new way and you are not sure what that will be like. And, we are comfortable, even though possibly miserable, with some of our wrong beliefs. We would prefer to change something else. Actually, all we want to be changed is the problems our wrong beliefs are causing. If we are honest with ourselves, we probably really like what we believe, even if it is wrong. What we don’t like is the results of those beliefs. Of course, if something we believe is not true, we don’t know it or we wouldn’t believe it in the first place. Right? None of us would believe something we absolutely know is not true.
However, if we want to grow in our experience of God’s freedom, peace, and joy, it is always the result of increasingly believing what He believes. You may think, “But I don’t want God to know that I might believe something that isn’t true.” He already does. And, He will never condemn us for having believed something that isn’t true. And, the idea of the Holy Spirit convicting us of sin actually means He seeks to convince or persuade us that we have believed something that is not true. Why would He seek to persuade us? Because none of us wants to believe we know something that isn’t true, so He works to convince us of His truth. But, never with condemnation. He seeks to convince us through reasoning with us and loving us. This is at the heart of the word repent. It means to change your mind upon reflection. As God reasons with us, He persuades us to think about what He says. God believes that if He reasons with us long enough we will eventually change our minds about what we have believed that is wrong and decide what He has been weighing on our hearts is the truth. This is repentance.
God is never harsh nor will He ever try to force you to believe something you don’t want to believe. Nor will He ever threaten to harm or reject you because it takes you a while to understand. Even if you know you are refusing Him, He will continue to love you with all the kindness you are willing to let Him show you. God seeks a loving relationship with each of us, no matter what we’ve done, because He knows that it is His goodness toward us that leads each of us to repentance (cf. Romans 2:4). In fact, God gave us the Bible so we could discover a loving relationship with Him. Though He knew it would happen, He never intended the Bible to become a book of rules decreed by a distant, authoritarian father figure. That God looks like a hard, sometimes cruel despot is from mankind and religion, not God.