Puritan Gems

Friday, May 22, 2009

What Does It Mean To Believe?

"…Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household." (Acts 16:31)

Errors concerning belief

There are many errors among Christian concerning “faith” and “belief”. In the broad evangelical world, true Christian belief is often associated with anti-intellectualism, or as Mark Twain’s schoolboy resounds, “Faith is believing what you know ain't so.” In Arminian/Pelagian thought, belief is something that we obtain through our own virtuous resources, or an act of our “free will”. If we exercise our “seed faith” the correct way, we can be saved. The Rhema/Word Faith movement uses “belief” as the means by which one can force God to submit to our every desire.

What is belief?

The term “believe” has a variety of meanings, not only in biblical Greek, but in everyday English usage as well. One could say, “I believe in Santa Claus”. In this case, “believe” refers to mental assent, acknowledging a statement of fact as valid or true. The Bible uses the term this way as well, such as in James 2:19. It is this mere assent to knowledge that the Cheap Grace (No Lordship) movement relies on for salvation. However, this form of belief is less profitable than the belief devils have, for at least the belief of devils causes them to tremble. Simon Magus believed (Acts 8:13), yet his belief was apparently no more than mental assent, since he was not saved (Acts 8:18-23). While assent to the facts of the gospel are necessary for salvation, mere assent is not saving faith.

In terms of salvation, the word “believe” requires one to completely entrust himself to the matter. In fact, the Greek word πιστεύω (pisteuō) is often translated “to entrust”.

“If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will “entrust” (πιστεύω) to you the true riches?” (Luke 16:11)

“but just as we have been approved by God to be “entrusted” (πιστεύω) with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.” (1 Thessalonians 2:4)

In both cases, we can see that πιστεύω refers to more than just mental assent. It requires a heartfelt trust in the work of Christ alone for salvation (Psalm 78:22). We often here of a sports superstar who finally wins a championship because he “believed” in his teammates. Obviously, the term does not mean that he simple acknowledged the existence of his teammates, but that he actually entrusted his hope of winning to their work. It is one thing to believe that a person can scale Niagara Falls in a barrel. It is quite another thing to climb into the barrel. Saving faith requires one to entrust their eternal salvation to the finished work of Christ.

What are we to believe?

We are to believe that God exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6). We must believe in Christ's divinity, "...for unless you believe that I AM you will die in your sins" (John 8:24). We must believe the truth, having no pleasure in unrighteousness, lest we be condemned (2 Thessalonians 2:12). We must believe in Christ’s resurrection (Romans 10:9) and our own coming resurrection (1 Thessalonians 4:14). We must believe in the signs and wonders recorded in Scripture (John 20:31). We must believe God’s Word, and have it abiding in us (John 5:38). We must believe in the grace of God (Acts 15:11), which not only redeems us from the penalty of sin, but it’s dominion as well (Romans 6:14). Christ is both your savior and your Lord, or He is neither, for “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord AND (καί – “and also”) believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)

How is belief obtained?

Faith is not obtained by raising hands, altar calls, or vain repetition of a “sinner’s prayer”. Neither may it obtained by baptism, confirmation, or any other work. If one desires saving faith, let him seek salvation in the Word of God. Let the Word convict him of his sinfulness, and make him tremble at God’s wrath upon that sinfulness. Let the Word convince him of his hopelessness sans Jesus Christ. It is the foolishness of preaching by which true belief is obtained. Let the sinner read God’s Word, meditate on it, and find a church where it is faithfully preached, since “…faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:14-17). “And many more believed because of his word” (John 4:41). And do not be deceived into thinking that one may be saved by mere assent to the truths of this Word, being no better off than the devils who believe, but rather fully entrust your soul to Christ, not relying on your own flesh. We aren’t merely to acknowledge the truth of God's Word, but we are to live “…by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).