We use the word “believe” all the time. “I believe in Jesus.” “That’s just not what I believe.” “I don’t believe that.” There are millions of Christians who would say they believe in Jesus. And, I think, in our minds, we do believe in Him.
But is that enough? Is belief in Jesus just an intellectual activity? Is it simply agreeing with the idea of Jesus? Of course, on an intellectual level, we would say, “Of course not. We’re not idiots.” Fair enough. I agree. You’re not an idiot.
Belief is all that’s required of us. Works are not required to earn God’s gift of salvation. In Christianity, unlike other religions, we don’t have to spend our whole lives trying to prove we are good enough to receive the reward. Of course, we love that. Who wouldn’t?! I do.
But have we made belief less than it was supposed to be? Have we belittled belief by reducing it to an agreement with a concept? What if there is more to it than we think? What if you and I are living according to a faulty premise? What if simply saying we believe in Jesus isn’t enough?
In Acts 16 is where we find the famous passage many of us memorized when we were younger. That or we’ve heard it quoted so many times we know it by rote. Paul and Silas have been in prison. They were praying and praising when an earthquake opened the doors of the prison. Just as a jailer was about to kill himself, Paul shouts out: “‘Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!’ The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ They replied, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household’” (Acts 16:29-31, NIV).
Believe in Jesus and you will be saved. Sounds simple enough. That word is used 218 times in the New Testament. So it must be pretty important. If this is the requirement, we’d better know what it means. The word comes from “pistis” and is found 227 times. I think it would be safe to say this is a major theme.
Defining the term: to think to be true, to be persuaded of, to credit, place confidence in (Strong’s). At first, it would seem that we’re not that far off. That belief means to think to be true, intellectual agreement with a concept. But then, as is often the case with Greek and Hebrew words, the concept is bigger than the word used to translate it. That’s what translators do; they try to find the best word that matches the meaning of the original word. But, sometimes, it’s not an exact match.
The way we use “believe” in our culture today is not an exact match for what belief meant to the New Testament writers. It’s not just agreeing with an idea; it’s being persuaded of the idea and putting your confidence in it.
Belief is not just an idea; it is a demonstration.
We don’t really believe something if it doesn’t change the way we live. For instance, I could tell you that I am a pianist. I could make all the arguments about how learning to play an instrument is good for your mind in many ways. I could talk about how music is something you can do for the rest of your life. I could do all the research between the different methods and tell you why I think Suzuki is better or worse than Faber. I could learn all the fingerings, all the notes, all the lingo and language of music and the instrument. But, if you never hear me play the piano, you might start to wonder why.
Because, if I never sit down to actually play the piano, I’m not a pianist. I can’t claim to be a pianist if I’ve never actually played a note. I can share with you all the information I know about the piano and music in general, but until you hear me play the piano, you won’t think of me as a piano player.
I might know a lot about the piano, but I haven’t actually started to become a piano player. I haven’t demonstrated my “belief” with actions; that is, I have a lot of knowledge but no practice. And the reality is, while I may know a lot and it will help me become a pianist, it will take me devoted time to become one. If I had really believed I was a pianist, I would have bought a piano and been learning to put my knowledge into practice.
Could the same be true of many “believers” today?
We say we believe, but has our belief affected our approach to life? We know the verses: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed.” “Come out from them and be separate.” “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in them”
We know the ideology of the Bible. We know the information, the stats, and the stories. We may have even memorized a lot of it. But we don’t really look, act, or talk differently than others in our lives who wouldn’t claim to be believers. We know the stuff; we just haven’t put it into practice. And it only seems to be getting worse.
Barna’s 2016 state of the church report showed that 73% of Americans identify as Christian, but only 31% claim to be practicing their faith and 22% give anything at all to their church. Based on my experience, I’m guessing the number of people that claim to be Christians and who legitimately practice their faith is probably well below 10%.
It would seem we have a pretty big misunderstanding about belief. Calling yourself a Christian doesn’t make you one. The way I live my life is proof of what I believe. Because belief isn’t just an idea; it’s a demonstration. I could never be a pianist without practicing. Neither can I be a believer without practicing my faith.
I think we’ve got some work to do. This, by the way, is the heart behind “The Jesus Habit,” a new podcast that’s aimed at making our new nature in Christ second nature. And I’m pleased to tell you, it will be available right here on Kingdom Winds!
Featured Image By Darius Soodman