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What does it mean to ‘believe’?

September 15, 2008

by Dr. Phil Geoffrion, Albion Evangelical Free Church, Rural Cokato

Which Bible verse do you suppose is the most familiar Bible verse in the world today? No doubt, it’s John 3.16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

An important question then, becomes, “What does it mean to believe?”

The dictionary states to believe is to think, to assume, to accept as true or real; to have confidence in, to place trust in, to have faith in. What do you believe today?

Some people believe in things they know aren’t true or real – like Lady Luck, the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, leprechauns, crystals, magic crosses, and good luck charms.

Other people believe in ideas and ideals like music, karma, government, love, free expression, money, power, prestige, their families, and in the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Some people believe in other people; some believe in themselves; and some believe in a greater power.

When we talk about belief in these broad terms, it’s obvious that people believe in a lot of things, to one degree or another. But what does it mean when the Bible says that whoever believes in Jesus Christ will gain eternal life? Believe is a word that the Apostle John uses many times in relating his gospel story of Jesus’ life.

When the Bible talks about believing in God’s Son, Jesus Christ, as the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world, it means accepting as true all that Jesus claimed to be.

To believe in Jesus the way John 3.16 teaches means accepting as true all that He taught, said, and commanded. It means receiving Him personally into our hearts and lives.

To believe in Christ is to not only give mental accent, but to embrace Him in such a way that our lips speak it and our lives show it.

When the Philippian jailer says, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?,” what do the apostles answer?

Many people seem to think the ready reply is: “Give more money to the church. Attend church more regularly. Do more good works. Try harder to please God.” They believe that God is keeping careful track of all their good works, which they expect He will put on a cosmic scale when they get to the judgment seat. And then, they hope against hope that their good works will outweigh their sins, and that God will let them into heaven.

But what do Paul and Silas actually reply? “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved – you and your household.” (Acts 16.31)

This word “believe” is used again by the Apostle Paul in Romans 10.9 as he explains how people can find a righteousness that comes from God: “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”

And, some of my favorite words of assurance are found in 1 John 5.13, as the Apostle writes: “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.”

It seems that whether or not we believe in the name of the Son of God – Jesus Christ – is extremely important. It is a matter of life and death.

It’s critical, then, that we are sure that we believe in the way that God requires. It’s essential that each of us know for sure that we can say, “Yes, I believe that Jesus is God in the flesh and that He died on the cross for my sins.

“Yes, I believe that He was raised from the grave, and that He lives in heaven, where He prays for me.

“Yes, I truly believe his claim in John 14.6: ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’

“Yes, my belief is more than an opinion or a preference; it is a conviction – something I know for sure, something I’d stake my life on, something that won’t change.”

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

I believe. Do you believe?