I still remember the moment, even the posture of my body–hands raised to the heavens–when my belief moved from my head to my heart. Prior to that day, I had believed that if you lived in America, you were “Christian” by default. My college application will testify.
But several months before that night, I had acknowledged that I actually believed in Jesus, that He really is the Son of God who died on the cross for the sins of the world, and that He rose again in victory. I believed in my mind that it was actually true. But it still was not a personal reality for me.
I had prayed the sinner’s prayer because I understood the truth that I was a sinner and in need of a Savior. I had begun attending church and was trying to clean up my life–trying but not succeeding.
I guess some would say I was a Christian at that point because I believed the truth, confessed my sins, and prayed the prayer. The problem is that my belief was only a matter of my mind–I understood truth (which is necessary for belief), but I had not allowed Christ’s love to change my heart.
I wanted to avoid hell because I was afraid, and I wanted to be a better person, a better version of myself. But I quickly realized I couldn’t. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t resist temptation, and I continued to fall into sin, feel guilty, and promise God I would do better.
But that night everything changed. Suddenly, the love of God through Jesus became a reality to me. My hungry heart was drawn to the One who loved me to death, and I surrendered my life to follow Him–not out of fear or a desire to change, but in response to His love for me.
My belief moved from a conscious understanding of the facts of who He is to a trust in Him to save me and fill me and change me Himself. I no longer sought to be a better version of me: I wanted the old me to die completely so He could make me a new creation.
So, what does it really mean to believe?
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”John 3:16, NIV 84
The Greek word translated believe is pisteuo. It means “to believe, put one’s faith in, trust, with an implication that actions based on that trust may follow” (The NIV Exhaustive Bible Concordance, G4409).
We all know John 3:16, but studies show few actually understand what it means to believe.
According to a 2017 study by the Pew Research Center, 63% of Americans are “absolutely certain” that they believe in God. But only 35% of those pray and read the Bible at least once a week.
Why is there such a disconnect between what we say we believe and how we actually live? If belief is indicative of a faith that follows, then what do our actions say about what we really believe?
Could it be that many who claim to believe are much like I was in those early days? They have always “believed” in who Jesus is, maybe were raised in church and have a head knowledge that He is God, but they have never allowed that truth to penetrate their hearts and change their lives?
If you want to truly understand what it means to be a believer, may I suggest reading through the Gospel of John? As you read, mark every time you see the word believe. You will quickly see that belief is far deeper than an intellectual assent.
I find it so interesting that we have the perspective of one of the half-brothers of Jesus in the book of James. In John 7:5, we find that Jesus’ own brothers did not believe in Him.
“Jesus’ brothers said to him, ‘You ought to leave here and go to Judea, so that your disciples may see the miracles you do. No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.’ For even his brothers did not believe in him.”John 7:3
They thought he just wanted to be a public figure! Yet, look what James wrote after he became a true believer:
“Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that–and shudder.”James 2:18b-19
Once James believed in Jesus with all his heart, he realized that true faith produces fruit. Even demons know the truth about who Jesus is, but only those who have put their faith in Him truly follow Him.
What about you? Have you just always “believed”? Would you call yourself a true believer? If you were accused of being a Christ follower, would there be enough evidence to convict you?
When our belief moves from our heads to our hearts, we will begin to bear fruit for God.
“So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God.”Romans 7:4
When our hearts are changed by Christ, we seek intimacy and fellowship with Him, we fall in love with His Word, and we follow Him in obedience.
Granted, there have been times of failure, discouragement, and doubt in my life. But even then, I hear the voice of my Savior calling me back to Him, because my heart is forever His.
Can you picture Jesus and His interaction with the disciple Thomas after the resurrection? Thomas had said that unless he could see the marks in Jesus’ hands and feel where the nails had been, he would not believe.
“A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’
Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’
The Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’
Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”John 20:26-31
Thomas needed proof, and Jesus showed Him. We are those who have not seen Him and yet believe. But what do we have to encourage our belief? The Word of God!
Get into the Word. These words are written that you might believe and have life in His name–not a vague belief that you understand only with your mind, but a firm belief in your heart that transforms your life.
“That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, ‘Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.'”Romans 10:9-11
Don’t let your mouth confess what your heart has not possessed: a trust in Jesus that follows hard after Him.