The Bible is crystal clear that in order to be saved one must understand what the gospel is and what it is not. Far too many people are following what Paul in Galatians 1:8-9 called “another gospel.” Is it a big deal? You’d better believe that it is! It’s such a big deal that God, through the Apostle Paul, twice reiterated His statement about those who preach and follow another gospel.
Nothing else matters if one is not saved. Yes, contend for all of the major doctrines of scripture; those doctrines are important. God forbid that we should denigrate any part of scripture! It is all the divinely inspired, God-breathed, infallible, inerrant, immutable Word of the living God. Every letter of every word is inspired, but the core issue of scripture is the story of man’s salvation from an eternal Hell by the only Person who could save fallen and sin-cursed mankind – God Himself. The saving gospel of Jesus Christ is the central point – the hub, from which every other doctrine of scripture proceeds.
Belief in the gospel is what saves us, but we need to clearly understand what that means.
Yes, we must believe for salvation, but what we believe and in whom we believe is essential to salvation. Belief and trust in any other thing, be it a false teacher teaching heresies; a false church teaching false doctrines that oppose the literal, straightforward, plainly spoken teachings of scripture; any person, any institution, or any entity or doctrine or set of doctrines from any church whether Catholic, Protestant, or pagan religion – anything or anyone that teaches “another gospel” – a gospel that adds our own works or efforts to Jesus’ already completed payment for our sins is called “anathema” or cursed by God. (Galatians 1:8-9).
Anything other than the gospel as defined and defended by scripture alone will not save anyone from Hell. So yes, we must believe and have faith, but our belief and faith is not a baseless belief; neither is it a mindless, blind faith. We must, as Paul stated in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, believe according to the scriptures.
Faith must have an object, and belief has to be a placing of one’s trust in something. Just to say for example, “Well, brother, just believe or just have faith and you’ll be saved” means absolutely nothing! Have faith in what? Believe in what or in whom?
When giving the gospel, these things must be fully explained and understood. So let’s unpack the message of the gospel so that it can be clearly understood by everyone – including being understood by a young child.
The gospel of salvation is a paradox. On one hand, the message of the saving gospel of Jesus Christ is so deep that the greatest theologians and philosophers of all time cannot fully grasp it; and yet it is so beautifully and powerfully simple that even young children have no problem at all grasping it. So let’s look at what the Bible means when it uses the terms “believe” and “faith.”
As we’ve said, belief must have an object. When we say we “believe,” it should be obvious that we must believe in something or someone; otherwise, “belief” becomes nothing more than wishful thinking. Believing and placing one’s trust in something is an active, conscious decision involving our minds – the seat of our intellect and reasoning, and our hearts – the seat of our emotions. Belief according to the scriptures involves our ability to reason and to act upon that which we have reasoned and understood.
Anything less than a clear understanding of what we believe and why we believe it is no different from and is as useless as Disney’s Jiminy Cricket crooning the nonsensical “When You Wish Upon a Star.” No, the concepts of belief, trust and faith are not “touchy, feely” emotions with no basis in anything other than wishful thinking. Belief as defined by the Bible is well reasoned, clearly understood actions consciously engaged in as a matter of personal, individual choice.
It is none other than God Himself who tells us in Isaiah 1:18 to:
“Come let us reason together…” In context, God goes on to call upon Israel to use her individual and collective critical thinking plus each one’s individual faith (absolute trust) in him to teach Israel her need for a Savior. Being saved does not mean that we check our minds at the door and just dive into the deep end of the pool without understanding what we are supposed to believe and why.
This “mentally checking out” and acting on raw emotion or formal tradition is the very thing that every cult and every false religion known to man expects from those whom they entrap.
Salvation in Christ and Biblical Christianity stand diametrically opposed to all religion, this mindless, emotion-driven, blind acceptance that is the linchpin of all false beliefs and religions.
So, with our minds fully engaged and our hearts open to the truth, let us look at what God means when he says that in order to be saved, we must “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou (we) shalt be saved” (Acts 16:31).
Since belief (not mindless emotion) must have an object, and faith and trust cannot be mindless or blind with no reason behind them, let’s look at the gospel and break it down simply so that everyone can know exactly what “belief” entails. We will look at everything that must be believed (that is what must be understood and accepted as truth) in order for one to be saved.
