Are Your Beliefs Preferences or Convictions?
Many people have religious preferences, but God expects His people to have firmly held convictions. Are your beliefs convictions or preferences?
The U.S. Supreme Court weighs in on religious issues from time to time.
For example, people may have a religious belief that they should homeschool their children, or that they should engage in polygamy, or that their organization shouldn’t be forced to fund abortions, or that their religious organization should be able to refuse to hire people who don’t share their religious views.
What’s the difference between a preference and a conviction?
A preference is something that you prefer, and it can change depending on the circumstances. A conviction, on the other hand, is unchangeable no matter the circumstances. Many in today’s world hold religious preferences, not religious convictions.
In 2004, the Barna Group compared the behavior of nonbelievers and believers. The results showed that faith had little impact on most people’s behavior.
In other words, researchers couldn’t detect a difference between a believer and nonbeliever by looking at the moral choices they made.
What if your beliefs were closely examined?
Imagine if your religious beliefs and lifestyle were on trial in a court of law. In this hypothetical trial, your beliefs and conduct are examined and scrutinized by people who take a very critical view of your faith. They are examining you to determine if your beliefs are convictions or just preferences.
How would you fare?
To answer this for yourself, examine your life through the following series of questions that the court often uses to determine if someone’s beliefs are convictions or preferences.
1. Are your beliefs legal?
Throughout history, people have justified unimaginable atrocities in the name of religion. Anciently, people murdered their children as child sacrifices offered to their god.
The Supreme Court cannot sanction any illegal act, so they check if your actions break any existing laws.
Are the words and laws of God guiding your life? Are you convinced of your need to stay within their boundaries? But Christians know they are ultimately answerable to the Supreme Ruler of the universe and His laws. We should be much more concerned that our beliefs are in line with God’s law.
Our first test is to see if our actions are within God’s law. God will not sanction anything we do that violates His laws, no matter how strongly we feel about it. He shows no partiality (1 Peter 1:17).
It is important that our actions are in accordance with His royal law (James 2:8). We will be judged by the Word of God (John 12:47-48). Jesus warned that many will come to Him and profess wonderful works that they did in His name. But Jesus will turn them away saying, “I never knew you,” because they “practice lawlessness” (Matthew 7:21-23; compare 1 John 2:3-4).
A Christian must be a person striving to live by every word of God (Matthew 4:4).
Are the words and laws of God guiding your life? Are you convinced of your need to stay within their boundaries? Or do you submit yourself to them only if it is convenient?
2. Can you effectively describe your beliefs?
To determine if your beliefs are truly convictions, the court will expect you to be able to intelligently articulate your beliefs. If what you say comes across as just an opinion or something like, “It’s what my church teaches”—then it’s very likely the court will judge that your beliefs are preferences, not convictions.
The point isn’t as much that you need to be an articulate speaker, as it is that you need to deeply understand and internalize your beliefs. Have you really proven them to yourself?
The court could aggressively and critically question you about your beliefs and why you believe them. Could you defend them?
The court isn’t interested in judging your beliefs as true or false; they are interested in determining if they are your convictions.
However, unlike a human court, God expects us to have accurate beliefs based on His Word, and He is also very concerned about whether we are truly living it on a day-to-day basis (John 4:23-24; 17:17).
3. Are you willing to sacrifice (or even suffer) for your beliefs?
You may hold a belief, and it may be very strongly held. You may dedicate your life to that belief system. But there’s still another question that could cause the court to determine your belief is only a preference: Would you hold on to that belief under intense opposition?
Are there any conditions you could face that would cause you to compromise your beliefs? Would you be willing to suffer loss to maintain your beliefs?History shows people can suddenly abandon their beliefs for a variety of reasons or even act against their beliefs when threatened.
A preference is something you may prefer, but it’s not something you’re willing to suffer for. The court views a conviction as a belief that’s so strongly held you would not compromise it for any reason or under any circumstance.
Daniel and his three friends provide an excellent example of this level of conviction. Daniel would not compromise his faith, even when threatened with being thrown into a den of lions (Daniel 6). His three friends’ conviction to worship only the true God was so strong that they were willing to face a fiery furnace (Daniel 3). They were not willing to compromise their beliefs for any reason or under any circumstance.
Examine yourself: Are there any conditions you could face that would cause you to compromise your beliefs? Would you be willing to suffer loss to maintain your beliefs?
Potential pressures that can challenge our convictions
There are various pressures we can consider. Would we stand up to all of them? Or would we back down?
Pressure from peers and other people
This kind of pressure comes from people you know or work with.
We all can be affected, to one degree or another, by social pressures to compromise. Sometimes the pressures can be very subtle. For instance, your friends or colleagues could tell a vulgar joke that makes everyone laugh. But if you know that joke is sinful, will you go against your belief and laugh with everyone else?
Sadly, Aaron fell prey to this type of influence when the people pressured him to make a golden calf (Exodus 32:1-5). The pressure was so great that Aaron actually created an idol and declared a feast to it. What happened to his beliefs at that moment? Aaron clearly knew idol worship was wrong, but he downplayed his own actions and blamed it on the people (verses 21-25). He would have done well to follow the advice he received earlier: “You shall not follow a crowd to do evil” (Exodus 23:2).
Today we are living in a world swimming with lies. And there is tremendous pressure—from social media and media in general—to embrace those lies.
For instance, society tells us:
That an unborn child is a lifeless clump of tissues with no humanity.
That human gender is whatever one believes or chooses to identify with.
That there is no absolute truth and the Bible is just a work of human invention.
That God doesn’t have universal laws that define how His creation is to live and operate.
If you believe God’s view on all of the above bullet points, will you hold to those convictions regardless of the pressures of this world?
Lawsuit, jail or death
This can be hard to answer, since we may have never faced a situation where we were threatened with a lawsuit, jail or death because of our beliefs. To be willing to suffer for our beliefs is easier said than done, but it is essential for those who follow Christ (2 Timothy 3:12).
If we think we can rely on our own strength, we will likely fail. Instead of beating our chest in confidence that we would stand up no matter what threat we face, it’s better to take an approach of humbly relying on God to give us strength in such circumstances. Truly humble Christians will recognize their potential weaknesses under pressure, and will ask and rely on God to give help, strength and deliverance.
Biblical convictions can’t be passive or just preferences. They must be deeply held and internalized. Paul wrote, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12). His warning is that there can be a difference between what we think we would do in a circumstance, and what we would actually do. If we think we are rock solid and will never compromise under any circumstance, we could find ourselves learning the same hard lesson that Peter had to learn.
Before Christ’s arrest, Peter boldly proclaimed that he was willing to die with Christ. But the same Peter who thought he could stand ended up falling. Under pressure, he ran away like the rest of the disciples and denied Christ three times (Matthew 26:33-35, 56, 69-75). But even if we do give in to pressure, it’s not the end of the story. Peter repented and became stronger as a result.
The lesson is that we should strengthen our convictions so that we are as strong as we can be in the face of intense pressure, but always humbly relying on God for His strength—not our own—when we face those situations.
For more insight on the courage needed in these situations, read our blog post on “The Courage to Be Disliked.”
Develop biblical conviction
True Christianity is to be believed and practiced with conviction. Biblical convictions can’t be passive or just preferences. They must be deeply held and internalized. Those convictions should not just exist in our head, but be displayed in how we live life on a daily basis.
True Christianity is a way of life practiced because we deeply believe in God and the authority of His Word. Our conduct should be driven by a genuine and unyielding desire to please God. Our beliefs must be proven from God’s Word and strongly held. And we must be able to explain and defend those beliefs if challenged.
Are your beliefs truly biblical convictions?