I was planning some more posts for the future (some of them requested by readers ... er, a reader, singular) and I realized that this framework is applicable to many of them. So it's in its own post so that I can easily refer back to it.
When discussing an issue, there are two big questions to ask:
1. What should we believe about this issue? (or, what is truth?)
2. What should we do about this issue? (or, how then shall we live?)
It's important to ask both of these questions together. Neither of them should be separated from the other for very long.
The reason is that my actions follow my beliefs. If my beliefs are wrong, then my actions will also be wrong. If my beliefs are right, then my actions will be right.
It's unfair to expect people to act in a right way if they have wrong beliefs. If they don't have the proper grounding in what is true, then of course they won't act in a way consistent with the truth that they don't have.
That's why it's impossible to legislate right actions. A law may increase right actions, but it is very difficult to completely eliminate wrong actions. That's because making a law about something doesn't change people's beliefs about it. The reason that some people's actions do change is because of their belief that 'I should follow the law' or, at the very least, 'I will be punished if I do not follow the law'.
It also goes the other way. If my beliefs inspire my actions, then conversely, my actions should reflect my beliefs. And someone should be able to correctly identify my beliefs based on a knowledge of my actions. (Matthew 7:16)
So why is it important to ask these two questions together?
We can't just ask question 1. If we don't follow it up with question 2, then it remains nothing more than a belief. (Okay ... it will influence our actions, even if we don't realise it is. But I think it's still a good idea to clarify what our actions should be, based on our beliefs. Plus, it acts as a check on our beliefs.)
We can't just ask question 2. As I've already said, we can't come to a correct understanding of what we should do if we don't first have a correct understanding of what is true.
There are some issues where Christians (or people who call themselves Christians) disagree. I feel like applying this framework in those situations could help to allow both sides to understand each other better. Are we disagreeing about an issue because our beliefs differ? If so, then we should inspect Scripture to discover what the truth is (or whether it is an issue on which Christians can legitimately disagree). If we agree in our beliefs and it is our actions that differ, then we can affirm our common ground, stop calling each other names, and work through why we respond to the issue differently. (Which, I imagine, is probably because of other beliefs that interact with our belief about the issue.)
So, next time you are faced with an issue, stop and ask these two questions:
1. What is the truth?
2. How then shall we live?
right: consistent with Biblical teaching and principles
wrong: not consistent with Biblical teaching and principles
belief: what you think is true
action: what you do