BELIEF # 1 – We must believe (understand and accept as truth) the fact that we are all born guilty sinners “condemned already” (John 3:18). We are born sinners. We are not sinners because we commit sins; we commit sins because we are sinners. It’s what we are intrinsically. We are born infected with sin. The Bible calls it the “curse of sin” which every man, woman, and child is born carrying within our very souls. Our souls/spirits are sinful from the moment of our conception. This is the consequence of Adam’s rebellion.
“For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), and there is “none righteous, no not one” (Romans 3:10).
“Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death (that is eternal death in Hell) by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:”(Romans 5:12).
Understanding that we are all born sinners justly condemned to Hell is the first thing that must be believed (accepted and understood as truth) in coming to salvation. We must know and believe that we are guilty sinners born under the curse of sin. We are not good people; we are wretches who may at times do good things, but good works are not righteousness; and in order to be restored to a right relationship with God, we must be righteous as he is righteous.
The problem is that our best efforts cannot produce that holy righteousness within us. Our best efforts “fall short” of the glory of God. We are lost without a Savior who can redeem us and restore to fallen man that which Adam lost.
BELIEF #2 – In order to be saved according to the scriptures, we must believe (accept fully) the fact that we cannot be, become, or do anything in order to make ourselves righteous enough to stand in the presence of such holiness, purity, and righteousness that is the very essence of Almighty God who is the epitome, the superlative, and the fountainhead of all that is holy, righteous, pure, and just.
We must believe (understand and accept as fact) that because we are born infected with the curse of sin, that our own efforts—all of them—are useless and futile in measuring up to the righteousness of God. In other words, the very best that we can do or be will never measure up to God’s righteousness; because the best that anyone of us can offer compared to God is as “filthy rags” against His holiness, righteousness, glory, and justness.
“But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away” (Isaiah 64:6).
We are helpless and hopeless within our own fallen selves and in our own merits or works. We need a Savior who is not tainted or corrupted by sin – a Savior who is perfect in righteousness that is qualified because he is perfect and sinless – to pay the penalty incurred by fallen, sin-cursed man, but which fallen man can never pay because of the stain of sin with which every man is born accursed.
We need a Savior who could fulfill God’s perfect law (which Adam transgressed) by never sinning in thought, word, or deed in His earthly life. We need a perfect man to pay the penalty incurred by the man Adam. Adam’s fall caused the consequences of his rebellion, and as such, the eternal consequences of his rebellion thus being passed down through his lineage to every man, woman, boy and girl who has ever been born. Because the penalty of sin is eternal death in hell, mankind needed a perfect man to pay the penalty of sin.
“For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
BELIEF # 3 – We must believe (accept as truth) that only God could pay the penalty of sin that the justice of God demanded. Adam and Eve were created perfect, but God also granted to them the freedom of choice to be obedient to God’s will or to choose to follow their own desires. Eve was deceived by Satan in the guise of a serpent. Adam was not deceived. He knew exactly what he was doing; and furthermore, he understood precisely what the consequences would be for his rebellion.
A transgression of God’s perfect law was incurred by Adam’s rebellion, and a penalty was exacted. The penalty was eternal damnation for Adam, Eve, and for all of their progeny for all time. Adam could not pay the penalty he incurred, and neither could any of his descendants. The penalty could only be paid by One who was both able, qualified, and worthy to pay that penalty. Adam and Eve were judged and sentenced under the curse that God had already warned them would be the price for rebellion and insurrection.
God had given them everything – a perfect world; perfect bodies; and perfect, intimate spiritual communion with the God who created everything. God also gave them the ability to choose to love Him and follow Him or to disobey and follow his (Adam’s) own desires. God gave them free choice and He gave them the knowledge of what the consequences of their choice would be. Adam chose rebellion over perfection; and through this sin – that is through Adam’s choice to rebel – sin slithered into the world (Genesis chapters 1-3).
Adam lost mankind’s perfect intimate communion with God. He forfeited his righteousness and that of everyone who would be born after him. Mankind through Adam fell from perfection and could do nothing to regain that which through Adam’s rebellion was lost. Mankind needed a perfect Savior who was qualified spiritually to pay the infinite penalty for sin. The only one who qualified was God. The Triune God (the 3 distinct Persons who together make up the one Godhead) was the only being qualified to pay the penalty for mankind’s sin. God was the only being who could redeem (buy back) and restore that which Adam lost – mankind’s perfect relationship with God.
