Monday, January 13, 2014

What Does It Mean To Believe?

“And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy
house.” Acts 16:31

What is so difficult about that verse to understand? It’s a very simple verse. Concerning salvation, it is short and to the point, but many have totally misconstrued what it says, especially by complicating the one word, “believe.”

Apart from those who understand this word, one person may think we believe on Jesus and then go our merry way. It doesn’t matter how we live our life as long as we acknowledge we believe in Jesus. It’s all about, “Do I believe in Jesus? Yeah, I do, so leave me alone!”

Another set of ears may hear this word “believe” and say “We believe, but if we ever stop believing, we’re lost again. Our works must be maintained. It’s all about our hanging on.”

Believe it or not, some think, based on how this verse is laid out in the KJV, that if the head of the household believes, then everyone in the household is saved; i.e. “and thy house.” What the verse is actually saying though is that if we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ we will be saved, and the same applies to any and everyone else. In other words, if they also believe on the Lord Jesus Christ they will be saved.

Finally, some dwell on whether we say, “We believe on Jesus or we believe in Jesus.” This reminds me of Matthew 23:24, “Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.” Consider the following verses.

“To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.” (Emphasis mine) Romans 3:16

“Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.” (Emphasis mine) Galatians 2:16

“Because that by reason of him many of the Jews went away, and believed on Jesus.” (Emphasis mine) John 12:11

“And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” (Emphasis mine) Acts 16:31

Using the King James translation (KJV) in this instance: Romans 3:26 “ek” is translated “in.” Galatians 2:16 “eis” is translated “in.” John 12:11 “eis” is translated “on.” Acts 16:31 “epi” is translated “on.”

So isn’t it really all about, “What does it mean to believe?” Someone may have James 2:19 on the mind, “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.” We aren’t talking about “who” believes, but “what” does the word “believe” mean for us to be saved?

The Greek word for “believe” is pisteuo. According to Strongs (G4100) it means: (I) to think to be true, to be persuaded of, to credit, place confidence in; (A) of the thing believed, to credit, have confidence; (B) in a moral or religious reference, used in the NT of the conviction and trust to which a man is impelled by a certain inner and higher prerogative and law of soul, to trust in Jesus or God as able to aid either in obtaining or in doing something (saving faith), mere acknowledgment or some fact or event (intellectual faith): (II) to entrust a thing to one, i.e. his fidelity; (A) to be intrusted with a thing. It is translated as “believe” 239 times.

A golden rule of interrupting Scripture goes as follows: “When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense; therefore, take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context, studied in the light of related passages and axiomatic and fundamental truths indicate clearly otherwise.”

I feel this is a sound guideline to follow, but is it possible that some will read, “When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense,” and at this point they stop reading? Of course it is, and obviously this happens far too often. If that happens, we start forming our own opinions on what makes sense to us individually, instead of “What is the Scripture saying?” We must be very careful about trying to inject our own opinion instead of letting the Bible speak for itself.


With our introductory verse (Acts 16:31) in mind, does simply saying, “I believe in Jesus” save us?  Not according to the following verses (keeping in mind that this is but a small sampling):

“Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” Matthew 16:24

“Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.” Matthew 19:21

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:” John 10:27

“If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honour.” John 12:26

“Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.” James 2:18

So obviously there must be something more than just “I believe.” Let us flip the coin over and look at the other side.


Again with our introductory verse (Acts 16:31) in mind, are we saved by at least contributing something to our being born again?  Not according to the following verses (continuing to recall that these are but a few):

“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” John 3:14-15, 18

“Then said Jesus unto them again, Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep. I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.” John 10:7, 9

“Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.” Romans 5:9

“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:8-10

“That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ. In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.” Ephesians 1:12-13


The first consideration above depicts a confession with the mouth but a heart that is unchanged. The second consideration above depicts an attitude of having to help God out which is a direct insult to the entire Godhead; i.e. the Father’s plan was faulty and needs our help, the Son was not a sufficient sacrifice for our sins, and our works can be substituted for the work of the Holy Spirit.

What does it mean to believe? The Scriptures never contradict each other. We may think they do, but they do not … ever.

To believe on the Lord Jesus Christ is to commit to Him.

My wife and I believed, 23 years ago, in each other to the point of committing ourselves to each other in marriage. We showed our faith in each other by uniting in marriage. Our marriage to each other is outward proof of our faith in each other.

When I drive my car across the local Interstate overpass, I believe it will hold me and all the other traffic without falling through. I commit myself to it. By driving across the overpass I outwardly demonstrate my faith in it that it will hold me up.

