Friday, September 19, 2014

We Must Believe

"What must I do . . . ?"
Do you remember the story of the Philippian jailer's conversion (Acts 16:25-34)? Paul and Silas were jailed in Philippi when a "great earthquake" freed the prisoners. The prisoners' bonds were broken loose and the doors of the prison were shaken open. The jailer saw the open prison door, assumed the prisoners had escaped, and was about to kill himself when Paul assured him that no one was missing. All the prisoners were still there.

Then the jailer fell down in front of Paul and Silas and asked this question: “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Perhaps he'd been listening to their prison prayers and songs, because somehow he knew he was guilty before God and needed to be saved from divine judgment. The answer from Paul and Silas was simple: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved . . . .”

About this reply, J. I. Packer states,
For the honor of Christ, it needs to be stressed that this was, and still is, a complete answer to the question asked.1
Belief in Jesus is what is required of us for salvation from God's judgment. This is the "faith alone" that the reformers preached: faith in the Lord Jesus is the full answer to the question of how to be saved.

What does it mean to believe?

Yes, the answer to the jailer's question was simple and complete, but this doesn't mean it can't use a little explanation. When they spoke of "believing," Paul and Silas were not referring to simply affirming that something is true. In the language of scripture, believing in Jesus is not merely knowing true things about him and agreeing with them, although this is part of it. The one who believes in the Lord Jesus also trusts him to provide forgiveness for their sins and bring them into eternal life with God. Belief in Jesus requires knowledge of who he is and what he has done, and based on that knowledge, dependence on him to save.

We might say true belief (or saving faith) is confident, wholehearted trust, a "whole-souled" commitment, "involving mind, heart, will and affections."2 If you think of faith as a whole-souled commitment, you see why scripture presents repentance as inseparable from faith. Repentance is simply the other side of the commitment coin. It's the radical change of life—of values, goals, desires, and actions—that comes from unreserved allegiance to Jesus. Anyone who is truly committed to Christ will want to walk in obedience to him and leave their disobedience behind.

What does it mean to believe in the Lord Jesus?

In the Bible, faith always has an object; it is trust in someone or something. Saving faith is faith "in the Lord Jesus Christ." It is trust in the crucified and risen Jesus, and trust in the accomplishments of his death and resurrection. Faith is effective to save because its object—Christ and his atoning work—is effective to save.

To look at it another way, "[f]aith is an activity which takes men [or women] right out of themselves and makes them one with Christ."3 Faith unites us to Christ, or, to use the language of Paul and Silas, puts us "in the Lord Jesus Christ," and in this way gives us all of him—all that he is and all that he has done. No one can possibly need anything more than Christ's perfect salvation.

Can you see why Packer, in the quote above, says seeing "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ" as the whole answer to the question of how to be saved preserves Christ's honor? Nothing is required of us but a trust that looks away from ourselves to Christ and his work. The entire focus of "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ" is Christ himself—not our work, or even our faith—so the honor and glory for  our salvation belongs to Christ.

Where does true faith in the Lord Jesus come from?

Except for one post on the fall and original sin, every post in this series has been about God and his work. God spoke, planned, created, and saved, and the only thing we've contributed to the story so far  is the sin we need to be saved from.

You might think this post is finally about something good we contribute, but it's not. Scripture tells us that when someone believes in Jesus for salvation, their belief has its source in God. Saving faith is God's gift (Ephesians 2:8; Philippians 1:29). It, too, is God's contribution to the story. We must believe to be saved, but it's only because of God's work within us that we can believe to be saved.

We'll look at how God gives saving faith in a future post.

Learn More
  1. Study Romans 4 to learn about the role of faith in salvation.
  2. Read Hebrews 11 for a description of faith as the foundation for a life or perseverance.
  3. Read up on the nature of faith in Jesus Christ in your favorite systematic theology. It's in chapter 35, Conversion (Faith and Repentance), in Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. You can read the section on faith from Berkhof's Systematic Theology online.
  4. Read the chapter on Faith in J. I. Packer's 18 Words: The Most Important Words you will Ever Know (previously known as God's Words).
  5. Listen to Wayne Grudem teach about faith and repentance: Doctrine of Conversion (Faith & Repentance)
1] J. I. Packer, 18 Words, page 128.
2] J. I. Packer, Concise Theology, page 159.
3] Leon Morris, quoted in Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology, page 711.

This post is the latest in a series of posts on truths every Christian woman should know. Here are the previous posts:
  1. God Has Spoken (posted at the True Woman Blog)
  2. God Is Three and God Is One
  3. God Is Who He Is
  4. God Had a Plan
  5. God Created the Universe
  6. We Are Made in God's Image
  7. We Are All Sinners
  8. God Saves
  9. The Son Came
  10. Jesus Lived and Died
  11. Jesus Is Risen
  12. Jesus Is Lord

1 comment:

  1. "Belief in Jesus is what is required of us for salvation from God's judgment. This is the "faith alone" that the reformers preached: faith in the Lord Jesus is the full answer to the question of how to be saved."

    Excellent! Thank you for posting!