So among the 3 Persons of the Triune Godhead (the one God eternally existent in 3 Persons), God the Father sent (in the fullness of time) God the Son (Jesus Christ) to wrap himself in a human body to become the one and only God/Man. God who “became flesh and dwelt among us” to become our Emmanuel – our “God with us,” came of His own free will to pay for all time, on behalf of doomed mankind, the penalty for sin that would eternally condemn every human being to an eternal Hell.
Jesus, the God of Glory, loved His fallen creation so much that He willingly offered Himself to pay that which man could never pay. HE alone as Man was both willing and qualified to pay the penalty for sin by taking upon Himself the sins of the entire world (Revelation 13:8).
“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. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved” (John 3:16-17).
“And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2).
We must believe that Jesus Christ alone was and is the only One who is the Savior of mankind.
“Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
“Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6).
BELIEF #4 – We must believe (accept as absolute truth) that eternal salvation is found only in what Jesus Christ has already done to make our salvation possible; that Jesus, God the Son, was born into human flesh; that He lived a perfect sin-free life in perfect obedience to the law of God (something that because of our inherited sin nature no man can ever do).
We must believe that He offered Himself to die in our place so that, by His perfect sacrifice in our place, He alone qualified to pay in full the sin debt for all who would believe (accept as truth) in Him; all who would accept His offer of a full pardon of one’s sins – past, present and future; all who will believe on Him and in His finished payment of our sins that He made by dying for us at Calvary.
One must believe (accept as absolute truth) in:
(1) our sin cursed nature that will always “fall short” of the perfect, holy, righteousness of God.
(2) Jesus’ perfect sinless life.
(3) His substitutionary death in our place.
(4) His BODILY resurrection from the dead 3 days later in fulfillment of scripture (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).
In order to be saved, one must believe that Jesus paid in full the sin debt of all who will choose to place their trust and confidence in the truth that Jesus alone did all that ever needs to be done to fully satisfy the justice of God. He did this by offering himself as our sacrifice; that his death, burial, and bodily resurrection once and for all time paid in full the infinite penalty for the sins of the whole world, and that all who are willing to believe (accept as absolute truth) in Christ alone for salvation, will be eternally saved and eternally kept saved.
“After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst. Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar: and they filled a sponge with vinegar, and put it upon hyssop, and put it to his mouth. When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is FINISHED: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost” (John 19:28-30 emphasis mine).
“He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay” (Matthew 28:6).
This is what is entailed in belief. Still, there is one more component to belief, and it is that we must place our trust/our faith in all that we believe. Trust/Faith means that we are fully confident that God will do what He has said He will do. Trust is the legs of belief. Trust validates our belief.
Let me close this out by using a personal example of what the essence of belief and trust is.
When our daughter was about 18 months old, we lived in an apartment that had a swimming pool. As many days as we were able, David and I would take her to the pool to get her used to the water. One of us would hold her little hands and let her jump into the water so she would get used to it. We did this over and over until she felt comfortable in the water and with us. Then one day when David knew she was ready, he told her that he wanted her to let go of his hands and “jump to Daddy.” He told her to, “Jump into Daddy’s arms. I will catch you. I won’t let you fall.”
And without hesitation, she did just that. I can still see her now in my mind’s eye, her little body poised on the side of the pool, and her little voice saying “Catch me Daddy!” She jumped – and just as she believed and trusted that he would, her Daddy caught her.
See, that is what trust/faith is. It is that absolute certainty. Trust is acting on that absolute certainty. We don’t believe in God as wishful thinking; No! We believe in Him and trust in the salvation that He has fully provided; because He has shown us throughout His Word through history and prophecy already fulfilled that He IS who He says He is, so that our faith and trust in Him is validated by all the “many infallible proofs” that He has both given and proven.
“To whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God:” (Acts 1:3).
Salvation is simple. We simply must believe that we are all sinners; that Christ died for all sinners; that He rose again bodily the 3rd day, thus fulfilling and sealing all that would ever need to be done to both procure and preserve the eternal salvation for all who are willing to believe in Him – that “whosoever believeth in Him shall be saved” (John 3:16-18).
We are all sinners. The difference is that when we believe in what Jesus FINISHED on the cross, then we become sinners saved by grace. We are either lost sinners bound for Hell, or we are sinners saved by the grace of Almighty God having the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and having our eternal destiny changed from Hell to Heaven. It is all by His wonderful, merciful, matchless grace that is greater than all our sin.
Belief is the head part, and trust is the heart part. Both go hand in hand. We trust in Christ because we believe in Him. This is what it means to believe according to the scriptures.
“Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:” (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).