BELIEVING ISN’T EASY: Wrestling with Scripture #7
The Bible contains many amazing statements—none greater than the promise of eternal life for those who believe. “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved ..." Acts 16:31), “Truly, truly I say to you, he who believes has eternal life” (John 6:47), and of course, John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
With eternal life at stake, it’s crucial to understand what it means to believe. Webster’s definition is “to accept something as true.” Many people say they believe there’s a God and, therefore, assume they’ll go to heaven, but remember what Jesus’ own brother said: “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder,” (James 2:19). Clearly, saving belief is far more than an intellectual acceptance of God’s existence or even Jesus’ death on the cross.
The word translated “believe” in the NT is pistĕuō and can also mean “to entrust oneself to.” The noun form of this verb means “faith, conviction, or reliance.” Biblical belief encompasses both the mind and the heart—our intellect and our emotions. Let’s look at some verses to expand our idea of what it means to believe.
1 John 5:13 says: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.” We discussed why names are important to God in a previous post. Jesus’ name is Yeshua which means “Yahweh saves.” To believe in His name, is to have full confidence that He is who He says He is—Savior and Lord.
Romans 4:3 says: “And Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Abraham’s faith went beyond a simple awareness of God’s existence. Abraham believed God was sovereign and able to do what He said He would. He trusted God’s character. He knew God was Holy and could not lie, so he was certain God would keep His promises—no matter the circumstances or his own lack of understanding. Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac because he believed God when He said He was going to make a people and a great nation through Isaac’s descendants, just as Noah built an ark without ever having seen rain because he believed God when He said He was going to send a flood. Believing requires trust.
“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists, and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him,” (Heb 11:6). Hungering after God seems to be an integral part of belief. Scripture promises He will reward those who seek Him through heartfelt prayer and careful study of the Word.
“Repent and believe the good news,” (Mark 1:15). Repentance requires that we agree with God about the wrongness of sin and turn from it, and for that, we need a clear idea of God’s standards. To believe in the good news (the Gospel) and truly understand the reason for Jesus’ sacrifice, we need to grasp the entire story arc of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation.
“If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved,” (Romans 10:9). Believing in the Lord involves proclamation. Those of us who claim the name of Christ should be eager and honored to share that truth with others. Contrary to popular Christian music, God did not save us because His existence lacked something we could provide. He didn’t even save us so we could go to heaven. He saved us for His purposes and entrusted us with a vital mission: to bring Him glory and to win lost souls for His kingdom.
Luke 6:46 says, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I say?” In the Bible, when the word pistĕuō is preceded by “not” (those who do not believe) the meaning is generally disobedience, so belief/faith requires obedience. We might skim the ten commandments and feel we’re okay in the obedience department, but let’s look at just the first two. (Luther’s catechism aside, many denominations consider “You shall not make for yourself an idol,” (Ex 20:4) as the second commandment and combine the two prohibitions against coveting (Ex 20:17) into the tenth). Regardless of our take, if we consider the things to which we devote more of our affections, time, and energies than we do to God (politics, sports teams, tv, social media, etc.), we’re probably all guilty of constructing “other gods” or “idols.”
If that isn’t convicting enough, the Bible is full of verses stated in the imperative, which render each one our additional marching orders. Commands such as: “Love your enemies,” “Do not love the world or the things of the world,” and “Forgive one another.” Directives like “Stop sinning,” “Be holy as I am holy,” and “… take up [your] cross and follow me.” It’s obvious from even this handful of quotes that we all disobey on a daily basis.
Biblical belief isn’t as easy as we’d like to think, but—Praise God!—we are blessed with a merciful and forgiving Savior. We should pray often the seemingly paradoxical words of Mark 9:24: “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”