“Believe in Christ” – It’s Not What You Think

believe mailboxWhat do we need to believe to be saved?

What if we can’t be perfectly sure of the absolute accuracy of every biblical document that has been preserved? Are we in trouble?

I’ve seen a lot of folks get tied up in knots over this.

I’d like to suggest that there’s actually a simple answer, but it’s not the standard one you’ve heard.

As the New Testament writers meant it, “believing in Christ” is not quite what you think it means, unless you know its original context.

Of course you need to have some factual knowledge, but this is still not, at its essence, what “believing in Christ” is about. But we read right past it.

The gospel of John talks about “believing” more than anyone else. Listen to this key line at the conclusion of his work:

Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name. (John 20:30)

First, note that John dismisses the idea that one needs to know everything about Jesus’ life. John was aware of other deeds and sayings of Christ, but he didn’t include them in his book, because knowing every fact about Jesus was not necessary. What is critical is not that one believes a list of facts, but believing one single thing – that Jesus is the Christ.

Wait, wait, wait. What’s the “Christ”?

In essence, “Christ” means “anointed one,” and it alludes to fact that ancient kings were anointed at their coronation. So, to believe that Jesus is “God’s anointed” is to recognize that he is is the one who God appointed to reign over his eternal kingdom. (See my article about what “Christ” means for more.)

Believing in Christ is not About Facts but Authority

“Believing in Christ” is not about facts per se, but about believing in Jesus’ authority to reign over God’s kingdom. It means that you realize that all of humanity is ultimately answerable to him. It also implies that you’ve put yourself under his reign.

tunnel lightThat’s why we talk about “accepting Christ” or “receiving the Lord” when we talk about people becoming Christians. It’s because people have acknowledged Jesus’ true authority and made a decision to put themselves under it.

Look at how this makes sense of the Gospels. Matthew, Mark and Luke talk about “entering the Kingdom of God” while John’s gospel speaks of “believing in Christ.” If you understand that “believing in Christ” is about acknowledging Jesus as God’s true King, then the four Gospels fit much better together. Jesus was announcing the coming of God’s kingdom to earth, with the implication that he was the one who was bringing it. Believing in him as the Christ is to receive him (and God) as king.

“Believing” Implies Following His Orders

If you believe in Christ’s ultimate authority, it also means that you aim to follow his commands. Listen to John 3:36 with this in mind:

“He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” (John 3:36)

NoticJesus Statue 1e how “believing” is put in parallel with “obeying.” This seems strange, doesn’t it? But if “belief” is really about believing in Christ’s sovereign authority, of course it means that one obeys what he says.

You can also hear this in Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:21:

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.”

Here a person calls Jesus “Lord” to acknowledge that he is God’s appointed king. But you really don’t accept his reign (which is God’s reign), unless you do what he and his Father want you do.

The Euaggelion is the Announcement of a King

This is also why Paul was utterly focused on preaching the euaggelion (gospel) of Christ. The word euaggelion refers to an official announcement that a new king has come into power. God had anointed Jesus his king and declared that every knee shall bow to him, and Paul was his ambassador to the Gentile world.

So what saves you?  Believe it or not, you don’t need to have every doctrinal fact straight. Salvation doesn’t come from your own brain!

What actually saves you from your sins is the atoning work of Christ on behalf of those in his kingdom. When you believe that Christ is God’s rightful, eternal king, you receive him as your king, and you become part of his reign.

That’s what you need to believe.


(Images: Megaden, Zen, Kliefi)


15 Responses to ““Believe in Christ” – It’s Not What You Think”

  1. 1
    Melanie|June 26, 2013

    Thank you, Lois, beautifully written and straight from the Word of GOD. Like fresh air.

  2. 2
    Barbara|June 26, 2013

    Good article Lois, I will pass. It on, todah.

  3. 3
    Dan Hennessy|June 27, 2013

    Hi Lois… great stimulating post. Attending to the mo’edim, the appointed times, and teaching my sons, Joshua and Aaron, to do so, as well, gives me inexplicable satisfaction in terms of participating in the realm of the Messiah-King. If I recall correctly, here is no word for “faith” in Hebrew; that “emunah” which means “to raise up” is the word often translated “faith” in English. Is that correct? If so, then “faith” is not something that we can “possess” or “own” or “hold onto” in the most common sense of those terms. Rather, we “trust” in Him to “raise us up.” And, personally, when I demonstrate my trust by obeying His mitzvot, it elevates my soul in a very joyous way… Thanks for stimulating such good thoughts…

  4. 4
    Martin Yirrell|June 29, 2013

    You are saved when God takes away the heart of stone and gives you a heart of flesh, when you are born again. Belief comes as a consequence of this act of God and is not its cause.

