What is “Belief”?
Christians use the word all the time, but do we really know what it means?
You’ve probably heard the term “Christianese” before. It’s a tongue-in-cheek name for the insider vocabulary we use as churchgoers—jargon that often leaves outsiders mystified as to what we’re talking about. Usually, these words and phrases in and of themselves are positive. They often originate from Scripture, and even when they don’t, their actual meanings may be of great substance. However, the terms that make up “Christianese” have been used so frequently that they’re sometimes in danger of losing their original impact. When that happens, they may no longer communicate their true essence.
In any language, words are the basic tool for transmitting a message from one person to another. For this reason, they are also a gift from God to humankind. While He isn’t limited to communicating by means of words alone, Scripture clearly shows how important they are to Him. That our Creator chooses to speak to us in our language is powerful evidence of His desire for relationship.
And so, when we use scriptural language, it’s important to think about what we’re really communicating and embrace the power of our words’ actual meaning. In this new ongoing column, we hope to reclaim the heart of our Christian vocabulary, which holds such life-giving potential.
–The In Touch Staff
“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31 NKJV).
These words spoken by the apostle Paul to his jailer are often repeated as Christians invite others to put their trust in God. But if belief is what transforms us, why, then, do a majority of Americans say they “believe” in Jesus while living as though He has nothing to do with their daily life? More to the point, why do so many self-proclaimed devout “believers” fail to demonstrate the type of transformation that Jesus promised to His followers?
Perhaps our struggle to live out what we profess as true has something to do with the way we think about belief. Our contemporary culture tends to treat it as a matter of personal opinion—something that doesn’t matter very much in the grand scheme of things. “Think whatever you want to, as long as it doesn’t affect me” is the common attitude. Yet as Christians, we maintain that God is the ultimate definition of truth. If God exists, then our beliefs are correct only to the degree that they correspond to the revelation of who He is.
Properly understood, belief isn’t a manner of thinking, but an action. And what we believe dictates the way we actually live. This is why it’s important to recognize the difference between philosophizing about God and truly believing on Him. We need to remember that it’s possible to know all the right concepts, have the ability to speak convincingly about them with others, and yet not believe a single word. We may fool ourselves for a time into thinking that all of our chatter about the Lord and His ways amounts to a genuine faith. But eventually, what’s really in our hearts will show forth in what we say and do. The result could be disastrous, from broken relationships or the loss of ministry to turning our back on God.
To believe (or put your trust) in Jesus is not simply to say that you agree with those who claim He is Lord. Right belief involves bringing your entire being—mind, body, and spirit—in line with the person, not merely the idea, of Jesus Christ. As we truly believe in Him, we open ourselves to His very presence, embracing Him as He is: the only path, the basis of reality, and the wellspring of life (John 14:6; John 4:14).
The Bible tell us that Abraham’s faith brought him into alignment with God’s way: he “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness” (Rom. 4:3; see also Gen. 15:6). This is far from a simple piece of evidence or affirmation of facts. When Jesus spoke of belief, He framed it as an active pursuit of the Lord and a continual attempt to carry out His will (John 6:28-29). This is why He said, “All things are possible to him who believes” (Mark 9:23) and “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer” (Matt. 21:22 NIV). Jesus isn’t talking about psychological willpower or some “name it and claim it” proposition. Rather, He’s calling His followers (and potential followers) to pursue God and walk in His way.
Too many believers live as though Christianity is simply about giving an intellectual nod to the right tenets of the faith, as if God approves of this supposed commitment to “the truth.” But living life that way will ultimately lead to a confusing and disappointing end. On the day of judgment, when every knee will bow before God, saying “Lord, Lord” won’t be enough, and Jesus will respond with the hard truth that some people never really had a relation-ship with Him (Matt. 25:31-46).
There’s only one way to infuse our belief in Jesus with genuine truth and healing power: living moment by moment with Him, allowing His Spirit to lead us and align our hearts with Christ alone. That’s when, as the Lord promised, unending life flows from our faith in a torrent strong enough to move mountains (Matt. 17:20-21).