What matters more – our beliefs or our actions?

Spoiler alert – the answer is both.

I know this goes against conventional wisdom, so let me show you my work and explain how I got here. Our initial instinct is to say that actions speak louder than words. We feel uneasy when we meet people who “talk a big game” but aren’t willing to practice what they preach.

However, this isn’t to say that our beliefs don’t matter. Our actions might reflect our beliefs, but at the same time, our beliefs drive our actions. We do what we do because of what we believe.

Every decision, regardless of how small, reflects some sort of expectation about the result that will take place. For example, if I’m thirsty, I take a drink of water because I believe that the water will satisfy my thirst.

If you wanted, you could go even deeper than beliefs and consider how your sense of your identity impacts what you do. This is exactly what James Clear does in Chapter Two of his best-selling book “Atomic Habits.” Clear uses the example of two people who are trying to quit smoking. The first person is offered a cigarette and says, “No thanks, I’m trying to quit.” The second person is offered a cigarette and says, “No thanks, I’m not a smoker.” Clear argues that the second person – the one who no longer associates their identity with that of a smoker – will be more successful in their endeavor to give up smoking.

Let’s bring this perspective with us as we read Jesus’ next teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (as a reminder, we’re in an extended series covering this passage in detail):

“Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves. You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit” – Matthew 7:15-17, NLT

This passage is interesting, especially considering that only a few verses prior, we read Jesus talk about how we must only judge people by the standard with which we also want to be judged (see Matthew 7:1-6 as well as my blog post on these verses). With this passage in plain view in our rearview mirror as we read Matthew 7:15-17, we recognize that this standard is not only the one that we should have for others, but it’s also the expectation we should place on ourselves.

This brings us to an important question – based on the fruit that you’re currently producing in your life, what could someone assume about what you believe? More importantly, what would they say about who you are? If our actions reflect our beliefs, and if our beliefs are supported by our perception of our identity, people can say a lot about who we are and what we value based on what we do.

This week, I challenge you to take time to write out some of your core values and fundamental beliefs. After you’ve listed a few (I’d recommend no fewer than three and probably not more than ten), think about how these beliefs are reflective of your identity and supported by your actions. If you can pinpoint some level of cohesion between what you think, feel, and do, you will increase your overall self-awareness and build confidence that you’re living the kind of life you want to live – and not simply reacting to wherever the wind blows you.

-Author David Grimm