If I plant a garden, I do so because I believe vegetables will grow up from the ground. I believe in it strongly enough that I commit myself to that belief by preparing the ground and planting the seed, just as Noah believed God and built the Ark, prior to the flood. My faith is proven by my actions.

When the traffic light turns green on my side, I put my faith in the light by driving forward. By doing so, my faith in the security of the light is revealed.

In any of these four examples, if my faith is just “words,” there will be no further action on my part that proves my faith is genuine.

Jesus has said that if we believe on Him He will save us and keep us. Can we believe it? If we really believe it, we will commit to it.

Do understand, we cannot do anything to earn our salvation. It is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8-9). If it weren’t for Him providing us enough faith to believe, none of us would ever believe on Jesus. We would all be lost. But in His graciousness, He provides the faith for us to use or not use. When we exercise that faith, we believe.

When we really believe in something or someone we will commit to that person or thing whether it is our spouse, our job, our hobby, etc.

Believing on Jesus is more than acknowledgment. If we really believe, we will commit. Once we have shown Him true belief, He does the rest as shown here:

“…Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” Acts 16:31

We truly believe. He saves.

“In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise,” Ephesians 1:13

We heard and trusted. Jesus saved. The Holy Spirit sealed.

“Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:” Philippians 1:6

From the point of our salvation, the Holy Spirit will continue His work in us until the day we with are with Jesus in Glory.

“And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.” Ephesians 4:30

When we sin, we grieve the Holy Spirit because we are now a child of God. We have been bought with a price and belong to Him. We have the seal of God upon us and will always be His, but He will now discipline us when we disobey to restore our fellowship … not “salvation,” but “fellowship.”

“So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” Isaiah 55:11

Once we have proclaimed true faith in Jesus, we have the promise that we are His, and we are His forever.

I have emphatically proclaimed over the past many years that salvation is by God’s grace alone apart from any works on our behalf. Nothing could be clearer on this subject than Ephesians 2:8-9. Let me see if I can explain it even more clearly.

Romans 3:11 says in part, “…there is none that seeketh after God.” Now why is that? Because prior to being born again (being saved) we are spiritually dead. The dead cannot react to anything. However, God the Holy Spirit places a spark of faith in us to be used when God the Father calls us to come to Him through His Son Jesus Christ. When He calls us we may then, through no credit of our own, ask Jesus to save us.

It has nothing to do with how good or bad we are or anything else. It’s about, “Do I believe He can and will save me, and do I want Him to save me?”

Jesus often used the term, “Follow me.” If we truly believe, we will follow Him. We may run. We may walk. We may limp. We may crawl, etc. but we will follow Him. Again, our works are not the issue at this point. The issue is “Do I believe in Him enough that I will put my trust in Him?” If I do, I will grow in Him because HE works in me.

The entire book of James is about this very subject; i.e. believing faith. There is true faith (belief) and there is a faith (belief) that is not true. James was saying, “Just saying it doesn’t make it so, but I’ll prove to you I have true faith by my works.

By God’s grace our true faith results in salvation. Our works prove our faith was true faith. One more time: true faith results in salvation by God’s grace. Works show what took place, but can never save us.

If we have been truly saved, we are His forever. Works cannot save us, and sin cannot “lose” us. Faith, by His grace, results in salvation, but it cannot keep us. Only God’s grace keeps us. Therefore, by God’s grace:

·       TRUE FAITH will result in salvation for the non-Christian, but does not keep the new Christian.
·       WORKS cannot save the non-Christian, and cannot keep the Christian.
·       SIN cannot separate the Christian, but can harm the relationship of the Christian.
·       GRACE saves, keeps the Christian, and helps him/her to grow.

In reality, if we look in the background, it is God who saves us and keeps us when we come to Him through Jesus His Son, who is the second person of the Godhead.

God the Father calls us. God the Son (Jesus) saves us. God the Holy Spirit keeps us.

Someone emailed me recently to imply that James 5:19-20 clearly indicates that God the Holy Spirit cannot keep us. I’ve read those verses many times, and still cannot come to that conclusion. These two verses are speaking of someone who is not saved and needs to come to Christ for salvation. They have nothing to do with a child of God losing their salvation.

“…Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” True belief will result in our salvation.

When Jesus was physically on earth, most of the people left Him because He asked too much. “Follow me.” That is true belief or faith. If we are willing, He will make it possible. However, we cannot follow Him, no matter how much we try, if it is through our own strength (works), but if we will but trust Him by faith by the faith He supplies, He will take our hand and guide us as our Good Shepherd. We will stumble and fall many times, but He will always pick us up and guide us onward.

As a Christian, we strive for good works out of appreciation and the growing love within us.

Grant Phillips
Pre-Rapture Commentary: