On the Difference Between “Behavior” Faith and “Born Again” Faith

Phyllis Beveridge Nissila

…fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith…(Hebrews 12:2, NASB)

There Are Two Kinds of Faith?

Wait, what?

How can you separate having faith and acting on it?

I mean, we wouldn’t get on an airplane unless we believed that the scientists and engineers who design them know how to “exploit the four forces of aerodynamics” (lift, weight, thrust, and drag) and we don’t even have to understand what “the four forces of aerodynamics” means in order for the plane to get us from point A on the map to point B.

In fact, even though I have flown dozens of times, I wouldn’t even have searched for information on “how airplanes fly” and found out about the forces if I weren’t searching for a good metaphor for this essay.

But of course, I’m not really discussing faith in airplane travel, I’m exploring another type of faith entirely: religious faith that implies a journey of an entirely different nature, in this case, from point A, spiritually “dead to Christ” to point B, spiritually “alive in Christ” at our salvation.

Behavior Faith vs Born-Again Faith–the Long Version

And this is the critical difference implied in my title, i.e., faith based on behaving right versus faith based on a “new spirit” gifted us through spiritual rebirth. And critical here is the fact that anybody can behave right and not be reborn. Conversely, someone who is born again can behave badly. Which makes the whole thing a little frustrating to comprehend.

Jesus put it like this when he was explaining to Nicodemus, a religious leader in His day who was still a little confused (terms bolded for further explanation below the verses):

1Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; 2this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” 3Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
4Nicodemus *said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” 5Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 6That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:1-8, NASB)

“See” as in horáō – “properly, see, often with metaphorical meaning: “to see with the mind” (i.e. spiritually see), i.e. perceive (with inward spiritual perception).”

“Kingdom of God” as in basileia — “kingship, sovereignty, authority, rule, especially of God, both in the world, and in the hearts of men…”

But of course it is also true on our spiritual journey that how we believe influences how we act and this is often seen externally–but not always. Likewise, when prompted “internally,” it might not seem Godly. Think about how the believers were thought to be drunk when they acted on the impartations of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Sunday. Consider also this verse:

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.  (1 Corinthians 2:14).

From my own personal experience of living my faith externally as much as I could (as a child and young adult in Roman Catholicism via all of the obligations and mandates required in that religious system) and behaving as prompted internally by the Holy Spirit within me after my re-birth in 1973, I might have explained it best in my introductory post on the series “Out of the Fire: On Leaving Roman Catholicism“:

One of my relatives, a hard-working woman of few words, responded to my announcement some years ago that I no longer attended the Roman Catholic Church with the following comment: “But you’ve got to have rules!”

I searched for words. All I could think of to reply was, “When I was a Catholic, the rules were all, well, external, outside of me. Now they are inside, written on my heart…I want to do the right thing from the inside out…”

Every once in awhile, still, though, I find I am hounded by the “behavior-based” mandates (I mean, two decades and twelve years of Catholic schooling really nailed this method of  being a believer in my mind and in my psyche).

But as I keep peeling back layers of revelation, as it were, every day and with every study of God’s Word, every grace-filled sermon and/or teaching I listen to, every discussion I have with fellow believers, I find myself that much closer to comprehending the grace of God, the nature of God, and His will for me, as much as is possible as I, like all other believers, “see through the glass darkly“.

As I continue to mature as a believer, I find myself that much closer to discerning the often sharp contrast between God’s plan for my salvation (by grace through faith in Jesus Christ Who is not only the author of our faith but the finisher as well–as cited also in the epigraph) and man’s plans, which frequently seem more focused on externals.

Not that external prompts are necessarily counter-productive, nor do they necessarily go against God’s prompts.

It’s just that it’s the “heart” change and “heart” prompts that God provides for us by means of the Holy Spirit imparted to us at salvation that cause the lasting changes in behavior, if you will.

The “Ben Op” Method of Behaving Well

What prompted this entire post was a comment by a thoughtful brother in Christ that included a link to an article on a Roman Catholic-inspired group concept called the “Benediction Option,” or, “Ben Op” for short.

This method of holy living, you might call it, is based on the monastic life of St. Benedict who fled a decaying Roman culture and became a monk which inspired others to follow him in his quest for the pure, Christian life and with whom he formed a community.

