By Mike Willis
One of the most common titles ascribed to Christians is “believers” (cf. Acts 2:44; 4:32; 5:14). The word “believer” is translated from the Greek word pisteuo which is defined as follows: “to believe, also to be persuaded of, and hence, to place confidence in, to trust, signifies, in this sense of the word, reliance upon, not mere credence” (W. E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Vol. I, p. 116). The object in which one believes is not inherent in the word; it must be picked up from the context. Some were said to be believers in Moses (Jn. 5:46), the Scriptures (Jn. 2:22), Jesus (Jn. 3:36), and the Gospel (Mk. 1:15). The word pisteuo and its cognates occur so many times in the New Testament that one can by no means cover all of them in one lesson.
The Basis of Faith: The Revealed Will of God
Paul asserted the connection between faith which leads to salvation and the revealed word of God in the following passage:
“. . . for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says, ‘Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed. For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord Is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call upon Him; for Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved. How then shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring glad tidings of good things!’ However, they did not all heed the glad tidings; for Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed our report?’ So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:10-17).
From the above, one can see that faith is soundly rooted in the revealed Scriptures. Faith is not a “leap in the dark,” as some infidel theologians assert. Asserting that the claims of Jesus and the existence of God cannot be proved conclusively, they believe that true faith is the leap beyond what the available evidence actually warrants. Such a faith is ignoble. It might be caused by personal preference, prejudice, or whatever, but it has no characteristics which commend themselves to us. If faith is nothing more than a “leap in the dark,” what makes the “leap” of the Christian any better than or different from the “leap in the dark” of the atheist, Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, etc.? There is no virtue in the act of believing; virtue lies in what is believed. Saul surely acted on the basis of belief when he persecuted Christians; pagan idolators offered worship to false gods on the basis of belief. Both are examples of the act of believing but neither exhibited acceptable faith before God. The basis of faith is important!
Jesus asserted that one must accept as factual a revealed body of truth before he can be saved. He said, “If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (Jn. 8:31-32). Statements which intimate that salvation is not conditional upon one’s knowledge and acceptance of a certain body of facts are diametrically opposed to what Jesus said. Such statements posit the virtue of faith in a religious emotion (i.e. the act of believing) instead of in what is believed.
The faith of Jesus Christ rests firmly and squarely upon the revealed word of God. One is exercising faith when he is walking in the path revealed in the Scriptures. When he is not in that path he is in darkness, regardless of how pure his intentions might be.
The Object of Faith
Jesus Himself gave the objects of faith when He said, “Believe in God, believe also in Me” (Jn. 14:1). The author of Hebrews said, “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Heb. 11:6). The person who does not believe that “he is” is an atheist and, therefore, will not serve God. To believe that “He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” is to believe something about the character of God. No one would serve God unless he believed that service to God would render God favorably disposed toward him. One of the things which one must believe about God is that He is favorably disposed toward His creation (Jn. 3:16). To this must be added the innumerable aspects of God worthy of our praise, including His omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, and holiness. The believer is one who accepts the right body of facts about God; the one who accepts the wrong body of facts about God is either an atheist or an idolater.
Faith must not only be exercised toward God but also toward Jesus. What one must believe about Jesus can be very well summarized in the following words: “The Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior of the World.” He is the Lord who possesses all authority (Mt. 28:18); He is the Christ-the Messiah of the Old Testament (Mt. 16:16). His humanity is recognized by the word Jesus; His deity is acknowledged by the phrase Son of God. His work of redemption is recognized by the confession that He is the Savior of the world. The man who disbelieves these facts about Jesus is not a “believer” and, therefore, not a Christian. Many denominational preachers call themselves “Christians” but deny everything except the humanity of Jesus. Such men are infidels and not Christians!
The Activity of Faith
(1) Trust. Faith not only involves mental assent to a certain body of facts, it also means “to place confidence in, to trust.” That the cognates of pisteuo, pistis and pistos, convey the ideas of “trust,” “trusty, faithful, trustworthy” is not to be overlooked. This shows another aspect of faith which is sadly overlooked today. Most of quickly admit that mental assent will not suffice to please God and would cite the example of the devils “believing and trembling” (Jas. 2:19) and the example of the Jews who believed in Jesus but did not confess Him (Jn. 12:42,43) as proof of it. Yet, in our zeal to add that one must obey Jesus (a perfectly legitimate activity of faith to be examined next), we have neglected the idea of trust which resides in the word “believe.”
The one who truly believes in God and Christ is one who repudiates every method, aside from Christ, which claims to be able to save him and appeals to Jesus for salvation. The believer is truly relying upon Jesus for salvation. Paul said, “For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day” (2 Tim. 1:12). The salvation rests, therefore, upon Jesus’ willingness and ability to forgive and not upon my ability to perfectly obey Him. The man who believes in Jesus is one who has repudiated his ability to save himself and trusts in Jesus for salvation. (In this connection, notice that, in 1 Pet. 3:21, baptism is said to be an appeal to God for a good conscience.) The man who truly trusts Jesus should not have anxiety. The things about which most men are anxious are things which he casts upon the Lord and “`the peace of God which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7). The believer can have a Christianity without ulcers, without denying the faith!
(2) Obedience. Obedience is as closely tied to faith as is trust. Since the sinner is utterly relying upon Jesus for salvation (and not upon one’s own intelligence), he submits to the instructions of the One upon Whom he is relying for salvation. (Note the expression “obedience of faith” in Rom. 1:5; 16:26.) The true faith is the faith which takes. God at His word and does what He says! That involves obedience. Where man does not take God at His word and obey Him, he is not exercising faith. Because of this aspect of faith, the word “faith” or “believe” can be used to refer to the sum total of one’s commitment to Jesus. Thus, one can be said to be saved by “faith,” not meaning “faith only,” but a “faith” which takes God at His word and does what He says.
To be a believer implies that one has studied the revelation of God and has reached the conclusion that the facts asserted therein are true. Accepting them to be true, the believer gives up every other foundation for acceptance before God and trusts altogether in Jesus for salvation. Trusting in Jesus, the sinner obeys Jesus Christ in order to be saved. As an expression of his faith, he repents of his sins and is baptized for the forgiveness of them. All who have done this can be properly described as “believers.” Are you a believer?
Truth Magazine, XX:13, p. 9-10
March 25, 1976