For a long time I have been a fan of the theory that what you believe, determines what you think, and what you think determines how you feel, and how you feel manifests itself almost inexorably in how you act (or what you do). (I first ran across this idea in a book by Robert S. McGee titled, The Search for Significance; a book I highly recommend, by the way.)
Believe => Think => Feel => Do
The title of this post indicates my belief that this process is cyclical. In other words, if you think and feel, but do not act it circumvents the cycle, and the disconnect will produce cognitive (and emotional) dissonance. This static in the process eventually causes a change in what we really believe, whereas a completion of the cycle further embeds the original belief. So, in my estimation the process really ought to be visualized like this:
Believe => Think => Feel => Do => Believe
Unfortunately, the American mindset seems to be dominated by an implicit assumption that Christianity consists of:
Believe => Think => Feel
As if whether we feel “happy,” for example, is the goal of the Gospel’s transforming power. As if, the Gospel can work in us mightily without extending itself into the things we do, the words we say, the way we live, the priorities we cherish, etc. This abortive philosophy of metamorphosis has resulted in “Christian” lives that look no different from their suburban neighbors, in a world that sees the Gospel as powerless, and an overwhelming number of Christians who do not equate being a “believer” with being a “disciple.”
We can only live changes: we cannot think our way to humanity. Every one of us, every group, must become the model of that which we desire to create. – Ivan Illich, as quoted in The Forgotten Ways by Alan Hirsch, pg 101
There is another aspect to this conversation which I ought to mention before wrapping up this post. One can study incessantly, but there are certain truths that will never be apprehended without being practiced. Additionally, the practice of God’s commands (the walking in God’s ways) inherently reveals truths that we would otherwise never connect. We are human beings, not human doings, however, the act of being cannot be separated from the physical.
God understands this. We often reflect on the message of Sabbath in relation to the need to cease from doing and rest, however, the converse message is that on the other six days of the week we are to be actively doing the good works which God created long ago for us to walk in (Eph 2:10). If one is not doing, then one is robbed of the power of ceasing to reflect on the truth of one’s being. The truth that we are new creations in Messiah, and the anticipation of our eternal Sabbath, which yet awaits the return of Messiah.