The article explains the “rules” of such a life: order, prayer and work, stability, community, hospitality, and balance, that are based on Benedict’s original rules which are detailed in the book Rule of St. Benedict (516) and explained in some 76 chapters. The Ben Op, in various iterations to adapt to modern times, is apparently becoming a popular option today among Christians, both Catholic and Protestant, who want this kind of community.

The author of the article cites many other kinds of Christian communities that have, are, and will exist as the world becomes more hostile and certainly if we are living at the perilous end of the age of Western Civilization, as he suggests, where darkness and barbarism may well follow, as had occurred at the end of other “enlightened” civilizations of centuries past.

As much as such communities (some are also communes) may well provide literal protection in the future and certainly bring us back to the moorings of morality that were cut loose by the Enlightenment (as the author also suggests), my discerner is up and running, always, when considering them because in such regimented groups I would always fear that structure would overshadow substance, or that behavior-based faith might obscure born-again faith, or even consider it foolishness.

So I encapusulated my thoughts in response to my friend in what I share below.

The short version

The article on the Benedictine community is interesting.

Coming from my own early years immersed in Catholicism, I am reminded of so many–and varied–communities of Catholic “orders,” including “lay auxiliaries.” Protestants set them up as well.

Human beings crave religious “tribes” as well as social, ideological, and intellectual, in our best efforts to make some sense of the world’s mayhem that creeps even into the sanctuary.

I am also reminded of some of the communities (and communes) that formulated about fifty years ago in the latest mass revival, the “Jesus Movement,” that went the way of many others over time, which is to say, many such communities strayed from a sincere desire for truth (and truth worked out in daily life and activities) to either border on cults or reduce to just another religion versus a relationship with Jesus Christ.

What I am mostly grateful for, however, as human constructs are always flawed in some or many respects due to man’s limitations, is the eternal and perfect unity Christians enjoy in Christ, all bought with His sacrificial blood, and while we are “seated in the heavenlies” with Him, though here on earth we haven’t yet the “eyes” to perceive this wholly.

And I value the “Berean” “reminder,” as it were, to “study” not only the Word of God with great care lest anybody come along who has “other words”–and practices–however earnest and sincere, that would not only entice us away if even a small degree (and small degrees enlarge over time) but also begin to work a wedge between us and our grace-filled and faith-gifted relationship with Jesus.

It makes me cling ever more closely to my own desire to know Christ (and Him alone), better and better, in my ongoing quest to see as clearly as I can through that “dark glass” we all work to “see through” on this earthly plain.

May I say I never found much clarity in the myriad religious structures and devotional options of my youthful religion even though I did hear of essential elements of the faith through the snippets of God’s Word offered in the multi-faceted religious structure of Roman Catholicism. There were riches there, of a kind, but I still struggled to fill a void some call the “God-shaped” void.

But then I “met” Jesus Christ (aka the Word Made Flesh) and by His gift of the Holy Spirit have since been unwrapping the length, depth, and breadth of that gift that is revealed sometimes in a community of other believers, but most often in that “still, small voice” that leads, directs and guides in alignment with the Word of the inspired text.

Like Martha’s sister Mary, I’ll stay there at the feet of Jesus, listening and learning.

Especially when I feel most like Martha, who struggled with her burden of obligation, as it were, there in the kitchen.

Cheers and blessings…


Image of Rule of St. Benedict from the public domain

This entry was posted in Commentaries, encouragement in hard times, end times spiritual survival, Ex-Roman Catholic/Catholicism, most recent posts, Out of the Fire: On Leaving Roman Catholicism, salvation by grace, spiritual transformation and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to On the Difference Between “Behavior” Faith and “Born Again” Faith

  1. Louie Kraaz says:

    I would certainly agree that structure could overshadow substance. Personally, I would not join such a group. I believe structure is important; but definitely not to the eclipsing of the substance which is paramount. Even though we are strangers in a strange land, I still think it vital to engage the world…..not to hide from it. You bring up many good points, and I am grateful to you for giving my words such thoughtful consideration. I value your insight. Thank you!


    • pbn says:

      Thank you, Louie,

      I assumed you and your wife would agree! We three share a common background, for sure. But I decided that perhaps for others who might come here and read my original short reply to you in the comments section, I could elaborate on the topic a little bit more.
      I had no idea that such groups were proliferating at the rate they are just now.

      Cheers and blessings,


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.