A few years ago, Justin Bieber came out with an album called “Believe.” (Yes, I’m writing about the Bieber. He’s made some very interesting comments about his own faith recently and has a new album ready to drop soon, so I’m glad to give him a bit of attention.) The album title wasn’t a major stretch, since his fans call themselves Beliebers.
As I’ve thought about Beliebers, I’ve realized that they’ve got a lot to teach me about the nature of belief. Because there is so much in what they live out in their belief in the Biebs that exceeds my lived-out belief in Jesus.
To believe is to worship. It should be obvious that Justin Bieber is a poor divinity. He sings about relationship, but he offers none. He is handsome but aloof. But the beauty of his voice and face are enough to draw in devotees, and his fans offer him their adoration.
All true believers are worshipers. When we believe, we exalt the one we believe in. We offer our money, our time, our devotion. We offer the very substance of our lives — our souls — to the one we believe in.
To believe is to identify with and suffer for. We call ourselves by their names. We suffer ridicule for associating ourselves with them. And believe me, Beliebers name themselves as such and suffer for it. The attempted shaming that other kids tried to heap on my daughter and her friends for their allegiance to the Biebs when she was in middle school was horrifying in its scorn. But here’s the amazing thing: They endured it gladly and without turning away from it.
True believers find that mockery only sharpens their adherence to the one they believe in. To suffer for the Jesus who suffered for us creates and even tighter bond and we become that much more closely identified with him. The earliest Christians picked up the name “Christian” not by their own choosing but because they talked about and were so identified with Jesus the Messiah (Christos or Christ in Greek) that people began calling them Christians or Christ-people (Acts 11:26). And they actually thanked God for considering them worthy to suffer for the name of Jesus (Acts 5:41).
To believe is to immerse in. We read about them. We talk about them. We sing about them. We are baptized into them, immersing ourselves into a world shaped by them.
My daughter put posters of Justin on her walls and surrounded herself with his music. She kept up with the latest news on him and her phone was filled with screen shots of the elfin lad.
True believers are literally baptized into our faith and we metaphorically rebaptize ourselves through a continual immersion in prayer and Scripture and mission and gathered worship with other believers. There is a sense that our whole lives are soaked and drenched with our God.
To believe is to orient toward. We turn our backs on all kinds of people and things whether we do so consciously or not. But believers orient our lives toward the one we adore. We move in their direction.
Part of this orientation is repentance. To repent is to change direction. To change thinking. The direction of our lives and of our minds points toward the one we believe in like a compass needle toward the north.
In the old video game PacMan, you played the game by gobbling up little yellow dots with your large-mouth circular game figure. Beliebers similarly orient themselves toward and gobble up any new bit of Justin that is set before them. And new song. A new interview. A new tour. A new article, even if it isn’t flattering. At the same time that they’re consuming all that is Bieber, they’re not doing the same with others. There’s only so much time and mindspace and the more we devote to The One, the less we have for others.
To be a Christian is to be a Jesus follower. That means an orientation toward and a movement in a Jesus direction. This also means a rejection of anything that moves us away from Jesus, which is the meaning of repentance. With every Yes said to Jesus, there is an equal No said to anything that would move us away from following him. To look at him means not looking elsewhere.
One of my favorite biblical stories is Peter walking on the water (Matthew 14:22-33). His focus is so intent on Jesus that he’s able to do what Jesus is doing, the otherwise impossible. But when he turns his attention away from Jesus, he begins to sink.
Yes, true belief loses its focused orientation from time to time, but it always turns it back to the one it adores and is lifted up again.