“Just believe! It’s that simple.” I’ve heard this comment so many times. Is that really all it takes to become a Christian? Is simple belief all the assurance we need that we’re heading for heaven?
Some parts of the Bible clearly support a “yes” answer to these questions. Here are a few verses (out of many possible examples):
- Luke 23:42-43 tells us the story of a man being crucified with Jesus: “Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
- They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” Acts 16:31
- 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
Then there are other verses that seem to say no, it’s not that simple:
One of the scariest passages in the Bible is Matthew 7:21-23—
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”
Then there’s the second chapter of James. Verse 14 reads, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?” A few sentences later we come to “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” (James 2:19)
Now how simple does this sound? Confusing, right?
Like some other thorny Biblical controversies (think predestination vs. free will, or whether or not we can lose our salvation), on the surface it looks as if the Bible is contradicting itself. How can that be?
In this case, much of the problem comes from the meaning of the word “believe.” The Greek word is πιστεύω, or pisteuō. According to the Blue Letter Bible (a wonderful site for those who want to go deep), this word can mean a variety of things, among them:
- To acknowledge as true—an intellectual assent
- To place confidence in (implying trust)
I think that we frequently confuse these two definitions.
For example, when we “believe in the Lord Jesus,” that means we have to place our confidence in His ability to save us, as opposed to our own determination to be worthy of salvation on our own. As one author put it, we need to put our full weight on Him.
The passage in James about the demons believing clearly refers to the first definition—they believe a fact to be true. But instead of submitting to that truth, they shudder.
I sadly suspect that many who claim the title “Christian” have merely given intellectual assent to the fact that God exists, and that Jesus lived, died, and lived again. They think they’ve got their “fire insurance” and that they’ve made peace with God, when in fact they don’t even know Him—hence Jesus’ warning that many who go through the motions of being believers aren’t going to be with Him in eternity.
Being a Christian isn’t simply a matter of saying the right words, or even accepting the truth of certain ideas. Rather, it’s coming right into God’s throne room and climbing into his lap. It’s having a friend who sticks closer than a brother. It’s having Prince Charming woo us and win us—with the assurance that we really will live happily ever after.
I like how one enthusiastic lady explain her faith: “I’m just a girl in love!”