Believing in God vs. Believing God

There is no special nobility for believing in God. Most people at their best, using their common sense, believe in God. In fact, conservatively speaking, ninety-percent of all societies and peoples have all believed in a God of some sort. In our Christian dominated society, I rarely come across a true atheist. It is quite a novelty. It is about like coming across someone who does not believe that the earth is round or that we actually landed someone on the moon. They are very rare.

However, it would seem that many people believe that their is some sort of special pass or dispensation for simply believing in God. The same is true about believing “in” Christ. Many people have some sort of belief that Christ was who he said he was—God incarnate—, died on the cross for their sins, and rose bodily from the grave. After all, at least here in America, this still comes standard with every new model.

However, God is not calling on people to do something as minimal as believing in him. Belief in him is indeed required. As well, we can always believe in him more today than we did yesterday. However, God is calling on us to do something radical. God is calling on us to do something that far exceeds a mere belief in his existence or even his works. Because he exists, because he has done what he has done, he is calling on all people everywhere to believe him. You see, God has introduced himself to us as the sovereign of the universe. He as told us that he knows more than we do. He has presented himself as one who is not only bigger and stronger than we are, but one who is infinitely wiser than we are. Because of this, he wants us to believe him.

While in Chicago two weeks ago, I got into a very pleasant conversation with my taxi driver. He believed in God. In fact, he got very excited when I talked to him about God. He was very willing to engage in spiritual conversation. But the conversation was not so easy for me as I attempted to distinguish between his belief in God and a life lived believing God. Belief in God can evidence nothing more than mere intellectual assent. This assent often issues forth in no real or substantial change of life, thought, or action. Sure, it affects some things here and there, but God is more of an accessory to living than anything else. Believing God effects everything. When we believe God, we are saying that he is right about everything and it is of paramount importance for us to harmonize our lives with his reality. When our reality—feelings, emotions, experiences, and rationalizations—come in conflict with his revealed will, his revealed will trumps anything we have to offer.

Think of life like a car. Most people I know have God in one of four places in their car:

1. Trunk: In this sense, God is the “go-to” God when we are in trouble. Like with the spare tire, the tool kit, or the flashlight, we only call upon him when we are in desperate need. Other than that, he has no part to play in our daily living. We believe in him, but we don’t believe him enough to let him out of the trunk.

2. Back seat: This represents a heightened conviction about the need for God in our lives, but we don’t really want him bothering us. He is like a back seat driver who is constantly whining about what direction we are going, telling us to turn here rather than there. We would like him to just be quite, but we are willing to put up with his disruptions in order to feel better about our conviction that we need him in our lives.

3. Passenger seat: This person is very convicted about their need for God so they allow him to be right beside them. In fact, this person likes God quite a bit. They enjoy the conversation and even ask for suggestions about where to turn and how fast to go. We are so proud about this level of involvement that we create bumper stickers to let others know that “God is my co-pilot”.

However, God is not calling us to any of these first three. I am not saying that if you find God in your passenger seat, back seat, or, even, trunk you are not a Christian. That is not the issue. I am talking about what it means to believe God.

4. Driver’s seat: This is where God wants to be. This is where we graduate from believing in God to believing God. This is where we hand control of everything to him. This is where he is no longer just a god in our lives, but our God. He says to us, “Give me the driver’s seat of your life. I want nothing less. Believe me; I know much more than you do. I want control of your passions, your plans, your family, where you are going, and where you have been. My way is the best. I know you better than you know yourself. I know you believe in me, but will you believe me. You sit there in the passenger seat and I will take care of the rest. And please…no back seat driving.”

I am afraid that there will be quite a long line of people in heaven who are waiting to be judged according to their works and will have nothing more to present to God than that they believed in him. God may respond to these: “Yes, but why didn’t you ever really believe me. I said to pray about everything (Luke 18:1). Why didn’t you? I said that all things work together for good (Romans 8:28). Did you think I was mistaken? I said that giving is better than receiving (Acts 20:35). Why did you take this as back seat nagging? I said that I was coming to bring justice (Luke 18:7). Why did your heart grow cold? Why did you always believe yourself more than me? Why did you put me on the judgment seat of your life requiring me to account for myself? Why didn’t you believe me?”

Again, God knows how many times I have put him in the passenger seat. God knows how many times I have put him in the trunk! God knows how many times I have hijacked his car and, in my unbelief, made many wrong turns. God knows how many times I have believed in him without believing him. But at my best I know that God is calling on me to do much more than the-common-90%-believing-in-him-type-belief. He is calling on me to do something radical. He is calling on my to believe him about everything.

9 Responses to “Believing in God vs. Believing God”

  1. Thanks, Michael I really needed that exhortation today!

  2. You are preachin’ like a Pentecostal today! :)
    Love ya man!

  3. To take it a step father, many will hear what Jesus said in Matthew ..”Many will say Lord, Lord …. Ans he will say, Depart from me I never knew you” Many give God a nod, and that’s just about it, or have an affection, for Him, but not according to truth, no way would they let Him in the drivers seat, He would drive them away from their love of the World.

  4. THANKS!!!!

    Personally, I really needed this one today.

  5. CMP,

    Good distinctions.

    Minor suggestion:
    As far as the title goes, I’m not sure you picked the best pithy nutshell for your point. I actually associate “believing in God” with the stronger sense, not the weaker sense. There’s some ambiguity in the language.

    Specifically: I’m accustomed to “believe God” describing something that might just be intellectual belief, while “believing in God” describes the additional sense of trust. (The first is “assensus” and “notitia”, and the second is “fiducia”.)

    But you’re using “believe in God” to mean intellectual acceptance of a bare minimum. That’s valid, and I can see how that’s a familiar sense of the phrase to people. But maybe for extra clarity, you could call that “believing in God’s existence”.

    Then we would have a three-part distinction: Believing in God’s existence, believing him, and truly trusting in him.

    “Personally trusting in him” might be better than “truly trusting in him”, though it’s less pithy.

  6. O boy, you make me confused!

    Aren’t you mixing up ‘believe in God’ and ‘believe God’?

    Or my brain got mixed up inside. Or what little Greek learned is actually a dangerous thing to trust?

  7. what is a ‘true atheist’ ?

  8. You’re right. God is calling us to do something radical. I just finished a book called Honestly, by Johnnie Moore, that asks the question “what would happen if we really lived what we say we believe? If you’re interested, here’s a link:


  1. Weekly Links (10/21/2011) « The Beacon - October 21, 2011

    […] Michael Patton has an article on the difference between believing in God and believing God. And he draws a fitting analogy of where people place God in their lives. That’s it for now. […]

Leave a Reply