Inner Formation of the Heart

Part 12: Principle #7--Central Beliefs Affected by Long-term Intentional Seeking

    Posted by Klaus Issler on December 29, 2009

#7       Our central beliefs can be changed indirectly over time, with God’s grace, as we intentionally engage our minds, our affections (along with our body) in sustained projects of inquiry, learning, discussion, meditation on truth, spiritual practices, within a like-minded community.

            In some sense, God requires our participation in the formation process. Although central beliefs or governing idea systems are the kind of things that are very settled and firm, they can be transformed.  Engaging in regular and appropriate spiritual disciplines or practices in which one opens oneself to God’s gracious work can play an important role in central belief transformation.  The change process will take some time, just like turning a huge aircraft carrier at sea from moving in one direction to go in the opposite direction.

            That changing central beliefs is a process over time has been illustrated from the cases already mentioned. Although early resurrection Sunday morning the disciples did not believe Jesus was alive, by the end of the day they did. It seems as though their central beliefs were changed in a day, but let me suggest that they were aware at some level within the prior year of contributing factors (three people had already been raised from the dead), but the tipping point had not yet been reached. Initially, Jesus’ appearance did nothing for them except scare them, so strong was their central belief against Jesus’ resurrection, “They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. [Jesus] said to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds?’” (Lk 24:37-38, NASV). When Jesus ate the piece of fish, they could not deny the fact that he was alive in “flesh and bones.”  Thomas took a little longer, since he did not have the undeniable fact of Jesus’ physical sense as the others’ had. Yet, Matthew reports on the occasion when Jesus gave the Great Commission some time later, “When [the disciples] saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted” (Mt 28:17). Carson notes, “Jesus’ resurrection did not instantly transform men of little faith and faltering understanding into spiritual giants.” [1]

            For Peter it was a two-day process of weighing the evidence to welcome Gentiles as genuine believers.  These factors would seem undeniable to Peter: the perplexing vision of the sheet, a distinct warning from the Holy Spirit to “accompany [the three men] without misgivings, for I have sent them Myself” (Acts 10:20, NASV), and then the evidence of the Spirit on the Gentiles, as Peter shared later with the Jerusalem church: “So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?” (Acts 11: 17).

            We may also consider here the Apostle Paul’s experience regarding his encounter with Jesus on the Damascus road—from fanatic Pharisee jailing Christians to bold evangelist for Jesus three days later. Along with the appearance of the Lord, Saul (later Paul) could not deny his continuing blindness: “For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything” (Acts 9:9, c. 34 AD). I suspect this “Ph.D. seminary professor” did not sleep much during his imposed three-day formation retreat. With ideas racing around his mind as Saul attempted to connect the dots of texts in the Hebrew Scriptures from his current views to understand Jesus as Lord. Saul’s interpretative framework was being shifted. Upon gaining his eyesight he became a rabid evangelist. “Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ” (Acts 9:22, Gal 1:23). But it was many years later before Barnabas invited Paul to join him as a teacher in the new Gentile church in Antioch (Acts 11:19-26, c. 39 AD). Perhaps the intervening years permitted Paul a time for his central beliefs to become more settled in the Gospel for his role as the early Church’s chief theologian and missionary.

[1] D. A. Carson. “Matthew.” In The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed., Frank G. Gaebelein, Vol. 8, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984, 594. Commentators are divided regarding if “some” refers only to the 11 disciples, or also to the larger group of disciples (Acts 1:14-15). Regardless, it reveals that even though the followers could now see Jesus physically, some still had doubts.

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Next Musing: Principle #8--Central Beliefs Passively Formed

Dr. Klaus Issler