  5. 5
    Lois Tverberg|July 2, 2013

    Dan –

    Thanks for your thoughts about “believe.” I’d say that my point of this article isn’t about the idea of what “belief” is, in Hebrew or in Greek. (I have written about the Hebrew word “Emunah” in my book Listening to the Language of the Bible.)

    The word here in Greek just means “believe.” And my point is that when you believe that Jesus is God’s anointed king, you’re not just affirming a fact, you are acknowledging that he is God’s true and final authority over humankind. In a world where kings were seen as worthy of worship, this was a shocking idea, because it implies that you’ve given your allegiance to him and expect the rest of the world to do so too.

  6. 6
    Lois Tverberg|July 2, 2013

    Martin, I’m not trying to weed through five hundred years of theology, I’m looking at a specific phrase, “believe in Christ.” What do those three words mean? A lot more than we think. It sounds like we are agreed, it’s Christ who does the saving.

  7. 7
    Dan Hennessy|July 2, 2013

    Yes, to “believe” in a King above earthly kings was especially shocking then.
    I see your point and loved your chapter on the Schema with its emphasis on “hearing” implying “obedience.” As a matter of fact, it became our home Torah study last Shabbat, a good word for my sons, Joshua and Aaron to “hear” as they are 13 yrs. and 8 yrs. respectively! Toda raba! Your teaching has had nearly instantaneous positive affect in the Hennessy household!
    Those who “hear” the teaching of Aveinu Melcheynu, our Father, our King, through His Son, Yeshua, obey out of love and respect for Him, for His saving grace…

  8. 8
    paul wallace|July 9, 2013

    I am preaching through Romans, trying to help the congregation understand why Paul is emphasizing that we will be judged according to our deeds. Of course the work of God is to believe on the One that was sent. A changed heart results in changed actions. But acknowledging Jesus as our King means we will obey His decrees. There is quite a discussion going on in our church over salvation through a prayer versus Jesus as Lord of your life. The insight you gave here is helpful. Thanks again.

  9. 9
    Lois Tverberg|July 9, 2013

    Thanks, Dan and Paul.

  10. 10
    Jason Brown|July 9, 2013

    Very insightful article Lois, I love the fact that you presented your take on believing in Christ straight from Scripture. I’ve known some Christians who unfortunately try to make salvation based on certain doctrinal truths such as the “Trinity”, in my opinion this distorts what the Scriptures clearly teach. Believing in Christ and obeying His teachings is the key to eternal life. Shalom!!!

  11. 11
    Cynthia Noel|July 10, 2013

    That does help simplify the answers to the questions. Obeying my Lord and Savior is the fruit of salvation thru Christ. I do have trouble with not using capitals whenever writing about Christ or God and using He or Him in reference to the Trinity. Whenever the scholars who wrote the scriptures wrote His name they would wash their hands before and after because of the reverence they held for our Lord and I feel the same. But the article was straight forward ad does make the understanding of salvation easier!

  12. 12

    Thank you for this thought provoking study on Salvation through CHRIST JESUS alone, & how OBEDIENCE to HIM goes ‘hand in hand’……..
    I am a ‘born again Christian’ & totally agree with your article. I don’t believe that ‘saying the Salvation prayer alone’ Saves anyone, as I read GOD’S WORD more & more, I see the word OBEDIENCE in connection with Salvation thru CHRIST JESUS alone. I also believe that the word HEAR means OBEY in its’ full context.
    Sincerely, Toni Myers

  13. 13
    Craig|July 11, 2013

    This confirms an idea that’s been growing in my mind for some time, but still seems a bit at odds with Paul (or my Lutheran reading of Paul). The parallel that jumps out at me is in Matthew where Jesus gives the illustration of the wise & foolish builder “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.” Somewhere (maybe many somewheres) we Lutherans began to separate faith from behavior. We emphasize right belief so much, that the many youth I encounter seem to think that all that makes us Christian is believing Jesus & God exist. We haven’t adequately made the connection that believing in Christ means believing in what Jesus taught. I tell the congregation now, that believing in Christ is also a pledge of allegiance to the kingdom of God. This makes some Lutheran peers uncomfortable. What say you?

  14. 14
    Lois Tverberg|August 29, 2013

    I would completely agree. As much as people talk about “works righteousness,” the thing that replaces it is usually “thoughts righteousness.”

    When Jesus sent his disciples out, he told them to both heal and to preach the good news. Not one or the other, but both. You have to willfully ignore a lot of Scripture to miss this point – but I know that some people actually do.

  15. 15
    Craig|July 11, 2013

    I should have said “we emphasize ‘faith alone’ sola fide’ so much…” Our proclamation against ‘works righteousness’ has created for many a church culture that doesn’t know how to move us to act for others. The gospel has become a security blanket for the individual, and we don’t even know how to talk about serving without making it sound like law — and thus becoming theological hypocrites.