I’ve been visiting a new church and have really enjoyed the past two weeks of Sunday school. The class has been studying 1John and the topic of how we are assured of our salvation. John says, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life (1John 5:13).”
Two weeks ago, we had a great discussion about what “these things” meant, and how this is a common phrase that John uses in this letter which refer to the above section (in this case 1John 5:6-12). Personally, I take the context of “these things” to include all of chapter 5, which essentially covers the aim of 1John, which is as believers, we are to love God and love people. But, that point is perhaps less relevant than the meaning of “believe”. Does believe mean to accept in an academic sense, or is its original meaning something deeper?
Think about it… There are many people who “believe” in Jesus, but have rejected Him. I don’t expect to see any of those folks in heaven, do you?
According to dictionary.com (definitions 2 and 3), belief means “confidence in the truth or existence of something not immediately susceptible to immediate proof; confidence, faith, trust.”
Confidence, trust…what do those words mean? Again, are they purely theoretical, or do they require some kind of action on our part? Someone in my class gave a metaphor of a chair, implying that if you trust the chair, you will sit on it and it alone, to hold you up.
In my mind, that could be taken further, as not putting all of your weight on the chair may imply you do not trust it. I guess where I am going with this is… Is it required that you demonstrate your trust in the chair by sitting down, or can you just trust and/or believe in your head. Is that enough?
Personally, I think belief has to be more than just saying “Yay, Jesus died for my sins, so I’m going to heaven… Awesome! Let me go back to reveling in my sin.” If belief doesn’t cause a change in your heart, do you truly believe?, and thus, are you truly saved?
I am troubled by verses from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, such as Matthew 7:13-14 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”
Or, Matthew 7:21-23 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do mighty works in your name? And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessless’.”
This implies to me that many people are going to think they’ve secured a spot in heaven, and later find out that they may have taken the wrong path…and at least some of these people will profess that they did things in the name of the Lord, so they must have “believed” in Jesus in some respect.
I brought some of this up last week, and today we had a great conversation about justification, sanctification, and glorification, and I do understand that justification is different from sanctification and agree with the differences. I just still question if someone who walks away from God was justified in the first place; or if everyone who professes to be a believer will be in heaven.
As believers, we are not supposed to worry about anyone’s salvation except our own. Salvation is an issue between an individual person and God because only God can know the state of someone’s heart. I fully embrace that and am not trying to point fingers at anyone in particular. But, at the same time, we should fully understand salvation if we are going to try to share our faith with other people with the hope that they accept God’s gift and spend eternity in heaven. If we present the gospel as “all you have to do is say this prayer and you’re in” or even “believe” with a head knowledge and not a heart change, and that turns out to not be true….well, personally, I would feel terrible!
The only person’s salvation I can specifically talk about is my own. I do not feel I was saved earlier in my life even though I “believed” that Jesus died for my sins. I think God was working on me, and knew eventually I would get there, but when I said I “believed”, I think it was from a purely academic, “head-knowledge” perspective. It did not transpire whatsoever to my heart. I was not changed.
I do not think I was saved at that time. Maybe that’s why God allowed me to stay on earth until I fully “believed” and accepted Him. I don’t know; but, I’m eternally grateful that God never gave up on me! I may be a slow learner, but eventually I get there…. and yes, now I believe I am saved (although the sanctification process sometimes feels like it’s moving at a snail’s pace, but that’s another story completely).
That brings us back to the word “believe”.
This may seem like a meaningless word to question, but I feel the implications are enormous.
John, especially, tells us a lot about the importance of believing. Here are a couple random verses that talk about “believing” and their context. Hopefully this will paint some kind of picture of what it means to believe. I will admit that these verses are by no means exhaustive or particularly well-chosen.
Everyone’s favorite verse….John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” This is said after Jesus talks to Nicodemus about what it means to be born again, and is followed by a discussion of why God sent Jesus to save the world. Believe is used again, but not really defined…
John 5:44, 47 “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?…But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” This was after Jesus healed the man who could not walk, and the legalistic Jewish leaders gave him trouble about healing on the Sabbath. His words were directed to the Jews, but they can apply to everyone. They professed belief in God, but were so caught up in the letter of the law, they missed the point of Jesus, in spite of the evidence they saw from His miracles. They professed belief in Moses’ writings, but they still did not see Jesus was God, even though Moses wrote about Him. These legalistic Jew’s said they “believed”, but their actions showed they didn’t truly believe.
John 8:45-47 “But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not here them is that you are not of God.” Jesus is still talking to the Pharisees, but I still believe it’s a valid comparison and worth a look. Here, they say that Abraham is their father (going back to their Jewish heritage), and Jesus essentially tells them that Satan is their father. Those who are of God will hear His word, so would the converse be true, if you are not hearing God’s Word, maybe you’re not of God? I don’t have the answer, just food for thought.
John 10:26-28 “But you do not believe because you are not part of my flock. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” This is at the Feast of the Dedication, after Jesus talked about being the Good Shepard. I could be wrong here (or about anything), but to me, it seems that Jesus is saying that His followers hear His voice with their hearts, and follow Him in faith. And, because of this, they are given eternal life. This proves that salvation is not reversible, once obtained, as it says they will not be snatched from His hand, but to me, it implies that belief requires an action with your heart, not just a callous acceptance with your head.
So does belief mean knowing in your head that the chair will hold you, or sitting down? For me, I’ve sat down completely in the chair, but unfortunately, I like to get up from time to time and walk around. I think during my sanctification process, I’m learning to sit down longer and I’m definitely looking forward to the day when I can prop my feet up and lean back….
I think I’ve presented more questions than answers, but I am not a theologian by any stretch of the imagination. I just think “believe” might mean more than a lot of us want to admit it does, especially in the fast-paced, instant gratification world we live in…no condemnation, just my thoughts…
I’ll keep studying and praying!